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 TWELVE
BRIGHT HONOR AND WAR OF
EXTERMINATION (1522-23)

The kind of war devised and sanctioned by Henry VIII and Wolsey, and waged by their commanders in 1522-23, must be characterized if the humanist social criticism in response to these events is to be made intelligible. According to Brewer (I, 24), "war had not then [ 1513] lost all traces of its chivalrous aspect. It was the chosen field for the display of personal skill, courage, and gallantry;—tournament on a grander scale." Or: "War was, in fact, at that time [ 1523] little more than an aristocratic amusement ..." ( II, I). The evidence cited elsewhere even by this historian, together with a wealth of records, suggests a cruelly different picture. In fact in these wars virtually all vestiges of the chivalric code, which the humanist critics had often satirized as little more in their day than a cloak for legalized tyranny, were deliberately scrapped.

It is not surprising to find outrage upon common humanity the usual thing in Renaissance France. As the criticism of Sir John Fortescue, followed by that of More in Book I of Utopia, made clear, the French people had long been brutalized by their kings. Francis I at this time, if anything, surpassed his predecessors in the ruthless exactions and oppressions inflicted to maintain his armies. Nothing was sacred, not even holy relics escaped the royal depredator, until, as a French spy wrote to England, "his people are eaten up to the bones, and, with the Church, cry for vengeance upon him" ( LP, III, p. 1141). Wolsey, with grim joy, observed that in Francis I's wartime "base and exile poor estate" he had "molten the garnishing of St. Martin's corpse, and founded [melted for coin] the twelve apostles, with other jewels and sacred ornaments of the churches" ( LP, III, p. 1091). It was during such events that Erasmus wrote to Pope Adrian VI ( August I, 1522) to plead that he do his utmost to compose the "tumult" among the impious within the Christian world ( EE, 1304.335).

The sullen, deliberate barbarity of the English invaders, however, far

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