THE mythic element cannot be eliminated out of history. Men who play leading parts on the world’s stage gather about them the admiration of friends and the animosity of disappointed rivals or political enemies. The atmosphere becomes charged with legends of what they have said or done — some inventions, some distortions of facts, but rarely or never accurate. Their outward acts, being public, cannot be absolutely misstated; their motives, being known only to themselves, are an open field for imagination; and as the disposition is to believe evil rather than good, the portraits drawn may vary indefinitely, according to the sympathies of the describer, but are seldom too favourable. The more distinguished a man is the more he is talked about. Stories are current about him in his own lifetime, guaranteed apparently by the highest authorities; related, insisted upon; time, place, and circumstance accurately given — most of them mere malicious lies; yet, if written down, to reappear in memoirs a hundred years hence, they are likely to pass for authentic, or at least probable. Even where there is no malice, imagination will still be active. People believe or disbelieve, repeat or suppress, according to their own inclinations; and death, which ends the feuds of unimportant persons, lets loose the tongues over the characters of the great. Kings are especially sufferers; when alive they hear only flattery; when they are gone men revenge, themselves by drawing hideous portraits of them, and the more distinguished they may have been the more minutely their weaknesses are dwelt upon. “C’est un plaisir indicible,” says Voltaire, “de donner des décrets contre des souverains morts quand on ne peut en lancer contre eux de leur vivant de peur de perdre ses oreilles.” The dead sovereigns go their way. Their real work for good or evil lives after them; but they themselves are where the opinions expressed about their character affect them no more. To Cæsar or Napoleon it matters nothing what judgment the world passes upon their conduct. It is of more importance for the ethical value of history that acts which as they are related appear wicked should be duly condemned, that acts which are represented as having advanced the welfare of mankind should be duly honoured, than that the real character of individuals should be correctly appreciated. To appreciate any single man with complete accuracy is impossible. To appreciate him even proximately is extremely difficult. Rulers of kingdoms may have public reasons for what they do, which at the time may be understood or allowed for. Times change, and new interests rise. The circumstances no longer exist which would explain their conduct. The student looks therefore for an explanation in elements which he thinks he understands — in pride, ambition, fear, avarice, jealousy, or sensuality; and, settling the question thus to his own satisfaction, resents or ridicules attempts to look for other motives.
So long as his moral judgment is generally correct, he inflicts no injury, and he suffers none. Cruelty and lust are proper objects of abhorrence; he learns to detest them in studying the Tiberius of Tacitus, though the character described by the great Roman historian may have been a mere creation of the hatred of the old Roman aristocracy. The manifesto of the Prince of Orange was a libel against Philip the Second; but the Philip of Protestant tradition is an embodiment of the persecuting spirit of Catholic Europe which it would be now useless to disturb. The tendency of history is to fall into wholesome moral lines whether they be accurate or not, and to interfere with harmless illusions may cause greater errors than it aspires to cure. Crowned offenders are arraigned at the tribunal of history for the crimes which they are alleged to have committed. It may be sometimes shown that the crimes were not crimes at all, that the sufferers had deserved their fate, that the severities were useful and essential for some great and valuable purpose. But the reader sees in the apology for acts which he had regarded as tyrannical a defence of tyranny itself. Preoccupied with the received interpretation, he finds deeds excused which he had learnt to execrate; and in learning something which, even if true, is of no real moment to him, he suffers in the maiming of his perceptions of the difference between right and wrong. The whitewashing of the villains of tradition is, therefore, justly regarded as waste of labour. If successful, it is of imperfect value; if unsuccessful, it is a misuse of industry which deserves to be censured. Time is too precious to be squandered over paradoxes. The dead are gone; the censure of mankind has written their epitaphs, and so they may be left. Their true award will be decided elsewhere.
This is the commonsense verdict. When the work of a man is done and ended; when, except indirectly and invisibly, he affects the living world no more, the book is closed, the sentence is passed, and there he may be allowed to rest. The case is altered, however, when the dead still live in their actions, when their principles and the effects of their conduct are still vigorous and operative, and the movements which they initiated continue to be fought over. It sometimes happens that mighty revolutions can be traced to the will and resolution of a single man, and that the conflict continues when he is gone. The personal character of such a man becomes then of intrinsic importance as an argument for attack or defence. The changes introduced by Henry VIII. are still denounced or defended with renewed violence; the ashes of a conflict which seemed to have been decided are again blown into a flame; and what manner of man Henry was, and what the statesmen and churchmen were who stood by him and assisted him in reshaping the English constitution, becomes a practical question of our own time. By their fruits ye shall know them. A good tree cannot bear evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Roman Catholics argue from the act to the man, and from the man back to the act. The Reformation, they say, was a rebellion against an authority appointed by God for the rule of the world; it was a wicked act in itself; the author or the authors of it were presumably, therefore, themselves wicked; and the worst interpretation of their conduct is antecedently probable, because a revolt against the Church of Christ could only have originated in depraved hearts. Or again, inverting the argument, they say with sufficient plausibility that the sins and crimes of the King are acknowledged facts of history; that from so bad a man no good thing could ever rise; that Henry was a visible servant of the devil, and therefore the Reformation, of which he was the instrument, was the devil’s work. If the picture drawn of him by his Catholic contemporaries is correct, the inference is irresistible. That picture, however, was drawn by those whose faith he wounded and whose interests he touched, and therefore might be regarded with suspicion. Religious animosity is fertile in calumny, because it assumes beforehand that every charge is likely to be true in proportion to its enormity, and Catholic writers were credulous of evil when laid to the charge of so dangerous an adversary. But the Catholics have not been Henry’s only accusers; all sorts and sects have combined in the general condemnation. The Anglican High Churchman is as bitter against him as Reginald Pole himself. He admits and maintains the separation from Rome which Henry accomplished for him; but he abhors as heartily as Pole or Lingard the internal principles of the Reformation. He resents the control of the clergy by the civil power. He demands the restoration of the spiritual privileges which Henry and his parliaments took away from them. He aspires to the recovery of ecclesiastical independence. He therefore with equal triumph points to the blots in Henry’s character, and deepens their shade with every accusation, proved or unproved, which he can find in contemporary records. With him, too, that a charge was alleged at the time is evidence sufficient to entitle him to accept it as a fact.
Again, Protestant writers have been no less unsparing, from an imprudent eagerness to detach their cause from a disreputable ally. In Elizabeth’s time it was a point of honour and loyalty to believe in the innocence of her mother. If Anne Boleyn was condemned on forged or false evidence to make way for Jane Seymour, what appears so clearly to us must have been far clearer to Henry and his Council; of all abominable crimes committed by tyrannical princes there was never one more base or cowardly than Anne’s execution; and in insisting on Anne’s guiltlessness they have condemned the King, his ministers, and his parliaments. Having discovered him to have murdered his wife, they have found him also to have been a persecutor of the truth. The Reformation in England was at its outset political rather than doctrinal. The avarice and tyranny of the Church officials had galled the limbs of the laity. Their first steps were to break the chains which fretted them, and to put a final end to the temporal power of the clergy. Spiritual liberty came later, and came slowly from the constitution of the English mind. Superstition had been familiarised by custom, protected by natural reverence, and shielded from inquiry by the peculiar horror attaching to unbelief. The nation had been taught from immemorial time that to doubt on the mysteries of faith was the worst crime which man could commit; and while they were willing to discover that on their human side the clergy were but brother mortals of questionable character, they drew a distinction between the Church as a national institution and the doctrines which it taught. An old creed could not yield at once. The King did much; he protected individual Lutherans to the edge of rashness. He gave the nation the English Bible. He made Latimer a bishop. He took away completely and for ever the power of the prelates to punish what they called heresy ex officio and on their own authority; but the zeal of the ultra-Protestants broke loose when the restraint was taken off; the sense of the country was offended by the irreverence with which objects and opinions were treated which they regarded as holy, and Parliament, which had put a bit in the mouth of the ecclesiastical courts, was driven to a substitute in the Bill of the Six Articles. The advanced section in popular movements is usually unwise. The characteristic excellence of the English Reformation is, that throughout its course it was restrained by the law, and the Six Articles Bill, tempered as it was in the execution, was a permissible, and perhaps useful, measure in restraint of intemperance. It was the same in Germany. Anabaptists continued to be burnt in Saxony and Hesse long after Luther’s revolt; Calvin thought the stake a fitting penalty for doubts upon the Trinity. John Knox, in Scotland, approved of witch-burning and sending mass-priests to the gallows. Henry could not disregard the pronounced feeling of the majority of the English people. He was himself but one of them, and changed slowly as they changed. Yet Protestant tradition has assumed that the bloody whip with six strings was an act of arbitrary ferocity. It considers that the King could, and ought to, have advanced at once into an understanding of the principle of toleration — toleration of the new opinions, and a more severe repression of the old. The Puritans and Evangelicals forgot that he had given them the English Testament. They forgot that by setting his foot upon the bishops he had opened the pulpits to themselves, and they classed him among the persecutors, or else joined in the shallow laughs of the ultramontane Catholics at what they pleased to call his inconsistency.
Thus from all sides a catena of invective has been wrapped about Henry’s character. The sensible part of the country held its tongue. The speakers and writers were the passionate and fanatical of both persuasions, and by them the materials were supplied for the Henry VIII. who has been brought down to us by history, while the candid and philosophic thinkers of the last and present centuries have accepted the traditional figure. In their desire to be impartial they have held the balance equal between Catholics and Protestants, inclining slightly to the Catholic side, from a wish to conciliate a respectable body who had been unjustly maligned and oppressed; while they have lavished invectives upon the early Reformers violent enough to have satisfied even Pole himself, whose rhetoric has formed the base of their declamation.
Liberal philosophy would have had a bad time of it in England, perhaps in all Europe, if there had been no Henry VIII. to take the Pope by the throat. But one service writers like Macaulay have undoubtedly accomplished. They have shown that it is entirely impossible to separate the King from his ministers — to condemn Henry and to spare Cranmer. Protestant writers, from Burnet to Southey, have tried to save the reforming bishops and statesmen at Henry’s expense. Cranmer, and Latimer, and Ridley have been described as saints, though their master was a villain. But the cold impartiality of Macaulay has pointed out unanswerably that in all Henry’s most questionable acts his own ministers and his prelates were active participants — that his Privy Council, his parliaments, his judges on the bench, the juries empanelled to try the victims of his tyranny, were equally his accomplices; some actively assisting; the rest, if these acts were really criminal, permitting themselves to be bribed or terrified into acquiescence. The leading men of all descriptions, the nation itself, through the guilt of its representatives, were all stained in the same detestable colours. It may be said, indeed, that they were worse than the King himself. For the King at least may be pleaded the coarse temptations of a brutal nature; but what palliation can be urged for the peers and judges who sacrificed Anne Boleyn, or More, or Fisher, according to the received hypothesis? Not even the excuse of personal fear of an all-powerful despot. For Henry had no Janissaries or Prætorians to defend his person or execute his orders. He had but his hundred yeomen of the guard, not more numerous than the ordinary followers of a second-rate noble. The Catholic leaders, who were infuriated at his attacks upon the Church, and would if they could have introduced foreign armies to dethrone him, insisted on his weakness as an encouragement to an easy enterprise. Beyond those few yeomen they urged that he had no protection save in the attachment of the subjects whom he was alienating. What strange influence was such a king able to exercise that he could overawe the lords and gentry of England, the learned professions, the municipal authorities? How was it that he was able to compel them to be the voluntary instruments of his cruelty? Strangest of all, he seems to have needed no protection, but rather to have been personally popular, even among those who disapproved his public policy. The air was charged with threats of insurrection, but no conspiracy was ever formed to kill him, like those which so often menaced the life of his daughter. When the North was in arms in the Pilgrimage of Grace, and a question rose among the leaders whether in the event of victory the King was to be deposed, it was found that anyone who proposed to remove him would be torn in pieces by the people.
Granting that Henry VIII. was, as Dickens said of him, “a spot of blood and grease” on the page of English history, the contemporary generation of Englishmen must have been fit subjects of such a sovereign. Every country, says Carlyle, gets as good a government as it deserves. The England of the Cromwells and the Cranmers, the Howards and the Fitzwilliams, the Wriothesleys and the Pagets, seems to have been made of baser materials than any land of which mankind has preserved a record. Roman Catholics may fairly plead that out of such a race no spiritual reform is likely to have arisen which could benefit any human soul. Of all the arguments which can be alleged for the return of England to the ancient fold, this is surely the most powerful.
Yet England shows no intention of returning. History may say what it pleases, yet England remains tenacious of the liberties which were then won for us, and unconscious of the disgrace attaching to them; unconscious, also, that the version of the story which it accepts contains anything which requires explanation. The legislation of Henry VIII., his Privy Council, and his parliaments is the Magna Charta of the modern world. The Act of Appeals and the Act of Supremacy asserted the national independence, and repudiated the interference of foreign bishop, prince, or potentate within the limits of the English empire. The clergy had held for many centuries an imperium in imperio. Subject themselves to no law but their own, they had asserted an irresponsible jurisdiction over the souls and bodies of the people. The Act for the submission of these persons reduced them to the common condition of subjects under the control of the law. Popes were no longer allowed to dispense with ordinary obligations. Clerical privileges were abolished. The spiritual courts, with their intolerable varieties of iniquity, were swept away, or coerced within rational limits. The religious houses were suppressed, their enormous wealth was applied for the defence of the realm, and the worse than Augean dunghill of abuses was cleared out with resolute hand. These great results were accomplished in the face of papal curses, in defiance of superstitious terrors, so despicable when bravely confronted, so terrible while the spectre of supernatural power was still unexorcised; in the face, too, of earthly perils which might make stout hearts shake, of an infuriated priesthood stirring the people into rebellion, of an exasperated Catholic Europe threatening fire and sword in the name of the Pope. These were distinguished achievements, not likely to have been done at all by an infamous prince and infamous ministers; yet done so well that their work is incorporated in the constitution almost in the form in which they left it; and this mighty revolution, the greatest and most far-reaching in modern times, was accomplished without a civil war, by firmness of hand, by the action of Parliament, and a resolute enforcement of the law. Nor has the effect of Henry’s legislation been confined to England. Every great country, Catholic or Protestant, has practically adopted its chief provisions. Popes no longer pretend a power of deposing princes, absolving subjects from their allegiance, or selling dispensations for offences against the law of the land. Appeals are no longer carried from the national courts to the court of the Rota. The papal treasury is no longer supplied by the plunder of the national clergy, collected by resident papal officials. Bishops and convocations have ceased to legislate above and independent of the secular authority, and clerks who commit crimes bear the same penalties as the profane. The high quality of the Reformation statutes is guaranteed by their endurance; and it is hard to suppose that the politicians who conceived and carried them out were men of base conditions. The question is not of the character of the King. If nothing was at issue but the merits or demerits of a single sovereign, he might be left where he lies. The question is of the characters of the reforming leaders, who, jointly with the King, were the authors of this tremendous and beneficent revolution. Henry in all that he did acted with these men and through them. Is it possible to believe that qualities so opposite as the popular theory requires existed in the same persons? Is it possible, for instance, that Cranmer, who composed or translated the prayers in the English Liturgy, was the miserable wretch which Macaulay or Lingard describes? The era of Elizabeth was the outspring of the movement which Henry VIII. commenced, and it was the grandest period in English history. Is it credible that so invigorating a stream flowed from a polluted fountain?
Before accepting a conclusion so disgraceful — before consigning the men who achieved so great a victory, and risked and lost their lives in the battle, to final execration — it is at least permissible to pause. The difficulty can only be made light of by impatience, by prejudice, or by want of thought. To me at any rate, who wished to discover what the real history of the Reformation had been, it seemed so considerable, that, dismissing the polemical invectives of later writers, I turned to the accounts of their conduct, which had been left behind by the authors of it themselves. Among the fortunate anomalies of the situation, Henry departed from previous custom in holding annual parliaments. At every step which he took, either in the rearrangement of the realm or in his own domestic confusions, he took the Lords and Commons into his council, and ventured nothing without their consent. The preambles of the principal statutes contain a narrative clear and precise of the motives of everything that he did — a narrative which at least may have been a true one, which was not put forward as a defence, but was a mere explanation of acts which on the surface seemed violent and arbitrary. If the explanation is correct, it shows us a time of complications and difficulties, which, on the whole, were successfully encountered. It shows us severe measures severely executed, but directed to public and necessary purpose, involving no sycophancy or baseness, no mean subservience to capricious tyranny, but such as were the natural safeguards during a dangerous convulsion, or remedies of accidents incidental to hereditary monarchy. The story told is clear and distinct; pitiless, but not dishonourable. Between the lines can be read the storm of popular passions, the beating of the national heart when it was stirred to its inmost depths. We see established institutions rooted out, idols overthrown, and injured worshippers exasperated to fury; the air, as was inevitable at such a crisis, full of flying rumours, some lies, some half lies with fragments of truth attaching to them, bred of malice or dizzy brains, the materials out of which the popular tradition has been built. It was no insular revolution. The stake played for was the liberty of mankind. All Europe was watching England, for England was the hinge on which the fate of the Reformation turned. Could it be crushed in England, the Catholics were assured of universal victory, and therefore tongues and pens were busy everywhere throughout Christendom, Catholic imagination representing Henry as an incarnate Satan, for which, it must be admitted, his domestic misadventures gave them tempting opportunities. So thick fell the showers of calumny, that, bold as he was, he at times himself winced under it. He complained to Charles V. of the libels circulated about him in France and Flanders. Charles, too, had suffered in the same way. He answered, humorously, that “if kings gave occasion to be spoken about they would be spoken about; kings were not kings of tongues.” Henry VIII. was an easy mark for slander; but if all slanders are to pass as true which are flung at public men whose policy provides them with an army of calumniators, the reputation of the best of them is but a spotted rag. The clergy were the vocal part of Europe. They had the pulpits; they had the writing of the books and pamphlets. They had cause to hate Henry, and they hated him with an intensity of passion which could not have been more savage had he been the devil himself. But there are men whose enmity is a compliment. They libelled Luther almost as freely as they libelled the English king. I myself, after reading and weighing all that I could find forty years ago in prints or manuscripts, concluded that the real facts of Henry’s conduct were to be found in the Statute Book and nowhere else; that the preambles of the Acts of Parliament did actually represent the sincere opinion about him of the educated laymen of England, who had better opportunities of knowing the truth than we can have, and that a modern Englishman may be allowed to follow their authority without the imputation of paradox or folly.
With this impression, and with the Statute Book for a guide, I wrote the opening portion of my “History of England, from the Fall of Wolsey to the Defeat of the Armada.” The Published criticisms upon my work were generally unfavourable. Catholic writers inherited the traditions and the temper of their forefathers, and believed the eatena of their own historians. Protestants could not believe in a defence of the author of the Six Articles Bill. Secular reviewers were easily witty at the “model husband” whom they supposed me to be imposing upon them, and resented the interference with a version of the story authenticated by great names among my predecessors. The public, however, took an interest in what I had to say. The book was read, and continues to be read; at the close of my life, therefore, I have to go once more over the ground; and as I am still substantially alone in maintaining an opinion considered heretical by orthodox historians, I have to decide in what condition I am to leave my work behind me. In the thirty-five years which have elapsed since those early volumes appeared large additions have been made to the materials for the history of the period. The vast collection of manuscripts in the English Record Office, which then were only partially accessible, have been sorted, catalogued, and calendared by the industry of my friends Mr. Brewer and Mr. Gairdner. Private collections in great English houses have been examined and reported on by the Historical Manuscripts Commission. Foreign archives at Paris, Simancas, Rome, Venice, Vienna, and Brussels have been searched to some extent by myself, but in a far larger degree by able scholars specially appointed for the purpose. In the despatches, thus made accessible, of the foreign ambassadors resident at Henry’s court we have the invaluable, if not impartial, comments of trained and responsible politicians who related from day to day the events which were passing under their eyes. Being Catholics, and representatives of Catholic powers, they were bitterly hostile to the Reformation — hostile alike on political grounds and religious — and therefore inclined to believe and report the worst that could be said both of it and of its authors. But they wrote before the traditions had become stereotyped; their accounts are fresh and original; and, being men of the world, and writing in confidence to their own masters, they were as veracious as their prejudices would allow them to be. Unconsciously, too, they render another service of infinite importance. Being in close communication with the disaffected English peers and clergy, and engaged with them secretly in promoting rebellion, the ministers of Charles V. reveal with extraordinary clearness the dangers with which the Government had to deal. They make it perfectly plain that the Act of Supremacy, with its stern and peremptory demands, was no more than a legitimate and necessary defence against organised treason.
It was thus inevitable that much would have to be added to what I had already published. When a microscope is applied to the petal of a flower or the wing of an insect, simple outlines and simple surfaces are resolved into complex organisms with curious and beautiful details. The effect of these despatches is precisely the same — we see with the eyes, we hear with the ears, of men who were living parts of the scenes which they describe. Stories afterwards elaborated into established facts we trace to their origin in rumours of the hour; we read innumerable anecdotes, some with the clear stamp of truth on them, many mere creations of passing wit or malice, no more authentic than the thousands like them which circulate in modern society, guaranteed by the positive assertions of personal witnesses, yet visibly recognisable as lies. Through all this the reader must pick his way and use his own judgment. He knows that many things are false which are reported about his own eminent contemporaries. He may be equally certain that lies were told as freely then as now. He will probably allow his sympathies to guide him. He will accept as fact what fits in with his creed or his theory. He will share the general disposition to believe evil, especially about kings and great men. The exaggerated homage paid to princes, when they are alive, has to be compensated by suspecting the worst of them as soon as they are gone. But the perusal of all these documents leaves the broad aspect of the story, in my opinion, precisely where it was. It is made more interesting by the greater fulness of particulars; it is made more vivid by the clear view which they afford of individual persons who before were no more than names. But I think now, as I thought forty years ago, that through the confusions and contradictions of a stormy and angry time, the statutebook remains the safest guide to follow. If there be any difference, it is that actions which till explained appeared gratuitously cruel, like the execution of Bishop Fisher, are seen beyond dispute to have been reasonable and just. Bishop Fisher is proved by the words of the Spanish Ambassador himself to have invited and pressed the introduction of a foreign Catholic army into England in the Pope’s interest.
Thus I find nothing to withdraw in what I then wrote, and little to alter save in correcting some small errors of trivial moment; but, on the other hand, I find much to add; and the question rises in what way I had better do it, with fair consideration for those who have bought the book as it stands. To take the work to pieces and introduce the new material into the text or the notes will impose a necessity of buying a new copy, or of being left with an inferior one, on the many friends who least deserve to be so treated. I have concluded, therefore, on writing an additional volume, where such parts of the story as have had important light thrown upon them can be told over again in ampler form. The body of the history I leave as it stands. It contains what I believe to be a true account of the time, of the immediate causes which brought about the changes of the sixteenth century, and of the characters and principles of the actors in them. I have only to fill up certain deficiencies and throw light into places hitherto left dark. For the rest, I do not pretend to impartiality. I believe the Reformation to have been the greatest incident in English history; the root and source of the expansive force which has spread the Anglo-Saxon race over the globe, and imprinted the English genius and character on the constitution of mankind. I am unwilling to believe more evil than I can help of my countrymen who accomplished so beneficent a work, and in a book written with such convictions the mythical element cannot be wholly wanting. Even things which immediately surround us, things which we see and touch, we do not perceive as they are; we perceive only our own sensations, and our sensations are a combined result of certain objects and of the faculties which apprehend them. Something of ourselves must always be intermixed before knowledge can reach us; in every conclusion which we form, in every conviction which is forced upon us, there is still a subjective element. It is so in physical science. It is so in art. It is so in our speculations on our own nature. It is so in religion. It is so even in pure mathematics.
The curved and rectilineal figures on which we reason are our own creation, and have no existence exterior to the reasoning mind. Most of all is it so in history, where we have no direct perceptions to help us, but are dependent on the narratives of others whose beliefs were necessarily influenced by their personal dispositions. The first duty of an historian is to be on his guard against his own sympathies; but he cannot wholly escape their influence. In judging of the truth of particular statements, the conclusion which he will form must be based partly upon evidence and partly upon what he conceives to be likely or unlikely. In a court of justice, where witnesses can be cross-examined, uncertain elements can in some degree be eliminated; yet, after all care is taken, judges and juries have been often blinded by passion and prejudice. When we have nothing before us but rumours set in circulation, we know not by whom or on what authority, and we are driven to consider probabilities, the Protestant, who believes the Reformation to have been a victory of truth over falsehood, cannot come to the same conclusion as the Catholic, who believes it to have been a curse, or perhaps to the same conclusion as the indifferent philosopher, who regards Protestant and Catholic alike with benevolent contempt. For myself, I can but say that I have discriminated with such faculty as I possess. I have kept back nothing. I have consciously distorted nothing which conflicts with my own views. I have accepted what seems sufficiently proved. I have rejected what I can find no support for save in hearsay or prejudice. But whether accepting or rejecting, I have endeavoured to follow the rule that incidents must not be lightly accepted as authentic which are inconsistent with the universal laws of human nature, and that to disprove a calumny it is sufficient to show that there is no valid witness for it.
Finally, I do not allow myself to be tempted into controversy with particular writers whose views disagree with my own. To contradict in detail every hostile version of Henry VIII.’s or his ministers’ conduct would be as tedious as it would be irritating and unprofitable. My censors have been so many that a reply to them all is impossible, and so distinguished that a selection would be invidious. Those who wish for invectives against the King, or Cranmer, or Cromwell, can find them everywhere, from school manuals to the grave works of elaborate historians. For me, it is enough to tell the story as it presents itself to my own mind, and to leave what appears to me to be the truth to speak for itself.
The English nation throughout their long history have borne an honourable reputation. Luther quotes a saying of Maximilian that there were three real sovereigns in Europe — the Emperor, the King of France, and the King of England. The Emperor was a king of kings. If he gave an order to the princes of the Reich, they obeyed or disobeyed as they pleased. The King of France was a king of asses. He ordered about his people at his will, and they obeyed like asses. The King of England was king of a loyal nation who obeyed him with heart and mind as loyal and faithful subjects. This was the character borne in the world by the fathers of the generation whom popular historians represent as having dishonoured themselves by subserviency to a bloodthirsty tyrant. It is at least possible that popular historians have been mistaken, and that the subjects of Henry VIII. were neither much better nor much worse than those who preceded or came after them.
From The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon: The Story as Told by the Imperial Ambassadors Resident at the Court of Henry VIII by J.A. Froude. Published in New York by C. Scribner’s Sons, 1891.
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