Page images

For the purpose of aggravating to the utmost this worthless argument, the character of Henry is exhibited in the most odious light,--base, selfish, loathsone, without one redeeming quality to break its lines and shadows of deformity. Nothing is allowed for circumstances, nothing for positive or probable guilt in the parties represented as injured, nothing for prejudice or delusion in the alleged oppressor, nothing for the effect of evil counsels and the misrepresentations of malignant counsellors : in short, no defensive plea, no exculpatory suggestion, nothing explanatory or in mitigation, is to be allowed in the case of Henry, but all that is hateful and disgusting, porten tous and appalling in human temper and agency, is made to rest upon his memory. He comes down to us by a sort of prescriptive tradition, as a compound of Bluebeard and the Ogre-ihe Rawhead and Bloody-bones of English bistory. Dr. Lingard's exhibition of his life and actions will not diminish this impression. He pursues him with shrewd and unrelenting severity, and, by the help of dexterous management, converts every act of this crowned Abomelique into an argument for his purpose. This part of Dr. L.'s labours does not, indeed, come properly within the range of the present article; but, as we have had to refer occasionally to its statements during our perusal of Mr. Turner's volume, we shall feel it expedient to make a few incidental comments on its representations. We cannot, in fact, but regard it as a fortunate circumstance, that Dr. Lingard's path should have been so critically crossed by this sagacious and indefatigable investigator. The partiality of the Romish priest is, indeed, too obvious for misapprebension; but it is involved in so much occasional intricacy, and is so skilfully covered by specious assertion and adjusted detail, that it requires some such vigorous counteraction as that supplied by Mr. Turner, to remove the impression. A reader, how careful and anxious soever, cannot stop at every page, to examine authorities, even if he have them at hand: he is compelled to take much upon trust. And even where the malus animus is manifest, an uncontradicted statement will frequently leave a disagreeable feeling behind it.

An instance in illustration of these observations, will assist in conveying a more distinct idea of our meaning, than can be done by simple comment. Dr. Lingard exhibits, throughout, a spirit of determined hostility to Anne Boleyn; and, in order to fix a character of greater odium on her marriage with the king, both affirms her previous concubinage, and qualifies it as incestuous on the ground of a former cohabitation asserted to have taken place between Henry and her sister Mary Boleyn. Without the smallest hesitation, he inscribes Mary on the list of the king's mistresses, and assigns, as his authority, the repeated assertions' of Cardinal Pole, in his ' private letter 'to Henry, written in 1535,

This rancorous accusation is the subject of a masterly note by Mr. Turner, who proves, by a reference to Pole's own context, that the charge is unworthy of credit. An imputation of this kind, unless supported by positive or circumstantial evi.. dence, cannot claim a moment's notice; and even had there been no corrective supplied by the very terms of the charge, Dr. Lingard would be without justification in adopting it on the mere allegation of a single and hostile individual. Pole was well aware, that, for so bold an assertion, his authorities would be required; and he does not hesitate to affirm, that Henry himself admitted the fact in his negotiations with the Pope, though the whole process of that diplomacy is minutely known, and nothing of the kind occurs in any part of its details. But, if these were not in existence, the unaccountable folly of Pole would be quite sufficient to stultify the inventions of his maliga. nity. It is not worth while to transcribe the whole of his evasions; the following summary, as given by Mr. Turner, will be enough. It will not be found the less piquant for the quiet castigation inflicted, en passant, on the easy faith of Dr. Lingard, when he has special purposes to answer by his credulity.

He (Pole) first says, that heaven revealed this to him ; then, that it did not reveal it, but that Anne Boleyn told him ; then, that Anne never said a word to him on the subject, but that heaven had made it certain to him by the application for the papal dispensation. If this be not aberration of mind, I can only say it is an incomprehensible mystification. But that any person of common scnse or equity should repeat such a charge on such an authority, only shows how gratified some minds allow themselves to be with another's defamation.'

Dr. Lingard, as we have intimated above, cites the charge as occurring in a private letter' from Pole to Henry. The intent of this inuendo is not to be mistaken. How efficient soever it might prove, as a mean of annoyance, to publish falsehoods concerning an individual, to state them to himself as an appeal to conscience, would be egregiously absurd ; and it follows, by implication, that this accusation, as having been made the subject of private expostulation, is undeniably true. All this array of circumstances fails, however, before the fact, that the allegation in question occurs, not in a private epistle, but in Pole's book •Pro Ecclesiastica Unitatis Defensione.

This is but a specimen (and by no means the worst) of the spirit in which Dr. Livgard's volumes are written. As a history

of England, they are worthless in all that, however remotely, pertains to ecclesiastical matters; and this pervading taint renders it impossible to read with that frank and fearless confi. dence, without which reading becomes irksome and precarious.

Mr. Turner is an historian of a very different order. Inferior to Dr. L. in style, he is far beyond him in all the higher essentials of historic composition, and especially in all that regards fairness and liberal investigation. Professional habits may occasionally have given to his reasoning the air of special pleading; but even here, all is open and avowed: the authorities are before you, the motive and the feeling are undisguised ; and while the reader differs from the conclusion, he is indebted to the Author for the materials on which he grounds his dissent. In the present instance, Mr. T. has undertaken a bold and difficult task, in the endeavour-we will add, the successful endeavour-to modify and to correct the prevalent sentiment respecting the character of Henry VIII. He has examined, with his characteristic diligence and ability, all the original sources of information, including a large mass of new and important materials ; and the result has been, an entire conviction that the great changes which distinguished this remarkable reign, were the effect of circumstances beyond the control of Henry or his ministers. In Mr. Turner's opinion, the new documents • clearly show that all which Henry or his cabinets, or even the pope, successively did to cause this transforming revolution, was not done as matters of religion, or from the reasonings or labours of the ecclesiastical world, or even from choice ; but from impelling currents of political incidents which forced almost every actor to do, and for the most part unwillingly, all that was performed in bringing about those extraordinary changes, which have made this reign an era in the history of human nature.'

When the Romanists are accused of systematic persecution, it is with them a usual method of evasion to retort the charge, and to bring in proof the executions which took place in the reigns of Henry and Elizabeth. We will not now inquire how far those transactions, even allowing the utmost latitude of application, may be taken as weighing against the sanguinary policy that has invariably marked the supremacy of Rome, but introduce at once the conclusion of Mr. Turner's preface, in decisive and unanswerable evidence that the cases so triumphantly cited, do not, in the smallest degree, apply.

• Wishing not to wound the feelings or to disturb unnecessarily the favourite opinions of any, the Author would not willingly have counteracted the belief of many Catholic gentlemen whom he respects, springing in them from the best of feelings, and originating in ancient

assertions which have long been re-echoed, that the ecclesiastical persons who suffered public punishment under Henry or his successors, were destroyed only for their religion, and not for any legal criminality. This opinion has been industriously circulated by their : friends ever since their deaths, to save both their memory and their cause from that odium which, under any form of government, must, for the general welfare, be attached to all political treason. But it has become impossible for the Author to doubt that, however they may have acted in obedience to their consciences, the clergy who perished by execution in Henry's reiga were engaged in practices connected with insurrection and treason; and were convicted and punished because they were pursuing them. The grounds for this opinion will appear in those parts of the history which relate to it. But there is one high authority on this subject as to corresponding events in the reign of Elizabeth, which is worth quoting here. It is a public statement of the Lord High Treasurer in the beginning of the reign of James I., which every one may verify for himself by consulting the Catholic authors to whom the King's Prime Minister alludes. In the celebrated conference before this Sovereign at Hampton Court, in 1603, Dr. Reynolds applied for the suppression or restraint of unlawful and seditious books. The King, perceiving and intimating that the angry doctor meant those of the secular priests and jesuits of the Romish Church, told him, that he was a better college-man than a statesman, for making such an application ; and two of the Cabinet ministers gave their separate reasons in vindication of the Government's permitting the obnoxious publications to be freely circulated. Lord Cecil remarked, that “ they were tolerated, because in them the title of Spain was refuted :" and the Lord Treasurer added, that Dr. Reynolds might have observed another use of these books, namely, that now, by the testimony of those priests themselves, her late Majesty and the State were cleared of the insputation of putting papists to death for their conscience only, SEEING IN THOSE BOOKS They themselves CONFESS THAT THEY WERE EXECUTED FOR TREASON.'

The commencement of Henry's reign was prosperous and promising in the highest degree. The manly beauty of his person and the majestic courtesy of his demeanour, extorted the admiration of his most rancorous enemies ; and his mental accomplishments were eulogized in the most glowing language by Erasmus, Melanchton, and Pole. In one of his most severe attacks on his king and benefactor, the latter could say of and to the English monarch : • The deity adorned you most • accumulatively with every good, both of body and mind; and • turned the minds of all to love you, as well for your virtues * as for the most certain hope of the national felicity. During the first twenty-seven years of his reign, the attachment of his subjects and the admiration of Europe, continued in undimi. nished strength. It is affirmed by Mr. Turner, and he is not accustomed to make rash assertions, that

• if Henry had died, after this length of reign, before the act of pare, liament for abolishing the papal supremacy in England, the mortal, and yet unpardoned offence of this applauded prince, had been car. ried into resolute execution, no king, since Alfred the Great, would have descended to his tomb with such lavish encomiums and universal admiration from the literature of that period. If he had died the day before he signed the death-warrant of Fisher, and decided on that of Sir Thomas More, he would have nearly rivalled our great Saxon benefactor, in his historical praise, and perhaps in the public gratitude.'

This is substantially true, but we cannot help thinking it by far too strongly stated. Henry was, in no respect, a man to be placed in comparison with the incomparable Alfred, rightly distinguished as the 'great benefactor of his country. The high principle of the Saxon was a very different thing from the popular qualities of the Tudor. Alfred's learning was more profound and complete than the superficial acquirements of Henry; his military character cannot be compared with the mere animal courage of bluff King Hal;' and his lofty patriotism' towers an eagle's flight above the simple selfishness that seems, both in its harmless and its injurious impulses, to have been the great regulator of Henry's conduct. Still, there is much to be deducted from the overwrought statements of impassioned writers. Henry's delinquencies were of a kind to awaken a more deep and undistinguishing abhorrence than: is provoked by actions of more positive criminality. He al., lowed himself to exact an extreme revenge for offences seldom visited with sanguinary penalties ; and his severities were frequently and fiercely exercised on those who had shared his intimacy, or been the objects of his tenderest endearments. His ministers, his generals, his wives, were unrelentingly consigned to the dungeon and the axe; and there was a coarse heartlessness in the manner, that gave a more bateful and appalling aspect to transactions which required all that could be given of softening and extenuation. Henry was neither a Nero nor a Caligula ; and if his character exbibits few redeeming qualities, it must not be forgotten that his reign was splendid, and that he laid the foundation, at least, of that moral improvement of which neither tyranny nor treachery could afterwards arrest the march.

The outset of his reign was as brilliant as it could be made by an unrestrained passion for show and expense. Henry's fine figure, personal strength, and contempt of danger, made bim the hero of the ti!t-yard ; and his tournaments, in which he took great delight, were conducted on a scale of prodigal magnificence. Masques, festivals, and gorgeous processions,

« PreviousContinue »