He bore them no grudge for it. When he heard the voice of one who was known to have boggled hard at the oath a little while before calling loudly and ostentatiously for drink, he only noted him with his peculiar humour. "He drank," More supposed, "either from dryness or from gladness," or "to show quod ille notus erat Pontifici." He was called in again at last, but only repeated his refusal. It was in vain that Cranmer plied him with distinctions which perplexed even the subtle wit of the ex-chancellor; he remained unshaken and passed* to the Tower. He was followed there by Bishop Fisher of Rochester, charged with countenancing treason by listening to the prophecies of a fanatic called the "Nun of Kent." For the moment even Cromwell shrank from their blood. They remained prisoners while a new and more terrible engine was devised to crush out the silent but widespread opposition to the religious changes. By a statute passed at the close of 1534 a new treason was created in the denial of the King's titles; and in the opening of 1535 Henry assumed, as we have seen, the title of "on earth supreme Head of the Church of England." In the general relaxation of the religious life the charity and devotion of the brethren of the Charter-house had won the reverence even of those who condemned monasticism.
After a stubborn resistance they had acknowledged the royal Supremacy, and taken the oath of submission prescribed by the Act. But by an infamous construction of the statute which made the denial of the Supremacy treason, the refusal of satisfactory answers to official questions as to a conscientious belief in it was held to be equivalent to open denial. The aim of the new measure was well known, and the brethren prepared to die. In the agony of waiting enthusiasm brought its imaginative consolations; " when the Host was lifted up there came as it were a whisper of air which breathed upon our faces as we knelt; and there same a sweet soft sound of music." They had not long however to wait. Their refusal to answer was the signal for their doom. Three of the brethren went to the gallows; the rest were flung into Newgate, chained to posts in a noisome dungeon where, " tied and not able to stir," they were left to perish of gaol-fever and starvation. In a fortnight five were dead and the rest at the point of death, " almost despatched," Cromwell's envoy wrote to him, "by the hand of God, of which, considering their behaviour, I am not sorry." The interval of imprisonment had failed to break the resolution of More, and the new statute sufficed to bring him to the block.
With Fisher he was convicted of denying the King's title as only supreme head of the Church. The old Bishop approached the block with a book of the New Testament in his hand. He opened it at a venture ere he knelt, and read, "This is life eternal to know Thee, the only true God." Fisher's death was soon followed by that of More. On the eve of the fatal blow he moved his beard carefully from the block. " Pity that should be cut," he was heard to mutter with a touch of the old sad irony, "that has never committed treason".
But it required, as Cromwell well knew, heavier blows even than these to break the stubborn resistance of Englishmen to his projects of change, and he seized his opportunity in the revolt of the North. In the north the monks had been popular; and the outrages with which the dissolution of the monasteries was accompanied gave point to the mutinous feeling that prevailed through the country. The nobles too were writhing beneath the rule of one whom they looked upon as alow-born upstart. "The world will never mend," Lord Hussey was heard to say, " till we fight for it." Agrarian discontent and the love of the old religion united in a revolt which broke out in Lincolnshire. The rising was hardly suppressed when Yorkshire was in arms. From every parish the farmers marched with the parish priest at their head upon York, and the surrender of the city determined the wavercrs. In a few days Skipton Castle, where the Earl of Cumberland held out with a handful of men, was the only spot north of the Hlumber which remained true to the King. Durham rose at the call of Lords Latimer and Westmoreland. Though the Earl of Northumberland feigned sickness, the Percies joined the revolt.
Lord Dacre, the chief of the Yorkshire nobles, surrendered Pomfrct,and was at once acknowledged as their chief by the insurgents. The whole nobility of the north were now in arms, and thirty thousand "tall men and well horsed" moved on the Don, demanding the reversal of the royal policy, a reunion with Rome, the restoration of Catharine's daughter, Mary, to her rights as heiress of the Crown, redress for the wrongs done to the Church, and above all the driving away of base-born counsellors, in other words the fall of Cromwell. Though their advance was checked by negotiation, the organization of the revolt went steadily on throughout the winter, and a Parliament of the North gathered at Pomfret, and formally adopted the demands of the insurgents. Only. six thousand men under Norfolk barred their way southward, and the Midland counties were known to be disaffected. Cromwell, however, remained undaunted by the peril. He suffered Norfolk to negotiate; and allowed Henry under pressure from his Council to promise pardon and a free Parliament at York, a pledge which Norfolk and Dacre alike construed into an acceptance of the demands made by the insurgents.
Their leaders at once flung aside the badge of the Five Wounds which they had worn, with a cry "We will wear no badge but that of our Lord the King," and nobles and farmers dispersed to their homes in triumph. But the towns of the North were no sooner garrisoned and Norfolk's army in the heart of Yorkshire than the veil was flung aside. A few isolated outbreaks gave a pretext for the withdrawal of every concession. The arrest of the leaders of the "Pilgrimage of Grace," as the insurrection was styled, was followed by ruthless severities. The country was covered with gibbets. Whole districts were given up to military execution. But it was on the leaders of the rising that Cromwell's hand fell heaviest. He seized his opportunity for dealing at the northern nobles a fatal blow. "Cromwell," one of the chief among them broke fiercely out as he stood at the Council board, "it is thou that art the very special and chief cause of all this rebellion and wickedness, and dost daily travail to bring us to our ends and strike off our heads. I trust that ere thou die, though thou wouldst procure all the noblest heads within the realm to be stricken off, yet there shall one head remain that shall strike off thy head." But the warning was unheeded.