A year had passed since Wolsey had been convicted of a breach of the Statute of Praemunire. The pedantry of the judges declared the whole nation to have been formally involved in the same charge by its acceptance of his authority. The legal absurdity was now redressed by a general pardon, but from this pardon the clergy found themselves omitted. They were told that forgiveness could be bought at no less a price than the payment of a fine amounting to a million of our present money, and the acknowledgement of the King as " the chief protector, the only and supreme lord, the Head of the Church and Clergy of England." To the first demand they at once submitted; against the second they struggled hard, but their appeals to Henry and to Cromwell met only with demands for instant obedience. A compromise was at last arrived at by the insertion of a qualifying phrase "So far as the law of Christ will allow;" and with this addition the words were again submitted by Warham to the Convocation. There was a general silence. "Whoever is silent seems to consent," said the Archbishop. "Then are we all silent," replied a voice from among the crowd.
There is no ground for thinking that the "Headship of the Church" which Henry claimed in this submission was more than a warning addressed to the independent spirit of the clergy, or that it bore as yet the meaning which was afterwards attached to it. It certainly implied no independence of Rome; but it told the Pope plainly that in any strife that might come the clergy were in the King's hand. The warning was backed by the demand for the settlement of the question addressed to Clement on the part of the Lords and some of the Commons. " The cause of his Majesty," the Peers were made to say, " is the cause of each of ourselves." If Clement would not confirm what was described as the judgement of the Universities in favour of the divorce " our condition will not be wholly irremediable. Extreme remedies are ever harsh of application; but he that is sick will by all means be rid of his distemper." The banishment of Catharine from the King's palace gave emphasis to the demand. The failure of a second embassy to the Pope left Cromwell free to take more decisive steps in the course on which he had entered. As his policy developed itself More withdrew from the post of Chancellor; but the revolution from which he shrank was an inevitable one.
From the reign of the Edwards men had been occupied with the problem of reconciling the spiritual and temporal relations of the realm. Parliament from the first became the organ of the national jealousy whether of Papal jurisdiction without the kingdom or of the separate jurisdiction of the clergy within it. The movement, long arrested by religious reaction and civil war, was reviving under the new sense of national greatness and national unity, when it was suddenly stimulated by the question of the divorce, and by the submission of English interests to a foreign Court. With such a spur it moved forward quickly. The time had come when England was to claim for herself the fulness of power, ecclesiastical as well as temporal, within her bounds; and, in the concentration of all authority within the hands of the sovereign which was the political characteristic of the time, to claim this power for the nation was to claim it for the king. The import of the headship of the Church was brought fully out in one of the propositions laid before the Convocation of 1532. "The King's Majesty," runs this memorable clause, " hath as well the care of the souls of his subjects as their bodies; and may by the law of God by his Parliament make laws touching and concerning as well the one as the other." Under strong pressure Convocation was brought to pray that the power of independent legislation till now exercized by the Church should come to an end.
Rome was dealt with in the same unsparing fashion. The Parliament forbade by statute any further appeals to the Papal Court; and on a petition from the clergy in Convocation the Houses granted power to the King to suspend the payments of first-fruits, or the year's revenue which each bishop paid to Rome on his election to a see. All judicial, all financial connexion with the Papacy was broken by these two measures. Cromwell fell back on Wolsey's policy. The hope of aid from Charles was abandoned, and by a new league with France he sought to bring pressure on the Papal court. But the pressure was as unsuccessful as before. Clement threatened the King with excommunication if he did not restore Catharine to her place as Queen and abstain from all intercourse with Anne Boleyn till the case was tried. Henry still refused to submit to the judgement of any court outside his realm; and the Pope dared not consent to a trial within it. Henry at last closed the long debate by a secret union with Anne Boleyn. Warham was dead, and Cranmer, an active partizan of the divorce, was named to the see of Canterbury; proceedings were at once commenced in his court; and the marriage of Catharine was formally declared invalid by the new-primate at Dunstable. A week later Cranmer set on the brow of Anne Boleyn the crown which she had so long coveted.
As yet the real character of Cromwell's ecclesiastical policy had been disguised by its connexion with the divorce. But though formal negotiations continued between England and Rome, until Clement's final decision in Catharine's favour, they had no longer any influence on the series of measures which in their rapid succession changed the whole character of the English Church. The acknowledgement of Henry's title as its Protector and Head was soon found by the clergy to have been more than a form of words. It was the first step in a policy by which the Church was to be laid prostrate at the foot of the throne. Parliament had shown its accordance with the royal will in the strife with Rome. Step by step the ground had been cleared for the great Statute by which the new character of the Church was defined. The Act of Supremacy ordered that the King " shall be taken, accepted, and reputed the only supreme head on earth of the Church of England, and shall have and enjoy annexed and united to the Imperial Crown of this realm as well the title and state thereof as all the honours, jurisdictions, authorities, immunities, profits and commodities to the said dignity belonging, with full power to visit, repress, redress, reform, and amend all such errors, heresies, abuses, contempts, and enormities, which by any manner of spiritual authority or jurisdiction might or may lawfully be reformed." Authority in all matters ecclesiastical, as well as civil, was vested solely in the Crown. The "courts spiritual" became as thoroughly the King's courts as the temporal courts at Westminster. But the full import of the Act of Supremacy was only seen in the following year, when Henry formally took the title of "on earth Supreme Head of the Church of England," and some months later Cromwell was raised to the post of Vicar-General or Vicegerent of the King in all matters ecclesiastical.