Preface, Section 5

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Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 2, 1515-1518. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1864.

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The sweating sickness.

Just at this time two scourges were beginning to threaten Christendom, and brought men to more serious thoughts. I refer to the plague and the sweating sickness. With the former I am not concerned at present. For centuries no infection had visited England, which in fearful rapidity and malignancy could be compared with the sudor Anglicus, as it was at first called, from the notion that its attacks were confined to Englishmen. People sitting at dinner, in the full enjoyment of health and spirits, were seized with it, and died before the next morning. An open window, accidental contact in the streets, children playing before the door, a beggar knocking at the rich man's gate, might disseminate the infection, and a whole family would be decimated in a few hours without hope or remedy. Houses and villages were deserted. Where the sickness once appeared, precaution was unavailing; and flight afforded the only chance of security.

Dr. Caius, a physician who had studied the disease under its various aspects, gives the following account of its appearance:

"In the year of our Lord God 1485, shortly after the 7th day of August, at which time king Henry VII. arrived at Milford in Wales out of France, and in the first year of his reign, there chanced a disease among the people, lasting the rest of that month and all September, which for the sudden sharpness and unwont cruelness passed the pestilence. For this commonly giveth in, four, often seven, sometime nine, sometime eleven, and sometime fourteen days', respite to whom it vexeth. But that immediately killed some in opening their windows, some in playing with children in their street doors; some in one hour, many in two, it destroyed; and at the longest to them that merrily dined, it gave a sorrowful supper. As it found them, so it took them; some in sleep, some in wake, some in mirth, some in care, some fasting and some full, some busy and some idle; and in one house sometime three, sometime five, sometime more, sometime all; of the which if the half in every town escaped, it was thought great favor. This disease, because it most did stand in sweating from the beginning until the ending, was called here The Sweating Sickness; and because it first began in England, it was named in other countries 'The English sweat.'" (fn. 1)

From the same authority we learn that it appeared in 1506, again in 1517 from July to the middle of December, then in 1528. It commenced with a fever, followed by strong internal struggles of nature, causing sweat. If the constitution proved sufficiently strong to expel the poison, the patient escaped. It was attended with sharp pains in the back, shoulders, and extremities, and then attacked the liver; pains in the head were succeeded by oppressions of the heart, followed by drowsiness, the whole body becoming inactive and lumpish. It had these further peculiarities that men of middle age and sanguine complexion were most liable to its ravages. Laboring and "thin dieted" men generally escaped it. (fn. 2)

It is stated by Caius, in other parts of his work, that the disease was almost peculiar to Englishmen, following them as the shadow does the body in all countries, albeit not at all times. (fn. 3) Others "it haunted not at all, or else very seldom or once in an age." (fn. 4) It never entered Scotland. In Calais, Antwerp, and Brabant it generally singled out English residents and visitors, whilst the native population were unaffected. In despair of escape, and the absence of any sufficient or certain remedies, men gave up all hope of recovery, and yielded to it without a struggle; seeing how it began "fearfully to invade them, furiously handle them, speedily oppress them, unmercifully choke them, and that in no small numbers, and such persons so notably noble in birth, goodly conditions, grave sobriety, singular wisdom, and great learning."

In consequence of the peculiarity of the disease in thus singling out Englishmen, and those of a richer diet and more sanguine temperament, various speculations were set afloat as to its origin and its best mode of cure. Erasmus attributed it to bad houses and bad ventilation, to the clay floors, the unchanged and festering rushes with which the rooms were strewn, and the putrid offal, bones, and filth which reeked and rotted together in the unswept and unwashed dininghalls and chambers. He urged greater moderation at meals, less use of salt food, the employment of proper scavengers to clear the streets of the various abominations which defiled them. (fn. 5) Possibly Erasmus was as correct in his surmise as others who possessed and professed no knowledge of physic. Failing of more specific information, the disease may be attributed to a variety of causes growing out of a great alteration in the habits and dietary of the population. Change of place, fresh air, moderate diet, seem to have been the only sure specifics; and these were pointed out as much by natural instinct as observation:—the meagre suffered less than the gross; poor agricultural laborers escaped when the rich citizen and the noble perished. During the last century the population of the towns had increased rapidly, without any proportionate increase in their sanitary condition or means of accommodation. The same filthy, open, and stagnant sewers rolled lazily their tribute to the Thames, or left their abominations to breed pestilence in the muddy and unpaved streets, where rank and sickly vegetation crawled and rotted, and fever and death were exhaled from numerous holes and pits. The fresh-water springs had been gradually diminished, or were monopolized by brewers; the narrow conduits spouted from their pea-shooters exactly the same quantity of pure liquid to supply the wants of thousands as for a century and more had scantily served for tens. Add to these, the old religious observances of the town populations had rapidly declined; and the discipline of the Church had fallen into desuetude. Lenten fasts and Advent were treated with contempt in the growing puritanism of the age, which regarded these things as indifferent or superstitious, and overlooked their social and sanitary importance when their religious obligation was disputed. Pilgrimages to St. Thomas of Canterbury, in April and May, a month or six weeks' ride on horseback over the fresh fields and salt downs, change of diet and change of air, worked wonders for exhausted frames and overcharged digestions; and "the blissful martyr," St. Thomas, had the credit, and richly he deserved it, "of helping them that were sick" more effectually than the best leech in all the shires of broad England. (fn. 6)

In the reign of Henry VIII. the sickness first made its appearance in April 1516. (fn. 7) Its violence abated as usual at the approach of cold weather. It reappeared again in the spring of 1517 with alarming fury, and continuing all through the summer into November without interruption, scarcely ceased in the winter, and raged more violently than ever in 1518. In that year it was accompanied with the measles and the smallpox. (fn. 8) Not only amusements but business ceased in a great measure; crowds and places of public resort were carefully avoided; noblemen broke up their establishments, and every one in dread of the infection hastened, as best he could, to isolate himself from his neighbours. "Tell your master," said Wolsey to the earl of Shrewsbury's chaplain, "to get him into clean air, and divide his household in sundry places." No lord, except during his necessary attendance at court, was suffered to keep servant or stuff in his chamber, "considering the misorder that is used by their servants whereby infection ensued." (fn. 9) Fairs were put down; and in Oxford, so long as the court resided at Abingdon, orders were given by Sir Thomas More in the king's name that the inhabitants of infected houses should keep in, hang out wisps of straw, and carry white rods, in the same way as the King had ordered the Londoners. (fn. 10) The king moved from place to place alarmed at every report of the sickness, whether well or ill founded; (fn. 11) his fears were increased by those of Katharine, not for herself but for him, and by her natural solicitude for the welfare of princess Mary. The apprehensions of the court were not without reason; the plague fell upon the royal household, and carried off the pages that slept in the king's chamber. (fn. 12) Every superfluous attendant was dismissed; and only three favorite gentlemen were retained. But even this precaution proved unavailing; in the spring three more of the pages died of the plague in the king's palace at Richmond. (fn. 13) Ammonius, the Latin secretary, the friend of Erasmus, was dining one day with an acquaintance; they had arranged to meet the next day, (fn. 14) and ride to Merton to escape the infection. The next morning, before his friend had time to get out of bed and dress himself, a messenger arived to announce the death of Ammonius. He was carried off in eight hours. (fn. 15) As if to show that foreigners enjoyed no special immunity, Giustinian, the Venetian ambassador, was twice attacked by it in the same week, and two of his servants died in his house. (fn. 16) Foreign ambassadors feared to set foot in England, or were urgent to get away.


The only man who remained at his post during this general consternation and alarm was Wolsey. In addition to his duties as chief minister he was now Lord Chancellor. His administration of this great legal office was characterized by the same energy and fearlessness as distinguished his conduct in all other departments. For his zeal and ability as a judge we have the best testimony that could be had; the testimony of Sir Thomas More. His regularity, decision, and dispatch cannot be questioned; his impartiality to all classes was never disputed. These formed the topics of satire and complaint. The lawyers hated him for his strict adherence to justice, his discouragement of petty legal artifices, endless forms, and interminable verbosity;—the nobles hated him still more, because riches and nobility were no recommendation to partiality or favor, as they had been in the days of his predecessors. His own assertion may be accepted when he says, in a letter to Henry VIII., that the realm was never in greater peace or tranquillity. "All this summer," (fn. 17) he adds, "I have had neither riot, felony, nor forcible entry, but your laws be in every place indifferently ministered, without leaning of any manner." He then mentions a fray between the retainers of serjeant Pigot and Sir Andrew Wyndsor, both high in the royal favor, and his intention to bring both parties into the Star Chamber, "that they shall be ware how from henceforth they redress their matters with their own hands."


In the performance of these arduous and accumulated duties he was attacked by the sweating sickness, to the undisguised delight of all whom he had compelled to pay their just debts to the crown and submit to the impartial administration of the laws. In June 1517 he had been so seriously ill that his life was despaired of; "and for many days," says Giustinian, "neither the nobles, nor other members of the privy council, who are wont to be so assiduous, went near him." (fn. 18) In July he was suffering from quinsy: in August he was attacked by the prevailing sickness, and many of his household died; "this is the fourth time, says Giustinian, (fn. 19) who hated him for his firmness; and the complaint told heavily on his personal appearance. He now proposed a pilgrimage to Walsingham, and then to Our Lady of Grace, to take air and exercise and correct the weakness of his stomach, as he informed his royal master. He performed his vow and returned, but not to escape from a repetition of the attacks the next year. (fn. 20) Henry had not yet learned to be ungrateful. He sent various messages to Wolsey expressive of his satisfaction; praised the Cardinal's wisdom and diligence; went so far even as to say before Pace, (fn. 21) "he was no less contented with the Cardinal's contentation than though he had been his own father;" asserted before the lords (fn. 22) "that there was no man living who pondered more the surety of his person and the common wealth of his realm." He desired Wolsey, as soon as business would allow, to repair to Woodstock; "for here," writes Dr. Clark, through whom the communication was made, "is clear air, which his Grace thinketh ye will like very well."

The King's letter to him.

It was during the progress of the sickness, probably a few days before Wolsey started on his pilgrimage to Walsingham, that the king addressed to him the following letter in his own hand:

"Myne awne good Cardinall, I recomande me unto yow with all my hart, and thanke yow for the grette payne and labour that yow do dayly take in my bysynes and maters, desyryng yow (that wen yow have well establysshyd them) to take summe pastyme and comfort, to the intente yow may the lenger endure to serve us; for allways payne can nott be induryd. Surly yow have so substancyally orderyd oure maters, bothe off thys syde the see and byonde, that in myne oppynion lityll or no thyng can be addyd. Nevertheles, accordyng to your desyre, I do send yow myne oppynyon by thys berar, the refformation wheroff I do remyte to yow and the remnante off our trusty counsellers, whyche I am sure wyll substancially loke on hyt. As tochyng the mater that Sir Wyllyam Sandys broght answar off, I am well contentyd with what order so ever yow do take in itt. The Quene my wyff hathe desyryd me to make har most harty recommendations to yow, as to hym that she lovethe very well, and bothe she and I wolde knowe fayne when yow wyll repayer to us.

"No more to yow att thys tyme, but that with God's helpe I trust we shall dysapoynte oure enymys off theyre intendyd purpose. Wryttyn with the hand off your lovyng master,


So whilst the King, in compliance with his royal instincts and the solicitations of his subjects, took care of his own health—of all considerations the most precious—the Cardinal took care of the state. The court shifted from Richmond to Reading, from Reading to Abingdon, thence to Woodstock, or Wallingford, or Farnham, as fear or sickness prevailed. Masks and tournaments were at an end for a time; dice, card-playing, and divinity took their place. (fn. 23)

Evil May Day.

But whatever might be the effect on the court and the courtiers, the sweating sickness had not passed over the land without leaving its mark on the doors and sideposts of the lower population. Then, even more than now, any long absence of the court from London was fraught with evil consequences. It was disastrous to the good order as well as the prosperity of the metropolis. The king had nothing to fear from any competitor to the crown: the only relict of the betrampled De la Poles, the last of the White Roses, was a wretched exile at Metz in Lorraine, beset with spies and scoundrels, and starving on a wretched pittance from the king of France. This volume is too full of the mean and unscrupulous efforts employed to betray him to England and his brother's fate by two emissaries, Hans Nagel and Alamire, who played the traitors' part, and took money from both sides. But London apprentices were a restless and ignorant mob; the municipality of the city inadequate to the preservation of order upon extraordinary occasions, and accustomed to look to the court for help. The late sickness had been disastrous to business; the city was unguarded; foreign merchants had swarmed into London in unusual numbers; and foreign fashions, hitherto discountenanced, were growing popular at court in consequence of the increasing communication with the continent. The general dissatisfaction found vent at a time when it was least expected. Indications of it appeared as early as the spring of 1516. On the 28th April in that year Thomas Allen writes to the earl of Shrewsbury that a bill had been set upon the door of St. Paul's, reflecting on the king and his council. It insinuated that strangers obtained much money from the king, "and bought wools to the undoing "of Englishmen." The reflection was evidently aimed at the Venetian and Florentine merchants, the Campucci, Cavalcanti, and Frescobaldi, but especially the first, who obtained large concessions about this time. This incendiary handbill occasioned great displeasure, "insomuch that in every ward one of the king's council, with the alderman of the same, was commanded to see every man write that could; and further took every man's books and sealed them, and brought them to Guildhall there to examine them." The examination apparently produced few results; at least no further notice occurs of it in the papers of this year. But the fire still smouldered and soon after burst into a flame. Hall, in his Chronicle, attributes the disturbance to the boastfulness of the Genoese and the French; but most of "the strangers were so proud that they disdained, mocked, and oppressed" the poor English artificer, "who could scarce get a living." These and other stories must not be too easily credited: the citizens were actuated by jealousy of rival tradesmen and intense hatred of the least apparent invasion of their monopoly. In the Easter of 1517 a broker named John Lincoln called upon Dr. Henry Standish, (fn. 24) warden of the Mendicant Friars, the most popular preacher of the day, and begged him in the sermon which he was to preach on Easter Monday at St. Mary's Spittle to move the mayor and aldermen "to take part with the commonalty against the strangers." Standish wisely refused. Beaten, but not baffled, Lincoln applied to one Dr. Beale, a canon of the same hospital. He enlarged on the misery of the poor artificers, whose living was taken away by strangers; "and also how the English merchants could have no utterance; for the merchant strangers brought in all silks, cloth of gold, wine, oil, iron, and such other merchandize, that no man almost buyeth of an Englishman. And also outward they carry so much English wool, tin, and lead, that Englishmen that aventure outward can have no living; which things (said Lincoln) have been shewed to the council and cannot be heard. Wherefore (said Lincoln), Master Doctor, syth you were born in London, and see the oppression of the strangers, and the great misery of your own native country, exhort all the citizens to join in one against the strangers, raveners and destroyers of your country." Master Doctor, on hearing this, much lamented their case. "Yea," said Lincoln, "for the Dutchmen (Almains) bring over iron, timber, leather and wainscot, ready wrought; nails, locks, baskets, cupboards, stools, tables, chests, girdles with points, saddles, and painted (embroidered) cloths; so that if they were wrought here Englishmen might get something by it. And beside this they grow into such a multitude that it is to be looked upon; for I saw on a Sunday this Lent 600 strangers shooting at the popynjay with crossbows, and they make such a gathering to their common box that every botcher will hold plea (go to law) with the city of London." Then taking his leave, he put a paper of grievances into Beale's hand, which Beale promised to study.

The rioters taken.

On the Tuesday, after Dr. Standish, Beale preached to a crowded and excited audience, taking for his text, "The heaven is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; but the earth he has given to the children of men;"—cœlum cœli Domino, terram autem dedit filiis hominum. He argued with no little eloquence and ingenuity, that when God appointed their proper boundaries and habitations to all nations, he gave the land his audience stood upon as an inheritance to Englishmen for ever; and as birds would defend their nests, so (he urged) ought Englishmen to fight for their country and defend it against aliens. A popular topic, so enforced and so illustrated, was not likely to lose any of its effect. May-Day, the popular festival, was at hand; and the court, in dread of the sickness, had retired to Richmond. Two days before a rumor sprung up, no man could tell from what beginning, that the city would rise, and all strangers be massacred without discrimination. Wolsey sent for the chief members of the corporation, and demanded of the Mayor how the city stood. "Well, and in good quiet," answered the Mayor, as mayors are apt to do. "Nay," said the Cardinal, "we are informed that your young and riotous people will rise and distress the strangers. Hear ye of no such thing?" "No, surely," said the mayor, "and I trust so to govern them that the king's peace shall not be broken, and that I dare undertake, if I and my brethren the aldermen may be suffered." Wolsey dismissed them with a caution to look well to this matter. The aldermen talked the subject over, differed in their opinions, and no effectual precautions were adopted. According to Hall (whose antipathy to foreigners leads him to extenuate the insurrection in a manner inconsistent with the efforts afterwards used to punish and suppress it), the whole affair was a trifle. Sir John Munday, one of the aldermen, found two apprentices in his ward playing at bucklers, and a great company looking on. As they refused to disperse, he took one of them by the arm, who was immediately rescued. Instantly the cry of Clubs! Prentices! was raised; and in a moment the streets were thronged with a motley crowd of watermen, serving-men, and apprentices, swaying hither and thither, bent on mischief, but not yet resolved what course to take. Some fell to rining the houses, others ran to Leadenhall, the residence of Peter Meautis, the King's secretary, others to the strangers' quarters, plundering and destroying all that fell in their way. Hall accuses Sir Thomas Parr of exaggerating the report of the disturbance to the king, and greatly underrates the number of the rioters. He condemns Sir Richard Cholmeley, lieutenant of the Tower, for needlessly battering the city gates, "in a frantic fury," with certain pieces of ordnance, "which did little harm, howbeit his good will appeared." The serving-men and priests engaged in the riot escaped, says Hall, "but the poor prentices were taken!" The whole narrative, however, is so much colored by the writer's peculiar prejudices and his anxiety to exculpate the rioters, that he assumes as grave facts the rhetorical exaggerations of the preacher, and is unjust to the alien merchants. He accuses them of showing open contempt for the citizens, depriving them of their industry and emoluments, and dishonoring their wives and daughters;—an accusation of no probability, considering the paucity of their number, and the dangers to which they were exposed from the multitude and irritation of the citizens. "From that day," says Giustinian, "they commenced threatening the strangers that on the 1st May they would cut them to pieces and sack their houses." Sebastian gave Wolsey notice of the danger, and, apprehensive of the consequence, withdrew to Richmond. The rioters rose in the night of 30th of April, to the number of 2,000, sacked the houses of the French and Flemish artificers, and then proceeded to the residence of Peter Meautis, who escaped death by hiding himself in the belfry of the adjoining church. Their next object of attack was the Italian quarter, but the merchants there had provided themselves with men, arms, and artillery, and defied the mob, who drew off to attack the less resolute and the defenceless. Much greater mischief would have arisen but for the preacutionary measures of the Cardinal, who had ordered troops to advance by several roads to the city, "where they found the gates closed by these seditious ribalds, who had overpowered the forces of the lord mayor and aldermen, and compelled them to open the gaols and release the prisoners." The gates were forced in different directions; the preacher, with twelve of the ringleaders, and seventy of their adherents taken.

On the 4th of May, the prisoners were brought through the streets to trial, tied with ropes, two and two; "some men, some lads, some children of xiii. years." (fn. 25) They were tried on the statute of high treason; thirteen were found guilty, and condemned to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Gallows were erected in different parts of the city, and the executions entrusted to lord Surrey, the admiral, son of the duke of Norfolk, as knight marshal, who showed the unfortunate prisoners no mercy. The armed retainers of the duke and other noblemen appointed to keep order, regarded the citizens with hatred and disdain, and made no scruple of expressing their feelings in opprobrious words and gestures. On Thursday the 7th, Lincoln and the ring- leaders were ordered for execution; but Lincoln alone suffered; the rest were respited at the foot of the gallows. (fn. 26) These severities did not all at once produce the effects that had been anticipated. Great murmuring and disaffection rose among the people, especially among the women. Strangers were not safe in the city; blows were struck, foreigners were eyed with angry glances, though no serious riots ensued. Great as was their fear, their ill will was greater than ever. Numbers still remained in prison, uncertain of their fate. On the 11th the king removed to Greenwich, and received a deputation of the recorder and aldermen, dressed in black, who had come to excuse themselves and beg mercy for the offenders. Henry declined to grant their petition, and referred them to the chancellor. Eleven days after, attended by the Cardinal, the council, and the lords spiritual and temporal, the king, took his seat on a lofty dais, with great ceremony, in Westminster Hall: the mayor, aldermen, and chief citizens were in attendance. "The king commanded that all the prisoners should be brought forth. Then came in the poor younglings and old false knaves, bound in ropes, all along one after another, in their shirts, and every one with a halter about his neck, to the number of 400 men and eleven women." (fn. 27) The Cardinal as they presented themselves before the king entreated his Majesty to pardon them. The king refused. Turning to the delinquents the Cardinal announced the royal determination, On hearing it the culprits fell upon their knees, crying aloud, Mercy, Mercy! Then the Cardinal, falling on his knees, besought his Majesty's compassion, and at length obtained their pardon, which he announced to them with tears in his eyes, (fn. 28) urging them in a long discourse to be obedient subjects, and not oppose the will of their prince, who had resolved that all strangers should be well treated in his dominions. "And when the Cardinal told them this," says Sagudino, (fn. 29) "it was a fine sight to see each man take the halter from his neck, and fling it in the air; and how they jumped for joy, making such signs of rejoicing as became people who had escaped from extreme peril." (fn. 30)

The city was apparently quieted; and Hall, its apologist, says no more of this disastrous affairs, which had ended with much less mischief than might have been anticipated. But the punishment of the ringleaders sunk deep into the minds of the citizens: nothing could shake their conviction that undue partiality had been shown to the strangers, and a disproportionate severity to those who had only risen in defence of their inalienable rights as Englishmen. The ill feeling was fostered by the sight of the mutilated remains of those who had suffered for the part they had taken in the late insurrection. "At the city gates," says an eye-witness, (fn. 31) "one sees nothing but gibbets and the quarters of these wretches, so that it is horrible to pass near them." The memory of what Surrey and other noblemen had done, in their hour of triumph, was treasured up with feelings of resentment by the inhabitants of London. Their time for vengeance had not yet arrived; but hatred of the nobility became henceforth a strong element in the loyalty of London citizens, and no inconsiderable motive power in the Reformation. The rebellion burst forth again five months after, when the king and the Cardinal were away. Three of the ringleaders were apprehended, but previous experience had made the mayor and aldermen watchful, and nothing came of it. (fn. 32)

The friars and the populace.

The part taken by the religious orders in this dispute, and the identification of the Minorite friars and Dr. Standish with the popular cause, are deserving of notice. It is another proof, overlooked by the historians of the Reformation, of the favor borne to these orders by the town population. Then, as now, the secular clergy and bishops constituted an ecclesiastical aristocracy, and sympathized with the nobility. They joined with Erasmus in his ridicule of the friars; and this feeling of contempt for the preaching friar of the lower classes was not inconsistent with the conservatism exhibited by them at a later stage of the Reformation. It must be considered as still more strange that Dr. Standish, their warden, should have stood up in defence of the regal supremacy against the whole power of Convocation;—an act which neither the clergy nor the king ever forgot. (fn. 33) When the see of St. Asaph fell vacant in 1518, Wolsey, then at the very height of his credit, desired it for the prior of St. Bartholomew's, but in vain; and Pace writes to the Cardinal, (fn. 34) "the king will give St. Asse to friar Standish; whereof I would be right sorry for the good service "he was like to do to the Church. Erit tamen difficile huic rei obstare (ut mihi videtur) quia majestas regia illum mihi jampridem laudavit ex doctrina, et omnes isti domini aulici eidem favent de singulari quam navavit opera ad ecclesiam Anglicam subvertendam." The favor thus borne to Standish by the king for his defence of the royal supremacy is not easily reconciled with the popular notions entertained of the Mendicant friars, and the part taken by them in the religious movements of that age. More remarkable is the testimony of Pace that Standish stood high in the good graces of the courticrs, because like them, he was supposed to be no well-wisher to the Church. The readers of Burnet will remember a remarkable document, printed by that historian, containing a most graphic account of the part taken by Standish in the Convocation of 1515. (fn. 35) I must crave my readers indulgence for referring to this subject with some minuteness, not merely for its great importance, but because, in arranging the papers for this Calendar under the order of the Master of the Rolls, the answer made by the Convocation to the king, when summoned to defend itself for its treatment of Standish, was for the first time brought to light.

Their warden, Dr. Standish, asserts the royal supremacy.

Whilst the parliament was sitting in 1515, Richard Kidderminster, abbot of Winchcombe, preached a sermon at Paul's Cross, wherein he maintained that the act passed three years before for depriving murderers and other malefactors of the benefit of clergy, was contrary to the law of God and the liberties of the Church. At a council of divines and temporal lords summoned by the king to examine an assertion so derogatory to the laws of their realm, Standish spoke in favor of the act. The argument employed by him in defence of it was remarkable: "it was not," he said, "against the liberty of the Church, because it was passed for the weal of the whole realm." Upon this a divine, whose name has not been preserved, remarked that the exemption of the clergy from temporal penalties had been asserted by the canons, and by Christ himself; and, in defence of this assertion, he alleged the words Nolite tangere Christos meos. Standish replied, that these were not the words of Christ, but of David a thousand years before, and were spoken by the psalmist because the greater number of men were unbelievers in those days, and they were forbidden by David to molest those of the true faith, whom he called Christos. After some further discussion the temporal lords demanded that the bishops should compel the abbot to make an apology for what he had said. The bishops not only refused, but shortly after summoned Standish to answer before Convocation to certain articles involving the points in dispute. On perceiving their drift, Standish appealed for protection to the king. The two parties were immediately brought into collision: the clergy urged the king to maintain his coronation oath and defend the rights of the Church; the temporal lords appealed to the same oath in maintenance of the rights of the subject, and of Standish in particular. A commission, consisting of the judges, the privy council, certain spiritual and temporal lords, and a few members from the parliament, was ordered by the king to assemble at Blackfriars, and try the question. The arguments employed on both sides are worthy of notice; and even if the report of them—preserved by a lawyer—was favorable to Standish, the line of defence which he adopted was marked with so much ability as ought to modify the unfavorable judgment left us by Erasmus of the friar's ignorance and bigotry. Ultimately the judges determined that Convocation by its proceedings against Standish had incurred the guilt of prœmunire; and to this judgment they appended a clause more in accordance with the 17th than the 16th century, that the king, if he pleased, could hold a parliament by himself and the temporal lords and commons, without the assistance of the spirituality, who had no place there except by virtue of their temporal possessions. On this Wolsey, then archbishop of York, kneeled down before the king, and assured him that the clergy had no intention of doing anything prejudicial to the crown; and he, for one, who owed his advancement solely to his majesty, would never assent to anything in derogation of the royal authority. The clergy, he urged, had acted in good faith in this matter, and conformably to the duty, as they believed, imposed upon them by their oaths in defence of the liberties of the Church, and he prayed the king to allow the matter to be referred to the pope and his council at Rome. The king answered, "We think Dr. Standish has replied to you sufficiently on all points." Fox, bishop of Winchester, said, "Sir, I warrant you Dr. Standish will not abide by his opinion at his peril." Standish rejoined, "What should one poor friar do alone against all the bishops and clergy of England?" Then said the archbishop of Canterbury: in former days many holy fathers resisted the law of the land on this point, and some suffered martyrdom in the quarrel. Fineux, chief justice, answered, that the conventing of clerks before the lay judges had been practised by many holy kings, and many fathers of the church had agreed to it; adding, "If a clerk be arrested by the secular authority for murder or felony, and is committed to the clergy by the temporal judge, you of the clergy have no authority by your laws to try him." Hereupon the king said, "We are by the sufferance of God king of England, and the kings of England in times past never had any superior but God; know, therefore, that we will maintain the rights of the crown in this matter like our progenitors; and as for your decrees, we are satisfied that even you of the spiritualty act expressly against the words of several of them, as has been well shown you by some of our spiritual council. You interpret your decrees at your pleasure; but as for me, I will never consent to your desire, any more than my progenitors have done." The Convocation, in their answer, disavowed in humble and earnest terms any wish to interfere with the prerogative, but they claimed the right of discussing questions affecting the Church with the same unrestricted liberty as questions touching the clergy were discussed in the parliament. They said: "at sundry times divers of the parliament speak divers and many things, not only against men of the Church and against the laws of the Church, but also sometimes against the king's laws, for the which neither the king nor the prelates of the Church have punished them, nor yet desireth any punishment for their so speaking."

The royal supremacy no new principle.

A little study of these two remarkable documents will be sufficient to dissipate many popular misconceptions of the progress, purpose, and character of the Reformation in England, if those misconceptions have not been shaken already. The notions that the royal supremacy leapt fullarmed from the brain of Henry VIII., that the clergy were irresponsible even in spiritual matters, or that the pope could dictate from Rome to the sovereigns of this country, at least to Henry VIII. or Henry VII., beyond what those princes were willing to allow,—still more, that on the papal fiat depended the abstract right or wrong of any question in the minds of the people—are idle phantoms. The canon law had grown up side by side with the laws of the realm. In the weakness and imperfection of other laws, it seemed no more than fitting that the clergy, as a spiritual body, should be governed by spiritual laws:—the encroachments of those laws, and the difficulty of adjusting them with the temporal laws, provoked frequent disputes; but then it remained with the king to decide how far those spiritual laws should be operative. Convocation could pass no canons without the king's consent; no bull or ecclesiastical constitution could be published in this country without his sanction; no bishop, no abbot, no prior could assume their several offices without the royal permission. As a right, though not always as a fact, the supremacy of the king had continued from time immemorial:—the usurpations upon that right were resisted and modified by the energy and will of the sovereign. But in the reign of Henry VIII. the papal authority in England had ceased to be anything more than a form—a decorum to be observed—a concession to the opinions and usages of the age, which no orthodox son of the Church would wilfully or pointedly disregard, and so put himself outside the pale of Christendom, and excommunicate himself from what was then considered as "decent society." And here, the question discussed between Standish and his opponents, supposed to have been settled for ever by the blood of St. Thomas, is just as rife in men's minds, and as far from adjustment, as it was three centuries and a half before. The king's supremacy is as vital and energetic a principle in the minds of lawyers and divines, the peril of prœmunire as real, as when at the fall of Wolsey the king exerted that authority which here he was satisfied merely with asserting.

And what, perhaps, is no less curious, the part taken by Standish presents him and the friars, of whom he was the representative, in a very different light from that in which the religious orders appear in popular histories, (fn. 36) or in the sarcastic anecdotes of Erasmus. In giving due weight to the testimony of Erasmus it should be remembered that it is the hatred of the scholar and the wit, the man of refinement, of somewhat epicurean tastes and habits, for the vulgar, coarse, and popular preacher of the day. It was the judgment of the exquisite critic, of the favored visitant at the marble palaces of bishops and cardinals, upon the half-educated priest, very little removed from the low and uneducated classes amongst whom he labored, and over whom he exercised unbounded control. Atheism, talking Greek in high places, and armed with correct Latinity, was a less disagreeable sight to Erasmus than piety in bad Latin, violating the rules of Lilly's grammar. The friars were the assertors of the popular cause against the aristocracy and the hierarchy; at one time, they supported kings against both orders, braved them at another when their authority was oppressive;—but coarse, energetic, and turbulent in whatever they undertook.

The Reformation an organic development.

In fact the sixteenth century was not a mass of moral corruption out of which life emerged by some process unknown to art or nature; it was not an addled egg cradling a living bird; quite the reverse. Fervet totus mundus in justitia sua constituenda, is the repeated cry of Luther; (fn. 37) and an age busied with the great questions of righteousness, whether of faith or works, is not a demoralized or degenerate age, at all events, however roughly and rudely the discussion may be carried on. These are not the thoughts which trouble the hearts of men buried in sensuality. It was an age instinct with vast animal life, robust health, and muscular energy, terrible in its rude and unrefined appetites, its fiery virtues, and fierce passions. It had risen from the sleep of the last century "like a giant refreshed with wine." It was this new vigor and strength which alarmed those who had hitherto deemed its old guides sufficient, and were tempted to draw closer the ancient bonds, and knit them more firmly together. State super vias antiquas was the cry of those who, unwilling to look forward, saw with reluctance the scaffolding giving way under which the building had risen to such grand and majestic proportions. Under that old system England had emerged from barbarism to civilisation; from wandering hordes of broken tribes to the unity of a great nation; from hovels of clay to cathedrals and palaces; from the outscourings of Saxons, Danes, and Normans, to a great, strong, and independent people. It was the admiration of the world for its material wealth and prosperity; it was not given to lying, as historians now-a-days tell us, but manly, candid, and trustworthy; too honest and straightforward to believe in deceit, and therefore, as these papers show, too easy to be deceived. State super vias antiquas, cried men who looked back upon the goodly deeds of their forefathers, as Englishmen will every now and then cry out by reason of their conservative instincts; as all men naturally will cry out who have a past upon which they can and they dare look back. So the stronger went forward, and the timid stayed behind; not necessarily less earnest or less morally pure than the bolder and more advanced; for among laymen Sir Thomas More was as honest as Cromwell or Rich, and among churchmen Fisher was as conscientious as Cranmer. (fn. 38)

Wolsey at the height of favour.

Supreme in the Privy Council

It was during the period embraced in these volumes that Wolsey's fortunes reached their culminating point. The marriage of Mary with Lewis XII. had greatly advanced his influence. It established him in the confidence of the royal family as no minister in his own time, or before him, had ever been; not even Suffolk, the king's brother-in-law. The terms in which he addresses Mary and Margaret, and even Katharine of Arragon, indicate the familiar footing on which he was received by the different branches of the royal family. His first letter to Mary, (fn. 39) then a widow and a queen, is conceived more in the tone of a personal friend than of a prime minister. He begs her, "for the old service he has done her," to make no rash engagements; "and for my part," he concludes, "to the effusion of my blood and spending of my goods I shall never forsake nor leave you." Strange language this to come from the lips of a minister to a queen in the time of the Tudors! And both queens, though neither loved him, were accustomed to this somewhat magisterial tone, and replied to him in terms of respect and submission. Of the light in which he was regarded by the king evidence has been given already. To the Pope he addressed himself in the canonized terms of humility, such as no sovereign, much less a bishop of those times, whatever his power or however bitter his resentment, would for a moment think of neglecting; but if Leo X. ever dreamed of temporizing with Wolsey, or putting him off with promises and apologies, he was quickly made to feel who was the real pontiff of the West. His enemies accounted him haughty and imperious; and much more humility or moderation than Wolsey possessed could scarcely have escaped the imputation. Such a sight as this Cardinal presented was not common to the eyes of Christendom. The great nobles could obtain no audience of him until after four or five applications; foreign ambassadors not even then. "He is omnipotent," says Erasmus, writing to Cardinal Grimani. (fn. 40) "All the power of the state is centered in him," is the observation of Giustinian; (fn. 41) "he is in fact ipse rex." "Whether it be by necromancy, witchcraft, or policy, no man knoweth," (fn. 42) murmured the people in taverns and highways. Yet undisputed as was the supremacy of this great minister, it was surely no more than might have been expected. In genius, in penetration, in aptitude for business, and indefatigable labor, he had no equal. All despatches addressed to ambassadors abroad or at home passed through his hands;—the entire political correspondence of the times was submitted to his perusal, and waited for his decision. Before a single measure was submitted to the Privy Council, it was shaped by Wolsey's hands; he managed it unaided and alone when it had passed their approval. Fox, the only minister of any experience, seldom attended; Suffolk dared not offer opposition. Norfolk, who had endeavoured and once had partly succeeded in thwarting Wolsey's authority, had been defeated and yielded. He was too haughty to conceal a temper not less imperious than the Cardinal's, and wanted the flexibility and courtesy of manner required in a successful courtier. Of the rest, Ruthal was "the treble to Wolsey's bass;" Lovell and Sir Henry Marney without influence. Serious disputes had arisen more than once, and endangered the Cardinal's position. "Here is a great snarling in the Privy Council," writes Thomas Allen to the earl of Shrewsbury, "insomuch that my lord Cardinal said to Sir Henry Marney, that the same Sir Henry had done more displeasure unto the king's grace, by reason of his cruelty against the great estates of this realm than any man living. .. The Cardinal and Sir Wm. Compton are marvellous great. .. The lord Marquis (Dorset), the earl of Surrey (Afterwards duke of Norfolk), and the lord Abergavenny were put out of the Council chamber within these four days, whatever that did mean." The same writer, a few weeks after, advises the earl not to come up to London; "for there are some things come not so well to pass"—alluding to the ill success of Wolsey's policy with Maximilian,—"wherein few were of counsel, as the beginners of the same thought they would have done. I hear some things which are not to be written." (fn. 43) These obscure remarks receive further illustration from a letter of Giustinian: (fn. 44) "For many days and months past the bishop of Winchester (Fox) and the archbishop of Canterbury (Warham), who were principal members of the government, have withdrawn themselves, on account, it is said, of the succor given to the Emperor against the king of France. (fn. 45) Canterbury was Lord Chancellor, and Winchester Privy Seal, both which offices are of extreme importance, and have been resigned by them. The Chancellorship has been conferred on the Cardinal, the Privy Seal on the bishop of Durham. The duke of Suffolk, who married the queen-widow of France, has also absented himself; it is said he is not so much in favour with the king as before. Sir Thomas Lovel, an old servant of the late and the present king, a person of great authority, seems also to have withdrawn himself, and interferes little in the government. So the whole direction of affairs rests, to the dissatisfaction of everybody, with the right reverend Cardinal, the bishop of Durham and the lord Treasurer (Norfolk)."

Envied for his policy;

Wolsey's position was not a bed of roses. Exposed by his monopoly of the king's favor to the envy of the nobility in general; to the odium of one class for his cardinalate, of another for his impartial justice or his rigid economy; whatever line of policy he found it necessary to adopt he was opposed by one party or more in the nation. To the people in general an alliance with France was as distasteful as ever; to the nobility it was otherwise. The statesmen of the old school believed that union with France implied peace in Christendom, with plenty and economy at home. To them a German alliance seemed but a shadow, or a bottomless waste. Yet popular wilfulness compelled the wiser not unfrequently to abandon their better convictions, and sacrifice the real interests of England to popular clamor. On the other hand, the German was identified even then, and still more in the sequel, with opposition to the Pope. So disputes sprang up in the council upon the questions of its foreign policy; Fox, Warham, and Suffolk, who supported French interests, withdrew, but only for a time,—not out of hatred to Wolsey, as Polydore Vergil represents, for all were present at the ceremonies when Wolsey received the cardinal's hat, (fn. 46) and Suffolk was always desirous of reconciliation. Fox appeared at the council in November 1515, again in November 1516 (fn. 47) after he is represented as having laid down his office and permanently retired; again in December interceding for the papal nuncio, Chieregato; (fn. 48) and again in January 1517; (fn. 49) —facts inconsistent with Polydore's account. Opposed to Wolsey's imperial policy, on the marriage of Mary with the dauphin Fox wrote to the cardinal "that was the best deed ever done for England." (fn. 50)

In further illustration of this obscure subject, so important for a clear understanding of the times, we have a remarkable letter of Wolsey, addressed to De Giglis, bishop of Worcester, the English agent at the Vatican. The bishop had reported to Wolsey certain rumours then current at Rome, of a conspiracy formed by some parties in England to work his destruction by the aid of France; and of this the Pope had desired him to take warning. (fn. 51) Wolsey replied (fn. 52) that it was impossible to describe the king's gratitude for the information communicated by the Pope;—not that he was really apprehensive of any danger, for there was no king in the world more ardently beloved or more respected by his subjects. His very looks, he added, strike terror into evildoers. As for himself and his administration the kingdom was never in greater unity or repose than at present, "tanti enim justitiam et œquitatem facio, absit jactantiœ crimen; and were I to offer to resign I am sure neither the king nor his nobles would permit it."

and impartial administration of justice.

Possibly he might overrate his popularity with the nobles, but his confidence in his own administration of justice was well founded. His worst enemies, his most incessant maligners, were reluctantly compelled to admit that in his functions as Chancellor he behaved admirably. (fn. 53) To that post he had been appointed on the resignation of Warham, 22nd December 1515; not as Polydore Vergil represents, in consequence of a successful intrigue, but at the earnest request of the king. (fn. 54) More's commendation of him is well known. (fn. 55) "The archbishop," he says, "has succeeded at last in getting quit of the chancellorship, which he has been laboring to do for some years. The king has nominated Wolsey in his room, who acquits himself so well as to outdo all men's expectations;—and, what must be admitted to be very difficult, even after so excellent a predecessor he gives the greatest satisfaction." The testimony of Fox is to the same effect. At the time when the bishop is represented as withdrawing from the council table in disgust, he wrote from his retreat to Wolsey, who was anxious to bring him to court, that if he had not the most satisfactory reason for his absence in his anxiety to visit his diocese after twenty-eight years of neglect, he should be very ungrateful and forgetful, considering Wolsey's goodness to him in times past. He professed that no one had ever greater will to serve the king than he, especially since Wolsey's great charge (of the chancellorship);—"perceiving better, straighter, and speedier ways of justice, "and more diligence and labor for the king's right, duties, "and profits to be in you, than ever I see in times past in any other." And he adds a remark, which will seem strange to those who are accustomed to draw their notions of these times from popular histories,—that his absence "was not to hunt or hawk, nor yet for quietness of his mind, which is troubled night and day with other men's iniquities more than he dare write; of which Wolsey told him he had some knowledge when he was bishop of Lincoln." (fn. 56)

His labors.

An economist.

In the same letter Fox urges him to lay aside all business "from six o'clock in the evening forward," thus showing the Cardinal's indefatigable labors. He rose at an early hour of the morning and regularly heard mass; then mounting his mule he proceeded to Westminster Hall; (fn. 57) was engaged in court until eleven, and when business required it passed from the court of Chancery to the Star Chamber. Every Sunday whilst the court was at Greenwich, which generally happened during the winter months, he visited the king. What remained of the day after these duties were over, was spent in drawing despatches, giving audience to ambassadors, attending to the political news and correspondence of the times, introducing a more regular and economical system into the different branches of the administration—of finance and customs especially. Before his time the accounts had been kept very irregularly: long arrears of debts were allowed to accumulate; large sums had been advanced by the crown to noblemen and parasites with no expectation of repayment; its rights and sources of revenue had been clogged and straitened in various ways;—all these it was Wolsey's province to bring into a state of efficiency. (fn. 58) As might be expected, these reforms drew down great odium upon him, and the charge of penuriousness. To one naturally profuse like Henry VIII., surrounded by extravagant young men, who wasted large sums of money at play and upon the absurd and fantastic fashions of the times, the Cardinal's conduct in this respect was easily misrepresented. To these temporal duties were added his ecclesiastical, as cardinal and legate.

Not strong.

Yet his health was by no means strong, nor was the advice of Fox unneeded. Throughout the four years embraced in this volume Wolsey was continually ailing. Four times he was attacked by the sweating sickness. (fn. 59) In June 1517 his life was despaired of; in August his household and himself were again suffering from the popular epidemic. (fn. 60) In October 1518 he was too unwell to receive the visits of the foreign ambassadors. (fn. 61) Yet no interruption took place in the business of the nation. Despatches passed and repassed with their usual punctuality. Scotland, ready to throw the borders into disorder and insurrection, was restrained; Spain and the Netherlands kept on the best terms; and France, tired of war, and anxious for an alliance with England, was entertained and certainly out-witted in its negociations for Tournay.


Transported with anger.

That he was peremptory, unceremonious, and sometimes lost his temper, must be admitted,—will probably have been expected by those who consider his excessive labours. The extreme difficulties of his position, the impatience of a man of great genius and penetration at the interruptions, follies and contradictions to which he was exposed by conceited mediocrity or pertinacious self-interest, were a sore trial to a man incessantly employed and fully alive to the value of minutes. The prudence and apprehensions of modern times have divided the great offices once centered in Wolsey, and in him only. His position and power were exceptional, and must be judged accordingly. He was responsible to no one except his Sovereign; and the king, occupied with fears of the plague or amusements at court, or well satisfied with his minister, had little reason to interfere and less to condemn. Suitors complained that Wolsey was hard of access, that he displayed his resentments too openly, that he adopted too imperious a style for a subject, that he identified himself too much with his own political measures, and proportioned his anger and gratitude accordingly. In one instance he proceeded to lay hands on the papal nuncio, utterly regardless of his sacred character, or his immunity as ambassador, declaring that if the nuncio would not confess the nature of his communications with France, he should be put on the rack. (fn. 62) The report was probably exaggerated. Still, for a prime minister and a Cardinal to be so far transported beyond himself was, even in that rough age, regarded with astonishment. On another occasion, he sent for Sebastian's secretary, and rated him soundly: "I charge your ambassador and you not to write any thing out of this kingdom without my consent, under pain of the king's indignation and the heaviest penalties;" and these words he repeated, growing more and more irritated every instant, and gnawing a cane which he held in his hand. (fn. 63) But such excessive fits of irritation were not usual, and were to be traced in these instances to one and the same cause, in which a curious point of his history in involved.

The cause of it.

In May 1517, two cardinals, De Sauli and Sienna, were committed to the castle of St. Angelo, for attempting to poison Leo X. by means of a surgeon. (fn. 64) Cardinal St. George, papal chamberlain, once a favorite of Julius II., and cardinal Hadrian, formerly papal collector in England, and bishop of Bath and Wells, were implicated in the conspiracy; St. George, for hearing the intemperate threats of Sienna without revealing them to the Pope; Hadrian, because Sienna had said in his presence, pointing to the surgeon, "That fellow will get the college out of trouble." (fn. 65) The accusation might have been treated as a calumny, had not Hadrian, with tears in his eyes, fallen at the Pope's feet, and besought his mercy. (fn. 66) Against Hadrian, Leo entertained a grudge of ancient standing. He had contrived, under the pretence of befriending Hadrian, to exasperate the king of England against him, and obtain the dismissal of Hadrian and his deputy, Polydore Vergil, from the collectorship. Possibly, in his resentment at the Pope's duplicity, Hadrian would have been by no means unwilling had the conspiracy succeeded, even if he declined to take any active part in it himself. Sienna was put to death secretly. (fn. 67) St. George purchased peace and pardon by a large sum of money. Hadrian fled to Venice, from which place he wrote to Wolsey (19th July), (fn. 68) begging his favorable intercession with the king and the pope. This is probably the last of his letters that has been preserved. His subsequent fate is hidden in impenetrable mystery. Great efforts were made by the Venetians, through Sebastian, their ambassador in England, to obtain Hadrian's restoration. The Venetian had the audacity to abstract from Wolsey's packet a letter addressed by the signory in favour of Hadrian, and present it to the king, unknown to Wolsey. (fn. 69) This was the secret of Wolsey's wrath. Sebastian, who would not otherwise have been admitted, in consequence of the sweating sickness, pretended urgent business;—was introduced, presented the letter, and met the rebuff he deserved. The king told him that he was perfectly well acquainted with the whole affair, and had received intelligence from the Pope that Hadrian had confessed, and was to be degraded. When Sebastian attempted to excuse the Cardinal, he was cut short by the curt remark, "I understand this matter better than you "Venetians!" Sebastian attributed the king's displeasure to the suggestions of Wolsey, who had obtained the see of Bath in commendam by Hadrian's disgrace. The offence was in reality of much earlier standing.

Polydore Vergil.

Hadrian's factor in England was Polydore Vergil, (fn. 70) the historian. His imprisonment and loss of employment are notorious. It has been broadly stated by most English historians that his imprisonment was owing to Wolsey's resentment, who, on failing to receive the assistance he expected from Hadrian, in his efforts to obtain the cardinalate, seized his deputy collector, and committed him to the Tower. This tale, with its various embellishments, rests, like many others in which historians indulge without examination, on mere conjecture, and is not very probable. The true cause of Polydore's and his patron's disgrace are now for the first time laid open in these papers. A wit,—and, like wits, not always very careful or scrupulous,—Polydore was in the habit of writing letters from England to Hadrian, reflecting on the king, Wolsey, and others. It happened, unfortunately for the writer, that one of these letters fell into the hands of his rival Ammonius; or, more probably was intercepted, and sent to Ammonius from Rome. It is not hard to conjecture that Worcester was the agent. The intercepted letter (fn. 71) was shown to Wolsey, with certain comments expressing the Pope's indignation. In terms neither decent nor discreet Vergil had thrown out imputations against the Pope and the king. He had called the latter a mere boy; said he was ruled by others, and signed papers without being acquainted with their contents. The Pope stated that he would be glad to have an opportunity of chastising Hadrian, and begged that his and Polydore's letters might be intercepted. The letter of Polydore was ambiguously worded, yet not so completely as to veil its true meaning from those into whose hands it fell. It professed to give a circumstantial account of the intrigues set on foot to deprive himself and Hadrian of the collectorship. Ammonius was libelled under the name of Harenarius (sandy); (fn. 72) and De Giglis, the bishop of Worcester, who had been implicated in the poisoning of Cardinal Bainbridge, under the nick-name of talpa (mole) significant of his underhand proceedings. He accused the Pope of intriguing with the king, and inducing the latter to write a letter to his Holiness indicating his wish that Hadrian should resign; though Polydore believed that the king entertained no such desire. A third person is introduced under the monosyllables le. mi., and there can be no doubt that Wolsey is intended. Polydore says, he has offered le. mi. 100l. annually;—that le. mi. is hateful to heaven and earth;—that he is so tyrannical, his influence cannot last;—all England abuses him;—and, as if that were not enough, "he is now for money's " sake treating of peace with the French, without re " verence for man or God." Polydore and Hadrian were imperialists; and the presence of Suffolk at the court of Francis I. gave an air of probability to the rumor.

Sent to the Tower.

His revenge.

It will surprise no one who knows the temper of those times, to learn that Polydore found himself, a few days after, an inmate of the Tower, and his deputy collectorship irrecoverably forfeited. (fn. 73) He languished in prison until the end of the year, though repeated applications in his favor came from the Pope—instigated apparently by his fears of Hadrian. In his captivity, Polydore addressed the most abject letters to Wolsey for mercy. (fn. 74) He told Wolsey he had heard with rapture of his elevation to the Cardinal's throne; and whenever Wolsey would allow him an opportunity to present himself, he would gaze and bow in adoration, and his spirit should rejoice in him "as in God my Saviour." He prayed that his punishment might be wholly remitted, and Wolsey's gifts perfected in him, even as he himself was perfect. It will surprise no one to learn, after this letter, that Polydore went home in the spring of 1516, and took immortal revenge when he was fairly out of the Cardinal's reach. He sneered at the Cardinal's birth, sneered at his ingratitude, sneered at his buildings, sneered at his administration of justice, sneered at his cardinal's hat. He painted Wolsey, in his history, as an ambitious priest, (fn. 75) successful only because he was unscrupulous; distinguished mainly for his underhanded intrigues in banishing Fox and Warham from the council table. He called him a foolish architect, for building the palace of Bridewell on the muddy banks of the Thames; (fn. 76) a blusterer in chancery, whose administration of justice was a shadow without reality, and doomed to vanish like a shadow; a vulgar upstart, intoxicated with dignities undeserved; a parvenu whose brain was turned by his gilded chair, the gold fringes of his cushion and tablecloth—(to which, Polydore forgot to tell his hearers, he had offered to bow down in adoration),—and his cardinal's hat, which was carried before him like an idol, whenever he walked abroad to take the air, by some tall fellow in his livery, and placed conspicuously on the altar in the chapel royal when mass was sung. Our only surprise is, that every historian in succession should have accepted this as a true picture, each adding a little to the original caricature;—Hall took it from Vergil, Foxe from Hall, Burnet and Strype from Foxe, Hume from Burnet, and so on to the end of the series.


  • 1. f. 9.
  • 2. f. 18, 19.
  • 3. f. 7.
  • 4. f. 18.
  • 5. "I am frequently astonished and grieved to think how it is that England has been now for so many years troubled by a continual pestilence, especially by a deadly sweat, which appears in a great measure to be peculiar to your country. I have read how a city was once delivered from a plague by a change in the houses, made at the suggestion of a philosopher. I am inclined to think that this also must be the deliverance for England."First of all, Englishmen never consider the aspect of their doors or windows;—next, their chambers are built in such a way as to admit of no ventilation. Then a great part of the walls of the house is occupied with glass casements, which admit light, but exclude the air, and yet they let in the draft through holes and corners, which is often pestilential and stagnates there. The floors are in general laid with white clay, and are covered with rushes, occasionally removed, but so imperfectly that the bottom layer is left undisturbed, sometimes for twenty years, harboring expectorations, vomitings, the leakage of dogs and men, ale-droppings, scraps of fish, and other abominations not fit to be mentioned. Whenever the weather changes, a vapour is exhaled, which I consider very detrimental to health. I may add that England is not only everywhere surrounded by sea, but is in many places swampy and marshy—(Erasmus no doubt meant Essex),—intersected by salt rivers, to say nothing of salt provisions, in which the common people take so much delight. I am confident the island would be much more salubrious if the use of rushes were abandoned, and if the rooms were built in such a way as to be exposed to the sky on two or three sides, and all the windows so built as to be opened or closed at once; and so completely closed as not to admit the foul air through chinks; for as it is beneficial to health to admit the air, so is it equally beneficial at times to exclude it. The common people laugh at you if you complain of a cloudy or foggy day. Thirty years ago if ever I entered a room which had not been occupied for some months, I was sure to take a fever. More moderation in diet, and especially in the use of salt meats, might be of service; more particularly were pubic ædiles appointed to see the streets cleaned from mud and urine, and the suburbs kept in better order." * *—Erasmus to [John ?] Francis, Wolsey's physician.
  • 6. As a specimen of the different modes of treatment adopted for the sweating sickness, I give certain extracts from the Additional MSS. in the British Museum in the Appendix to this preface.
  • 7. 1815, 1832.
  • 8. 4320.
  • 9. 4331.
  • 10. 4125.
  • 11. 4057 sq.
  • 12. Nov. 1517. No. 3788.
  • 13. No. 4009.
  • 14. No. 3603.
  • 15. No. 3645.
  • 16. No. 4332.
  • 17. August, 1517; App. No. 38.
  • 18. 3372.
  • 19. 3638, 3655.
  • 20. The precautions adopted by Wolsey in consequence of these repeated attacks were misrepresented by his satirists and disappointed suitors. Allen, a chaplain to the earl of Shrewsbury, complains that when the Cardinal walked in the park at Hampton Court he would suffer no suitor to come near him within bowshot. (25 Nov. 1517.) Skelton ridicules him for indulging in light and nutritious diets, such as pheasants and partridges.While on this visit to Walsingham, it seems that Wolsey went on to Norwich, and arranged a dispute between the citizens and the monks, relative to a piece of ground called Tombland.
  • 21. 4071.
  • 22. 4124.
  • 23. "Carding and dicing, for this Holy Week, is turned into picking off (pitching of?) arrows over the screen in the hall!"—Pace to Wolsey, from Abingdon, where the court was then staying.
  • 24. Immortalized for his quarrel with Erasmus. He was afterwards Bishop of St. Asaph, St. Asse, or De Asino, as Pace and Erasmus called him. His name occurs frequently with Colet's and Grocyn's among the court preachers.
  • 25. Hall.
  • 26. Stow adds a circumstance omitted by Hall, whose account he follows in other respects. "It is to be noted that three queens, sc., Katharine queen of England, and by her means Mary the French queen, and Margaret queen of Scots, the king's sisters, then resident in England, long time on their knees before the king, had begged their pardon, which by persuasion of the cardinal Wolsey (without whose counsel he would then do nothing) the king granted unto them."—Chron. p. 506. Five days after Margaret returned to Scotland.
  • 27. Hall.
  • 28. Hall, who hated Wolsey, has omitted many little circumstances in his account of this affair, which he thought might be creditable to the Cardinal. The best account of it will be found in Giustinian's despatches.
  • 29. 3259.
  • 30. By this, "the King might perceive they were none of the discretest sort," is Hall's frigid comment on this demonstration. He adds, more appropriately, that the gallows were taken down, and from that time the citizens looked more carefully after their apprentices and servants.
  • 31. 3259.
  • 32. 3697.
  • 33. 1312–14.
  • 34. 4074.
  • 35. See 1313.
  • 36. Unfortunately, in all our popular histories the Reformation has been presented from the Elizabethan point of view, when men's impressions and notions about it had undergone great changes from a variety of causes.
  • 37. Luther's most earnest remontrances were directed not against bad but against "good works," and the stress laid upon them by the advocates of the old religion. If that religion had been in its practice so generally corrupt, as it is represented to have been by modern writers, such denunciations were idle.
  • 38. "Whereupon Gargantua, fearful lest the child should hurt himself, caused four great chains of iron to be made to bind him, and so many strong wooden arches unto his cradle most firmly stacked and morticed in huge frames ... Thus continued Pantagruel [the genius of the Reformation] for a while, very clam and quiet, for he was not able so easily to break those chains, especially having no room in the cradle to give a swing with his arms. But see what happened once on a great holiday that his father Gargantua made a sumptuous banquet to all the princes of his court. Hark what he did, good people! He strove and essayed to break the chains of the cradle with his arms, but could not, for they were too strong for him. Then did he keep with his feet [i.e. the masses] such a stamping, and so long, that at last he beat out the lower end of his cradle, which not-withstanding was made of a great post five feet square; and as soon as he had gotten out his feet, he slid down as well as he could till he had got his soles to the ground, and then with a mighty force he rose up, carrying his cradle upon his back bound to him, like a tortoise that crawls up against a wall. In this manner he entered into the great hall where they were banqueting, and that very boldly, and did much affright the company; yet, because his arms were tied in, he could not reach anything to eat, but with great pain stooped now and then a little to take with the whole flat of his tongue some good lick, good bit or morsel [i.e. popular liberties, at first, after the Reformation more slowly and grudgingly conceded]. Which when his father saw, he saw well enough that they had left him without giving him anything to eat, and therefore commanded that he should be loosed from the said chains. ... When he was unchained they made him sit down, where after he had fed very well [the increase of science and education], he took his cradle and broke it into more than five hundred thousand pieces, with one blow of his fist, swearing he would never come into it again."—Rabelais, II. 4.
  • 39. 15.
  • 40. 31 March 1515.
  • 41. 1086, 1380.
  • 42. 2733.
  • 43. 2018.
  • 44. 17 July 1516.
  • 45. There were two parties in the cabinet, as in the nation at large—the French and the German. Norfolk sided with the latter throughout.
  • 46. 1153.
  • 47. 2559.
  • 48. 2643.
  • 49. 2839.
  • 50. 4540.
  • 51. The French faction were the chief authors of Wolsey's fall in after life, and Suffolk the instrument then, as he seems to be alluded to now; whether set on by others or his own suggestion is uncertain. He was signally insincere and ungrateful. The reader will do well to peruse, in reference to this topic, Pace's remarkable letters.
  • 52. 3973.
  • 53. 1335. 1552. "He is pensive "and has the reputation of being extremely just; he favors the people exceedingly, and especially the poor, hearing their suits and seeking to despatch them instantly. He also makes the lawyers plead gratis for all paupers." This is the testimony of Giustinian, who assuredly was not partial to Wolsey. "In matters of judicature he behaved himself commendably. I hear no widows' sighs nor see orphans' tears in our chronicles caused by him. Sure in such cases wherein his private ends made him not a party, he was an excellent justicier."—Fuller's Holy State, iv. 3.
  • 54. 1551.
  • 55. More, in a letter addressed to Warham, after his resignation, speaks of the difficulty the arch-bishop had to encounter in prevailing upon the king to allow him to resign.—Appendix.
  • 56. 1814. This passage shows how keenly Shakspeare, under all disadvantages, had penetrated into the under-current of Wolsey's feelings. "If I had served my God with half the zeal I served my king," was not a temporary regret wrung from him in the moment of disappointment, but a thought and something more that had flashed ever and anon across his mind through his long and arduous administration.—See also Cavendish, by Singer, p. 105.
  • 57. Cavendish speaks of his being attended on his way to Westminster Hall "with noblemen and gentlemen of his own family;"—an expression intended apparently to apply to the young gentlemen and noblemen in Wolsey's service. Giustinian speaks of two brothers of the Cardinal, one of whom, he says, held a benefice. I have found no notice of either, or of any other member of Wolsey's family, with one exception. There is a petition to him from one John Fayrechild, son of Elizabeth Wulcy, the Cardinal's sister, desiring some small place, as comptroller of the works of Tournay (1368). But the applicant's name does not occur again in connexion with any office. His family received no benefit from his high offices; even Wynter, his reputed son, now about fourteen years old, was kept in straitened circumstances.—See Byrchinshaw's letter to Wolsey, 4692. Of the gentlemen in his service, Jerningham writes:"I had obtained a laboret for your grace, who plays reasonably well, but is oftentimes overseen with drink, which me seemed was not meet for your grace, nor to be in the company of so many young gentlemen as your grace hath in your service."—Jerningham to Wolsey, 3202.
  • 58. Of the enormous number of debtors to the crown, and the sums invested, the reader may gain some notion from the list of loans and recognizances at the end of this volume.
  • 59. 3372.
  • 60. 3638.
  • 61. 4510, 4529. It was probably after these repeated attacks, and to prevent their recurrence, that the Cardinal was in the habit, as Cavendish relates, of carrying "in his hand a very fair orange, whereof the meat or substance within was taken out and filled up again with part of a sponge, wherein was vinegar and other confections against the pestilent airs."
  • 62. 7th Dec. 1516.
  • 63. 3581.
  • 64. 3277.
  • 65. 3356.
  • 66. 3352. Tunstal, speaking of his communication with Fra Nicolas, the papal commissioner, who was perfectly well informed on this subject, states that this friar informed him that Cardinal St. George confessed he was an accomplice, without the torture being applied (3373). The notion of putting a cardinal on the rack did not seem strange to Tunstal or his correspondent.
  • 67. 3406.
  • 68. 3493.
  • 69. 3558.
  • 70. Vergil was not an assumed name. He had a brother Jerome Vergil, a merchant in London. 215, 2130.
  • 71. 215.
  • 72. The word arenarius, besides being Latin for Ammonius, means also a prize-fighter, and Polydore might intend this play upon the word, and I think did;—the prize for which Ammonius was fighting being the deputy collectorship. The true name of Ammonius seems to be de Arena (see vol. i. 4963), which he Græcized in conformity with the pedantic taste of that age.
  • 73. 272.
  • 74. 970.
  • 75. "Divinis litteris non indoctus," is the tame compliment paid him by Polydore. That is, he was fit to read his mass-book and thumb his breviary;—a Thomist, not a Ciceronian;—neither a scholar nor a gentleman, but a respectable sort of hedge-priest.
  • 76. Various sums are entered in the King's Book of Payments for buildings at Blackfriars, under the superintendence of Thomas Larke. In Aug. 1515, 1,000l.; in April 1516, 1,000l.; in Feb. 1517, the same sum; and the same sum in June following. It is almost needless to say that Polydore's sarcasm must not be accepted as literally true. The north side of the Thames was studded with palaces and noblemen's seats, from Bridewell to Westminster; and there could be no more pleasant sight in the world than the prospect from these houses, when the southern side was unoccupied, and the Surrey hills stretched away in endless prospect of green fields and hawthorns, and the river was crowded with painted barges flashing along with watermen in bright liveries and the gayest of company. None but the veriest tradesmen, and apprentices bearing their clogs and lanterns, dreamed of threading the fetid mud and mantling ditches of London; or exposing their fine clothes and persons to the filthy birds and gaunt dogs, more quarrelsome than apprentices, that snarled and wrangled over the garbage cast into the streets by thrifty citizens. Bridewell, however, was never a favourite resort of Henry VIII.; and after the trial of Katharine, Polydore's flurt at its deserted chambers was probably well founded.
  • 77. 1313, 1314.
  • 78. 31 May 1516. 1959.