Let’s go back to the history of the Church of England for an entry or two. This weekend with the Holy Father’s trip to Jordan, Palestine, and Israel will give some contemporary events to comment on, but before we get into that hoopla, I would like to advance by a notch or two the history of the Church of England as there is still so much to cover. We are only up to about 1554 and most of the best stuff is yet to come.
Where we left off was Queen Mary’s process of brining the Church of England back into the Roman Communion. It was not as quick a process as one might think. Mary had deposed about a half-dozen or more convinced Protestant bishops but to replace them had no choice but to rely on any number of bishops who had supported her father’s schism and even some who had introduced the Protestant reforms of Archbishop Cranmer during the reign of her brother, King Edward VI. Robert Parfew, Bishop of St Asaph, had even been one of the contributors to Cranmer’s 1549 Prayerbook. With only two or three exceptions of clergy who had remained on the continent during the reigns of her father and brother, there simply were no bishops and few priests who had not acceded to schism, if not having gone further in embracing the new doctrines and liturgies of Cranmer.
One of the Churchmen who had gone along with the schism of King Henry, indeed provided the canonical justifications for it, but rebelled at the liturgical and doctrinal innovations of King Edward’s reign, was Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester.
Gardiner was a brilliant jurist—holding the doctorates in both canon and civil law from Cambridge. He also was a classicist, an avid scholar of both Latin and Greek. He was one of the humanists in the early phases of what might be called the Renaissance England, following the example of Dean Colet and Thomas More. (I know I am a snob, but I am reluctant to speak of an “English Renaissance, and if it weren’t for Shakespeare I would refuse completely. The English have always struck me as far to practical to pay serious attention to anything beyond commerce and the military.) Originally in the service of Cardinal Wolsey, Henry’s all-competent Lord Chancellor, Gardiner was noticed by the King and transferred to his service before Wolsey’s fall. Gardiner served Henry in a variety of diplomatic missions on the continent, several of which had to do with advancing Henry’s plans to divorce Queen Katherine. In 1527 Gardiner was sent to Rome to plead Henry’s cause to Clement VII—a futile effort despite Gardiner’s superior knowledge of canon law because of Clement’s dependency on the Emperor Charles V, Katherine’s nephew. (Medici politics doomed this mission from the start. You can see more about this in the entry for September 7, 2013.) While Gardiner failed in his mission to secure the annulment, Henry was grateful for his efforts—and anxious to use his talents in the upcoming battle he (Henry) had determined to wage with the Church—named Gardiner his secretary. In 1531 Henry arranged for Gardiner to be named Bishop of Winchester—England’s wealthiest see. This should not be construed to mean that Gardiner was the King’s toady. In giving Gardiner the See of Winchester, Henry acknowledged that Gardiner had often opposed Henry’s policies and indeed he would do so again in the following year when Henry tried to intimidate the bishops as the break with Rome came closer. Nevertheless, as the leading canon lawyer in the realm—and indeed one of the finest in Europe—Henry depended on Gardiner both to argue the case for his annulment and to justify the break with Rome. Gardiner delivered on both counts.
Henry was no slouch theologically and although a firm Catholic doctrinally and liturgically—though not a papal Catholic after 1530 or so—was willing to make some accommodation to the crypto-Protestants in the English Church and politics. This was the Cranmer-Cromwell faction. In 1538 Cranmer had brought three Lutheran theologians to London to discuss a variety of doctrines and practices—transubstantiation, celibacy of the clergy, the importance of confession, the sacrificial nature of the Mass. As Henry was at the time in negotiation for marriage with a Protestant Princess—Anne of Cleves—he turned a blind eye to the introduction of this Trojan Horse of Continental Protestantism into his realm, but a number of conservative bishops, including Gardiner, saw it as a threat to orthodoxy. The rest of Henry’s reign would be marked by infighting among the bishops as Gardiner, Tunstall of Durham, Bonner of London and other conservatives tried to out maneuver Cranmer, Latimer and Shaxton who represented a Protestant party among the bishops. While Latimer and Shaxton did fall into Henry’s disfavor, Cranmer was able to outwit his foes and in fact turn the tables on them. When Henry died, Cranmer was able to keep Gardiner from the Council of Regency and as the new reign changed the course of the Church of England, to advance the Protestant agenda. Gardiner, who resisted, was deprived of his see and imprisoned. He remained imprisoned throughout Edward reign. Mary, upon her accession, freed him, restored him to his see at Winchester, and named him her Lord Chancellor, a position equivalent to Prime Minister today. Tables were now turned as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer, was imprisoned for treason and on trial for heresy. In Cranmer’s enforced absence, Gardiner performed the coronation rites for Mary at Westminster Abbey on November 1, 1553.
Mary and her Chancellor did not always agree. Their most notable disagreement was over Mary’s plan to marry her cousin, Philip of Spain, in hopes of bearing a child who could succeed to the throne and avoid Mary’s Protestant sister, Elizabeth, becoming Queen. Gardiner saw the unpopularity of a foreign husband, particularly a Spaniard, and joined a petition of Parliament that Mary should choose an English husband, but Mary would not be dissuaded. As Chancellor Gardiner had to conduct much of the negotiations for this ill-advised marriage and he carried out his duties and presided at their marriage in his cathedral at Winchester on July 25, 1554. The marriage failed to produce the desire heir. While Mary genuinely loved her husband, Philip saw the marriage strictly in political terms and Philip remained in England just over a year. Mary should have listened to Gardiner.
While she intended on restoring England to the Catholic Communion, Mary initially promised religious tolerance to her Protestant subjects. In regard to Cranmer she was determined to avenge her mother, but otherwise did not seem over anxious to persecute Protestants. Gardiner encouraged her in this policy of toleration, but as time went on the Queen grew more worried about what would happen should her Protestant sister gain the throne, and became more aggressive in her religious policies. Gardiner tried to warn her off this. He himself showed great tolerance towards Protestants in his diocese. But in 1554 Mary had Parliament pass the Heresy Acts as part of the conditions under which the Church of England would be readmitted to the Catholic Communion. Despite Gardiner’s advice Mary became more and more harsh on her Protestant subjects, executing almost 300 people and earning the sobriquet: Bloody Mary.
Stephen Gardiner died in November 1555 and is buried in a mortuary chapel in his cathedral.