Lord Darcy, who stood first among the nobles of Yorkshire, and Lord Hussey, who stood first among the nobles of Lincolnshire, went alike to the block. The Abbot of Barlings, who had ridden into Lincoln with his canons in full armour, swung with his brother Abbots of Whalley, Woburn, and Sawley from the gallows. The Abbots of Fountains and of Jervaulx were hanged at Tyburn side by side with the representative of the great line of Percy. Lady Bulmer was burnt at the stake. Sir Robert Constable was hanged in chains before the gate of Hull. The blow to the north had not long been struck when Cromwell turned to deal with the west. The opposition to his system gathered above all round two houses who represented what yet lingered of Yorkist tradition, the Courtenays and the Poles. Margaret, the Countess of Salisbury, a daughter of the Duke of Clarence by the heiress of the Earl of Warwick, was at once representative of the Nevilles and a niece of Edward the Fourth. Her third son, Reginald Pole, after refusing the highest offers from Henry as the price of his approval of the divorce, had taken refuge in Rome, where he had bitterly attacked the King in a book on "The Unity of the Church." "There may be found ways enough in Italy," Cromwell wrote to him in significant words, "to rid a treacherous subject.
When Justice can take no place by process of law at home, sometimes she may be enforced to take new means abroad." But he had left hostages in Henry's hands. "Pity that the folly of one witless fool should be the ruin of so great a family."* Let him follow ambition as fast as he can, those that little have offended (saving that he is of their kin), were it not for the great mercy and benignity of the prince, should and might feel what it is to have a traitor as their kinsman." Pole answered by pressing the Emoeror to execute a bull of excommunication and deposition which was now launched by the Papacy. Cromwell was quick with his reply. Courtenay, the Marquis of Exeter, was a kinsman of the Poles, and like them of royal blood, a grandson through his mother of Edward the Fourth. He was known to have bitterly denounced the "knaves that ruled about the King; " and his threats to "give them some day a buffet" were formidable in the mouth of one whose influence in the western counties was supreme. He was at once arrested with Lord Montacute, Pole's elder brother, on a charge of treason, and both were beheaded on Tower Hill, while the Countess of Salisbury was attainted and sent to the Tower.
Never indeed had Cromwell shown such greatness as in his last struggle against Fate. "Beknaved" by the King whose confidence in him waned as he discerned the full meaning of the religious changes, met too by a growing opposition in the Council as his favour declined, the temper of the man remained indomitable as ever. He stood absolutely alone. Wolsey, hated as he had been by the nobles, had been supported by the Church; but Churchmen hated Cromwell with an even fiercer hate than the nobles themselves. His only friends were the Protestants, and their friendship was more fatal than the hatred of his foes. But he shewed no signs of fear or of halting in the course he had entered on. His activity was as boundless as ever. Like Wolsey he had concentrated in his hands the whole administration of the state; he was at once foreign minister and home minister and Vicar-General of the Church, the creator of a new fleet, the organizer of armies, the president of the terrible Star Chamber. But his Italian indifference to the mere show of power contrasted strongly with the pomp of the Cardinal. His personal habits were simple and unostentatious. If he clutched at money, it was to feed the vast army of spies whom he maintained at his own expense, and whose work he surveyed with a sleepless vigilance.
More than fifty volumes still remain of the gigantic mass of his correspondence. Thousands of letters from "poor bedesmen," from outraged wives and wronged labourers and persecuted heretics, flowed in to the all-powerful minister whose system of personal government had turned him into the universal court of appeal. So long as Henry supported him, however reluctantly, he was more than a match for his foes. He was strong enough to expel his chief opponent, Bishop Gardiner of Winchester, from the royal Council. He met the hostility of the nobles with a threat which marked his power. "If the lords would handle him so, he would give them such a breakfast as never was made in England, and that the proudest of them should know." His single will forced on a scheme of foreign policy whose aim was to bind England to the cause of the Reformation while it bound Henry helplessly to his minister. The daring boast which his enemies laid afterwards to his charge, whether uttered or not, is but the expression of his system. "In brief time he would bring things to such a pass that the King with all his power should not be able to hinder him." His plans rested, like the plan which proved fatal to Wolsey, on a fresh marriage of his master.
The short-lived royalty of Anne Boleyn had ended in charges of adultery and treason, and in her death in May, 1536. Her rival and successor in Henry's affections, Jane Seymour, died next year in childbirth; and Cromwell replaced her with a German consort, Anne of Cleves, a sister-in-law of the Lutheran elector of Saxony. He dared even to resist Henry's caprice, when the King revolted on their first interview at the coarse features and unwieldy form of his new bride. For the moment Cromwell had brought matters " to such a pass" that it was impossible to recoil from the marriage. The marriage of Anne of Cleves, however, was but the first step in a policy which, had it been carried out as he designed it, would have anticipated the triumphs of Richelieu. Charles and the House of Austria could alone bring about a Catholic reaction strong enough to arrest and roll back the Reformation; and Cromwell was no sooner united with the princes of North Germany than he sought to league them with France for the overthrow of the Emperor. Had he succeeded, the whole face of Europe would have been changed, Southern Germany would have been secured for Protestantism, and the Thirty Years War averted. He failed as men fail who stand ahead of their age.
The German princes shrank from a contest with the Emperor, France from a struggle which would be fatal to Catholicism; and Henry, left alone to bear the resentment of the House of Austria and chained to a wife he loathed, turned savagely on Cromwell. The nobles sprang on him with a fierceness that told of their long-hoarded hate. Taunts and execrations burst from the Lords at the Council table, as the Duke of Norfolk, who had been charged with the minister's arrest, tore the ensign of the Garter from his neck. At the charge of treason Cromwell flung his cap on the ground with a passionate cry of despair. "This then," he exclaimed, "is my guerdon for the services I have done! On your consciences, I ask you, am I a traitor?" Then with a sudden sense that all was over he bade his foes "make quick work, and not leave me to languish in prison." Quick work was made, and a yet louder burst of popular applause than that which hailed the attainder of Cromwell hailed his execution.