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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

Without the participation of any laymen


VIII's resolution to call the Parliament together was of almost greater importance for the progress of events than the alteration in the ministry.

During the fourteen years of his administration Wolsey had summoned Parliament only once, and that was when, in order to carry on the war in alliance with the Emperor against France, he needed an extraordinary grant of money. But his opening discourses were received with silence and dislike. Never, says a contemporary who was present, was the need of money more pressingly represented to a Parliament and never was there greater opposition; after a fortnight's consultation the proposal only passed at a moment when the members of the King's household and court formed the majority of those present.[105] The Parliament and the country always murmured at Wolsey's oppressive and lavish finance management;[106] a later attempt to raise taxes that had not been voted doubled the outcry against him. His fall and the convocation of a Parliament seemed a return to parliamentary principles in general, which in themselves exactly agreed with the view taken by the King in the present questions.

In the first years of Henry VIII the Parliament had wished to do away with some of the most startling exemptions of the clergy from the temporal jurisdiction, for instance in reference to the crimes of felony and murder; the ecclesiastics had on the other hand extended their jurisdiction yet

further, even to cases that had reference solely to questions of property. Hence the antagonism between the two jurisdictions had revived at that time with bitter keenness. It is noticeable that the temporal claims were upheld by a learned Minorite, Henry Standish, who declared it to be quite lawful to limit the ecclesiastical privileges for the sake of the public good; especially in the case of a crime that did not properly come before any spiritual court. Both sides then applied to the King: the ecclesiastics reminded him that he ought to uphold the rights of Holy Church, the laymen that he should maintain the powers of jurisdiction belonging to the crown. The King's declaration was favourable to the laymen; he recommended the clergy to acquiesce in some exceptions from their decretals. But the contest was rather suspended than decided. Wolsey's government followed, in which the spiritual courts extended their powers still further, and in reality exercised an offensive control over all the relations of private life. Even the ecclesiastics did not love his authority: they acquiesced in it because it was ecclesiastical: the laity endured it with the utmost impatience.

It was inevitable that at the first fresh assembly of a Parliament these contests about jurisdiction should be mentioned. The Lower House began its action with a detailed charge against the spiritual courts, not merely against their abuses and the oppression that arose from them, but against their very existence and their legislation; the clergy made laws without the King's foreknowledge, without the participation of any laymen, and yet the laity were bound by them. The King was called on to reconcile his subjects of the spiritual and temporal estate with each other by good laws, since he was their sole head, the sovereign, lord and protector of both parties.

It was a slight phrase,[107] 'the sole head of his subjects spiritual and temporal,' but one of the weightiest import. The very existence of the clergy as an order had hitherto depended precisely on their claim to a legislative power independent of the temporal supremacy as being their original right: on its universal maintenance rested the Papacy and its influence on the several countries. Were the clergy now to leave it to the King, who however only represented the temporal power, to adjust the differences between their legislation and that of the state? Were they, like the laity, virtually to recognise him as their Head?

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