CHURCH AND STATE
The authorities of the church, after the lesson which they had received from the parliament in its first session, were now allowed a respite of two years, during which they might reconsider the complaints of the people, and consult among themselves upon the conduct which they would pursue with respect to those complaints. They availed themselves of their interval of repose in a manner little calculated to recover the esteem which they had forfeited, or to induce the legislature further to stay their hand. Instead of reforming their own faults, they spent the time in making use of their yet uncurtailed powers of persecution; and they wreaked the bitterness of their resentment upon the unfortunate heretics, who paid with their blood at the stake for the diminished revenues and blighted dignities of their spiritual lords and superiors. During the later years of Wolsey’s administration, the Protestants, though threatened and imprisoned, had escaped the most cruel consequences of their faith. Wolsey had been a warm-hearted and genuine man, and although he had believed as earnestly as his brother bishops, that Protestantism was a pernicious thing, destructive alike to the institutions of the country and to the souls of mankind, his memory can be reproached with nothing worse than assiduous but humane efforts for the repression of it. In the three years which followed his dismissal, a far more bloody page was written in the history of the reformers; and under the combined auspices of Sir Thomas More’s fanaticism, and the spleen of the angry clergy, the stake re-commenced its hateful activity. This portion of my subject requires a full and detailed treatment; I reserve the account of it, therefore, for a separate chapter, and proceed for the present with the progress of the secular changes.
Although, as I said, no further legislative measures were immediately contemplated against the clergy, yet they were not permitted to forget the alteration in their position which had followed upon Wolsey’s fall; and as they had shown in the unfortunate document which they had submitted to the king, so great a difficulty in comprehending the nature of that alteration, it was necessary clearly and distinctly to enforce it upon them. Until that moment they had virtually held the supreme power in the state. The nobility, crippled by the wars of the Roses, had sunk into the second place; the Commons were disorganised, or incapable of a definite policy; and the chief offices of the government had fallen as a matter of course to the only persons who for the moment were competent to hold them. The jealousy of ecclesiastical encroachments, which had shown itself so bitterly under the Plantagenets, had been superseded from the accession of Henry VII. by a policy of studied conciliation, and the position of Wolsey had but symbolised the position of his order. But Wolsey was now gone, and the ecclesiastics who had shared his greatness while they envied it, were compelled to participate also in his change of fortune.