Henry VIII and the English Reformation

By Arthur J. Slavin | Go to book overview
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Alfred F. Pollard was born in 1869. After a distinguished undergraduate career at Jesus College, Oxford, he took an M.A. in history. He was the author of many studies of the Tudor period, among them his classic Wolsey and biographies of Cranmer and Protector Somerset. He was also the recipient of many honors and prizes, the chief of which were the Lothian Prize and the Arnold Prize. He was a fellow of both the British Academy and the Royal Historical Society. But perhaps his greatest contribution to historical studies was his founding of the Institute of Historical Research, London, and the Bulletin of that Institute.

SO DIED and so was buried the most remarkable man who ever sat on the English throne. His reign, like his character, seems to be divided into two inconsistent halves. In 1519 his rule is pronounced more suave and gentle than the greatest liberty anywhere else; twenty years later terror is said to reign supreme. It is tempting to sum up his life in one sweeping generalisation, and to say that it exhibits a continuous development of Henry's intellect and deterioration of his character. Yet it is difficult to read the King's speech in Parliament at the close of 1545 without crediting him with some sort of ethical ideas and aims; his life was at least as free from vice during the last, as during the first, seven years of his reign; in seriousness of purpose and steadfastness of aim it was immeasurably superior; and at no time did Henry's moral standard vary greatly from that of many whom the world is content to regard as its heroes. His besetting sin was egotism, a sin which princes can hardly, and Tudors could nowise, avoid. Of egotism Henry had his full share from the beginning; at first it moved in a limited, personal sphere, but gradually it extended its scope till it comprised the whole realm of national religion and policy. The obstacles which he encountered in prosecuting his suit for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon were the first check he experienced in the gratification of a personal whim, and the effort to remove those impediments drew him on to the world-wide stage of the conflict with Rome. He was ever proceeding from the particular to the general, from an attack on a special dispensation to an attack on the dispensing power of the Pope, and thence to an assault on the whole edifice of papal claims. He started with no desire to separate England from Rome, or to reform the Anglican Church; those aims he adopted, little by little, as subsidiary to the attainment of his one great personal purpose. He arrived at his principles by a process of deduction from his own particular case.

As Henry went on, his "quick and penetrable eyes," as More described them, were more and more opened to the extent of what he could do; and he realised, as he said, how small was the power of the Pope. Papal authority had always depended on moral influence and not on material resources. That moral influence had long been impaired; the sack of Rome in 1527 afforded further demonstration of its impotence; and when Clement condoned that

From Alfred F. Pollard, Henry VIII ( London, 1902), pp. 343-53. Reprinted by permission of Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd.


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