Seventeen lectures on the study of medieval and modern history and kindred subjects/The Reign of Henry VII. (2)
THE REIGN OF HENRY VII.
(April 25, 1883.)
IN the first of these two public statutory lectures, I opened my subject with some vain remarks on the want of attractiveness which may be said to characterise the personal and political history of Henry VII: and then, having divided the reign into two portions, nearly coinciding with the change of century, I very briefly marked the series of dynastic quarrels, struggles, and disturbances, the interest of which belongs mainly to the first half of the reign. There remains to us some investigation of the constitutional and diplomatic history of a period which falls between two great constitutional periods, and lays the foundation of a great diplomatic, political, and commercial fabric; or rather I should say opens a great diplomatic, political and commercial period, which constitutes modern history in its general acceptation.
With regard to the constitutional history proper, nearly the same line may be drawn as in the other case, for, as only one parliament was called between the year 1497 and the end of the reign, the greatest part of what little constitutional history there is belongs to the earlier half. It cannot however be said that, with the exception of two or three very distinct pieces of legislation, and a very distinct purpose of raising and storing money, there is much constitutional material to deal with. There is a great poverty of record. The Rolls of the Parliaments tell us scarcely anything more than the dates of opening, the subject of the chancellor's address, the name of the Speaker, and the titles of the Acts passed, including the subsidies. There are no details of deliberation, or discussions on petitions. There are no Journals of either House; there is nothing in the shape of writs or returns to indicate the composition of the House of Commons; and little, if indeed anything, to show how the composition of the House of Lords was able to influence legislation or administration, Not that we are entirely in the dark as to these matters: we know from the character of the Acts passed, and from the nature of the political measures of the reign, what sort of influences must have been at work: but we have no documentary details, nothing of personal or sensational import.
The ministerial changes of the reign are not in themselves important: the chancellorship, after having been held for a few months by Bishop Alcock, early in 1486 devolves upon Archbishop Morton, who is the minister of the reign: he retains the great seal as long as he lives, and during the rest of the reign it is held only by Dene and Warham, successively archbishops of Canterbury. The treasury in the same way sees few alterations; whilst Alcock is chancellor. Sir Reginald Bray is treasurer; under Morton, Lord Dynham; and from 1500 to 1509 Thomas Howard, who, as Earl of Surrey and Duke of Norfolk, remains at the head of finance during his life and leaves the position to his son, who holds it until 1546.
The tenure of these great offices by prelates and magnates of this sort, of course, implies that a great deal of the business of the country was conducted by means of subordinate officials; it also means that the king and. his council took such direct part in it, that the nominal ministers had a somewhat diminished responsibility; and it probably means further, under Henry VII at least, that the king dealt directly with the subordinate officials without much concert with his nominal ministers. This is especially the case as the reign proceeds; during the first half Archbishop Morton, who was both a distinguished lawyer and, in popular opinion, a too active financier, really did ministerial work. After his death the king seems to have employed men like Empson and Dudley for measures which men like Archbishop Warham and the Earl of Surrey could certainly not have approved, but which they were helpless to prevent, and perhaps without courage to remonstrate about. There is not then much to be said about ministerial history.
The next point to note is the composition of the House of Lords. We are open to some risk of exaggeration in relation to this, because of the slaughters and proscriptions connected with the Wars of the Roses. But, great as were the effects of those quarrels on the personality of the baronage, the effect was far greater on the political status and influence of the peerage. It was attenuated in power and prestige rather than in numbers. Even the bloodshed and attainder fall within a narrow circle; generation after generation perishes out of a few great houses; the majority continue in succession and either escape ruin or soon recover. It is as well to be particular as to this, because it has a real bearing on the character of the Tudor despotism or dictatorship; and we are liable to be misled both by striking catastrophes and by untested generalisations. If we compare the last parliament of Edward IV with the first of Henry VII, we find a great difference on the face of it: in 1483 there are forty-five lords summoned to parliament; in 1485 there are only twenty-nine. But for this diminution the recent change of dynasty is only very partially the cause: only six peers are attainted as yet, three of whom, the late King Richard, the Duke of Norfolk, and the Lord Ferrers, had fallen at Bosworth field; and a fourth was Surrey, the son of the Duke of Norfolk. Of the other missing lords, some had perished under Richard's own tyranny, some two or three were now represented by minors, and about half-a-dozen seem to have had their summons suspended during either the whole reign or a great part of it. Of these suspended peers, who all reappear either in the later parliaments or in the first parliament of Henry VIII, the chief are the Ogle, Dacre, and Scrope lords, who rule in the north country, and whose absence, which is not necessarily to be accounted for on political grounds, is a point that has not been satisfactorily investigated. In this way, however, not by proscription or execution, the list is diminished. In the later parliaments not only do many of these suspended peerages revive, the empty places being filled by the restoration of the heirs of Richard's victims, but even the attainders of 1485 are cancelled; the Howards return to favour and power in 1489, Ferrers in 1487, Zouch in 1495; Lovel perishes, the viscount himself who fell at Stoke leaving only coheiresses.
A proof of what I have been saying is seen also in the fact that during the whole reign only five new peerages were created; one of these, the earldom of Bath, held by a foreigner, does not seem to have entitled its possessor to a summons; another is an Irish earldom, Ormond; the other three are Daubeny, Cheney, and Burgh. Yet notwithstanding this economy and the later attainders of the reign, the subsequent parliaments contain a lay peerage of forty members, which is not below the average of the century and was not increased materially until Henry VIII brought up the number of lay lords to that of the spiritual lords, before he finally reduced the latter to half their tale by getting rid of the abbots.
This point, like that of the composition of the House of Commons, on which we have no information, would be more important if we knew anything of the parliamentary history. As we do not, and find that the king in that august assembly had things very much as he pleased, we conclude, as we have other reasons for concluding, either that the assembled estates were cowed into complaisance, or else that they were too busy about other matters to care for the excitement of a quarrelsome debate.
There were seven parliaments during the reign of twenty-four years; and of these seven, one had three sessions and another two; six of them fall before the close of 1497, and before the end of Archbishop Morton's life. I think that, if we had nothing else to judge by, we should infer from this, that so long as Morton was minister the king retained the Lancastrian idea of ruling mainly through parliaments; whilst, during the nine years that followed the archbishop's death, he reigned chiefly through councils and held but one parliament. Morton was indeed a thorough Lancastrian, though not of the type of Archbishop Arundel. He had been the mainstay of the party in evil times, and the leader of intrigue under Edward IV and Richard III; but the old political game of Lancaster had long been played out, and, although Morton probably retained the attachment to forms which marked it to the last, he, either as a politician or as overborne by the king, was not in his financial administration faithful to the constitutional principle. This matter touches, however, a point of character in which master and minister alike suffer. Henry VII is constantly accused of avarice, and Morton to the popular mind is best known as the inventor of the fork, Morton's fork, the dilemma by which he proved the necessity of the benevolences, to the great dissatisfaction of the payers: if you spend much you have plenty; if you spend little you must have saved; out of your plenty, or out of your savings, you must pay.
I do not know that I am concerned to defend Morton, who was certainly not an avaricious man himself, and who, if he incurs a part of his master's shame, incurs it as a too faithful servant; but it is worth while speculating on Henry's own character for avarice. He was a man who had a fair intelligence and a fair knowledge of history: he had been very poor himself, and he had learned that poverty and want of economic governance had ruined the great house to which Henry V had imparted so much glory. He knew, from the first, that he must save in order to get on at all; and when he had begun to save, and when, by the forfeitures of the early years, he had managed to save to some purpose, not only did the love of money increase as the money itself accumulated, but he found it pleasant to rule without having to ask parliament for money; and finally found it pleasant, through Empson and Dudley, both to rule and to gather money without the trouble of parliament. However that may have been, the seven parliaments each had a subsidy or a budget; and the financial history is capable of a brief summary.
In the first parliament Henry succeeded in obtaining a revenue for life; Bishop Aleock had made a moving speech on the text, 'Good luck have thou with thine honour, ride on;' in which he adduced the fable of the belly and members, the properties of bees, Isidore on the virtues of royalty, S. Ambrose in the Hexaemeron, and Ovid on the Golden Age; with the usual application. After the approval of the Speaker, the king addressed the Commons with a declaration of his title and promises of good government: and they responded with a liberal vote of tunnage, poundage, and the custom on leather for life; apportioning £14,000 to the household, £10,000 odd to Calais, and £2105 19s. 11d. to the wardrobe; there was likewise an act of resumption.
In the session of 1487 Morton preached on 'Cease to do evil, learn to do well:' a wonderful sermon in four heads, subdivided each into three arguments, illustrated from Cicero and other gentile philosophers, the moral of which was the vote of two tenths and fifteenths, and a poll-tax upon aliens, payable at the next Easter. In 1489 the text was 'The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous;' the sermon a miracle of subdivision: the demand a lump sum of £100,000. To meet this, by a curious departure from the rule which is always supposed to have been long established, the Lords, by themselves, grant a tenth of their income from land; the Commons, with the advice and consent of the Lords, offer to raise £75,000 by a tenth on lands not belonging to the lords, and twenty-pence on every ten marks of goods. This must have been seen to be a dangerous experiment. An attempt to collect the tax caused the outbreak at Thirsk, in which the Earl of Northumberland was slain; the sums collected from the Commons only reached the amount of £27,000, and in the third session early in 1490 the grant of a tenth and fifteenth was substituted for the balance. The object of the budget was the maintenance of the army, which was being raised for the defence of Brittany against France, a design which culminates and terminates in the expedition to Boulogne in October 1493. Before this expedition took place another parliament in the autumn of 1491 and January of 149a was asked for a vote. Morton chose his text from Jeremiah, and his illustrations from Sallust on the war with Jugurtha; the bill was two entire tenths and fifteenths, and a third if the king himself should go to the war. He did go to the war and made peace. And this carried him on to 1495.
I should say here that the parliamentary grants were each year supplemented by ecclesiastical grants made in the Convocations of the two provinces, and generally consisting of one entire tenth from each; the tenth of the Southern province was about £10,000 and that of York about £3,000, I think. In 1489, when the estates, as we have just seen, proposed separate grants, the share of the Canterbury clergy was fixed at £35,000, about the same sum as that offered by the House of Lords; but it finally took the form of two entire tenths.
Well, the grants of 1491, which extended over a year, proved insufficient for the king's needs, and he had recourse to the exaction of a benevolence; indeed the commissions for the benevolence were issued before the parliament sat, and are. supposed to have been authorised by a Great Council which sat in the June previous. This must have been a very liberal contribution, if the subscriptions of the country bore any proportion to the sum raised in London, which was £9682 17s. 4d. But I am not aware that any exact account of it exists. No doubt the commissions were executed in the usual way, but the authority given to the commissioners is only that they should intimate the king's purpose to the subjects, and move, exhort, and require them to assist him, in contemplation of the war with France. The commission was worked to some purpose, for the short expedition did not cost so much as might have been expected, and it was not until 1495 that the king found it necessary to call a parliament. It is then to this period that we must fix the application of Morton's fork, and to it Lord Bacon assigns the beginning of the penurious or saving habits which later on grew so strong in the king. I will just add that, as it was the subsidy of 1489 that provoked the riot at Thirsk, it was in all probability the subsidy of 1491 and the exaction of the benevolence that caused the struggle at Acworth in 1492.
In the parliament of 1495 no new tax was asked for; the archbishop's sermon was a lecture on law, which he divided into the law of Nature, the law of Nations, the Mosaic, Civil, Evangelic, and Canon law, with an application of the subject to the regulations of trade and commerce. These have a visible outcome in the sixty-five Acts that the parliament passed. For our present point but one of these is important; the tenth statute, on the Benevolence: divers persons have granted benevolences for the expedition to France; some have paid what they promised, some have not; the crown is empowered to enforce the fulfilment of the promises. There can be little doubt after this as to the great value of the benevolence; no further demand is made of the parliament, but the clergy grant an entire tenth.
The next session was not so happy. It was in January, 1497; the archbishop lectured this time on Roman history, Scipio, Curtius, Scævola, Regulus, Julius Cæsar and S. Augustine: the occasion was really pressing: the Scots king was making a succession of raids, and the invasion by Perkin was impending. And a very exceptional grant was made, two fifteenths and tenths first, and then another sum of the same amount, reaching, according to Lord Bacon, to £120,000, and no doubt contributing to the disaffection which brought the Cornishmen to Blackheath and encouraged Perkin to land at Penzance. The clergy are asked for £40,000, of which the king remits £10,000. This is the last great tax of the reign: peace is practically insured, and the king finds other ways of enriching himself. Nevertheless, in 1503 the clergy pay a tenth, or thereabouts, for the expedition against the Turks, that is to say, the subsidy promised to Maximilian for his expulsion of Edmund de la Pole; and in 1504 the parliament granted £40,000 as an aid on the knighting of the king's eldest son and marriage of his eldest daughter. This was the last session of the reign. Morton had died four years before; and archbishop Warham opened the parliament with a discourse on moral philosophy from Aristotle and Cicero, of a much more florid and less scholastic type than the sermons of his predecessor, and probably in better Latin.
This closes the financial history of the reign except in one point. Henry VII is said to have left behind him £1,800,000 sterling, a great part of which must have been the result of savings from royal demesne and forfeitures, but which was partially, and in popular belief principally, accumulated by exactions made by Empson and Dudley. These two men, acting as members of the royal council and under the direct control of the king, had reduced to a system the extraction of money on false or exaggerated charges. They had revived old sentences and ancient worn-out claims, and had the king's connivance in exacting the pettiest sums. In the year 1504 so great was the outcry against them that the king, suffering at the time from illness and taking a spell of penitence, issued letters ordering that all who had any reason to complain of injury inflicted in the king's name, should come forward and have a hearing. But no real good was done, and the abuses continued to the end of the reign: the culprits had imprisoned men without chance of hearing until they had paid their fines; they had compelled others to recognise themselves as tenants in chief and so liable for feudal aids; they had refused livery of seisin to wards, except on payment of enormous reliefs; exacted two years' income from outlaws before they could sue for pardons; they had heard and disposed of matters that belonged to the courts of law, and had imprisoned and fined a jury. These charges against them are in exact parallel with the abuses practised by William Rufus and remedied by Henry I and in Magna Carta. Yet they pleaded royal authority and the letter of the law, and, when the time of vengeance came, as it did at the very opening of the next reign, they perished on a charge of conspiring to govern the king and council, very much analogous to that which had been brought against the Despensers two centuries before, not on the ground of their real offences.
The next point to take is the legislation of the reign, on which I do not propose to say much, as it would be very tedious to repeat the dates and occasions of the parliaments, whilst to go into the social questions touched by the new laws would be impossible. I will, however, take the principal measures in the order of time. It is not necessary to recur to the acts of attainder and restoration, which occupy so large a part of the pages of the statute book, further than to remark that, although it was doubtless a piece of legal pettifogging to antedate the beginning of the reign by a day in order to include Richard's supporters at Bosworth under the title of rebels, it can scarcely be said to have been an unreasonable proceeding in the new Conqueror to treat them as such. The large number of forfeitures, and the large sums exacted as fines on restoration, show that scarcely any amount of political guilt was beyond forgiveness, if the repentance were accompanied by a handsome sum down. On the whole, where society was just recovering from a condition in which nothing was certain for two days together, and nearly every household was divided against itself, anything like settled peace was worth paying for, and the people generally justified by acquiescence in fact, however much and rightly they might in words complain of the mercenary policy of the court. Parliament itself acquiesced without complaint.
Leaving then these acts out of sight, I will mention the most important laws of permanent interest. In the session of 1485 were passed the act of succession, establishing the king's title, an act which allowed the bishops to imprison incontinent clergy without applying to the sheriff's to arrest them, and an act against unlawful hunting. In 1487 the act which founded the Court of Star Chamber was passed, as a remedy for the evils of maintenance, the misconduct of sheriffs, and riots and unlawful assemblies. The court so founded was to consist of the chancellor, treasurer and privy seal, taking to themselves a bishop, a lord temporal and the two chief justices. This tribunal, which took its name from the Camera Stellata, the chamber in which the council generally sat, subsequently developed into a judicial meeting of councillors and peers which has a great history of its own; bat there is no reason to question its historic identity throughout, or that this was the occasion of its foundation. This is the great judicial measure of the reign, and was intended to meet acknowledged evils.
Blackstone has recorded his impression that every act of the reign was intended for the benefit of the exchequer; perhaps we may allow that, under certain conditions, there is no price too heavy to pay for peace and order. The chief acts of 1489 and 1490 are commercial; cap. 13 limits the benefit of clergy, which is to be allowed only once to persons not in holy orders; murderers are to be marked with an M., other felons with a T.; and a second claim is not to be admitted unless the Letters of Orders are produced. Cap. 19 forbids the pulling down of 'towns,' and laying to pasture lands previously in tillage and tittable: church and realm are alike . impoverished by the devastation that is going on; owners of farm-houses, to which a holding of 20 acres is attached, are bound to keep them in repair or forfeit half the profits to the king. The great importance of this matter is the burden of the History of John Rous, the Warwick historian, who does not otherwise add to our knowledge of the reign. These two statutes are of great social significance; signs of the times of which men like Morton and More took heed. Cap. 24, the statute for proclamation of fines, has had a reputation of greater importance than deserves, being supposed formerly to have given the power of alienating entailed lands, and so allowing the great landowners to ruin themselves. This Hallam shows to be a mistake, and the statute accordingly becomes a minor legal detail.
Most of the acts of the year 1491-2 are connected with the expedition to France, which came off in the latter year; the securing of the rights of absentees who took part in it, and a number of restorations from attainder. Those of 1495 have a greater reputation in the law books, and especially cap. 1, which enacts that persons going with the king for the time being to war are not to be attaint of treason therefore; an act passed in a true spirit of equity, but, I fear, quite inadequate to secure its end in critical times. Perhaps as a historical landmark and as enunciating a principle of public law it has its chief importance; anyhow, it shows that the king felt himself so secure that he need not speculate for a fall. Cap. 3 is a law on the disposal of 'vacabunds and beggars,' who are to be sent to their hundreds; if a university man is found begging he must produce a letter of the chancellor identifying his status, or else must go as a 'vacabund.' Cap. 17 forbids the taking of pheasants and partridges on other men's lands, an early definite game law on which I will simply observe that a popular error makes the introduction of pheasants much more modern than it was; the canons of Waltham had pheasants in the eleventh century, by Harold's ordinance, every festival day from Michaelmas to Lent. Another act, cap. 22, settled servants' wages, and that at a rate which it would not be wise to mention to modern economists, unless we presume there was a handsome margin for perquisites; the wages, for instance, of a bailiff are 26s. 8d. a year; and those of the agricultural labourer 4d. or 3d. a day according to the season, his meat and drink being assumed to be worth 2d. or 1½d. a day: perhaps the proportion was not so bad. Most of the other acts of 1495 are what we should call private acts; the exceptions dealing with dishonesty in tradesmen, sheriffs, officers and jurors.
The acts of 1497 are few and not important; cap. 3 repeals the wages act of the session of 1495; cap. 6 relieves the merchant adventurers of England from the fines imposed by the merchant adventurers of London, who claimed, under colour of a fraternity of S. Thomas of Canterbury, to tax them for dealing in foreign marts: the most significant acts concern the money grants.
This brings us to the last parliament, that of 1504. This assembly passed forty statutes, some of them comprehensive and historical enough, as cap. 34, which enumerates with names and dates the successive revolts and conspiracies which had been visited with attainder; others are acts of reconciliation and restoration. The more important statutes I can only name now; cap. 14 is on maintenance and livery, increasing penalties and extending the power of the Star Chamber; cap. 15 is on Uses, a step in the growth of the doctrine afterwards fully enunciated in the statute of Henry VIII; cap. 27 settles the custom on wool taken at Calais for the payment of the garrison, to the amount of £10,022 4s. 8d. for the next sixteen years.
Other statutes are interesting mainly in relation to details of trade and to minute points of legal proceedings, and do in their particulars throw light on a few social questions on which light is much needed. Still, on the whole, the survey of the legislation of the reign does not much impress us; in spite of the one or two really important notes we have marked, there is no trace of a grand or constructive genius such as might be looked for in the opening of a new era; it is really business-like and humdrum, the work of men who welcomed legislation only just so far as it helped them to get on steadily in the course, the quiet course which they had marked out for themselves. There is nothing, moreover, in the record, either of the financial or legal proceedings, that suggests any political struggles in the parliament itself; the story that Sir Thomas More in a parliament in 1502, prevented the Commons from granting an aid for the marriage of Margaret, although told on good authority, falls to the ground, for the good reason that no parliament was held in 1502 and that in 1504 the grant was actually made. More probably was instrumental in limiting the sum. Outside of the circle of attainders and restorations very little was done which was likely to excite opposition or obstruction; and as to the little that was done at all, it seems that Lord Bacon's dictum is too much to say for it: that such was the excellency of the king's laws that he may be justly celebrated for the best Lawgiver to this nation after King Edward I. It is not well to analyse the words of an express panegyric, but Bacon's theory of government must have been, to say the least, peculiar, if he overlooked the great statutes of Edward III on taxation and on church liberties, not to speak of the elaborate legislation of the next reign. Richard II was, however, no great lawgiver, and Edward III's good laws were mainly concessions to popular demands; if the words I have quoted refer to the king's possible personal agency in legislation, they may have a meaning, otherwise not. I have already mentioned Blackstone's very different opinion, that all the laws were calculated for the benefit of the exchequer.
I must now pass on to the foreign transactions and negotiations of the reign, which are most important and most tedious; most important because they are closely connected with the opening of the new drama, the equipment of England for her part on the stage; most tedious because they go on withoutand without issues, like a game at chess which has a charm only for an adept, or a well contested game at croquet which never comes to an end. If I cannot help being tedious about this, I will at all risks be brief.
At the opening of the reign of Henry VII there were, I think, only two points at which English foreign politics touched the interests of the continent, Brittany and Burgundy. Brittany Henry was, for substantial reasons of personal gratitude, bound to help; and a marriage with the heiress Anne, supposing that he was not obliged to marry Elizabeth of York, was a conceivable contingency. Burgundy under Maximilian was likewise involved in the alliances of Brittany; both were hostile to, or afraid of France which, under Anne of Beaujeu and Charles VIII, was rather preparing for than actually engaged in her scheme of aggrandisement. From 1485 to 1491 Brittany is the point round which English diplomacy moves. Maximilian is unable to go to war: Henry is unwilling to go to war; France is able and willing; but it requires at least two combatants to fight a respectable battle. Duke Francis, who had been Henry's friend in his exile, had been constantly opposed to Lewis XI, and was intent on securing the succession for his daughter. By receiving Orleans and Dunois in 1485, he had set himself against Anne of Beaujeu; in 1486 he had prevailed on the estates to settle the succession; in 1487 he had been openly attacked by Charles VIII, and had betrothed his daughter to Maximilian. Henry had not as yet moved; he was busy in negotiations all round, but he did allow Edward Wydville to collect volunteers for a campaign in 1488 against the French, followed, as Henry's few campaigns always were, by an immediate truce. That year Duke Francis died. For the three following years Henry talked of war, and war really went on occasionally as if it was stimulated by the little peaces that interrupted it. In 1489, Charles and Maximilian made peace at Frankfort, and Brittany joined. In 1490, Henry made a league with Maximilian and the Catholic Sovereigns to defend Brittany if it were attacked; in 1491 it was attacked and they did not defend it. That year Charles VIII took Nantes and married Anne of Brittany. Then, in fulfilment of his engagements, as well as in compliance with the wish of the nation, Henry, in good time, made his expedition to Boulogne in the Autumn of 1493, which ended in the peace of Etaples concluded in November,
The peace of Etaples is an epoch in more senses than one; it was the most definite peace that had been made between England and France since the reign of Edward I. It was the closing of the Brittany business which had been the door by which England entered the arena of the new polities; and it allowed Charles VIII to begin his Italian expedition, which usually is regarded as the starting-point of the new drama. Henry, moreover, made a great deal of money by it. It was to last during the lives of both kings, and practically did so. For, in 1498, after Charles' death it was renewed with Lewis XII, and notwithstanding jealousies, intrigues and counter intrigues, remained unbroken until the next reign.
Scotland, which had been and was still to be the facile tool of France, had a policy of her own during these years. James III, who recognised in Henry VII a friend and kinsman representing the Lancaster interest, which he had always supported, perished in 1488, and from that year to 1498 the relations of the two countries consisted of an uneasy succession of truces broken by inroads of the Scots into the north, which, during the period of the activity of Perkin Warbeck, threatened to develop into active warfare.
In 1491, we find Henry intriguing to get the young king James IV into his own hands, as Henry IV had James I: in 1493, a treaty for seven years was concluded but not kept: in 1495, the marriage of James with the king's daughter Margaret was proposed. In 1498, by the good offices of the Spanish ambassador, a treaty for seven years was concluded which was shortly turned into a peace for life, cemented by the marriage which really came off in 1503. Thus, about the same time, although by a different process, the king secured himself, so far as negotiations could secure him, in peace for life with his two national and ancestral foes. In 1502 was made a treaty of perpetual peace with both.
The direct negotiations between England and Spain, which, like those between Henry and Maximilian, arose on the Brittany business, beg^n, in 1489 and 1490, with the alliance for the defence of the duchy, and so early comprised a purpose of marriage between Arthur and Katharine of Aragon. The marriage itself was not concluded until 1501; and on Arthur's death early in 1502, the scheme for her marriage with Henry was set on foot; out of which so great results were to come. The design was not, however, carried into effect until the next reign; and the intervening years are full of correspondence on points connected with dowry and dispensation. The earlier years of the Spanish negotiations contain no incidents independent of the general action of Europe, in which Henry, like Ferdinand and Isabella, was content to play a waiting game.
I have left to the last the negotiations with Flanders, first under Maximilian, and after the year 1494 under his son Philip. These, so far as they concerned the dynastic quarrels, are so closely interwoven with the French and Breton relations, that I need not recur to them.
In 1496, was concluded the great commercial treaty called Intercursus magnus, which was intended to secure the freedom of trade intercourse between England and the Netherlands, as well as the exclusion of Perkin Warbeck. The peaceful relations were not broken even whilst Maximilian and Philip were lending questionable support and making promises to Edmund de la Pole. The network of the family alliance, by which Ferdinand and Maximilian were uniting the great inheritances, might have led to a wavering of the balance under a more energetic hand than that of Henry; but, even if it had been endangered, the danger would have been averted by the arrangement concluded by the archduke on his forced visit to England in 1506; this, besides some advantage gained in the way of commerce which led the Flemings to call it Intercurms malus, not only secured the surrender of Edmund de la Pole, but opened a series of fresh marriage schemes, which entertained the king during the short remainder of his life. The most important of these was the engagement of the lady Mary to the archduke Charles; but the king himself, who had lost his wife in 1503, was in the matrimonial market, and his adventures contribute the one semi-comic element to this severely business-like reign.
The death of the archduke Philip in 1506, the advanced years of Ferdinand, and the proved impracticability of Maximilian, seemed to be opening out a career for a new leader in Europe; and many eyes were turned on Henry. He was willing enough, to marry, perhaps the queen dowager of Naples; perhaps the archduchess Margaret; the latter marriage would have given him a direct hold on the Netherlands and a possible claim on the regency of Castile, especially if the young Charles should become his son-in-law. With two such competitors, however, as Ferdinand and Maximilian the diplomatic game was slow and cautious. And in the midst of it Henry died, on April 31st, 1509.
I cannot now presume to enter upon two remaining aspects of the reign, the social and the religious, although both of them furnish us with details not less important, and scarcely more entertaining than those which we have now gone through. As for the social history, I can only say that it must be read chiefly in the Statutes concerning trade, labour, and agriculture, and the slightly increasing store of such letters as we have in the Paston and Plumpton collections: the letters of Erasmus and the scholars of the time, More's Utopia, and a very few other sorts of materials, add a little to the light that is beginning to shine towards the close of the reign. Ecclesiastically Archbishop Morton's design of visiting and reforming the monasteries was a partial anticipation of the much greater scheme of Cardinal Wolsey. There is little or no religious persecution; there is little or no literary or ecclesiastical activity, although there are, now and then, small flashes of anticipation of what is coming: the reign of Henry VIII would not in any respect have been what it was, if he had not had a predecessor like Henry VII; but, such as it was, it gathers up and concentrates in itself all the interest that would properly belong to that of his father.
I have said enough about the political importance of the reign, and perhaps in the last lecture more than enough about personal incidents and characteristics. To the last, however, Henry VII remains somewhat of an enigma to us. Was he a great king? If it be enough to constitute a great king, to have reigned twenty-four years without a single important war, and to have united in apparent peace a number of dynastic forces that had been struggling for a century; to have found England weak and poor, and divided against herself and isolated in Europe, drenched in blood and impotent in internal government; and to have left her rich, and at peace with herself, and growing in contentment, and well administered; having a place in the councils of Europe second to none, courted on every side and able to make her weight felt perceptibly in the balance; to leave a full treasury and an uncontested title to his successor, and a reputation stained by nothing that in the eyes of his contemporaries bore the guilt of crime; then the reign of Henry VII was a great reign, and perhaps Henry VII himself was a great king.
If we look rather on the moral of the reign we may somewhat modify our opinion. We look in vain for anything that would constitute him a hero or a benefactor. We find no great fault except his avarice, but even that cannot be regarded as the vulgar appetite for hoarding: and avarice, in a king who keeps within the letter of the law and the constitution, is perhaps really, and certainly in a land which had suffered from royal prodigality for three centuries, a less fault than extravagance. Even avarice is not always fatal to the heroic character, if there be the rudiments of the true heroic character there at all. Henry VII was a virtuous man, sober, temperate, and chaste, withstanding great temptations to vice and an abundant store of loose example. His household was kept frugally and severely; all his advisers, except Empson and Dudley, were men of character unstained, if not energetic for good. For one better or greater king, there are in European history fifty smaller and worse. But still—is there any of that self-denying devotion which gives itself for the people? Is there any true conception of the duty of a shepherd of the host? Is there any impulsive well-doing? I can see none. I see a cold, steady, strongly-purposed man, patient, secret, circumspect; with not many scruples, yet not regardless of men's opinions; very clear sighted; very willing to wait for reconciliation where there is a chance, and not hasty where vengeance is the only course; but ruthless where his own purpose is directly, endangered, and sparing neither friend nor foe where he is not strong enough to rely on himself alone. It may have been a nature too cold to care for popular love; or too self-contained to condescend to court it; there is no evidence that Henry VII ever dreamed of winning it. In his domestic life there is little that calls for remark. He cannot have cared much about his wife or any of her relations: he honoured and trusted his mother, and may have been in some matters guided by the advice which natural acuteness and varied experience helped her to give him. But this is a minor matter, and would count for little in the picture of a man of whose real character we knew enough to enable us to judge of him. I said in the former lecture there is nothing attractive about him, with all his virtues and all the great consequences of his work. There is surely always something attractive about either greatness or goodness, unless they fall in an age so lost to itself as to be unable to appreciate either. And the opening century, whilst to some extent it shared the king's character, was scarcely so lost as that.
I conclude: like many other things on which it has been my lot all these years to give public statutory lectures, this reign and this king, the more we study them, give the more ground for questioning our own judgments, and the extent and character of our knowledge: the Cheshire cat in Alice's adventure faded away into a grin; we grow more and more impatient of generalisations and idealisations, and more and more intolerant of dogmatic assumptions, the longer we study them. Perhaps this may be the whole lesson, and if it is, it is a lesson that can never be too thoroughly learned or too often repeated.