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History of England, Vol. VI.). With 2 Maps.
THE COMMONWEALTH AT WAR. 8vo.
THE WAR: ITS HISTORY AND MORALS. 8vo.
THE REIGN OF HENRY VII. FROM CONTEMPORARY SOURCES. Selected and arranged with an
Introduction. Crown 8vo.
Vol. I. Narrative Extracts.
Vol. II. Constitutional, Social, and Economic History.
Vol. III. Diplomacy, Ecclesiastical Affairs and Ireland.
ILLUSTRATIONS OF CHAUCER'S ENGLAND. Edited by Miss Dorothy Hughes. With a Preface by A.F.
Pollard, M.A., Litt.D., Fellow of All Souls, and Professor of English History in the University of London.
ENGLAND UNDER THE YORKISTS. 1460-1485. Illustrated from Contemporary Sources by Isobel D.
Thornley, M.A., Assistant in the Department of History, University College, London. With a Preface by A.F.
Pollard, M.A., Litt.D. Crown 8vo.
PROFESSOR OF CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY AT UNIVERSITY COLLEGE,
LONDON; EXAMINER IN MODERN HISTORY IN THE UNIVERSITIES OF
OXFORD AND LONDON; AUTHOR OF "A LIFE OF CRANMER," "ENGLAND
UNDER PROTECTOR SOMERSET," ETC., ETC.
LONGMANS, GREEN AND CO
39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON
FOURTH AVENUE & 30th STREET, NEW YORK
BOMBAY, CALCUTTA, AND MADRAS
First published by Messrs. Goupil & Co.
in June, 1902, with numerous illustrations.
New Edition, May, 1905.
Reprinted, January, 1913, and October, 1919.
It is perhaps a matter rather for regret than for surprise that so few attempts have been made to describe, as a
whole, the life and character of Henry VIII. No ruler has left a deeper impress on the history of his country, or
done work which has been the subject of more keen and lasting contention. Courts of law are still debating the
intention of statutes, the tenor of which he dictated; and the moral, political, and religious, are as much in
dispute as the legal, results of his reign. He is still the Great Erastian, the protagonist of laity against clergy.
His policy is inextricably interwoven with the high and eternal dilemma of Church and State; and it is
well-nigh impossible for one who feels keenly on these questions to treat the reign of Henry VIII. in a
reasonably judicial spirit. No period illustrates more vividly the contradiction between morals and politics. In
our desire to reprobate the immorality of Henry's methods, we are led to deny their success; or, in our
appreciation of the greatness of the ends he achieved, we seek to excuse the means he took to (p. vi) achieve
them. As with his policy, so with his character. There was nothing commonplace about him; his good and his
bad qualities alike were exceptional. It is easy, by suppressing the one or the other, to paint him a hero or a
villain. He lends himself readily to polemic; but to depict his character in all its varied aspects, extenuating
nothing nor setting down aught in malice, is a task of no little difficulty. It is two centuries and a half since
Lord Herbert produced his Life and Reign of Henry VIII. The late Mr. Brewer, in his prefaces to the first
four volumes of the Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII., published under the direction of the
Master of the Rolls, dealt adequately with the earlier portion of Henry's career. But Mr. Brewer died when his
work reached the year 1530; his successor, Dr. James Gairdner, was directed to confine his prefaces to the
later volumes within the narrowest possible limits; and students of history were deprived of the prospect of a
satisfactory account of Henry's later years from a writer of unrivalled learning.
Henry's reign, from 1530 onwards, has been described by the late Mr. Froude in one of the most brilliant and
fascinating masterpieces of historical literature, a work which still holds the field in popular, if not in
scholarly, estimation. But Mr. Froude does not begin until Henry's reign was half over, until his character had
been determined by influences (p. vii) and events which lie outside the scope of Mr. Froude's inquiry.
Moreover, since Mr. Froude wrote, a flood of light has been thrown on the period by the publication of the
above-mentioned Letters and Papers; they already comprise a summary of between thirty and forty
thousand documents in twenty thousand closely printed pages, and, when completed, will constitute the most
magnificent body of materials for the history of any reign, ancient or modern, English or foreign.
Simultaneously there have appeared a dozen volumes containing the State papers preserved at Simancas,
Vienna and Brussels and similar series comprising the correspondence relating to Venice, Scotland and
Ireland; while the despatches of French ambassadors have been published under the auspices of the
Ministry for Foreign (p. viii) Affairs at Paris. Still further information has been provided by the labours of
the Historical Manuscripts Commission, the Camden, the Royal Historical, and other learned
These sources probably contain at least a million definite facts relating to the reign of Henry VIII.; and it is
obvious that the task of selection has become heavy as well as invidious. Mr. Froude has expressed his
concurrence in the dictum that the facts of history are like the letters of the alphabet; by selection and
arrangement they can be made to spell anything, and nothing can be arranged so easily as facts.Experto
intelligible. He will naturally arrange his facts so that they spell what he believes to be the truth; and he must
of necessity suppress those facts which he judges to be immaterial or inconsistent with the scale on which he
is writing. But if the superabundance of facts compels both selection and suppression, it counsels no less a
restraint of judgment. A case in a court of law is not simplified by a cloud of witnesses; and the (p. ix) new
wealth of contemporary evidence does not solve the problems of Henry's reign. It elucidates some points
hitherto obscure, but it raises a host of others never before suggested. In ancient history we often accept
statements written hundreds of years after the event, simply because we know no better; in modern history we
frequently have half a dozen witnesses giving inconsistent accounts of what they have seen with their own
eyes. Dogmatism is merely the result of ignorance; and no honest historian will pretend to have mastered all
the facts, accurately weighed all the evidence, or pronounced a final judgment.
The present volume does not profess to do more than roughly sketch Henry VIII.'s more prominent
characteristics, outline the chief features of his policy, and suggest some reasons for the measure of success he
attained. Episodes such as the divorce of Catherine of Aragon, the dissolution of the monasteries, and the
determination of the relations between Church and State, would severally demand for adequate treatment
works of much greater bulk than the present. On the divorce valuable light has recently been thrown by Dr.
Stephan Ehses in his R\u00f6mische Dokumente. The dissolution of the monasteries has been exhaustively
treated from one point of view by Dr. Gasquet; but an adequate and impartial history of what is called the
Reformation still (p. x) remains to be written. Here it is possible to deal with these questions only in the
briefest outline, and in so far as they were affected by Henry's personal action. For my facts I have relied
entirely on contemporary records, and my deductions from these facts are my own. I have depended as little as
possible even on contemporary historians, and scarcely at all on later writers. I have, however, made
frequent use of Dr. Gairdner's articles in the Dictionary of National Biography, particularly of that on Henry
VIII., the best summary extant of his career; and I owe not a little to Bishop Stubbs's two lectures on Henry
VIII., which contain some fruitful suggestions as to his character.
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