3rd Legislative Session of the Reformation Parliament
15 January 1532 - 14 May 1532
In March, 1532, the Commons presented to the King their ‘Supplication against the Ordinaries.’ After complaining in general terms of ‘much discord, variance, and debate’ of late arisen in the realm, ‘as well through new, fantastical, and erroneous opinions, grown by occasion of frantic, seditious, and overthwartly [perversely] framed books, compiled, imprinted, published, and made into the English tongue, contrary and against the very true Catholic and Christian faith, as also by the extreme and uncharitable behaviour and dealing of divers ordinaries’ which ‘have the examination in and upon the said errors and heretical opinions,’ the document goes on to enumerate certain ‘special particular griefs.’
Of these the most important are:
(1) the power of Convocation to make ‘laws, constitutions, and ordinances’ without the royal assent or the assent of the laity;
(2) the delays of the Canterbury courts of Arches and Audience , and the vexatious exactions of the ordinaries and the ecclesiastical courts;
(3) the ordinaries ‘do daily confer and give sundry benefices unto certain young folks, calling them their nephews or kinsfolk, being in their minority and within age, not apt nor able to serve the cure of any such benefice,’ whereby ‘the poor silly souls’ of the king’s subjects, ‘for lack of good curates, do perish without doctrine or any good teaching’;
(4) the excessive number of holy days kept ‘with very small devotion’;
5) in cases of heresy the ordinaries or their ministers put to the accused ‘such subtle interrogatories concerning the high mysteries of our faith as are able quickly to trap a simple, unlearned, or yet a well-witted layman without learning, and bring them by such sinister introduction soon to his own confusion.
The ‘Answer of the Ordinaries’ to these accusations was approved by Convocation in April, 1532, and presented to the King at the end of the month. The ordinaries, who describe themselves as the King’s ‘orators and daily bounden bedesmen,’ begin by denying that there is any such ‘discord, debate, variance, or breach or peace’ as had been alleged against the King’s subjects, their ‘brethren in God and ghostly children,’ and then proceed to deal with the detailed accusations seriatim in vague terms and at inordinate length.
The general line of argument adopted is, that if the things complained of really happen, it is the fault of individuals and not of the whole order of the clergy. On April 30 the King delivered the document to the Speaker and a deputation of the Commons for their consideration, with a hint of his own opinion. ‘We think,’ he said, ‘their answer will smally please you, for it seemeth to us very slender. You be a great sort of wise men. I doubt not but you will look circumspectly on the matter, and we will be indifferent between you.’
In a second answer Convocation offered not to publish canons henceforth without the King’s consent, unless it were for the maintenance of the faith. This also failed to satisfy the King; on May 10 he sent to Convocation three articles for their acceptance, and on the following day he sent for the Speaker and twelve of the Commons, and addressed them in words which shewed that to his mind the real issue was one of sovereignty.
‘Well-beloved subjects, we thought that the clergy of our realm had been our subjects wholly; but now we have well perceived that they be but half our subjects—yea, and scarce our subjects. For all the prelates at their consecration make an oath to the Pope clean contrary to the oath they make to us, so that they seem his subjects and not ours.’ On May 15 Convocation surrendered and accepted the three articles, undertaking (1) not to make any new canons unless the King should license them to make such canons, and thereto should give his royal assent and authority; and (2) to submit all canons heretofore enacted to the King and a commission of 32 persons chosen by him; (3) canons determined by the majority of the commission ‘not to stand with God’s laws’ and the laws of the realm, to be ‘abrogated and taken away by your grace and the clergy,’ and those approved by the commission ‘to stand in full strength and power, your grace’s most royal assent and authority once impetrate and fully given to the same.’
On May 16, the day on which this submission was presented to the King, Sir Thomas More resigned the Chancellorship and retired into private life. The proposed reform of ecclesiastical law was never carried into effect, but the first of the three articles gave the King all that he really wanted. The question of sovereignty was settled in his favour, and he was now secure against any attempt on the part of Convocation to protest against the steps which he was proposing to take in the matter of the divorce. The permanent constitutional importance of the submission lies in this, that it put an end to the autonomy of the English Church.
Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador, wrote: ‘Churchmen will be of less account than shoemakers, who have the power of assembling and making their own statutes.’