Henry VIII

[Thomas Wolsey]

Read the documents below. Recommended reading is is chapters 6-7 of Lacey Baldwin Smith, This Realm of England: 1399 to 1688.


Document I

The opening words of the Act in restraint of Appeals, 1533

Where by divers sundry old authentic histories and chronicles it is manifestly declared and expressed that this realm of England is an empire, and so hath been accepted in the world, governed by one supreme head and king, having the dignity and royal estate of the imperial crown of the same, unto whom a body politic, compact of all sorts and degrees of people divided in terms and by names of spirituality and temporalty, be bounden and ought to bear, next to God, a natural and humble obedience; he being also institute and furnished by the goodness and sufferance of Almighty God with plenary jurisdiction, to render and yield justice, and final determination to all manner of folk, residents or subjects within this his realm, in all causes, matters, debates and contentions happening to occur, insurge or begin within the limits thereof, without restraint or provocation to any foreign princes of potentates of the world; ...

Document II

Excerpt from The Act of Supremacy (1534)

Albeit, the King's Majesty justly and rightfully is and ought to be the supreme head of the Church of England, and so is recognised by the clergy of this realm in their Convocations; yet nevertheless for corroboration and confirmation thereof, and for increase of virtue in Christ's religion within this realm of England, and to repress and extirp all errors, heresies and other enormities and abuses heretofore used in the same, Be it enacted by authority of this present Parliament that the King our sovereign lord, his heirs and successors kings of this realm, shall be taken, accepted and reputed the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England called Anglicana Ecclesia, and shall have and enjoy annexed and united to the imperial crown of this realm as well the title and style thereof, as all honours, dignities, preeminences, jurisdictions, privileges, authorities, immunities, profits and commodities, to the said dignity of supreme head of the same Church belonging and appertaining. And that our said sovereign lord, his heirs and successors kings of this realm, shall have full power and authority from time to time to visit, repress, redress, reform, order, correct, restrain and amend all such errors, heresies, abuses, offences, contempts and enormities, whatsoever they be, which by any manner spiritual authority or jurisdiction ought or may lawfully be reformed, repressed, ordered, redressed corrected, restrained or amended, most to the pleasure of Almighty God, the increase of virtue in Christ's religion, and for the conservation of the peace, unity and tranquillity of this realm: any usage, custom, foreign laws, foreign authority, prescription or any other thing or things to the contrary hereof notwithstanding.
From: Statutes of the Realm, III; spelling modernized

Document III

From William Ropers's Life of Thomas More

Shortly hereupon Mr. Rich (afterwards Lord Rich) then newly the King's Solicitor, Sir Richard Southwell, and Mr. Palmer, servant to the Secretary, were sent to Sir Thomas More into the Tower, to fetch away his books from him. And while Sir Richard Southwell and Mr. Palmer were busy in trussing up of his books, Mr. Rich pretending friendly talk with him, among other things of a set course, as it seemed, said thus unto him: "Forasmuch as it is well known (Mr. More) that you are a man both wise and well learned, as well in the laws of the Realm, as otherwise, I pray you therefore, Sir, let me be so bold as of good will to put unto you this case. Admit there were, Sir," quoth he, "an Act of Parliament, that all the Realm should take me for the King, would not you (Mr. More) take me for the King?" "Yes, Sir," quoth Sir Thomas More, "that would I." "I put the case further" (quoth Mr. Rich) "that there were an Act of Parliament that all the Realm should take me for the Pope; would then not you, Mr. More, take me for the Pope?" "For answer," quoth Sir Thomas More, "to your first case, the Parliament may well (Mr. Rich) meddle with the state of temporal princes; but to make answer to your second case, I will put you this case. Suppose the Parliament would make a law, that God should not be God, would you then, Mr. Rich, say God were not God?" "No, Sir," quoth he, "that would I not, since no Parliament may make any such law." "No more" (said Sir Thomas More, as Mr. Rich reported of him) "could the Parliament make the King supreme head of the Church."

Upon whose only report was Sir Thomas More indicted of treason upon the Statute in which it was made treason to deny the King to be supreme head of the Church, into which indictment were put these words, maliciously, traitorously, and diabolically. When Sir Thomas More was brought from the Tower to Westminster Hall to answer the indictment, and at the King's Bench bar before the judges thereupon arraigned, he openly told them that he would upon that indictment have abiden in law, but he thereby should have been driven to confess of himself the matter indeed, which was the denial of the King's supremacy, which he protested was untrue, wherefore thereto he pleaded not guilty, and so reserved unto himself advantage to be taken of the body of the matter after verdict, to avoid that indictment. And moreover added, "if those only odious terms, maliciously, traitorously, and diabolically were put out of the indictment, he saw nothing therein justly to charge him." And for proof to the jury that Sir Thomas More was guilty to this treason, Mr. Rich was called by them to give evidence unto them, as he did; against whom Sir Thomas More began in this wise to say: "If I were a man (my Lords) that did not regard an oath, I need not (as it is well known) in this place, at this time, nor in this case to stand as an accused person. And if this oath of yours (Mr. Rich) be true, then pray I that I may never see God in the face, which I would not say, were it otherwise, to win the whole world." Then recited he unto the discourse of all their communication in the Tower according to the truth, and said, "In faith, Mr. Rich, I am sorrier for your perjury than for mine own peril, and you shall understand that neither I, nor no man else to my knowledge ever took you to be a man of such credit as in any matter of importance I, or any other would at any time vouchsafe to communicate with you. And (as you know) of no small while I have been acquainted with you and your conversation, who have known you from your youth hitherto. For we long dwelled both in one parish together, where, as yourself can tell (I am sorry you compel me so to say) you were esteemed very light of your tongue, a great dicer, and of not commendable fame. And so in your house at the Temple (where hath been your chief bringing up) were you likewise accounted. Can it therefore seem likely unto your honourable Lordships, that I would, in so weighty a cause, so far overshoot myself, as to trust Mr. Rich (a man of me always reputed for one of so little truth, as your Lordships have heard) so far above my sovereign Lord the King, or any of his noble councillors, that I would unto him utter the secrets of my conscience touching the King's supremacy, the special point and only mark at my hands so long sought for? A thing which I never did, nor never would, after the Statute thereof made, reveal it, either to the King's Highness himself, or to any of his honourable councillors, as it is not unknown unto your house, at sundry times, and several, sent from his Grace's own person unto the Tower to me for none other purpose. Can this in your judgments (my Lords) seems likely to be true?


Mr. Rich seeing himself so disproved, and his credit so foully defaced, caused Sir Richard Southwell and Mr. Palmer, that at that time of their communication were in the chamber, to be sworn what words had passed betwixt them. Whereupon Mr. Palmer on his deposition said, that he was so busy about the trussing up Sir Thomas More's books in a sack, that he took no heed to their talk. Sir Richard Southwell likewise upon his deposition said, that because he was appointed only to look to the conveyance of his books, he gave no ear unto them. After this, were there many other reasons (not now in my rememberance) by Sir Thomas More in his own defence alleged, to the discredit of Mr. Rich his foresaid evidence, and proof of the clearness of his own conscience. All which notwithstanding the jury found him guilty, and incontinent upon the verdict the Lord Chancellor (for that matter chief commissioner) beginning in judgment against him, Sir Thomas More said to him, "My Lord, when I was towards the law, the manner in such case was to ask the prisoner before judgment, why judgment should not be given against him?" Whereupon the Lord Chancellor staying his judgment, wherein he had partly proceeded, demanded of him what he was able to say to the contrary? Who then in this sort mildly made answer: "Forasmuch as, my Lord" (quoth he), "this indictment is grounded upon an Act of Parliament, directly oppugnant to the laws of God and his holy Church, the supreme government of which, or of any part thereof, may no temporal prince presume by any law to take upon him, as rightfully belonging to the See of Rome, a spiritual pre-eminence by the mouth of our Saviour himself, personally present upon the earth, to St. Peter and his successors, bishops of the same see, by special prerogative, granted, it is therefore in law amongst Christian men insufficient to charge any Christian." And for proof thereof like as amongst divers other reasons and authorities he declared that this Realm, being but one member and small part of the Church, might not make a particular law dischargeable with the general law of Christ's holy Catholic Church, no more than the City of London, being but one poor member in respect of the whole Realm, might make a law against an Act of Parliament to bind the whole Realm unto: so further showed he, that it was contrary both to the laws and statutes of this land, yet unrepealed, as they might evidently perceive in Magna charta, Quod Ecclesia Anglicana libera sit et habeat omnia jura sua integra, at libertates suas illaesas , [That the Church of England shall be free, and shall have her whole rights and liberties inviolable.] and contrary to that sacred oath which the King's Highness himself, and every other Christian prince always at their coronations received, alleging moreover, that no more might this Realm of England refuse obedience to the See of Rome, than might the child refuse obedience to his natural father. ...

Then was it thereunto by the Lord Chancellor answered, that seeing all the bishops, universities, and best learned men of the Realm had to this Act agreed, it was much marvelled that he alone against them all would so stiffly stick and vehemently argue there against. To that Sir Thomas More replied saying, "If the number of bishops and universities be so material, as your Lordships seemeth to take it, then see I little cause (my Lords) why that thing in my conscience should make any change. For I nothing doubt, but that though not in this Realm, yet in Christendom about they be not the least part, that be of my mind therein. But if I should speak of those that be already dead (of whom many be now saints in heaven) I am very sure it is the far greater part of them, that all the while they lived, thought in this case that way that I think now. And therefore am I not bound (my Lords) to conform my conscience to the council of one realm against the General Council of Christendom." Now when Sir Thomas More, for the avoiding of the indictment, had taken as many exceptions as he thought meet and more reasons than I can now remember alleged, the Lord Chancellor, loath to have the burden of the judgment wholly to depend upon himself, then openly asked the advice of the Lord Fitz-James, then the Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, and joined in commission with him, whether this indictment were sufficient or not? Who like a wise man answered, "My Lords all, by St. Julian" (that was ever his oath) "I must needs confess, that if the Act of Parliament be not unlawful, then is not the indictment in my conscience insufficient." Whereupon the Lord Chancellor said to the rest of the Lords, "Lo, my Lords, lo, you hear what my Lord Chief Justice saith," and so immediately gave the judgment against him. After which ended, the commissioners yet courteously offered him, if he had anything else to allege for his defence to grant him favourable audience, who answered, "More have I not to say (my Lords) but like as the blessed Apostle St. Paul, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, was present, and consented to the death of St. Stephen, and kept their clothes that stoned him to death, and yet be they now both twain holy saints in heaven, and shall continue there friends for ever, so I verily trust and shall therefore right heartily pray, that though your Lordships have now in earth been judges to my condemnation, we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together to our everlasting salvation."

Thus much touching Sir Thomas More's arraignment, being not thereat present myself, have I by the credible report of Sir Anthony Sumtleger Knight, and partly of Sir Richard Heywood, and John Webb.

More of Roper's history can be found at the Fordham University site

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