Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXIV

With the example of Sir Thomas More [6] before their eyes, the Anglo-Norman nobles and gentlemen, assembled in Parliament by the royal command, were easily persuaded to do the royal bidding. But the ecclesiastics were by no means so pliable. Every diocese had the privilege of sending two proctors to Parliament; and these proctors proved so serious an obstacle, that Lords Grey and Brabazon wrote to Cromwell, that they had prorogued the Parliament in consequence of the "forwardness and obstinacy of the proctors, of the clergy, and of the bishops and abbots;" and they suggest that " some means should be devised, whereby they should be brought to remember their duty better," or that "means may be found which shall put these proctors from a voice in Parliament."[7] The means were easily found—the proctors were forbidden to vote.[8]

The Act was passed. Every one who objected to it having been forbidden to vote, Henry's agents on the Continent proclaimed triumphantly that the Irish nation had renounced the supremacy of Rome. A triumph obtained at the expense of truth, is but poor compensation for the heavy retribution which shall assuredly be demanded of those who have thus borne false witness against their neighbour. Men forget too often, in the headlong eagerness of controversy, that truth is eternal and immutable, and that no amount of self-deceit or successful deception of others can alter its purity and integrity in the eyes of the Eternal Verity.

The Irish Parliament, or, we should say more correctly, the men permitted to vote in Ireland according to royal directions, had already imitated their English brethren by declaring the marriage of Henry and Catherine of Arragon null and void, and limiting the succession to the crown to the children of Anna Boleyn. When this lady had fallen a victim to her husband's caprice, they attainted her and her posterity with equal facility. A modern historian has attempted to excuse. Henry's repudiation of his lawful wife, on the ground of his sincere anxiety to prevent disputes about the succession.[9] But the King's subsequent conduct ought surely to have deterred any one from attempting so rash an apology. To doubt the royal supremacy, or the right of the lady, who for the time being held a place in Henry's affections, to royal honours, was an evidence of insincerity in devotion to himself which he could not easily pardon.


[6] More.—Sir Thomas More's son-in-law, Roper, gives the following account of his condemnation: "Mr. Rich, pretending friendly talk with him, among other things of a set course, said this unto him: 'Admit there were, sir, an Act of Parliament that the realm should take me for king; would not you, Master More, take me for King?' 'Yes, sir,' quoth Sir Thomas More, 'that I would.' 'I put the case further,' quoth Mr. Rich, 'that there were an Act of Parliament that all the realm should take me for Pope; would not you then, Master More, take me for Pope?' 'For answer, sir,' quoth Sir Thomas More, 'to your first case, the Parliament may well, Master Rich, meddle with the state of temporal princes; but to make answer to your other case, I will put you this case. Suppose the Parliament should make a law that God should not be God, would you then, Master Rich, say that God were not God?' 'No, sir,' quoth he, 'that I would not, sith no Parliament may make any such law.' 'No more,' quoth Sir Thomas More, 'could the Parliament make the King supreme head of the Church.' Upon whose only report was Sir Thomas indicted for high treason on the statute to deny the King to be supreme head of the Church, into which indictment were put these heinous words—maliciously, traitorously, and diabolically."

[7] Parliament.—State Papers, vol. ii. p. 437.

[8] Vote.—Irish Statutes, 28th Henry VIII. c. xii.

[9] Succession.—Froude, vol. i. p. 94. He also quotes Hall to the effect that "all indifferent and discreet persons judged that it was right and necessary." Persons who were "indifferent" enough to think that any reason could make a sin necessary, or "discreet" enough to mind losing their heads or their property, were generally of that opinion. But Henry's difficulties in divorcing his wife are a matter of history.