Story of Liberty - Charles Coffin

The Man Who Split the Church in Twain

Katherine of Aragon is forty-four years old. The freshness has faded from her cheeks. She is a true wife, but Henry is tired of her. He is thirty-eight, in the full vigor of manhood. He is not a true husband, for he finds more pleasure in the society of Anne Boleyn than with Katherine. Anne is a lady of the court. Henry kisses her at a banquet which Cardinal Wolsey gives in the magnificent palace that he has erected with the money which he raked in from Charles, from Henry, from the sale of church-livings, from taxation. It is a grand pile of buildings, with spacious grounds around.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The king sits by Anne's side, gazing upon her fair face, charmed by her pleasing ways, and enchanted by her matchless beauty.

Strange that a woman's smile should change a nation's destiny; that a fair face should be the means, as it were, of giving a new direction to the current of human affairs! Wonderful that through the love of a man for a woman should come the rending of the Church of Rome! Marvellous that in the reckless passion of a hard-hearted, cruel despot should lie enfolded, as it were, the rights, the liberties, the advancement, of the human race!

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Great changes have taken place in Europe since Henry met Anne, twelve years ago, at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. It is 1532. Doctor Martin Luther, of Wittenberg, has been preaching and writing. Thanks to Laurence Coster and John Gutenberg, the world may know what is going on, and what people think. Men do not now take all their opinions from the Pope, especially in Germany, in Holland, and France. Martin Luther's doctrines have made little progress in England. Henry and Cardinal Wolsey are fast friends of the Pope. Henry is Defender of the Faith—a strong pillar to the Church.

Leo X. is dead; but his nephew, another of the Medici family, is seated in the pontifical chair. Cardinal Wolsey intended to be Pope, and expected that Charles, for whom he had done so much, and who had made him so many solemn promises, would aid him; but the cardinal has discovered that kings can play false as well as other men.

During these twelve years, Charles and Francis have been at war. In February, 1524, their armies met at Pavia, in Italy, where Francis was defeated, and captured. Charles kept him in prison a year, and subjected him to humiliating terms before releasing him. Charles is a good Catholic, but he has been fighting the Pope, and his troops have sacked the city of Rome.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Cardinal Wolsey rode next the king at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, and he rides next him now. He has had his own way in everything. He lives in great state. Lords and nobles do his bidding. He is proud and arrogant. One day the Duke of Buckingham is holding a gold basin while Henry washes his hands, and Cardinal Wolsey dips his own hands into the dish, whereupon the duke spills the water upon the cardinal's red slippers.

"I will sit on your skirts, sir," says Wolsey.

What he means by that Buckingham soon discovers, for the sheriff comes with an order from Henry for his arrest and commitment to the Tower. He has spoken imprudent words, and Wolsey persuades Henry that the duke is meditating treason. In the "Bloody Tower" Buckingham meets his fate.

"Off with his head! So much for Buckingham."

The King of England can cut off the heads of his greatest nobles as well as of his poorest subjects. He is supreme, and the people are slaves to his will. Will the time ever come when kings will be amenable to law? Yes; and this despot will himself unwittingly strike a great blow for human freedom.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Henry is tired of Katherine; how shall he get rid of her? He has been thinking the matter over. He recalls the question whether or not it was right that he should marry his brother's widow. He protested when the betrothal was proposed; but that was in his boyhood. His father came to the conclusion before his death that the betrothal was illegal, and dissolved the contract; but Henry loved

Katherine then, and would not break the engagement. Katherine is the mother of his only child, Mary; but, for all that, Henry begins to doubt if the marriage was legal, notwithstanding the Pope gave his sanction. If it was illegal, then he ought to be divorced; but, if divorced, then Mary would not be heir to the throne. What shall he do? He loves Anne. The passion grows; he mast have her for a wife—she is so fresh and fair, so witty and captivating.

Henry places the matter in the hands of Cardinal Wolsey, who sends an ambassador to Rome to lay the matter before the Pope, who promises to set aside the marriage.

Charles finds out what is going on. Katherine is his aunt, and he enters his protest. What shall the Pope do? Charles is powerful; his troops have once plundered Rome, and may do so again. Henry must wait a little. He sends Cardinal Campeggio to England to sit with Wolsey, as legates, with power to decide the question of divorcement. He writes out a bull setting aside the marriage, which the cardinal may show to Henry; but he is not to give it him till he can make things right with Charles.

The cardinals hold a court in Blackfriars Palace, and Henry and Katherine appear before them.

"I am ready to stand by the decision of the Pope's legates," says Henry.

"I am your truly wedded wife," is Katherine's exclamation as she falls at Henry's feet. She will not recognize the cardinals, turns her back upon them, and leaves the room.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Cardinal Campeggio goes back to Rome. Months pass. Henry is impatient and dissatisfied with Wolsey, who has had the management of affairs. But what shall he do?

One day Doctor Thomas Cranmer, of Cambridge, is dining with Stephen Gardiner, Cardinal Wolsey's secretary, whom we saw at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.

"Why, does not the king lay the matter before the chief ministers an doctors of Europe, and let them examine the lawfulness of the marriage? Doctor Cranmer asks.

It is a new idea, and Gardiner makes it known to Henry, who invites the doctor to London, and finds that he is able and learned. He lays the matter before the Oxford doctors, who decide that the marriage was illegal; the Cambridge doctors say the same. He sends a learned man to Italy, and some of the doctors there coincide with the opinion. They discover a lot of old Greek manuscripts, which show that the doctors in old times were of their way of thinking. Henry consults the Jewish rabbis, who say that in Judea, when a man died leaving no children, a brother might marry the widow to preserve possessions, but they thought it would be illegal out of Judea.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The Paris doctors, after three weeks' study, agree that the marriage was a lawful one; and the doctors at Toulon, Angiers, and Orleans are of the same way of thinking. John Calvin, a learned doctor in Geneva, says it was illegal. Philip Melancthon, another learned doctor, Martin Luther's best friend, thinks that it was lawful, but that it may be set aside.

Henry sends Doctor Cranmer, Stephen Gardiner, and Edward Bonner to argue the matter before the Pope. The Pope listens, but makes no answer. Henry is impatient; he will wait no longer. As the Pope has promised to set aside the marriage, and has once written out the bull, as the doctors of Cambridge and Oxford say it was illegal, Henry leaves Katherine, and is privately married to Anne. No longer may the true-hearted queen live in one of the king's palaces. She goes into the country. She is not even permitted to have Mary with her. With a breaking heart, she writes to Charles of the indignity heaped upon her; and Charles stirs up the Pope to summon Henry to appear at Rome and give an account of himself.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"Appear at Rome and give an account of myself! Tell the Pope that I am a sovereign prince, and that he has no authority in England."

Out of this reply shall come the freedom of a nation. The people, the nobles, are with the king. Cardinal Wolsey makes all the Church appointments in England; and as he is managing affairs for the king, it will be for the interest of all the prelates to be on the king's side. Parliament decides that no cause affecting the interests of the kingdom shall be judged outside of the realm: any person executing any censure of the Pope shall be punished.

Never before has the Parliament of England exercised such independence. New times have come.

Henry appoints Doctor Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury. There is no reason why the Pope should not confirm so able and learned a man, and, though Henry and Parliament are taking things out of his hands, he sends a bull for his consecration. The doctor does not desire the office, and upon taking the oath makes this protestation:

"Not to be bound by anything contrary to what I conceive to be my duty to God and to the king."

It is the right of private judgment. He will think for himself. Parliament takes up the marriage of Katherine. Was the marriage lawful? Seven lords say it was, fourteen say it was not. Of the Commons, two hundred and sixteen say it was not; none say it was. The question goes to the bishops, who hold their court. They summon Henry and Katherine before them; but Katherine will not recognize them as a court. The Pope is the one to whom she appeals. The bishops declare her contumacious of their authority; and they decree that the marriage of Henry and Katherine is null and void.

A few days later there is a grand pageant on the Thames. The Lord Mayor of London comes down from Guildhall, and steps into his gilded barge, to lead a procession of boats. He wears a scarlet cloak trimmed with gold-lace, and is accompanied by all the great men of the realm—filling fifty barges. In one boat sits a dragon with a long tail. From the monster's mouth issues a stream of fire. Another barge carries the representation of a mound supporting a tree covered with red and white roses, for the Wars of the Roses (the houses of York and Lancaster) are over, and the great families are living in peace. Upon the tree sits a white falcon. Beneath its branches sit a group of girls, waving flags and singing songs. There are high-born young ladies, who grace the occasion by their presence. Thousands of boats follow in the wake of the procession.

There is still another barge, more gorgeous than all others, containing another company of high-born ladies, one of whom is seated in a golden chair beneath a golden canopy. We have seen her before. We first saw her here upon the Thames, twenty years ago, when she was but seven years of age—on that stormy day when Mary, King Henry's sister, took her departure for France, to be the wife of old Louis NIL We saw her again at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, twelve years ago—the fairest and wittiest of all the ladies there. Now she is the wife of King Henry, and to-morrow she is to be crowned Queen of England—Anne Boleyn.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


As the royal procession passes up the stream, the people look out upon it from the quaint old houses huddled along the shore. The rowers ply their oars; the cannon thunder; bells ring; the people rend the air with shouting. The procession moves from the king's palace in Greenwich to the Tower. King Henry greets Anne at the lauding with a kiss, and escorts her into the Tower.

This on Saturday. On Sunday morning all London is astir, for there is to be a grand coronation procession. The houses along the streets through which the procession is to pass are hung with crimson and scarlet. The Lord Mayor, in crimson velvet, leads the procession. After him rides the French ambassador, in a blue-velvet coat, with sleeves of blue and yellow. Then come the judges, in their gowns; then the Knights of the Bath, in velvet gowns and hoods; then the abbots, the bishops, the Archbishop of York; the ambassador from Venice; the Archbishop of Canterbury; the great men—lords, earls, dukes; the Lord High Constable, Duke of Suffolk (Charles Brandon), who married Mary after the death of Louis XII. Anne Boleyn rides in a litter borne by two horses one before, and the other behind. The litter is covered with cloth of gold. The horses are caparisoned with white damask, and led by footmen in livery.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Anne wears a dress of silver tissue, and a mantle lined with ermine. Her hair hangs in loose tresses upon her shoulders. Upon her brow rests a coronet set with rubies. Four knights bear a canopy, to shelter her from the sun.

Two chariots filled with ladies, and fourteen ladies on horseback, with thirty waiting-maids, follow the queen, accompanied by noblemen, who act as guards. Besides these, there is a great following of merchants and of children.

Fountains of Rhine-wine are erected along the streets, and the people drink all that they wish, at the expense of the king—forgetting that, after all, they will have to foot the bill by increased taxes. School-children sing ballads; poets recite verses. A gentleman presents Anne with a purse filled with gold. There are triumphal arches, festoons, banners; the cannon thunder again, the bells clang once more, and the people shout themselves hoarse, as the procession moves from the Tower to Westminster Abbey. All the great men, all the noble ladies of England, are there. The mayor carries Anne's sceptre; the Earl of Arundel, her ivory rod; the Earl of Oxford, the crown; the Duke of Suffolk, the silver wand; Lord Howard, the marshal's staff. The Bishops of Loudon and Winchester hold the lappets of Anne's robe; the old Duchess of Norfolk carries her train.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Anne takes a seat in a gilded chair; while the Archbishop of Canterbury reads the Collects, anoints her forehead and breast, places the crown upon her brow, and hands her the sceptre. The choir sing a Te Deum, mass is performed, and the procession returns to Westminster Hall, to the banquet.

At the dinner, the Earl of Essex is chief carver; the Earl of Arundel, chief butler; twelve noblemen act as cup-bearers; Lord Burgoyne is chief larder; Viscount Lile, chief pantler—his chief business is to look after the bread; while the Marquis of Oxford keeps the buttery bar. It is Sir Thomas Wyatt's business to pour scented water on Anne's hands. The Countess of Oxford and the Countess of Worcester stand near Anne, with a cloth in their hands, to wipe her nose, in case she needs such service. Two ladies sit at the queen's feet. When all are in their places, the Duke of Suffolk and Lord Howard ride into the hall on horseback, escorting the Knights of the Bath, who bring twenty-seven dishes for the queen. The trumpets sound, and the feasting begins. King Henry takes no part in this demonstration of his subjects, but looks on front a little closet, and enjoys the scene.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Not many weeks after the coronation, Anne gives birth to a babe—a daughter. There is great rejoicing; but there would have been greater joy if it were a son. There is still another grand pageant on the Thames when the babe is taken to Westminster, where it is christened Elizabeth.

Cardinal Wolsey is in his glory—still the most powerful man in the realm. He gives grand banquets and entertainments in the great had of his palace. But there are often sudden changes in the prospects of great men. Henry is angry with him for his mismanagement of the divorce business. Anne has a grudge against him, for she has discovered that the cardinal did not intend that Henry should make her his wife. The nobles hate him, for he was only a butcher's boy, and not high-born. Henry discovers that he has been accumulating great wealth. He will bear with him no longer. He orders the cardinal to give up the seals of his office to Sir Thomas More. The Duke of Norfolk brings the message that all his property is confiscated to the king. Shakespeare pictures the scene in the hall of Wolsey's palace:

"Norfolk.      So, fare you well, my little good lord cardinal.

Wolsey.      So farewell to the little good you bear me.

Farewell, a long farewell, to all my greatness!

This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth

The tender leaves of hopes, to-morrow blossoms,

And bears his blushing honors thick upon him:

The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,

And—when he thinks, good easy man, full surely

His greatness is a-ripening—nips his root,

And then he falls, as I do."

The cardinal bids farewell to London, and goes up the great road leading to York—the road over which Margaret, Henry's sister, travelled when she went to Scotland. In the old manor-house, at Scrooby, he finds a home for a while. It is lonely there. His greatness has all gone by, but the good people of the little hamlet of Ansterfield still do him reverence when he enters the old stone church. They see that his locks are growing white, that he has a sad face, that he walks feebly. He gives money to the poor, and they think that, after all, the has a kind heart. From Scrooby he goes to Esher. A few months pass, and the cardinal is on his death-bed, with this lament upon his lips:

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"If I had but served my God as faithfully as I have my king, he would not thus desert me in my old age."

Liberty has not yet dawned upon the people of England. To read the Bible is a great crime. Sir Thomas More is Lord Chancellor. He lives at Greenwich, and is very zealous for the faith as held by the Church. He issues a proclamation against heretics, ordering all laws against them to be put in execution. He burns all the Bibles he can lay his hands upon. Thomas Bayfield, a monk, is discovered to have a New Testament in his possession, and is brought before Bishop Tunstal, of London. In St. Paul's. Tunstal strips off his gown, and while the poor monk is kneeling at the altar the bishop strikes him a blow with his crosier, which knocks hint senseless to the floor. Out in Smithfield, where the cattle-dealers market their beeves, he is chained to the stake. The wood is green, and for half an hour he roasts in the flames. The fire curls around his left arm and burns till it drops from the body. All the while the brave-hearted man is praying for Sir Thomas More and Bishop Tunstal, and all his enemies.

Another of Sir Thomas's victims is James Bainham, who is burned on the Smithfield muck heaps.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"The Lord forgive Sir Thomas," he prays, as he stands there clothed with flames. Iris face is radiant. "I feel no more pain than when lying on a bed of down; the fire is as a bed of roses," he cries.

Thomas Bilney is a student at Cambridge. One day a Testament in Latin, translated by Erasmus, falls into his hands; he has seen Latin Testaments before, but none with such smooth-flowing sentences as that. A verse arrests his attention.

"This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief."

If that is true, then fasting, and penance, and masses, and indulgences are of no account. He begins to preach, and brings Hugh Latimer and many others to his way of thinking. He travels through the country doing good, giving alms, sharing his humble, fare with the poor, till he is imprisoned. He renounces his doctrines, and is released; but his conscience troubles him, and he begins to preach again. He is as gentle as a lamb. He has nothing to say against the Pope, or the bishops, or the Church; but he preaches the truth as he understands it, not as taught by the Pope and bishops. It is private judgment. Sir Thomas More cannot permit that, and sends an order to have him burned. It is at Norwich, just outside the city walls, that the officers chain him to the stake. He smiles upon them. There is no anger in his heart toward any one. The people love him, he is so sweet and tender, and they scowl upon the friars who have maliciously accused him.

It is a strange request which the friars make of him:

"Oh, Master Bilney! the people think that we have caused you to be put to death, and they will no longer give to us, if you do not speak to them in our behalf."

The man, with the light of heaven on his face, turns to the people:

"I pray you, good people, be never the worse to these men for my sake. They are not the authors of my death."

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Not they—but the Lord high Chancellor, Sir Thomas More, as zealous for the Church as Paul when he held the clothes of those who hurled stones at Stephen just outside of the gate at Jerusalem. Another day will come to Sir Thomas. Now he is burning the meek-hearted man who stands for the right of private judgment. The time will come when he will assert his right of private judgment, and then we shall see what will happen to him.

One hundred years have passed since the monks dug up the bones of Doctor Wicklif. If there was little liberty in the world then, there is very little now, although a century has gone. If the monks and priests were corrupt then, it is certain that many of them are leading scandalous lives in these days of Henry VIII. The bishops have their courts, and punish with a light penance a crime in a priest, which is atoned for only by death if committed by common people. Thomas Wyseman, a priest, who has led a scandalous life, is sentenced to do penance by offering a wax-candle at the alter of St. Bartholomew's Church, and say five Pater-nosters, five Ave-Marias, and as many Credos. Having done this, he pays six shillings and eight-pence into the Bishop's Court, and is absolved, and can go on saying mass and absolving the people. But the same crime committed by one of the people is punished with death.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


There is a long list of priests who are leading scandalous lives: the vicars of Ledburg, of Brasmyll, of Stow, of Clome, the parson of Westnor, of Rusburg, of Plowden, the Dean of Pamtsburg, and many more.

The people are losing confidence in priests who live in sin, or who can atone for sin by offering a wax-candle. They are losing faith in the Church that makes atonement so easy for a priest, while it metes out death to everybody else. The rhymers write ballads lampooning the priests.

"I, Collin Clout,

As I go about,

And wondering as I walk,

I hear the people talk;

Men say for silver and gold

Mitres are bought and sold.

A straw fro God's curse!

What are they the worse?

"What care the clergy through Gill sweat,

Or Jack of the Noke?

The poor people they yoke

With summers and citations

And excommunications.

"But Doctor Ballatus

Parum litteratus

Dominus Doctortus,

At the broad-gate house,

Doctor Daupatus

And Bachelor Bacbeleratus,

Drunken as a mouse,

At the ale-house,

Taketh his pillian and his cup

At the good ale-tap,

For lack of good wine.

"Such temporal war and hate,

As now is made of late

Against Holy Church estate,

Or to maintain good quarrels:

The laymen call them barrels

Full of gluttony and hypocrisy.

What counterfeits and paints,

As they were very saints!"

It is the year 1547. Fourteen years have passed since Anne Boleyn's coronation. A great man, with a round, bloated face, double chin, coarse features, fat paunch, weak and helpless, with an offensive ulcer on one of his legs, lies in bed. A fair-looking, kind-hearted woman sits by his side, taking care of him. The man is fifty-six years old, and has been a king thirty-six years. His will has been supreme; he has had things his own way, but can have them no longer, for one mightier than he is about to make him a visit—the king of terrors—Death.

We saw him at the Field of the Cloth of Gold; we saw him putting away Katherine of Aragon, and marrying Anne Boleyn. Three years later, he chopped off Anne's head, and married Jane Seymour the next day, who died the next year in giving birth to a son—happily for her. He married Anne of Cleves, and was divorced from her. Then he married Katherine Howard, in July, 1540, and cut her head off, February 12th, 1542; and married Katherine Parr, in July, 1543—the woman who is sitting by his side and soothing his pain.

Important changes have taken place during these years, in which great things have been unwittingly done for liberty by this man, so powerful once, so weak and helpless now. The changes have been brought about through his passion for Anne Boleyn.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The timid Pope—destitute of conscience or moral principle; afraid of Charles; afraid of Henry—promised to grant him a divorce from Katherine, and then failed to keep his promise. Archbishop Cranmer, speaking for the bishops of England, pronounces the marriage with Katherine illegal, and sanctions his marriage with Anne. The Pope declares that the bishop cannot make such a decision—all power belongs to him. The Parliament will see about that, and declares that the Pope has no authority in England. The bishops decide, in their sessions, that the Pope has no more authority in England than any other foreign bishop, which is none at all.

The king has always appointed the bishops, and Parliament makes the king the head of the Church—thus setting the Pope aside. Parliament declares that Elizabeth, and not Mary, is the true heir to the crown, because the marriage of Henry and Katherine was illegal; and they require all the nobles and bishops to swear to support the law. If any one refuses, he shall be deemed guilty of high treason. Sir Thomas More, who has resigned his office to Thomas Cromwell, whom we saw with Wolsey at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, is living at Greenwich. His daughter Margaret is married to Mr. Roper, and lives with him. He is called upon to appear at Lambeth Palace and take the oath. He comes up the Thames in a boat, with his daughter's husband, and appears before the commission. He is willing to take part of the oath—to support Elizabeth whenever she may come to the throne; but he will not swear that the marriage of Henry and Katherine was illegal. He sets up his private judgment, just as Thomas Bilney and Thomas Bayfold set up theirs. It was for having a New Testament in his possession, for preaching the truth as he understood it, not as dictated by the Pope, that Sir Thomas sent the good man to his death; and now he sets up his own judgment against the law of the realm. It is treason, to be punished with death; and he goes to the Bloody Tower, a prisoner, entering by the Traitor's Gate, with Bishop Fisher, an old man eighty years of age, who also will not take the oath. In Westminster Hall, where Anne Boleyn sat down to the grand banquet, Sir Thomas has his trial. He will not swear, and is found guilty of high treason.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


At the Tower stairs, he bids farewell to his beloved daughter Margaret, who has affectionately waited upon him in prison.

At nine o'clock on the morning of the 6th of July, 1535, Sir Thomas and the sheriff come out from the Tower. A great company has assembled to see him executed. Some of the people do not like him. They remember how he has sent many a poor man to the stake, and there is no pity in some of the faces around him; but there are others who are sorry to see him suffer for conscience' sake. He goes with a brave heart. His life has been sweet and pure. The scaffold stairs are weak.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"See me safe up, Mr. Sheriff. As for the coming down, I can take care of myself," he says, with a smile on his face.

"I ask your prayers, good people. I die in the faith of the holy Catholic Church. I am a faithful servant to God and to the king."

He kneels, and repeats a Psalm.

The sheriff kneels to him, and asks forgiveness for what he is about to do.

"Pluck up spirit, man, and be not afraid to do thine office. My neck is short. Take heed how you strike."

He himself ties a handkerchief over his eyes, and lays aside his white beard.

"Pity it should be cut; it never has committed treason."

They are his last words. He lays his head upon the block, and all is over.

"What measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again."

Many times those lips, motionless now, have sentenced men and women to death for reading the New Testament—for not believing that the bread of the sacrament is Christ's body. They were heretics, and died for conscience' sake. Sir Thomas dies for conscience' sake, not as a heretic, but as a rebel, disobedient to government.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The king goes on burning Catholics who will not recognize him as head of the Church, and heretics who say that there is no purgatory. But amidst all this burning and hanging a great revolution is going on. The people have lost confidence in the Church. There are more than six hundred monasteries and nunneries in England, and the country is overrun by a set of lazy monks and priests and nuns, who own immense estates. The Pope has always had control of the monasteries; but now he has no authority in England. The king is the head of the Church; and commissioners are appointed to visit the monasteries. They report them rich, and that the monks, friars, and abbots lead scandalous lives. Parliament makes a law suppressing them. The lands, jewels, and estates are seized; and the men and women, who have been living on the people so long, are turned adrift, to get their living as they can. The king fills his coffers, the nobles, dukes, earls, and baronets take good care to fill their own pockets, with the spoils. One woman, Widow Cornwallis, makes a pudding for the king, which is so good, with so many plums in it, that he, in return, makes her a present of all the lands of an abbey.

Workmen tear down the monasteries to get the lead and iron; and the stately stone edifices, which have stood so long, soon are heaps of ruins.

Though Stephen Gardiner and Edmund Bonner, the nobles, the king, are spoiling the abbeys, they are at the same time burning heretics.

Anne Askew is arrested for not believing that the bread of the sacrament is the flesh of Christ. She is brought before the Lord Mayor of London.

"You do not believe that the bread becomes Christ's body?" "No, your honor."

"What if a mouse should eat the bread after it is consecrated?" the mayor asks.

"What say you to it, my lord?" Anne asks, in return.

"I say that the mouse is damned."

"Alas! poor mouse!"

The Lord Mayor sees that he has made a little mistake.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Anne is put upon the rack in the Tower, and two of the questioners throw off their gowns, and work the winches till her limbs are all but torn from her body. They carry her in a chair to the place of burning, at the Muck-heap of Smithfield, and bind her to the stake with a chain. Two others are to suffer with her. The executioner fastens bags of powder to their bodies. The Lord Mayor, the Duke of Norfolk, and the Earl of Bedford sit upon a seat by St. Bartholomew's Church, but, though several rods away, are afraid that the powder will hurt them.

Anne Askew has a countenance like that of an angel. She smiles upon the executioners.

"Here is a pardon if you will recant," says the sheriff.

"I came not here to deny my Lord."

With these heroic words upon her lips, she gives her life for liberty.

But notwithstanding all these burnings, liberty is advancing. The king has ordered that the Bible, in English, shall be in every church in England. Desks have been put up, and the books chained to them. All day long the people stand there bearing them read, and as the reading goes on they think for themselves, and heretics are multiplying.

The woman who sits by the bedside of the king—Katherine Parr—secretly befriends those whom Stephen Gardiner and Edmund Bonner have thrust into prison, and they resolve that she too shall suffer; but she finds out what is going on, and cares for Henry very tenderly. Gardiner comes with his accusation.

"Get out, you knave!" is the salutation which he receives when he makes his business known.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Henry knows that he cannot get well. Jane Seymour's son, Edward, is ten years old. Who shall conduct affairs till he is old enough to wear the crown? There are two great parties in England now—the old party and the new. The old party do not wish to have the Bible in the churches and they believe that the Pope is their head of the Church. The new party accept the king as head of the Church, and the Bible, and not the Pope, as authority in matters of religion. Henry selects men of the new party to direct affairs. Edward is to be king, and after him Mary and Elizabeth are to be heirs to the throne.

On the 28th of January, 1547, the despot who through life has been trampling upon the rights of men, who has cut off the heads of his wives and nobles, who has plundered the people at will through an obsequious and time-serving Parliament, yields his sceptre to one mightier than himself. He has been a wicked man, a tyrant; yet, through his wickedness and tyranny, liberty shall dawn upon the oppressed and suffering people of England, and, through them, upon all the world.