After the suppression of the rebellions in the north and the failure of Cardinal Pole to bring about an European coalition against Henry, the war against the greater monasteries was begun (1537). Those situated in the northern counties were charged with having been implicated in the rebellion. Many of the abbots were put to death or imprisoned, and the goods of the communities were confiscated. Several others in order to escape punishment were induced to surrender their property to the king's commissioners. In some cases the abbots were bribed by promises of special favours for themselves, in others they were forced to yield up their titles to avoid charges of treason on account of documents supposed to have been discovered in their houses or evidence that had been extracted from some of their monks or retainers. During the years 1538 and 1539 the monasteries fell one by one, while during the same period war was carried on against shrines and pilgrimages. The images of Our Lady of Ipswich and of Our Lady of Walsingham were destroyed; the tomb of St. Thomas à Becket was rifled of its precious treasures, and the bones and relics of the saint were treated with the greatest dishonour. Everywhere throughout the country preachers inspired by Cromwell and Cranmer, the latter of whom aimed at nothing less than a Lutheran revolution in England, were at work denouncing images, pilgrimages, invocation of saints, and Purgatory. So long as money poured into the royal treasury from the sale of surrendered monastical property and of the ecclesiastical goods, or so long as a blow could be struck at the Papacy by desecrating the tomb of a saint who had died as a martyr in defence of the Holy See, Henry looked on with indifference if not with pleasure.
But the news of such outrages could not fail to horrify the Catholic world, and to prove to Paul III. that there was little hope of any favourable change in Henry's religious policy. It was determined to give effect to the Bull of excommunication that had been prepared for years, and to call upon the Catholic powers of Europe to put it into execution either by a joint declaration of war, or by an interruption of commercial relations with England. The time seemed specially favourable for the publication of such a sentence. After years of active or smouldering hostility the two great rivals Charles V. and Francis I. had arranged a ten years truce (June 1538), and Cardinal Pole was sent as legate to Spain and France to induce the Emperor and Francis I. to take common action. James V. of Scotland promised his assistance, and a papal envoy was dispatched to Scotland to bear the cardinal's hat to Archbishop Beaton, and to encourage the king to co-operate with the Catholic rulers of the Continent.
When the news of these preparations reached England Henry was thoroughly alarmed for the safety of his kingdom. The brothers of Cardinal Pole, Sir Geoffrey Pole and Lord Montague, his mother, the Countess of Salisbury, Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter, Lord Delawarr, Sir Edward Neville, Sir Nicholas Carew, and others were arrested, nominally on the charge of treason, but in reality because the Poles and the Courtenays were regarded as dangerous claimants to the English throne. With the exception of Sir Geoffrey Pole, who turned king's evidence, and the Countess of Salisbury who was kept in confinement for years, the others were put to death, and commissioners were sent into Cornwall to suppress all attempts at rebellion. During the spring of 1539 preparations for repelling an invasion were pushed forward with feverish activity, and so great was the loyalty of the vast body of the English people, and so hateful to them was the idea of a foreign invasion that many, who detested Henry's religious policy, came forward with their assistance. The fortresses along the coast and on the Scottish borders were strengthened, and replenished; the fleet was held in readiness in the Thames; and a volunteer army trained and equipped was raised to contest the progress of the invaders or at least to defend the capital. Negotiations with the Protestant princes of Germany for the conclusion of an offensive and defensive alliance were opened, and to prevent a commercial boycott a proclamation was issued that except in case of wool foreigners trading in England should be obliged to pay only the duties and customs imposed upon Englishmen. But as events showed there was no necessity for these warlike preparations. Francis I. could not dare to forward an ultimatum to England unless aided by the Emperor, and Charles V., confronted with a Turkish invasion and a Protestant rebellion in Germany, found it impossible to undertake an expedition against England. Nor was the project of a commercial boycott likely to be more successful. The Flemish merchants in the Netherlands were too deeply interested in English trade to permit them to look favourably upon a scheme that was likely to prove as ruinous to their own country as to England, particularly as the recent proclamation in favour of foreign merchants offered them a special opportunity for pushing their wares beyond the Channel.
A new Parliament was summoned to meet in April 1539. Cromwell, who was a past master in the art of selecting and managing such assemblies, took care that men should be returned who were likely to favour the projects of the king, and in this action he succeeded beyond expectation. An Act of Attainder was passed against Cardinal Pole and against the Countess of Salisbury, as well as against those who had been executed a short time before. As the /Ten Articles/ on religion published by the king and the improved version of these Articles known as the /Bishop's Book/ had not proved sufficient to suppress religious controversy in the kingdom or to prevent England from being regarded as a heretical nation on the Continent, Henry determined to lay down a fixed rule of faith, that should be accepted by all his subjects, and that should prove to the Emperor and to France that England, though separated from Rome, was still loyal to the Catholic religion. A commission of bishops was appointed to prepare a report on the principal points of faith that had been called in question, but the bishops were divided into two hostile camps. While Cranmer, Latimer, Shaxton, Goodrich, and Barlow were strongly Lutheran in their tendencies, Archbishop Lee of York, Gardiner of Winchester, Tunstall of Durham, and Aldrich of Carlisle were opposed to all dogmatic innovations. Though Cromwell supported secretly the reforming party it soon became known that Henry VIII. favoured the conservatives. As no agreement could be arrived at by the bishops, the Duke of Norfolk, who was rising rapidly at court as the champion of conservative interests, took the matter out of the hands of the bishops, by proposing to the House of Lords Six Articles dealing with the main points of difference between the Catholics and the Lutherans of the Continent. On these Articles the laymen did not venture to express any opinion, but Cranmer, Latimer and their friends held out till at last Henry appeared himself and "confounded them all with God's learning."鈥淭y鈥鈥檙l鈥
The decision was embodied in an Act of Parliament entitled "An Act abolishing diversity of Opinions," which having received the royal assent was placed upon the Statute Book (1539). The Articles agreed upon by Convocation and Parliament and published by the king's authority were: (1) that in the Eucharist the substance of the bread and wine is changed into the Body and Blood of Christ; (2) that Communion under both kinds is not necessary for salvation; (3) that clerical celibacy should be observed; (4) that vows of chastity should be observed; (5) that private Masses ought to be retained; and (6) that auricular confession is expedient. Denial of the first article, namely, that regarding Transubstantiation, was to be deemed heresy punishable by death at the stake, and denial of the others was felony punishable by forfeiture for the first and by death for the second offence. Priests who had taken to themselves wives were commanded to put them away under threat of punishment for felony, and people, who refused to confess and receive the Eucharist at the usual times, were to be imprisoned or fined for the first offence, and to be judged guilty of felony for the second offence. The Act of Six Articles, as it is commonly known, or "the whip with six strings," as it was nicknamed contemptuously by the Reformers, marked a distinct triumph for the conservative party, led by the Duke of Norfolk among the peers and by Gardiner and Tunstall amongst the bishops. Cranmer made his submission and concealed his wife, but Latimer and Shaxton with greater honesty resigned their Sees rather than accept the Act. The vast body of the clergy and people hailed it with delight as a crushing blow delivered against heresy, and as proof that Henry was determined to maintain the old religion in England.鈥淭y鈥鈥檙l鈥
But if Cromwell had received a check on the question of dogma, he determined to curry favour with the king and at the same time to advance the cause he had at heart, by securing the suppression of the remaining monasteries. An Act was passed through all its stages in one day vesting in the king the property of all monasteries that had been suppressed or that were to be suppressed. This was done under the pretence that the monks, being ungodly and slothful, should be deprived of their wealth, which if handed over to the king could be devoted to the relief of poverty, the education of youth, the improvement of roads, and the erection of new bishoprics. Under threat of penalties nearly all the great monasteries surrendered their titles and lands except the abbots of Glastonbury, Reading, and Colchester, all of whom were arrested and put to death (1539). This punishment struck terror into the hearts of the others, and by the surrender of Waltham Abbey (March 1540) the last of the great English monasteries disappeared. Finally, to show the state of complete subserviency to which the English Parliament was reduced, it passed an Act giving to the royal proclamation with certain ill-defined limits the force of law (1539).鈥淭y鈥鈥檙l鈥
It was evident to all that the position of Cromwell at court had become very insecure. While England was threatened with an European coalition he had suggested an alliance with the Protestant princes of Germany, and as Henry's third wife Jane Seymour had died (1537), after鈥淭y鈥鈥檙l鈥
having given birth to a son (later on Edward VI.), he determined to cement the bond of friendship by a new matrimonial alliance. The Duke of Cleves was brother-in-law to the Elector of Saxony and one of the guiding spirits of the Schmalkaldic League, and as he had given mortal offence to the Emperor by his acceptance of the Duchy of Guelders, Cromwell decided that a marriage between the Duke's sister, Anne, and Henry VIII. would secure for England both the alliance of the League of Schmalkald and at least the neutrality of France. Though Henry detested the Elector of Saxony and his friends as heretics, and though the Six Articles aroused considerable resentment in the Lutheran camp, the close union between Charles V. and Francis I. and the uncertainty of what steps they might take made it imperative to push forward Henry's marriage. The marriage treaty was signed in October 1539, and in December Anne of Cleves landed at Deal. Henry, who had been led to believe that Anne was both accomplished and moderately beautiful, could not conceal his disappointment when he met his prospective bride; but, as his trusted counsellors could devise no plan of escape, he consented with bad grace to go through the ceremony of marriage (6th Jan., 1540). Henry was displeased and made no secret of his displeasure. Cromwell, whom he blamed specially for this matrimonial misfortune, felt himself in considerable danger, though at the same time he resolved not to yield without a struggle. The contest between Cranmer, backed by the Lutheran party in the council, and Gardiner, the Duke of Norfolk, and the conservatives was sharp though by no means decisive. The king appeared at one time to favour one side, at another the other side, unwilling to commit himself definitely to either, especially as Cromwell was still reaping a rich harvest from the suppression of the Knights of St. John and from the taxes imposed on the clergy.鈥淭y鈥鈥檙l鈥