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To turn the life-owners of estates out of their estates; to uproot and overturn institutions which had existed for eight centuries, and were deservedly valued and venerated by the English people from their childhood ; to set all law, human and divine, at defiance; to make a monarch's will law, for the time being; to violate every true principle on which property rested ; to rob those who had deliberately and solemnly consecrated themselves to God; to deface and destroy religious houses and sanctuaries of retirement and rest, where the worship of the Blessed Trinity had been piously rendered for centuries, needed the services of a suitable agent. This was found in Thomas Cromwell, the son of Walter Cromwell, a blacksmith, of Putney, who was born at or about the year 1490, and through whose sister who married a Welshman named Williams, another tyrant of a later age, Oliver Cromwell, claimed descent from the family at Putney.
He is said to have been first employed in the English factory at Antwerp, and was afterward engaged in the service of the Duke of Bourbon as a soldier; though some writers affirm that prior to this he had been, when a mere youth, a page or body-servant to Thomas, Lord Cardinal Wolsey; anyhow he was present when Pope Clement VII. was made prisoner at the disastrous sack of the city of Rome in 1527; and by his intercourse with various continental people and places had obtained the usual advantages of travel and experience.
On his return to England he was again employed by Wolsey, by whom he appears to have been much esteemed for his vigor and boldness.
When, in the year 1529, that eminent prince of the Church and Prelate fell, Cromwell certainly had the courage and honesty to stand by his friend and master—the single redeeming feature in his otherwise detestable character.
This feature, attracting the attention of the king, as was reported, induced his Majesty to command Cromwell's services, which were given with such dexterous servility, unscrupulous tactics, and commanding resolution, that the road to the highest honors in the State shortly presented an unimpeded course for his ambition.
King Henry having assumed the style, title, dignity, and powers of “the only Protector and Supreme Head of the Church and Clergy of England”-and this immediately after the spirituality, in 1531, had granted him a heavy subsidy, equivalent to two million pounds of our present money, - almost immediately delegated his new
and unprecedented authority to Thomas, Lord Cromwell.
This person was to exercise “all the spiritual authority belonging to the king, for the due administration of justice in all cases touching the ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and the godly reformation and redress of errors, heresies, and abuses in the said church."
Prior to this event and its immediate consequences, however, the various stages in what is commonly called the “Reformation of religion” had been taken with steady resolve and a most determined purpose by the king and his selected coadjutors. In the spring of 1532, the illustrious and high-minded Sir Thomas More resigned the Lord High Chancellorship; while about four months later, the king raised his mistress, Anne Boleyn, to the dignity of Marchioness of Pembroke. Thomas Cranmer was appointed to the Archbishopric of Canterbury, by a Papal Bull dated 21st February, 1533. In the following year the clergy were forbidden to make canons or constitutions ; while none of those existing were to be enforced contrary to the king's prerogative, and all appeals to Rome were absolutely abolished. The payment of the first-fruits was also declared illegal and strictly forbidden, and that generally-recognized Papal power of hearing appeals, which had existed since the mission of St. Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury, and by which local churches were visibly bound and banded together both in faith and polity, was formally set aside by Act of Parliament. The customary and reasonable confirmation of Bishops by the Primate of Christendom was abolished-persons so regarding or seeking it henceforth being subject to all the penalties of the statutes of præmunire. In 1534, the king's marriage with Queen Catherine of Arragon was declared invalid ; she was henceforth to be styled “the Princess Dowager"; and any one found maintaining the contrary, viz., that she was the king's lawful wife, incurred the penalties of high treason, i. e., hanging, drawing, and quartering.
All these steps were taken under the advice and with the active and efficient co-operation of Thomas Cromwell. But there was still much to be done. Difficulties standing in the way of robbery and reformation were considerable, but by no means insuperable. Those irons, already put in the fire, were likely, in due course, to be used largely for breaking down the spirit, independence, and power of the secular clergy. But the influence of the regulars was still very great, and this must be at once circumscribed, if not wholly stamped out, by
their “reformation,” likewise, if anything permanent was to be accomplished.
In order suitably, and with reasonable tactics to commence this new step in a “godly” work, a visitation of the religious houses was determined on. This resolve appears to have been finally taken, after due consideration with the king's chief advisers, at or about the 15th of January, 1535, when his Grace formally assumed the title of “Only Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England," which had been granted by a statute recently passed. The clergy generally had acknowledged that title, with such personal explanations and reservations as seemed lawful or expedient to them; but the religious houses were held to be the strongholds of the king's foes.
As it was impossible that one Vicar - General could properly investigate the state of these sacred and venerable institutions, Cromwell appointed several deputies to aid him practically in making the visitation. The selection of these was his own work; though their formal commissions were, of course, under the king's hand and signet. For the purpose of this visitation, the country was divided into appointed districts, and two or more of these official deputies were sent to inquire into the state of the religious houses in each. Some of the