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 FIFTEEN
THIS CRUEL TURK SHALL SWALLOW THEM ALL (1526-27)

After the battle of Pavia and before the nature of the Treaty of Madrid ( January 14, 1526) was widely known, it seemed to the English humanist circle that, on the brink of widespread catastrophe, Europe had one more chance for peace. At the least, for England there was a priceless opportunity to cease its mad involvement with imperialist war ventures on the continent. In December of 1525, Wolsey had claimed that England now wanted "perpetual" peace with France, and of course he claimed to be its chief author. 1 Perhaps England's impoverishment through needless wars, and Francis I's capture by Charles, were, or might be used as, blessings in disguise. That some such desperate hope stirred Erasmus is evident in the Colloquies written during Francis' captivity. England had unquestionably, in these storms of war, been greatly ruffled, but its Renaissance world, though endangered, had not yet fallen in a wildness.

Unmistakably, nevertheless, currents, rip tides, and winds of social violence were converging from many directions. Never in the Renaissance had the need for great captainship in the state been more acute, and from the humanists' viewpoint the great kings had rarely if ever been more unaware of the extent and nature of the crisis. The Lutheran agitations were spreading fiercely, but complacency could remember that in its long history the Church had weathered many reform crises and divers schisms. In England, behind the royal scenes, some sort of marriage crisis might be emerging, but why should anyone relate this to Church-reform agitation or imagine that two such forces would exert a combined effect on English society? As far as I am aware, no English humanist or statesman foresaw the course these great events actually took.

But the catastrophes which the humanists most clearly saw, and thought they understood best, were those imminent in early 1526:

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