England.—This term is here restricted to one constituent, the largest and most populous, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Thus understood, England (taken at the same time as including the Principality of Wales) is all that part of the Island of Great Britain which lies south of the Solway Firth, the River Liddell, the Cheviot Hills, and the River Tweed; its area is 57,668 square miles, i.e. 10,048 sq. m. greater than that of the State of New York, but 11,067 sq. m. less than that of Missouri; its total resident population in 1901 was 23,386,593, or 782 per cent of the population of the United Kingdom. The history of England will be considered in the present article chiefly in its relations with the Catholic Church—I. BEFORE THE REFORMATION; II. SINCE THE REFORMATION. The concluding section will be III. ENGLISH LITERATURE.
I.. BEFORE THE REFORMATION.—For the history of England down to the Norman Conquest the reader may be referred to the article The Anglo-Saxon Church (in Vol. I, 505-12). We begin our present account of pre-Reformation England with the new order of things created by William the Conqueror.
Although the picture of the degradation of the English Church in the first half of the eleventh century which has been drawn by some authorities (notably by H. Boehmer, “Kirche and Staat”, 79) is very exaggerated, it is nevertheless certain that even King Edward the Confessor, with all his saintliness, had not been able to repair the damage caused partly by the anarchy of the last ten years of Danish rule, but not less surely, if remotely, by the disorders which for many generations past had existed at the center of Christendom. Of the prevalence of simoniacal practices, of a scandalous and widespread neglect of the canons enjoining clerical celibacy, and of a general subordination of the ecclesiastical order to secular influences, there is no room for doubt. These evils were at that time almost universal. In 1065, the year of St. Edward’s death, things were no better in England than on the Continent of Europe. Probably they were rather worse. But the forces which were to purify and renovate the Church were already at work. The monastic reform begun in the tenth century at Cluny had spread to many religious houses of France and among other places had been cordially taken up in the Norman Abbey of Fecamp, and later at Bee. On the other hand this same ascetical discipline had done much to form the character both of Brun, Bishop of Toul, who in 1049 became pope, and is known as St. Leo IX, and of Hildebrand his chief counsellor, afterwards still more famous as St. Gregory VII. Under the auspices of these two popes a new era dawned for the Church. Effective action was at last taken to restrain clerical incontinence and avarice, while a great struggle began to rescue the bishops from the imminent danger of becoming mere feudatories to the emperor and other secular princes. William the Conqueror had established intimate relations with the Holy See. He came to England armed with the direct authorization of a papal Bull, and his expedition, in the eyes of many earnest men, and probably even his own, was identified with the cause of ecclesiastical reform. The behavior of Normans and Saxons on the night preceding the battle of Hastings, when the former prayed and prepared for Communion while the latter caroused, was in a measure significant of the spirit of the two parties. Taken as a whole, the Conqueror’s dealings with the English Church were worthy of a great mission. All the best elements in the Saxon hierarchy he retained and supported. St. Wulstan was confirmed in the possession of the See of Worcester. Leofric of Exeter and Siward of Rochester, both Englishmen, as well as some half-dozen prelates of foreign birth who had been appointed in Edward’s reign, were not interfered with. On the other hand, Stigand, the intriguing Archbishop of Canterbury, and one or two other bishops, probably his supporters, were deposed. But in this there was no indecent haste. It was done at the great Council of Winchester (Easter, 1070), at which three papal legates were present. Shortly afterwards the vacant sees were filled up, and, in procuring Lanfranc for Canterbury and Thomas of Bayeux for York, William gave to his new kingdom the very best prelates that were then available. The results were undoubtedly beneficial to the Church. The king himself directly enjoined the separation of the civil and ecclesiastical courts, for these jurisdictions in the old shiremoots and hundredmoots had hardly been distinguished. It was probably partly as a consequence of this division that ecclesiastical synods now began to be held regularly by Lanfranc, with no small profit to discipline and piety. Strong legislation was adopted (e.g. at Winchester in 1176) to secure celibacy among the clergy, though not without some temporary mitigation for the old rural priests, a mitigation which proves perhaps better than anything else that in the existing generation a sudden and complete reform seemed hopeless. Further, several episcopal sees were removed from what were then mere villages to more populous centers. Thus bishops were transferred from Sherborne to Salisbury, from Selsey to Chichester, from Lichfield to Chester, and not many years after from Dorchester to Lincoln, and from Thetford to Norwich. These and the like changes, and, not perhaps least of all, the drafting of Lanfranc‘s new constitutions for the Christ Church monks, were all significant of the improvement introduced by the new ecclesiastical regime. With regard to Rome, the Conqueror seems never to have been wanting in respect for the Holy See, and nothing like a breach with the pope ever took place during his lifetime. The two archbishops went to Rome in 1071 to receive their pallia, and when (c. 1078) a demand was made through the papal legate, Hubert, for the payment of arrears of Peter’s-pence, the claim was admitted, and the contribution was duly sent. Gregory, however, seems at the same time to have called upon the King of England to do homage for his kingdom, regarding the payment of Romescot as an acknowledgment of vassalage, as in some cases, e.g. that of the Normans in Apulia (See Jensen, “Der englische Peterspfennig”, p. 37), it undoubtedly was. But on this point William’s reply was clear. “One claim [Peter’s-pence] I admit,” he wrote, “the other I do not admit. To do fealty I have not been willing in the past, nor am I willing now, inasmuch as I have never promised it, nor do I discover that my predecessors ever did it to your predecessors.” It is plain that all this had nothing whatever to do with the recognition of the pope’s spiritual supremacy, and in fact the king says in the concluding sentence of the letter: “Pray for us and for the good estate of our realm, for we have loved your predecessors and desire to love you sincerely and to hear you obediently before all” (et vos prie omnibus sincere diligere et obedienter audire desideramus). Possibly the incident led to some slight coolness, reflected, for example, in the rather negative attitude of Lanfranc towards the antipope Wibert at a later date (see Liebermann in “Eng. Hist. Rev.”, 1901, p. 328), but it is also likely that William and his archbishop were only careful not to get entangled in the strife between Gregory and the Emperor Henry IV. In any case, the more strictly ecclesiastical policy of the great pontiff was cordially furthered by them, so that St. Gregory, writing to Hugh, Bishop of Die, remarked that although the King of England does not bear himself in all things as religiously as might be wished, still, inasmuch as he does not destroy or sell the churches, rules peaceably and justly, refuses to enter into alliance with the enemies of the Cross of Christ (the partisans of Henry IV), and has compelled the priests to give up their wives and laymen to pay arrears of tithe, he has proved himself worthy of special consideration. As has been recently pointed out by an impartial authority (Davis, “England under Normans and Angevins”, p. 54) “Lanfranc‘s correspondence and career prove that he and his master conceded important powers to the Pope not only in matters of conscience and faith but also in administrative questions. They admitted for example the necessity of obtaining the pallium for an archbishop and the Pope‘s power to invalidate episcopal elections. They were scrupulous in obtaining the Pope‘s consent when the deposition or resignation of a bishop was in question and they submitted the time-honored quarrel of York and Canterbury to his decision.”
No doubt a strong centralized government was then specially needed in Church as well as State, and we need not too readily condemn Lanfranc as guilty of personal ambition because he insisted on the primacy of his own see and exacted. a profession of obedience from the Archbishop of York. The recent attempt that has been made to fasten a charge of forgery upon Lanfranc in connection with this incident (see Boehmer, “Falschungen Erzbischof Lanfranks”) breaks down at the point where the personal responsibility of the great archbishop is involved. Undoubtedly many of the documents upon which Canterbury’s claims to supremacy was based were forgeries, and forgeries of that precise period, but there is no proof that Lanfranc was the forger or that he acted otherwise than in good faith (see Walter in “Götting. gelehrte Anzeigen”,1905, 582; and Saltet in “Revue des Sciences Eccles.”, 1907, p. 423).
Well was it for England that William and Lanfranc, without any violent overthrow of the existing order of things, either in Church or State, had nevertheless introduced systematic reforms and had provided the country with good bishops. A struggle was now at hand which ecclesiastically speaking was probably more momentous than any other event in history down to the time of the Reformation. The struggle is known as that about Investitures, and we may note that it had already been going on in Central Europe for some years before the question, through the action of William II and Henry I, sons of the Conqueror, reached an acute phase in England. Down to the eleventh century it may be said that, though the election of bishops always supposed the free choice, or at least the acceptance, of their flocks, the procedure was very variable. In these earlier ages bishops were normally chosen by an assembly of the clergy and people, the neighboring bishops and the king or civil magnates exercising more or less of influence in the selection of a suitable candidate (see Imbart de la Tour, “Les elections episcopales”). But from the seventh and eighth century onwards it became increasingly common for the local Churches to find themselves in some measure of bondage. From the ancient principle of “no land without a lord” it was easy to pass to that of “no church without a lord”, and whether the bishopric was situated upon the royal domain or within the sphere of influence of one of the great feudatories, men came to regard each episcopal see as a mere fief which the lord was free to bestow upon whom he would, and for which he duly exacted homage. This development was no doubt much helped by the fact that as the parochial system grew up, it was the oratory of the local magnate which in rural districts became the parish church, and it was his private chaplain who was transformed into the parish priest. Thus the great landowner became the patronus ecclesioe, claiming the right to present for ordination any cleric of his own choice. Now the relation of a sovereign towards his bishops came in time to be regarded as precisely analogous. The king was held to be the lord of the lands from which the bishop derived his revenues. Instead of the possession of these lands being regarded as the apanage of the spiritual office, the acceptance of episcopal consecration was looked upon as the special condition or service upon which these lands were held from the king. Thus the temporal sovereign claimed to make the bishop, and, to show that he did so, he “invested” the new spiritual vassal with his fief by presenting to him the episcopal ring and crosier. The episcopal consecration was a subordinate matter which the king’s nominee was left to arrange for himself with his metropolitan and the neighboring bishops. Now, as long as the supreme authority was wielded by religiously-minded men, princes who took thought for the spiritual wellbeing of their kingdoms, no great harm necessarily resulted from this perversion of right order. But when, as too often happened during the iron age, the monarch was godless and unprincipled, he either kept the see vacant, in order to enjoy the revenues, or else sold the office to the highest bidder. It must be obvious that such a system, if allowed to develop unchecked could only lead in the course of a few generations to the utter demoralization of the Church. When the bishops, the shepherds of the flock, were themselves licentious and corrupt, it would have been a moral miracle if the rank and file of the clergy had not degenerated in an equal or even greater degree. Upon the bishop depended ultimately the admission of candidates to ordination, and he also was ultimately responsible for their education and for the maintenance of ecclesiastical discipline.
Now the fact cannot be disputed that in the tenth century a very terrible laxity had come to prevail almost everywhere throughout Western Christendom. The great monastic reform of Cluny and many individual saints like Ulric, at Augsburg, and Dunstan and Aethelwold, in England, did much to stem the tide, but the times were very evil. Worldly minded men, often morally corrupt, were promoted by sovereigns and territorial magnates to some of the most important sees of the Church, many of them obtaining that promotion by the payment of money or by simoniacal compacts. The lower clergy as a rule were grossly ignorant and in many cases unchaste, but under such bishops they enjoyed almost complete immunity from punishment. No doubt the corruptions of the age have been exaggerated by writers of the stamp of H. C. Lea, Michelet, and Gregorovius, but nothing could more conclusively prove the gravity of the evil than the fact that for two centuries the Church had to struggle with the abuse by which benefices threatened to become hereditary, descending from the priest to his children. Happily help was at hand. Many individual reformers strove to introduce higher religious ideals and met with partial success, but it was the merit of the great pontiff, St. Gregory VII, to go straight to the root of the evil. It was useless to fulminate decrees against the concubinage of priests and against their neglect of their spiritual functions if the great feudal lords could still nominate unworthy bishops, bestowing investiture by ring and crosier and enforcing their consecration at the hands of other bishops as unworthy as the candidates. Gregory saw that no permanent good could be effected until this system of lay investitures was utterly overthrown. Those who have accused Gregory of insufferable arrogance, of a desire to exalt without measure the spiritual authority of the Church and to humble all secular rulers to the dust, make little allowance for the gravity of the evils he was combating and for the desperate nature of the struggle. When feudalism seemed on the point of so completely swallowing up all ecclesiastical organization, it was pardonable that St. Gregory should have believed that the remedy lay not in any compromise or balance of power, but in the unqualified acceptance of the principle that the Church was above the State. If, on the one hand, he considered that it was the function of the Vicar of Christ to direct and, if need be, chastise the princes of the earth, it is also clear from the history of his life that he designed to use that power impartially and well.
In England the struggle over investitures developed somewhat later than on the Continent. If, in the matter of the election of bishops, Gregory VII forbore to press the claims of the Church to extremities under such a ruler as William the Conqueror, this was surely not to be attributed to pusillanimity. The pope’s forbearance was due quite as much to the fact that he was satisfied that the king made good appointments, as to the circumstance that his own energies were for the time absorbed in the greater struggle with the emperor. Even under the rule of William Rufus no great abuses declared themselves before the death of Lanfranc; (1089). It is very noteworthy that William of St. Calais, Bishop of Durham, in 1088, having been accused of treason before the King’s Court, questioned the competence of the Court and appealed to the pope. Practically speaking, his appeal was allowed, and he was granted a safe-conduct out of the kingdom, though only after the surrender of his fief. This was virtually an admission that a bishop held only the temporalities of his see from the crown, and that as a spiritual person he was free to challenge the decision of any national tribunal. Such an incident can with difficulty be reconciled with those theories of the independence of the English (lurch which commonly prevail among modern Anglicans.
With the death of Lanfranc, however, all that was evil in the nature of William Rufus seems to have come to the surface. Under the influence of the man who was his evil genius, Ralph Flambard, a cleric whom he eventually made Bishop of Durham, the king during nearly the whole of his reign set himself to undo the good effected by his father and Lanfranc. In the words of the chronicler, “God‘s Church was brought very low”. Whenever a bishop or abbot died, one of the king’s clerks was sent to take possession of all the rents for the use of the crown, leaving but a bare pittance to the monks or canons. The prelacies whose revenues were thus confiscated were long kept vacant, and no new appointment was made except upon payment of a large sum of money by way of a “relief”. For the credit of one or two really good men like Ralph Luffa and Herbert Losinga, who during these bad times became respectively Bishops of Chichester and Norwich (the latter paying a thousand pounds for his nomination), it should be pointed out that a certain pretext of feudal custom lent a decent veil to the simony involved in these transactions. The obsolete doctrine that a fief was a precarious estate, and granted only for a lifetime, was revived by Flambard, and, as a corollary, large sums of money, as “reliefs” (from relevare, “to take up again”), were demanded, when any fief, lay or spiritual, was conceded to a new possessor. But bishops and abbots were made to pay proportionately more than earls or barons, and a relief was exacted in some cases even from all the subordinate tenants of episcopal sees the moment the estate came into the king’s hands (see Round, “Feudal England”, p. 309). All this only illustrates further the evils inherent in the system of regarding a spiritual office as a fief held from the king. In the case of the metropolitan See of Canterbury, no successor was appointed until four years after Lanfranc‘s death. Even then William Rufus only yielded to the solicitations made to him because he had fallen grievously ill and was lying at the point of death. Most providentially, this illness coincided with the presence in England of Anselm, Abbot of Bec, whom all men regarded as marked out for the primacy alike by his learning and his holiness of life. The king summoned Anselm to his bedside, and the latter extorted a solemn promise of radical reform in the administration of both Church and State. Shortly afterwards, in spite of all his protests; Anselm himself was invested, literally by force, with the insignia of the primacy, and he was consecrated archbishop before the end of the year. But though the saint’s firmness secured the restoration of all the possessions which belonged to the See of Canterbury at the time of Lanfranc‘s death, the king soon returned to his evil ways. In particular he still clung to the theory that by accepting investiture Anselm had become his liege man (ligeus homo), liable to all the incidents of vassalage. When an aid was demanded for the war in Normandy, Anselm at first refused. Then, not wantonly to provoke a conflict, he offered 500 marks; but when this sum was rejected as insufficient, he distributed the money to the poor. Early in 1095 the archbishop asked permission to go to the pope to receive the pallium. Rufus objected that, while the antipope Clement III was still disputing the title, it was for him and his Great Council to decide which pope should be recognized. When asked to recognize the jurisdiction of this Council, Anselm replied: “In the things that are God‘s I will tender obedience to the Vicar of St. Peter; in things touching the earthly dignity of my lord the King I will to the best of my ability give him faithful counsel and help.” The other bishops seem to have been cowed by Rufus and to have supported the king’s claim to decide which of the rival popes he should recognize. But Anselm refused in any way to surrender the allegiance which when Abbot of Bec, he had sworn to Urban. He recognized no right of king or bishops to interfere, and he declared he would give his answer “as he ought and where he ought”. These words, writes Dean Stephens (History of The English Church, II, 99), were understood to mean, that, as Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm “refused to be judged by any one save the pope himself, a doctrine which it seems no one was prepared to deny”. Through the saint’s firmness Urban was recognized, and the pallium brought from him to England; but a little later Anselm again asked leave to go to Rome, and when it was refused he declared in the plainest terms that he must go without leave, for God was to be obeyed rather than man. Pope Urban received him with all possible respect, and publicly spoke of him as “alterius orbis papa”, a phrase much quoted by Anglicans, as though it implied the recognition in the Archbishop of Canterbury of a jurisdiction independent of Rome.
But the whole lesson of Anselm’s life centerd in his belief that it lay with the pope to decide what course was to be followed in matters affecting the Church even at the risk of the king’s displeasure, and despite any pretended national customs. Neither does it appear that the rest of the English bishops maintained the contrary as a matter of principle, though they considered that Anselm’s attitude was needlessly provocative and uncompromising. There are not wanting signs that Eadmer‘s desire to exalt his own beloved master has led him to be somewhat less than just to Anselm’s suffragans and to the Holy See itself. The archbishop remained in exile until after the death of Rufus, when Henry, who succeeded, made generous promises of freedom to the Church, explicitly renouncing any sort of payment or relief for the appointment of new bishops or abbots, and promising that church revenues should not be seized during vacancies. He recalled Anselm to England, but came into conflict with him almost immediately over the same old question of investitures. At the Councils of Bari (1098) and Rome (1099), at which the saint had personally assisted, anathema had been pronounced on those bishops or abbots who received investiture at the hands of laymen. Anselm accordingly refused either to do homage himself for the restitution of the possessions of the archbishopric or to consecrate other bishops who had received ring and crosier from the king. Eventually, by the consent of both parties, the matter was referred to Rome. In three different embassies that were sent, the pope upheld Anselm’s view, despite the efforts made by Henry’s envoys to extort some concession. Then Anselm himself went to Rome (1103) while a fresh set of royal emissaries were dispatched to work against him at the Curia. Nothing was settled, for Henry still held out, and Anselm accordingly remained abroad. But at last, when Anselm was on the point of launching an excommunication against the king, the latter, being in political straits, accepted such modified terms as his envoys could obtain from the Holy See. Anselm was allowed to consecrate those who had previously received investiture, but the king at a great council (1107) renounced for the future the claim to invest bishop or abbot by ring and crosier. On the other hand it was tacitly admitted that bishops might do homage to the king for the temporal possessions of their sees. This settlement of the investiture question in England was fifteen years earlier than that arrived at on very similar lines between Pope Callistus II and the Emperor Henry V. The importance of the struggle can hardly be exaggerated, for, as already pointed out, the whole ecclesiastical order was in danger of being reduced to the status of vassals sharing all the vices of secular princes. Moreover this resolute stand made by St. Anselm and the popes was not without its political importance. The clergy as a body had now become sufficiently independent to take a leading part in that resistance to despotism to which the people during the next two centuries were to owe their most fundamental liberties. During all this time England as a whole was in no wise in sympathy with the monarch in his quarrel with the pope. As Dr. Gairdner writes of a later period, “It was a contest not of the English people, but of the King and his government with Rome…. As regards national feeling, the people evidently regarded the cause of the Church as the cause of liberty” (Lollards and the Reformation, I, 6). Nothing contributed so much to win the confidence of the nation as the independence shown by the Church in such struggles as those that are associated with the names of St. Anselm, St. Thomas Becket, and Cardinal Stephen Langton.
St. Anselm died peacefully at Canterbury in 1109, but Henry I lived on until 1135. During the remainder of Henry’s reign and throughout the anarchy which prevailed under the rule of Stephen (1135-1154), good bishops were for the most part elected. The chapters were ostensibly left free in their choice, though they no doubt responded in some measure to the known preferences of the king. In any case simoniacal compacts are no longer heard of, while the Holy See had generally much to say to the final acceptance of the archbishops and of the more important prelates. A certain impatience of dictation from Rome, shown, for example, in occasional unwillingness to receive a legate or to allow appeals to the pope, may be noted at this as at other periods, but the principle of papal authority was never disputed. For example, the pallium, “taken from the body of Blessed Peter”, a symbol of archiepiscopal jurisdiction which still appears in the arms of the English Sees of Canterbury and York, was personally fetched from Rome or at least petitioned for by every archbishop, as it had been in the Anglo-Saxon Church from the very beginning. In cases when the pall was brought to England instead of being conferred at the papal court, archbishops like St. Anselm and Ralph d’Escures went to meet it barefoot. To legates of the Holy See, notwithstanding the fact that their presence was not always desired, extreme deference was shown. Even a mere priest like Cardinal John of Crema, when he came to the country as papal legate, took precedence of the two archbishops in the Council of Westminster (1125). Moreover, when protests were made against the sending of legates, it was not so much that the presence of a papal representative in England was resented, as because men believed that such legatine powers, by old tradition, ought to be conferred on the Archbishop of Canterbury, as had been done, for example, in the case of Tatwine, Plegmund, and Dunstan. As Eadmer reports (Historia Novorum, p. 58), “Inauditum scilicet in Britanniae …, quemlibet hominem supra se vices apostolicas gerere nisi solum archiepiscopum Cantuariae” (It was surely an unheard of thing in Britain … that any man should bear the Apostolic delegation over him except only the Archbishop of Canterbury). In the spirit of this protest Archbishop William de Corbeil almost immediately after Crema’s departure eagerly sought the office of legate for himself, and from that time, though Henry, Bishop of Winchester, was made legate by Innocent II in 1129, the Archbishop of Canterbury was usually constituted legatus natus (native, or ordinary, legate), a term used in contradistinction to the legatus a latere dispatched on extraordinary occasions “from the side” of the sovereign pontiff in Rome. But in any case the significance of the ordinary legatine appointment, first associated with the person of William de Corbeil (d. 1136), is unmistakable. It was, as Dean Stephens truly observes, “an acknowledgment of the supreme authority of the Pope. The primate shone with a reflected glory, his preeminence was not inherent but derivative” (Hist. of the Eng. Church, II, 142).
Evil as were the times during the first half of the twelfth century the English Church was by no means lacking in vivifying influences. This was the period of the chief development in England of the Cluniac Order (see Congregation of Cluny), a great Benedictine reform already alluded to, of which the first English house, that of Lewes, had been established by William de Warrenne and Gundrada his wife c. 1077. But the priory of Lewes later on became the mother of several other Cluniac priories, of which the best known are those of Wenlock, Thetford, Bermondsey, and Pontefract. Still more intimately associated with England was the Cistercian Order, another Benedictine reform of which the virtual founder was a Somersetshire man, St. Stephen Harding. His fame has been eclipsed by the glory of St. Bernard, the last of the Fathers and the founder of the Abbey of Clairvaux, but it was Stephen who received St. Bernard and his comrades at Citeaux in 1113, and who gave them the white habit prescribed by the Cistercian rule. The first abbey of the order in England was that of Waverley in Surrey (1128), which itself became the mother of several other foundations. But Waverley was eclipsed by the Yorkshire Abbey of Rivaulx established (c. 1133) by monks sent directly from Clairvaux by St. Bernard. Among the earliest recruits of Rivaulx was St. Aelred, perhaps the most eloquent of pre-Reformation English preachers. The foundations of the white monks throve and multiplied exceedingly. By the year 1152 there were fifty Cistercian houses in England (Cooke in “Eng. Hist. Rev.”, October, 1893), of which the best known are Fountains, Tintern, and Meaux. Unfortunately, this rapid development seems to have been followed before long by some relaxation of primitive austerity and fervor, but the movement while it lasted must have contributed greatly to the diffusion of more spiritual ideals and to the correction of the manifold moral evils of the times. The Carthusian rule, the most austere of all, was not introduced into England until somewhat later—the first house, that of Witham in Somerset, was founded by Henry II in 1180, one of the indirect results of the martyrdom of St. Thomas. Probably the extreme rigour of the life prevented the Carthusian foundations from ever becoming numerous. But the Charterhouse at Witham gave to England one of her greatest and holiest bishops, St. Hugh of Lincoln (d. 1200), and the Charterhouse of London at a later date played a noble part in the resistance it offered to the first stages of Henry VIII‘s revolt from Rome.
The houses of the Austin Canons, or “Black Canons”, were more numerous and of earlier date than those of the Carthusians. Their first foundation was that of Colchester, in 1105, and they possessed two great establishments in London: St. Bartholomew‘s Smithfield, and St. Savior’s Southwark. At Carlisle they formed the cathedral chapter, the only exception to the rule that all the cathedrals which were not served by Benedictines were in the hands of secular canons. And here we may conveniently notice the fact that, owing, probably, to the initial impulse of St. Dunstan and the monastic sympathies of Lanfranc, who virtually reorganized the English Church after the Conquest, England stood almost alone among the nations of Europe in the number of her cathedrals that were served by monks. Canterbury, Durham, Winchester, Rochester, Worcester, Norwich, Ely, Coventry, and Bath all had Benedictine chapters. If this arrangement led to some gain in point of piety, there was also a proportionate disadvantage in the additional friction that was likely to result when it came to the election by religious of successors to the see. The Benedictines, the “Black Monks”, were of course always the most numerous monastic body in England, and, while they had been firmly established in the country from the very beginning, there was at all times a pretty steady increase in the number of abbeys and cells which belonged to them. Bound specially by their rule to show hospitality to strangers, and being for the most part good farmers and good landlords, they formed a great element of stability and peace throughout the country, helping to bind district with district through their relations with their dependent cells and with one another. They were also the great centers of learning, more particularly in the collection and multiplication of books, and they were not only patrons of art but they provided in many cases the nearest approach to schools for architecture, painting, sculpture, embroidery, and other useful works. If their revenues were vast, so, it must be also remembered, were their charities. Neither would it be easy to imagine a more worthy object upon which to expend the superfluous wealth of the country than in the erecting of those magnificent abbeys and churches which the monastic builders left to posterity. Speaking of the religious orders generally, it may be said that no more misplaced charge was ever made than that which describes their members as idle and useless. Of all the sections of the community they almost alone in that day were profitably busy. The industrious man-at-arms, the industrious lawyer, the industrious forester, huntsman, or jongleur were too often only a scourge to the land in which they lived. For this reason we conceive that a quite unnecessary outcry has been raised by a number of Anglican writers against a practice which undoubtedly became very prevalent in the twelfth century, namely that of making over—technically called “impropriating”—to religious houses the tithes or other sources of revenue of the parish churches. By this arrangement the monastery so benefited received nearly all the funds properly belonging to the parish, but supplied for the religious needs of the parishioners, either by deputing one of the monks to act as parish priest or by paying a small stipend to some secular vicar. No doubt this practice was open to abuse, and various synodal decrees were passed to keep it under control accordingly. Thus as early as 1102 the Council of Westminster laid down the principle that monasteries were not to impropriate churches without the consent of the bishop, and required that churches should not be stripped so bare of revenue as to reduce the priests who served them to penury. Later synodal legislation insisted that “perpetual vicars” should be appointed (i.e. priests who would not be liable to removal, and who would consequently have a permanent interest in their cure), and that “competent stipends”, for which a minimum amount was determined, should be paid them for their services. Where, however, these and similar precautions were observed it is certain that many of the wisest and holiest of the English prelates regarded the impropriations of churches to religious communities with no disfavor. St. Hugh of Lincoln made many such grants (see Thurston, “Life of St. Hugh”, p. 463), and it seems indisputable that in the then condition of the secular clergy, who were far, as yet, from having recovered completely from the state of ignorance and demoralization into which they had fallen in the preceding century, the churches for which some monastic community made themselves responsible were likely to be spiritually better cared for than those livings to which the crown or some secular magnate presented at will. Strange to say, it is precisely those writers who declaim against the degradation of the medieval clergy, and against their general neglect of the canons enjoining celibacy, who also are loudest in denunciation of the scandal that monks should enjoy the revenues intended for the parish priests.—Can it be supposed that the possession of larger incomes would have tended to make the secular clergy more zealous or more continent?—That there were two sides to the question has, however, been recognized by more thoughtful Anglicans and one such writer, for example, remarks with point: “The secular priests living in solitude on a remote country benefice had more temptations to sink into ignorance and indolence, if not vice, than the member of a brotherhood, who was responsible to it for the discharge of his trust, and might from time to time be refreshed by a visit to the monastic house, or by visitors from it.” (Stephens, Hist. Eng. Church, II, 272.)
With the accession of Henry II, in 1154, England, after years of strife, once more passed into the hands of a strong and capable ruler. Without being a whit less selfish or more patriotic than other princes of that age, Henry had the sense to see that good government meant stable government. His legal reforms and the new machinery of justice which he brought into being are of the highest possible importance to the jurist and to the student of constitutional history, but they do not specially concern us here. Henry at the beginning of his reign seems to have been well viewed in Rome, and believing, as the present writer does, that the Bull “Laudabiliter” is unquestionably genuine (see Pope Adrian IV. and cf. “The Month”, May and June, 1906), the religious mission entrusted to the king, no doubt upon his own representations, in the proposed conquest of Ireland, bears a close resemblance to the pretext advanced for William the Conqueror‘s invasion of Great Britain. In both cases, also, the Roman pontiff seems to have claimed dominion, granting the land to the invader as a fief upon payment of a certain tribute. The fact, that, according to the Bull “Laudabiliter”, Henry himself had admitted (quod tua etiam nobilitas recognoscit) that “Ireland and all other islands upon which Christ, the Sun of Justice, has shone belong to the prerogative of St. Peter and the Holy Roman Church“, deserves to be borne in mind in connection with King John’s formal surrender of his kingdom to the Holy See at a later date.
But what specially interests us here in the reign of Henry II is the disputes between the king and Thomas, his archbishop, culminating, in 1170, in the martyrdom of the latter. Thomas Becket, a clerk in the household of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, having been strongly recommended to Henry, had been taken into his intimate friendship and made Chancellor of the Kingdom, an office which he had discharged with splendid ability for seven years. After the death of Theobald, Thomas, at the instance of the king himself, was elected Archbishop of Canterbury. He vainly tried to escape from the proposed dignity, but, once appointed, his consecration marked the beginning of a complete change of life. He renounced the chancellorship and all secular pursuits, while he devoted himself to the practice of rigorous asceticism. It was not long before he found himself in conflict with the king, as indeed he had foreseen from the first. The first question which caused an open breach between them was a purely secular one. Henry demanded that a certain tax called “the sheriff’s aid” should be paid directly into the Exchequer. Thomas, in a Great Council, declared that he was willing to make his contribution to the sheriffs, as had been customary, but absolutely refused to pay if the money was to be added to the revenue of the Crown. Whether this tax was really the Danegeld, as Bishop Stubbs supposes, is very questionable, but in any case we may share his admiration for this, “the first instance of any opposition to the King’s will in the matter of taxation which is recorded in our national history”, and, as he adds, “it would seem to have been, formally at least, successful” (Const. Hist., I, 463). This incident, however, was soon thrown into the shade by the more serious quarrel over the Constitutions of Clarendon. What was put by the king in the forefront of the dispute was the alleged inadequacy of the punishment meted out to clerics who were guilty of criminal offenses. The statement then made that a hundred homicides had been committed by clerics within ten years rests on no adequate evidence, neither are the cases of which we have definite particulars much more satisfactory (see Morris, “Life of St. Thomas”, pp. 114 sqq.). It may be that the king was honestly intent on a scheme of judicial reform, and that he found that the growing jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts (the publication of the “Decretum Gratiani” and the increased study of the canon law had made them very popular) was an obstacle in his way. But Becket, who knew him well, suspected that Henry was deliberately striking at the privileges of the Church, and the manner in which a promise was extorted from the bishops to observe the “avitae consuetudines” before anyone knew what these were, as well as the pretense that the Constitutions of Clarendon represented nothing but the customs said to have been observed in the time of Henry I, do not leave the impression of straightforward dealing. The general purport of the Constitutions, when they were at last made known, was to transfer certain causes—for example, those regarding presentations to benefices—from the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical to that of the King’s Courts, to restrain appeals to Rome, to prevent the excommunication of the king’s officers and great vassals, and to sanction the king’s appropriation of the revenues of bishoprics and abbacies. On one clause, that dealing with criminous clerks, much misapprehension has prevailed. It was formerly supposed that Henry wanted all clerks accused of crimes to be tried in the King’s Courts. But this impression, as F. W. Maitland has shown (Roman Canon Law, pp. 132-147), is certainly wrong. A rather complicated arrangement was proposed by which cognizance of the case was first to be taken in the King’s Court; if the culprit proved to be a clerk, the case was to be tried in the ecclesiastical court, but an officer of the King’s Court was to be present, who, if the accused were found guilty, was to conduct him back to the King’s Court after degradation, where he would be dealt with as an ordinary criminal and adequately punished. The king’s contention was that flogging, fines, degradation, and excommunication, beyond which the spiritual courts could not go, were insufficient as punishment. The archbishop urged that, apart from the principle of clerical privilege, to degrade a man first and to hang him afterwards was to punish him twice for the same offense. Once degraded, he lost all his rights, and if he committed another crime he might then be punished with death like any other felon. And here also it must not be forgotten that “the forces at the back of St. Thomas represented not only the respect which men feel for a bold fight for principle, but also that blind struggle against the hideous punishments of the age, of which the assertion of ecclesiastical privilege, covering widows and orphans as well as clerks and those that injured them, was a natural expression” (W. H. Hutton in “Social England”, I, 394). After a moment of weakness in the earlier stage of the discussion, St. Thomas, in spite of Henry’s fury, refused to have anything to say to the Constitutions. Among the rest of the bishops he met with little help, but the pope, Alexander III, loyally supported him. The rest of the story is well known. The archbishop soon found himself compelled to leave the kingdom. For nearly six years he remained abroad, an exile and bereft of his revenues. In 1170 a hollow reconciliation was patched up with the king, and Becket returned to Canterbury. But in a few weeks fresh cause of offense was given, and the king in a fit of passion uttered the rash words which led to the terrible tragedy of the martyrdom. St. Thomas fell in the transept of his cathedral, close beside the steps leading to the high altar, in the late afternoon of December 29, 1170. All Christendom was horrified, and Henry II, whether from policy or genuine remorse, surrendered his former pretensions while, in 1174, he performed humiliating penance at the martyr’s tomb. Within a very few years Canterbury had become a place of pilgrimage celebrated throughout Europe. No one who studies carefully the history of the times can fail to see the immense moral force which such an example lent to the cause of the weak and to the liberties both of the Church and the people, against all forms of absolutism and tyranny. The precise quarrel for which St. Thomas gave his life was relatively a small matter. What was of supreme importance was the lesson that there was something higher, stronger, and more enduring than the will of the most powerful earthly despot.
The life of the Carthusian, St. Hugh, whom Henry II himself caused to be elected Bishop of Lincoln in 1186, forms an admirable pendant to that of St. Thomas. It may be noted in the first place, in view of the outcry raised a little later against the provision of foreigners to English sees, that St. Hugh was a Burgundian, who even at the end of his life hardly understood the language of the people. But no man ruled his diocese better, no man was more beloved alike by his own secular canons of Lincoln and by the numerous religious in his diocese; while, owing to his holiness, his fearlessness, and his merry humor, he was the only bishop who without yielding an inch of his high principles, preserved the respect and even the friendship of three such monarchs as Henry II, Richard Coeur de Lion, and John. Very memorable was his firm refusal in the national council to grant Richard an aid in knights and money for foreign warfare. Though the reign of Richard, like that of his predecessor Henry II, still continued to be a period of reform in law, it was also a period of unparalleled exactions in money. In this case the great Justiciar, Hubert Walter, who was also Archbishop of Canterbury, had made himself the instrument of the king’s designs. Though all the temporal lords submitted, St. Hugh offered an uncompromising and successful resistance. “This”, says Bishop Stubbs, “which was done not on ecclesiastical but on constitutional grounds, is an act which stands out prominently by the side of St. Thomas’s protest against Henry’s proposal to appropriate the sheriffs’ share of Danegeld” (Select Charters, p. 28).
Richard‘s extreme need of money had no doubt been caused in part by his participation in the Crusades and by the huge ransom he had had to pay when captured on his way home by Duke Leopold of Austria. Englishmen, both now and at an earlier date, had played their part in the Crusades. Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury, who accompanied Richard, and who had been a most earnest preacher of the holy war, left his bones in Palestine, and Bishop Hubert Walter, who was destined to succeed him in the archbishopric, became the virtual commander of the English forces upon his death. But the Crusades exercised no great influence upon the national life of England. For our present purpose they are chiefly memorable as emphasizing the truth, so often ignored by Anglican writers, that medieval Christendom, while recognizing many different peoples and many different governments, conceived of the Church of God not as manifold, but as one. According to that “political theory of the Middle Age” which, founded by Gregory VII, had already imposed itself almost universally upon the speculative philosophy of Europe, the Church, embracing and controlling every form of civil government, was cosmopolitan and all-pervading. It was precisely the fact that she was not identified with any country or people, and that she appealed for her sanctions to forces outside of this visible world, that gave to the head of the Church his great position as the arbiter of nations. In principle no temporal ruler disputed the supremacy of the Vicar of Christ so long as the question remained in the abstract and so long as it was some other sovereign who was the sufferer. It was only when his own will was thwarted that active resistance was made, and then it was nearly always on some side issue, some technicality of law that the monarch and his advisers sought to evade the force of an unwelcome pronouncement. The very persistence with which monarchs at times sought to prevent the introduction into England of papal Bulls, provisions, or excommunications, was an acknowledgment rather than a repudiation of the papal authority; just as a man who barricades himself in his house that a writ may not be served on him is really giving proof of his supreme respect for the majesty of the law. This point of view is one that has carefully to be borne in mind in connection with the resistance to the papal exactions of the thirteenth century and with such apparently unfriendly legislation as the Statutes of Praemunire and Provisors which we shall have to consider later on.
The reign of John (1199-1216) was a time of terrible suffering for the country, but it had results of untold importance in the consolidation of England as a nation. The very loss of her foreign possessions—for in Henry II‘s day more than half France had recognized the suzerainty of the King of England—contributed to that result. But within Great Britain itself, ever since the Norman Conquest, the political constituents of the nation had been divided between two strongly marked parties more or less in opposition. The first, or feudal, element consisted of the great nobles of the Conquest, with their vassals and the influences they wielded. The tendency of this party was centrifugal or disruptive, and they looked upon the country and its people as their lawful prey. The second, which for convenience’ sake may be called the national element, was less homogeneous. It comprised the king, the newer nobility which represented mainly the great officials of the Crown appointed under Henry I and Henry II, and with these the bishops and clergy almost to a man. Taken as a whole, all these recognized the advantage of a centralized government and sympathized with the native population, wishing their rights to be respected and justice to be done. Now it was the work of John’s lawless and despotic rule, especially after the restraining influence of Hubert Walter was withdrawn by death, to break up this combination and to unite all parties against himself. In this the action of Pope Innocent III, culminating in the Interdict and the sentence of deposition pronounced against John, played a most vital part. It is needless to recapitulate the story of the election of Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury, over which John’s quarrel with the Holy See practically began. But it is well to recall that Langton, who rendered such splendid service to the liberties of his country, and whose name is imperishably associated with Magna Charta, was the pope’s own nominee, elected at his instance by the Christ Church monks who had been dispatched to Rome. Under stress of the Interdict and of John’s exactions, the old feudal lords, the clergy, and the new “ministerial” nobility gradually drew together. John found that he had none but a few personal partisans upon whom he could count, and Philip of France with a great following threatened invasion to enforce the pope’s sentence of deposition. Under these circumstances John made his submission to the legate, Pandulf, promising to receive all the exiled bishops and to make restitution for the injuries and losses the Church had sustained. A few days later, on May 13, the vigil of the Ascension, 1213, he went even further, for he surrendered his crown and kingdom into the hands of the legate to be received back from him as a fief which he and his successors were to hold of the pope for an annual rent of one thousand marks. It is not unnatural, perhaps, that this transaction should have been denounced by historians in the language of unmeasured indignation. Even Lingard in his day described it as “heaping everlasting infamy on the memory of John”, but the considerations he puts forward in extenuation of the act have not been without weight with later students. It may be said to be now generally acknowledged that the idea of such a surrender probably did not originate with the pope, but with John himself (see Davis, “England under the Normans and Angevins”, 1905, p. 368; Norgate, “John Lackland”, 1902, p. 181). As the second of these two writers explains, there is a quite intelligible motive for such an act: “John felt that he must bind the Pope to his personal interest by some special tie of such a nature that the interest of the papacy itself would prevent Innocent from casting it off or breaking it.” But secondly, the statement formerly made about the cry of indignation heard in England when the news was known has little or no foundation. The vehement denunciation of the act by the partisan Matthew Paris, as “a thing to be detested for all time”, was written many years afterwards. “Some”, says Davis, “stigmatised the transaction as ignominious, but the most judicial chronicler of his day calls it a prudent move, for, he adds, there was hardly any other way in which John could escape from all his dangers. Even the hostile barons whose plans received an unexpected check did not venture either now or later to dispute the validity of the transaction” (cf. Adams, “Political Hist. of Eng.”, II, 315). For such vassalage there were abundant precedents, both within and without the British Isles. Only twenty years earlier, as Hoveden states, Richard Coeur de Lion resigned his crown to the Emperor Henry, engaging to receive it as a fief of the empire for an annual payment of five thousand pounds; while the Scottish patriots a century later, to defeat the claims of Edward I, acknowledged the pope as their feudal lord and pretended that Scotland had always been a fief of the Holy See. It would be most misleading to interpret these and other similar transactions merely in the light of modern sentiment. Perhaps one of the most regrettable features in the incident of John’s submission and absolution is the encouragement which the sense of papal protection seems to have given him to proceed in his career of wrongdoing. His later action toward his subjects was no more straightforward or constitutional than before, and he seems to have deceived or gained over the legate to his side. But Archbishop Langton and his barons by this time knew him well, and by inflexible persistence they forced John to accept their terms. Taking as their foundation an earlier, document granted by Henry I at the beginning of his reign, they drew up a charter of liberties, many times confirmed with slight variations in the course of the next century, and destined to be famous through all time as Magna Charta. This great treaty between the king and his people, which Stubbs has described (Const. Hist., II, p. 1) as “the consummation of the work for which unconsciously kings, prelates and lawyers had been laboring for a century, the summing up of one period of national life and the starting point of another”, begins with a religious preamble declaring that John was moved to issue this charter out of reverence for God, for the benefit of his own soul, for the exaltation of Holy Church, and for the amendment of his kingdom, and, further, that he had acted therein by the advice of Stephen, Archbishop of Canterbury, of the other bishops, and of Pandulf “subdeacon of the Lord Pope and member of his household”, as also of the secular lords, the more important of whom are mentioned by name. As in the charter of Henry I, so here, the first article promises freedom to the Church in England (quod ecclesia Anglicana libera sit et habeat jura sua integra et libertates suas illaesas) and specifies in particular the freedom of election of bishops, which, as the document further explains, had already been promised by the king and ratified by Pope Innocent. For the rest it will be sufficient to say that Magna Charta in substance lays down the principle that the king has no right to violate the law, and, if he attempts to do so, may be constrained by force to obey it. In particular, justice is not to be sold, or delayed, or refused to any man. No freeman is to be taken or imprisoned or outlawed except by the lawful judgment of his peers. No scutage or tax, other than the three regular aids, is to be imposed except by the consent of the common council of the kingdom. Twenty-five barons were appointed to watch over the execution of the Charter, but they were far from retaining the sympathy of all. “Before the conference at Runnymede came to an end”, says Mackechnie, “confidence in the good intentions of the 25 executors, drawn it must be remembered entirely from the section of the baronage most unfriendly to John, seems to have been completely lost” (Mackechnie, “Magna Carta“, p. 53). The indignation, therefore, formerly expressed at the subsequent action of Innocent III in declaring the charter null and void is now generally admitted to be unreasonable. The barons had themselves claimed the credit of making England a papal fief (Lingard, II, 333; Rymer, I, 185), and it was certainly contrary to feudal usage for a vassal to contract obligations of this serious kind without reference to the overlord.
That the papal condemnation was not directed in principle against English popular liberties, may be inferred from the fact that the Charter was confirmed in November, 1216, upon the accession of the child king, Henry III, at a time when the papal legate Gualo was all-powerful, and was strongly supported by the new pope, Honorius III. The long reign which then began with a regency, despite the personal piety of Henry, was a period of much distress in England. The king’s weakness and his partiality for foreign favorites involved him in a vast expenditure, while, on the other hand, the taxation thus necessitated could only have been carried through without disturbance by a strong central government, which was here entirely lacking. Cabals and intrigues of all kinds abounded, and the situation was complicated by constant demands for money made by the Holy See. The exactions of the various legates and the never ending “provisions” of papal nominees to canonries and rich livings were undoubtedly the cause of very bitter feeling at the time, and have formed the favorite theme of historians ever since. It would be useless to deny the existence of very serious abuses, more especially the fact that a large number of French and Italian clergy provided to English benefices never visited the country at all, and were content with simply drawing the revenues. But on the other hand there is much to be said in extenuation of the papal action, which unfortunately has been set before English readers in the most unfavorable light, owing to the bitter antipapalist feeling of the great St. Albans chronicler, Matthew Paris. How much Paris‘s judgment was warped by his prejudices, may be clearly seen in his unfriendly references to the friars, though they were then, at least relatively, in their first fervor. Lingard says of him that he seems to have collected and preserved every scandalous anecdote that would gratify his censorious disposition, and he adds a very strong personal expression of opinion regarding Paris‘s untrustworthiness (Hist. of Eng., II, 479). It is not wonderful that in that outspoken age Matthew Paris and others like him, finding their pockets touched by the papal demands, should have raised an outcry which went a good deal beyond the actual damage inflicted. This very period, when England, it is alleged, was ground under the heel of papal tyranny, “was in all other fields of action, except the political, an epoch of unexampled progress” (Tout in “Polit. Hist. of England”, III, 81). Again, the pope’s need of money, owing to the life-and-death struggle with the Hohenstaufen, was real enough. In the eyes of Gregory IX and Innocent IV the wars with the excommunicated German emperor were as genuine a crusade in behalf of the Church of God as that undertaken against the Turks. Moreover, with regard to the provision of foreigners to English benefices even after making all allowances for the bitter feeling against aliens which manifested itself so often in the reign of Henry III, it is impossible to deny that the world in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and especially the ecclesiastical world, was cosmopolitan to a degree of which we, can now form no conception. In the early part of the thirteenth century nearly all the oldest and most influential men in England had made at least part of their studies in Paris. The two Archbishops of Canterbury, Stephen Langton and St. Edmund Rich, both men of pure English descent, might be instanced as conspicuous examples, and if Englishmen had to complain of the many foreign ecclesiastics provided for in England, it must not be forgotten that there was quite a considerable number of Englishmen occupying foreign sees and other positions of emolument on the Continent. The fact is indisputable—as indisputable as the fact that Englishmen formed a large proportion of the freebooters who roamed through Italy a century later and accepted the pay of anyone who would hire them—but it is interesting to find it proudly insisted upon by Matthew Paris, who in his indignation at the nomination of foreign ecclesiastics to English benefices, declares that England has no occasion to go abroad to beg for suitable candidates, seeing that she herself was rather accustomed to supply dignitaries for other distant lands (“Nec indiget Anglia extra fines suos in remotis regionibus personas regimini ecclesiarum idoneas mendicare, quae solet tales aliis saepius ministrare”.—Historia Major, IV, 61).
The cosmopolitan tendencies just alluded to were very much increased in the thirteenth century by one of the greatest religious revivals which the world has seen, viz., that resulting from the foundation and rapid development of the mendicant orders. There is no reason to suppose that the effects produced by the preaching of the Franciscan and Dominican friars, who first came to England in 1224 and 1221 respectively, were more remarkable in this country than abroad, but all historians are agreed that the impressions produced by this popularizing of religion were very marked. The work of spiritual regeneration which they performed at the first was wonderful, and they were warmly encouraged by such holy men and patriotic prelates as the great Bishop Grosseteste. It is perhaps more important to note that, despite the accusations of idleness and worldliness made against them at a later date, their zeal was not extinguished, even if it flagged. An impartial historian who has given special attention to the subject says: “For more than three hundred years the mendicant Friars in England were on the whole a power for good up and down the land, the friends of the poor and the evangelisers of the masses. During all that long time they were supported only by the voluntary offerings of the people at large—just as the hospitals for the sick and incurable are supported now,—and when they were driven out of their houses and their churches were looted in common with those of the monks and nuns, the Friars had no broad acres and no manors, no real property to seize, and very little was gained by the spoiling of their goods, but inasmuch as they were at all times the most devoted servants and subjects of the Pope of Rome, they had to go at last, when Henry VIII had made up his mind to rule over his own kingdom and to be supreme head over State and Church” (Jessopp, “History of England”, 34).
It was during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries that the relations between the medieval English Church and the Holy See may be considered to have assumed their final shape. At least this was the period when with such an outspoken champion as the great Bishop Robert of Lincoln (Grosseteste), or later, under so masterful a ruler as Edward I, or, again, amid the growing independence of Parliament, encouraged by such promoters of ecclesiastical disaffection as Wyclif and John of Gaunt in the reign of Edward III, the “Ecclesia Anglicana”, according to the theory recently most prevalent, began to assert herself and resolutely set to work to put the pope in his place. And here it may be said once for all that the not unnatural impatience of papal supervision and papal interference which was often shown by strong kings like Edward I, and also at times by the clergy themselves, proves absolutely nothing against the acceptance of the pope’s supreme authority as head of the Church. That subordinates should wish to be left free to enjoy a large measure of independence is a law of human nature. England’s colonies, for example, may be quite loyal. They may fully recognize in principle the supreme right of the imperial Government, and yet any dictation from home which goes beyond what is customary, and especially when it is of a kind which touches the colonial pocket, provokes resentment and is apt to be angrily resisted. Even in a fervent religious order a proposed visitation of some outlying house or province may be met with remonstrance and an appeal to precedent on the part of those who, however docile, are doubtful of the ability of a foreign authority to understand local conditions. An entire acceptance of the spiritual supremacy of the Holy See is not in the least inconsistent with the belief that an individual pontiff, and still more the officials who form the entourage of that pontiff, may be influenced by mercenary or unworthy motives. There is not any form of authority in the world which is not at times disobeyed and defied under more or less specious pretexts by those who fully recognize in principle their own subordination. Thus it happens that the supporters of “Anglican Continuity” theories are able to quote many utterances of medieval writers that sound disaffected or rebellious in tone, they are able to appeal to many individual acts of disobedience, but they fail altogether in producing any, even the faintest, repudiation in principle of the pope’s spiritual supremacy by the accredited representatives of the pre-Reformation Church. By no historian has this truth been more clearly recognized than by the distinguished jurist, F. W. Maitland. Challenging the statement of the Ecclesiastical Courts Commission of 1883, which, largely under the guidance of the eminent historian, Bishop Stubbs, reported that “papal law was not binding in [medieval] England even in questions of faith and morals unless it had been accepted by the national authorities”, Professor Maitland, with an irrefragable array of illustrations drawn mainly from the classical canon-law book of the English pre-Reformation Church, the “Provinciale” of Bishop Lyndwood (1435), maintains the exact contrary. According to Lyndwood, as Dr. Maitland clearly proves, “The Pope is above the law, … to dispute the authority of a papal decretal is to be guilty of heresy, at a time when deliberate heresy was a capital crime”. “The last”, Dr. Maitland continues, “is no private opinion of a glossator, it is a principle to which archbishops, bishops and clergy of the province of Canterbury have adhered by solemn words” (Roman Canon Law, 17). As the same authority goes on to show, not only did the pope claim and obtain recognition of his right to take into his own hands the judgment of every ecclesiastical cause over the head of the bishop, but it was largely through the questions and appeals of English bishops to Rome, asking for decisions, that the fabric of Roman canon law was built up (loc. cit., 53, 66, etc.). In full accord with this we find Archbishop Peckham telling such a monarch as Edward I that the emperor of all has given, authority to the decrees of the popes, and that all men, all kings are bound by those decrees. So we find the Archbishop of Canterbury with all his suffragans writing a joint letter to the pope and telling him that all bishops derived their authority from him as rivulets from the fountainhead (Sandale’s “Register”, 90-98), We find the pope carving a big slice from the jurisdiction of English bishoprics, as in the case of the Abbey of St. Albans or of Bury St. Edmunds, and making it absolutely and entirely exempt from episcopal authority. We find the very kings who are supposed by their Statutes of Provisors and Praemunire to have shaken off their allegiance to Rome, begging the sovereign pontiff in most respectful language to issue letters of provision or Bulls of confirmation in favor of such and such an ecclesiastic who enjoys the royal favor. No doubt these statutes of Provisors and Praemunire do in some sense play an important part in the history of the English Church during the fourteenth century, though it is admitted that they were so continually set aside that the permanent result of the legislation was greatly to strengthen the development of the king’s dispensing power. The Statutes of Provisors, of which the first was passed in 1351, claimed for all electing bodies and patrons the right to elect or to present freely to the benefices in their gift, and moreover declared invalid all appointments brought about by way of papal “provision”, i.e. nomination. Two years later this legislation was supplemented by the first Statute of Praemunire, which enacted that those who brought matters cognizable in the King’s Courts before foreign courts should be liable to forfeiture and outlawry. It has been maintained that these acts prove that the English Church did not acknowledge any providing power in the Holy See. To this we may reply (I) that, like all the other English bishops, even Grosseteste, who is so constantly represented as the champion of English resistance to papal authority, in this matter fully recognized the right in principle, though he protested against abuses in the use of it; (2) that the legislation at least professed to be passed not in a spirit of hostility to Rome, but as a remedy for manifold abuses caused by “Rome-runners”—priests thronging to Rome and importuning the Holy See for benefices. It was the lay patrons of livings whose interests suffered by the papal provisions who were the chief promoters of the Acts. (3) That the bishops refused to consent to the Acts (Stubbs, “Const. Hist.”, III, 340) and caused their formal protest to be entered on the rolls of Parliament; (4) that the bishops and clergy petitioned spontaneously and repeatedly for their repeal (ibid., 342), that the universities, in 1399, declared that the Acts operated to the detriment of learning, and that in 1416 the Commons also petitioned the king for the abolition of the Statute of Provisors; (5) that the kings themselves disregarded the Acts and constantly asked the popes to provide to the sees; (6) that it is universally admitted that papal provisions were more numerous after the passing of the Acts than before. In the 300 years preceding the Reformation 313 bishops are known to have been provided by the popes; of these 47 were before the passing of the Statute, 266 after it (see Moyes in “The Tablet”, December 2, 1893). One thing is certain, that England in several instances owed some of her best and holiest prelates to the action of the popes in providing to English sees in opposition to the known wishes of the king. Stephen Langton, in 1205, St. Edmund Rich, in 1232, and John Peckham, in 1279, are conspicuous examples. We have already said above that a reaction against current Anglican theories regarding the position of the pope in the medieval English Church has been steadily growing during the last quarter of a century. The complete agreement of such writers as Professor F. M. Maitland, Dr. James Gairdner, and Mr. H. Rashdall, approaching the subject along quite different lines of research, is very remarkable.’ The following passage from one of the most distinguished of the younger school of English historians, Prof. Tout, of Manchester, states the case as frankly as it could have been stated by Lingard himself. After insisting that the Statutes of Provisors and Praemunire, like that of Laborers or the sumptuary laws, remained a dead letter in practice, and after declaring that to the average clergyman or theologian of the day the pope was the one Divinely appointed source of ecclesiastical authority, the shepherd to whom the Lord had given commission to feed His sheep, Prof. Tout continues: “The antipapal laws of the fourteenth century were the acts of the secular not of the ecclesiastical power. They were not simply antipapal, they were also anticlerical in their tendency, since to the man of the age an attack on the Pope was an attack on the Church. . The clergyman, though his soul grew indignant against the curialists, still believed that the Pope was the divinely appointed autocrat of the Church universal. Being a man, a Pope might be a bad Pope; but the faithful Christian, though he might lament and protest, could not but obey in the last resort. The papacy was so essentially interwoven with the whole Church of the Middle Ages, that few figments have less historical basis than the notion that there was an antipapal Anglican Church in the days of the Edwards” (Polit. Hist. of Eng., III, 379). No one who carefully studies the language and acts of such a man as Grosseteste can fail to realize the truth that in spite of all his fearless criticism of the Roman Curia, his attitude of mind is thoroughly reverential to papal authority. The most famous, as being the least temperately worded, of all his pronouncements is now known to have been addressed, not, as formerly thought, to Pope Innocent IV himself, but to one of his subordinates. On the other hand, as Maitland points out, Grosseteste throughout his life proclaimed in the strongest terms his belief in the plenitude of the papal power. “I know”, he says, “and I affirm without any reserve that there belongs to our lord the Pope, and to the Holy Roman Church, the power of disposing freely of all ecclesiastical benefices.” And this and similar language, acknowledging, for example, the pope to be the sun from which other bishops, like the moon and stars, receive whatever powers they have to illuminate and fructify the Church, was not only maintained by Grosseteste to the end (see “The Month”, March, 1895), but reechoed by Bishop Arundel nearly two centuries afterwards.
So again the occurrences which followed the publication by Boniface VIII of the Bull “Clericis laicos”, in the days of Edward I and Archbishop Winchelsea, tend to show that even when the pope took up a position which was too extreme and from which he was forced ultimately to retire, the English Church was not less, but more, loyal to the Apostolic See than other, Continental, nations. Nothing could be less true to the facts of history than the idea that England stood apart from the rest of Christendom, with an ecclesiastical law, a theology, or in any essential matter even a ritual, of her own. The cosmopolitanism of the religious orders, especially the mendicants, and of the universities, would alone have sufficed to render this isolation impossible. England’s isolation began when she broke away from the Roman obedience, suppressed the religious orders, banished every Catholic priest, and adopted a pronunciation of Latin which no Continental scholar could understand.
The great disturbing force in the ecclesiastical life of England during the fourteenth century, much more than the Statutes of Provisors or even the Black Death, was the rise and spread of Lollardy. We may perhaps doubt if the significance of the movement in this country was by any means as great as that which historians, partly on account of the Bohemian upheaval under John Hus which grew out of Wyclif’s doctrines, partly through the favorite modern theory that Lollardy produced the Reformation, have generally attributed to it. Dr. James Gairdner, however, who has recently investigated the whole movement and its sequelae with a thoroughness and knowledge of original materials to which no previous writer can lay claim, has arrived at conclusions which tend very seriously to modify the views hitherto very commonly received. In his idea the novelty and the socialistic tendency of the opinions so boldly proclaimed by Wyclif did constitute a grave political danger, a danger which was not, perhaps, so acute in the reformer’s lifetime because the most startling of his views developed late, only ten years or less before his death (1384), but which were eagerly caught up and even exaggerated by ignorant disciples at a time of weak rule and political unrest. The fact that the Great Schism of the West broke out only six years before Wyclif’s death added to the complications by leaving the greater part of Christendom in a state of uncertainty as to which of the rival popes had the better claim to men’s allegiance, and to this cause most probably is due the fact that Wyclif was left during his last years to propagate his doctrines practically undisturbed. That his doctrines were utterly revolutionary, as judged by any standard of opinion tolerated up to that time it would be absurd to deny. No one can fail to see the danger of teaching that there was no real dominion, no real authority, no real ownership of property without the grace of God. From this he deduced the conclusions that a man in mortal sin had no right to anything at all, that among Christians there ought to be community of goods, and that, as to the clergy having property of their own, it was a gross abuse. Similarly he held that every layman had Christ Himself for priest, bishop, and pope; that a pope was only to be obeyed when he taught according to Scripture, and that a king might take away all the endowments of the Church. With these were combined in his later years theological opinions regarding the sacraments and Transubstantiation which were offensive in the extreme to the Christian sense of that day. Wyclif, no doubt, in his philosophical teaching provided safeguards which mitigated the practical consequences of the principles he held, but these were subtilties which were lost upon the more ignorant and fanatical of his followers, more especially after their master’s death. The points that they clearly understood were that tithes were pure alms, and that if the parish priests were not good men the tithes need not be paid; that a priest receiving any annual allowance by compact was simoniacal and excommunicated; that a priest who said Mass in mortal sin did not validly consecrate, but rather committed idolatry; that any priest could hear confessions (without faculties), and in fact that any holy layman predestined by God was competent to administer the sacraments without ordination. Such opinions as these, debated among the ignorant and uninstructed, and reinforced by a constant railing against devotional practices, such as pilgrimages, and against the Roman Court, the friars and all ecclesiastical authority, were obviously full of danger to social order at a time when the Black Death and the question of villeinage which resulted from it, had already provided many elements of disturbance.
Speaking of the proceedings against the foremost representative of Lollard opinions, Sir John Oldcastle, in 1413, Dr. Gairdner says: “It seems to have been a life-and-death struggle between established order and heresy”; and Bishop Stubbs, while doing too much honor by far to the fanatic creed of the Wyclifite leader, remarks: “Perhaps we shall most safely conclude from the tenor of history that his doctrinal creed was far sounder than the principles which guided either his moral or his political conduct.” These comments really sum up the situation. The Wyclifite heresy became for a while a real danger to the peace of the country, as Oldcastle’s insurrection proved. On the other hand, there was very little that was either sane or ennobling in the dreams which inspired the leaders, and which were imparted to their often very ignorant followers. Given the ideas then, and long after, universally prevalent in regard to heresy and the measures of repression necessary to prevent infection from spreading, there was nothing exceptionally cruel or intolerant about the statute “De haeretico comburendo” of 1401, which provided that heretics convicted before a spiritual court, and refusing to recant, were to be handed over to the secular arm and burnt. There can be no doubt that before this extreme measure was resorted to much provocation had been given by the preaching of doctrines which all Christians then deemed blasphemous, and which were not confined to the vilifying of the Holy Eucharist, the pope, and the clergy, but touched upon the sanctity of marriage and the observance of Sunday as a day of rest. Dr. Gairdner, after a very careful survey of all the evidence, is satisfied that Archbishop Arundel and his suffragans acted in the interests of public order and showed no inclination to enforce the statute either intemperately or tyrannically. In point of fact after the suppression of Oldcastle’s insurrection and his execution at the stake, Lollardy was no longer to be feared as a political power. Wyclif’s ideas had little hold in England upon men of any weight or consideration. They lingered on for a while and perhaps never entirely died down, though prosecutions for heresy became very rare long before the end of the fifteenth century, but they certainly cannot be regarded as a direct and primary cause of the religious changes which took place in the reign of Henry VIII.
Perhaps the most important in its ultimate consequences of all Wyclif’s tenets was the supreme importance which he attributed to Holy Scripture. In his treatise “De Veritate Sacrae Scripturae”, written about 1378, he practically adopts the position that Scripture is the sole rule of faith. It followed in his idea that the word of God ought to become accessible to all, and that all men were free to interpret it for themselves. We are told, moreover, by a contemporary and hostile authority, the chronicler Knighton, that Wyclif himself translated the Gospel into English. Upon this and other evidence it has been commonly supposed that Wyclif was the first to bring the Bible to the knowledge of English readers and that the medieval Church uniformly adopted the practice of withholding the Scriptures from the laity. It is to the credit of modern students of medieval history that the grave misrepresentations involved in this traditional Protestant view are now generally abandoned (see e.g. Gairdner, “Lollardy”, I, 100-17; “Cambridge Hist. of Eng. Literature”, II, 56-62). We may summarize from the former of these writers the following conclusions, which represent what is best worth recalling upon this subject. The Church was not opposed in principle to the use of vernacular translations. Undoubtedly, translations into English of separate books of Scripture existed as far back as in the days of Bede. It is improbable, however, that a whole Bible in English, as distinct from Anglo-Saxon, existed before Wyclif’s time; neither was it much required, for nearly all who could read, could read the Bible either in the Latin of the Vulgate, which the Church preferred, or in French. There was, however, no express prohibition to translate the Scriptures into English until the prohibition of the Provincial Synod of Oxford published in 1409. This prohibition was not seemingly occasioned by corrupt renderings or anything liable to censure in the text, but simply by the fact that it was composed for the general use of the laity, who were encouraged to interpret it in their own way without reference to the tradition and teaching of the Church. In fine, Dr. Gairdner concludes: “To the possession by worthy laymen of licensed translations the Church was never opposed, but to place such a weapon as an English Bible in the hands of men who had no regard for authority, and who would use it without being instructed to use it properly, was dangerous not only to the souls of those who read, but to the peace and order of the Church,” The view has of late years been strongly urged by Abbot Gasquet, that the English version (or versions, for there are really two) commonly known as the Wyclifite Bible, has no connection with Wyclif, but is simply the fourteenth-century translation approved by ecclesiastical authority and existing probably before Wyclif’s time. There are not wanting arguments in support of such a contention, but the difficulties are also serious, and the theory cannot be said to have found general acceptance.
The fifteenth century, owing mainly to the long minority of King Henry VI, and to the Wars of the Roses, was a period of political disturbance, and it does not add much to the ecclesiastical history of the country. We shall do well, however, to note that the invention of printing in England, as elsewhere, was cordially welcomed by the Church, and that it was under the shadow of the English Abbeys of Westminster and St. Albans that the earliest presses were erected. Despite the religious indifference which is supposed to have heralded the Reformation, the tone of the literature given to the world at these presses seems to bear witness to the prevalence of a very genuine spirit of piety.
As the story of the English Reformation is more fully told in the second part of this article, while many separate articles are to be found in THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA dealing with particular phases and leading personalities of that period, a brief outline of the great change will suffice to conclude this sketch of pre-Reformation England. Catholic historians and all others, except a small minority representing a particular school of Anglicanism, are agreed that, so far as England was concerned, even after the Wyclif movement, the Great Schism of the West, and the humanist revival of learning had done their worst, the position of the Church under the jurisdiction of Rome remained as secure as it had ever been. Lollardy no doubt had inoculated a certain section of the nation, and there were here and there stirrings indicative of a doctrinal revolt even during the early days of Henry VIII‘s reign, but with an episcopate thoroughly loyal to the Holy See and with the support of the king’s strong government, these rumblings threatened no danger to the religious peace of the kingdom at large. Neither does there seem to have been any great decay of morals among clergy or laity. The public opinion of the learned world has in all substantial respects endorsed Abbot Gasquet’s vindication of the discipline observed in the religious houses prior to the suppression. Occasional scandals there probably were, and even a great abbey like St. Alban’s may possibly have given some cause for the very grievous charges rehearsed against it in 1491 by Archbishop Morton, though the matter is seriously contested (see bibliography), but there is not the least reason to believe that any wave of moral indignation at ecclesiastical corruption or any resentment of Roman authority had made themselves felt amongst the people of England until many years after Luther had thrown down the gauntlet in Germany. What produced the English Reformation was simply the passion of an able and unscrupulous despot who had the cleverness to turn to his own account certain revolutionary forces which are always inherent in human nature and which are always especially liable to be awakened into activity by the dogmatic teaching and the stern censures of the Church of Rome. Of course the movement was much helped forward by the wider distribution of a modicum of learning which had been effected by the invention of the printing press, and which, while enabling people to read and interpret the text of Scripture for themselves, had too often filled them with conceit and with contempt for all scholastic traditions. The age was, at least relatively, an age of novelties and of unrest. The discovery of America had fired the imagination; the humanism of a coterie of scholars had in a measure spread to the masses. There was general talk of the “New Learning”—by which, however, as Abbot Gasquet has pointed out, men meant not the revival of classical studies, but rather the bold and often heretical speculations about religion which were agitating so many minds. A great part of Germany was already in revolt, and England was not so isolated but that the echoes of controversy reached her shores. All these things made Henry’s task easier, but for the severance of England from the obedience of the pope he and he alone, was responsible. So far as Parliament lad any share in the matter, the Parliament was Henry’s tool. This estimate of the situation, which was long ago put forward by such writers as Dodd and Lingard, has impressed itself of late years with ever-increasing force upon Anglican opinion and will nowhere be found more clearly enunciated than in the writings of Dr. Brewer and Dr. James Gairdner, who, by their intimate firsthand acquaintance with all the manuscript materials for the reign of Henry VIII, are entitled to speak with supreme authority.
The fact that Henry was himself an amateur theologian and had vindicated against Luther the Catholic doctrine of the sacraments, thereby earning from Leo X the title of “Defender of the Faith“, was probably fraught with tremendous consequences in the situation created by his attempted divorce from Queen Catherine. Profoundly impressed with his own dialectical skill, he persuaded himself that his case was thoroughly sound in law, and this probably carried him, almost without his being aware of it, into positions from which no retreat was possible to a man of his temperament. It was in 1529 that the papal commission to Wolsey and Campeggio, to pronounce upon the validity of the dispensation granted to Henry many years before to marry his deceased brother’s wife, terminated by the pope’s revocation of the cause to Rome. The failure of the divorce commission was quickly followed by the disgrace and death of Wolsey, and Wolsey’s removal allowed all that was least amiable in Henry’s nature to come to the surface. Two very able men, Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell, were ready at hand to second his designs, skillfully anticipating and furthering the king’s wishes. To Cranmer is undoubtedly due the suggestion that Henry might obtain sufficient authority for treating his marriage as null if only he procured a number of opinions to that effect from the universities of Christendom. This was acted upon, and, by various arts and after the expenditure of a good deal of money, a collection of highly favorable answers was obtained. From Cromwell, on the other hand, the idea came that the king should make himself supreme head of the Church in England and thus get rid of the imperium in imperio. This was ingeniously contrived by the outrageous pretense that the clergy had collectively incurred the penalties of Praemunire by recognizing Wolsey’s legislative jurisdiction; though this, of course, had been exercised with the royal knowledge and authority. Upon this preposterous pretext the clergy in convocation were compelled to make a huge grant of money and to insert a clause in the preamble of the vote acknowledging the King as “Protector and Supreme Head of the Church of England, as far as the law of Christ allows”. This last qualification was only inserted after much debate, though it seems that at that period Henry was willing that the phrase “Supreme Head” should be understood in a way that was not inconsistent with the supremacy of the pope. At any rate, even after this, bishops still continued to receive their Bulls from Rome, and the royal divorce still continued to be pleaded there. Early in 1532 another move was made. The Commons were persuaded to frame a supplication against the Clergy of which drafts remain in the handwriting of Cromwell, showing from whom it emanated. This, after various negotiations and a certain amount of pressure, resulted in the “Submission of the Clergy”, by which they promised not to legislate for the future without submitting their enactments for the approval of the king and a mixed committee of Parliament. To bring pressure to bear on the pope, the king caused Parliament to leave it in Henry’s power to withhold from the Holy See altogether the payment of annates, or first-fruits of bishoprics, which consisted in the amount of the first year’s revenue. By such gradual steps the breach with Rome was brought about, though even as late as January, 1533, application in a form most discreditably insincere was still made to Rome for the Bulls of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer, who had been elected on Warham’s death, and who took the oaths of obedience to the pope, though he had previously declared that he regarded them as null and void. Almost immediately afterwards Cranmer pronounced sentence of divorce between Henry and Catherine. The king then had Anne Boleyn crowned, and an Act of Succession was passed next year with a preamble and an oath to be taken by every person of lawful age. Parliament all submitted and took the oath, but More and Fisher refused and were sent to the Tower. The climax of the whole work of disruption may be considered to have been reached in November, 1534, by the passing of the Act of Supremacy, which declared the king Supreme Head of the Church of England, this time without any qualification, and which annexed the title to his imperial crown.
A reign of terror now began for all who were unwilling to accept exactly that measure of teaching about matters religious and political which the king thought fit to impose. Fisher and More had been sent to the block, and others, like the Carthusians, who rivalled them in their firmness, were dispatched by that ghastly and more ignominious death-penalty assigned to cases of high treason. In virtue of this martyrdom these and many more are now venerated upon our altars as beatified servants of God. The rising in the North known as the Pilgrimage of Grace followed, and, when this dangerous movement had been frustrated by the astuteness and unscrupulous perjury of the king’s representatives, fresh horrors were witnessed in a repression which knew no mercy. Previous to this had taken place the suppression of the smaller monasteries; and that of the larger houses soon followed, while an Act for the dissolution of chantries and free hospitals was passed in 1545, which there was not time to carry entirely into execution before the king’s death. Probably all these things, even the destruction of shrines and images, reflect a certain rapacity in the king’s nature rather than hostility to what would now be called popish practices. In his sacramental theology he still clung to the positions of the “Assertio septem sacramentorum”, the book he had written to refute Luther. Both in the Six Articles and in the “Necessary Doctrine” the dogma of Transubstantiation is insisted upon; and indeed more than one unfortunate reformer who denied the Real Presence was sent to the stake. It was on this side that Henry’s task was hardest. Against the Papalist sympathizers amongst his own subjects he consistently maintained a ruthless severity, neither did he relent until all were cowed into submission. Towards men of Calvinist and Lutheran tendencies, who were represented in high places by Cranmer, Cromwell, and many more, the king had intermittently shown favor. He had used them to do his work. They had been of the greatest assistance in prejudicing the cause of the pope, and even the most violent and scurrilous had rendered him service. True, the railing translation of the New Testament by Tyndale, which had been printed and brought to England as early as 1526, was prohibited, as was Coverdale’s Bible later on, in 1546, very near the close of his reign. It is plain that the scurrility of the more revolutionary led him to regard such teaching as dangerous to public order. Very remarkable are the words used by Henry in his last speech in Parliament, when he deplored the results of promiscuous Bible-reading: “I am very sorry to know how that most precious jewel, the Word of God, is disputed, rhymed, sung and jangled in every alehouse. I am equally sorry that readers of the same follow it so faintly and coldly in living; of this I am sure, that charity was never so faint among you, and virtuous and godly living was never less used, and God Himself among Christians was never less reverenced, honored and served.” If ever a moral and religious cataclysm was the work of one man, most assuredly the first stage of the Reformation in England was the work of Henry VIII. One could wish we knew that the sense of his own personal responsibility for the evils he deplored had come home to him before the hour when, on January 28, 1547, he was summoned to his account.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature in the religious condition of England during the last year of Henry’s reign was the fact that, besides the king himself, there were probably not a score of persons who were contented with the existing settlement. One large section of the nation was in complete sympathy with the doctrines of the German reformers, and to them the Mass, confession, communion in one kind, etc., which had been preserved untouched throughout all the changes, were simply as gall and wormwood. The great numerical majority, on the other hand, especially in the more remote and thinly populated districts, longed for the restoration of the old order of things. They wished to see the monks back, St. Thomas of Canterbury and the shrines of Our Lady once more in honor, and the pope recognized as the common father of Christendom. During the two short reigns which intervened before Elizabeth came to the throne each of these parties alternately gained the ascendant. Under Edward VI, the Protector Somerset, and after him the Duke of Northumberland, in full harmony with Cranmer, Hooper, and other bishops even more Calvinistically minded, abolished all remnants of popery. Chantries and guilds were suppressed, and their revenues confiscated, images in the churches, and then altars and vestments were removed and destroyed, while the material desecration was only typical of the outrages done to the ancient liturgy of Catholic worship in the first and second Books of Common Prayer.(See Anglicanism; Anglican Orders; Book of Common Prayer.) The bishops who were more Catholically minded, like Bonner and Gardiner, were sent to the Tower. Princess Mary was subjected to the meanest and most petty forms of persecution. Neither can it be maintained that those in power were animated by any disinterested devotion to Reformation principles. Spoliation in its most vulgar form wasthe order of the day. It is only of late years that fuller historical research has done justice to what seemed the one redeeming feature in the general work of destruction—the foundation of the grammar schools which are known by the name of King Edward VI. We have now learned that not one of these schools was originally of Edwardian creation (see Leach, “English Schools at the Reformation“). Educational resources had already been seriously impaired under Henry VIII, and “the schools which bear the name of Edward VI owe nothing to him or his government but a more economic establishment. A good many of them had been chantry schools, for if the chantry priest of old wasted his time in singing for souls he not infrequently did good work as a school-master.” So says a judicious summarizer of Mr. Leach’s researches.
There can be no doubt that these violent measures provoked a reaction. Already in 1549 there had been serious insurrections all over the country, and more particularly in Devonshire and in Norfolk. On the death of the boy king, in July, 1553, an attempt was made by Northumberland to secure the succession for Lady Jane Grey, but Mary, at least for the time, had the people completely with her, and now it was the turn of Bonner, Gardiner, and the Catholic reaction. Overtures were made to the reigning pope, Julius III, and eventually Cardinal Pole, whose mission as legate was unfortunately delayed by the Emperor Charles V for diplomatic reasons connected with the marriage of Queen Mary to his son Philip II, reached England in November, 1554, where he was warmly received. After the Houses of Parliament through the king and queen had petitioned humbly for reconciliation with the Holy See, Pole, on St. Andrew’s day, November 30, 1554, formally pronounced absolution, the king and queen and all present kneeling to receive it. The restoration of ecclesiastical property confiscated during the previous reign was not insisted upon.
The reign of Mary is, unfortunately, chiefly remembered by the severity with which the statutes against heresy, now revived by Parliament, were put into force. Cranmer had been previously sentenced to death for high treason, and the sentence seems to have been politically just, but it was not at once executed. There seems to have been no desire upon the part of Mary or any of her chief advisers for cruel reprisals, but the reactionary forces always at work seem to have frightened them into sterner measures, and, as a result, Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, and a multitude of less conspicuous offenders, most of them only after refusal to recant their heresies, were condemned and executed at the stake. No one has judged this miserable epoch of persecution more leniently than the historian who of all others has made himself live in the spirit of the times. Dr. James Gairdner, stanch Anglican as he is, in his recent work, “Lollardy and the Reformation“, seems only to press farther the apology which he has previously offered for their terrible measures of repression. Thus he says: “With all this one might imagine that it was not easy for Mary to be tolerant of the new religion, and yet tolerant she was at first, as far as she well could be…. The case was simply that there were a number of persons determined not to demand mere toleration for themselves, but to pluck down what they called idolatry everywhere and to keep the Edwardine service in the parish churches in defiance of all authority, and even of the feelings of their fellow parishioners. In short, there was a spirit of rebellion still in the land which had its root in religious bitterness; and if Mary was to reign in peace, and order to be upheld, that spirit must be repressed. Two hundred and seventy-seven persons are recorded to have been burnt in various parts of England during those sad three years and nine months, from the time the persecution began to the death of Mary. But the appalling number of the sufferers must not blind us altogether to the provocation. Nor must it be forgotten that if it be once judged right to pass an Act of Parliament it is right to put it in force.” And as the same authority elsewhere says, “Amongst the victims no doubt, there were many true heroes and really honest men, but many of them would have been persecutors if they had had their way.” Queen Mary died November 17, 1558, and Cardinal Pole passed away on the same day twelve hours later.
II. ENGLAND SINCE THE REFORMATION.—The Protestant Reformation is the great dividing line in the history of England, as of Europe generally. This momentous Revolution, the outcome of many causes, assumed varying shapes in different countries. The Anglican Reformation did not spring from any religious motive. Lord Macaulay is well warranted in saying in his essay on Hallam’s “Constitutional History”, that “of those who had any important share in bringing it about, Ridley was, perhaps, the only person who did not consider it a mere political job”, and that “Ridley did not play a very prominent part”. We shall now proceed, first, to trace the history of the so-called Reformation in England, and then to indicate some of its results.
It was not until the twenty-sixth year of the reign of Henry the Eighth—the year 1535, that the English Schism was consummated. The instrument by which that consummation was effected was the “Act concerning the King’s Highness to be the Supreme Head of the Church of England, and to have authority to reform and redress all errors, heresies and abuses in the same”. This statute severed England from the unity of Christendom and transferred the jurisdiction of the supreme pontiff to “the Imperial Crown” of that realm. That is the unique peculiarity of the Anglican Reformation—the bold usurpation of all papal authority by the sovereign. “The clavis potentiae and the clavis scientiae, the universal power of Government in Christ’s Church, the power to rule, to distribute, suspend or restore jurisdiction, and the power to define Verities of the Faith and to interpret Holy Scripture has descended on the shoulders of the Kings and Queens of England. The actual bond of the Church of England, her characteristic as a religious communion, that which makes her a whole, is the right of the civil power to be the supreme judge of her doctrine.” (Allies, “See of S. Peter”, 3rd ed., p, 54.) The Act of Supremacy was the outcome of a struggle between Henry VIII and the pope, extending over six years. Assuredly no such measure was originally contemplated by the king, who, in the early part of his reign, manifested a devotion to the Holy See which Sir Thomas More thought excessive (Roper’s Life of More, p. 66). The sole cause of his quarrel with the See of Rome was supplied by the affair of the so-called Divorce. On April 22, 1509, he ascended the English throne, being then eighteen years old; and on June 3 following he was wedded, by dispensation of Pope Julius, to the Spanish princess, Catherine, who had previously gone through the form of marriage with his elder brother Arthur. That prince had died in 1502, at the age of sixteen, five months after this marriage, which was held not to have been consummated; and so Catherine, at her nuptials with Henry, was arrayed not as a widow, but as a virgin, in a white robe, with her hair falling over her shoulders. Henry cohabited with her for sixteen years, and had issue three sons, who died at their birth or shortly afterwards, as well as one daughter, Mary, who survived. At the end of that time the king, never a model of conjugal fidelity, conceived a personal repulsion for his wife, who was six years older than himself, whose physical charms had faded, and whose health was impaired; he also began to entertain scruples as to his union with her. Whether, as an old Catholic tradition avers, these scruples were suggested to him by Cardinal Wolsey, or whether his personal repulsion prepared the way for them, or merely seconded them, is uncertain. But certain it is that about this time, to use Shakespeare’s phrase, “the King’s conscience crept too near another lady”, that lady being Anne Boleyn. Here, again, exact chronology is impossible. We know that in 1522 Cardinal Wolsey repelled Lord Percy from a project of marriage with Anne on the ground that “the King intended to prefer her to another”. But there is no evidence that Henry then desired her for himself. However that may have been, several years elapsed before his passion for her, whatever the date of its origin, gathered that overmastering force which led him to resolve with fixed determination to put away Catherine in order to possess her. For marriage was the price on which, warned by experience, she insisted. Henry’s relations with her family had been scandalous. There is evidence, strong if not absolutely conclusive—it is summed up in the Introduction to Lewis’ translation of Sander’s work, “De Schismate Anglicano” (London, 1877)—that he had had an intrigue with her mother, whence the report, at one time widely credited, that she was his own daughter. It is certain that her sister Mary had been his mistress, and had been very poorly provided for by him when the liaison came to an end, a fact which doubtless put Anne upon her guard. That the king had contracted precisely the same affinity with her, by reason of this intrigue, as that which he alleged to be the cause of his conscientious scruples with regard to Catherine, did not in the least weigh with her, or with him.
The first formal step towards the putting away of Catherine appears to have been taken in 1527, when Henry caused himself to be cited before Cardinal Wolsey and Archbishop Warham on the charge of living incestuously with his brother’s widow. The proceedings were secret, and the Court held three sessions, then adjourning sine die for the purpose of consulting the most learned bishops of the kingdom on the question whether marriage with a deceased brother’s wife was lawful. The majority of the replies were in the affirmative, with the proviso that a papal dispensation had been obtained. Henry, thus baffled, then determined to proceed in common form of law, and Sir Francis Geary in his learned work, “Marriage and Family Relations”, has summed up the proceedings as follows: “By a process well known to Ecclesiastical Law, the King wished to institute his suit in the Appeal Court for this purpose given original jurisdiction. With this object, instead of, as originally intended, suing in an English Consistory or Arches Court, from which appeal lay to Rome, then menaced or actually occupied by the armies of Charles V, a commission from Pope Clement, dated June 9, and confirmed by a pollicitatio dated July 13, 1528, was obtained constituting the two cardinals a Legatine Papal Court of both original supreme and ultimate jurisdiction and to proceed judicially. The Court opened May 21, 1529; there followed citation, articles, examination, and publication, and on Friday, July 23, 1529, the cause was ripe for judgment. At that day Campejus [Campeggio] adjourned till October, on the ground that the Roman Vacation, which he was bound to observe, had already begun. But in September the advocation of the cause to Rome, and inhibition of the Legatine Court, given by Clement contrary to his written promise on the word of a Pope, had arrived in England, and the Court never sat again. Henry waited for more than three years, negotiating to have the suit brought to judgment, till at last, in November, 1532, he married Anne Boleyn, and in the following year, May, 1533, Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, gave sentence of nullity. At Rome the cause dragged on, there is a gap at this epoch in the reports of the Rota, and it does not appear if there was any argument either by the advocates of the `orator’ or `oratrix’, or by the defensor, till at last, on March 25, 1534, the Pope, in a Consistory of Cardinals, of whom a minority voted against the marriage, pronounced the marriage with Katherine valid, and ordered restitution of conjugal rights.”
The Statute of 1535 (26 Hen. VIII, c. 1) above quoted—it is commonly called the Act of Supremacy—which transferred to the king the authority over the Church in England hitherto exercised by the pope, may be regarded as Henry’s answer to the papal sentence of 1534. But, as Professor Brewer remarks, “to this result the King was brought by slow and silent steps”. The Act of Supremacy was in truth simply the last of a series of enactments whereby, during the whole progress of the matrimonial cause, the king sought to intimidate the pontiff and to obtain a decision favorable to himself. Seven statutes in particular may be noted as preparing the way for, and leading up to, the Act of Supremacy. The 21 Hen. VIII, c. 13, prohibited, under pecuniary penalties, the obtaining from the Holy See of licences for pluralities or non-residence. The 23 Hen. VIII, c. 9, forbade the citation of a person out of the diocese wherein he or she dwelt, except in certain specified cases. The 23 Hen. VIII, c. 20, which is entitled “Concerning the restraint of payment of annates to the See of Rome“, was not only an attempt to intimidate, but also to bribe the pope. It forbade, under penalties, the payment of first fruits to Rome, provided that, if the Bulls for a bishop’s consecration were in consequence denied, he might be consecrated without them, and authorized the king to disregard any consequent ecclesiastical censure of “our Holy Father the Pope” and to cause Divine service to be continued in spite of the same; and further empowered the King by letters patent to give or withhold his assent to the Act, and at his pleasure to suspend, modify, annul and enforce it. The Act was in fact what Dr. Lingard has called it, “a political experiment to try the resolution of the Pontiff”. The experiment failed, and in the next year the royal assent was given to the Act by letters patent. In this year also was passed the Statute, 24 Hen. VIII, c. 12, prohibiting appeals to Rome in testamentary, matrimonial, and certain other causes, and requiring the clergy to continue their ministrations in spite of ecclesiastical censures from Rome. The next year witnessed the passing of the Act (25 Hen. VIII, c. 19) “for the submission of the clergy to the King’s Majesty”, which prohibited all appeals to Rome. The Act following this in the Statute Book abolished annates, forbade, under the penalties of praemunire, the presentation of bishops and archbishops to “the Bishop of Rome, otherwise called the Pope“, and the procuring from him of Bulls for their consecration, and established the method still existing in the Anglican Church (of which more will be said later on) of electing, confirming, and consecrating bishops. It was immediately followed by an Act forbidding, under the same penalties, the king’s subjects to sue to the pope, or the Roman See, for “licenses, dispensations, compensations, faculties, grants, rescripts, delegacies or other instruments or writings”, to go abroad for any visitations, congregations, or assembly for religion, or to maintain, allow, admit, or obey any process from Rome. The net effect of these enactments was to take away from the pope the headship of the Church of England. That headship the Act of Supremacy conferred on the king.
This sudden falling away of a whole nation from Catholic unity, is an event so strange and so terrible as to require some further explanation than Macaulay’s, who refers it to the “brutal passion” and “selfish policy” of Henry VIII. In fact the struggle between that monarch and the pope was the last phase of a contest between the papal and the regal power which had been waged, with longer or briefer truces, from the days of the Norman Conquest. The Second Henry was no less desirous than the Eighth to emancipate himself from the jurisdiction of the supreme pontiff, and the destruction and pillage of the shrine of St. Thomas a Becket was not merely a manifestation of uncontrollable fury and unscrupulous greed; it was also Henry VIII‘s way of redressing a quarrel of nearly four hundred years’ standing. The reason why Henry VIII succeeded where Henry II, a greater man, had failed must be sought in the political and religious conditions of the times. Von Ranke has pointed out that the state of the world in the sixteenth century was “directly hostile to the Papal domination… The civil power would no longer acknowledge any higher authority” (Die römischen Papste, I, 39). In England the monarch was virtually a tyrant. The Wars of the Roses had destroyed the old nobility, formerly an effective check upon regal despotism. “The prerogative”, Brewer writes, “was absolute both in theory and practice. Government was identified with the will of the Sovereign; his word was law for the conscience as well as the conduct of his subjects. He was the only representative of the nation. Parliament was little more than an institution for granting subsidies” (Letters and State Papers, II, Part I, p. cxciii, Introd.). The lax lives led by too many of the clergy, the abuses of pluralities, the scandals of the Consistorial Courts, had tended to weaken the influence of the priesthood; “the papal authority”, to quote again Brewer, “had ceased to be more than a mere form, a decorum to be observed.” The influence of the ecclesiastical order as a check upon arbitrary power was extinct at the death of Wolsey. “Thus it was that the royal supremacy was now to triumph after years of effort, apparently fruitless and often purposeless. That which had been present to the English mind was now to come forth in a distinct consciousness, armed with the power that nothing could resist. Yet that it should come forth in such a form is marvellous. All events had prepared the way for the King’s temporal supremacy: opposition to Papal authority was familiar to men; but a spiritual supremacy, an ecclesiastical headship as it separated Henry VIII from all his predecessors by an immeasurable interval, so was it without precedent and at variance with all tradition” (Brewer, Letters and State Paters, I, cvii, Introd.).
Henry VIII made full proof of his ecclesiastical ministry. In 1535 he appointed Thomas Cromwell his vicegerent, vicar-general, and principal official, with full power to exercise all and every that authority appertaining to himself as head of the Church. The vicar-general’s function was, however, confined to ecclesiastical discipline. The settlement of doctrine Henry took under his own care and, as is related in the preamble to the “Act abolishing diversity of opinions” (31 Hen. VIII, c. 14), “most graciously vouchsafed, in his own princely person, to descend and come into his High Court of Parliament” and there expounded his theological views, which were embodied in that Statute, commonly called “The Statute of the Six Articles”. It was in 1539 that this Act was passed. It asserted Transubstantiation, the sufficiency of communion under one kind, the obligation of clerical celibacy, the validity “by the law of God” of vows of chastity, the excellence of private masses, the necessity of the sacrament of penance. The penalty for denial of the first article was the stake; of the rest imprisonment and forfeiture as of felony. But while thus upholding, after his own fashion, Catholic doctrine, Henry had possessed himself of a vast amount of ecclesiastical property by the suppression first of the smaller and then of the larger religious houses, thus laying the foundation of English pauperism.
After the death of Henry (1547) the direction of ecclesiastical affairs passed chiefly into the hands of Thomas Cranmer. Lord Macaulay has described him accurately as “a supple, timid, interested courtier, who rose into favor by serving Henry in the disgraceful affair of his first divorce”, who was “equally false to political and religious obligations”, and who “conformed forwards and backwards as the King changed his mind”. During the minority of Edward VI, no longer cowed by the “vultus instantis tyranni”, he favored first Lutheranism, then Zwinglianism, and lastly Calvinism, so that it may seem doubtful what form of Protestantism, if any, he really held. Certain it is, however, that he had “the convictions of his own interests”, and that these were bound up with the anti-Catholic party. He had judicially pronounced the invalidity of Henry’s marriage with Catherine and the illegitimacy of Mary, thereby deeply offending and scandalizing Catholics, who were by no means mollified because, not long afterwards, he had similarly prostituted his judicial office in dealing with Anne Boleyn and her daughter Elizabeth. He was married, contrary to the Statute of the Six Articles, to a daughter of the Protestant divine Osiander, whom, according to a tradition preserved by Sander and Harpsfield (both first-rate authorities), he was in the habit of carrying about in a chest until, in the latter part of Henry VIII‘s reign, he judged it prudent to send her, for greater security, to Germany. Shortly after the death of the king, he reclaimed her, showing her publicly as his wife. To him are chiefly due the legalization of the marriage of the clergy (2, 3 Ed. VI, c. 21), the desecration and destruction of altars, for which tables were substituted, and of images and pictures, which gave place to the royal arms. He had the chief part in the inspiration and compilation of the first Prayer Book of Edward VI (1548) in supersession of the Breviary and the Missal, a work which, in the preamble of the Act of Parliament sanctioning and enjoining it, is said to have “been drawn up by the aid of the Holy Ghost“. Notwithstanding this encomium, it was superseded, within four years, by a second Cranmerian Prayer Book, not similarly commended in the Act prescribing it, in which the slight outward similarity to the Mass, preserved in the Communion Service of the first Prayer Book, was obliterated. The Ordinal underwent similar treatment; the sacrificing priest, like the Sacrifice, was abolished. Another of Cranmer’s exploits was the compilation of Forty-two Articles of Religion which, reduced to Thirty-nine and slightly recast, still form the Confession of Faith of the Anglican Communion. In 1556, under Mary, he met his death at the stake, after vainly endeavoring by copious recantations—Sander avers that “he signed them seventeen times with his own hand”—to save his life. This severity, though doubtless impolitic, can hardly be deemed unjust if his career be carefully considered. But his work lived after him and formed the basis of the ecclesiastical legislation of Elizabeth, when Mary’s brief reign came to an end, and with it the ineffectual endeavor to destroy the new religion by the fagot. Mary’s fiery zeal for the Catholic Faith failed to undo the work of her two predecessors, and unquestionably did ill service to the Catholic cause. It would be foolish to blame her for not practising a toleration utterly alien from the temper of the times. But there can be no question that Green is well warranted in writing that to her is due “the bitter remembrance of the blood shed in the cause of Rome which, however partial and unjust it must seem to an historic observer, still lies graven deep in the temper of the English people” (Short History, p. 360).
The first act of Elizabeth, when she found herself firmly seated on the throne, was to annul the religious restorations of her sister. “All Laws and Statutes made against the See Apostolic of Rome since the twentieth year of King Henry VIII” had been abolished by the 1 and 2 Philip and Mary, c. 8, which “enacted and declared the Pope‘s Holiness and See Apostolic to be restored, and to have and enjoy such authority, preeminence and jurisdiction as His Holiness used and exercised, or might lawfully have used and exercised, by authority of his supremacy, before that date”. Elizabeth, by the first Act of Parliament of her reign, repealed this Statute, and revived the last six of the seven Acts against the Roman pontiff passed between the 21st and 26th year of Henry VIII of which we have given an account, and also certain other anti-papal Statutes passed subsequently to the enactment of Henry’s Act of Supremacy. That Act was not revived, doubtless because Elizabeth, as a woman, shrank from assuming the title of Supreme Head of the Church bestowed by it on the sovereign. But, although she did not take to herself that title, she took all the authority implied therein, by this first Act of her reign. It vests the plenitude of ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the Crown and the Queen’s Highness, who is described as “the only Supreme Governor of this realm as well in all spiritual and ecclesiastical things or causes as temporal”, and it prescribes an oath recognizing her to be so for all holding office in Church and State. The next Act on the Statute Book is the Act of Uniformity. It orders the use in the churches of the second Prayer Book of Edward VI, in the place of the Catholic rites, and provides penalties for ministers disobeying this injunction. It also enforces the attendance of the laity at the parish church on Sundays and holidays, for the new service. This was the definite establishment of the new religion in England, the consummation of the revolution initiated by Henry VIII. The bishops, with the exception of Kitchen of Llandaff, refused to accept it, as did about half the clergy. The majority of the laity passively acquiesced in it, just as they had acquiesced in the ecclesiastical changes of Henry, and Edward, and Mary. Its effect was, virtually, to reduce the Church of England to a department of the State. The Anglican bishops became, and are still, nominees of the Crown, election by the dean and chapter, where it exists—in some of the newer dioceses there are no chapters, and the bishops are appointed by Letters Patent—being a mere farcical form of which Emerson has given a pungent description: “The King sends the Dean and Canons a congé d’élire, or leave to elect, but also sends them the name of the person whom they are to elect. They go into the Cathedral, chant and pray; and after these invocations invariably find that the dictates of the Holy Ghost agree with the recommendation of the King.” If they arrived at any other conclusion, they would be involved in the penalties of a praemunire. The Convocations of York and Canterbury are similarly fettered. They cannot proceed so much as to discuss any project of ecclesiastical legislation without “Letters of Business” from the Crown. The sovereign is the ultimate arbiter in causes, whether of faith or morals within the Anglican Church, and his decisions of them given by the voice of his Privy Council, are irreformable. But of course in these days the sovereign practically means the Legislature. “The National Church“, Cardinal Newman writes in his “Anglican Difficulties”, “is strictly part of the Nation, just as the Law or the Parliament is part of the Nation.” “It is simply an organ or department of the State, all ecclesiastical acts really proceeding from the civil government.” “The Nation itself is the sovereign Lord and Master of the Prayer Book, its composer and interpreter.”
Queen Elizabeth‘s Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity form, in the words of Hallam, “the basis of that restrictive code of laws which pressed so heavily, for more than two centuries, upon the adherents of the Roman church”. It is not necessary here to describe in detail that “restrictive code”. An account of it will be found in the first chapter of “A Manual of the Law specially affecting Catholics”, by W. S. Lilly and J. P. Wallis (London, 1893). But we may observe that the queen who originated it was animated by very different motives from those which influenced her father in his revolt against Rome. Sander has correctly said, “he gave up the Catholic faith for no other reason in the world than that which came from his lust and wickedness”; and, indeed, while severing himself from Catholic unity, and pillaging the possessions of the Church, he was as far as possible from sympathizing with the doctrinal innovations of Protestantism and savagely repressed them. Elizabeth, by the very necessity of her position, was driven—we speak ex human die—to espouse the Protestant cause. No doubt, as Lingard writes, “it is pretty evident that she had no settled notions of religion”, and she freely exhibited her contempt for her clergy on many occasions—notably on her deathbed, when she drove away from her presence the Archbishop of Canterbury and certain other Protestant prelates of her own making, telling them “she knew full well that they were hedge priests, and took it for an indignity that they should speak to her” (Dodd, “Church History”, III, 70). But, like Cranmer, if she had no religious convictions, she had the convictions of her interests. Her lot was plainly cast in with the Protestant party. Rome had declared her mother’s marriage null, and her own birth illegitimate. Catholics, in general, looked upon Mary Queen of Scots as the rightful claimant to the throne which she occupied. Throughout her reign
Church policy and State policy are conjoint:
But Janus faces, looking different ways.
The Anglican Church, as established by her, was a mere instrument for political ends; in her own phrase, she tuned her pulpits. The maxim, Cujus rejio ejus religio, was currently accepted in her time. It seemed according to the natural order of things that the people should profess the creed of the prince. Elizabeth is not open to the charges made against her sister of religious fanaticism. But she was given up to that “self will and self worship” which Bishop Stubbs justly attributes to her father. And, in the well-weighed words of Hallam, “she was too deeply imbued with arbitrary principles to endure any deviation from the mode of worship she should prescribe”.
It was on the feast of St. John Baptist, 1559, that the statute took effect which abolished throughout England the old worship, and set up the new. Thenceforth Catholic rites could be performed only by stealth, and at the risk of severe punishment. But during the first decade of the queen’s reign Catholics were treated with comparative lenity, occasional fines, confiscations, and imprisonments being the severest penalties employed against them. Camden and others assert that they enjoyed “a pretty free use of their religion”. But this is too strongly put. The truth is that a vast number who were Catholics at heart temporized, resorting to the new worship more or less regularly, and attending secretly, when opportunity offered, Catholic rites celebrated by the Marian clergy commonly called “the old priests”. Of these a considerable number remained scattered up and down the country, being generally found as chaplains in private families. These occasional conformists were supported by the vague hope of political change which might give relief to their consciences. Elizabeth and her counsellors calculated that when the old priests dropped off, through death and other causes, people generally would be won over to the new religion. But it fell out otherwise. As the old priests disappeared, the question of a supply of Catholic clergy began to engage the minds of those to whom they had ministered. Moreover, stricter conceptions of their duty in respect of heretical worship were gaining ground among English Catholics, partly on account of the decision of a congregation appointed by the Council of Trent, that attendance at it was “grievously sinful”, inasmuch as it was “the offspring of schism, the badge of hatred of the Church“. Then a man appeared whom Father Bridgett rightly describes as “the father, under God, of the Catholic Church in England after the destruction of the ancient hierarchy”, to whom “principally, we owe the continuation of the priesthood, and the succession of the secular clergy”.
That man was William Allen, afterwards cardinal. He conceived the idea of an apostolate having for its object the perpetuation of the Faith in England, and in 1568 he founded the seminary at Douai, then belonging to Spanish Flanders, which was for so many generations to minister to the wants of English Catholics. It is notable as the first college organized according to the rules and constitution of the Council of Trent. The missionaries, full of zeal, and not counting their lives dear, who were sent over from this institution, revived the drooping spirits of the faithful in England and maintained the standard of orthodoxy. Elizabeth viewed with much displeasure this frustration of her hopes, nor was the Bull “Regnans in excelsis”, by which, in 1570, St. Pius V declared her deposed and her Catholic subjects released from their allegiance, calculated to mollify her. Increased severity of the penal laws marks the rest of Elizabeth‘s reign. By the Act of Supremacy Catholics offending against that statute had been made liable to capital punishment as traitors, the queen hoping thereby to escape the odium attaching to the infliction of death for religion. Few will now dissent from the words of Green in his “Short History”: “There is something even more revolting than open persecution in the policy which brands every Catholic priest as a traitor, and all Catholic worship as disloyalty.” But, for a time, the policy succeeded, and the martyrs who suffered for no other cause than their Catholic faith were commonly believed to have been put to death for treason. In 1581 this offense of spiritual treason was the subject of a far more comprehensive enactment (23 Eliz., c. 1). It qualified as traitors all who should absolve or reconcile others to the See of Rome, or willingly be so absolved or reconciled. Many English historians (Hume is the most considerable of them) have affirmed that “sedition, revolt, even assassination were the means by which seminary priests sought to compass their ends against Elizabeth“. But this sweeping accusation is not true. No doubt Cardinal Allen, the Jesuit Persons (see Robert Persons(Parsons)), and other Catholic exiles were cognizant of, and involved in, plots which had for their end the queen’s overthrow, nor would some of the conspirators have shrunk from taking her life any more than she shrank from taking the life of Mary Queen of Scots. But, in spite of all their sufferings, the great body of English Catholics maintained their loyalty. From the political intrigues in which the exiles were so deeply involved they held aloof, nay, many of them viewed with suspicion not only the exiles, but the whole Society of which Persons was a foremost representative, and desired the exclusion of Jesuits from English Colleges and from the English mission. When the Armada was expected they repaired in every county to the standard of the Lord Lieutenant, imploring that they might not be suspected of bartering the national independence for their religious belief. They received from Elizabeth a characteristic reward. “The Queen,” writes Lingard, “whether she sought to satisfy the religious animosities of her subjects, or to display her gratitude to the Almighty by punishing the supposed enemies of His worship, celebrated her triumph with the immolation of human victims” (History of England, VI, 255). In the four months between July 22 and November 27, of 1588, twenty-one seminary priests, eleven laymen, and one woman were put to death for their Catholic faith. During the rest of Elizabeth‘s life her Catholic subjects groaned under incessant persecution, of which one special note was the systematic use of torture. “The rack seldom stood idle in the Tower during the latter part of her reign”, Hallam remarks. The total number of Catholics who suffered under her was one hundred and eighty-nine, one hundred and twenty-eight of them being priests, fifty-eight laymen, and three women. To them should be added, as Law remarks in his “Calendar of English Martyrs” (London, 1870), thirty-two Franciscans who were starved to death.
Notwithstanding the severities of Elizabeth, the number of Catholic clergy on the English missions in her time was considerable. It has been estimated that at the end of the sixteenth century they amounted to three hundred and sixty-six, fifty being survivors of the old Marian priests, three hundred priests from Douai and the other foreign seminaries, and sixteen priests of the Society of Jesus. On the queen’s death the eyes of the persecuted remnant of the old faith turned hopefully towards James. Their hopes were doomed to disappointment. That prince took himself seriously as head of the English Church. He chose rather to be the successor of Elizabeth than the avenger of Mary Stuart, and continued the savage policy of the late queen. The year after his accession an Act was passed “for the due execution of the Statutes against Jesuits, Seminary priests and other priests”, which took away from Catholics the power of sending their children to be educated abroad, and of providing schools for them at home. In the course of the same year a proclamation was issued banishing all missionary priests out of the kingdom. The next year is marked by the Gunpowder Plot, “the contrivance”, as Tierney well observes, “of half a dozen persons of desperate fortunes, who, by that means, brought an odium upon the body of Catholics, who have ever since labored under the weight of the calumny, though no way concerned”. Soon afterwards a new oath of allegiance was devised, rather for the purpose of dividing than of relieving Catholics. It was incorporated in “An Act for the better discovery and repression of Popish recusants” (a recusant Catholic was simply one who refused to be present at the new service of the Protestant religion in the parish church), and was directed against the deposing power. The Holy See disallowed it, but some Catholics took it, among them being Blackwell the Archpriest. Twenty-eight Catholics, of whom eight were laymen, suffered under James I, but that prince was more concerned to exact money from his Catholic subjects than to slay them. According to his own account he received a net income of £36,000 a year from the fines of Popish recusants (Hardwick Papers, I, 446).
With the accession of Charles I (1625) a somewhat brighter time began for English Catholics. He was unwilling to shed their innocent blood—indeed only two underwent capital punishment while he bore rule—and this reluctance was one of the causes of rupture between him and the Parliament. His policy, Hallam writes, “with some fluctuations, was to wink at the domestic exercise of the Catholic religion, and to admit its professors to pay compensations for clemency, which were not regularly enforced”. The number of Catholic clergy in England received a considerable augmentation in his reign. Panzani reported to the Holy See that in 1634 there were on the English mission five hundred secular priests, some hundred and sixty Jesuits, a hundred Benedictines, twenty Franciscans, seven Dominicans, two Minims, five Carmelites, and one Carthusian lay brother, besides the clergy, nine in number, who served the queen’s chapel. This large increase in the number of Jesuits was not regarded by all as an unmixed gain, unquestionable as was their zeal and devotion. It was considered by some as the cause of rivalries and dissensions, unpleasant to read of, among the small remnant who kept the faith. The Jesuits seem to have been, at times, open to the charge of aggressiveness, and certainly they did not succeed in dissipating the prejudice so universal against them. One of the burning questions among English Catholics was concerning the episcopal succession. The secular clergy desired a bishop, and Allen had proposed to Gregory XIII that one should be sent. Through Persons’ influence at Rome, which was very great, instead of a bishop an archpriest was appointed (1598) in the person of George Blackwell, who has been already mentioned, a friend of his own, who was deprived by the Holy See ten years later for taking the oath of allegiance under James I. Birkhead succeeded him, and Harrison succeeded Birkhead, until, in 1623, Dr. William Bishop was appointed Vicar Apostolic of England. He died in 1624, and was succeeded by Dr. Richard Smith. Shortly afterwards there was an outbreak of persecution occasioned by the Puritan party in the House of Commons led by Sir John Elliot, and Bishop Smith withdrew to France at the end of 1628, never to return to England, which remained without a bishop till 1685.
When war broke out between Charles I and the Parliament, English Catholics, to a man, espoused the cause of the king. They could not do otherwise. Hatred of Catholicism was a dominant note of the Parliamentary party, who bitterly resented the quasi-toleration which the Catholics had for some years enjoyed; and between the meeting of the Long Parliament and the death of Cromwell twenty-four adherents of the Faith suffered martyrdom. The Catholics, as Hallam points out, were “the most strenuous of the King’s adherents”; they were also the greatest sufferers for their loyalty. One hundred and seventy Catholic gentlemen lost their lives in the royal cause; and Catholics were especially oppressed under the Commonwealth.
At the Restoration of Charles II, in 1660, English Catholics expected, not unnaturally, to receive some recompense for their unswerving devotion to the royal cause, and this more especially as the new king’s personal obligations to them were very great. After his total overthrow at the battle of Worcester, he owed his life to the Catholics of Staffordshire, the Huddlestones, the Giffards, the Whitegreaves, the Penderells. But “Let not virtue seek remuneration for the thing it was” is a lesson written on every page of the history of the Stuarts. Catholics asked, in a petition presented to the House of Lords by Lord Arundell of Wardour, that they might receive the benefit of the Declaration of Breda. Charles was inclined to give them “liberty of conscience”, but Lord Chancellor Hyde, afterwards Earl of Clarendon, we read in Kenneth’s “Register and Chronicle”, “was so hot upon the point, that His Majesty was obliged to yield rather to his importunities than his reasons”. The king, who, as he himself expressed it, was not minded to set out again on his travels, recognized that there was in the nation a strong anti-Catholic feeling, and bowed to it, though himself intellectually convinced of the truth of the Catholic religion. The laws against Papists remained on the statute book, and, from time to time, proclamations—they were, it is true, for the most part brutum fulmen—were issued requiring Jesuits and other priests to quit the kingdom under the statutory penalties. A singular instance of overmastering anti-Catholic prejudice prevailing in the nation is supplied by the monument erected by the Corporation of London to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666. It bore an inscription in which Catholics were accused of being the authors of that calamity, a monstrous assertion for which no shred of evidence was ever adduced.
Where London‘s column pointing to the skies,
Like a tall bully lifts its head and lies,
Pope had the courage to write. But not until the nineteenth century was well advanced was the calumny erased.
It is not possible here to follow, even in briefest outline, the course of Charles II’s reign. We may, however, point out that two things are necessary to a right view of it: to understand the character and aims of Charles II, and to realize the dominant temper of the English nation. Idle, voluptuous, and good-humoredly cynical, Charles certainly was; but he possessed deep knowledge of human nature, great political tact, and remarkable tenacity of purpose. That he preferred the Catholic religion to any other, is certain; and he was glad to embrace it on his deathbed. But he recognized the strong Protestant feeling of the people over whom he ruled, and was not prepared to imperil his crown by defying it. He was, however, really desirous to do what he could, without risk to himself, for the relief of Catholics; and this was the motive of his Declaration of Indulgence in 1672, by which he ordered “that all manner of penal laws on matters ecclesiastical against whatever sort of Non-conformist or recusants” should be suspended, and gave liberty of public worship to all dissentients, except Catholics, who were allowed to celebrate the rites of religion in private houses only. This declaration was sovereignly displeasing to all parties in the House of Commons, who answered it by a resolution “that penal statutes in matters ecclesiastical cannot be suspended except by consent of Parliament”, and refused supplies until the declaration was recalled. That was a convincing argument to Charles. He recalled the declaration forthwith. Parliament then proceeded to pass a bill—it went through both Houses without opposition, and Charles dared not refuse his royal assent to it—which required every one in the civil and military employment of the Crown to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, to subscribe a declaration against Transubstantiation, and to receive the Eucharist according to the rites of the Church of England. One effect of this Act (25 Car. II, c. 2) was to deprive James, Duke of York, who had become a Catholic, of his office of Lord High Admiral.
During the next nine years the struggle between the king and the Parliament continued. The popular leader was Ashley, Earl of Shaftesbury—for some time Chancellor—whose character has been delineated by Dryden with merciless severity, but with substantial accuracy, in “Absalom and Achitophel”. This statesman’s own Protestantism was of the haziest kind, but he was zealous, from political motives, for the national religion, and for that reason was bent upon excluding the Duke of York from the succession to the throne. To accomplish this end, he fought strenuously, unremittingly, nor was any weapon too vile for his use. The Second Test Act, passed through his exertions in 1678, rendered Catholics incapable of sitting in Parliament, and thus deprived twenty-one Catholic peers of their seats in the House of Lords; but the king contrived to procure the insertion of a clause exempting the Duke of York from the operation of the Statute. It was in this same year that Titus Oates appeared on the scene with his pretended Popish Plot. There is no evidence that Ashley was the instigator of the colossal villainy, but he did not scruple to employ it for his own purposes. “The origin of the Plot”, says a recent well-informed writer in “Blackwood’s Magazine” (May, 1908), “is a mystery. We know no more than that the English people, being mad, interrupted the course of justice, insisted that the judges should condemn every man brought before them, suspected of papistry, and easily believed the crazy stories of hired perjurers. It is most probable that Oates himself contrived the death of Sir Edmund Godfrey.” However that may have been, certain it is that the calumnies of Oates and his confederates and imitators awakened the Elizabethan Statutes into fresh activity. The king was far too shrewd to give credence to what Macaulay has well called “a hideous romance resembling rather the dream of a sick man than any transaction which ever took place in this world.” But he was powerless to save the victims of popular fanaticism; “I cannot pardon them”, he said, “for I dare not.” And so, in 1679, the horrors of 1588 were repeated, eight priests of the Society of Jesus, two Franciscans, five secular priests, and seven laymen being put to death, while many more died in their foul prisons. The next year witnessed the judicial murder of Lord Stafford, his peers being unable to withstand the madness of the people. In 1681 Oliver Plunket, the Archbishop of Armagh, was executed at Tyburn, after a mock trial. His was the last blood shed for the Catholic religion in England. The persecution, which had begun with the execution of the three saintly Carthusian friars in the twenty-sixth year of Henry VIII, had lasted, with little intermission, for a century and a half. Three hundred and forty-two martyrs had sealed their faith with their blood, while some fifty confessors, in the reign of Elizabeth and her successors, ended their lives in prison. The king’s long struggle with the popular party ended in his complete victory. No more consummate master of political strategy ever perhaps existed; and the violence of the party led by Shaftesbury played into his hands. Shaftesbury himself was arrested on a charge of suborning false witnesses to the Plot; although the Grand Jury of Middlesex ignored the bill of his indictment, he saw that the tide of popular feeling, which had begun to ebb with the execution of Lord Stafford, was now turned completely against him, and at the end of 1682 he fled to Holland, where, two months afterwards, he died.
Charles II was the most popular of kings during the last two years of his reign, and he was careful not to mar his popularity by illegal acts or by measures opposed to the feeling of the nation. The statute for the regulation of printing, passed immediately after the Restoration, had expired in 1679; Charles made no attempt for its renewal. In the same year the Habeas Corpus Act—that great charter of the liberty of the subject—was passed; Charles acquiesced in it. He did indeed infringe the Test Act by the Duke of York’s readmission to the Council and restoration to the office of lord high admiral. But, in the recrudescence of loyalty, this tribute to fraternal affection passed unblamed. In his last illness the churches were thronged with crowds praying that God would raise him up again to be a father to his people; and on his death, in February, 1685, all sorts and conditions of his subjects made great lamentation over him.
In the first year of the reign of James II Dr. Leyburn was appointed by the Holy See as vicar Apostolic. In the next year Dr. Giffard received a like appointment, as did Dr. Ellis and Dr. Smith the year after that, England being divided into four districts: the London, the Midland, the Western, and the Northern, in each of which the papal vicar exercised all the authority possessed by an ordinary. The new king came to the throne with advantages which he could hardly have hoped for. He inherited, in some sort, the popularity of his brother, and his religion was forgotten in his blood. He began his reign by a solemn pledge to keep the laws inviolate and to protect the Church of England, and the nation believed him. “We have the word of a king”, it was said, “and of a king who was never worse than his word.” The saying, whoever was its author, went abroad. It expressed the general conviction, and his first Parliament made proof of exuberant loyalty, granting to the monarch, without demur, a revenue of nearly two millions for life. Argyll’s rebellion in the North and Monmouth’s in the West but served to bring out the devotion of the nation at large to the sovereign. But the cruelties of Kirke and the savageries of Jeffreys in the “Bloody Circuit” caused a change in the general feeling. The king’s popularity began to wane, and the measures to which he now resorted soon put an end to it. Monmouth’s revolt was made the pretext for raising the army to twenty thousand men, and it soon appeared that James supposed himself able, with this force at his command, to place himself above the law. He attempted to nullify the provisions of statutes by the exercise of his dispensing power. Judges who refused to fall in with his plans were dismissed; and it was held by a bench packed with his creatures that his dispensation could be pleaded in bar of an Act of Parliament. Armed with this decision, the king proceeded to set aside the disabilities of Catholics and the restraints upon the exercise of their religion. They were admitted to civil and military offices closed to them by the law; members of religious orders appeared in the streets of London in their habits; the Jesuits opened a school which was soon crowded. Further, the king found himself ex officio supreme head of the Anglican Communion, and he resolved to use his supremacy as a weapon for its overthrow. Following the precedent of Elizabeth, he appointed an Ecclesiastical Commission, in defiance of an Act of Charles I which declared that court illegal; and he placed Jeffreys at the head of it. He forbade the clergy to preach against popery, and suspended the Bishop of London for refusing to carry out this order. At Oxford he presented a Catholic to the deanery of Christ Church and converted Magdalen College into a Catholic society. Among English Catholics most men of reputation stood aghast at this reckless violence. Few approved it but converts of broken fortune and tarnished reputation. Rome gave no countenance to it. Macaulay is absolutely warranted in writing: “Every letter which went from the Vatican to Whitehall recommended patience, moderation and respect for the prejudices of the English people”. “The Pope“, he observes in another page, with equal justice, “was too wise a man to believe that a nation so bold and stubborn could be brought back to the Church of Rome by the violent and unconstitutional exercise of the royal authority. It was not difficult to see that if James attempted to promote the interests of his religion by illegal and unpopular measures, his attempt would fail: the hatred with which the heretical islanders regarded the true faith would become fiercer and stronger than ever: and an indissoluble association would be created in men’s minds between Protestantism and civil freedom, between Popery and arbitrary power.” This is precisely what happened. And indeed it is not too much to say that British Catholics have, in great measure, to thank the two last Catholic sovereigns for the strong feeling which so long existed against them throughout the nation, and which, even now, has not wholly disappeared. The severities of Mary appeared to give countenance to the popular Protestant opinion that Catholics rely chiefly on the argument from fire and are always ready, if they can, to burn dissidents from their religious belief. The conduct of James II seemed an object lesson confirmatory of the vulgar conviction that Catholics are not bound to keep faith with heretics, and that any violation of law, any “crooked and indirect bye-ways” are justifiable means to the end of advancing the Catholic religion.
The reign of James II lasted only three years. It is not too much to say that before two of them were out he had succeeded in alienating the devotion of the entire nation. The famous Declaration of Indulgence supplied the supreme proof of his folly and was the immediate occasion of his downfall. The gist of it was that by the royal authority all laws against all classes of Nonconformists were suspended, that all religious tests imposed upon them by statute as a qualification for office were abrogated. Only an absolute monarch could claim to exercise such a prerogative. It is true that the Declaration was full of professions of love of liberty of conscience—professions which came oddly from a monarch with James’s record. Moreover, as we now know, upon the very eve of publishing it he had written to congratulate Louis XI V upon his revocation of the Edict of Nantes, an example which Barillon, a very competent judge, thought he would have only too gladly followed if he had been able. Those hollow and palpably false professions deceived no one, and the failure of the Declaration to conciliate the support of those who would have chiefly benefited by it, might have suggested caution to a wiser man. But James would brook no opposition; and on April 27, 1688, he ordered the Anglican clergy to read his Declaration of Indulgence during divine service on two successive Sundays. Nearly all the clergy refused to obey, and Sancroft, the Archbishop of Canterbury, with six of his suffragans, addressed to the king a respectful and temperate protest. The document was treated as a libel, and the famous trial of the seven bishops was the result. The acquittal of the prelates was greeted throughout the country with a tumult of acclaim, which was the signal for the Revolution, whereby the ancient liberties of England were vindicated, and a Parliamentary title to the crown was substituted for an hereditary one.
The disfavor with which Catholics were viewed when William and Mary were placed on the throne vacated by James II, was natural enough. They shared in the hatred inspired by the perfidy, cruelty, and tyranny of the absconded sovereign. William, indeed, would have gladly extended to them the same measure of toleration which, in spite of Tory opposition, he was able to secure for Protestant Nonconformists. He was under great obligations not only to the emperor, but also to the pope, whose sympathy and diplomatic support had been of much help to him in his perilous enterprise. He was, by temperament and by conviction, averse from religious persecution. Moreover, as Hallam justly observes, “no measure would have been more politic, for it would have dealt to the Jacobite cause a more deadly wound than any which double taxation or penal laws were able to effect.” And this, no doubt, was one of the reasons why the High Tories persistently opposed it. But the Legislature did not content itself with leaving on the statute book the former statutes against Catholics; it enacted new disqualifications and penalties. The Bill of Rights provides that no member of the reigning house who is a Catholic, or has married a Catholic, can succeed to the throne, and that the sovereign, on becoming a Catholic, or marrying a Catholic, thereby forfeits the crown. This article of the constitution was confirmed by the Act of Settlement (12 & 13 Will. III, c. 2), which conferred the succession on the descendants of the Electress Sophia (a daughter of James I), being Protestants. Another statute, of the first year of William and Mary, prohibited Catholics from residing within ten miles of London and empowered justices to tender to reputed Papists “the oath appointed by law”, providing that any who refused it, and yet remained within ten miles of London, was to forfeit and suffer as a Papist recusant convict. A third Act of the same year (I W. & M., c. 15) provides that no suspected Papist who shall neglect to take the oath appointed by law, when tendered to him by two justices of the peace, and who shall not appear before them upon notice from one authorized under their hands and seals, shall keep any arms, ammunition, or horse above the value of five pounds in his possession, and in that of any other person to his use (other than such as shall be allowed him by the sessions for defense of his house and person); that any two justices may authorize by warrant any person to search for all such arms, ammunition, and horses in the daytime, with the assistance of the constable or his deputy or tithingman, and to seize them for the king’s use; and that if any person shall conceal such arms, ammunition, or horses, he shall be imprisoned for three months and shall forfeit to the king treble the value of such arms, ammunition, or horse. The 7 & 8 Will. III, c. 24, closed to Catholics the professions of counsellor-at-law, barrister, attorney, and solicitor; and the 7 & 8 Will. III, c. 27, declared that any person who refuses to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, when lawfully tendered, should be liable to suffer as a Popish recusant convict; and that no person who should refuse the said oath should be admitted to give a vote at the elections of any member of Parliament. In 1700 an Act was passed which, Sir Erskine May observes, “cannot be read without astonishment”. It incapacitated every Roman Catholic from inheriting or purchasing land, unless he abjured his religion upon oath; and on his refusal it vested his property, during his life, in his next of kin being a Protestant. He was even prohibited from sending his children abroad, to be educated in his own faith. And while his religion was thus proscribed, his civil rights were further restrained by the oath of abjuration. It prescribed imprisonment for life for all Catholic priests, and enacted that an informer, in the event of their being convicted of saying Mass, was to receive a reward of one hundred pounds.
Concerning this Act of William III Hallam remarks, “So unprovoked, so unjust a persecution is the disgrace of the Parliament that passed it.” But he goes on to add, “The spirit of Liberty and tolerance was too strong for the tyranny of the law and this statute was not executed according to its purpose. The Catholic landholders neither renounced their religion nor abandoned their inheritance. The judges put such constructions upon the clause of forfeiture as eluded its efficiency.” No doubt this is generally true. But, as Charles Butler tells us in his “Historical Memoirs” (London, 1819-21), “in many instances the laws which deprived Catholics of their landed property were enforced.” He adds that “in other respects they were subject to great vexation and contumely”. They were a very small and very unpopular minority in an age when a common creed was regarded, in every European country, as the chief bond of civil polity and dissidents from it were more or less rigorously repressed. As a matter of fact, it is to a great English magistrate that we owe the ruling which placed an almost insuperable difficulty in the way of the tribe of informers. At the trial of the Rev. James Webb on the 25th of June, 1768, at Westminster, at the suit of a notorious common informer named Payne, Lord Mansfield told the jury that the defendant could not be condemned “unless there were sufficient proof of his ordination”. Such proofs, of course, were not forth-coming. Lord Mansfield, as Charles Butler relates in his above-mentioned “Historical Memoirs”, discountenanced the prosecution of Catholic priests and took care that the accused should have every advantage that the form of proceedings, or the letter or spirit of the law, could allow. And at that period the same temper animated English judges generally.
As the second half of the eighteenth century wore on, English Catholics ceased to be regarded by the Government as politically dangerous. A certain number of them had taken part in the rising of 1715, and in the far more serious rising of 1745, and had in some instances been executed for their pains. But in 1766 the Old Pretender died, and the Young Pretender, upon whom his claim devolved, had ceased to excite either dread or enthusiasm. Men no longer took him seriously, and English Catholics in time—it was no very long time—acquiesced in the Revolution of 1688. Nay, they did something more than acquiesce. In 1778 an address was presented to George III, bearing the signatures of the Duke of Norfolk and nine other peers, and of one hundred and sixty-three commoners, on behalf of the Catholic body. It represents to the sovereign their “true attachment to the civil constitution of the country, which having been perpetuated through all changes of religious opinions and establishments, has been at length perfected by that Revolution which has placed your Majesty’s illustrious house on the throne of these Kingdoms, and inseparably united your title to the crown with the law and liberties of your people”. In this year, 1778, the first Catholic Relief Act was passed. It repealed the worst portions of the Statute of 1699 above mentioned, and set forth a new oath of allegiance which a Catholic could take without denying his religion. Though a very modest measure of relief, it was extremely distasteful to some bigoted Protestants, among whom it is distressing to find the name of John Wesley. But in truth Wesley—it is not a rare case—was no less ignorant and narrow-minded than zealous and devout, as is sufficiently evident from his “Letter concerning the Principles of Roman Catholics”. In this document, besides other equally foolish assertions, he alleges that they hold an oath not binding if administered by heretics, and that they believe in the remission of future sins through the Sacrament of Penance. The conclusion he draws is that no government “ought to tolerate men of the Roman Catholic persuasion”. There can be no doubt that the diatribes of Wesley and his followers largely swelled the agitation for the repeal of the Act of 1778, which was conducted by the Protestant Association, and which issued in the Lord George Gordon Riots.
It would be an error to impute the prevalence of a milder spirit towards Catholics at this period to sympathy with their religion. It arose rather from the relaxation of dogmatic belief, the latitudinarianism, the indifferentism which is a notable sign of those times, and which infected Catholics as well as Protestants throughout Europe. In England it was manifested, among other ways, in the apostasy of nine Catholic peers, while many other Catholic laymen, of position and influence, assumed a quite un-Catholic attitude towards the episcopate and towards the Government. They desired, legitimately enough, further deliverance from the penal laws; and to compass this end they had recourse to means not at all legitimate. In May, 1783, five of these constituted themselves “a Committee appointed to manage the further affairs of Catholics in this kingdom”, to use their own words. “It was in some respects”, writes Canon Flanagan (History of the Church in England, II, 393), “a useful institution, working zealously for the supposed interests of the Catholic body. Its zeal, unfortunately, was not according to knowledge. It sought to win emancipation by making to Protestants every concession that it believed it could in conscience, but it forgot meantime that minute theological knowledge would be necessary for so delicate a task; or rather it forgot that it was unintentionally perhaps, but not the less certainly, usurping the place of the bishops and of the Holy See. It was now in treaty with the government for fresh measures of relief. It complained that the Catholics were not allowed their own `mode of worship’; were punished severely for educating their children `in their own religious principles’, whether at home or abroad; could not practice any of the professions of the law, or serve in the Army or Navy, or vote in the elections, or hold a seat in either Rouse; and it prayed William Pitt, who was now prime minister, to aid them in their intended application for redress”. Pitt was favorably inclined towards the committee, whose proceedings, however, were soon marked by great unwisdom. Protestant Nonconformists were at that time striving to obtain a complete toleration, and held out the right hand of fellowship to Catholics. The Catholic committees were well pleased by the proposed alliance, and in a bill which they drafted for the House of Commons, they inserted a clause providing that the relief to be given by it was to be available to those only who subscribed their names, in a Court of Justice, in the following form: “I, A.B., do hereby declare myself to be a Protesting Catholic Dissenter.” The four vicars Apostolic, in an encyclical letter, condemned this and other vagaries of the Catholic Committee, and declared that none of the faithful clergy or laity under their care ought to take any oath or subscribe to any instrument wherein the interests of religion are concerned without the previous approbation of their respective bishops. The Holy See approved this letter. In the Relief Act which was passed in 1791 the foolish phrase “Protesting Catholic Dissenters” was struck out, and the oath proposed by the Catholic Committee was utterly discarded, the inoffensive Irish oath of 1778, with slight variations, being substituted for it. Catholics taking this oath were relieved from the penalties of the Statutes of Recusancy and from the obligation of taking the oath of supremacy prescribed by the Statute of William and Mary. Various disabilities were removed, and toleration was extended to Catholic schools and worship. Shortly after this Act was passed the Catholic Committee turned itself into the Cisalpine Club and continued under that name, for thirty years, to trouble more or less the vicars Apostolic.
There can be little doubt that the passing of the Relief Act was facilitated by the outbreak of the Revolution in France. Another result, at first extremely prejudicial to the Catholic Church in England, of that great upheaval was the closing of the seminaries on the Continent, which had furnished to that country a supply of priests. Douai was seized by the French Revolutionary Government in 1793. The English Benedictine houses in France also disappeared. The closing of the English Catholic colleges in France was, however, to some extent compensated by the influx of clergy from that country. No less than eight thousand of these confessors of the Christian Faith sought the hospitality of Protestant England, and it was ungrudgingly given. The King’s House at Winchester sheltered a thousand of them, and for several years a considerable sum was voted for their relief by Parliament and was largely supplemented by voluntary subscriptions. A certain number of these priests sought and found work on the English Mission. By far the greater part of them returned home when Napoleon had concluded his Concordat with the Holy See and reestablished Christian worship in France. Of those who remained a few were irreconcilably dissatisfied with the new ecclesiastical arrangements in their country. They were known as Blanchardists, from their leader Blanchard, and were a source of much annoyance to the vicars Apostolic. The heroic Milner was especially prominent in combating them, and in asserting the rights of the Holy See. That strenuous champion of orthodoxy had, at the same time, to contend with Catholics of his own nationality. The spirit which had animated the Catholic Committee and the Cisalpine Club was by no means extinct, and led to the formation, in 1808, of what was called a “Select Board” which professed as its object the organization of an association for “the general advantage of the Catholic body”. That “general advantage” turned out to be the further removal of Catholic disabilities, and the price which the Select Board was prepared to pay for such removal was the vesting in the Crown of an effectual negative upon the appointment of Catholic bishops—commonly called the Veto. The Irish episcopate unanimously opposed this arrangement, and passed a vote of thanks to Dr. Milner for his “apostolic constancy” in withstanding it. On April 30, 1813, Grattan brought forward a Catholic relief bill in the House of Commons, which substantially provided for the Veto. It was thrown out on the third reading. Eight years later a similar bill passed the House of Cowmons, but was rejected by the House of Lords. Of the eventual emancipation of Catholics Dr. Milner had no doubt. Twelve years before his death, which took place in 1826, he assured the pope that it was certain to come. But he would not purchase it by the slightest sacrifice of Catholic principle. In 1826 a declaration was put forward by all the vicars Apostolic of England explanatory of various articles of the Catholic Faith greatly misunderstood by many Protestants. It was widely read and doubtless helped to remove prejudice. In the same year Sidney Smith published his masterly “Letter on the Catholic Question”. Not, however, till March, 1829, was the long desired boon conceded to Catholics. It was wrung, so to speak, from statesmen who had always opposed it. The Clare election convinced Peel and the Duke of Wellington, who were then in power, that the settlement of the Irish question was a political necessity. The duke reminded the House of Lords that when the Irish Rebellion of 1798 had been suppressed the Legislative Union had been proposed in the next year mainly for the purpose of introducing this very measure of concession, and not obscurely intimated his opinion that further to refuse it must lead to civil war. This relief bill passed both Houses by large majorities. The king’s consent was reluctantly given, and the Emancipation Act became law. It should be noted that before the passing of the Emancipation Act the friction of which we have been obliged to speak, between certain prominent members of the Catholic laity and the vicars Apostolic, was virtually at an end. The Cisalpine Club still existed; but, as Monsignor Ward remarks (Catholic London A Century Ago, p. 38), “there was very little Cisalpinism in it”. This was largely due to the personal influence of Dr. Poynter, Vicar Apostolic of the London District, whose gentleness and meekness triumphed where the fiery zeal of Milner failed.
When the nineteenth century opened, the Catholics of Great Britain were, to quote Cardinal Newman’s words, “a gens lucifuga, found in corners and alleys and cellars and the house tops, or in the recesses of the country”. Their chapels were few and far between, and were purposely placed in quarters where they were unlikely to attract observation. It was common to locate them in mews, and in their exterior they were hardly distinguishable from the adjoining stables. George Eliot has well remarked in Felix Holt, “Till the agitation about the Catholics in ’29, rural Englishmen had hardly known more of Catholics than of the fossil mammoths.” Their political emancipation was the beginning of a great change in their social condition. “The steps were higher that men took”; their ostracism began to pass away. Moreover, the reaction which had followed the French Revolution had told in favor of Catholicism even in England. Chateaubriand ‘s “Genie du christianisme” had a world-wide influence, and some of the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott, however deficient in accuracy, presented a much kinder view of the ancient faith than had been commonly taken in Protestant countries. In the history of the Catholic Church in England since 1829 two events require special notice. One was the rise of what is called “The Oxford Movement“. Cardinal Newman used to date that movement from the year 1833, when Keble preached at Oxford his famous assize sermon on “National Apostasy“. But indeed it was simply the bodying-forth of tendencies which had been long in the air. The old notion of the medieval period as “a millennium of darkness” had passed away; and from the contemplation of its masterpieces in architecture and painting men proceeded to study its intellectual and spiritual life. They were also led to investigate, in the light of facts and first principles, the claims of Anglicanism. No doubt the “Lectures on the History and Structure of the Prayer Book of the Church of England” delivered by Dr. Lloyd, the Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, set many of his hearers thinking, Newman among them. But the object of the leaders of the Oxford Movement at its beginning was not to examine, but to defend, the Anglican Church. This was the intention of the “Tracts for the Times”, begun in 1833. It is not here possible, or indeed necessary, to follow the course of the movement, which, as it went on, departed ever more and more widely from the standards—even the highest—of Anglicanism, and approximated ever more and more closely to the Catholic ideal. It culminated in the famous “Tract XC”, the theme of which was that the Thirty-nine Articles were susceptible of a Catholic interpretation and could be accepted by one who held all the dogmas of the Council of Trent. Of course the movement greatly interested Catholics, and by no one was it more closely and anxiously followed than by Dr. Wiseman, who had made the acquaintance of Newman and Froude upon the occasion of their visiting Rome in 1833. In September, 1840, Wiseman arrived at Oscott from Rome—where almost all his previous life had been spent—to take up his residence as president of that college and Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District. He felt from the day of his arrival there, as he wrote in a memorandum eight years afterwards, that a new era had commenced in England. To help forward that era was the end to which his great gifts and his large heart were utterly devoted. The majority of hereditary English Catholics were much prejudiced against the Tractarians. Dr. Lingard warned Bishop Wiseman not to trust them. Dr. Griffiths, the Vicar Apostolic of the London District, used similar language. But Wiseman did trust them. He held that Catholic principles, if honestly entertained, must lead to the Catholic Church, and he fully believed in the honesty of Newman and Newman’s followers. How Newman was influenced by a paper of his on the Donatists, published in the Dublin Review in 1839, is well known. The Oxford Movement had been directed to the impossible aim of unprotestantizing the Anglican Church. Newman and many of his friends came gradually to see that the aim was impossible. The kindly light which they had so faithfully followed step by step led them on to Rome. Wiseman testified: “The Church has not received at any time a convert who has joined her in more docility and simplicity of faith than Newman.”
Wiseman had earnestly desired “an influx of fresh blood” into the Catholic Church in England. The accession of the converts due to the Oxford Movement brought it. And no doubt it accelerated the restoration of the hierarchy which had been so strongly desired by generations of Catholics. In 1840 Gregory VI had increased the number of English vicars Apostolic from four to eight. Ten years afterwards Pius IX decreed that “the hierarchy of Bishops ordinary, taking their titles from their sees, should, according to the usual rules of the Church, again flourish in the Kingdom of England”. The whole of the country was formed into one province consisting of the metropolitan See of Westminster, and the twelve suffragan sees of Southwark, Plymouth, Clifton, Newport and Menevia, Shrewsbury, Liverpool, Salford, Hexham and Newcastle, Beverley, Nottingham, Birmingham, Northampton. This restoration of the hierarchy was certainly not designed as an act of war; it was indeed “unattended by any suspicion that it would give offense to others”. But it did give dire offense, and the country resounded with denunciations of what was called “The Papal Aggression”. An “insolent and insidious aggression”, Lord John Russell, the premier, pronounced it to be, and shortly afterwards introduced into the House of Commons a bill by which the Catholic bishops were prohibited, under penalties, from assuming the territorial titles conferred upon them by the pope. The bill became law after long and angry debates, but was, from the first, a dead letter. There can be no question that Cardinal Wiseman’s appeal to the people of England largely contributed to allay the popular passion which his pastoral letter “From without the Flaminian Gate” had had no small share in exciting. Though a somewhat lengthy pamphlet, it was printed in extenso in “The Times” and in four other London newspapers, and its circulation was immense. The cardinal appealed to the “manly sense and honest heart” of his countrymen, to “the love of honorable dealing and fair play, which is the instinct of an Englishman”, and he did not appeal in vain.
Cardinal Wiseman filled the metropolitan See of Westminster from 1850 to 1865, and it would be hard to overrate the greatness of his services to the Catholic cause in England. Manning truly said in the sermon preached at his funeral: “When he closed his eyes he had already seen the work he had begun expanding everywhere, and the traditions of three hundred years everywhere dissolving before it.” When he began that work, there were less than five hundred priests in England; when he ceased from it there were some fifteen hundred. The number of converts during these fifteen years had increased tenfold, and fifty-five monasteries had come into being. But mere statistics give no sufficient notion of the progress made by the Catholic Church under Wiseman’s rule, a progress directly due to him in large measure. Not the least important item of his service to religion was the way in which he presented the Church to his countrymen. Mr. Wilfrid Ward is well warranted when he writes: “Wiseman may claim to have been the first effectively to remind Englishmen in our own day of the historical significance of the Catholic Church, which so much impressed Macaulay, and which affected permanently such a man as Comte, which kindled the historical enthusiasm of a De Maistre, a Gorres and a Frederick Schlegel.” The organization of the Catholic Church, as it now exists in England, may be said to be due to him. He himself drew up, almost entirely, the decrees regarding it for the First Provincial Synod, held at Oscott (1852). His work, indeed, was not done in the tranquility which he loved. “Without were fightings, within were fears.” Some of the converts did not fuse with the hereditary Catholics, “the little remnant of Catholic England”, whom they judged to be ill-educated and behind the times, and this prejudice Wiseman regarded as ungenerous, even if, to some extent, it was not unfounded. He deprecated strongly the spirit of party and sought in all gentleness, to put it down and to guide his flock into the way of peace. On the other hand, some of the old clergy, taking their stand upon the ancient ways, regarded with distrust certain innovations of discipline and devotion introduced by the more zealous of the converts. They looked upon the Oratorians as extravagant. They viewed Monsignor Manning with suspicion. It is unnecessary to enter into the dissensions which embittered Wiseman’s declining years. The last two, indeed, were passed in comparative quiet, but amid much physical suffering. Not long before he died he said: “I have never cared for anything but the Church. My sole delight has been in everything connected with her.”
Cardinal Wiseman’s successor in the See of Westminster—the successor he desired—was the provost of his chapter, Monsignor Manning, whose episcopate lasted until 1892. They were twenty-seven years of fruitful activity, through evil report and through good report. For some time he was certainly unpopular, not only among his Protestant fellow countrymen but among his own clergy, who did not like his strict discipline and some of whom by no means sympathized with what was called his “ultra-papalism”. But gradually the prejudice against him wore off, and his great qualities obtained general recognition. It was the victory of his faith unfeigned, his deep devotion, his spotless integrity, his indomitable courage, his singleness of aim, his entire devotion to the cause which, in his heart of hearts, he believed to be the only cause worth living for. One who knew him well said of him: “He was an Archbishop who lived among his people”, “the door-steps of his house were worn with the footsteps of the fatherless and the widow, the poor, the forlorn, the tempted and the disgraced, who came to him in their hours of trouble and sorrow.” No doubt he made mistakes, some of them grave enough—as, for example, his persistent opposition to the frequentation of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge by young Catholic men and his abortive and costly attempt to supply the loss of academical training by a college of higher studies at Kensington under the direction of Monsignor Capel. But it is certainly true that the active part which he played in every department of social reform revealed him not only as a great philanthropist and a great churchman, but also as a statesman of no mean order. It was said by an able writer, upon the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of his consecration: “To him, more than to any man, it is due that English Catholics have at last outgrown the narrow cramped life of their past of persecution, and stand in all things upon a footing of equality with their fellow countrymen.” No doubt this happy result was largely due to Manning; but perhaps it was more largely due to another. The revelation of his inner life which John Henry Newman thought himself obliged to put before his countrymen in order to vindicate himself from the wanton attacks of Charles Kingsley, in 1864, came like a revelation to multitudes of what Catholicism as a religion really is. The “Apologia pro Vita Sua” was like a burst of sunlight putting to flight the densest mists of Protestant prejudice. And the “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk” (1875), in reply to Gladstone’s pamphlet on the Vatican decrees which appeared in 1874, may be said to have made an end of the old error that a loyal Catholic cannot be a loyal Englishman. It was enough for Newman to affirm that there was no incompatibility between the two characters. His countrymen believed him on his word. Lord Morley of Blackburn, a very competent judge, writes: “Newman raised his Church to what would, not so long before, have seemed a strange and incredible rank in the mind of Protestant England” (Miscellanies, Fourth Series, p. 161).
Herbert Vaughan, who succeeded Cardinal Manning in the See of Westminster, ruled the diocese as archbishop, and the province as metropolitan for nearly eleven years. It was reserved for him to take up a work which his predecessor had put aside—the erection of a cathedral for Westminster. The first public act which Manning had to perform after his nomination to the archbishopric—it was even before his consecration—was to preside over a meeting summoned to promote the building of a cathedral in memory of Cardinal Wiseman. He declared on that occasion: “It is a work which I will take up and will to the utmost of my power promote—when the work of the poor children in London is accomplished, and not till then.” This work for the poor Catholic children of London—provision for their education in their religion—was Cardinal Manning’s life-work; and before he passed away it was accomplished. The building of the cathedral he left, as he announced in 1874, to his successor. The magnificent fane conceived by the genius of John Francis Bentley may, in some sort, be considered as Cardinal Vaughan’s monument, as being the outcome of his energy and zeal. It is a memorial of him, as well as of Cardinal Wiseman.
So much must suffice regarding the history of Catholicism in England from the so-called Reformation to the present day. We now proceed to give some account of the actual position of the Church in that country. We have already seen that in 1850 Pope Pius IX reconstituted the hierarchy, making England one ecclesiastical province under the metropolitan See of Westminster, with the twelve suffragan Sees of Southwark, Hexham and Newcastle, Beverley, Liverpool, Salford, Newport and Menevia, Clifton, Plymouth, Nottingham, Birmingham, and Northampton. In 1878 the Diocese of Beverley was divided into the Dioceses of Leeds and Middlesborough; in 1882 the Diocese of Southwark was divided into the Dioceses of Southwark and Portsmouth, and in 1895 Wales, excepting Glamorganshire, was separated from the Diocese of Newport and Menevia, and formed into the Vicariate Apostolic of Wales. Three years later this vicariate was erected into the Diocese of Menevia, so that the Archbishop of Westminster now has fifteen suffragans. Hitherto, since the Reformation, England had been regarded as a missionary country and had been immediately subject to the Congregation of Propaganda. But Pius X, by his Constitution, “Sapienti Consilio”, transferred (1908) England from that state of tutelage to the common law of the Church.
The number of priests, secular and regular, in England, according to the most recent list, is three thousand five hundred and twenty-four, and the number of churches, chapels, and institutes, one thousand seven hundred and thirty-six. Of the regulars who are over a thousand in number, many are French exiles, and a considerable number of them are not engaged in parochial or missionary work. There are three hundred and eleven monasteries and seven hundred and eighty-three convents, a great increase during the half-century which has passed away since 1851, when there were only seventeen monasteries and fifty-three convents. During the same period many churches of imposing proportions, adorned with more or less magnificence, have been erected. Conspicuous among them is the cathedral of Westminster of which mention has been already made. It is in the Byzantine style and is certainly one of the noblest of modern religious edifices. Nearly two hundred and fifty thousand pounds have already been expended on it, and, although still unfinished, it has been open for daily use since Christmas, 1903.
Catholics in England are still subject to various legal disabilities. We have already seen that by the Bill of Rights (I Will. and Mary st. 2, c. 2) no member of the reigning house who is a Catholic, or has married a Catholic, can succeed to the throne, that the sovereign, on becoming a Catholic, or marrying a Catholic, thereby forfeits the crown, and that the Act of Settlement (12 and 13 Will. III, c. 2, s. 2), by which the succession was confined to the descendants of the Electress Sophia, being Protestants, confirms this article of the Constitution. This last-mentioned statute further enacts “that whosoever shall hereafter come to the possession of the Crown of England shall join in communion with the Church of England as by law established”. The Emancipation Act (10 Geo. IV, c. 7), which was largely a disabling Act, provides that nothing contained in it “shall extend or be construed to enable any person otherwise than he is now by law entitled, to hold the office of Lord Chancellor of England or Lord Lieutenant of Ireland“, and the common opinion is that Catholics cannot now fill these great positions, but this view appears questionable. The point is discussed at length in Lilly and Wallis’s “Manual of the Law specially affecting Catholics”, pp. 36-43. The Emancipation Act also contains sections imposing fresh disabilities upon “Jesuits and members of other religious orders, communities or Societies of the Church of Rome, bound by monastic or religious vows”. These sections have never been put in force; still, as they remain on the statute book, they have the serious effect of disabling religious orders of men from holding property. An Act of 1860 (23 and 24 Viet., c. 134) has, however, somewhat mitigated this hardship, as also a like hardship regarding bequests for what are deemed superstitious uses, such as Masses for the dead. Such bequests are held by English law to be void, but the Irish courts do not follow the English on this point. It should be noted that up to the passing of the Emancipation Act, trusts for the promotion of Catholic charities were held to be illegal. Nor did that enactment expressly refer to them, so that three years later, in order to remove all doubts concerning them, the Roman Catholic Charities Act was passed, by which such charities were made subject to the same laws as Protestant Dissenting charities. The English law as to trusts for Catholic purposes, which are neither charitable nor void as being for “superstitious uses” or for support of forbidden orders, is the same as that which applies to other bequests which are lawful but not charitable.
The only other Catholic disability which need be noticed here is that no person in Holy orders of the Church of Rome is capable of being elected to serve in Parliament as a Member of the House of Commons. This disability is shared by the clergymen of the Church of England, who, however, can escape from it by the legal process vulgarly, though incorrectly, called renouncing their orders, but not by Protestant Dissenting ministers.
It should be noticed that in England provision is made for securing religious liberty for pauper and criminal Catholics. In every workhouse a creed register is kept in which the religion of every inmate is entered by the master, upon admission, and the Guardians of the Poor are empowered to appoint Catholic clergymen, at suitable salaries, to minister to the Catholic paupers. Similarly, Catholic chaplains may be appointed in public lunatic asylums. Catholic pauper children may be transferred from the work-house schools to schools of their own religion, and, if boarded out, provision is made for their attending the Catholic church. Catholic ministers to prisons are appointed by the Home Secretary, and are duly remunerated. There are sixteen commissioned army chaplains paid by the State. In the Navy there are twenty-three Catholic chaplains, and a hundred and thirty priests receive capitation allowances.
We go on to say some words on Catholic education in England since the Reformation. Of course it hardly existed when the penal laws were enforced in their full rigor. The clergy, as we have seen, were trained abroad at Rome, at Douai, at Lisbon, at Valladolid. The young laity benefited in intermittent and uncertain fashion by the teaching of the priests. Shakespeare, whom there is strong reason for accounting a Catholic (see Lilly’s “Studies in Religion and Literature”), was “reared up”, according to an old tradition, by an old Benedictine monk, Dom Thomas Combe, or Coombes. In Pope‘s time a few Catholic schools were found here and there, and he was sent to one of them, a “Roman Catholic seminary”, it is called, at Twyford, kept by Thomas Deane, an ex-fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. But these “seminaries” were carried on with difficulty, being illegal, and it was not until the outbreak of the French Revolution that much was effected for the cause of Catholic education in England. The professors and pupils of the University of Douai, after enduring many hardships, returned to England in 1795, some going to Herefordshire, in the South, and some to Tudhoe, in the North. The Herefordshire establishment developed in time into St. Edmund’s College. The school founded at Tudhoe, and removed first to Crook Hill, has expanded into the great college of Ushaw, which now also serves as a seminary for the five northern Dioceses of Hexham and Newcastle, Leeds, Middlesborough, Salford, and Shrewsbury. Thus these two noble institutions may claim as their far-off founder Cardinal Allen. The magnificent Jesuit college of Stonyhurst may in like manner derive its origin from Father Persons, for it was founded by the religious who fled from the house established by him at St-Omer. The not less magnificent college of Downside is the descendant of St. Gregory’s, Douai, i.e. of the Benedictine monastery and college founded there in 1606. The monks fleeing from the fury of the French Revolution were received at Acton Burnell in Shropshire by Sir Edward Smith who had been one of their pupils. It was in 1814 that they settled at Downside. The great college of Oscott is now a seminary in which priests are trained for the southern dioceses and is under the joint direction of the Archbishop of Westminster and the Bishops of Birmingham, Clifton, Menevia, Newport, Northampton, and Portsmouth.
St. Joseph‘s Missionary College was founded by Cardinal Vaughan, who ever took the deepest interest in it, and who is buried in the grounds. Of Catholic higher schools two deserve special mention; that at Edgbaston, founded by Cardinal Newman, and that at Beaumont, established by the Jesuits. Until 1895 Catholic young men were discouraged—nay were inhibited, without special permission of the ecclesiastical authorities—from frequenting the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, but in that year a letter from the Congregation of Propaganda to Cardinal Vaughan announced that the Holy See had removed this restriction, the bishops, however, being enjoined to make proper provision for Catholic worship and instruction for Catholic young men resorting to these ancient seats of learning. Elementary education has also been largely provided for by Catholics in England. Before the Protestant Reformation all the great monasteries had, attached to them, primary schools for poor children. These of course disappeared with the monasteries. In the eighteenth century a number of Protestant charity schools were founded, but it was not until the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century that provision for elementary public instruction began to be recognized as a public duty. In 1833 a Parliamentary grant was first made “for the purpose” of education. It was divided between two Protestant societies, the British and Foreign School, which ignored dogmatic religious teaching, and the National, which represented the Church of England. In 1847 Catholic elementary schools, which had much increased in numbers, were admitted to share in the government grant, and the Catholic Poor School Committee was founded to supervise and direct them, a duty which this body, now called the Catholic Education Council, still fulfils.
Catholic journalism in England is zealously represented by “The Tablet” newspaper, which was founded so long ago as 1840. It is published weekly. Other Catholic journals are the “Catholic Times”, “Catholic Weekly”, “Catholic Herald”, “Catholic News”, and “Universe”. The chief Catholic review is the “Dublin Review”, founded by Cardinal Wiseman, long edited by W. G. Ward, and now by his son Mr. Wilfrid Ward. It is published quarterly. “The Month”, a magazine of general literature edited by Fathers of the Society of Jesus, is issued monthly, as its name denotes. An extremely important publication is the “Catholic Directory”, which in its present form dates from the year 1838. But for nearly a century previously there had been a Directory which, however, in its earliest issues was merely an Ordo, or Calendar, for the use of priests reciting Office.
It remains now to speak of certain Catholic societies existing in England. In the first place mention must be made of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, founded in 1871. The earliest meeting recorded in the minute book was held at Norfolk House, on the 10th of February of that year, when it was unanimously agreed, that a Society of Catholics be founded, under the title of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, to promote all Catholic interests, especially the restoration of the Holy Father to his lawful Sovereign rights”. The establishment of the society was sanctioned by the archbishops and bishops of England and by the vicars Apostolic of Scotland (the hierarchy in that country was not restored until 1878), and was emphatically approved by Pius IX. In the rules of the Catholic Union the following means of effecting its objects are specified: “1. By meetings of the Union and of the Council; 2. By public meetings; 3. By petitions or memorials, or deputations to the Authorities; 4. By local branches; 5. By correspondence with similar societies in other countries; 6. By procuring and publishing information on subjects of interest to Catholics; 7. By cooperation with approved Confraternities, Institutions, and Charitable Associations, for the furtherance of their respective objects; which cooperation shall, in each case, be sanctioned by the Bishop of the Diocese; 8. By any other mode approved of by the Council and the Bishops.” For thirty-seven years the Catholic Union has worked steadily and successfully on the lines thus indicated. It has also been of great utility in affording advice and assistance to Catholics, especially the clergy, in matters of doubt and difficulty, legal and administrative. It is governed by a president and council elected by the general body of members. From the first the office of president has been held by the Duke of Norfolk, and for many years the Marquis of Ripon has been the vice-president. On its list of members will be found most British Catholics of position and influence.
The Catholic Truth Society was founded in 1884 by the late Cardinal Vaughan, then rector of the Foreign Missionary College at Mill Hill, and has since had a career of much usefulness. Its main objects are to disseminate among Catholics small and cheap devotional works; to assist the uneducated poor to a better knowledge of their religion; to spread among Protestants information about Catholic truth; to promote the circulation of good, cheap, and popular Catholic books. It holds every year a Conference for the elucidation and discussion of questions affecting the work of the Catholic Church in England. During the twenty years of its existence it has issued publications, great and small, at the rate of about a million a year. It has formed a lending library of books for the blind; and it has a collection of about forty sets of lantern views, with accompanying readings on subjects connected with Catholic faith and history. It has been copied by societies bearing the same names in Scotland and Ireland, in the United States, Canada, Bombay, and Australia.
The Catholic Association was originally founded in 1891. Its objects are stated in its Rules as being “(I) To promote unity and good fellowship among Catholics by organizing lectures, concerts, dances, whist tournaments, excursions, and other gatherings of a social character, and (II) to assist, whenever possible, in the work of Catholic organization, and in the protection and advancement of Catholic interests.” It has been particularly successful in the organization of pilgrimages to Rome and other places of Catholic interest.
We cannot better bring to an end this brief survey of the career of Catholicism in England since the Protestant Reformation than in some eloquent and touching words with which Abbot Gasquet concludes his “Short History of the Catholic Church in England”:—”When we recall the state to which the long years of persecution had reduced the Catholic body at the dawn of the nineteenth century, we may well wonder at what has been accomplished since then. Who shall say how it has come about? Where out of our poverty, for example, have been found the sums of money for all our innumerable needs? Churches and colleges and schools, monastic buildings and convents, have all had to be built and supported; how, the Providence of God can alone explain…. From the first years of the nineteenth century, when the principle `suffer it to be’ was applied to the English Catholic Church, there have been signs of the dawn of the brighter, happier days for the old religion. Slight indeed were the signs at first, slight but significant, and precious memories to us now, of the workings of the Spirit, of the rising of the sap again in the old trunk, and of the bursting of bud and bloom in manifestation of that life which, during the long winter of persecution, had been but dormant. Succisa virescit. Cut down almost to the ground, the tree planted by Augustine has manifested again the divine life within it; it has put forth once more new branches and leaves, and gives promise of abundant fruit.”
W. S. LILLY
It is not unfitting to compare English Literature to a great tree whose far spreading and ever fruitful branches have their roots deep down in the soil of the past. Over such a tree, since the small beginnings of its growth, many vicissitudes of climate have passed; periods of storm, of calm, of sunshine, and of rain; of bitter winds and of genial life-bearing breezes; each change leaving its trace behind in the growth and development of the living plant. It is obvious, then, that to present the complete history of such an organism in a few pages is impossible; all that can be attempted in this article is to describe the main lines of its life.
It should not be forgotten, at the outset, that English literature has been no isolated growth. It has sprung from the common Aryan root, has branched off from the primal stem, and has received, and continues to receive, in the course of its growth, multitudinous influences from other literatures growing up around it, as well as from those of an earlier time. Yet, as Freeman said, “We are ourselves, and not somebody else”, and one of the most remarkable things about English literature is its power of assimilation. Latin, French, Italian, Greek Spanish literatures, to name only a few, have poured their influences upon us, not once only, but time after time leaving their trace, and yet our character, our language, our literature, remain unmistakably English. The ancestors of the English (the Teutonic tribes of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and some Frisians) spent nearly one hundred and fifty years (455 to 600) in the conquest of the island from the British tribes who had been abandoned by the Roman colonizers nearly fifty years earlier, in 410. Little by little these fierce and hardy heathen tribes, after much fighting among themselves for the supremacy, settled down, and a slow process of civilization made itself felt among them. Christianity, preached by St. Augustine in 597, bringing in its train education, science, and the arts, was the main factor in this refining change. Such British tribes as had escaped the English destroyer remained for a time almost entirely apart, though they and their literature were afterwards to have no small influence upon the literary development of England.
It is not unlikely that the written literature may have begun as early as the sixth century, but at any rate, by the middle of the seventh century the traces of it are clear in the work of Caedmon, according to the testimony of Bede. Between this date and the Norman Conquest, Anglo-Saxon or Old English writers (recent scholars often prefer the latter term as preserving the idea of continuity) produce a body of literature in prose and verse such as was furnished by no other Teutonic nation either in amount or quality during the same centuries. There are extant at least 20,000 lines of verse, and of prose somewhat more. It is almost certain, too, that a good deal has been lost. The language in which we possess it is English of the oldest form, before any notable foreign admixture had taken place. The verse, with rare exceptions, is of the Teutonic alliterative type. Speaking generally, this body of literature may be classed under two great periods: the first, when the monasteries of Northumbria were the homes of learning, between about 670 and 800, when, according to the legend, Caedmon, a lay brother of Whitby, received the gift of poetry and passed it on to not unworthy followers; and the second, from the time of King Alfred (871), with some spaces of interruption, to the early part of the eleventh century, when literature, driven from the North by the Danes, came South and spoke in prose of the vernacular. In all this work, more particularly in the verse, there is great variety. Growth may be traced and changes of style.
Putting aside minor verse we come first upon the “Beowulf”, a narrative poem which, together with a few other fragments, is all we have of the old English epic. It seems clear that the matter of it is much older than its present form. It is a storehouse of the thinking and feeling of the forefathers of the English people when they were still heathen and before they came to Britain, even though the poem may not have been actually put together in its present form until the ninth or tenth century. It gives a picture of very great interest of certain aspects of the actual life of the the sufferings of the people from the Danes, the author people. The English temper of mind at its best, enduring and heroic, pervades it throughout.
But this was before Christianity and the monasteries. After the introduction of the new religion the first important record of literature comes under the patriarchal name of Caedmon. It is clear from recent research that Caedmon himself only wrote a very small portion of the so-called Caedmonian poems, but the story of his vision, given by Bede, even if only legend, testifies clearly that the first poetry produced in England began among the people and in religion. The chief interest of the work lies, not in the actual subject-matter, Scriptural paraphrase, but in the way the matter is treated, a Teutonic aspect being frequently given to the narrative. The craving for freedom, the exultation in war, the longing for moral goodness, the respect for women, all these and many other things come out in the rendering of the “Fall of the Angels”, the “Temptation of Man“, and elsewhere. It is quite clear that several hands have worked at the Caidmonian poems, but in the next great group, a hundred years later, we come upon one individual poet who has signed at least four poems with his name, Cynewulf, and he insists upon our knowing him as the Ancient Mariner constrained the Wedding Guest. He reveals his personality, he becomes real to us. His poems are religious, and perhaps the finest is the “Christ”. He is a poet of high order. Among the rest of Old English poetry the elegies and the war poems stand out as the most original.
Old English prose, if we except St. Bede‘s lost translation of St. John’s Gospel, groups itself round two names, those of Alfred and Aelfric. Alfred (849-901) was eager for his people’s education, and his literary work consists chiefly of translations of important books of his time: Gregory the Great’s “Pastoral Care”, Orosius’s “History of the World”, Boethius’s “Consolation of Philosophy“, and (probably done under his superintendence) Bede‘s “Ecclesiastical History” and Bishop Werfrith’s “Dialogues”. To some of these he added prefaces and notes in simple, unaffected English, which make us realize his remarkable and lovable character, both as man and king.
Many years after, Aelfric (c. 955-1025), Abbot of Eynsham, a much more cultivated scholar, and a more finished, though not more attractive, prose writer than Alfred, put forth volumes of homilies, saints’ lives, translations of books of the Old Testament, and other works, which were greatly and justly prized by his hearers and readers.
The “Old English Chronicle”, of which there are seven MSS., a record of events in England from the sixth century to 1154, was meanwhile being written in the monasteries, undisturbed by the many changes passing over England. It is almost certain that Alfred encouraged this work and set it on a surer foundation, perhaps himself adding portions of the record where it concerned his own reign. One other piece of prose literature must be mentioned. In Wulfstan’s “Address to the English”, with its vivid indignation at is often as impassioned as an English reformer might be over the abuses of present-day society. It brings us up in date to the last half-century before the Norman Conquest.
The Norman Conquest is as important in the history of English literature as in that of England’s political and social life. It brought a new and invigorating influence to bear upon the English genius, though in the immediate present of the eleventh century it seemed a crushing disaster for the nation. For nearly one hundred and fifty years the race, the language, and the literature of the people were apparently stifled. It seemed as if everything became Norman-French. But as long as the down-trodden English kept life in them the springs of poetry and art could not dry up; and though Robert of Gloucester says that only “low men” held to English at this time, yet there were a good many of these “low men”, and we have proof that the native population had still their songs and their wandering bards, while in certain of the monasteries the monks went on chronicling events in their mother tongue much as they had done when a Saxon king had ruled England. The continuity of native verse and prose was never really broken, and just as the English race was at last to absorb its foreign conquerors, and to gain infinitely more than it had suffered from them, so English language and literature were by the same means to be enriched and ennobled to an extent no one then looking on could have dreamed of.
Yet at first literature was apparently silenced, and until the beginning of the thirteenth century there is no writing of much importance except the “Old English Chronicle”, which ends in 1154. There was, of course, writing in Latin and in French, and the French was even looked upon by some as likely to be more enduring than the Latin. But the Latin writing was in reality no enemy to English; it was the tongue, then as now, of the Church, and it was the medium for communication between scholars and the language of nearly all books of scholarship. The native work, however, never quite disappearing, revives unmistakably at the beginning of the thirteenth century, and between that date and the death of Chaucer in 1400 there is produced a great mass of literature of endless variety but of varying value.
We come then to the Middle Ages, called “of Faith“; the age of the Crusades, “of cathedrals, tournaments, old colored glass, and other splendid things”—the age to which, in times of dryness, artists, lovers of romance, as well as pious souls of all kinds, have often looked back and have drawn from it fresh inspiration. It has stimulated in modern times new and noble movements in art and in poetry, and its power of inspiration is not yet exhausted. It was an age of contrasts, of faith and of unbelief, of extraordinary saintliness and of strange wickedness, of reverence and of ribaldry. It was the great Catholic age, when the sacred robe of the Church, spotted though it might be in places through human frailty, was still unrent, whole, and she herself was everywhere acknowledged in Europe as the Divinely appointed mother of men. The history of English literature from the beginning of its revival in the thirteenth century is first that of transition (up to about 1250) then of development for about eighty years, in which the work is largely anonymous, finally, a period of achievement, the second half of the fourteenth century, in which individual writers of power begin to emerge, and among them one supreme artist, Geoffrey Chaucer. We trace, too, during these ages the rise of the drama in the miracle-and morality-plays.
On the threshold of the revival stand two works: “The Brut” (1205), a poem of 30,000 lines concerning the history of Britain, written by Layamon, a patriotic English priest of Worcester; full of more or less historical stories, partly translated from French sources and written in an alliterative meter; and it gives us the first account in English of King Arthur, the British hero. The second, a religious work, “The Ormulum”, a series of metrical homilies upon the daily Gospels of the Church, was written by Ormin, an Augustinian canon. After this the stream of English literature is continued in poems of great variety, of which many are lyrics. In “The Owl and the Nightingale”, a delightful poem standing at the end of this “transition period”, we have a happy combination of old and new elements which have already begun to form a fresh native poetry. Nor had prose been idle; one of the most interesting books of the time is the “Ancren Riwle” (q.v.), a series of exhortations on their rule for a community of Dorsetshire nuns.
Passing on over these fifty years we are met by a further outpouring of literary work, abundant and various, if not remarkably original, poetry always taking the chief place. The main kinds of literature in this period of quick development are romances; tales; religious works (legends of saints, treatises and homilies on morality and religion); the great book called “Cursor Mundi“; historical writings; lyrics of love and religion, and songs of political and social life. In all this, French influence is very strong, but there gradually appear among it English elements which are now beginning to hold of the thirteenth century, and their own. The romances concerned with the adventures of well-known heroes are most prominent among all this literature, and the these in some cases are translated directly from the French, though never without English touches. The religious work of this time is edifying, but the prose homilies and treatises are sometimes very long and commonplace. Yet a simple faith and tender piety, together with a most sane sense of humor and some imagination, make the religious writings not unfrequently attractive, even from the literary point of view. But regarded as literature, the lyrics of the thirteenth century are perhaps the most remarkable. They are native, and though they bear the marks of artistic culture in their matter, they remind us more of the country than the town. There is a real though un-self-conscious love of nature in them, and the promise of that peculiar and fine quality of the later English lyric which is one of the glories of our literature. Nature, love, and religion are the inspiration of these little medieval poems.
This multitudinous work formed a discipline and preparation, and resulted in the achievements of the latter half of the century. The period 1360 to 1400 is marked by a strong reassertion of the national spirit, and in literature there is a curious reappearance of the Old English alliterative verse after 300 years of apparent neglect. Amongst other poems in this meter there are four by an anonymous writer of high poetic power, one of them, “The Pearl”, of great beauty and of deep religious feeling. To this alliterative class belongs too the well-known “Piers the Plowman”. Chaucer’s work, coming almost at the same time, has to some extent overshadowed this poem, but as a picture of the society and ideals of the time it forms a complement to Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”. In “Piers the Plowman” we have that grave outlook upon life which marks the English character at its best, carried almost to excess. The author (or authors, we ought now to say, for it has been recently proved that at least three writers must have had a hand in its making) looks upon the society of his time as a “realist”. He describes the world almost entirely on its dark side, and though the remedies he offers are good (“Love is the physician of Life“), and though he never altogether loses his belief in a Divine over-ruling order, yet there is an accent of uncertainty and sometimes of despair in his voice.
Chaucer (1340-1400), on the other hand, does not care for problems of life or dark thinking. His picture of society is, on the whole, from its bright side, when men are out on holiday, and when over-seriousness would seem out of place. Poetically, and in its structure, “Piers the Plowman” is much below Chaucer’s work, but its forcefulness, its pathos, its sincerity, its grim humor, its realistic descriptiveness, and its dramatic moments make it a great poem. Chaucer’s work marks the full flowering of English literature in the Middle Ages, and it was he who first raised English poetry to a European position. It is the custom of historians of literature to divide the literary life of Chaucer into a French, an Italian, and an English period, according as his work was influenced by the manner of each national literature. This division represents a fact if it be remembered that he carried on, all through his career, certain of the lessons he had learned from the foreign source in the earlier time. There is little doubt that the impulse to write verse came to Chaucer from France. Old English literature was practically unknown to him, but he was saturated with French poetry, for the literature of France was then, outside the classics, the most influential in Europe. Among many shorter poems of this early time, the very first of which is a hymn to the Blessed Virgin, the translation (in part) of the long French allegorical poem of the “Romance of the Rose”, and his original and most interesting elegy on the “Death of Blanche the Duchess”, are the most important. It is, however, after he has come upon the literature of Italy—Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio—that his true genius begins to show itself. “Troilus and Cressida”, “The Parlement of Foules”, “The House of Fame”, and “The Legend of Good Women” (the two last unfinished), as well as some of the “Canterbury Tales”, belong to this time. They show him as a true artist, feeling his way through experiment to greater perfection of work and developing his unique sense of humor. Then, in the later years of his life, he strikes upon the fruitful idea of the Canterbury pilgrimage as a framework in which to show the full power of his art in his picture of the life of his own, and, to some extent of all, time; and into this frame he fitted tales he had already written, as well as new ones. But, of it all, nothing exceeds the power and truth of the “Prologue” to the “Tales”. His picture of life and the commentary upon it comes straight out of his own observation and character. As he saw men so he fearlessly portrays them, the good, the bad, the indifferent. A few of his tales reflect the coarseness of the time, and it is just possible that the apology placed at the end of the MS. of “The Parson’s Tale” was written by himself at the close of his life. But, however that may be, over all he writes he throws his own sunny humor and wide charity, and in this as in the width of his sympathies he is not unworthy to be named with Shakespeare. He is the one supreme literary artist before Spenser, and the best brief summary of him and his work is given in that proverb quoted by Dryden in his criticism of Chaucer, “Here is God‘s plenty”. The name of John Gower (1330-1408) is linked by custom with that of Chaucer, but we recognize now what his contemporaries did not, that Gower’s lengthy books in verse are the work rather of an expert journeyman than of a genius. But we may legitimately class together the two writers in their influence on the language. Both being widely read, they helped to make the East Midland dialect in which they wrote the literary language of England, and by their choice or rejection of French words welded the language into greater stability and unity. The English language, at the end of the fourteenth century, had begun to assume nearly that modern form we know. People, language, and literature had now become wholly English.
After reviewing this brilliant half-century of poetry, the prose of the same time seems a poor matter. There is no great progress to record, nothing really original of importance was written, and the style follows Latin models rather than the simpler natural manner of the Old English prose. Chaucer wrote prose which in its mediocrity is a curious contrast to his poetry. Sir John Mandeville’s “Travels” was a translation of an amusing book, and Wyclif’s translation or paraphrase of the Vulgate (in which, however, several other hands than his own had a share), together with his vigorous but heretical tracts and sermons, form the chief prose work of this time.
After the death of Chaucer, poetry declined in quality with strange swiftness. For the next one hundred and fifty years there is no great poet; the art of poetry, chiefly owing to the scarcity of native poetical genius, but also partly to the swift changes the language was undergoing and to the carelessness of those who attempted verse, ceased to be finely exercised. The tradition of Chaucer almost disappeared. In the earlier part of the fifteenth century Lydgate (1370?-1451?) and Hoccleve (1370-1450?) tried to follow in the footsteps of the master they revered, but frankly recognized their own failure. Their voluminous and mediocre work, especially Lydgate’s, is not without interest to the student, but certain anonymous poets, such as the authors of “The Flower and the Leaf” and “London Lickpenny” (formerly given to Lydgate), succeeded better than they, and the latter poem shows that Chaucer’s power of social satire had not disappeared. Satire, as always in the decline after a rich imaginative period of verse, came to the front as subject-matter for verse, and later in the century the scathing verse of John Skelton (1460?-1529), though poor as art, is of interest in the light it throws upon the social life of the times. This poet and Stephen Hawes (d. 1523?), who tried in the “Pastime of Pleasure” to revive the old allegorical style, are the only English names of any note in verse in the latter part of the century. In Scotland, however, the followers of Chaucer, of whom the chief were King James I, Dunbar, Henryson, and Gawain Douglas, were producing and continued to produce poetry worthy of immortality.
Fifteenth-century prose was less barren than the poetry of the age. Since the Conquest, nearly all serious subject-matter, with few exceptions, had been written of in Latin, but with the invention of printing, and as the power to read and write spread downwards, English prose became more widely recognized as a medium for the treatment of many varied as well as more popular kinds of matter. Four names—Pecock, Fortescue, Caxton, Malory—are recognized as leaders of this movement, but out of their work only Sir Thomas Malory‘s has become classic. His “Morte D’Arthur”, which draws together as many stories and series of stories about King Arthur as he could lay hands upon, is a work of genius, and remains a living book. Its matter is of great intrinsic value and interest, but it is the beauty of its strange childlike style, its un-self-conscious appreciation of lovely and noble things in man and nature, and its underlying religious mysticism, which make it a book of the first order.
The medieval drama, which grew up during these centuries, was, with one or two exceptions, not the work of poets or literary artists, yet it was one of the most educative influences of the time. Beginning in connection with the liturgy of the Church, there gradually developed a whole cycle of religious plays, showing forth the history of the world from the Creation to the Last Judgment. These, acted in a series, in public places of the towns, at certain great church festivals, provided as much instruction as amusement. There is no doubt that, in spite of passages in them which may now seem to us materialistic or irreverent, these simple and rude dramatic representations, both. miracle-plays and the later developed moralities, pressed home great religious truths upon the people. From the point of view of the development of drama, we may say that English tragedy and comedy have, at least to some extent, their roots in these crude plays in doggerel verse.
Leaving the Middle Ages behind us, we come now to the threshold of the most fateful epoch in the history of the English people—the disruption of the Church, or the so-called “Reformation“. This was preceded and accompanied by the earlier movement called the “Renaissance“, which, having opened up fresh branches of classical learning, more especially that of Greek poetry and philosophy, awakened and stimulated the human mind both to good and to evil. In England the “New Learning” movement, in the hands of men like More and Colet tended to enlightenment and true learning. The “Utopia” of Sir Thomas More, a book of the noblest ideals, represents its spirit at the best. But the effect of the Renaissance on the manners and morals of those Englishmen who came back imbued with its intoxication from Italy, was much lamented by contemporary writers, as we find in Ascham’s “Schoolmaster”. Yet it is to this acquaintance with Italy and its literature that we owe the revival of English poetry after its long relapse since the death of Chaucer. In the work of Sir Thomas Wyatt and of the Earl of Surrey, young men who had studied and felt the beauty and power of the great Italian poets, we discover a new beginning, a new poetic art. It was yet uncertain of itself, experimental, hesitating, and not engaged with deep or very noble subject-matter, but, while observing certain common laws of scansion and diction which the last one hundred years had ignored, attempted new and better melodies.
The publication of Totters “Miscellany” in 1557. which contains the work of these two poets, marks an epoch in literature. It set up a standard of poetic art below which no future work could sink. The literary world of that age grew full of expectation looking for a new poet who should embody still more fully the poetic ideals of the time.
The new poet came in Edmund Spenser (1552-1599). Seldom has a young writer been so immediately recognized and acclaimed by the accredited literary judges of his own time as Spenser was. And posterity has agreed with their judgment. He forms the second great landmark in English poetry after Chaucer, from whom he received inspiration. He had been bred in the stimulating atmosphere of the new learning and was greatly influenced by classic and Italian literature, but he also appreciated earlier English literature, and the only master he openly acknowledged was Chaucer. Spenser’s poetry throughout is of wonderful beauty in its art, and is marked by nobility of aim, purity of spirit, and reverence for religion. His “minor poems” are many, and as Professor Saintsbury remarks, would be “major poems” for any smaller poet. He was, for example, a satirist of no mean order and a sonneteer, but in the general judgment, and rightly, Spenser is the poet of the “Faerie Queene”. All his special powers are shown there, and all his character, one might almost say all his history. The large allegorical ground-plan of the “Faerie Queene”, not half completed., interesting as it is, does not form tire great attraction of the poem. That lies in the pure and appealing beauty of the versification, in the varied and glorious description, often minutely detailed, in the wealth of imagination, and in the impassioned love of everything beautiful which enthrals the reader as it did the poet. That there are flaws in the poem goes without saying, more especially as Spenser died leaving it half finished.
The complete plan of the work cannot be gathered from the poem itself. Spenser’s letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, prefixed to all editions, is necessary to make it clear. “The center falls outside the circle.” For Catholics, too, the historical allegory is seriously marred by the anti-Catholic bias of the poet’s time. In places, the Church is bitterly assailed, though in other passages Spenser clearly deprecates the desecration of monasteries, churches, altars, and images as the work of the “Blatant Beast of Calumny“. Nor does he give by any means undiluted approval to the Anglican Church or the Puritans. Modern criticism, however, places little emphasis upon any portion of the historical allegory, regarding it as an antiquated hindrance rather than a living help to the true appreciation of the poem. The more purely spiritual elements of the allegory, such as the struggles of the human will against evil, aided by Divine power, are those which are valued by discerning readers. Considered in its essential aspect, the “Faerie Queene” is “the poem of the noble powers of the human soul struggling towards union with God“. Spenser holds the supreme place among a multitude of other poets of as real though of less genius than his in the sixteenth century, and the work of these, outside the drama, is perhaps seen at its best in the song and the sonnet, two forms which had now an extraordinary vogue. Nearly a dozen anthologies of Elizabethan lyrics, of which the finest is England’s “Helicon” (1600), remain to show us the sweetness, beauty, and rarity of these songs. The sonnets, one of the new Italian poetic forms, introduced by Surrey and Wyatt, are less original, and many of them are translations from foreign sources, but those of Sidney and Shakespeare, at least, stand out by their exceptional force and beauty.
Among the many lesser poets of the time Michael Drayton (1563-1631) has been singled out as especially representative of the general character of Elizabethan poetical genius. He wrote every sort of poetry that was the fashion except moral allegory. His work deserves more notice than is often given to it, and his name is sometimes only associated with his long historical poem of the “Polyolbion”. This type of poetry reflects the patriotism of the age, and Samuel Daniel and William Warner, both poets of some genius, also worked at it. The huge “Mirror for Magistrates”, begun in 1555, and not in its final edition until James I’s reign, had encouraged this kind of verse. Poetry of an argumentative and philosophic type was produced towards the end of the century, but very little of value that was religious, except the work of Robert Southwell. This heroic young Jesuit and martyr wrote with a high object: to show to the brilliant young poets of his time, whose love poems often expressed unworthy passion, “how well verse and virtue sort together”. And he did this by using the literary manner of the age, “weaving”, as he himself says, “a new web in their old loom”. His book had a distinct influence on contemporary and later poetry, touching even Ben Jonson and perhaps Milton himself. Its quaintness of wit (allying it somewhat to the “meta-physical” school of the next generation) are shot through with warm human feeling which makes its direct appeal to the reader. And sincerity is the very note of it all.
But it is, of course, in the drama that we find all the well-known poets—with the one exception of Spenser—putting forth their greatest force. The sudden rise of the drama in the latter half of the sixteenth century is the most remarkable phenomenon of this supremely remarkable literary age. It has never been fully accounted for. Many of the contemporary records concerning plays and the theatre have undoubtedly been lost, so that we have to form our own judgment of Elizabethan dramatic literature and its causes upon, comparatively speaking, insufficient grounds. Out of some 2000 plays known to have been acted, only about 500 exist, as far as we know, and discoveries of new contemporary testimony or work might revolutionize our judgment on the history of Elizabethan drama. However that may be, the facts, as we have them, are that in the earlier half of the sixteenth century we find scarcely any dramatic work that would enable us to foresee the rise of the great romantic drama. Miracle-plays were acted up to1579, but clearly no great development could come from these, and still less, perhaps, from the scholarly movement towards a so-called classical drama, imitations of the Latin comedies of Plautus and Terence, such as “Ralph Roister Doister”, named the “first English comedy”, or of the dramas of Seneca, as in “Gorboduc”, the “first English tragedy”. There was also a popular tragi-comic drama of a somewhat rude kind (such as Shakespeare travestied in the play of “Pyramus and Thisbe” in the “Midsummer Night’s Dream”), but this was no more prophetic than the others. Then suddenly there appear between 1580 and 1590 plays with life, invent ion, and imagination in them, often faulty enough, but living. The predecessors of Shakespeare, Peele, Greene, Kyd, and others, but most of all that wild and poetic genius, Marlowe, “whose raptures were all air and fire”, and who practically created our dramatic blank verse, prepare the way for Shakespeare. Rejecting, gradually, by a sort of instinct, those elements in the drama of the past that were alien to the English genius, they struck out, little by little, the now well-known type of Elizabethan romantic drama which in Shakespeare’s hands was to attain its highest. And Shakespeare’s genius made of it not only a vehicle for the expression of Elizabethan ideals of drama and of life, but a mouthpiece of humanity itself.
Shakespeare belongs not to England but to the whole world, and most modern nations have vied with each other in acute and wondering appreciation of his genius. A mass of critical literature has grown up round his name, discussing problems literary, artistic, personal, of every kind, and continues to grow. Shakespeare and his work furnish inexhaustible matter for meditation upon almost every human interest and problem. After his time there are some fine dramatists, but none can approach him in completeness and height of genius. Ben Jonson, Chapman, Webster, Ford, Massinger, and Shirley—the two last Catholic converts—with others, carry on the line of dramatic writing with genius, skill, and energy, but the glory gradually departs until one is led to think that if the theatres had not been closed in 1640 on account of the civil war they would have ceased of themselves for want of good plays. Not only had the technical skill in versification, dialogue, and plot decayed, but the moral tone had so much degenerated that most of the hard charges brought against the drama by the Puritans at this time seem well justified.
When we turn to Elizabethan prose we find it a much inferior and less practiced form of art than verse. No standard of good prose towards which writers might aim was recognized, and the masterpieces of the Elizabethan age are few. Hooker’s “Ecclesiastical Polity” has rightly, by its weighty argument and its grave eloquence, won a place among classics. Lyly in his two volumes of “Euphues” was the first, perhaps, to treat prose as equally worthy with poetry of artistic elaboration, and his book, a medley of story-telling and moralizing, often most excellent as well as interesting in its ethical musing, instituted a fashion of speech and writing from which for some years few writers stood aloof. Sir Philip Sidney’s “Arcadia”, a long pastoral romance of sentiment, however, broke the spell and in its turn created a vogue. The novels of this time follow the “Euphues” or the “Arcadia” in most examples, but there is also a third type in the work of Nash, the novel of wild and reckless adventure, which was afterwards to become famous in the greater work of Smollett. Criticism of poetry, history, often in the form of chronicles, geography, and adventure, such as in Hakluyt’s collection of “Voyages”, together with innumerable translations from classical and modern authors, were some of the matters treated in prose. In the novel, as in the drama, the foreign influences, especially those of Spain and Italy, are easy to trace. Though not of the first order of art, the Elizabethan prose is yet most attractive, for it reflects the varied interests and the complex character of the strange and wonderful time of the sixteenth century, and it exhibits in their early stages certain forms of literature, such as criticism and the novel, which were afterwards to develop into orders of the first importance. It is scarcely needful to say that Catholics, of necessity, in this epoch, for them, of disaster and persecution, took little part in the great output of literature.
From one point of view the history of English poetry would seem to be a record of action and reaction, of a struggle between one type of poetry and another, between that in which the matter delivered is all important, and that where correctness of form is the chief end at which the poets aim—between, in fact, the romantic and the classical schools. This general trend may be most clearly seen in the work of the crowd of secondary poets in any age, but the few who excel will be found to combine and reconcile in themselves, more or less, the opposing elements, though, naturally, both small and great poets will exhibit some individual bias, however slight, towards one type of work or another. This statement is practically true of the seventeenth century. In the very heart of the romantic poetry of the immediate successors of the Elizabethans, there arose, in the early years of the century, a few young men who began to write verse of another kind altogether, whose work was not developed to its full meaning, however, until Dryden took it up. Meanwhile, one matchless poet, John Milton, living through the greater part of the century, went his own way (“his soul was like a star and dwelt apart”), taking little notice of prevailing types or subject-matter, fusing romantic and classical elements into one superb kind of work that we can find no name for but “Miltonic”.
Before looking in any detail at seventeenth-century verse, it is well to glance at the general character of the age. It is a contrast to that which had preceded it. The Elizabethan time had been exuberant almost to intoxication, rejoicing in the great range of possibilities for human life that new knowledge, exploration, and learning seemed to open out before it. But over this mood at the end of the century there passed a change. Questioning succeeded the brilliant joy in things as they had appeared; self-consciousness followed the almost impersonal delight in life; the very foundations of religion, politics, and social life were called up for investigation. There had in reality always been a good deal of unrest beneath the surface, even after the settlement of these matters attempted and apparently in part accomplished by Elizabeth. Now the unrest increased, and a sceptical spirit, light or sad, according to the author’s temperament, pervades much of the most capable writing. At the same time there are religious writers who express both in prose and verse the best spirit of the Anglican Church when under the sway of Archbishop Laud, and now there rises also to its full height the great Puritan movement (already, however, split up into a growing number of sects), strongly and narrowly affirmative of certain views concerning Divine and human things, passing oftener than not into intolerance and wild fanaticism. Milton, on the whole, represents this movement at its best, though its weaknesses may be discovered, especially in his prose work, even in him.
At the beginning of the reign of James I we find the group of poets whose inspiration was Spenser, amongst whom the chief are the two Fletchers, William Browne, and George Wither. All have a sweetness and fullness in their work which links them to the Elizabethans. Passing on to the reign of Charles I, we are struck by a more widely spread order of poets, men who, at their best, are all more or less touched by the desire to find behind material objects an imaginative idea, “the search for the after-sense”, and who in trying to express that which they thought they found used an overabundance of imagery, sometimes beautiful, but often pedantic and fantastic to the point of absurdity. To these Dr. Johnson gave the name of “metaphysical”, and to see them at their worst one should look at his quotations from them in his “Life of Cowley”. The movement was not confined to England; Italy, France, and Spain had felt it earlier. John Donne (whose verse belongs in date to the reign of Elizabeth) is reckoned as the founder of this school in England. Herrick and the amorists known as “Cavalier Lyrists” form one group in it, and Crashaw, Herbert, and Vaughan, religious poets, together with Herrick, are the only ones whose work has secured immortality. Crashaw, a fervent Catholic convert, whose religious verses are often very beautiful, shows in a marked degree the great strength and the great weakness of this school. Professor Saintsbury, the most discerning critic of this poetical group, has said that if Crashaw “could but have kept himself at his best he would have been the greatest of English poets”. Of another Catholic poet, William Habington, Crashaw’s contemporary, but less than he, though occasionally writing fine passages, the same critic remarks that he is “creditably distinguished” from too many others “by a very strict and remarkable decency of thought and language”.
But this was poetry which could not develop; it was a kind of second crop from the Elizabethan field, and it gradually withered away. Some time before its end, certain young poets, several of whom had been in France, exiled with the Queen, Henrietta Maria, and had caught a new spirit, turned to fresh ways of verse. Edmund Waller (1605-1687) led the way as early as 1620. Denham, Cowley, and Davenant (a Catholic and romantic, brought up in the house of Lord Brooke, Sir Philip Sidney’s friend) followed him in varying degrees. These young poets initiated a change of far-reaching effect. In their hands poetry took on another aspect. It discarded nearly all forms of meter except the heroic couplet, refused to use any but rather commonplace imagery, and turning away from all passionate emotion, tended to treat of subjects which belonged to the intellect rather than to imagination or feeling. Satire or didactic poetry gradually usurped almost the whole field. But this was not accomplished in full until Dryden came. It was he who stamped this school with its leading marks, and gave the heroic couplet its “long resounding march and energy divine”. Yet the restricted and prosaic subject-matter of this verse—satiric, didactic, and argumentative work on religion (“The Hind and the Panther” was written in the cause of the Church) and politics—has made some critics deny to it, unjustly, the name of poetry. It is poetry of a certain restricted kind.
John Dryden (1631-1700), had he lived in a time more favorable to imaginative work, would have written verse more purely poetic. He had about him something of the amplitude, inventiveness, and freedom of the Elizabethans, and the history of his poetic development shows him passing from stage to stage of excellence. Though he was the crown and chief of the so-called “classical school”, he was indeed deeply tinged with romantic feeling, and he himself knew and acknowledged that poetry was capable of a higher flight and wider range than it had ever taken in his own day. He was, moreover, a man of many powers. He was a prolific dramatist, and his critical writings have made an epoch in the history of English prose. In the course of his life he changed his politics and his religion; and though doubts have been cast upon his good faith in this respect, the most recent criticism is of opinion that he had nothing but spiritual ends to gain by his conversion to Catholicism. It is unfortunate that we cannot exonerate him as an author from the charge of that sensuality which mars a good deal of his dramatic writing—it is no better and sometimes worse than the immoral though brilliantly witty drama of his time. He himself at the close of his life wrote a full apology for this trait in his work.
Dryden’s lines on Milton show the exalted estimate he had formed of his greater and earlier contemporary, and time has proved the general truth of it. The poetry of Milton (1608-1674) has become an English classic, and “Paradise Lost” has been translated into many tongues. It is regarded as the one great epic in English, and its fame has somewhat overshadowed that of Milton’s earlier work—”L’Allegro”, “Il Penseroso”, “Comus”, and “Lycidas”—poems within their own limits as perfect as anything he ever did. It is when we turn to his prose that we realize, from the immeasurable difference between it and his verse, how comparatively low the received standard of prose must have been. “Milton, the great architect of the paragraph and the sentence in verse, seems to be utterly ignorant of the laws of both in prose, or at least utterly incapable or careless of obeying those laws.” Yet it contains some splendid passages more like poetry than prose, but the controversial matter which is the subject of most of it—to say nothing of its often violent manner—is scarcely interesting to the present generation. Prose in the seventeenth century had an eventful history, and in spite of the lack of a high common standard, produced some masterpieces. At the beginning of it there is the weighty work of Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), embracing in many volumes matters of natural science, philosophy, history, ethics, worldly wisdom, even fiction, and in the “Essays” and the “Advancement of Learning” especially, adding to English classics. Lord Clarendon’ s “History” presents a noble gallery of portraits; there is Sir Thomas Browne (accounted by his enthusiastic admirers one of the greatest prose writers in all the range of English), the finest of the rhetorical, fantastic, and wholly delightful set of writers who arose at this time, treating in a semi-speculative fashion a wide, various range of subject-matter. A number of religious and devotional works appear, among which the sermons of Jeremy Taylor stand high, and John Bunyan in “The Pilgrim’s Progress” produced a master-piece of English. Nor must we forget the Authorized Version of the Bible, in 1611—a work of a wonderful prose style, eclectic, drawn from many sources, and yet having the appearance of absolute naturalness and simplicity. Preaching was a notable feature of the time, and the very long sermons of Tillotson, Barrow, Stillingfleet, and others make good literature. Dryden claimed Archbishop Tillotson as his master in prose, and it is when we come to Dryden’s own work in the latter half of the century that we find prose beginning to take its place as “the other harmony” of verbal artistic expression. On the whole, it is the mark of Restoration prose to become conversational, and we may say that modern prose, easy, flexible, and fitted for general use, arose in Dryden’s critical prefaces.
Dryden died in 1700, and with the opening of the eighteenth century we pass into an age of strongly marked characteristics. The Revolution by which the Stuart dynasty was displaced had been accomplished, involving, naturally, great changes in the fortunes of religious and political life, particularly disastrous to the Catholic Faith in England. In its earlier stages the century is filled by the party strife of Whigs and Tories, and by the religious movements known as Methodism and Deism—two strange opposites. In the upper classes there was a general lowering of spiritual and emotional temperature—to be enthusiastic was “bad form”—and religion and literature equally suffered. The growing middle class seems to some extent to have escaped this tepidity, and the preaching of Methodism touched their hearts.
The “Church of England”, now the State “established” Church, was, however, in a state of spiritual poverty—many of her best clergy having left her for conscience’ sake at the time of the Act of Uniformity. As far as the current stream of poetry was concerned, it had become an affair of a circle of leisured and fashionable people. A great admiration prevailed for the classics and classical principles, seen generally through the eyes of French critics.
The century opened badly for literature. For years there had not been such a barren literary time. Dryden had just died, and though much verse was being written, it was mostly poor. In prose, there were few men of any mark. The only work showing power was the drama, in the brilliant and unmoral comedies of Congreve, Vanburgh, and Farquhar. But within ten years there was a remarkable change. Pope came to the front in verse, and for many years poetry was to be almost synonymous with his name. In prose there was a galaxy of genius, Swift (1667-1746), Addison (1672-1719), Steele ( 1671-1726), Berkeley (1685-1753), to mention only a few, in whose hands modern prose—mature, varied, capable, combining, when at its best, strength, sweetness, grace, and magnificence—becomes henceforth a secure possession of English literature. But this was not all at once. Prose had first to go through a discipline from the hands not only of writers just mentioned, together with the great novelists in the first half of the century, but from Dr. Johnson and those who followed him, especially the historians Gibbon and Robertson. It thus took on a certain formality and stateliness not known before.
Pope and Johnson are the two names that dominate almost tyrannically the first and second half respectively of the eighteenth century. Most of the elements of his age are more or less represented in the work of Alexander Pope (1688-1744), though, as a Catholic, his religious sympathies lay in another direction than those of his day. His first important poem, the “Essay on Criticism”, lays down rules for the guidance of critics according to the prevalent classical ideals; his “Rape of the Lock”, perhaps his best poem, gives a brilliant and witty picture of the high society of his time; his translation of Homer is a Greek story told in an eighteenth-century manner; his “Essay on Man” is a versifying of Shaftesbury’s philosophy; and the “Essays and Epistles” and the “Dunciad” are didactic and satiric. Dryden and Pope share between them the chief honors of English satire. Pope‘s picture of Atticus (Addison) and Dryden’s of Zimri (Buckingham) have no equals in our satiric literature. The subject-matter of Pope‘s poetry may sometimes fail to interest us, but the versification always claims attention. Pope refined and polished and super-refined the heroic couplet until it became the most perfect instrument for satiric verse. It has not the original vigor and variety of Dryden’s couplet, but it has a finer finish and a more subtle thrust.
The greatest strength of literature, however, at this time went into prose, and the prose writers contemporary with Pope are men of genius, with Swift by far the greatest of them. His “Tale of a Tub” and “Gulliver’s Travels”—to mention only the two greatest of his writings—show a power of intellect and imagination worthy to be employed upon much finer subject-matter. The first part of “Gulliver’s Travels” finds him, perhaps, at his happiest, and is less marred by the bitter rage against men and life, and the touches of foulness, which spoil so much of his work. He is, too, one of the great humorists, and his style is marked by sincerity, clearness, force, flexibility, and sometimes grace.
But the greatest work in prose, on the whole, was done by Addison and Steele in the essays of “The Tatler” and “The Spectator”. They were men of less genius than Swift, but who looked at life humanly and wished to add to men’s peace and happiness. They expressed with wit, kindliness, and literary skill their views and their intentions. Their definite aim was to bring together the opposing parties in politics and religion by showing them how much of life and interests they possessed in common, and by gentle raillery and well-bred exhortation, to “rub off their corners”. They did accomplish much of this; everybody, regardless of politics, read the Essays, which came out several times a week, or daily, and every one enjoyed and talked them over. Polite literature by this means permeated and helped to refine the great and growing middle class.
Another form of prose which arises now, and was destined to even a much greater future than the essay, was the novel. The modern novel is born with the work of Richardson and Fielding—the work of the one viewing things from an emotional standpoint, that of the other giving a more comprehensive and objective picture of life. Richardson wrote out of his own native feeling and somewhat restricted experience; Fielding, equally original, was largely and beneficially influenced by Cervantes and the novel of Spain. Both are men of genius, whose work grips the reader, but their offenses against good taste and morality will always prevent their becoming household companions as Scott and Dickens have become. Smollett and Sterne continue the life of the novel, and Goldsmith, in his masterpiece, “The Vicar of Wakefield”, has earned the gratitude of all readers. Biography, philosophy, and history have a large and distinguished place in the prose of this time. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) accomplished many kinds of literature. His earliest attempt as well as his latest is biography; of essays he wrote many, but his genius is not best suited to that form, and the work is too often ponderous and mannered; novel and ethical treatise are combined in the delightful pages of “Rasselas”. His great dictionary is philology with an autobiographical flavor; his lives of the poets are partly biographical, but mainly critical, while criticism fills a good space in his edition of Shakespeare. But it is not only the range and value of all this work which makes it so attractive, but—in spite of its limitations—the sincere, strong, kindly character that animates every line of it.
“That fellow calls forth all my powers”, said Johnson of Burke. Edmund Burke (1729-1797) is now looked upon as England’s greatest political philosopher, and his writings belong in subject-matter to history and politics, rather than to literature. Their style, however, rich, imaginative, full of energy, varied to suit its theme, moving among worlds of knowledge, and selecting just the right word and illustration in each place, puts him among the great literary writers of the century. Both Johnson and Burke are touched with the romantic spirit, but Johnson would have vigorously repudiated any charge of romanticism in his work, and indeed he stood as a great bulwark against the flood of new thought and feeling which, becoming apparent after the death of Pope, had been rising little by little, especially in poetry, ever since the twenties. The great romantic movement, so difficult to define, and yet so easy to trace, becomes the supreme point of interest for the literary historian in the later eighteenth century. There is no class of poetry written during this time but stands in some relation to it, and its influence, as we have said, may be seen, though less clearly, in many of the prose writings.
This movement was for the widening and deepening of literature. New fields of subject-matter were taken in hand, and the treatment of these gradually became more imaginative and emotional than it had been since the Elizabethan age. Nature and human life, after suffering from somewhat frigid treatment at the hands of the classical school, seemed to unstiffen and to become warm, living, and natural with the romantic writers. But this was a very gradual process, and began in the very heart of the classical movement; we may even see traces of it in the unrealized longings of Pope himself, who loved Spenser, and who wished he could write a fairy tale. We see the change coming in the gradual rise of fresh meters, and especially of blank verse, in opposition to the heroic couplet; in fact the struggle of romantic against classic centered to some extent round these two forms.
But just as marked is the choice of new subject-matter. “Nature for her own sake”—natural description imbedded in other matter, or even forming the sole subject of poems—now occupy the writer. Human life, in aspects neglected by the school of Pope, begins to assert itself. And all this new matter, treated first in a melancholy moralizing spirit, gradually grows in imaginative strength, simplicity, and naturalness, until we reach the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge, in which the movement is brought to its height and at the same time takes on a new freshness and impetus. James Thomson (1700-1748) published his blank-verse poem of “The Seasons” in 1726-30, and, even though there are many traces in it of the school of Pope, it sounds the first clear note of revolt. It is the first blank-verse poem of importance in the century, and the first important poem devoted to natural description. Many new elements are found in it, too, such as the interest in the poor and the laboring class, and in lands beyond England, as well as a new feeling and affection for animals. In 1748, the year of his death, Thomson published his “Castle of Indolence”, the best imitation of Spenser’s verse and manner that exists, and this was another sign of change. There were many poems written in blank verse or in Spenserian stanza between this poet and the work of Gray, whose contribution to the romantic movement is seen perhaps most clearly in his translations from the Icelandic and Gaelic, where he opened up a new field of subject-matter for the interest of readers and the use of poets. And Gray’s poems, small in quantity, but exquisitely finished, were not his only work; as a prose writer he gives us in his letters and journals first-hand and beautiful descriptions of nature in unaffected English. But his poetry is less simple, and, with its restraint of manner, might in some aspects be claimed by the classical school. It is in the decade after his death that we find the movement towards the more natural style expressing itself unmistakably in the half-mournful glamor of Macpherson’s rhythmical prose “translations” of the Celtic poetry of Ossian, in the poems of the unhappy boy-genius Chatterton, and in the collection of “Percy Ballads”.
Following on these, however, there is a strong attempt at reaction in the poetry of Dr. Johnson, Churchill, and Goldsmith—though Goldsmith’s charming poems are more romantic than he knew. But in the next few years the battle is quickly won for romance by four poets: Burns, Cowper, Crabbe, and Blake, whose significance in the movement is more fully recognized now than it was then. Burns, who wrote the best of his poetry in a mixed Scottish dialect, had been nourished on the best English poets of the past, and the clearness and precision of his verse as well as its satirical and didactic subject-matter belongs to the school of Pope at its best. But, on the other hand, the essential spirit of his satire, in contrast with the detached coldness of Pope‘s, is a consuming fire, as Swinburne has pointed out, while his songs, full of melody and passionate feeling, though all in the line of previous Scottish poetry, were new as regards England, and were truly romantic in tone and manner. There are poems and passages of verse that we wish Burns had never written, but the largest part of his work belongs to our great literary store of things noble and humane.
In William Cowper (1731-1800) we come to a poet whose influence is more and more recognized as of first importance in the romantic trend of eighteenth-century poetry. Living the most retired of lives, and not writing much until over fifty years of age, he has left a body of poetry marked with his own gentle, affectionate, humorous, and sometimes tragic genius, much of which has become classic in English. His best long poem, “The Task”, in blank verse, contains his most original work in the clear and simple descriptions of natural scenery. He also, like Gray, was one of the best of our letter-writers. George Crabbe (1754-1832) wrote nearly all his poetry in the heroic couplet, but used that form with more freedom than his contemporaries. Much of his work is of the story kind, and some of his poems are like novels in verse. Though he chose a hackneyed form for his work, and though all his sketches and stories tend to edification in a didactic way, he is never dull, and his analysis of motive and temperament and his realism are strangely modern in the antiquated setting of the heroic couplet. His work deserves more notice than English readers as a rule give to it. William Blake (1757-1827), the fourth of these poets, is one of those geniuses who belong to no one time or place. Some of the simple and charming poems in his two best-known little volumes “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience”, might have been written by an Elizabethan, while his long mystical works in verse, not truly poetical, show him in the light of a dreamer whose dreams are rooted in some spiritual reality which only a very few readers can discern with him. But his poetry, as a whole, though scarcely heeded at all by the public of his own day, has been found, as it has received more attention recently, to contain within itself the germs of many later developments of thought and feeling in society and literature. He was an engraver and painter as well as a poet, and his work in these capacities cannot be neglected if one wishes to understand the character of his genius.
Crabbe and Blake carry us on into the nineteenth century, but before their death Wordsworth and Coleridge accomplished the first of their epoch-making work. With these two poets we enter upon the story of our modern literature. Wordsworth and Coleridge are still in some sense with us, as their predecessors of the seventeenth and eighteenth century are not. All English modern poets are directly or indirectly influenced by them. They deliberately determined to be missionaries in poetry, and they accomplished a mission in the face of great discouragement and opposition. The small volume of “Lyrical Ballads” published in 1798, when they were young men together under thirty, made a revolution in poetry and was the fulfilment of nearly all that the romantic writers had been trying half unconsciously to bring about. The “Ancient Mariner”, which opened the book, and the “Tintern Abbey Lines”, which closed it, to say nothing of the many successes and few failures which fill up the space between, were alone enough to set up a poetic standard of high and peculiar significance. In these poems there was accurate nature-description of the best kind, shot through with the poet’s own imagination and feeling; there was love of, and interest in, vivid human life, regardless of class or country; there was weighty ethical matter without dullness. It is perhaps in this seriousness with which life is viewed that we find one of the key-notes of the poetical literature of the later Victorian age. It has been said of William Wordsworth (1770-1850) that he wrote of “what is in all men”, and the leading ideas of his poetry are indeed those in which all natural and sane human beings can join. The healing and joy-giving power of nature, the strength, beauty, and pathos of the simplest human affections, more especially as seen in the less sophisticated men and women of the poorer classes in the country, may be realized by all. But Wordsworth had also a philosophy of nature and her relationship to human beings which was the foundation of all his teaching, and which he expounded in poem after poem, in passages often of very great beauty, and in much variety of style. It may be here noticed that Wordsworth’s style varies more than the ordinary judgment gives him credit for. In his eagerness for freedom from conventional phrasing, he strove, as he himself tells us in his prose critical prefaces to the poems, for utter simplicity of language which to us at times seems bare and even puerile in its effect; but he is capable more than most of a richness of style and diction, especially in his blank verse, that is the very opposite of his own theory. He has many styles, and no critical summing up of his manner is ever quite satisfactory to the Wordsworthian who realizes this.
The poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) does not represent the poet with anything like the same fullness as does that of Wordsworth. Those of Coleridge’s poems which are of the first order of poetry are few, but they are inimitable and perfect of their kind, and have a melody of peculiar witchery. Coleridge was a greater, wider genius than Wordsworth, and his deepest thoughts went into pedestrian prose. He has left only fragmentary work on philosophy and criticism behind him, but even that has affected and still affects the thought of our own time. Had Coleridge possessed the will-power and endurance of Wordsworth in addition to his own genius, no one can tell to what heights he might have attained. His career is a tragedy of character.
On these two poets when young men, as well as on Southey and others, the altruistic philosophy of the French revolutionary movement had a profound effect, and in Wordsworth’s “Prelude” we may see to some extent the extraordinary and stimulating influence of these ideas upon some of the young and generous English minds. But in spite of much that was true in it, the elements of error, inadequacy, and crudeness in this philosophy became apparent, especially in the course of the French Revolution, and a revulsion from it fell upon both Coleridge and Wordsworth. Wordsworth alone of the two emerged from the trial unembittered—thanks to nature and to his sister Dorothy—though how crucial to his life this crisis was he has himself told us. No one can properly understand the poetry of this time, nor of the following age of Shelley, Byron, and Keats, if he does not to some extent realize the high and generous hopes raised by the ideas of the Revolution in certain ardent minds in England. They saw countless evils and oppression in the social life of the time, and here, in the working out of the ideas of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, seemed a full remedy. The three poets just mentioned lived in the reaction from these hopes. Byron was embittered, partly from personal causes, and partly because of the state of the society in which he lived. He saw no redemption at hand. Shelley was fired by the revolutionary principles as he found them interpreted by the rationalism of Godwin, even while he shared, too, in the reaction caused by the excesses of France. Keats never entered into them at all, but turned by a sort of instinct away from the dreariness of life, as he saw it around him, to nature and beauty.
But there is one great writer who was untouched either by the action or reaction of the revolutionary ferment. Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) loved the past and believed in it, and to the end of his life he was conservative in religion and politics. In his novels and in much of his poetry he made popular those romantic elements in the life of the past which are more particularly associated with the Ages of Faith. His close and affectionate description of the Scottish scenery he loved so much was a strong influence in developing the care for natural scenery which has become one of the leading marks of the nineteenth century. His poetry at its very best is found in many of his short songs and ballads, and in detached passages of his longer poems, and it is verse not unworthy to be placed beside the finest romantic work of the time. But his best-known narrative poems—”The Lay of the Last Minstrel”, “Marmion”, and “The Lady of the Lake”—have all through a great and special charm, and their style, clear, rapid, full of energy, together with their almost faultless diction, make them worthy of their place among our classics. The popularity of Scott’s narrative poetry was overshadowed, however, by the narrative work of Lord Byron, but to our gain, since this led Scott to turn to another form of art and to produce “The Waverley Novels”.
Of the three young poets of genius whose short lives accomplished such remarkable poetic work, Lord Byron (1788-1824) is now perhaps the least influential, though at the time his fame overshadowed every other writer of verse. His extraordinarily vigorous satires, marked by his study of Pope, whose poetry he championed in a literary controversy of the time, are unique in the energy of their style and the strength and sting of their wit. It is unfortunate that a large part of them are marred, for the ordinary reader, by their extreme voluptuousness. His verse tales of romantic adventure are imaginative, but pall upon us by their tendency to sentimentality. His songs and occasional pieces, together with “Childe Harold”—parts of which have fine nature-description—show him in a more agreeable poetic light. His many dramas are not truly dramatic, but are rather the outpouring of his own powerful mind seeking an outlet. If we are inclined to take an anti-Byronic attitude, it is well to remember, first, that his brilliant, undisciplined, passionate work, though it never reached the height of the noblest art, yet taught a lesson of force, vitality, and sincerity to an age which, in spite of its good, was marked by much artificiality, callousness, and insincerity in both life and literature. He did this in a rude and melodramatic way, but he did it. And secondly, let those who judge Byron’s wild private career not forget to read the last poem that he wrote, and realize that a change of temper, aspiration towards nobler things, was awakening in him before he died.
Keats and Shelley invite comparison; their difference and their likeness are equally striking. They lived the same length of time, did all their work before thirty, dying young and with tragedy. They left behind them poetry of the highest order—their lyrics are masterpieces—containing the promise of still finer work. They were the devoted lovers of beauty. believing in it as the supreme reality, and were in earnest over their art, both of them leaving behind grave poems expressing their unfinished, and therefore often unsatisfactory and misleading, philosophy of life. Each poet also has written remarkable prose. It is a great mistake to consider Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) as the “ineffectual angel” sketched by Matthew Arnold. He was quite half human, and not at all ineffectual. His most ethereal lyrics will be found to possess a basis of logical thought, while his prose writings show him as a thinker quite capable of keeping the imagination in her place. There are signs, too, in the development of his work that he was growing more and more capable of preserving the balance of the intellect and the imagination. The work that he accomplished in his short life is much and varied. Putting aside his early poems, there is the almost perfect “Adonais”, the grave and beautiful lyrical drama of “Prometheus Unbound”, in which he states his hopes (not always well grounded and apparently anti-Christian, though he reverenced certain elements in Christianity) for the future of the world; there is a crowd of short and exquisite lyrics—the highest watermark of English poetry of this kind—as well as the fateful and mystic “Triumph of Life“, to say nothing of many others, and amongst them some fine dramatic work in blank verse. And he was only twenty-eight when he was drowned. Upon his errors of thought and of conduct we need not dwell. They are plain before us in his life. Outside his literary work, and, now and then intruding into it, a certain crudity of youth appears. But all he does and says is in good faith, and for his errors he suffered bitterly during his short life. One of the noblest and most discerning of tributes ever paid to his genius has been lately published from the pen of the now well-known Catholic poet, Francis Thompson. John Keats (1795-1821) accomplished less actual work, but had in him, it is generally allowed, greater potentiality of genius. He started life handicapped in circumstance and physical health, while he had no influence or following in his own short lifetime, and “it is the copious perfection of work accomplished so early and under so many disadvantages which is the wonder of biographers”. His odes on “The Nightingale”, “A Grecian Urn”, and “Autumn” are supreme art. Some of his narrative poems are among the best of their kind and his fragment of “Hyperion” shows what he might have accomplished had he lived to practice this graver type of poetry. His fame, however, is now established, and his poetic influence has been one of the strongest in the nineteenth century.
After the death of Keats poetry seems for a time to have exhausted itself. There is little to chronicle except the chirpings of small poets until the great age of Victorian poetry opens with Tennyson and Browning. But, to fill up the early years of the century, there is fine work in prose. The great series of Sir Walter Scott’s novels extend from 1814 to 1831, and many smaller efficient writers are ranged round this central figure. The wild enthusiasm with which the Waverley novels were received can perhaps never be renewed. A multitude of causes have tended to divert and disturb the public taste for these great books, and it now fluctuates sometimes farther from, sometimes nearer to, them. But such work as his is immortal, and regardless of human fluctuations, it will, and does, appeal always to a multitude of readers—learned or unlearned—whose mind and imagination are open to receive the gifts of genius apart from the trend of fashion. Scott’s novels are full of kindly humanity, of close and accurate drawing of many types of character, only to be equalled by Shakespeare or Chaucer, of wide and detailed historical knowledge, though, to Catholic regret, he never understood or adequately represented the Church, handled magnificently with equal imagination and sanity, so that age after age lives again, not only as the dry facts of history which have been brought laboriously together “bone to his bone”, but as a living human world whose dwellers have been raised out of silence to their feet by the creative voice—”an exceeding great army”. Of Scott’s work even more than of Chaucer’s, we may say, with Dryden, “Here is God‘s plenty”.
Scott died in 1832, and the Victorian age opened in literary faintness. Alfred Tennyson and Robert Browning were on the verge of the horizon, but it was not until 1840 or so that there came that dazzling revival of literature such as had not been seen since the Elizabethan age, and which in extent and swiftness of production eclipsed that age. Into the causes of this it is impossible here to enter. Tennyson and Browning are leaders among the poets far into the century, while Elizabeth Barrett Browning makes a distant third. Tennyson and Browning are representative of the most important phases of the Victorian age, universally acknowledged, though general opinion is still divided as to their relative merits. Both are artists of a high order, but Tennyson is the greater and more consistent. Both feel the importance, gravity, and interest of life. Both take a religious view of life and have that spirit of reverence which is lacking in many of their followers. Both believe in their mission to call men to forsake materialism, and each, in his own particular way, is a lover of natural beauty. Browning’s sympathies are, in a sense, wider than Tennyson’s, but Tennyson’s feeling goes deeper, perhaps, on the great religious and moral questions than Browning’s.
If we are still too near Tennyson and Browning to be able to form a true estimate of them, we are even less able to judge the writers of the latter half of the nineteenth century. The numerous streams of literature become bewildering to follow. We distinguish before the end of the career of the two greatest poets the fine. but smaller figures of Rossetti, William Morris, Matthew Arnold, and others, doing work of true genius though not all of equal power. None of them, however, have the vivid inspirations of great, impelling, impersonal ideas such as filled Wordsworth and Shelley. The note of melancholy and uncertainty concerning life and its meaning and the future beyond this life, is always more or less there in undertone. The optimism of Browning and the faith of Tennyson are not to be found, but their love of beauty is fervent and stimulating.
In the last quarter of the century poetry has taken on many strange and sometimes beautiful forms. A high level of excellence has prevailed on the whole. Poets of remarkable promise and achievement have appeared. Amongst these, Francis Thompson (1859-1907), in the opinion of most, takes the commanding place. The appreciation of him by well-known and most able critics has been extraordinarily unanimous and unstinted. He seems “to have reached the peaks of Parnassus at a bound”. He has been compared with almost every great previous English poet, and whatever may be the more balanced verdict of the future, his poetic immortality is assured. And his Catholic religion was his deepest inspiration.
The prose which grew up around the greatest Victorian poetry was worthy of its company. A brilliant group of writers as well as of thinkers in many spheres of knowledge and art appeared, and in this respect the age has surpassed the Elizabethan. The development of the novel is the most distinguishing mark of Victorian prose literature. Dickens and Thackeray follow upon Scott, with a host of other novelists, men and women, of varying grades of power, who come up to our own day. Graver forms of literature also have been many and splendid. There are the essayists, with Lamb and Hazlett as the chief; the historians with Macaulay and Carlyle, Froude, Freeman, and Green; Ruskin, with his immense and varied work upon art, economics, and the conduct of life, and whose influence, all for good, in spite of the vagaries of literary taste, is still strong and growing. The enormous extent and range of theological literature is a remarkable feature of the last fifty years, and here the writings of John Henry Newman (q.v.) stand out as a supreme “literary glory”. Newman touched poetry with imagination, grace, and skill, but it is by his prose that he is recognized as a great master of English style. While all critics agree that the “Apologia” is a master-piece, and that “nothing he wrote in prose or verse is superfluous”, there is some difference of opinion as to the respective literary values of his earlier and later work. R. H. Hutton, however, one of his acutest non-Catholic critics, considers that “in irony, in humor, in imaginative force, the writings of the later portions of his career far surpass those of his theological apprenticeship”.
Catholic writers are now many. After long years of repression they have their full freedom in the arena of literature, and there is more than a promise that when the history of the twentieth century comes to be written many Catholic names will be found in the highest places on the roll of honor.
K. M. WARREN