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having "falsely, maliciously, and traitorously wished, Fisher willed, and desired, and by craft imagined, invented, prac- and tised, and attempted, to deprive the King of the dignity, title, executed. and name, of his royal estate; that is, of his title and name of supreme head of the church of England, in the Tower, on the 7th day of May last, when, contrary to his allegiance, he said and pronounced, in the presence of different true subjects, falsely, maliciously, and traitorously, these words: 'the King, our sovereign lord, is not supreme hedd yn erthe of the cherche in Englande.' He was then found guilty, and executed on the 22nd of June, with disgusting barbarity, the head being placed on London Bridge, and the trunk stripped of the clothes and allowed to lie naked all day where the execution had taken place. In the evening it was buried in the churchyard of All Hallows, Barking.*
before the Commission.
The fate of Fisher did not affect the almost heavenly meekness and heroic firmness of his fellow victim. To make the greater impression upon the people, he was led on foot in of More a coarse woollen gown through the most crowded streets from the Tower to Westminster Hall (July 1st). He had been so enfeebled by his imprisonment that his limbs tottered, and it was with difficulty that he could support himself with a staff; his hair had become gray, and his face pale and wan; but his cheerfulness, and the mild dignity of his character, did not forsake him, and in that court, where he had once presided with so much honour and integrity, his faculties were undisturbed, and some of his old wit and vivacity lighted up his sunken eye. In dread of the effect of his eloquence, for "he was the first Englishman who signalised himself as an orator," the indictment had been framed of enormous length and unexampled exaggeration.
The first witnesses against him were the privy counsellors who had examined him at various times during his imprisonment, but their evidence amounted to no more than that he said the statute was a two edged sword; if he spoke against it his body would perish, and if he assented to it he should condemn his soul. His answer to the indictment was long and eloquent; all that could be objected against him, he said, was silence, and silence had not yet been declared treason. But Hales, the attorneygeneral, a fit instrument of a despotic tyrant, said that his silence was a proof of his malice, and malice, by the statute, was high
The infamous Rich, the solicitor-general, and afterwards Lord
* Lingard, VI., 221. † Mackintosh, II., 179.
"One who has brought a greater stain upon the bar of England than any member of the profession." Lord Campbell's Lives of the Chancellors, I., 570.
Rich, now deposed that More had said to him, in a private and confidential conversation in the Tower, that "the parliament cannot make the King head of the church, because it is a civil tribunal, without any spiritual authority." More denied this statement, and appealed to the character of Rich, which was so bad that he would not be believed even upon his oath; he had always lain "under the odium of a very lying tongue." The asperity of this denial touched the reputation of Rich to the quick, and he called two gentlemen of the court to support his story. But conscience prevailed, and they said that though they were in the room they did not hear the conversation. More's fate, however, was sealed, and he was declared guilty of treason. When the sentence had been pronounced he rose and said that now there was no temptation for him to suppress the truth, he would openly declare that which he had hitherto concealed, that he had studied the question for seven years, and could not escape from the conclusion that the King's marriage with Catherine was valid, and that the oath of supremacy was utterly unlawful. As he turned from the bar, his son threw himself on his knees, and begged his father's blessing; and as he walked back to the Tower, with the axe turned towards him, his first-born child, Margaret Roper, his "dear Megg," twice rushed through the guards, folded him in her arms, and, unable to speak, sobbed aloud, and bathed him with her tears. The people and the guards wept also. After this trial the bitterness of death was past; he wrote a touching letter to his daughter, tracing the characters with a coal, for pen, ink, and paper, and even the sweet solace of his books, had been taken from him by Rich during all the time of his imprisonment. His innocent playfulness did not forsake him in his last moments, and on the 7th of July, execution. 1535, in the 55th year of his age, he was beheaded, the King having commuted the sentence that he should die the death of a traitor, to decapitation. The only petition he made on the day of his execution was, that his beloved Margaret might be allowed to be present at his burial; she procured his head to be taken down from London Bridge, kept it during her life as a sacred relic, and was buried with it in her arms nine years afterwards.
The death of no individual perhaps ever produced so much sorrow and horror as the death of Sir Thomas More. In England, the intelligence was received with deep but silent grief; on the continent, with loud and general execration. The eloquence of Cardinal Pole, and the classical pen of the celebrated Erasmus recorded the crime, and awakened throughout Europe a hatred
Affecting behaviour of his
and abhorrence of Henry. Even the tyrant himself was filled with dread at the enormity of his conduct, and we are told that when he received the news of More's execution he was playing at tables with the Queen, that he looked sternly at her, and said, "Thou art the cause of this man's death,” and that he then withdrew in fear and trouble to the solitude of his chamber.*
The execution of More marks the moment of the transition of Henry's government from joviality and parade, to a species The execuof atrocity which distinguishes it from, and perhaps above, More any other European tyranny. This singular revolution transition in his conduct is ascribed by Lingard and others to the death of Wolsey, who, as long as he continued in favour, joviality confined the royal passions within certain bounds, and to cruelty kept a restraint upon the royal rage and caprice.‡ But tyranny. this was not the cardinal's opinion, as his dying words testify; he knew his master was unmanageable when his passions were excited; if he had refused to concur in the divorce, Henry would not have spared him, and he would have been struck down on his first attempt to check the King's bloody career. The only change which resulted from the death of Wolsey, consisted in measures of civil and ecclesiastical policy. The change of Henry's conduct was totally distinct from this; it was personal only; and his deeds of blood, by which he murdered, not only the friends of his youth and the ablest of his ministers, but those whom he caressed and fondled, are part of his conduct as a man, rather than of his system as a king. The parallel of his character, says Charles Knight,|| must be sought in Dante's "stream of blood," "where tyrants their appointed doom receive."¶
III. THE DISSOLUTION OF THE MONASTERIES.
56. Suppression of the Lesser Monasteries. Seven years had now elapsed since Cromwell had left the service of Wolsey to Cromwell "make or inar" his fortunes in the royal court, and Vicegerent during the momentous changes which had occurred, he general. had been raised from one office to another, to wield at last the most powerful authority as the King's "vicegerent, vicar general, and principal commissary" in all matters relating to the church, the administration of its affairs, "and the godly reformation and redress of all errors, heresies, and abuses” in it.
This was a strange office to be held by a layman, but Cromwell *Mackintosh, II., 183-187; Lingard, VI., 222-226. + Mackintosh, II., 188.
Lingard, VI., 161.
§ Mackintosh, II., 189.
Pop. Hist., II., 354.
was not the man to hesitate, and in parliament he sat before the primate, and superseded him in the presidency of the convocation. The degradation of the clergy, however, was not yet completed; the bishops were suspended from their episcopal powers, and compelled to receive them again on condition that they acknowledged those powers to be derived only from the King, as head of the church, and that they acted only as the deputies of his vicegerent, and the dissolution of the monasteries was determined The general upon. For this purpose a general visitation was made visitation during 1535 and 1536; commissioners were selected, monasteries and sent out in pairs to every part of England, to visit all monasteries, cells, priories, or other religious houses, and inquire into their condition generally, their foundations, lands, revenues, and other sources of income; their discipline and religious ceremonies; their rules and domestic regulations, &c.; in short, the fullest information was to be obtained, and especially such as might justify the suppression of that brotherhood which refused to follow the advice of the visitors, and surrender its possessions to the King. From the reports thus obtained, a statement was compiled and laid before parliament, exposing the vices and corruptions which infected the less opulent monasteries, and a statute based upon this statement was enacted for the dissolution of those houses whose revenues did not exceed £200, and the removal of those inmates who were willing to the larger monasteries (27 Hen. VIII., c. 28). 376 of these houses were sup. pressed, and their estates vested in the crown; among them were Fountains Abbey and Merton Abbey, Yorkshire; Hornby, Lancashire; Langdon, Folkstone, and St. Mary's, Dover, in Kent. The amount of revenue they added to the crown was about £32,000 (about half-a-million of our present money), besides the present receipt of £100,000 (about a million and a half), in money, plate, and jewels, and the rich harvest of bribes which the King and his vicegerent received from those abbots and priors who thus tried to propitiate favour.
The act for the dissolution of the smaller religious houses was passed in March, 1536, and on the 4th of April the parliament was dissolved, having sat for six years, and assisted in some of the greatest changes of internal policy which England had ever witnessed.
57. Execution of Anne Boleyn. The succession of great events,
* Lingard, VI., 230; Burnet's Reformation, I., Book III.; Records, I., Bk. III.; No. xiv + Burnet's Records, I., Bk. III. See the list in Burnet's Records, I., Bk. III.; also Froude, II., ch. x.
however, was not yet to terminate, On the 8th of January, Queen Catherine died at Kimbolton, and Anne was, at last, in undisturbed possession of her splendid seat. But her doom was already sealed, and in four months she followed her rival to the grave. So early as the spring of 1535, the King had begun to alter his Beginning conduct towards her; but whether he was moved by of Henry's jealousy, or by passion for another, or by both these Anne. motives, is uncertain. It is said that Anne one day discovered the King fondling Jane Seymour, one of her maids of honour, and that her agitation brought on a premature confinement, when she gave birth to a dead son (January 29th, 1536). The King brutally reproached her for the loss of his boy, "Words were heard break out of the inward feelings of her heart's dolours, laying the fault on the King's unkindness,* and, on his fondness for her maid. Court sycophants eagerly watched the The growth of the King's unnatural aversion; they hinted to her enemies. him that the want of an heir was an intimation of heaven's displeasure at his second marriage, as at his first. Gardiner, who was ambassador abroad, and hated Anne because of her inclination to the reformers, suggested that the Emperor would never acknowledge her issue. Anne's cheerfulness and gaiety, and the frankness and warmth of her affections, furnished to her enemies ample materials for the circulation of reports scandalous to her honour; and Henry, eager to rid himself of a woman whom he no longer loved, referred these reports to the council. The "sordid slave," Audley, and "the base and profligate" Rich, were set to manufacture evidence. A committee, which included the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, and her own father, was appointed to inquire into the charges against her (April 25th); they reported that sufficient proof had been discovered to convict her of incontinence with Lord Rochford, her own brother, with Norris, Weston, and Brereton, gentlemen of the privy chamber, and with Smeaton, the King's musician. The two last were immediately committed to the Tower. On May-day, the usual The Mayfestivities were held at Greenwich. Henry and Anne day festivisat side by side, watching the sports. Rochford and Greenwich. Norris were the challengers in a tilting match. In one of the intervals between the courses, report said that the Queen dropped her handkerchief from the balcony; that Norris, at whose feet it fell, took it up and wiped his face with it; and that Henry, changing colour, instantly left the tournament and returned to Whitehall. This tale, says Lingard, was probably invented; ‡ * Wyatt's Memoirs of Anne Boleyn. Campbell's Lives. Lingard, VI., 239.