Detecting the Devil’s spohistry…..Bishop Gardiner (1546)

A Detection of the Devils Sophistry……

……..wherewith he robbeth the unlearned people of the true belief in the most blessed Sacrament of the altar. 

Henry VIII in Parliament Robes after 1540

Henry VIII in Parliament Robes after 1540

…….By 1546 few were older; fewer still wiser; and none more unsettled than the king-made-pope, Henry VIII.  Henry, in his last address to Parliament in December 1545, expressed his frustration with the irrational obstinacies of the religious ideologues. His world-weary words of wisdom also hold the vain strains of a bewildered old man;  a man perplexed by attitudes he neither comprehends nor shares. As becomes a Pope, the king cites scripture:

…. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, in the 12th chapter: ‘Charity is gentle, Charity is not envious, Charity is not proud,’ and so on in that chapter.  Behold then what love and charity is amongst you when one calls another heretic and anabaptist and he calls him back papist, hypocrite, and pharisee.  Are these tokens of charity amongst you?  No, no, I assure you that this lack of charity amongst yourselves will be the hindrance and assuaging of the fervent love between us, as I said before, unless this is healed and clearly made whole.  I must judge the fault and occasion of this discord to be partly the negligence of you, the fathers and preachers of the spirituality.  For if I know a man who lives in adultery I must judge him to be a lecherous and carnal person; if I see a man boast and brag about himself I cannot but deem him a proud man.  I see and hear daily that you of the clergy preach against each other without charity or discretion.  Some are too stiff in their old ‘Mumpsimus’, others are, are too busy and curious in their new ‘Sumpsimus’.  Thus almost all men are in variety and discord, and few or none truly and sincerely preach the word of God as they ought to do.  Shall I now judge you to be charitable persons who do this?  No, no, I cannot do so.  Alas, how can the poor souls live in concord when you preachers sow amongst them in your sermons debate and discord?  They look to you for light and you bring them darkness.  Amend these crimes, I exhort you, and set forth God’s word truly, both by true preaching and giving a good example, or else, I, whom God has appointed his vicar and high minister here, will see these divisions extinct, and these enormities corrected, according to my true duty, or else I am an unprofitable servant and an untrue officer….

The old king - the tyrant: bloated & beady eyed....

The old king – the tyrant: bloated & beady eyed….

Yet, despite the king’s best endeavours; despite Henry’s call for restraint on both sides; Bishop Gardiner risked all in moving significantly beyond restraint. In 1546 Stephen Gardiner threw down the gauntlet. He  published perhaps his most significant treatise since De Vere Obedentia. It was characteristically as provocative as it was thought provoking. It was a call to arms:

The English Reformation became deeply personalised and vicious. This allegorical satire of Gardiner & the Mass makes the point well

The English Reformation became deeply personalised and vicious. This allegorical satire of Gardiner & the Mass makes the point well

And herein the devil utters his sophistry, and makes us forget that is continually

done before our eyes, and by impossibility of our carnal imaginations, in things
above our capacity, seduces us, and deceives us, in the belief of god’s high
mysteries, and specially in the mystery of the Sacrament of the altar, whereby to
hinder us, and deprive us, of our great comfort and consolation . . .
(Stephen Gardiner: A Detection of the Devils Sophistry wherewith he robbeth the unlearned people of the true belief in the most blessed Sacrament of the altar. ( 1546) 

Perhaps more than anything this independence of attitude caused the bishop to fall from the king’s favour.

The very ‘devil’  who led  many to deny the real presence and whom Gardiner indentified in print also conveniently led the bishop’s political enemies into danger. Gardiner and the Duke of Norfolk began a single-minded pursuit of the queen and her coterie of evangelicals. The traditionalists had Anne Askew and former Bishop Nicholas Shaxton arrested for denying one of the six articles. Their imprisonment endangered other evangelicals led by Thomas Smith, John Cheke, Richard Cox, John Hooper and Nicholas Ridley (with Cranmer in the background). These in turn had friends clustered around Queen Catherine Parr’s privy chamber. Gardiner and his allies persuaded the king that the same baleful influence reached into the household of young Edward and permeated those of Edward Seymour and his intemperate brother Thomas.

The king was roused; he agreed to strike; then Henry did  as he had done so often;  he changed his mind.  His change of heart came too late to save Anne Askew.  Shaxton and others recanted (in Shaxton’s case this recantation was sincere). The queen and her coterie narrowly escaped. The politics of faction and religious struggle were now truly enmeshed. Neither side could afford to let the other alone. The rising stars of family Seymour moved into the ascendant in the autumn of 1546; they counter-attacked at the court just before Christmas 1546. Gardiner was kept from court in a dispute over a land-swap between his diocese and the king; Seymour quickly brought down Henry, Earl of Surrey, sometime poet and Norfolk’s son and heir; and then the duke himself. By Christmas Gardiner’s other allies Wriothesley, the lord chancellor; and William Paget the principal secretary had moved to Seymour’s side. Decisively they brought with them Sir Anthony Denny (Henry’s  principal gentleman); William Herbert and a number of others in the king’s privy chamber, many of whom were related by marriage to Catherine Parr’s family.

In his last days all the powers of his earthly kingdom slipped from Henry VIII’s hands into those of his Seymour in-laws. Historians cannot assess the king’s final state of mind. Perhaps he merely wished to strike down Howard ambitions to make his son’s succession secure. Perhaps it was his intention to throw his lot in with the radical reformers. Perhaps, the reformers had hidden their true sympathies sufficiently from Henry’s beady eye. Perhaps the king chose to believe what he wished to believe; perhaps he chose to see only what he wished to see. Perhaps, as with many men, he did not quite believe his own death would come and thought there would always be one more throw of the dice.

none of the portraits of Gardiner are particularly well drawn. This one belongs to Countess of Essex

none of the portraits of Gardiner are particularly well drawn. This one belongs to Countess of Essex

Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream;
Highlows pass as patent leathers;
Jackdaws strut in peacock’s feathers.

For the first time since the early 1530’s Stephen Gardiner was on the outside of the magic circle of insiders who governed Tudor England…..but strangely the bishop seemed as liberated by his exile as occasionally he was resentful of his lack if influence. A change had come over Stephen Gardiner: henceforth, the man of affairs, who had happened to be a bishop and priest, became a bishop and priest, who happened to be a man of affairs……continued



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