December 24, 1545 – Henry VIII’s Final Speech to Parliament

Henry VIII in Parliament, from the Wriothesley Garter Book (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Last speeches seem to be real highlights, and this one certainly does not disappoint. It is a chance to really hear Henry’s voice and remember how seriously he took religion even though he so often bent it to his own purposes. Who among us has not heard the quote, “I am very sorry to know and hear how unreverently that most precious jewel, the Word of God, is disputed, rhymed, sung and jangled in every ale-house and tavern, contrary to the true meaning and doctrine of the same”? It’s from this speech – a masterful performance that moved many of those present (including Henry himself) to tears.

Petre wrote to Paget to tell him of this event. “This morning, being Christmas Even, 24 Dec., Parliament was prorogued until 4 Nov. next, by the King in person. After hearing the proposition of the Speaker, a great piece of which consisted in laud of his Highness, the King required my lord Chancellor, whose office has ever been to make answer for the King, to permit him to answer himself; and did so with a gravity, “so sententiously, so kingly, or rather fatherly, as peradventure to you that hath been used to his daily talks should have been no great wonder (and yet saw I some that hear him often enough largely water their plants), but to us, that have not heard him often, was such a joy and marvellous comfort as I reckon this day one of the happiest of my life.”

But enough of a buildup, judge for yourself…(I left as much of the old language as I could – the first two paragraphs are a little slow but they do show you a great side of Henry’s majestic mix of flattery and threats and they will get your ear properly tuned to really enjoy the great stuff in the last two!)

Although my chancellor has been accustomed, very eloquently and substantially, to make answer to such orations as have been set forth in this high court of Parliament; yet is he not so able to open and set forth my mind and meaning, and the secrets of my heart, in so plain and simple manner, as I myself am, and can do. Wherefore, I take it upon me to answer your eloquent oration, Master Speaker, and say that where you, in the name of our well beloved Commons, have both praised and extolled me for the notable qualities that you have conceived to be in me, I most heartily  thank you all. You have put me in remembrance  of my duty, which is, to endeavor myself to obtain such excellent qualities, and necessary virtues, as a prince or governor should or ought to have; of which gifts I recognize myself both bare and barren. But for those small qualities with which God hath endowed me, I render to His goodness my most humble thanks, intending, with all my wit and diligence, to acquire such notable virtues, and princely qualities, as you have alleged to be incorporate in my person. 

Having thanked you for your loving admonition and good counsel, I now quickly thank you again, because you, considering the great charges (not for our pleasure, but for your defense, not for our gain, but to our great cost) which we have lately sustained, both in defense against our and your enemies and the conquest of that fortress which was to this realm most displeasant and noisome, and shall be, by God’s grace, hereafter to our nation most profitable and pleasant, you have freely decided to grant to us a certain subsidy, here in an act specified, which verily we take in good part, regarding more your kindness than the profit thereof, as he that setteth more by your loving hearts than by your substance. Besides this hearty kindness, I cannot a little rejoice, when I consider the perfect trust and sure confidence which you have put in me, as men having undoubted hope and unfeigned belief in my good doings and just proceedings,  because you, without my desire or request have committed to mine order and disposition all chantries, colleges, hospitals, and other places specified in a certain act – firmly trusting, that I will order them to the glory of God and the profit of our commonwealth. Surely, if I, contrary to your expectations, should suffer the churches to decay, or learning (which is so great a jewel) to be diminished, or poor and miserable people to be unrelieved, you might say, that I, being put in so special a trust as I am in this case, were no trusty friend to you, nor charitable man to mine fellow Christians,  neither a lover of the public wealth, nor yet one that feared God, to whom account must be rendered of all our doings. Doubt not, I pray you, but your expectation shall be served, more godly and goodly than you will wish or desire, as hereafter you shall plainly perceive.      

Now since I find such kindness on your part, towards me, I cannot choose but to love and favor you, affirming that no prince in the world more favoreth his subjects than I do you; nor any subjects or commons more love and obey their sovereign lord than I perceive you do me, for whose defense my treasure shall not be hidden, nor, if necessity require, shall my person be unrisked. Yet, although I with you, and you with me, be in this perfect love and concord, this friendly amity cannot continue unless you my lords temporal, and you my lords spiritual, and you my loving subjects, study and take pains to amend one thing, which is surely amiss and far out of order, which I most heartily require you to do and which is that charity and concord is not among you, but discord and dissension beareth rule, in every place. St. Paul saith to the Corinthians, in the thirteenth chapter, charity is gentle, charity is not envious, charity is not proud, and so forth, in the said chapter. Behold then what love and charity is amongst you, when the one calleth the other heretic and anabaptist, and he calleth him in turn papist, hypocrite, and pharisee. Be these tokens of charity amongst you? Are these the signs of fraternal love between 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, except this wound be salved, and clearly made whole. I must needs judge the fault and occasion of this discord to be partly by the negligence of you, the fathers, and preachers of the spirituality. For, if I know a man that liveth in adultery, I must judge him a lecherous and carnal person; if I see a man boast and brag, I cannot but deem him a proud man. I see and hear daily that you of the clergy preach one against another, teach contrary to one another, criticize one against another without charity or discretion. Some be too stiff in their old mumpsimus, other be too busy and curious in their new sumpsimus. Thus, all men almost are in variety and discord, and few or none do preach, truly and sincerely, the word of God, according as they ought to do. Shall I now judge you charitable persons doing this? No, no; I cannot so do. Alas! how can the poor souls live in concord when you preachers sow amongst them, in your sermons, debate and discord? From you they look for light, and you bring them to darkness. Amend these crimes, I exhort you, and set forth God’s word, both by true preaching, and good example-giving, or else I, whom God hath appointed his vicar and high minister here, will see these divisions extinct, and these enormities corrected, according to my very duty, or else I am an unprofitable servant, and an untrue officer.

Although (as I say) the spiritual men are in some fault that charity is not kept amongst you, yet you of the temporality are not clean and unspotted of malice and envy; for you rail on bishops, speak slanderously of priests, and rebuke and taunt preachers; both contrary to good order and Christian fraternity. If you know surely that a bishop or preacher erreth, or teacheth perverse doctrine, come and declare it to some of our Council, or to us, to whom is committed by God the authority to reform and order such causes and behaviors, and be not judges yourselves of your own fantastical opinions and vain expositions; for in such high causes you may lightly err. And, although you are permitted to read holy scripture and to have the word of God in your mother tongue, you must understand that it is licensed you so to do, only to inform your own conscience and to instruct your children and family, and not to dispute and make scripture a railing and a taunting stock against priests and preachers, as many light persons do. I am very sorry to know and hear how unreverently that most precious jewel, the word of God, is disputed, rhymed, sung, and jangled in every alehouse and tavern, contrary to the true meaning and doctrine of the same; and yet I am even as much sorry that the readers of the same follow it, in doing, so faintly and coldly. For of this I am sure, that charity was never so faint amongst you, and virtuous and godly living was never less used, nor was God himself, amongst Christians, never less reverenced, honored, or served. Therefore, as I said before, be in charity one with another, like brother and brother; love, dread, and serve God (to the which I, as your supreme head and sovereign lord, exhort and require you); and then I doubt not but that love and bonds, which I spoke of in the beginning, shall never be dissolved or broken between us. And, as touching the laws which be now made and concluded, I exhort you, the makers, to be as diligent in putting them into execution as you were in making and furthering them, or else your labor shall be in vain, and your commonwealth nothing relieved.

 

You can read Petre’s letter in Letters and Papers. For the speech itself, go to Dodd’s Church History of England  – quoting Hall’s Chronicle p. 864

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7 thoughts on “December 24, 1545 – Henry VIII’s Final Speech to Parliament

      • It can be. Worse, we don’t learn as fast as we innovate. “Alas! how can the poor souls live in concord when you preachers sow amongst them, in your sermons, debate and discord? From you they look for light, and you bring them to darkness.” That describes recent developments in the US and in Europe just too well. And once decisions based toxic debate and discord have been made, we are to weak to rethink them with the necessary contemplacy – even though we know, that something went wrong.

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  1. There is a beautiful book by the late Margeret Aston about a 16th century anti-papal propaganda painting depicting Henry VIII (on his death bed?) and Edward VI: {https://www.reddit.com/r/Tudorhistory/comments/3nhom3/margaret_aston_the_kings_bedpost_reformation_and/}

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I assume, that J. E. Millais knew both paintings (see my comment related to Margaret Aston) and alluded to both of them in his controversial (in the Victorian era) painting “Christ in the House of his Parents”. I guess, you know Charles Dickens complaints about the depiction of a red haired Christ in Millais’ paining. Could this be an allusion to the depiction of Edward VI with his Tudor red hair in that 16th century propaganda painting? {https://www.reddit.com/r/Tudorhistory/comments/4e68ik/christ_in_the_home_of_his_parents_1850_edward_vi/}

    By the way, Henry Holiday may have alluded to both images plus Millais’ painting when illustrating Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark” (1876): In {https://www.reddit.com/r/UnusualArt/comments/4mh8bx/the_citation_chain_henry_holiday_j_e_millais/} the detail #1 (bedsheet; from final print and draft of the illustration) is by Henry Holiday, the details #2 (John the baptist in Christ …), #3 (Sphinx in Edward VI …) and #4 (Sphinx in Ahasuerus …) are details from these three earlier images. If I am not going too far (illusion instead of allusion?), then this is a very funny allusion chain with four artists participating in this game.

    Liked by 1 person

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