Henry VIII, the Reign
Gardiner and Howard Fight Back – Cromwell Falls Ill – Act of Six
The Treaty of Frankfurt was a significant setback to Cromwell and his plans to lead an evangelical confederation and so conservatives, together with the ecclesiastical lords, moved to take advantage of his misfortune.
Parliament had not sat in 1537 or 1538 but, with Gardiner back in the country during the winter, an assembly was planned for the spring of 1539 and on 1 March 1539 writs of summons were sent out to call members to Westminster.
As the delegation from Germany arrived, things began to go even further awry for Cromwell. At the same time the previous year, Bishop Foxe had fallen ill as a similar delegation was about to arrive, and Foxe had died. Now, this year, Cromwell was struck with a serious illness and confined to his bed until 10 May 1539.
The new Parliament session began on 28 April 1539 and on Monday 5 May 1539 Chancellor Audley announced that above all things the king desired to stamp out the differences in opinions concerning the Christian religion in the kingdom and come to an agreement on a single doctrine, which would be enshrined in law.
Because of time constraints (there were other parliamentary matters to consider) and the wide variance of sentiment, Audley suggested a committee be appointed to examine the differing opinions and return to Parliament with recommendations for legislation. Audley’s proposal was accepted and the committee went off to deliberate.
On 16 May the Duke of Norfolk addressed Parliament and reported that the committee appointed to consider the diversity of opinions was deeply dived and had made no progress.
Norfolk went on to propose to the members that six articles of religion should be put to Parliament for the members to consider and then, once a policy had been agreed, a system of penalties for infringement should also be introduced and added to the law.
The six articles to be considered were thus:
1. Whether the elements of the Eucharist could truly be the body of Christ, except through transubstantiation.
2. Whether the laity should receive the sacrament in both kinds.
3. Whether the vows of chastity made by men and women ought to be perpetually observed under divine law.
4. Whether, by divine law, private masses should be celebrated.
5. Whether divine law permitted priests to take wives.
6. Whether auricular confession was necessary by divine law.
During the examination of doctrine, the king encouraged a conservative approach and one of the final drafts of the eventual legislation was amended in his hand.
Howard’s proposal became the basis of the Statute of the Six Articles, An Act for Abolishing of Diversity of Opinions of certain Articles concerning Christian Religion, which reaffirmed fundamental doctrines of the church.
It became law on 28 June 1539.
The Act of the Six Articles – ‘the whip with six strings’ – caused Cranmer, who was married, to remove his wife and children from England to Germany. Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Shaxton, evangelists, resigned from their dioceses.
Notes and Links Part 36