Gateway to the Classics: Our Island Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Island Story by  H. E. Marshall

Henry VIII.—How the King Became the Defender of the Faith and How the Great Cardinal Died

I N the reign of Henry VIII. the Pope was still the head of all the Christian Church although, as long ago as the time of Edward III., a man called John Wycliffe had begun to preach and teach against his rule over the English Church. Wycliffe translated the Bible from Latin into English and encouraged the people to read it. His followers were called Lollards, and they helped the people at the time of Wat Tyler's rebellion in the reign of Richard II. The heads of the Church hated the Lollards, and Henry IV., who wanted to please the priests, made a law, saying that any one who would not believe just what the Pope said he must believe should be burned to death. This was a very wicked law, and it marked the beginning of another struggle for freedom in England; that is the struggle for freedom of conscience, which means freedom to think and do what one feels to be right in matters of religion, instead of being forced to think and do as some one else says is right. For some time now very little had been heard of the Lollards, but the things which Wycliffe had taught had not been forgotten.

After printing was discovered and books became cheaper, people began to read and, in consequence, to think much more than they had done before. The more people read and thought, the more difficult some of them found it to believe just what they were ordered to believe by the Pope.

It was not only in England that this was happening, but in many other lands as well. In Germany a monk called Martin Luther, after thinking a great deal about it, decided that some things which were done in the Romish Church were wrong. He was brave enough to say what he thought and, in spite of the anger of the Pope and the priests, a great many people followed Martin Luther and left the Roman Catholic Church.

This is the beginning of what is called the Reformation. That is a long word, but it is quite easy to understand. It is made from two Latin words, re,  "again," and formare,  "to form or make." It means that the people who left the Roman Church again formed or made the Church.

These people were called Protestants. The word Protestant is also made from two Latin words, pro,  "publicly," and testari,  "to bear witness." So a Protestant really means some one who openly and publicly bears witness or protests.

We can hardly understand how bold and brave a thing these Protestants did. Now everyone is free to believe what they think is best and right but, in those days, people who could not agree with the Pope were cruelly punished or put to death. Now, Protestant churches and Roman Catholic churches stand side by side, and we do not kill and hate each other because we worship God in different ways, but in those days nothing caused such cruel suffering and such bitter hatred.

When King Henry heard what Martin Luther had done, he was very angry. Being a clever man, and proud of his learning and knowledge about religion, he wrote a book against Martin Luther and his teaching. This book he had bound most beautifully, and then he sent it to the Pope.

With great splendour and ceremony, dressed in his most magnificent robes, and sitting upon his throne with all his priests around him, the Pope received Henry's messenger. The messenger knelt humbly presenting the book and kissing first the Pope's toe and then his cheek.

Afterwards the messenger made a long speech, and the Pope made a long speech, and so the ceremony ended.

When the Pope had read the book, he was so pleased with it that he gave the King of England a new title. He called him Fidei Defensor,  which means, "Defender of the Faith." He wrote a letter to Henry thanking him for his book, and calling him "Our most dear son Henry, the illustrious King of England and Defender of the Faith."

Henry was very proud of his new title, and he held a solemn service in the church at Westminster, when the Pope's letter was read, and the King's new title proclaimed.

Afterwards Henry quarrelled with the Pope, but he kept the title of Defender of the Faith, and it has been borne by the kings and queens of England ever since, although the faith they now defend is no longer the faith of the Roman Catholic Church. If you look at some of the coins which we use now you will see F.D. or Fid. Def. upon them. These letters mean Fidei Defensor or Defender of the Faith.

King Henry quarrelled with the Pope because he would not let him put away his wife, Queen Katherine. Queen Katherine had done no wrong, but she was some years older than Henry, and now that he had been married to her for nearly twenty years, and she was no longer young and pretty, he had grown tired and wanted another wife.

Henry was very selfish. He thought a great deal of his own pleasure and always wanted to have his own way. Years before, when he wished to marry Katherine, he had made the Pope give him leave to do so, although it was against the laws of the Church because, as you remember, she had already been married to his brother Arthur. Now Henry began to think, or pretended to think, that he had been wrong ever to marry her at all, and he tried to make the Pope say so.

Wolsey, whom the Pope had made a cardinal, tried very hard to make him say so too, but in vain. After a long time the Pope sent another cardinal to England, and a great trial was held to decide whether Henry should be allowed to put away his wife or not.

Many wise men were gathered together with the King and Queen, the two cardinals, and their priests and clerks. When the Queen's name was called she rose from her chair, but although she tried to speak, she could not. She stood a moment, then crossing the hall to where the King sat, she threw herself at his feet. "Sir," she said, "I pray you do me justice and right, and take some pity upon me. For I am a poor woman and a stranger born out of your dominion. Alas, sir, how have I offended you? I take God to judge that I have ever been your true and humble wife. I have been glad for the things which have made you glad, and I have been sorry for the things which have made you sorry. Your friends have been my friends, your enemies my enemies. I have loved, for your sake, all whom you have loved. I have been your wife these twenty years and more. If there be any just cause for the anger you have against me, I am content to depart in shame and rebuke: if there be none, then I pray you to let me have justice at your hand."

With that she rose up, and making a low curtsey to the King, she walked proudly out of the court, a most unhappy woman, but a grand and dignified Queen.

The King sent messengers after her to call her back, but she would not return. Nor did she ever again come into the court.

The cardinals and the wise men talked for a long time, but they could not decide whether Henry might be allowed to send his wife away or not. The fact was the Pope was afraid of Henry on the one hand and of the Emperor of Germany, who was Katherine's nephew, on the other, and dared say nothing.

Then Henry grew very angry and impatient, and blamed Wolsey. Perhaps Wolsey had something to do with the delay, for although he did not love Queen Katherine, and would have been quite glad to have had her sent away, he hated Anne Boleyn, the lady whom Henry now wished to marry.

Anne Boleyn hated Wolsey too, and little by little she so turned the King against his old friend that he took many of his offices from Wolsey, and in the end sent him away from court.


Henry sent Wolsey away from court.

When Wolsey was sent away, he went to a house which he had in the country, a sad and worn-out man. He loved power, but he loved England too, and in all he had done he had thought of making England great in the eyes of the world. With his wise counsels he had done much for England, and yet the people hated him.

The nobles hated Wolsey because he was proud and haughty. They could not forget that he was a butcher's son, and yet they knew that although Henry ruled England, Wolsey ruled Henry.

The common people hated him because when Henry needed money it was Wolsey, his Chancellor, who had to wring it from the poor. So they looked upon him as the cause of all their sorrows, and there were few who mourned and many who were glad at his fall.

Henry next accused Wolsey of treason and sent for him to come to London to be tried. Worn with sorrow and sickness, the cardinal started on his journey, but when he reached Leicester he was so ill that he could go no further.

"Father, I am come to lay my bones among you," he said sadly to the abbot, who came to welcome him when he arrived at the Abbey of Leicester. It was true, for in a few days the great cardinal lay dead. "Had I served my God as faithfully as I have served my King," he said before he died, "He would not have cast me off in my old age."

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