Henry VIII and the English Reformation

By Arthur J. Slavin | Go to book overview

THE SCOURGE OF POPERY

BISHOP GILBERT BURNET

This son of a wealthy Edinburgh lawyer ( 1643-1715) studied in Marischal College, Aberdeen, where his special interests were in divinity, law, and history. While still a young man he also studied at Paris and Amsterdam. His divinity was such that he thrice refused the Covenant and in the 1660's favored a mild ecclesiastical policy at court. In 1669, after various services to Charles II's government, he received a professorship in divinity in Glasgow. By 1670 he was again engaged in the court politics of religion. He was not among the persecutors of Roman Catholics. Amidst such cares and after being dismissed as a royal chaplain, thoroughly disliked by the courtiers and the extreme antipapal factions, Burnet began his monumental History of the Reformation of the Church of England. From that time ( 1679) until his death politics and composition were his preoccupations, a fact which informs his History of His Own Time as well as many sermons and pamphlets.

AND NOW having ended what I have to say of king Henry, I will add a few reflections on him and on his reign. He had certainly a greater measure of knowledge in learning, more particularly in divinity, than most princes of that or of any age: that gave occasion to those excessive flatteries, which in a great measure corrupted his temper, and disfigured his whole government. It is deeply rooted in the nature of man to love to be flattered, because self-love makes men their own flatterers, and so they do too easily take down the flatteries that are offered them by others; who, when they expect advantages by it, are too ready to give this incense to their vanity, according to the returns that they expect from it.

Few are so honest and disinterested in their friendship as to consider the real good of others, but choose rather to comply with their humour and vanity: and since princes have most to give, flattery (too common to all places) is the natural growth of courts; in which, if there are some few so unfashioned to those places as to seek the real good and honour of the prince by the plain methods of blunt honesty, which may carry them to contradict a mistaken prince, to shew him his errors, and with a true firmness of courage to try to work even against the grain; while they pursue that, which, though it is the real advantage and honour of the prince, yet it is not agreeable to some weak or perverse humour in him; these are soon overtopped by a multitude of flatterers, who will find it an easy work to undermine such faithful ministers, because their own candour and fidelity makes them use none of the arts of a countermine. Thus the flattered prince easily goes into the hands of those who humour and please him most, without regarding either the true honour of the master or the good of the community.

If weak princes, of a small measure of knowledge, and a low capacity, fall into such hands, the government will dwindle into an unactive languishing; which will make them a prey to all about them, and expose them to universal contempt both at home and abroad: while the flatterers make

____________________
From Gilbert Burnet, The History of the Reformation of the Church of England ( Oxford, England, 1865), III, pp. 298-303. Reprinted by permission of The Clarendon Press, Oxford.

-17-

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