Home  -  Tutor Videos / Shows   -  Queen Victoria   -  Queen Elizabeth   -  Queen Mary   -  Queen Adelaide   -  Catherine of Aragon   -  King Henry the VIII   -  Windsor Castle

Most Viewed

Alarm Of Catherine And The Growth Of Lutheranism

Absolution Of Lord Thomas Fitzgerald For The Murder Of The Archbishop Of Dublin

Anger Of Anne Boleyn And The Duke Of Norfolk

Anne Boleyn Chosen By Henry To Succeed Catherine

The Court At Blackfriars

Unpopularity Of Anne Boleyn And Removal Of Catherine From The Court

Warlike Resolution Of The Pope Restrained By The Cardinals

The Divorce

Anxiety Of The Pope To Satisfy The King

Death Of Archbishop Warham And The Pope Urged To Excommunicate Henry But Refuses Angering The Queen

Least Viewed

Expectation That Henry Would Return To The Roman Communion

Intended Escape Of The Princess Mary Out Of England

Competition For Henry's Hand

Illness Of The Princess Mary

Anne Sentenced To Die

The Pope's Authority Abolished In England

Illness Of Queen Catherine

Likelihood Of A Separation Of The King From Anne

Henry Advised To Marry Without Waiting For Sentence

Coronation Of Anne Boleyn


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 decrets 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 Caesar 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 common sense 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 Praetorians 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 catena 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 statute-book
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.

Next: Catherine Incapable Of Having Further Children

Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 1576