Meanwhile, Henry, foreseeing that this treaty with France might involve him in a war with the emperor, was also determined to fill his treasury by impositions upon his own subjects; and as the parliament had discovered some reluctance in complying with his demands, he followed, as is believed, the counsel of Wolsey, and resolved to make use of his prerogative alone for that purpose. He issued commissions to all the counties of England, for levying four shillings in the pound upon the clergy, three shillings and four pence upon the laity; and so uncontroulable did he deem his authority, that he took no care to cover, as formerly, this arbitrary exaction, even under the slender pretence of a loan. But he soon |found, that he had presumed too far on the passive submission of his subjects. The people, displeased with an exaction beyond what was usually levied in those days, and farther disgusted with the illegal method of imposing it, broke out in murmurs, complaints, opposition to the commissioners; and their refractory disposition threatened a general insurrection. Henry had the prudence to stop short, in that dangerous path, into which he had entered. He sent letters to all the counties; declaring, that he meant no force by this last imposition, and that he would take nothing from his subjects but by way of benevolence. He flattered himself, that his condescension in employing that disguise would satisfy the people, and that no one would dare to render himself obnoxious to royal authority, by refusing any payment required of him in this manner. But the spirit of opposition, once roused, could not so easily be quieted at pleasure. A lawyer in the city objecting the statute of Richard III. by which benevolences were for ever abolished, it was replied by the court, that, Richard being an usurper, and his parliament a factious assembly, his statutes could not bind a lawful and absolute monarch, who held his crown by hereditary right, and needed not to court the favour of a licentious populace. The judges even went so far as to affirm positively, that the king might exact by commission any sum he pleased; and the privy council gave a ready assent to this decree, which annihilated the most valuable privilege of the people, and rendered all their other privileges precarious. Armed with such formidable authority, of royal prerogative and a pretence of law, Wolsey sent for the mayor of London, and desired to know what he was willing to give for the supply of his majesty's necessities. The mayor seemed desirous, before he should declare himself, to consult the common council: but the cardinal required, that he and all the aldermen should separately confer with himself about the benevolence; and he eluded by that means the danger of a formed opposition. Matters, however, went not so smoothly in the country. An insurrection was begun in some places; but as the people were not headed by any considerable person, it was easy for the duke of Suffolk, and the earl of Surrey, now duke of Norfolk, by employing persuasion and authority, to induce the ringleaders to lay down their arms, and |surrender themselves prisoners. The king, finding it dangerous to punish criminals, engaged in so popular a cause, was determined, notwithstanding his violent, imperious temper, to grant them a general pardon; and he prudently imputed their guilt, not to their want of loyalty or affection, but to their poverty. The offenders were carried before the star-chamber; where, after a severe charge brought against them by the king's council, the cardinal said,
That, notwithstanding their grievous offence, the king, in consideration of their necessities, had granted them his gracious pardon, upon condition, that they would find sureties for their future good behaviour. But they replying, that they had no sureties, the cardinal first, and after him the duke of Norfolk, said, that they would be bound for them. Upon which they were dismissed.