Henry VIII and the English Reformation

By Arthur J. Slavin | Go to book overview

WOLSEY: PRELUDE TO A REVOLUTION

PHILIP HUGHES

Father Philip Hughes was born in Manchester, England, in 1895. After prelimonary studies, he obtained his licentiate in science at Louvain in 1921. In his long and varied career he has taught and studied in England, Rome, and America and has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors, among them honorary degrees from Louvain, the National University of Ireland and Notre Dame ( Indiana). Since 1955 he has held a professorship in history at Notre Dame, where he has pursued studies that have contained his interests in sixteenth-century history. In addition to his large-scale History of the Church to 1517 (3 volumes), Father Hughes is also the author of a study of John Lingard's historical method, another on the Church in the seventeenth century, and--his most important book--The Reformation in England (3 volumes).

CARDINAL WOLSEY'S fall from power in the autumn of 1529 is one of those spectacular events that really are as great as they seem to be. Never, in all English history, has there been a subject so plentifully endowed with authority and so powerful in the use of it, so wealthy, so magnificent; and never has any man stirred up in his career such a general, variously assorted, tide of bitter, determined hatred. The cardinal is not indeed an actor in the great affair of the change of religion: barely a year after his fall death removed him from the scene. But the guns were already loaded and trained that were to deliver the first broadside against the papal supremacy; it was only a bare seven weeks after Wolsey died that they were fired. Such had been his career that the cardinal may be said to have created, in almost all its parts, the king's opportunity, the critical situation of the two years that followed his own death, the crisis from which the religion of the English emerged a royal and no longer a papal thing, national and no longer Catholic. Wolsey's fall was truly "the prelude to a revolution," and it was all but necessarily so.

What had Wolsey been in the long years of his power? The simplest thing is to say, tritely, that he had been everything. As Lord Chancellor he was the principal minister of state for the government of the country. From his seat in the court of Chancery, with the needed strong hand, he controlled the endless conflict of legal systems which was now a permanent menace to good government, and from this point of view he was "the chancellor par excellence." His work here is his greatest title to fame. He was no less diligent and masterful in that "courte at Westminster commonly called the Starre chamber"; so diligent, indeed, that he has a claim to be considered the first creator of its fame. With Wolsey in control, this court became the centre to which flowed in all complaints of oppression by the mighty, of neglect and delay of justice, of insubordination to the royal will in administration. The cardinal was prompt, he was just, and extremely vigorous; and he never hesitated to call into his court for settlement cases he thought would be better settled there than in other courts. And so he came to stir up the most fatal animosity of all, the hatred of the lawyers and

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Reprinted with permission of The Macmillan Company and of Burns and Oates, Ltd. from The Reformation in England by Philip Hughes ( 1953), I, pp. 109-15.

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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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