Henry VIII and the English Reformation

By Arthur J. Slavin | Go to book overview

IF A LION KNEW HIS OWN STRENGTH

BISHOP WILLIAM STUBBS

Born in 1825, William Stubbs took an honors degree at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1848. By 1850 he was ordained priest (Anglican) and also was actively engaged in the study and editing of documents relevant to ecclesiastical and political history. His many activities included a Regius Professorship in Oxford, though that honor disappointed him in his hope of founding a thorough "historical school" there. After 1864 he increasingly devoted himself to private research, editing the texts of medieval authorities in the famed Rolls Series (19 volumes, 1864-89). But he is better known to English historians and educated laymen for his Select Charters and his three-volume Constitutional History of England down to 1485, which altered the study of medieval English history. Decidedly High Church, Stubbs was first Bishop of Chester and then of Oxford. After 1889 he all but abandoned historical work, devoting himself to episcopal administration until his death in 1901.

I SHALL NOT trouble you with any detailed reasons for my choice of a subject for this Term's statutory lectures; it is enough to observe that I have been busily employed upon the reign of Henry VIII for some months of ordinary lecturing, and that there is every probability that I may have to work upon him for some months to come. You will at once admit that Henry VIII is too big a subject to admit any rival on the same canvas, or under the same hand; whoever undertakes him at all must be content to devote himself for the time entirely to him.

* * *

From the very beginning of his reign, he is finding out what he can do; from the fall of Wolsey, and especially after the sacrifice of More, he is coming to regard what he can do as the only measure of what he ought to do: he is becoming the king for whom the kingdom is, the tyrant whose every caprice is wise and sacred: he turns the theory of kingship into action; the king can do no wrong; therefore men shall call right all that he does: he is the king, not an individual; what in an individual would be theft, is no theft in him; all property is the king's, he can take it, and he takes it; all that proceeds from his mouth is law; the king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, therefore all that comes out of the king's heart is the Lord's doing.1

Yet with all his grotesque and inhuman self-absorption, the miserable and growing result of the long tenure of irresponsible power, we cannot wisely deny the king some great qualities besides mere force. Contemporary foreigners, the justice of whose general judgment is amply proved by later history, and whose opinion, according to Lord Bacon's dictum, is generally that which future ages will be found to confirm, are unanimous in their glorification of Henry's personal and mental gifts. His beauty was of that sort that commended

____________________
1
Stubbs is here commenting on two maxims of civil law: "Whatever pleases the Prince has the force of Law," and "The King is given for the Kingdom, not the Kingdom for the King" -- or rather the negations of such principles.
x
From William Stubbs, Seventeen Lectures on the Study of Medieval and Modern History and Kindred Subjects ( Oxford, 1900), pp. 241, 246-47, 253-55 and 257-62. Reprinted by permission of The Clarendon Press, Oxford.

-33-

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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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