Path to St. Peter ad Vincula-Part IV
Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer were more pliable to Anne’s ideas and cause than Cardinal Wolsey. Cromwell as Chief Minister pushed through Parliament several reform measures including the creation of the King as Head of the Church of England. Cranmer, appointed Archbishop of Canterbury after the death of William Warham, declared the end to Henry and Katherine’s marriage. The age of Wolsey was over.
Anne Boleyn owed a great deal to Thomas Cromwell. He put into effect his plan to frighten the clergy into submission and sever the English Church from Rome– but it was quite a time before it could be implemented. His plan he felt sure “could not of course fail to please Anne, to whom it held out a sure way of obtaining what she desired” (Friedmann I 135-136). At the Convocation of Canterbury in January 1531, under threat the clergy acknowledged Henry as “singular protector, supreme lord and even, so far as the law of Christ allows, supreme head of the English Church and clergy” (Haigh 108). Added to the brilliance of the plan was the fact that the members of the Privy Council who “generally opposed the measures brought forward by Anne’s friends, willingly assented to a scheme which would weaken the influence of the bishops” (Friedmann I 135-136).
Despite the capitulation of the Clergy, all was not smooth sailing for Henry and Anne. By May 22, 1531, Eustace Chapuys, the Spanish Ambassador, reported to Charles V that “the clergy of York and Durham sent to the King a strong protestation against the supremacy which he pretends to have over them. The King is greatly displeased, still more because one of his couriers coming from Rome has brought him news that his Ambassadors there are afraid that the Pope will definitively quash the process” (Gairdner 251). This was “a serious defeat for Anne’s party.” Legislation to force the clergy and Parliament to submit had to be abandoned as priests protested “against any encroachments on the liberty of the Church or any act derogatory to the authority of the Holy See” (Friedmann I 142). Resistance did not last and in 1534 Henry passed the Acts of Supremacy and of Succession. Legally he was Head of the Church of England and his marriage to Katherine of Aragon was annulled and that of Anne legitimized along with any children from their union. All seemed to be going well; Anne was Queen and the Protestant reform movement was gaining momentum. What happened?
Anne encountered forces stronger than her influence on Henry. She disagreed with the King over the dissolution of the monasteries, she clashed with Thomas Cromwell over international politics and Anne underestimated Henry’s frustration at not having a male heir, his attraction for Jane Seymour and the Court’s ability to use those domestic issues against her and the evangelical faction.
Henry VIII committed to improving the religious houses in England. He sent agents out to track adherence to monastic orders’ rules and to account for the wealth of each. He ordered the Commission for the Valuation of Ecclesiastical Benefices stressing his right as Supreme Head of the Church, “Henricus Octavus, Dei gratia Agnlie et Francie Rex, Fidei Defensor, Dominus Hibernie et in terra Supremum Capud Anglicane Ecclesie, Reverendo in Christo patri J[ohanni] Episcopo Exoniensi ac dilectis et fidelbus suis Salutem” (Hall A Formula Book of English Official Historical Documents 63).
Henry VIII –attributed to the circle of Holbein 1535-1541
Commissioners appointed by King Henry were to “examyn, serche and enquire, by all the ways and meanes that they can by their dyscrections, of and for the true and just hole and entire yerely values of all the manours, londes, tenements, hereditamentes, rentes, tythes, offerings, emoluments and all other profittes, as well spitrituall as temporall, apperteyninge or belonging to any Archebusshopriche, Busshoprich, Abbacye, Monasterie, Priorie, Archdeaconry, Deanry, Hospitall, College, Howse Collegyate … or any other benefice or promocion sprituall within the lymyttes of their Commyssion” (Hall A Formula Book of English Official Historical Documents 62). Henry also wanted to know “in what manner the revenewes and profitts” were used (Leach ii).
Once the Valor Ecclesiasticus had been presented to Parliament on February 5, 1536, creating the dismay that Henry and Cromwell hoped it would, the Legislature quickly formulated and implemented new policy by mid-March. It certainly was easy to see what Henry’s main purpose was. He needed money, a lot of it, having gone through the vast fortune his father had left him. Confiscating the property of religious houses would provide that wealth.
The Act of the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries of 1536 (also known as The Suppression of Religious Houses Act), deemed the lesser monastic houses sinful and wasteful. All the occupants were ordered to transfer to larger monasteries where they would be reformed to live more religiously. It was proclaimed that Parliament finally revolved “that it is and shall be much more to the pleasure of Almighty God, and for the honour of this his realm, that the possessions of such religious houses, now being spent, spoiled, and wasted for increase maintenance of sin, should be used and converted to better uses.” Parliament authorized “that his majesty shall have and enjoy to him and to his heirs for ever, all and singular such monasteries, priories, and other religious houses” the land, rent, chapels and all their property “with all their rights, profits, jurisdictions, and commodities, unto the King’s majesty, and to his heirs and assigns for ever, to do and use therewith his and their own wills, to the pleasure of Almighty God, and to honour and profit this realm….” Not daring to leave anything behind, the Act of Suppression gave the rights for the “…King’s highness shall have and enjoy to his own proper use, all the ornaments, jewels, goods, chattels and debts, which appertained to any of the chief governors of the said monasteries” (“Act for the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries”).
Eustace Chapuys, Spanish Ambassador to Charles V wrote “The King and Council are busy setting officers for the provision and exaction of the revenues of the churches which are to be suppressed; which, it is said, will be in number above 300, and are expected to bring in a revenue of 120,000 ducats. The silver plate, chalices, and reliquaries, the church ornaments, bells, lead from the roofs, cattle, and furniture belonging to them, which will come to the King, will be of inestimable amount. All these lords are intent on having farms of the goods of the said churches, and already the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk are largely provided with them. I am told that although Cromwell promoted in the first instance the demolition of the said churches, that nevertheless, seeing the dangers that might arise from it, he was anxious to prevent them, for which reason the King had been somewhat angry with him” (Gairdner X 601).
Eustace Chapuys, Spanish Ambassador to England
The busy Ambassador wrote that same day, March 18, 1536, to his fellow Hapsburg statesman, Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle (sometimes referred to as Granville or Grenville): “You will see by the letters I write to his Majesty, the gentle device of this King to extract money on pretext of charity by means of the offerings. If it succeeds, as no doubt it will, he will gain an immense sum of money, for he will impose a tax according to his will which everyone will have to offer, and not engage to do so for once but for all the other innumerable inventions that this King daily puts forward in order to get money, at which the people is terribly grieved and almost desperate, but no man dare complain ” (Gairdner X 495). Contemporaries discussed Cranmer’s sermon which assured the people that the king would now gain so much treasure “that from that time he should have no need, nor put the people to … any charge for his or the realm’s affairs” (Heal 145).
The monasteries did need some reform. It was not unique to England and it was not so much against the religion as to the laxity that befell many religious houses. Henry’s and Cromwell’s greed were not the sole motivators. Local landed gentry also eagerly eyed the wealth of the lands of their neighbors. Already indebted to each other, the monasteries and noble estates had been intertwined for years. Abbots had long been “giving up part of their revenues, in the form of pensions …to courtiers, in the hope of being allowed to retain the remainder” (Pollard 340). But Henry had hit upon an enormous source of wealth in his position as Supreme Head of the Church of England. And perhaps, not beyond the one time infusion as Chapuys further opinioned that “the King will greatly increase his revenue” (Gairdner X 494).
Transcription of the above Statute
“An Acte whereby all Relygeous Houses of Monks, Chanons, and Nonnes whiche may not dyspend Manors Lands Tenants & Heredytaments above the clere yerly Value of ij C E are geven to the Kings Highness his heirs and Successours for ever. The Byll for the suppressing of dy__ Places of Relygion” (“The Statutes of the Realm”)
Oddly enough Henry was not made astronomically wealthy–he needed to cover debts and he distributed much of the wealth to his nobles. Thus, the view must be that the dissolution’s intention was not to make Henry wealthy but to bribe the gentry to support Henry’s policies. Chapuys reported to Charles V that “the King will distribute among the gentlemen of the kingdom the greater part of the ecclesiastical revenues to gain their goodwill” (Gairdner VII 1141). “The dissolution of the monasteries harmonised well with the secular principles of the predominant classes” (Pollard 342).
Whom it did not harmonize well with was Queen Anne Bolyen.
On Passion Sunday, April 2, 1536, John Skip, chaplain to Anne Boleyn, preached a sermon to the entire Court with his target “scarcely disguised” as Thomas Cromwell (Heal 142). Taking his theme from Biblical text, he asked, Quis ex vobis arguet me de peccato? Which of you convinceth me of sin? (Newcombe). The message of this incendiary sermon was to encourage Henry’s advisors to cease their greed and do what was right for the people, especially the poor. Skip altered the Esther Biblical story to stress “to courtiers and counselors alike to change the advice they were giving the king and to reject the lure of personal gain” (Ives 309).
Ahasuerus and Haman at the Feast of Esther by Rembrandt
Eric Ives in the text, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, supported by other historians, has analyzed Skip’s symbolism-laden sermon and has pointed out the correlation between this sermon and Anne’s disagreement with Cromwell over how the proceeds from the dissolution of the lesser monasteries should be used. Cranmer even ran afoul of Henry later by not consenting “that the king should have all the revenues of the monasteries which were suppressed, to his own sole use” (Dodd 21). Many understood that Henry could have the lands to do with as he wished but that the wealth should be “bestowed on hospitals, schools, and other pious and charitable foundations” (Dodd 21). It appeared to be common knowledge that Anne too wanted the money to be “devoted to furthering the cause of reform rather than filling the king’s coffers” (Newcombe).
It must be clarified that Anne was not against the monasteries being suppressed. She disagreed with the King and Cromwell on how the funds should be distributed. She wanted to follow her inclinations by having the revenues assist the poor and help scholars, causes she was known to patronize.
George Wyatt praised Anne for making shirts and smocks for the poor, and remarking that her charity “passed through the whole land” and she gave “fifteen hundred pounds* at the least, yearly, to be bestowed on the poor” with another fourteen or fifteen thousand pounds** being given in alms and to support scholars (Cavendish II 207).
John Foxe commended Anne for “how bountiful she was to the poor, passing not only the common example of other queens, but also the revenues almost of her estate; insomuch that the alms which she gave in three quarters of a year, in distribution, …to the behalf of poor artificers and occupiers” (Foxe V 232-234).
The Scottish cleric, Alexander Alesius, referred to Anne Boleyn as ‘your most holy mother’ when writing to Elizabeth. He clearly believed that Elizabeth’s “very pious mother” formed many enemies at Court for “her desire to promote the pure doctrine of the Gospel and her kindness to the poor” (Stevenson 1303-15).
Anne more than likely could not imagine that her preferences would be gainsaid. Her influence over Henry was well-known. Even in the Privy-Council her impact could be felt. Jean du Bellay, Bishop of Bayonne, the French Ambassador relayed a story that council member, Thomas Boleyn, “allowed everything to be said, and then came and suggested the complete opposite, defending his position without budging, as though he wanted to show me that he was not pleased that anyone should have failed to pay court to the lady [Anne], and also to make me accept that what he had said before is true, that is, that all the rest have no influence except what it pleases the lady to allow them, and that is gospel truth. And because of this he wanted with words and deeds to beat down their opinions before my eyes” (Ives 126).
Yet, Anne was going to see more and more of her influence slip away. Not only was she not seeing eye-to-eye with Cromwell over the use of the monies gained from the dissolution of the monasteries, international politics also added a level of tension and discord. Charles V now needed an alliance with England against France.
A long-time ally of Anne’s, Francis, King of France, was being replaced in Henry’s diplomatic play book with Charles V. What emerged was the famously orchestrated meeting between Chapuys and Anne. On April 18, 1536, George Boleyn greeted the Ambassador who was invited by Henry via message to meet Anne and kiss her hand as she made her way to chapel. Chapuys excused himself from that honor, as this was a bit much even though he knew that Henry’s move from favoring the French to the Imperial side was vital. Chapuys was in a difficult position as he was personally loyal to the late Queen Katherine and Princess Mary—more so than to the woman he referred to as “the concubine.”
The play unfolded as Anne acknowledged the Ambassador at chapel and he had to bow in return. She asked after him specifically and made some anti-French remarks. Henry swung the other way as he wanted his feigned pro-French stance to force the Imperial hand. It was Cromwell’s turn to be in a bind. If the Imperial acceptance of her was what negotiations hinged on, he needed to do something. Cromwell cultivated his relationship with Chapuys. Knowing that the Ambassador greatly disliked the Queen and would probably believe the words, Cromwell told the Ambassador that Anne “would like to see his [Cromwell’s] head cut off” and Chapuys could not forget this “for the love I bore him; and I could not but wish him a more gracious mistress, and one more grateful for the inestimable services he had done the King, and that he must beware of enraging her” and warned that Cromwell deserved better treatment “than did the Cardinal.” This illusion to Wolsey accompanied Chapuys’ veiled warning that he hoped that Cromwell’s greater “dexterity and prudence” would stand him well in his dealings with Anne (Gairdner X 601).
It appeared as if Cromwell was working closely with Chapuys to further the relations between their two countries. Chapuys wrote in April of 1536 to the Emperor that Cromwell had assured him that he was “very desirous of the preservation and increase of friendship of his master’s with Your Majesty, and is daily doing good offices in that respect—not only pointing out those measures which he considers most fit under the circumstances, but advising also of his own accord, and working for the accomplishment of our mutual wishes” (de Gayangos V 43). At their meeting, Cromwell “replied five or six times, with great fervour, that it was a good beginning for the matter of the preservation of the amity of which we had so often talked, to which the King was more inclined than ever, and likewise those of his Council … and Cromwell assured me, on his life and honor, that the King had never treated anything in France, Germany, or elsewhere, to the prejudice of the friendship he has with your Majesty” (Gairdner X 601).
Domestically, Cromwell managed to upset both pro-French and pro-Imperial factions in England. Internationally, events took a more favorable turn. Charles V continued his overtures of friendship, the Pope became more inclined to treat with England, and Francis I became sidelined—all international events which weakened Anne’s position and nudged Cromwell to act.
Oddly enough, Cromwell’s station, his continued political position and his economic gains were because of Anne’s support. Her influence over Henry could have swung the king’s favor to another councilor. Perhaps it was this precariousness or the rise of the more evangelical faction led by such young men as George Boleyn and Henry Norris or his own interest in intrigue or, most likely, a combination of reasons which led Cromwell to move against Anne.
Cromwell assessed the situation and determined that it would be better if he “took the side of the conservative churchmen against those who had been hitherto considered Anne’s principal supporters” (Friedmann II 226). Cromwell knew that having “identified himself so closely with the measures against the Roman Church, he could not but fear that, if its authority were re-established, he would fare very badly at its hands” (Friedmann II 55-56).
By March of 1536, Cromwell tried a more moderate approach with success as, surprisingly, those in opposition to Anne, by March of 1536, included fellow Protestants. The more radical groups believed reform was not moving fast enough and the more moderate thought enough changes had been made. Cromwell felt his position strengthened and the Secretary most likely saw the way Henry was treating Anne and his interest in Jane Seymour. Chapuys gleefully reported that “the Concubine and Cromwell were on bad terms, and that some new marriage for the King was spoken of” (Gairdner X 601).
In early 1536 Henry was certainly paying attention to Jane Seymour. Chapuys remarked to his king that the “new amours of this King with the young lady…still go on, to the intense rage of the concubine” (Gairdner X 495). It was suspected that the King “believed that he might take another wife, which he gave to understand that he had some wish to do” (Gairdner X 199).
At first it appeared to Chapuys that Henry was going to negotiate with France to obtain a French Princess and “was now thinking of a fresh marriage, that would, no doubt, be the way of preserving him (Cromwell) from many inconveniences, and likewise the best thing for the King to do” (de Gayangos V 43). Chapuys certainly hoped that a new marriage for Henry would bring “peace, honour, and prosperity to England” and would provide Cromwell “another royal mistress, not out of hatred of Anne Boleyn, for she had never done me any harm, but for his own sake” (de Gayangos V 43). Regardless of the rumors of a French alliance, Chapuys was assured by Cromwell shortly after he had written about his speculation of a French marriage, “that the King had already fixed on a wife, to wit Jane Semel” (Gairdner X 1069). Anne Boleyn had less than a month to live.
Cromwell knowing many men of the Privy Chamber such as Nicholas Carew “never accepted the new Queen with any more grace than was needed to avoid their own ruin,” headed the move against Anne (MacCulloch 154). The Spanish Ambassador “monitored these events with increasing excitement, and probably acted as a go-between for the union of Cromwell’s plans and those of the conservatives” (MacCulloch 154).
Taking the religious issue to the domestic sphere, the conservatives and Cromwell exploited the King’s interest in Jane Seymour. Chapuys wrote to the Imperial Court on 1 April 1536, that “certainly it appears to me that if it succeeds, it will be a great thing … to remedy the heresies here, of which the Concubine is the cause and principal nurse, and also to pluck the King from such an abominable and more than incestuous marriage” (Gairdner X 601). By the middle of April when John Skip gave his sermon on Passion Sunday, it became obvious that rumors of intrigues “were beginning to fly around the Court” (MacCulloch 154). Skip showed great nerve by attacking Henry VIII and Jane Seymour using the analogy of King Solomon who blemished his own reputation by his “sensual and carnal aptitude in taking many wives and concubines” (MacCulloch 154).
Jane protected her own reputation evidenced by the famous story that Chapuys relayed. Supposedly “some days ago, the King being here in London, and, the young Miss Seymour, to whom he is paying court at Greenwich, he sent her a purse full of sovereigns, together with a letter, and that the young damsel, after respectfully kissing the letter, returned it to the messenger without opening it, and then falling on her knees, begged the royal messenger to entreat the King in her name to consider that she was a well-born damsel, the daughter of good and honourable parents without blame or reproach of any kind; there was no treasure in this world that she valued as much as her honour, and on no account would she lose it, even if she were to die a thousand deaths. That if the King wished to make her a present of money, she requested him to reserve it for such a time as God would be pleased to send her some advantageous marriage” (de Gayangos V 43).
Evidently, this episode, well-orchestrated by Jane and her advisors, had the following reaction by Henry. The “King’s love and desire towards the said lady was wonderfully increased, and that he had said she had behaved most virtuously, and to show her that he only loved her honorably, he did not intend henceforth to speak with her except in presence of some of her kin; for which reason the King has caused Cromwell to remove from a chamber to which the King can go by certain galleries without being perceived, and has lodged there the eldest brother of the said lady [Edward Seymour] with his wife, in order to bring thither the same young lady, who has been well taught for the most part by those intimate with the King, who hate the concubine, that she must by no means comply with the King’s wishes except by way of marriage; in which she is quite firm” (Gairdner X 601).
Intentions of a third marriage were already firmly believed by many at Court as early as January 1536. A gleeful Chapuys imagined that Henry knew “how much his subjects abominate the marriage contracted with the concubine, and that not one considers it legitimate” (de Gayangos V 43). Henry stated “in great confidence, and as it were in confession, that he had made this marriage, seduced by witchcraft, and for this reason he considered it null; and that this was evident because God did not permit them to have any male issue, and that he believed that he might take another wife, which he gave to understand that he had some wish to do” (Gairdner X 199).
Henry was very taken with Jane Seymour but realized he could not have a repeat scenario of a living divorced wife. How actively involved was Henry in eliminating Anne and many of the leading evangelicals? That is a difficult question to answer although Cromwell, according to Chapuys, took full credit as the person “who had discovered and followed up the affair of the Concubine, in which he had taken a great deal of trouble, and that, … he had set himself to arrange the plot (a fantasier et conspirer led affaire)” to protect the king (Gairdner 1069). To protect and to please the king?
Surprisingly, Cromwell himself will be put to death by Henry. Frustrated over the machinations that forced him to marry Anne of Cleeves, Henry was persuaded by Cromwell’s enemies to charge him with treason. Years later, the Scottish cleric, Alexander Alesius wrote to Elizabeth Regina that Cromwell “was punished by the just judgment of God, because he had loved the King more than God; and that out of deference to his Sovereign he had caused many innocent persons to be put to death, not sparing your most holy mother, nor had he obeyed her directions in promoting the doctrine of the Gospel” (Stevenson I 51).
Cromwell’s contemporary, Nicholas Shaxton, appointed Bishop of Salisbury at Anne’s urging–one of the clerics “who favoured the purer doctrine of the Gospel, and to whom she [Anne] had intrusted the care of it” (Stevenson I 15), wrote to Cromwell on May 23rd shortly after her death, “I beseech you, Sir, in vis[ceribus] Jesu Christi, that ye will now be no less diligent [in setting] forth the honour of God and his Holy Word, than [when] the late Queen was alive, and often incit[ed you thereto]” (Gairdner X 942). Interesting that a known evangelical saw the need to prod Cromwell to maintain the strides made in the name of reform. It appears to this blogger that the reformers realized that Henry was too much a conservative at heart to continue the cause of evangelical dogma without the advocacy of Anne. Cromwell was likely to be swayed in the direction of his king.
Anne, identified as a “zealous defender of Christ’s gospel” would use her influence so that “her acts… will declare to the world’s end” her theological ideals (Foxe V 232-234). At the time of her death, it was inconceivable that Anne’s most lasting influence on the Protestant faith would be in the form of her three-year old daughter, Elizabeth.
Upon her acquisition of the throne, Alesius urged her to “guard herself from the snares of the devil, who were the cause of her mother’s death in consequence of her love for the doctrine of the Gospel while it was in its infancy, and afterwards persecuted those persons whom she appointed to watch over the Church” (Stevenson I 1303).
For References, please refer to the blog entry, Path to St. Peter ad Vincula-Part I