I saw the last performance of Anne Boleyn at the Globe on Sunday. It was a great performance of a brilliant new play. It captured the power games of the court of King Henry, and shed an interesting light on the mind of James I and VI, who looks back on Elizabeth and Anne.
The author, Howard Brenton, portrays Anne as a powerful politician in the Protestant cause. She sells the Protestant religion to a King advised by a Cardinal by appealing to Henry’s own sense of importance, self interest and need to settle his own divorce, as well as using her feminine charms over him. She comes across as an early Eurosceptic, wishing England to settle its own affairs at home without recourse to Rome. She dislikes the intervention of Roman authority between a person and their God, and seeks the issue of the Bible in English to all. She sees the advantage of the dissolution of the monasteries.
The play includes an important scene where Thomas Cromwell, by now the King’s trusted adviser, is busily drafting the famous and seminal Statute of Appeals. ( 24 Henry viii c 12 ” An Act that the appeals in such cases as have been used to be pursued to the see of Rome shall not be from henceforth had nor used but within this realm”).
They cited historical precedent for claiming imperial power to the government of England.
“Where by divers sundry old authentic histories and chronicles it is manifestly declared and expressed that this realm of England is an empire, and hath been so accepted in the world, governed by one supreme head and king…..”
They claim that the power of self government within these islands is complete
“he (the king) being also institute and furnished …with plenary, whole and entire power, preeminence,authority, prerogative and jurisdiction to yield justice and final determination to all manner of folk…in all causes, matters, debates and contentious happening to occur…”
The power to appeal to Rome had to be removed owing to
“great inquietation,vexation, trouble,costs and charges of the King’s Highness and many of his subjects….but also to the great delay and let to the true and speedy determination of the said causes…” and for the difficulty in cross examining witnesses in so far away a place. They asserted that remote justice was delayed justice, wrong justice or no justice at all.
This revolutionary piece of legislation is presented as a restatement of old law and is partially founded on Richard II’s praemunire provisions. (legal butresses against foreign jurisdictions). The Crown approached the break with Rome in a crab like way, aware of the dangers of retaliation from the continent by the Catholic powers as well as by the Pope. Nonetheless, it was radical to state that in future the Crown was the fount of all justice and legal settlement. The Church in England was the King’s to shape and control.
The Crown used its influence in Parliament to give full Parliamentary backing to this constitutional revolution. It proved useful in later years when Parliament wished to transfer powers from the Crown to itself. It is only in the last thirty years that England – now with the rest of the UK – has ceased to be a sovereign empire governed by itself, as it has surrendered more and more of its power to the Brussels government.
What Parliament can give away, it can reassert. It was a pleasure to be reminded of such a gutsy lady, who fought for a great cause as well as for her own advancement. She was indeed one of the architects of the Tudor revolution in government, the consolidation of English governing power here at home. She was also the mother of Elizabeth 1. It was Elizabeth who had to secure her father’s Protestant settlement against Spain, which she did by leading the anti Armada campaign in 1588. The establishment of home rule took place through a simple Act of Parliament. It survived until a much later Parliament decided to give it away, once again allowing appeals to continental courts.