Henry VIII and the English Reformation

By Arthur J. Slavin | Go to book overview
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This historian's twelve volumes of English history from 1530 to 1588 are remarkable literary accomplishments. Froude's strong Protestantism, which caused him to stray from orthodoxy in his Nemesis of Faith in 1849, leaves its mark upon his characterization of Henry VIII. Educated at Oriel College, Oxford, he was an essayist, traveler, politician dabbling in the causes of South African federation, and above all else a historian. As Carlyle's chief disciple and literary executor alone he had a full career. Late in his life, from 1892 to 1894, he was Regius Professor in Oxford University, and it is upon his work there that such familiar books as Life and Letters of Erasmus, English Seamen in the Sixteenth Century, and The Council of Trent are based, all published posthumously.

TREMENDOUS as the outward overthrow must have seemed to those who remembered the old days, the inward changes were yet more momentous. A superstition which was but the counterpart of magic and witchcraft, which buried the Father of heaven and earth in the coffins of the saints, and trusted the salvation of the soul to the efficacy of mumbled words, had given place to a real, though indistinct, religion. Copies of the Bible were spread over the country in tens of thousands. Every English child was taught in its own tongue the Lord's Prayer, and the Creed, and the Commandments. Idolatry existed no longer; and the remaining difficulties lay only in the interpretation of the Sacred Text, and in the clinging sense, which adhered to all sides alike, that to misunderstand it was not an error, but a crime. Here, although Catholic doctrine, not only in its practical corruptions, but in its purest "developments," shook at the contact with the Gospels, yet the most thoughtful had been compelled to pause embarrassed. If mistake was fatal, and if the Divine nature and the Divine economy could not be subject to change, to reject the interpretations on which that doctrine had maintained itself, was to condemn the Christian Church to have been deserted for a thousand years by the spirit of truth, and this was a conclusion too frightful, too incredible to be endured. The laity, so bold against the Pope and the monasteries, turned their faces from it into the dogmatism of the Six Articles.1

Yet still the genius of change went onward, caring little for human opposition. To move with it, or to move against it, affected little the velocity with which the English world was swept into the New Era. The truth stole into men's minds they knew not how. The King, as we have seen, began to shrink from persecution, and to shelter suspected persons from orthodox cruelty. The Parliament, which would not yet alter the heresy law, tempered the action of it, and was rather contented to retard a movement which threatened to be

The conservative statement of "necessary" doctrinal truths passed by Parliament in 1539.
From James A. Froude, History of England, From the Fall of Wolsey to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada ( London, Longmans Green, n.d.), IV, pp. 186-95 and 236-43.


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