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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

From which no deviation is allowed


Under

him, if ever, England appears as a commonwealth with a common will, from which no deviation is allowed, but which moves forward inclining now to the one side now to the other. It was no part of Henry VIII's Tudor principles and inclinations to call the Parliament together; but for his Church-enterprise it was indispensable. He gave its tendencies their way and respected the opinion which it represented: but at the same time he knew how to keep it at all times under the sway of his influence. Never has any other sovereign seen such devoted Parliaments gathered round him; they gave his proclamations the force of law, and allowed him to settle the succession according to his own views; they then gave effect to what he determined.

In this way it was possible for Henry VIII to carry through a political plan that has no parallel. He allowed the spiritual tendencies of the century to gain influence, and then contrived to confine them within the narrowest limits. He would be neither Protestant nor Catholic, and yet again both; an unimaginable thing, if it had only concerned these opinions: but he retained his hold on the nation because his plan of separating the country from the Papal hierarchic system, without taking a step further than was absolutely necessary, suited the people's views.

In the earlier years it appeared as though he would alienate Ireland by his religious innovations, since there Catholicism and national

feeling were at one. And there really were moments when the insurgent chiefs in alliance with Pope and Emperor boasted that with French and Scotch help they would attack the English on all sides and drive them into the sea. But there too it proved of infinite service to him that he defended dogma while he abandoned the old constitution. In Ireland the monasteries and great abbeys were likewise suppressed; the O'Briens, Desmonds, O'Donnels, and other families were as much gratified as the English lords and gentlemen with the property almost gratuitously offered them. Under these circumstances they recognised Henry VIII as King of Ireland, almost as if they had a feeling of the change of position as regards public law into which they thus came: they received their baronies from him as fiefs and appeared in Parliament.

Towards the end of his life Henry once more drew the sword against France in alliance with the Emperor. What urged him to this however was not the Emperor's interest in itself, but the support which the party hostile to him in Scotland received from the French. Moreover he did not trouble himself to bring about a decisive result between the two great powers: he was content with the conquest of Boulogne. He had reverted to his father's policy and resolved not to let himself be drawn over by any of his neighbours to their own interests, but to use their rivalry for his own profit and security.[137]

And he was able to do yet more than his father to increase England's power of defence against the one or the other. We hear of fifty places on the coast which he fortified, not without the help of foreign master-workmen: the two great harbours of Dover and Calais he put into good condition and filled them with serviceable ships. For a long time past he had been building the first vessels of a large size (such as the Harry and Mary Rose) which then did service in the wars.[138] It may be that the property of the monasteries was partly squandered and ought to have been better husbanded: a great part of their revenues however was applied to this purpose, and conferred much benefit on the country so far as its own peculiar interests were concerned.


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