The Better Part of Valor: More, Erasmus, Colet, and Vives, on Humanism, War, and Peace, 1496-1535

By Robert P. Adams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN
HENRY VIII "SEEMS EXTREMELY DESIROUS
OF PEACE" (1517-20)

To the humanists the period reaching from the opening of 1517 to the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520 was one of great accomplishments and greater expectations. Its theme, up to Wolsey's Treaty of Universal Peace in late 1518 was "the whole kingdom wishes for peace." Then this turned (in Erasmus' phrase) to "perhaps the golden age is coming after all."

With the publication of the Utopia in December, 1516, the critical structure of humanist ideas on war and peace was virtually completed. The drama was ready for a new turn. Nor could its outcome be foreseen. True, to the humanist critics it had become apparent that a deep decay had penetrated medieval Christendom, a decay capable of exploding into international anarchy and spreading wars capable of destroying all practical possibility for peaceful reconstruction of the old order along new and Renaissance lines. Modern critics who view the idea of revolution with favor are apt to condemn the early Tudor humanists for not being "of the sort to inspire mass enthusiasm on a revolutionary scale." Were they either too visionary or too unrealistic to meet the needs of their time? "Even More, who had a far deeper insight than Erasmus, and was centuries ahead of his time in his vision of social reform, seemed positively anxious to dissociate his speculations from any idea of their practical use." 1 This view mistakes the men and their age. In early 1517 the most practical humanist strategy available certainly was to attempt, by every possible means, to influence the existing princes, like Henry VIII, to undertake the duties of just rule for the common welfare. This was indeed the only course of wise action then available. Henry might in time become a tyrant, but he still held high esteem as a generally great and good Christian prince.

As 1517 opened, the visible evidence suggested that perhaps at last the great princes were coming round to grasp the wisdom of the very

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