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 SEVENTEEN
CONCORD AND DISCORD IN MANKIND (1529-34)

From the early months of 1529, during which Erasmus' Charon appeared in print, events moved with a swiftness no narrative can hope to equal. From the viewpoints of More in England, of Vives at Bruges, and of Erasmus at Basel or Freiburg, the European stage exhibited one immense climactic scene of tragedy. Writing to Ferdinand of Hungary, the brother of Charles V, on January 27, 1529, Erasmus once more touched on the fatal folly of continued war among the three great Christian princes. What sorrows Europe has recently suffered from the divisions of Charles and Francis! And how clear it is that between them, "victory" can at best be but Cadmean (EE, 2090.17-72)!

At the English court during early 1529 two fateful and intertwined events-in-motion dominated all else. These were the matters of the King's divorce and of a rumored possible separate peace between Charles and Francis. In both Thomas More was to be deeply involved. Vives and Erasmus, meanwhile, had, as it were, box seats from which to observe and comment upon the drama of men and ideas in England. And during the early months of 1529 Vives was at work upon an enlarged form of his 1526 essay on war.

During that sinister spring in England, moreover, the dynamic pattern of events swept toward the fall of Wolsey. Under his direction primarily, England's foreign policy after Pavia ( 1525) had been to play both sides, but essentially to back French power in Italy as a counterpoise to that of the Emperor Charles V. More's viewpoint had been that England should stay out of the war of fools but Wolsey's was to involve England in the continental strife lest the fools combine to attack. Now Wolsey's mad schemes came to wreck. As early as January, 1529, word reached England not only of the rising danger of Turkish invasion of Germany but of a private peace to be made between Charles and Francis, with England left out in the cold. 1 Wolsey, megalomaniac and desperate, apparently could

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