must be remembered that the bishop of Rochester was no ordinary man. He was an ecclesiastic of extraordinary ability and learning; and, unlike so many other bishops of his age, he had not spent his life, and thus perhaps blunted his judgment as to spiritual matters, in attendance at court or by occupation in affairs of state. He was justly esteemed the most learned bishop in England, and at one time Henry thought there was no ecclesiastic equal to him in Christendom. Of advanced age and possessed of practical prudence, his judgment balanced by vast and varied experience, he was hardly likely to be at fault in reading the characters of Elizabeth Barton and of her adviser and confessor, Dr. Bocking.
By the middle of 1533 Henry appears to have arranged with Crumwell to take some steps to prevent any public condemnation of his marriage with Anne, resulting from the denunciations of the royal policy which had been made by the then much respected Elizabeth Barton. Even before the death of archbishop Warham, according to Harpsfield,Crumwell had contemplated the advisability of taking vigorous measures against the nun and those that believed in her. She had declared, more or less openly, that in her trances God had commissioned her to bear testimony to His displeasure at the king's proceedings. She was known to have had interviews with Wolsey and Warham, to have spoken to the legates of the pope and to have written to his holiness himself. It is hardly likely, however, that her influence had much to do with the final attitude of the archbishop or the cardinal towards the divorce. Neither is it probable that it confirmed the bishop of Rochester and the friars Observant in their persistent opposition to it; nor, still less, that it deterred the pope from giving sentence in Henry's favour. But such things were said, and perhaps believed, by Henry's adherents.
The position of affairs in England at midsummer, 1533, was critical. It became, therefore, vital to the designs of
- "Quid quod tanta virtus viri, tanta integritas, tanta fama fuit per inimicorum ora eruperit. Nam Henricus ipse octavus (ut reverendissimus Polus Cardinalis scriptum reliquit), eum in Europæ totius theologos primas tenere multus audientibus fassus est."—B. Mus. Arund. MS., 152, f. 238 b.; MS. Life of bishop Fisher.
- The Pretended Divorce (Camd. Soc.), p. 178.
- Calendar, vii. No. 72 (l) and (3).