The doctrine of Transubstantiation, which was as yet recognized by law, was held up to scorn in ballads and mystery plays. In one church a Protestant lawyer raised a dog in his hands when the priest elevated the Host. The most sacred words of the old worship, the words of consecration, "Hoc est corpus," were travestied into a nickname for jugglery as "Hocus-pocus." It was by this attack on the Mass, even more than by the other outrages, that the temper both of Henry and the nation was stirred to a deep resentment; and the first signs of reaction were seen in the Act of the Six Articles, which was passed by the Parliament with general assent. On the doctrine of Transubstantiation, which was re-asserted by the first of these, there was no difference of feeling or belief between the men of the New Learning and the older Catholics. But the road to a further instalment of even moderate reform seemed closed by the five other articles which sanctioned communion in one kind, the celibacy of the clergy, monastic vows, private masses, and auricular confession. A more terrible feature of the reaction was the revival of persecution. Burning was denounced as the penalty for a denial of transubstantiation; on a second offence it became the penalty for an infraction of the other five doctrines.
A refusal to confess or to attend Mass was made felony. It was in vain that Cranmer, with the five bishops who partially sympathized with the Protestants, struggled against the bill in the Lords: the Commons were "all of one opinion," and Henry himself acted as spokesman on the side of the Articles. In London alone five hundred Protestants were indicted under the new act. Latimer and Shaxton were imprisoned, and the former forced into a resignation of his 6ee. Cranmer himself was only saved by Henry's personal favour. But the first burst of triumph had no sooner spent itself than the strong hand of Cromwell again made itself felt. Though his opinions remained those of the New Learning and differed little from the general sentiment represented in the Act, he leaned instinctively to the one party which did not long for his fall. His wish was to restrain the Protestant excesses, but he had no mind to ruin the Protestants. The bishops were quietly released. The London indictments were quashed. The magistrates were checked in their enforcement of the law, while a general pardon cleared the prisons of the heretics who had been arrested under its provisions.
A few months after the enactment of the Six Articles we find from a Protestant letter that persecution had wholly ceased, "the Word is powerfully preached and books of every kind may safely be exposed for sale".
At Cromwell's fall his designs seemed to be utterly abandoned. The marriage with Anne of Cleves was annulled, and a new Queen found in Catharine Howard, a niece of the Duke of Norfolk. Norfolk himself returned to power, and resumed the policy which Cromwell had interrupted. Like the King he looked to an Imperial alliance rather than an alliance with Francis and the Lutherans. He still clung to the dream of the New Learning, to a purification of the Church through a general Council, and the reconciliation of England with the purified body of Catholicism. For such a purpose it was necessary to vindicate English orthodoxy; and to ally England with the Emperor, by whose influence alone the assembly of such a Council could be brought about. To the hotter Catholics indeed, as to the hotter Protestants, the years after Cromwell's fall seemed years of a gradual return to Catholicism. There was a slight sharpening of persecution for the Protestants, and restrictions were put on the reading of the English Bible. But neither Norfolk nor his master desired any rigorous measure of reaction. There was no thought of reviving the old superstitions, or undoing the work which had been done, but simply of guarding the purified faith against Lutheran heresy.
The work of supplying men with means of devotion in their own tongue was still carried on by the publication of an English Litany and prayers, which furnished the germ of the national Prayer Book of a later time. The greater abbeys which had been saved by the energetic resistance of the Parliament in 1536 had in 1539 been involved in the same ruin with the smaller; but in spite of this confiscation the treasury was now empty, and by a bill of 1545 more than two thousand chauntries and chapels, with a hundred and ten hospitals, were suppressed to the profit of the Crown. If the friendship of England was offered to Charles, when the struggle between France and the House of Austria burst again for a time into flame, it was because Henry saw in the Imperial alliance the best hope for the reformation of the Church and the restoration of unity. But, as Cromwell had foreseen, the time for a peaceful reform and for a general reunion of Christendom was past. The Council, so passionately desired, met at Trent in no spirit of conciliation, but to ratify the very superstitions and errors against which the New Learning had protested, and which England and Germany had flung away.
The long hostility of France and the House of Austria merged in the greater struggle which was opening between Catholicism and the Reformation. The Emperor allied himself definitely with the Pope. As their hopes of a middle course faded, the Catholic nobles themselves drifted unconsciously with the tide of reaction. Anne Ascue was tortured and burnt with three companions for the denial of Transubstantiation. Latimer was examined before the Council; and Cranmer himself, who in the general dissolution of the moderate party was drifting towards Protestantism as Norfolk was drifting towards Rome, was for a moment in danger. But at the last hours of his life Henry proved himself true to the work he had begun. His resolve not to bow to the pretensions of the Papacy sanctioned at Trent threw him, whether he would or no, back on the policy of the great minister whom he had hurried to the block. He offered to unite in a "League Christian " with the German Princes. He consented to the change, suggested by Cranmer, of the Mass into a Communion Service. He flung the Duke of Norfolk into the Tower as a traitor, and sent his son, the Earl of Surrey, to the block.