The Reign of Henry the Eighth, Volume 1 (of 3)
by James Anthony Froude
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Henry VIII . Introduction by W. Llewelyn Williams M.P. B.C.L.

Volume One

First Published 1909

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[Illuminated Frontispiece]


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London & Toronto J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd. New York E.P. Dutton & Co


James Anthony Froude was born at Dartington Rectory, the youngest son of the Archdeacon of Totnes, on April 23, 1818. His father was a clergyman of the old school, as much squire as parson. In the concluding chapter to his History of England, Froude wrote that "for a hundred and forty years after the Revolution of 1688, the Church of England was able to fulfil with moderate success the wholesome functions of a religious establishment. Theological doctrinalism passed out of fashion; and the clergy, merged as they were in the body of the nation, and no longer endeavouring to elevate themselves into a separate order, were occupied healthily in impressing on their congregations the meaning of duty and moral responsibility to God." Of this sane and orthodox, but not over-spiritual, clergy, Archdeacon Froude was an excellent and altogether wholesome type. He was a stiff Tory; his hatred of Dissent was so uncompromising that he would not have a copy of the Pilgrim's Progress in the rectory. A stern, self-contained, reticent man, he never, in word of deed, confessed his affection for his youngest son. He was a good horseman, and was passionately fond of open-air exercises and especially of hunting. His one accomplishment was drawing, and his sketches in after years earned the praise of Ruskin.

Cast in the same mould, but fashioned by different circumstances, the archdeacon's eldest son, Richard Hurrell Froude, was a man of greater intellectual brilliance and even more masterful character. He was one of the pioneers of the Oxford Movement, and it was only his early death that deposed him from his place of equality with Newman and Keble and Pusey. Anthony was a sickly child, and from his earliest years lacked the loving care of a mother. He was brought up with Spartan severity by his father and his aunt. The most venial self-indulgence was regarded as criminal. From the age of three he was inured to hardship by being ducked every morning in a trough of ice-cold water. Hurrell Froude felt no tenderness for the ailing lad. Once, in order to rouse a manly spirit in his little brother, he took him by the heels, plunged him like another Achilles into a stream, and stirred with his head the mud at the bottom. Froude has been accused, and not without justice, of not feeling a proper aversion to acts of cruelty. The horrible Boiling Act of Henry VIII. excites neither disgust nor hatred in him; and he makes smooth excuses for the illegal tortures of the rack and the screw which were inflicted on prisoners by Elizabeth and her ministers. He had himself been reared in a hardy school; he had been trained to be indifferent to pain. It may well be that his callousness in speaking of Tudor cruelties is to be traced to the influences that surrounded his loveless childhood and youth.

Hurrell Froude was the idol of his younger brothers. He was a man of brilliant parts, and a born leader of men. His hatred of Radicals and Dissenters transcended even his father's dislike of them. His conception of the Church differed widely from that in which the archdeacon had been reared. To him a clergyman was a priest who belonged to a sacerdotal caste, and who ought not "to merge himself in the body of the nation." To him the Reformation was an infamous crime, and Henry VIII. was worse than the Bluebeard of the nursery. His hero was Thomas a Becket. He wrote a sketch of his life and career, which he did not live to finish. His friends ill-advisedly published it after his death. His ideal ecclesiastical statesman of modern times was Archbishop Laud. Charles I. was a martyr, and the Revolution of 1688 an inglorious blunder. To the day of his death—in spite of the harsh discipline which he received at his hands in boyhood, in spite of wide divergence of opinion in later years in all matters secular and religious—Froude never ceased to worship at his brother's shrine. Out of regard for his memory, more than from any passionate personal conviction, he associated himself while at Oxford with the Anglican movement. His affectionate admiration for Newman, neither time nor change served to impair. If Carlyle was his prophet in later years, his influence happily did not affect his style. That was based on the chaste model of Newman. He owed his early friendship with Newman to that great man's association with Hurrell Froude. Many years after, when Freeman had venomously accused him of "dealing stabs in the dark at a brother's almost forgotten fame"—poor Froude's offence was that he dared to write an essay on Thomas a Becket—he defended himself with rare emotion against the charge. "I look back upon my brother," he said, "as on the whole the most remarkable man I have ever met in my life. I have never seen any person—not one—in whom, as I now think him, the excellences of intellect and character were combined in fuller measure."

As Froude's powers developed and matured, and as his experience of the world broadened, he cast away his brother's yoke, and reverted more to his father's school of thought. As his father was to him the ideal clergyman of the Church of England, so the Church before 1828 remained to him the model of what an established religion should be. He was a thorough Erastian, who believed in the subordination of the Church to the state. He detested theological doctrinalism of all kinds; he revolted against the idea that the clergy should form a separate order. The pretensions of Whitgift and Laud, the High Anglican school of Keble and Pusey, the whole conception of the Church and the priesthood which underlay the Oxford Movement, were things obnoxious to him. In a characteristic passage in the chapter on the Massacre of St. Bartholomew he reveals his hatred and distrust of dogmatism. "Whenever the doctrinal aspect of Christianity has been prominent above the practical," he wrote, "whenever the first duty of the believer has been held to consist in holding particular opinions on the functions and nature of his Master, and only the second in obeying his Master's commands, then always, with a uniformity more remarkable than is obtained in any other historical phenomena, there have followed dissension, animosity, and in later ages bloodshed. Christianity, as a principle of life, has been the most powerful check upon the passions of mankind. Christianity as a speculative system of opinion has converted them into monsters of cruelty."

Holding such decided views on doctrinalism, it might have been thought that Froude would have visited all the warring sects of the sixteenth century with equal judgment. No Church was more doctrinal than that of Geneva; no Calvinist ever was more dogmatic than John Knox. But the men who fought the battle of the Reformation in England and Scotland were, in the main, the Calvinists; and to Froude the Reformation was the beginning of a new and better era, when the yoke of the priest had been finally cast away. "Calvinism," he said in one of his addresses at St. Andrews, "was the spirit which rises in revolt against untruth." John Knox was too heroic a figure not to rouse the artistic sense in Froude. "There lies one," said the Regent Morton over his coffin, "who never feared the face of mortal man." Froude has made this epitaph the text of the noblest eulogy ever delivered on Knox. "No grander figure can be found, in the entire history of the Reformation in this island, than that of Knox." He surpassed Cromwell and Burghley in integrity of purpose and in purity of methods. He towered above the Regent Murray in intellect, and he worked on a larger scale than Latimer. "His was the voice that taught the peasant of the Lothians that he was a free man, the equal in the sight of God with the proudest peer or prelate that had trampled on his forefathers. He was the one antagonist whom Mary Stuart could not soften nor Maitland deceive. He it was who had raised the poor commons of his country into a stern and rugged people, who might be hard, narrow, superstitious, and fanatical, but who nevertheless were men whom neither king, noble, nor priest could force again to submit to tyranny." Yet even here, Froude could not refrain from quoting the sardonic comment of the English ambassador at Edinburgh: Knox behaved, said Randolph, "as though he were of God's privy council."

It is certain, at least, that other reformers, who were not greatly inferior to Knox in capacity, and not at all in piety and honesty, have not met the same generous treatment at his hands. He sneers at Hooper because he had scruples about wearing episcopal robes at his consecration as Bishop of Worcester, though he himself in a famous passage asserts the anomalous position of bishops in the Church of England. Hooper, as a Calvinist, was in the right in objecting, and though the point upon which he took his stand was nominally one of form, there lay behind it a protest against the Anglican conception of a bishop. He speaks slightingly of Ridley and Ferrars, though he makes ample amends to them and to Hooper, when he comes to describe the manner of their death. To the reformers who fled from the Marian persecution, including men like Jewel and Grindal, he refers with scornful contempt, though he has no word of criticism to apply to Knox for retiring to England and to the continent when the flame of persecution was certainly not more fierce. Latimer is one of his favourites,—a plain, practical man, not given to abstract speculation or theological subtleties, but one who was content to do his duty day by day without the fear of man before his eyes. Latimer, though he was looked upon as a Protestant in the earliest years of the English Reformation, believed in the Real Presence up to a short time before his death. But of all English ecclesiastics Thomas Cranmer was perhaps most to Froude's liking. Cranmer was, like Froude himself, an artist in words. The English liturgy owes its charm and beauty to his sense of style, his grace of expression, and his cultured piety. That he was a great man few will be found in these days to maintain; fewer still will believe that he deserved the scathing invective of Macaulay. But no one can read the account given by Froude of his last years without feeling that the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury was neither saint nor martyr. If ever there was one, he was a timeserver. He pronounced the divorce of Catherine of Arragon, though he had sworn fealty to the Pope. He never raised a protest against any of the political murders of Henry VIII.—with the notable exception of his courageous attempt to save his friend, Thomas Cromwell. Even in that case, however, he lies under the suspicion of having interfered through fear that his own fate was involved in that of the malleus monachorum. In the days of Edward VI. he aimed at the liberty, if not at the life, of Bonner and Gardiner, without semblance of legal right: He recanted in the reign of Mary when he thought he could purchase his miserable life. It was only when all hope of pardon was past that he re-affirmed his belief in the reformed faith. Indeed, he waited until the day of his execution before withdrawing his recantation, and confounded his enemies on the way to the stake. To a master of dramatic narrative the last scene of Cranmer's life came as a relief and an inspiration. "So perished Cranmer," wrote Froude, in a memorable passage: "he was brought out, with the eyes of his soul blinded, to make sport for his enemies, and in his death he brought upon them a wider destruction than he had effected by his teaching while alive. Pole was appointed the next day to the See of Canterbury; but in other respects the court had over-reached themselves by their cruelty. Had they been contented to accept the recantation, they would have left the archbishop to die broken-hearted, pointed at by the finger of pitying scorn; and the Reformation would have been disgraced in its champion. They were tempted, by an evil spirit of revenge, into an act unsanctioned even by their own bloody laws; and they gave him an opportunity of writing his name in the roll of martyrs. The worth of a man must be measured by his life, not by his failure under a single and peculiar peril. The Apostle, though forewarned, denied his Master on the first alarm of danger; yet that Master, who knew his nature in its strength and its infirmity, chose him for the rock on which he would build his Church."

With this conscious and avowed bias in favour of undogmatic Christianity, Froude came to write the story of the transition of England from a Catholic to a Protestant country. He was not without sympathy with the old order of things. We cannot but feel a thrill as we read his incomparable description of the change which was effected in men's thoughts and ideas by the translation of the mediaeval into the modern world? "For, indeed, a change was coming upon the world, the meaning and direction of which even still is hidden from us, a change from era to era. The paths trodden by the footsteps of ages were broken up; old things were passing away, and the faith and the life of ten centuries were dissolving like a dream. Chivalry was dying; the abbey and the castle were soon together to crumble into ruins; and all the forms, desires, beliefs, convictions, of the old world were passing away, never to return. A new continent had risen up beyond the western sea. The floor of heaven, inlaid with stars, had sunk back into an infinite abyss of immeasurable space; and the firm earth itself, unfixed from its foundations, was seen to be but a small atom in the awful vastness of the universe. In the fabric of habit which they had so laboriously built for themselves, mankind were to remain no longer. And now it is all gone—like an unsubstantial pageant faded; and between us and the old English there lies a gulf of mystery which the prose of the historian will never adequately bridge. They cannot come to us, and our imagination can but feebly penetrate to them. Only among the aisles of the cathedral, only as we gaze upon their silent figures sleeping on their tombs, some faint conceptions float before us of what these men were when they were alive; and perhaps in the sound of church bells, that peculiar creation of mediaeval age, which falls upon the ear like the echo of a vanished world." Froude was once asked what was the greatest and most essential quality of an historian. He replied that it was imagination. It was a true and a just saying, and Froude himself possessed the faculty in abundance.

It was not only with the old order that Froude showed his sympathy. He is seldom ungenerous in his references to individual Catholics, however mistaken in his sight their opinions may have been. With Wolsey and Warham, Fisher and More, even with Gardiner and Bonner he deals fairly and with some amount of real sympathy. The heroic death of Campian moves him to pity just as much as the death of Latimer; the strenuous labours of Father Parsons to overthrow Elizabeth and Protestantism failed to remove him beyond the pale of Froude's charitable judgment. One English Catholic alone was reserved for the historian's harsh and sometimes petulant criticism. For Cardinal Pole Froude felt the angriest contempt. He was descended from the blood royal, both of England and of Wales. On his father's side he was descended in direct line from the ancient princes of Powis; on his mother's from the Plantagenets and the Nevilles. He was the most learned and illustrious Englishman of his age. He had stood high in King Henry's favour; he was destined for the greatest offices in the state. He was not without natural ambition. Yet he forfeited all that he had—the favour of his prince, the society of his mother whom he loved, and the kindred who were proud of him, the hope of promotion and of power, his friends, his home, and his country, for conscience' sake. He remained true to the ancient faith in which he was reared. With unerring instinct he foresaw that, once England was severed from the Papacy, it would be impossible for king or parliament to stem the flood of the Reformation. For twenty years he remained an exile on the continent. He returned an old and broken man, to witness the overthrow of his cherished plans. He was repudiated by the Pope whose authority he had sacrificed everything to maintain, and in his old age he suffered the humiliation of being accused of heresy in the court of Rome. He died the same day as Mary died, with the knowledge that all his life's labours and sacrifices were come to naught, and that the dominion of the Roman Church in England was gone for ever. Froude saw none of the pathos or tragedy of Pole's life. To him the cardinal was a renegade, a traitor to his country, a mercenary of the Pope, a foreign potentate, a "hysterical dreamer," who vainly imagined that he was "the champion of heaven, and the destroyer of heresy."

Froude was, above all, an Englishman. His strongest sympathies went out to the "God's Englishmen" of Elizabeth's reign, who broke the power of Rome and Spain, and who made England supreme in Europe. In his first chapter he describes the qualities of Englishmen with a zest and gusto that drew the comment from Carlyle that "this seems to me exaggerated: what we call John Bullish." He described them as "a sturdy, high-hearted race, sound in body and fierce in spirit which, under the stimulus of those great shins of beef, their common diet, were the wonder of the age." Carlyle's advice when he read this passage in proof was characteristic:—"Modify a little: Frederick the Great was brought up on beer-sops; Robert Burns on oatmeal porridge; and Mahomet and the Caliphs conquered the world on barley meal." But the passage stood unmodified, in spite of Froude's regard for his master.

How this fierce and turbulent people fought their way to world-wide empire was a problem which Froude thought he was able to solve. It was, in the main, because they broke down the power of the priests, and insisted on the supremacy of state over Church. Therefore all his filial affection, his patriotism, and his ecclesiastical prejudices were arrayed on the same side. If history be an exact science, then Froude can lay no claim to the title of historian. He was a brilliant advocate, a man of letters endowed with a matchless style, writing of matters which interested him deeply, and in the investigation of which he spent twenty years of his life. Froude himself would have been the first to repudiate the idea that history is philosophy teaching by examples, or that an historian has necessarily a greater insight into the problems of the present than any other observant student of affairs. "Gibbon," he once wrote, "believed that the era of conquerors was at an end. Had he lived out the full life of man, he would have seen Europe at the feet of Napoleon. But a few years ago we believed the world had grown too civilised for war, and the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park was to be the inauguration of a new era. Battles, bloody as Napoleon's, are now the familiar tale of every day; and the arts which have made the greatest progress are the arts of destruction."

It is absurd to attack Froude on the ground that he was biassed. No man has ever yet written a living history without being biassed. Thucydides detested the radicalism of Cleon as heartily as Gibbon hated the Christianity of Rome. It was once the fashion of the Oxford school to decry Froude as being unworthy of the name of historian. Stubbs, indeed, did pay public tribute to Froude's "great work," but he stood almost alone of his school. Freeman for many years pursued and persecuted Froude with a persistent malevolence which happily has no parallel in the story of English scholarship. It is not necessary in this place to do more than refer to that unpleasant episode. Since the publication of the brilliant vindication of Froude in Mr. Herbert Paul's Life, it would be superfluous to go into the details of that unhappy controversy. The only difference between Froude and other historians is that Froude's partisanship is always obvious. He was not more favourable to Henry VIII. than Stubbs was to Thomas a Becket. But Froude openly avowed his preferences and his dislikes. Catholicism was to him "a dying superstition," Protestantism "a living truth." Freeman went further, and charged Froude with having written a history which was not "un livre de bonne joy." It is only necessary to recall the circumstances under which the History was written to dispose of that odious charge. In order to obtain material for his History, Froude spent years of his life in the little Spanish village of Simancas. "I have worked in all," he said in his Apologia, "through nine hundred volumes of letters, notes, and other papers, private and official, in five languages and in different handwritings. I am not rash enough to say that I have never misread a word, or overlooked a passage of importance. I profess only to have dealt with my materials honestly to the best of my ability." Few, indeed, have had to encounter such difficulties as met Froude in his exploration of the archives at Simancas. "Often at the end of a page," he wrote many years after, "I have felt as after descending a precipice, and have wondered how I got down. I had to cut my way through a jungle, for no one had opened the road for me. I have been turned into rooms piled to the window-sill with bundles of dust-coloured despatches, and told to make the best of it. Often have I found the sand glistening on the ink where it had been sprinkled when a page was turned. There the letter had lain, never looked at again since it was read and put away." Of these difficulties not a trace is discoverable in Froude's easy and effortless narrative. When he was approaching the completion of his History, he vowed that his account of the Armada should be as interesting as a novel. He succeeded not only with that portion of his task, but with all the stirring story that he set out to narrate. But the ease of his style only concealed the real pains which he had taken. Of Freeman's charge Froude has long been honourably acquitted. The Simancas MSS. have since been published in the Rolls Series, and Mr. Martin Hume, in his Introduction, has paid his tribute to the care, accuracy, and good faith of their first transcriber. Long before this testimony could be given, Scottish historians who disagreed with Froude's conclusions on many points,—men such as Skelton and Burton—had been profoundly impressed with the care, skill, and conscientiousness with which Froude handled the mass of tangled materials relating to the history of Scotland.

This does not mean that Froude is free from minor inaccuracies, or that he is innocent of graver faults which flowed from his abundant quality of imagination. He constantly quotes a sentence inaccurately in his text, while it is accurately transcribed in a footnote. He is careless in matters which are important to students of Debrett, as for instance, he indiscriminately describes Lord Howard as Lord William Howard and Lord Howard. But Froude was sometimes guilty of something worse than these trivial "howlers." Lecky exposed, with calm ruthlessness, some of Froude's exaggerations—to call them by no worse name—in his Story of the English in Ireland. When his Erasmus was translated into Dutch, the countrymen of Erasmus accused him of constant, if not deliberate, inaccuracy. Lord Carnarvon once sent Froude to South Africa as an informal special commissioner. When he returned to this country he wrote an article on the South African problem in the Quarterly Review. Sir Bartle Frere, who knew South Africa as few men did, said of it that it was an "essay in which for whole pages a truth expressed in brilliant epigrams alternates with mistakes or misstatements which would scarcely be pardoned in a special war correspondent hurriedly writing against time." So dangerous is the quality of imagination in a writer!

Truth to tell, Froude was a literary man with a fondness for historical investigation, and an artist's passion for the dramatic in life and story. He wrote with a purpose—that purpose being to defend the English Reformation against the attacks of the neo-Catholic-Anglicans, under whose influence he had himself been for a time in his youth. To him, therefore, Henry VIII. was "the majestic lord who broke the bonds of Rome." This is not the occasion, nor is the present writer the man, to analyse that complex and masterful personality. Froude started to defend the English Reformation against the vile charge that it was the outcome of kingly lust. That charge he has finally dispelled. Henry VIII. was not the monster that Lingard painted. He beheaded two queens, but few will be found to assert to-day that either Anne Boleyn or Catherine Howard were innocent martyrs. People must agree to differ to the crack of doom as to the justice of Catherine's divorce. It is one of those questions which different men will continue to answer in different ways. But one thing is abundantly clear. If Henry was actuated merely by passion for Anne Boleyn, he would scarcely have waited for years before putting Queen Catherine away. Henry divorced Anne of Cleves, but Anne, who survived the dissolution of her marriage and remained in England for twenty years, made no complaint of her treatment, and she has had no champions either among Catholic or Protestant writers. Her divorce is only remembered as the occasion of the downfall of the greatest statesman of his age, Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex. But in his eagerness to proclaim the truth, Froude went on to defend a paradox. Once free from the charge of lust,—and compared with Francis of France or Charles V., Henry was a continent man—Henry became to Froude the ideal monarch.

Some one has said that Henry VIII. was the greatest king that ever lived, because he always got his own way. If that be the test, then Henry was indeed "every inch a king." He broke with Rome; he deposed the Pope from his supremacy over England; he dissolved the monasteries; he sent the noblest and wisest in England to the scaffold; he reduced Wales to law and order and gave her a constitution; he married and unmarried as he liked; he disposed of the succession to the throne of England by his will; and his people never murmured. Only once, when the Pilgrimage of Grace broke out, was his throne in any danger, and that insurrection he easily suppressed. He made war with France; he invaded Scotland more than once, and every time with striking success. He played his vigorous part in European politics, and at his death he left his realm inviolate. It is an amazing record, which might well dazzle a writer of Froude's temperament and training. But there are dark shades in the picture, which Froude was content to make little of, if not to ignore. He is fond of contrasting Henry's way with conspirators with that of his daughter Elizabeth. He sneers at her "tenderness" towards high-born traitors, and never ceases to reproach her with her one act of repression after the Yorkshire rising. But he had not a word to say against the tyrannical murders of Henry VIII. Elizabeth truly boasted that she never punished opinion: Henry sent to the scaffold better men than himself for holding academical opinions contrary to his own. Cardinal Fisher may have been—after the publication of Chappuys's letters it is not possible to deny that he was—technically guilty of treason. But he was a saint and an old man past eighty, and "the earth on the edge of the grave was already crumbling under his feet." The king spared neither age nor worth nor innocence. He had been the familiar friend of More; he had walked through his gardens at Chelsea leaning on his arm; More had been his chancellor; he was still the greatest of his subjects; while frankly admitting that he differed in opinion from the king on the question of the royal supremacy, he promised that he would not try to influence others. Henry was inexorable. He not only condemned him to die a traitor's death,—he added a callous message, which still rouses the indignation of every generous soul, that he should "not use many words on the scaffold." Thomas Cromwell had served him as few ministers have served a king; to him was due—or, at least, he was the capable instrument of—the policy which has given distinction to Henry's reign; but he was delivered over to his enemies when the king's caprice had shifted to another quarter. Even Froude finds it difficult to excuse the execution of More and Cromwell. But, having once made up his mind to make a hero of Henry, he goes on with it bravely to the end. He hides nothing, he excuses nothing, he extenuates nothing. Neither the death of the aged Countess of Salisbury or of the gallant Earl of Surrey, nor the illegal imprisonment of the aged Norfolk, the hero of Flodden, shakes his faith in his hero-king. He even relates, with minute detail, how a few days before the king's death, four poor persons, one of whom was a tailor, were burnt at the stake for denying the Real Presence. But his final comment on it all was: "His personal faults were great, and he shared, besides them, in the errors of his age; but far deeper blemishes would be but scars upon the features of a sovereign who in trying times sustained nobly the honour of the English name, and carried the commonwealth securely through the hardest crisis in its history."

When a young man Froude had been elected Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford. This entailed his taking holy orders, though he does not seem to have regularly performed the duties of a clergyman. In 1849 he published his first book, The Nemesis of Faith, now happily forgotten. It raised an immediate commotion. It was denounced as heretical, and the senior tutor of Exeter burnt it during a lecture in the College Hall. Froude resigned his Fellowship, and his connection with the university was severed for thirty-three years. He was one of the first to take advantage of the alteration of the law which enabled a clergyman to resign his orders. In 1892 he went back to Oxford as Regius Professor of Modern History. "The temptation of going back to Oxford in a respectable way," he said, "was too much for me." He died on October 20, 1894, and on his tombstone he is simply described, by his own wish, as Professor of Modern History in the University of Oxford.

The writer is indebted for information with regard to Froude's life to Mr. Pollard's article in the Dictionary of National Biography, and to Mr. Herbert Paul's admirable Life of Froude (Pitman).


November 16, 1908.

The following is a list of the published works of J.A. Froude:

Life of St. Neot (Lives of the English Saints, edited by J.H. Newman), 1844; Shadows of the Clouds (Tales), by Zeta (pseud.), 1847; A Sermon (on 2 Cor. vii. 10) preached at St. Mary's Church on the Death of the Rev. George May Coleridge, 1847; Article on Spinoza (Oxford and Cambridge Review), 1847; The Nemesis of Faith (Tale), 1849; England's Forgotten Worthies (Westminster Review), 1852; Book of Job (Westminster Review), 1853; Poems of Matthew Arnold (Westminster Review), 1854; Suggestions on the Best Means of Teaching English History (Oxford Essays, etc.), 1855; History of England, 12 vols., 1856-70; The Influence of the Reformation on the Scottish Character, 1865; Inaugural Address delivered to the University of St. Andrews, March 19, 1869, 1869; Short Studies on Great Subjects, 1867, 2 vols., series 2-4, 1871-83 (articles from Fraser's Magazine, Westminster Review, etc.); The Cat's Pilgrimage, 1870; Calvinism: Address at St. Andrews, 1871; The English in Ireland, 3 vols., 1872-74; Bunyan (English Men of Letters), 1878; Caesar: a Sketch, 1879; Two Lectures on South Africa, 1880; Thomas Carlyle (a history of the first forty years of his life, etc.), 2 vols., 1882; Luther: a Short Biography, 1883; Thomas Carlyle (a history of his life in London, 1834-81), 2 vols., 1884; Oceana, 1886; The English in the West Indies, 1888; Liberty and Property: an Address [1888]; The Two Chiefs of Dunboy, 1889; Lord Beaconsfield (a Biography), 1890; The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon, 1891; The Spanish Story of the Armada, 1892; Life and Letters of Erasmus, 1894; English Seamen in the Sixteenth Century, 1895; Lectures on the Council of Trent, 1896; My Relations with Carlyle, 1903.

EDITED:—Carlyle's Reminiscences, 1881; Mrs. Carlyle's Letters, 1883.














In periods like the present, when knowledge is every day extending, and the habits and thoughts of mankind are perpetually changing under the influence of new discoveries, it is no easy matter to throw ourselves back into a time in which for centuries the European world grew upon a single type, in which the forms of the father's thoughts were the forms of the son's, and the late descendant was occupied in treading into paths the footprints of his distant ancestors. So absolutely has change become the law of our present condition, that it is identified with energy and moral health; to cease to change is to lose place in the great race; and to pass away from off the earth with the same convictions which we found when we entered it, is to have missed the best object for which we now seem to exist.

It has been, however, with the race of men as it has been with the planet which they inhabit. As we look back over history, we see times of change and progress alternating with other times when life and thought have settled into permanent forms; when mankind, as if by common consent, have ceased to seek for increase of knowledge, and, contented with what they possess, have endeavoured to make use of it for purposes of moral cultivation. Such was the condition of the Greeks through many ages before the Persian war; such was that of the Romans till the world revenged itself upon its conquerors by the introduction among them of the habits of the conquered; and such again became the condition of Europe when the Northern nations grafted the religion and the laws of the Western empire on their own hardy natures, and shaped out that wonderful spiritual and political organisation which remained unshaken for a thousand years.

The aspirant after sanctity in the fifteenth century of the Christian era found a model which he could imitate in detail in the saint of the fifth. The gentleman at the court of Edward IV. or Charles of Burgundy could imagine no nobler type of heroism than he found in the stories of King Arthur's knights. The forms of life had become more elaborate—the surface of it more polished—but the life itself remained essentially the same; it was the development of the same conception of human excellence; just as the last orders of Gothic architecture were the development of the first, from which the idea had worked its way till the force of it was exhausted.

A condition of things differing alike both outwardly and inwardly from that into which a happier fortune has introduced ourselves, is necessarily obscure to us. In the alteration of our own character, we have lost the key which would interpret the characters of our fathers, and the great men even of our own English history before the Reformation seem to us almost like the fossil skeletons of another order of beings. Some broad conclusions as to what they were are at least possible to us, however; and we are able to determine, with tolerable certainty, the social condition of the people of this country, such as it was before the movements of the sixteenth century, and during the process of those movements.

The extent of the population can only be rudely conjectured. A rough census was taken at the time of the Armada, when it was found to be something under five millions; but anterior to this I can find no authority on which I can rely with any sort of confidence. It is my impression, however, from a number of reasons—each in itself insignificant, but which taken together leave little doubt upon my mind—that it had attained that number by a growth so slow as to be scarcely perceptible, and had nearly approached to it many generations before. Simon Fish, in The Supplication of Beggars,[1] says that the number of households in England in 1531 was 520,000. His calculation is of the most random kind; for he rates the number of parishes at 52,000, with ten households on an average in each parish. A mistake so preposterous respecting the number of parishes shows the great ignorance of educated men upon the subject. The ten households in each parish may, probably (in some parts of the country), have been a correct computation; but this tells us little with respect to the aggregate numbers, for the households were very large—the farmers, and the gentlemen also, usually having all the persons whom they employed residing under their own roof. Neither from this, therefore, nor from any other positive statement which I have seen, can I gather any conclusion that may be depended upon. But when we remember the exceeding slowness with which the population multiplied in a time in which we can accurately measure it—that is to say, from 1588 to the opening of the last century—under circumstances in every way more favourable to an increase, I think we may assume that the increase was not so great between 1500 and 1588, and that, previous to 1500, it did not more than keep pace with the waste from civil and foreign war. The causes, indeed, were wholly wanting which lead to a rapid growth of numbers. Numbers now increase with the increase of employment and with the facilities which are provided by the modern system of labour for the establishment of independent households. At present, any able-bodied unskilled labourer earns, as soon as he has arrived at man's estate, as large an amount of wages as he will earn at any subsequent time; and having no connection with his employer beyond the receiving the due amount of weekly money from him, and thinking himself as well able to marry as he is likely to be, he takes a wife, and is usually the father of a family before he is thirty. Before the Reformation, not only were early marriages determinately discouraged, but the opportunity for them did not exist. A labourer living in a cottage by himself was a rare exception to the rule; and the work of the field was performed generally, as it now is in the large farms in America and Australia, by servants who lived in the families of the squire or the farmer, and who, while in that position, commonly remained single, and married only when by prudence they had saved a sufficient sum to enable them to enter some other position.

Checked by circumstances of this kind, population would necessarily remain almost stationary, and a tendency to an increase was not of itself regarded by the statesmen of the day as any matter for congratulation or as any evidence of national prosperity. Not an increase of population, which would facilitate production and beat down wages by competition, but the increase of the commonwealth, the sound and healthy maintenance of the population already existing, were the chief objects which the government proposed to itself; and although Henry VIII. carefully nursed his manufactures, there is sufficient proof in the grounds alleged for the measures to which he resorted, that there was little redundancy of occupation.

In a statute, for instance, for the encouragement of the linen manufactures, it is said[2] that—"The King's Highness, calling to his most blessed remembrance the great number of idle people daily increasing throughout this his Realm, supposeth that one great cause thereof is by the continued bringing into the same the great number of wares and merchandise made, and brought out and from, the parts beyond the sea into this his Realm, ready wrought by manual occupation; amongst the which wares one kind of merchandise in great quantity, which is linen cloth of divers sorts made in divers countries beyond the sea, is daily conveyed into this Realm; which great quantity of linen cloth so brought is consumed and spent within the same; by reason whereof not only the said strange countries where the said linen cloth is made, by the policy and industry of making and vending the same are greatly enriched; and a marvellous great number of their people, men, women, and children, are set on work and occupation, and kept from idleness, to the great furtherance and advancement of their commonwealth; but also contrariwise the inhabitants and subjects of this Realm, for lack of like policy and industry, are compelled to buy all or most part of the linen cloth consumed in the same, amounting to inestimable sums of money. And also the people of this Realm, as well men as women, which should and might be set on work, by exercise of like policy and craft of spinning, weaving, and making of cloth, lies now in idleness and otiosity, to the high displeasure of Almighty God, great diminution of the King's people, and extreme ruin, decay, and impoverishment of this Realm. Therefore, for reformation of these things, the King's most Royal Majesty intending, like a most virtuous Prince, to provide remedy in the premises; nothing so much coveting as the increase of the Commonwealth of this his Realm, with also the virtuous exercise of his most loving subjects and people, and to avoid that most abominable sin of idleness out of the Realm, hath, by the advice and consent of his Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled, ordained and enacted that every person occupying land for tillage, shall for every sixty acres which he hath under the plough, sow one quarter of an acre in flax or hemp."

This Act was designed immediately to keep the wives and children of the poor in work in their own houses;[3] but it leaves no doubt that manufactures in England had not of themselves that tendency to self-development which would encourage an enlarging population. The woollen manufactures similarly appear, from the many statutes upon them, to have been vigorous at a fixed level, but to have shown no tendency to rise beyond that level. With a fixed market and a fixed demand, production continued uniform.

A few years subsequent, indeed, to the passing of the Act which I have quoted, a very curious complaint is entered in the statute book, from the surface of which we should gather, that so far from increasing, manufactures had alarmingly declined. The fact mentioned may bear another meaning, and a meaning far more favourable to the state of the country; although, if such a phenomenon were to occur at the present time, it could admit of but one interpretation. In the 18th and 19th of the 32nd of Henry VIII., all the important towns in England, from the Tweed to the Land's End, are stated, one by one, to have fallen into serious decay. Usually when we meet with language of this kind, we suppose it to mean nothing more than an awakening to the consciousness of evils which had long existed, and which had escaped notice only because no one was alive to them. In the present instance, however, the language was too strong and too detailed to allow of this explanation; and the great body of the English towns undoubtedly were declining in wealth and in the number of their inhabitants. "Divers and many beautiful houses of habitation," these statutes say, "built in tyme past within their walls and liberties, now are fallen down and decayed, and at this day remain unre-edified, and do lie as desolate and vacant grounds, many of them nigh adjoining to the High-streets, replenished with much uncleanness and filth, with pits, sellers, and vaults lying open and uncovered, to the great perill and danger of the inhabitants and other the King's subjects passing by the same; and some houses be very weak and feeble, ready to fall down, and therefore dangerous to pass by, to the great decay and hinderance of the said boroughs and towns."[4]

At present, the decay of a town implies the decay of the trade of the town; and the decay of all towns simultaneously would imply a general collapse of the trade of the whole country. Walled towns, however, before the Reformation, existed for other purposes than as the centre points of industry: they existed for the protection of property and life: and although it is not unlikely that the agitation of the Reformation itself did to some degree interrupt the occupation of the people, yet I believe that the true account of the phenomenon which then so much disturbed the parliament, is, that one of their purposes was no longer required; the towns flagged for a time because the country had become secure. The woollen manufacture in Worcestershire was spreading into the open country,[5] and, doubtless, in other counties as well; and the "beautiful houses" which had fallen into decay, were those which, in the old times of insecurity, had been occupied by wealthy merchants and tradesmen, who were now enabled, by a strong and settled government, to dispense with the shelter of locked gates and fortified walls, and remove their residences to more convenient situations. It was, in fact, the first symptom of the impending social revolution. Two years before the passing of this Act, the magnificent Hengrave Hall, in Suffolk, had been completed by Sir Thomas Kitson, "mercer of London,"[6] and Sir Thomas Kitson was but one of many of the rising merchants who were now able to root themselves on the land by the side of the Norman nobility, first to rival, and then slowly to displace them.

This mighty change, however, was long in silent progress before it began to tell on the institutions of the country. When city burghers bought estates, the law insisted jealously on their accepting with them all the feudal obligations. Attempts to use the land as "a commodity" were, as we shall presently see, angrily repressed; while, again, in the majority of instances, such persons endeavoured, as they do at present, to cover the recent origin of their families by adopting the manners of the nobles, instead of transferring the habits of the towns to the parks and chases of the English counties. The old English organisation maintained its full activity; and the duties of property continued to be for another century more considered than its rights.

Turning, then, to the tenure of land—for if we would understand the condition of the people, it is to this point that our first attention must be directed—we find that through the many complicated varieties of it there was one broad principle which bore equally upon every class, that the land of England must provide for the defence of England. The feudal system, though practically modified, was still the organising principle of the nation, and the owner of land was bound to military service for his country whenever occasion required. Further, the land was to be so administered, that the accustomed number of families supported by it should not be diminished, and that the State should suffer no injury from the carelessness or selfishness of the owners.[7] Land never was private property in that personal sense of property in which we speak of a thing as our own, with which we may do as we please; and in the administration of estates, as indeed in the administration of all property whatsoever, duty to the State was at all times supposed to override private interest or inclination. Even tradesmen, who took advantage of the fluctuations of the market, were rebuked by parliament for "their greedy and covetous minds," "as more regarding their own singular lucre and profit than the commonweal of the Realm;"[8] and although in an altered world, neither industry nor enterprise will thrive except under the stimulus of self-interest, we may admire the confidence which in another age expected every man to prefer the advantage of the community to his own. All land was held upon a strictly military principle. It was the representative of authority, and the holder or the owner took rank in the army of the State according to the nature of his connection with it. It was first broadly divided among the great nobility holding immediately under the crown, who, above and beyond the ownership of their private estates, were the Lords of the Fee throughout their presidency, and possessed in right of it the services of knights and gentlemen who held their manors under them, and who followed their standard in war. Under the lords of manors, again, small freeholds and copyholds were held of various extent, often forty shilling and twenty shilling value, tenanted by peasant occupiers, who thus, on their own land, lived as free Englishmen, maintaining by their own free labour themselves and their families. There was thus a descending scale of owners, each of whom possessed his separate right, which the law guarded and none might violate; yet no one of whom, again, was independent of an authority higher than himself; and the entire body of the English free possessors of the soil was interpenetrated by a coherent organisation which converted them into a perpetually subsisting army of soldiers. The extent of land which was held by the petty freeholders was very large, and the possession of it was jealously treasured; the private estates of the nobles and gentlemen were either cultivated by their own servants, or let out, as at present, to free tenants; or (in earlier times) were occupied by villains, a class who, without being bondmen, were expected to furnish further services than those of the field, services which were limited by the law, and recognised by an outward ceremony, a solemn oath and promise from the villain to his lord. Villanage, in the reign of Henry VIII., had practically ceased. The name of it last appears upon the statute book in the early years of the reign of Richard II., when the disputes between villains and their liege lords on their relative rights had furnished matter for cumbrous lawsuits, and by general consent the relation had merged of itself into a more liberal form. Thus serfdom had merged or was rapidly merging into free servitude; but it did not so merge that labouring men, if they pleased, were allowed to live in idleness. Every man was regimented somewhere; and although the peasantry, when at full age, were allowed, under restrictions, their own choice of masters, yet the restrictions both on masters and servants were so severe as to prevent either from taking advantage of the necessities of the other, or from terminating through caprice or levity, or for any insufficient reason, a connection presumed to be permanent.[9]

Through all these arrangements a single aim is visible, that every man in England should have his definite place and definite duty assigned to him, and that no human being should be at liberty to lead at his own pleasure an unaccountable existence. The discipline of an army was transferred to the details of social life, and it issued in a chivalrous perception of the meaning of the word duty, and in the old characteristic spirit of English loyalty.

From the regulations with respect to land, a coarser advantage was also derived, of a kind which at the present time will be effectively appreciated. It is a common matter of dispute whether landed estates should be large or small; whether it is better that the land should be divided among small proprietors, cultivating their own ground, or that it should follow its present tendency, and be shared by a limited and constantly diminishing number of wealthy landlords. The advocates for a peasant proprietary tell us truly, that a landed monopoly is dangerous; that the possession of a spot of ground, though it be but a few acres, is the best security for loyalty, giving the state a pledge for its owner, and creating in the body of the nation a free, vigorous, and manly spirit. The advocates for the large estates tell us, that the masses are too ill-educated to be trusted with independence; that without authority over them, these small proprietors become wasteful, careless, improvident; that the free spirit becomes a democratic and dangerous spirit; and finally, that the resources of the land cannot properly be brought out by men without capital to cultivate it. Either theory is plausible. The advocates of both can support their arguments with an appeal to experience; and the verdict of fact has not as yet been pronounced emphatically.

The problem will be resolved in the future history of this country. It was also nobly and skilfully resolved in the past. The knights and nobles retained the authority and power which was attached to the lordships of the fees. They retained extensive estates in their own hands or in the occupation of their immediate tenants; but the large proportion of the lands was granted out by them to smaller owners, and the expenditure of their own incomes in the wages and maintenance of their vast retinues left but a small margin for indulgence in luxuries. The necessities of their position obliged them to regard their property rather as a revenue to be administered in trust, than as "a fortune" to be expended in indulgence. Before the Reformation, while the differences of social degree were enormous, the differences in habits of life were comparatively slight, and the practice of men in these things was curiously the reverse of our own. Dress, which now scarcely suffices to distinguish the master from his servant, was then the symbol of rank, prescribed by statute to the various orders of society as strictly as the regimental uniform to officers and privates; diet also was prescribed, and with equal strictness; but the diet of the nobleman was ordered down to a level which was then within the reach of the poorest labourer. In 1336, the following law was enacted by the Parliament of Edward III.:[10] "Whereas, heretofore through the excessive and over-many sorts of costly meats which the people of this Realm have used more than elsewhere, many mischiefs have happened to the people of this Realm—for the great men by these excesses have been sore grieved; and the lesser people, who only endeavour to imitate the great ones in such sort of meats, are much impoverished, whereby they are not able to aid themselves, nor their liege lord, in time of need, as they ought; and many other evils have happened, as well to their souls as their bodies—our Lord the King, desiring the common profit as well of the great men as the common people of his Realm, and considering the evils, grievances, and mischiefs aforesaid, by the common assent of the prelates, earls, barons, and other nobles of his said Realm, and of the commons of the same Realm, hath ordained and established that no man, of what estate or condition soever he be, shall cause himself to be served, in his house or elsewhere, at dinner, meal, or supper, or at any other time, with more than two courses, and each mess of two sorts of victuals at the utmost, be it of flesh or fish, with the common sorts of pottage, without sauce or any other sorts of victuals. And if any man choose to have sauce for his mess, he may, provided it be not made at great cost; and if fish or flesh be to be mixed therein, it shall be of two sorts only at the utmost, either fish or flesh, and shall stand instead of a mess, except only on the principal feasts of the year, on which days every man may be served with three courses at the utmost, after the manner aforesaid."

Sumptuary laws are among the exploded fallacies which we have outgrown, and we smile at the unwisdom which could expect to regulate private habits and manners by statute. Yet some statutes may be of moral authority when they cannot be actually enforced, and may have been regarded, even at the time at which they were issued, rather as an authoritative declaration of what wise and good men considered to be right, than as laws to which obedience could be compelled. This act, at any rate, witnesses to what was then thought to be right by "the great persons" of the English realm; and when great persons will submit themselves of their free will to regulations which restrict their private indulgence, they are in little danger of disloyalty from those whom fortune has placed below them.

Such is one aspect of these old arrangements; it is unnecessary to say that with these, as with all other institutions created and worked by human beings, the picture admits of being reversed. When by the accident of birth men are placed in a position of authority, no care in their training will prevent it from falling often to singularly unfit persons. The command of a permanent military force was a temptation to ambition, to avarice, or hatred, to the indulgence of private piques and jealousies, to political discontent on private and personal grounds. A combination of three or four of the leading nobles was sufficient, when an incapable prince sate on the throne, to effect a revolution; and the rival claims of the houses of York and Lancaster to the crown, took the form of a war unequalled in history for its fierce and determined malignancy, the whole nation tearing itself in pieces in a quarrel in which no principle was at stake, and no national object was to be gained. A more terrible misfortune never befel either this or any other country, and it was made possible only in virtue of that loyalty with which the people followed the standard, through good and evil, of their feudal superiors. It is still a question, however, whether the good or the evil of the system predominated; and the answer to such question is the more difficult because we have no criterion by which, in these matters, degrees of good and evil admit of being measured. Arising out of the character of the nation, it reflected this character in all its peculiarities; and there is something truly noble in the coherence of society upon principles of fidelity. Fidelity of man to man is among the rarest excellences of humanity, and we can tolerate large evils which arise out of such a cause. Under the feudal system men were held together by oaths, free acknowledgments, and reciprocal obligations, entered into by all ranks, high and low, binding servants to their masters, as well as nobles to their kings; and in the frequent forms of the language in which the oaths were sworn we cannot choose but see that we have lost something in exchanging these ties for the harsher connecting links of mutual self-interest.

"When a freeman shall do fealty to his lord," the statute says, "he shall hold his right hand upon the book, and shall say thus:—Hear you, my lord, that I shall be to you both faithful and true, and shall owe my faith to you for the land that I hold, and lawfully shall do such customs and services as my duty is to you, at the times assigned, so help me God and all his saints."

"The villain," also, "when he shall do fealty to his lord, shall hold his right hand over the book, and shall say:—Hear you, my lord, that I from this day forth unto you shall be true and faithful, and shall owe you fealty for the land which I hold of you in villanage; and that no evil or damage will I see concerning you, but I will defend and warn you to my power. So help me God and all his saints."[11]

Again, in the distribution of the produce of land, men dealt fairly and justly with each other; and in the material condition of the bulk of the people there is a fair evidence that the system worked efficiently and well. It worked well for the support of a sturdy high-hearted race, sound in body and fierce in spirit, and furnished with thews and sinews which, under the stimulus of those "great shins of beef,"[12] their common diet, were the wonder of the age. "What comyn folke in all this world," says a state paper in 1515[13] "may compare with the comyns of England in riches, freedom, liberty, welfare, and all prosperity? What comyn folke is so mighty, so strong in the felde, as the comyns of England?" The relative numbers of the French and English armies which fought at Cressy and Agincourt may have been exaggerated, but no allowance for exaggeration will effect the greatness of those exploits; and in stories of authentic actions under Henry VIII., where the accuracy of the account is undeniable, no disparity of force made Englishmen shrink from enemies wherever they could meet them. Again and again a few thousands of them carried dismay into the heart of France. Four hundred adventurers, vagabond apprentices, from London,[14] who formed a volunteer corps in the Calais garrison, were for years the terror of Normandy. In the very frolic of conscious power they fought and plundered, without pay, without reward, except what they could win for themselves; and when they fell at last they fell only when surrounded by six times their number, and were cut to pieces in careless desperation. Invariably, by friend and enemy alike, the English are described as the fiercest people in all Europe (the English wild beasts, Benvenuto Cellini calls them); and this great physical power they owed to the profuse abundance in which they lived, and to the soldier's training in which every man of them was bred from childhood. The state of the working classes can, however, be more certainly determined by a comparison of their wages with the prices of food. Both were regulated, so far as regulation was possible, by act of parliament, and we have therefore data of the clearest kind by which to judge. The majority of agricultural labourers lived, as I have said, in the houses of their employers; this, however, was not the case with all, and if we can satisfy ourselves as to the rate at which those among the poor were able to live who had cottages of their own, we may be assured that the rest did not live worse at their masters' tables.

Wheat, the price of which necessarily varied, averaged in the middle of the fourteenth century tenpence the bushel;[15] barley averaging at the same time three shillings the quarter. With wheat the fluctuation was excessive; a table of its possible variations describes it as ranging from eighteenpence the quarter to twenty shillings; the average, however, being six and eightpence.[16] When the price was above this sum, the merchants might import to bring it down;[17] when it was below this price the farmers were allowed to export to the foreign markets.[18] The same scale, with a scarcely appreciable tendency to rise, continued to hold until the disturbance in the value of the currency. In the twelve years from 1551 to 1562, although once before harvest wheat rose to the extraordinary price of forty-five shillings a quarter, it fell immediately after to five shillings and four.[19] Six and eightpence continued to be considered in parliament as the average; [20] and on the whole it seems to have been maintained for that time with little variation.[21]

Beef and pork were a halfpenny a pound—mutton was three farthings. They were fixed at these prices by the 3rd of the 24th of Hen. VIII. But the act was unpopular both with buyers and with sellers. The old practice had been to sell in the gross, and under that arrangement the rates had been generally lower. Stow says,[22] "It was this year enacted that butchers should sell their beef and mutton by weight—beef for a halfpenny the pound, and mutton for three farthings; which being devised for the great commodity of the realm (as it was thought), hath proved far otherwise: for at that time fat oxen were sold for six and twenty shillings and eightpence the piece; fat wethers for three shillings and fourpence the piece; fat calves at a like price; and fat lambs for twelvepence. The butchers of London sold penny pieces of beef for the relief of the poor—every piece two pound and a half, sometimes three pound for a penny; and thirteen and sometimes fourteen of these pieces for twelvepence; mutton eightpence the quarter, and an hundred weight of beef for four shillings and eightpence." The act was repealed in consequence of the complaints against it,[23] but the prices never fell again to what they had been, although beef sold in the gross could still be had for a halfpenny a pound in 1570.[24] Other articles of food were in the same proportion. The best pig or goose in a country market could be bought for fourpence; a good capon for threepence or fourpence; a chicken for a penny; a hen for twopence.[25]

Strong beer, such as we now buy for eighteenpence a gallon, was then a penny a gallon;[26] and table-beer less than a halfpenny. French and German wines were eightpence the gallon. Spanish and Portuguese wines a shilling. This was the highest price at which the best wines might be sold; and if there was any fault in quality or quantity, the dealers forfeited four times the amount.[27] Rent, another important consideration, cannot be fixed so accurately, for parliament did not interfere with it. Here, however, we are not without very tolerable information. "My father," says Latimer,[28] "was a yeoman, and had no lands of his own; only he had a farm of three or four pounds by the year at the uttermost, and hereupon he tilled so much as kept half-a-dozen men. He had walk for a hundred sheep, and my mother milked thirty kine. He was able, and did find the king a harness with himself and his horse. I remember that I buckled on his harness when he went to Blackheath field. He kept me to school, or else I had not been able to have preached before the King's Majesty now. He married my sisters with five pounds, or twenty nobles, each, having brought them up in godliness and fear of God. He kept hospitality for his poor neighbours, and some alms he gave to the poor; and all this he did of the said farm." If "three or four pounds at the uttermost" was the rent of a farm yielding such results, the rent of labourers' cottages is not likely to have been considerable.[29]

Some uncertainty is unavoidable in all calculations of the present nature; yet, after making the utmost allowances for errors, we may conclude from such a table of prices that a penny, in terms of the labourer's necessities, must have been nearly equal in the reign of Henry VIII. to the present shilling. For a penny, at the time of which I write, the labourer could buy as much bread, beef, beer, and wine—he could do as much towards finding lodging for himself and his family—as the labourer of the nineteenth century can for a shilling. I do not see that this admits of question. Turning, then, to the table of wages, it will be easy to ascertain his position. By the 3rd of the 6th of Henry VIII. it was enacted that master carpenters, masons, bricklayers, tylers, plumbers, glaziers, joiners, and other employers of such skilled workmen, should give to each of their journeymen, if no meat or drink was allowed, sixpence a day for the half year, fivepence a day for the other half; or fivepence-halfpenny for the yearly average. The common labourers were to receive fourpence a day for half the year, for the remaining half, threepence.[30] In the harvest months they were allowed to work by the piece, and might earn considerably more;[31] so that, in fact (and this was the rate at which their wages were usually estimated), the day labourer, if in full employment, received on an average fourpence a day for the whole year. Allowing a deduction of one day in a fortnight for a saint's day or a holiday, he received, therefore, steadily and regularly, if well conducted, an equivalent of something near to twenty shillings a week, the wages at present paid in English colonies: and this is far from being a full account of his advantages. Except in rare instances, the agricultural labourer held land in connection with his house, while in most parishes, if not in all, there were large ranges of common and unenclosed forest land, which furnished his fuel to him gratis, where pigs might range, and ducks and geese; where, if he could afford a cow, he was in no danger of being unable to feed it; and so important was this privilege considered, that when the commons began to be largely enclosed, parliament insisted that the working man should not be without some piece of ground on which he could employ his own and his family's industry.[32] By the 7th of the 31st of Elizabeth, it was ordered that no cottage should be built for residence without four acres of land at lowest being attached to it for the sole use of the occupants of such cottage.

It will, perhaps, be supposed that such comparative prosperity of labour was the result of the condition of the market in which it was sold, that the demand for labour was large and the supply limited, and that the state of England in the sixteenth century was analogous to that of Australia or Canada at the present time. And so long as we confine our view to the question of wages alone, it is undoubted that legislation was in favour of the employer. The Wages Act of Henry VIII. was unpopular with the labourers, and was held to deprive them of an opportunity of making better terms for themselves.[33] But we shall fall into extreme error if we translate into the language of modern political economy the social features of a state of things which in no way correspond to our own. There was this essential difference, that labour was not looked upon as a market commodity; the government (whether wisely or not, I do not presume to determine) attempting to portion out the rights of the various classes of society by the rule, not of economy, but of equity. Statesmen did not care for the accumulation of capital; they desired to see the physical well-being of all classes of the commonwealth maintained at the highest degree which the producing power of the country admitted; and population and production remaining stationary, they were able to do it. This was their object, and they were supported in it by a powerful and efficient majority of the nation. On the one side parliament interfered to protect employers against their labourers; but it was equally determined that employers should not be allowed to abuse their opportunities; and this directly appears from the 4th of the 5th of Elizabeth, by which, on the most trifling appearance of a depreciation in the currency, it was declared that the labouring man could no longer live on the wages assigned to him by the act of Henry; and a sliding scale was instituted by which, for the future, wages should be adjusted to the price of food.[34]

The same conclusion may be gathered also, indirectly, from other acts, interfering imperiously with the rights of property where a disposition showed itself to exercise them selfishly. The city merchants, as I have said, were becoming landowners; and some of them attempted to apply the rules of trade to the management of landed estates. While wages were ruled so high, it answered better as a speculation to convert arable land into pasture; but the law immediately stepped in to prevent a proceeding which it regarded as petty treason to the commonwealth. Self-protection is the first law of life; and the country relying for its defence on an able-bodied population, evenly distributed, ready at any moment to be called into action, either against foreign invasion or civil disturbance, it could not permit the owners of land to pursue for their own benefit a course of action which threatened to weaken its garrisons. It is not often that we are able to test the wisdom of legislation by specific results so clearly as in the present instance. The first attempts of the kind which I have described were made in the Isle of Wight, early in the reign of Henry VII. Lying so directly exposed to attacks from France, the Isle of Wight was a place which it was peculiarly important to keep in a state of defence, and the following act was therefore the consequence:—

"Forasmuch as it is to the surety of the Realm of England that the Isle of Wight, in the county of Southampton, be well inhabited with English people, for the defence as well of our antient enemies of the Realm of France as of other parties; the which Isle is late decayed of people by reason that many towns and villages have been let down, and the fields dyked and made pasture for beasts and cattle, and also many dwelling-places, farms, and farmholds have of late time been used to be taken into one man's hold and hands, that of old time were wont to be in many several persons' holds and hands, and many several households kept in them; and thereby much people multiplied, and the same Isle thereby well inhabited, which now, by the occasion aforesaid, is desolate and not inhabited, but occupied with beasts and cattle, so that if hasty remedy be not provided, that Isle cannot long be kept and defended, but open and ready to the hands of the king's enemies, which God forbid. For remedy hereof, it is ordained and enacted that no manner of person, of what estate, degree, or condition soever, shall take any several farms more than one, whereof the yearly value shall not exceed the sum of ten marks; and if any several leases afore this time have been made to any person or persons of divers and sundry farmholds, whereof the yearly value shall exceed that sum, then the said person or persons shall choose one farmhold at his pleasure, and the remnant of his leases shall be utterly void."[35]

An act, tyrannical in form, was singularly justified by its consequences. The farms were rebuilt, the lands reploughed, the island repeopled; and in 1546, when a French army of sixty thousand men attempted to effect a landing at St. Helen's, they were defeated and driven off by the militia of the island and a few levies transported from Hampshire and the adjoining counties.[36] The money-making spirit, however, lay too deep to be checked so readily. The trading classes were growing rich under the strong rule of the Tudors. Increasing numbers of them were buying or renting land; and the symptoms complained of broke out in the following reign in many parts of England. They could not choose but break out indeed; for they were the outward marks of a vital change, which was undermining the feudal constitution, and would by and bye revolutionise and destroy it. Such symptoms it was impossible to extinguish; but the government wrestled long and powerfully to hold down the new spirit; and they fought against it successfully, till the old order of things had finished its work, and the time was come for it to depart. By the 1st of the 7th of Henry VIII., the laws of feudal tenure were put in force against the landed traders. Wherever lands were converted from tillage to pasture, the lords of the fee had authority to seize half of all profits until the farm-buildings were reconstructed. If the immediate lord did not do his duty, the lord next above him was to do it; and the evil still increasing, the act, twenty years later, was extended further, and the king had power to seize.[37] Nor was this all. Sheep-farming had become an integral branch of business; and falling into the hands of men who understood each other, it had been made a monopoly, affecting seriously the prices of wool and mutton.[38] Stronger measures were therefore now taken, and the class to which the offenders belonged was especially pointed out by parliament.

"Whereas," says the 13th of the 25th of Henry VIII., "divers and sundry persons of the king's subjects of this Realm, to whom God of his goodness hath disposed great plenty and abundance of moveable substance, now of late, within few years, have daily studied, practised, and invented ways and means how they might accumulate and gather together into few hands, as well great multitude of farms as great plenty of cattle, and in especial, sheep, putting such lands as they can get to pasture and not to tillage; whereby they have not only pulled down churches and towns and enhanced the old rates of the rents of the possessions of this Realm, or else brought it to such excessive fines that no poor man is able to meddle with it, but also have raised and enhanced the prices of all manner of corn, cattle, wool, pigs, geese, hens, chickens, eggs, and such other commodities, almost double above the prices which hath been accustomed, by reason whereof a marvellous multitude of the poor people of this realm be not able to provide meat, drink, and clothes necessary for themselves, their wives, and children, but be so discouraged with misery and poverty, that they fall daily to theft, robbery, and other inconveniences, or pitifully die for hunger and cold; and it is thought by the king's humble and loving subjects, that one of the greatest occasions that moveth those greedy and covetous people so to accumulate and keep in their hands such great portions and parts of the lands of this Realm from the occupying of the poor husbandmen, and so to use it in pasture and not in tillage, is the great profit that cometh of sheep which be now come into a few persons' hands, in respect of the whole number of the king's subjects; it is hereby enacted, that no person shall have or keep on lands not their own inheritance more than 2000 sheep; that no person shall occupy more than two farms; and that the 19th of the 4th of Henry VII., and those other acts obliging the lords of the fees to do their duty, shall be re-enacted and enforced."[39]

By these measures the money-making spirit was for a time driven back, and the country resumed its natural course. I am not concerned to defend the economic wisdom of such proceedings; but they prove, I think, conclusively, that the labouring classes owed their advantages not to the condition of the labour market, but to the care of the state; and that when the state relaxed its supervision, or failed to enforce its regulations, the labourers being left to the market chances, sank instantly in the unequal struggle with capital.

The government, however, remained strong enough to hold its ground (except during the discreditable interlude of the reign of Edward VI.) for the first three quarters of the century; and until that time the working classes of this country remained in a condition more than prosperous. They enjoyed an abundance far beyond what in general falls to the lot of that order in long-settled countries; incomparably beyond what the same class were enjoying at that very time in Germany or France. The laws secured them; and that the laws were put in force we have the direct evidence of successive acts of the legislature justifying the general policy by its success: and we have also the indirect evidence of the contented loyalty of the great body of the people at a time when, if they had been discontented, they held in their own hands the means of asserting what the law acknowledged to be their right. The government had no power to compel submission to injustice, as was proved by the fate of an attempt to levy a "benevolence" by force, in 1525. The people resisted with a determination against which the crown commissioners were unable to contend, and the scheme ended with an acknowledgment of fault by Henry, who retired with a good grace from an impossible position. If the peasantry had been suffering under any real grievances we should not have failed to have heard of them when the religious rebellions furnished so fair an opportunity to press those grievances forward. Complaint was loud enough when complaint was just, under the Somerset protectorate. [40]

The incomes of the great nobles cannot be determined, for they varied probably as much as they vary now. Under Henry IV. the average income of an earl was estimated at L2000 a year.[41] Under Henry VIII. the great Duke of Buckingham, the wealthiest English peer, had L6000.[42] And the income of the Archbishop of Canterbury was rated at the same amount.[43] But the establishments of such men were enormous; their ordinary retinues in time of peace consisting of many hundred persons; and in war, when the duties of a nobleman called him to the field, although in theory his followers were paid by the crown, yet the grants of parliament were on so small a scale that the theory was seldom converted into fact, and a large share of the expenses was paid often out of private purses. The Duke of Norfolk, in the Scotch war of 1523, declared (not complaining of it, but merely as a reason why he should receive support) that he had spent all his private means upon the army; and in the sequel of this history we shall find repeated instances of knights and gentlemen voluntarily ruining themselves in the service of their country. The people, not universally, but generally, were animated by a true spirit of sacrifice; by a true conviction that they were bound to think first of England, and only next of themselves; and unless we can bring ourselves to understand this, we shall never understand what England was under the reigns of the Plantagenets and Tudors. The expenses of the court under Henry VII. were a little over L14,000 a year, out of which were defrayed the whole cost of the king's establishment, the expenses of entertaining foreign ambassadors, the wages and maintenance of the yeomen of the guard, the retinues of servants, and all necessary outlay not incurred for public business. Under Henry VIII., of whose extravagance we have heard so much, and whose court was the most magnificent in the world, these expenses were L19,894 16s. 8d.,[44] a small sum when compared with the present cost of the royal establishment, even if we adopt the relative estimate of twelve to one, and suppose it equal to L240,000 a year of our money. But indeed it was not equal to L240,000; for, although the proportion held in articles of common consumption, articles of luxury were very dear indeed.[45]

Passing down from the king and his nobles, to the body of the people, we find that the income qualifying a country gentleman to be justice of the peace was L20 a year, [46] and if he did his duty, his office was no sinecure. We remember Justice Shallow and his clerk Davy, with his novel theory of magisterial law; and Shallow's broad features have so English a cast about them, that we may believe there were many such, and that the duty was not always very excellently done. But the Justice Shallows were not allowed to repose upon their dignity. The justice of the peace was required not only to take cognisance of open offences, but to keep surveillance over all persons within his district, and over himself in his own turn there was a surveillance no less sharp, and penalties for neglect prompt and peremptory.[47] Four times a year he was to make proclamation of his duty, and exhort all persons to complain against him who had occasion.

Twenty pounds a year, and heavy duties to do for it, represented the condition of the squire of the parish.[48] By the 2nd of the 2nd of Henry V., "the wages" of a parish priest were limited to L5 6s. 8d., except in cases where there was special licence from the bishop, when they might be raised as high as L6. Priests were probably something better off under Henry VIII., but the statute remained in force, and marks an approach at least to their ordinary salary.[49] The priest had enough, being unmarried, to supply him in comfort with the necessaries of life. The squire had enough to provide moderate abundance for himself and his family. Neither priest nor squire was able to establish any steep difference in outward advantages between himself and the commons among whom he lived.

The habits of all classes were open, free, and liberal. There are two expressions corresponding one to the other, which we frequently meet with in old writings, and which are used as a kind of index, marking whether the condition of things was or was not what it ought to be. We read of "merry England;"—when England was not merry, things were not going well with it. We hear of "the glory of hospitality," England's pre-eminent boast,-by the rules of which all tables, from the table of the twenty-shilling freeholder to the table in the baron's hall and abbey refectory, were open at the dinner hour to all comers, without stint or reserve, or question asked:[50] to every man, according to his degree, who chose to ask for it there was free fee and free lodging; bread, beef, and beer for his dinner; for his lodging, perhaps, only a mat of rushes in a spare corner of the hall, with a billet of wood for a pillow,[51] but freely offered and freely taken, the guest probably faring much as his host fared, neither worse nor better. There was little fear of an abuse of such licence, for suspicious characters had no leave to wander at pleasure; and for any man found at large and unable to give a sufficient account of himself, there were the ever-ready parish stocks or town gaol. The "glory of hospitality" lasted far down into Elizabeth's time; and then, as Camden says, "came in great bravery of building, to the marvellous beautifying of the realm, but to the decay" of what he valued more.

In such frank style the people lived, hating three things with all their hearts: idleness, want, and cowardice; and for the rest carrying their hearts high, and having their hands full. The[52] hour of rising, winter and summer, was four o'clock, with breakfast at five, after which the labourers went to work and the gentlemen to business, of which they had no little. In the country every unknown face was challenged and examined—if the account given was insufficient, he was brought before the justice; if the village shopkeeper sold bad wares, if the village cobbler made "unhonest" shoes, if servants and masters quarrelled, all was to be looked to by the justice; there was no fear lest time should hang heavy with him. At twelve he dined; after dinner he went hunting, or to his farm or to what he pleased.[53] It was a life unrefined, perhaps, but coloured with a broad, rosy, English health.

Of the education of noblemen and gentlemen we have contradictory accounts, as might be expected. The universities were well filled, by the sons of yeomen chiefly. The cost of supporting them at the colleges was little, and wealthy men took a pride in helping forward any boys of promise.[54] It seems clear also, as the Reformation drew nearer, while the clergy were sinking lower and lower, a marked change for the better became perceptible in a portion at least of the laity. The more old-fashioned of the higher ranks were slow in moving; for as late as the reign of Edward VI.[55] there were peers of parliament unable to read; but on the whole, the invention of printing, and the general ferment which was commencing all over the world, had produced marked effects in all classes. Henry VIII. himself spoke four languages, and was well read in theology and history; and the high accomplishments of More and Sir T. Elliott, of Wyatt and Cromwell, were but the extreme expression of a temper which was rapidly spreading, and which gave occasion, among other things to the following reflection in Erasmus. "Oh, strange vicissitudes of human things," exclaims he. "Heretofore the heart of learning was among such as professed religion. Now, while they for the most part give themselves up, ventri luxui pecuniaeque, the love of learning is gone from them to secular princes, the court and the nobility. May we not justly be ashamed of ourselves? The feasts of priests and divines are drowned in wine, are filled with scurrilous jests, sound with intemperate noise and tumult, flow with spiteful slanders and defamation of others; while at princes' tables modest disputations are held concerning things which make for learning and piety."

A letter to Thomas Cromwell from his son's tutor will not be without interest on this subject; Cromwell was likely to have been unusually careful in his children's training, and we need not suppose that all boys were brought up as prudently. Sir Peter Carew, for instance, being a boy at about the same time, and giving trouble at the High School at Exeter, was led home to his father's house at Ottery, coupled between two foxhounds.[56] Yet the education of Gregory Cromwell is probably not far above what many young men of the middle and higher ranks were beginning to receive. Henry Dowes was the tutor's name, beyond which fact I know nothing of him. His letter is as follows:—

"After that it pleased your mastership to give me in charge, not only to give diligent attendance upon Master Gregory, but also to instruct him with good letters, honest manners, pastyme of instruments, and such other qualities as should be for him meet and convenient, pleaseth it you to understand that for the accomplishment thereof I have endeavoured myself by all ways possible to excogitate how I might most profit him. In which behalf, through his diligence, the success is such as I trust shall be to your good contentation and pleasure, and to his no small profit. But for cause the summer was spent in the service of the wild gods, [and] it is so much to be regarded after what fashion youth is brought up, in which time that that is learned for the most part will not be wholly forgotten in the older years, I think it my duty to acertain your mastership how he spendeth his time. And first after he hath heard mass he taketh a lecture of a dialogue of Erasmus' Colloquies, called Pietas Puerilis, wherein is described a very picture of one that should be virtuously brought up; and for cause it is so necessary for him, I do not only cause him to read it over, but also to practise the precepts of the same. After this he exerciseth his hand in writing one or two hours, and readeth upon Fabyan's Chronicle as long. The residue of the day he doth spend upon the lute and virginals. When he rideth, as he doth very oft, I tell him by the way some history of the Romans or the Greeks, which I cause him to rehearse again in a tale. For his recreation he useth to hawk and hunt and shoot in his long bow, which frameth and succeedeth so well with him that he seemeth to be thereunto given by nature."[57]

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