Henry VIII and the English Reformation

By Arthur J. Slavin | Go to book overview

ARBITER OF CHRISTENDOM

EDWARD HERBERT, FIRST BARON HERBERT OF CHERBURY

This philosopher, historian, and diplomat was born in 1583. Educated at University College, Oxford, he was an accomplished courtier and traveler who won a reputation as a duelist long before he earned fame as a writer. After long service in France, Cherbury (an Irish peer) was a royalist and as such was put in the Tower in 1642; obtaining his release after an apology for a proroyalist speech, he pursued a neutralist course in the Civil War. His French connections included Causabon and Gassendi among the intellectuals, and it is likely that they influenced his philosophical De Veritate, though not his Autobiography, which hardly touches his serious interests. Selden, his literary executor, published the apologetic Life of Henry VIII two years after Herbert's death, in 1649.

AND NOW if the reader (according to my manner in other great personages) do expect some character of this prince, I must affirm (as in the beginning) that the course of his life being commonly held various and diverse from it self, he will hardly suffer any, and that his history will be his best character and description.1 Howbeit, since others have so much defam'd him, as will appear by the following objections, I shall strive to rectify their understandings who are impartial lovers of truth; without either presuming audaciously to condemn a prince, heretofore sovereign of our kingdom, or omitting the just freedom of an historian.

And because his most bitter censurers agree, that he had all manner of perfection, either of nature or education; and that he was (besides) of a most deep judgment in all affairs to which he apply'd himself; a prince not only liberal and indulgent to his family and court, but even to strangers, whom he willingly saw; and one that made choice both of able and good men for the clergy, and of wise and grave counsellors for his state-affairs; and above all, a prince of a royal courage: I shall not controvert these points, but come to my particular observations. According to which, I find him to have been ever most zealous of his honour and dignity; insomuch, that his most question'd passages were countenanc'd either with home or foreign authority: so many universities of Italy and France maintaining his repudiating of Queen Katharine of Spain; and his parliament (for the rest) authorizing the divorces and decapitations of his following wives, the dissolutions of the monasteries, and divers others of his most branded actions: so that by his parliaments in publick, and juries in private affairs, he at least wanted not colour and pretext to make them specious to the world; which also he had reason to affect: outward esteem and reputation being the same to great persons which the skin is to the fruit, which though it be but a slight and delicate cover, yet without it the fruit will presently discolour and rot.

____________________
From Edward Herbert, Autobiography of Edward, lord Herbert of Cherbury-the History of England under Henry VIII. ( London, 1870), pp. 743-48.
1
By "character" Herbert means here the sum of the mental and moral qualities which distinguish an individual. The writing of such "characters" was a seventeenth-century prose genre.

-13-

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Henry VIII and the English Reformation
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Table of Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • An Extraordinary Pretext 1
  • The Royal Reformer: An Apology 7
  • By a Just Judgment of God 10
  • Arbiter of Christendom 13
  • The Scourge of Popery 17
  • The Image of God upon Earth 21
  • The Judgment upon His Motives and Actions 27
  • If a Lion Knew His Own Strength 33
  • The Tyranny of Tudor Times 39
  • The English Schism: Occasion and Cause 45
  • Tudor Humanism and Henry VIII 52
  • King or Minister? 57
  • Wolsey: Prelude to a Revolution 65
  • The Fate of the Monasteries 70
  • The Origins of Protestantism in English Society 81
  • Introduction 81
  • O the Great Judgments of God! 91
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading 100
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