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On hearing this, the three priors, in their simplicity, sought an interview with Cromwell, asking his aid, as Vicar-General, in obtaining some mitigation of the terms of the oath. In reply to this request he at once ordered them to the Tower. After they had been there a week, the Vicar-General arrived to tender the oath anew, to urge upon them an immediate acceptance of the new royal supremacy, and a formal renunciation of the Pope's ancient and hitherto recognized authority.
They promised to accept everything which was in harmony with, and permitted by the law of God.
“I will have no exceptions,” replied the VicarGeneral. “It must be done whether the law of
. God allows it or not.”
“But the Church Universal teaches quite a contrary doctrine,” replied the spokesman of the pri
“ What care I for the Church Universal ?" was Cromwell's retort. “Will you take the oath or not?"
They declined, quietly and firmly, to do so, and were consequently put on their trial for high trea
This took place at Westminster, on the 29th of April, 1535, when they were speedily convicted, drawn to the gallows, hanged, cut down alive, dismembered, and then quartered.
The death of the holy and faithful man, Cardinal John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and that of the upright and noble Sir Thomas More, some time Lord Chancellor, two men most favored for learning, integrity, and true religion in England, gave a shock to the people which was both acute and severe. The zeal on behalf of, and personal devotion to the king shown by Fisher had been great. He nobly rebuked the king, both as regards religion and morals. The absurd and ridiculous supremacy recently invented he utterly condemned; to the divorce of Queen Katherine he gave the most uncompromising resistance, in return for which, after fifteen months' imprisonment, where he was treated like a common felon, buried in filth, and almost destitute of food and clothing, he perished nobly at the block.
As regards Sir Thomas More, after trial had, he was condemned as a traitor and a rebel. On the 6th of July he suffered death. When on the scaffold, after prayer, he called the people to witness that he died in the Catholic faith, and pardoned the executioner, there rose a chilling shudder through the crowd (though many of the myrmidons of Cromwell were there), which represented the general feeling of alarm, sorrow, and shame which the people of England experienced when they heard of the tragedy. Foreign nations, likewise, were utterly horrified at the frightful brutalities of the royal monster.
Cromwell's early experience of, and intercourse with, the lower classes of the continent with whom he had mixed freely during his sojourn there, as well as his observance of the ruder, but dexterous, tactics of the first foreign reformers, no doubt led him to take several leaves out of their books in his work of reformation. He had noticed that the popular ballad-singers of foreign countries exercised a vast influence over the people, more especially in periods of religious and political excite. ment; and that certain irreligious innovators there, by the use of lewd parodies, jocose verses, and ribald ballads, sung in street, tavern, and ale-house, had succeeded in efficiently weakening the old faith, which they had by these means brought into disrepute, and had so ridiculed sacred practices which the Church of God had enjoined and Christians had obediently and profitably observed for centuries, that Cromwell resolved to adopt the use of such literature and co-operators for the purpose of "reform" in England.
This man, then, was the great patron of ribaldry,
and the protector of the ribald, of the low jester, the filthy ballad-monger, the ale-house singers and hypocritical mockers in feasts ; in short, in an indirect but yet efficient mode, of all the blasphemous mocking and scoffing which disgraced the Protestant party at the time of the Reformation. “It is of great consequence,” wrote the late Dr. Maitland, "in our view of the times, to consider that the vile publications, of which too many remain, while most have rotted, and the profane pranks which were performed were not the outbreak of low, ignorant artisans, a rabble of hungry dogs, such as is sure to run after a party in spite even of sticks and stones bestowed by those whom they follow and disgrace. It was the result of design and policy, earnestly and elaborately pursued by the man possessing, for all such purposes, the highest place and power in the land.”
At the same time the ungodly and the frivolous in provincial cities and country towns were systematically enlisted on the side of the innovators. In many places where interest in the old and popular miracle plays had been weakened or lost, by which the many had been taught by the eye as well as by the ear, Cromwell's perambulating allies became active in supplying a new kind of public entertainment more in harmony with the current depraved taste. Satire of the religious orders, a most popular subject for discussion, became common, and might be heard in ordinary conversation on all sides. Consequently, when plays, interludes, and farces, caricaturing the monks and religion, were performed in churchyards and sometimes even in churches by strolling players, equipped at head-quarters, the dialogues of which performances were often gross and the phrases of double-meaning numerous, the excited people flocked to witness the novel entertainments and to applaud and fee the actors.
As Jeremy Collier put on record in his "Ecclesiastical History of England”: “The clergy complained, as they had reason, against such licentious sport. This, they said, was the way to let in atheism, and make all religion a jest; for, if people were allowed to burlesque devotion and make themselves merry with the ceremonies of the Church, they would proceed to further extremities and laugh the nation out of their creed at last."
Like his master, Wolsey, Cromwell had risen rapidly to fame and distinction; and like him was doomed to become an example of the instability and uncertainty of human greatness, attained, as in his case, by an utter sacrifice of true and noble principles.