27. Henry VIII And His Wives, A.D. 1528—1547
When Henry VIII. had so ungratefully treated Cardinal Wolsey, there was no one to keep him in order. He would have no more to do with the pope, but said he was head of the Church of England himself, and could settle matters his own way. He really was a very learned man, and had written a book to uphold the doctrines of the Church, which had caused the people to call him the Defender of the Faith. After the king's or queen's name on an English coin you may see F. D.—Fidei Defensor. This stands for that name in Latin. But Henry used his learning now against the pope. He declared that his marriage with Katharine was good for nothing, and sent her away to a house in Huntingdonshire, where, in three years' time, she pined away and died. In the meantime, he had married Anne Boleyn, taken Crumwell for his chief adviser, and had made Thomas Cranmer archbishop of Canterbury. Then, calling himself the head of the Church, he insisted that all his people should own him as such; but the good ones knew that our Lord Jesus Christ is the only real Head of the Church, and they had learnt to believe that the pope is the father bishop of the west, though he had sometimes taken more power than he ought, and no king could ever be the same as a patriarch or father bishop. So they refused, and Henry cut off the heads of two of the best—Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More— though they had been his great friends. Sir Thomas More's good daughter Margaret, came and kissed him on his way to be executed; and afterwards, when his head was placed on a spike on London Bridge, she came by night in a boat and took it home in her arms.
There were many people, however, who were glad to break with the pope, because so much had gone amiss in the Church, and they wanted to set it to rights. There was so much more reading, now that printing had been invented, that many could read who had never learnt Latin, and so a translation of the Bible was to be made for them, and there was a great desire that the Church Services—many of which had also been in Latin—should likewise be put into English, and the litany was first translated, but no more at present. The king and Crumwell had taken it upon them to go on with what had been begun in Wolsey's time—the looking into the state of all the monasteries. Some were found going on badly, and the messengers took care to make the worst of everything. So all the worst houses were broken up, and the monks sent to their homes, with a small payment to maintain them for the rest of their lives.
As to the lands that good men of old had given to keep up the convents, that God might be praised there, Henry made gifts of them to the lords about Court. Whoever chose to ask for an abbey could get it, from the king's good nature; and, as they wanted more and more, Henry went on breaking up the monasteries, till the whole of them were gone. A good deal of their riches he kept for himself, and two new bishoprics were endowed from their spoils, but most of them were bestowed on the courtiers. The king, however, did not at all intend to change the teaching of the Church, and whenever a person was detected in teaching any thing contrary to her doctrines, as they were at the time understood, he was tried by a court of clergymen and lawyers before the bishop, and, if convicted, was—according to the cruel custom of those times—burnt to death at a stake in the market place of the next town.
Meantime, the new queen, Anne Boleyn, whom the king had married privately in May, 1533, had not prospered. She had one little daughter, named Elizabeth, and a son, who died; and then the king began to admire one of her ladies, named Jane Seymour. Seeing this Anne's enemies either invented stories against her, or made the worst of some foolish, unlady-like, and unqueen-like things she had said and done, so that the king thought she wished for his death. She was accused of high treason, sentenced to death, and beheaded: thus paying a heavy price for the harm she had done good Queen Katharine.
The king, directly after, married Jane Seymour; but she lived only a very short time, dying immediately after the christening of her first son, who was named Edward.
Then the king was persuaded by Lord Crumwell to marry a foreign princess called Anne of Cleves. A great painter was sent to bring her picture, and made her very beautiful in it; but when she arrived, she proved to be not only plain-featured but large and clumsy, and the king could not bear the sight of her, and said they had sent him a great Flanders mare by way of queen. So he made Cranmer find some foolish excuse for breaking this marriage also, and was so angry with Thomas Crumwell for having led him into it, that this favorite was in turn thrown into prison and beheaded.
The king chose another English wife, named Katharine Howard; but, after he had married her, it was found out that she had been very ill brought up, and the bad people with whom she had been left came and accused her of the evil into which they had led her. So the king cut off her head, likewise, and then wanted to find another wife; but no foreign princess would take a husband who had put away two wives and beheaded two more, and one Italian lady actually answered that she was much obliged to him, but she could not venture to marry him, because she had only one neck.
At last he found an English widow, Lady Latimer, whose maiden name was Katharine Parr, and married her. He was diseased now, lame with gout, and very large and fat; and she nursed him kindly, and being a good-natured woman, persuaded him to be kinder to his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, than he had ever been since the disgrace of their mothers; and she did her best to keep him in good humor, but he went on doing cruel things, even to the end of his life; and, at the very last, had in prison the very same Duke of Norfolk who had won the battle of Flodden, and would have put him to death in a few days' time, only that his own death prevented it.
Yet, strange to say, Henry VIII. was not hated as might have been expected. His cruelties were chiefly to the nobles, not to the common people; and he would do good-natured things, and speak with a frank, open manner, that was much liked. England was prosperous, too, and shopkeepers, farmers, and all were well off; there was plenty of bread and meat for all, and the foreign nations were afraid to go to war with us. So the English people, on the whole, loved "Bluff King Hal," as they called him, and did not think much about his many wickednesses, or care how many heads he cut off. He died in the year 1547. The changes in his time are generally called the beginning of the Reformation.