Friday, October 4, 2013

Foundations of the Anglian Church XLVII

An Anglican Bishop attired for a
session in the House of Lords.
When we look at Henry’s separation of the English Church from the Roman Communion we how it was done for the most part not by royal decree but by act of Parliament.  Henry—unconsciously for sure—created a revolution in government by his strategy, a revolution of which we Americans are heirs.   Henry was unsure of the authority of the Crown—the Tudors had not been wearing it long enough to act with the impunity of absolute monarchs—and so bolstered it with the authority of having Parliament behind him.  To get what he wanted—the annulment, the legitimacy of his heirs, and the separation from Rome—he bargained away his sovereignty.   He gave Parliament, and the House of Commons in particular, a taste for power which they were never willing to yield after that.  He could have acted absolutely as King by decree.  He probably would have gotten away with it.  He was a stronger monarch than he seems to have realized.  But by bringing his legislation all to parliament for their consent he set a precedent that the King rules with the consent of Parliament. 
In his turning to Parliament Henry needed to depend on the House of Commons.  The House of Lords was not as friendly to his projects as were the Commons.  The Lords was top heavy with Bishops and Abbots and they were bound to resist Henry’s wishes, especially in regard to separation from Rome.   (Cranmer, along with Gardiner and perhaps one or two others was the exception among the Bishops.)  The Peers, for the most part, were not anxious to play into Henry’s hands—they preferred a weaker monarch so that their power was unchallenged.  Moreover, while the Duke of Norfolk supported the marriage to Anne—who was his niece—Queen Katherine had many friends among the Peers and they were not anxious to see her replaced.  Thus Henry needed the Commons. 
Henry would eventually throw the Abbots out of the Lords and appoint Bishops friendly to his cause.  He also would flood the peerage with new members and get his majorities.  But in the meantime his strategy was to give the Commons more and more power in return for their support. 
The Commons, for their part, were mostly self-made men.  They were business men, merchants, who represented the towns and boroughs.  They were not interested in questions of theology.  As men of business they resented the immense sums being drained from England by the papacy and thought the money could be better spent in England—increasing the navy to protect trade, opening schools and colleges to educate the sons of their constituents, sending explorers out to find new sources of raw materials and new markets as Spain, Portugal, and France were doing.  In fact, over the next century it would be these men of business who would increasingly set the course of religion in England.
The rise of the Commons gave the Englishman a sense that he had the right to be heard in government, whether in regard to matters political or matters spiritual.  Democracy and religion became tied in the English mind.  This would have drastic implications a century later for the English and two and a half-centuries later for the Americans.  But all things in time. 
Some historians rank Henry as the greatest of English monarchs for “The Tudor Revolution” and the emergence of the democratic tradition.  As Henry had no intention of causing this “revolution” the credit is misplaced.  But the fact remains that for various reasons, and the emergence of the House of Commons in the government not least among them, Henry was a great monarch and perhaps second only to one—his daughter, Elizabeth.  But all that must come later as well. 

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