His homely humour breaks in with story and apologue; his earnestness is always tempered with good sense; his plain and simple style quickens with a shrewd mother-wit. He talks to his hearers as a man talks to his friends, telling stories such as we have given of his own life at home, or chatting about the changes and chances of the day with a transparent simplicity and truth that raises even his chat into grandeur. His theme is always the actual world about him, and in his homely lessons of loyalty, of industry, of pity for the poor, he touches upon almost every subject, from the plough to the throne. No such preaching had been heard in England before his day, and with the growth of his fame grew the danger of persecution. There were moments when, bold as he was, Latimer's heart failed him. " If I had not trust that God will help me," he wrote once, "I think the ocean sea would have divided my lord of London and me' by this day." A citation for heresy at last brought the danger home. " I intend," he wrote with his peculiar medley of humour and pathos, "to make merry with my parishioners this Christmas, for all the sorrow, lest perchance I may never return to them again." But he was saved throughout by the steady protection of the Court. Wolsey upheld him against the threats of the Bishop of Ely; Henry-made him his own chaplain; and the King's interposition at this critical moment forced Latimer's judges to content themselves with a few vague words of submission.
Henry's quarrel with Rome saved the Protestants from the keener persecution which troubled them after Wolsey's fall. The divorce, the renunciation of the Papacy, the degradation of the clergy, the suppression of the monasteries, the religious changes, fell ike a series of heavy blows upon the priesthood. From persecutors they suddenly sank into men trembling for their very lives. Those whon they had threatened were placed at their head. Cranmer became Primate; Shaxton, a favourer of the new changes, was raised to the see of Salisbury; Barlow, a yet more extreme partizan, to that of St. David's; Hilsey to that of Rochester; Goodrich to that of Ely; Fox to that of Hereford. Latimer himself became Bishop of Worcester, and in a vehement address to the clergy in Convocation taunted them with their greed and superstition in the past, and with their inactivity when the King and his Parliament were labouring for the revival of religion. The aim of Cromwell, as we have seen, was simply that of the New Learning; he desired religious reform rather than revolution, a simplification rather than a change of doctrine, the purification of worship rather than the introduction of a new ritual.
But it was impossible to strike blow after blow at the Church without leaning instinctively to the party who sympathized with the German reformation, and were longing for a more radical change at home. Few as these "Lutherans" or "Protestants" still were in numbers, their new hopes made them a formidable force; and in the school of persecution they had learned a violence which delighted in outrages on the faith which had so long trampled them under foot. At the very outset of Cromwell's changes four Suffolk youths broke into the church at Dovercourt, tore down a wonder-working crucifix, and burned it in the fields. The suppression of the lesser monasteries was the signal for a new outburst of ribald insult to the old religion. The roughness, insolence, and extortion of the Commissioners sent to effect it drove the whole monastic body to despair. Their servants rode along the road with copes for doublets and tunicles for saddle-cloths, and scattered panic among the larger houses which were left. Some sold their jewels and relics to provide for the evil day they saw approaching. Some begged of their own will for dissolution. It was worse when fresh ordinances of the Vicar-General ordered the removal of objects of superstitious veneration.
The removal, bitter enough to those whose religion twined itself around the image or the relic which was taken away, was yet more embittered by the insults with which it was accompanied. The miraculous rood at Boxley, which bowed its head and stirred its eyes, was paraded from market to market and exhibited as a juggle before the Court. Images of the Virgin were stripped of their costly vestments and sent to be publicly burnt at London. Latimer forwarded to the capital the figure of Our Lady, which he had thrust out of his cathedral church at Worcester, with rough words of scorn: "She with her old sister of Walsingham, her younger sister of Ipswich, and their two other sisters of Doncaster and Penrice, would make a jolly muster at Smithfield." Fresh orders were given to fling all relics from their reliquaries, and to level every shrine with the ground. The bones of St. Thomas of Canterbury were torn from the stately shrine which had been the glory of his metropolitan church, and his name was erased from the service-books as that of a traitor.
The introduction of the English Bible into churches gave a new opening for the zeal of the Protestants. In spite of royal injunctions that it should be read decently and without comment, the young zealots of the party prided themselves on shouting it out to a circle of excited hearers during the service of mass, and accompanied their reading with violent expositions. Protestant maidens took the new English primer to church with them, and studied it ostentatiously during matins. Insult passed into open violence when the Bishops' Courts were invaded and broken up by Protestant mobs; and law and public opinion were outraged at once when priests who favoured the new doctrines began openly to bring home wives to their vicarages. A fiery outburst of popular discussion compensated for the silence of the pulpits. The new Scriptures, in Henry's bitter words of complaint, were "disputed, rimed, sung, and jangled in every tavern and alehouse." The articles which dictated the belief of the English Church roused a furious controversy. Above all, the Sacrament of the Mass, the centre of the Catholic system of faith and worship, and which still remained sacred to the bulk of Englishmen, was attacked with a scurrility and profaneness which passes belief.