His hopes had been fanned by prophets and astrologers, and wild words told his purpose to seize the Crown on Henry's death in defiance of every opponent. But word and act had for two years been watched by the King; and in 1521 the Duke was arrested, condemned as a traitor by his peers, and beheaded on Tower Hill. The French alliance came to an end. and at the outbreak of war between France and Spain a secret league was concluded at Calais between the Pope, the Emperor, and Henry. The first result of the new war policy at home was quickly seen. Wolsey's economy had done nothing more than tide the Crown through the past years of peace. But now that Henry had promised to raise forty thousand men for the coming campaign the ordinary resources of the treasury were utterly insufficient. With the instinct of despotism Wolsey shrank from reviving the tradition of the Parliament. Though Henry had thrice called together the Houses to supply the expenses of his earlier struggle with France, Wolsey governed during seven years of peace without once assembling them.
War made a Parliament inevitable, but for a while the Cardinal strove to delay its summons by a wide extension of the practice which Edward the Fourth had invented of raising money by forced loans or "Benevolences," to be repaid from the first subsidy of a coming Parliament. Large sums were assessed on every county. Twenty thousand pounds were exacted from London; and its wealthier citizens were summoned before the Cardinal and required to give an account of the value of their estates. Commissioners were despatched into each shire for the purposes of assessment, and precepts were issued on their information, requiring in some cases supplies of soldiers, in others a tenth of a man's income, for the King's service. So poor, however, was the return that in the following year Wolsey was forced to summon Parliament and lay before it the unprecedented demand of a property-tax of twenty per cent. The demand was made by the Cardinal in person, but he was received with obstinate silence. It was in vain that Wolsey called on member after member to answer; and his appeal to More, who had been elected to the chair of the House of Commons, was met by the Speaker's falling on his knees and representing his powerlessness to reply till he had received instructions from the House itself.
The effort to overawe the Commons failed, and Wolsey no sooner withdrew than an angry debate began. He again returned to answer the objections which had been raised, and again the Commons foiled the minister's attempt to influence their deliberations by refusing to dis-discuss the matter in his presence. The struggle continued for a fortnight; and though successful in procuring a subsidy, the court party were forced to content themselves with less than half Wolsey's demand. Convocation betrayed as independent a spirit; and when money was again needed two years later, the Cardinal was driven once more to the system of Benevolences. A tenth was demanded from the laity, and a fourth from the clergy in every county by the royal commissioners. There was "sore grudging and murmuring," Warham wrote to the court, "among the people." "If men should give their goods by a commission," said the Kentish squires, " then it would be worse than the taxes of France, and England should be bond, not free." The political instinct of the nation discerned as of old that in the question of self-taxation was involved that of the very existence of freedom.
The clergy put themselves in the forefront of the resistance, and preached from every pulpit that the commission was contrary to the liberties of the realm, and that the King could take no man's goods but by process of law. So stirred was the nation that Wolsey bent to the storm, and offered to rely on the voluntary loans of each subject. But the statute of Richard the Third which declared all exaction of benevolences illegal was recalled to memory; the demand was evaded by London, and the commissioners were driven out of Kent. A revolt broke out in Suffolk; the men of Cambridge and Norwich threatened to rise. There was in fact a general strike of the employers. Clothmakers discharged their workers, farmers put away their servants. "They say the King asketh so much that they be not able to do as they have done before this time." Such a peasant insurrection as was raging in Germany was only prevented by the unconditional withdrawal of the royal demand.
Wolsey's defeat saved English freedom for the moment; but the danger from which he shrank was not merely that of a conflict with the sense of liberty. The murmurs of the Kentish squires only swelled the ever-deepening voice of public discontent. If the condition of the land question in the end gave strength to the Crown by making it the security for public order, it became a terrible peril at every crisis of conflict between the monarchy and the landowners. The steady rise in the price of wool was giving a fresh impulse to the agrarian changes which had now been going on for over a hundred and fifty years, to the throwing together of the smaller holdings, and the introduction of sheep-farming on an enormous scale. The new wealth of the merchant classes helped on the change. They invested largely in land, and these "farming gentlemen and clerking knights," as Latimer bitterly styled them, were restrained by few traditions or associations in their eviction of the smaller tenants. The land indeed had been greatly underlet, and as its value rose the temptation to raise the customary rents became irresistible. " That which went heretofore for twenty or forty pounds a year," we learn from the same source. "now is let for fifty or a hundred." But it had been only by this low scale of rent that the small yeomanry class had been enabled to exist. " My father," says Latimer, " was a yeoman, and had no lands of his own; only he had a farm of three or four pounds by the year at the uttermost, and hereupon he tilled so much as kept half-a-dozen men.