Preaching the Last Crusade: Thomas Cranmer and the ‘Devotion’ Money of 1543
In the summer of 1543 King Henry VIII promised that he would send 40,000 ducats, the equivalent of £10,000, to Ferdinand, king of the Romans and of Hungary, archduke of Austria, to help his brother, Emperor Charles V, in his defence of Christendom against the Turk. Europe witnessed a strange alliance between Henry, himself a schismatic monarch, and Charles, who had effectively blocked Henry's attempts to have the pope annul his first marriage. The coalition of opposing forces was equally remarkable, comprising the Most Christian King of France and his non-Christian ally, the Turk. Francis's support for the Turks was contrasted by some with the king's attitude to Protestant reform. Francis seems to have regretted the presence in 1543–4 of a Turkish colony at Toulon, which appears to have possessed a slave market and mosque. The alliance between Charles V and Henry VIII attests to the persistence of the medieval concept of Christendom (Christianitas), groups of nations which shared basic religious and cultural values despite the religious divides being caused by the Reformation.
Henry made elaborate plans to furnish Charles with the promised £10,000 to support military action on the continent. The money, available either as cash or as bills of exchange, was released in two halves, the first on 16 August 1543 and the second on 18 September. In his usual way, the imperial ambassador in England, Eustace Chapuys, made things worse by harrying the Privy Council for speedy payment of the funds. The crown, none the less, hit on an interesting solution to the problem of recovering its money. Henry issued an appeal to every diocese in England to organise voluntary contributions from parishioners to recover the amount of money he disbursed abroad. Working from the financial returns among the exchequer subsidy rolls at the Public Record Office, Dr Kitching has calculated that such collections raised no more than £1,903 8s. 3d., less than a fifth of the money advanced to Charles V. The English parishes reimbursed the crown in late 1543 and early 1544.
As Dr Kitching himself has indicated, the background to the whole episode is poorly documented. Previously unknown to historians, however, important material concerning the king's plan survives in the diocesan archives of London and Westminster. The episcopal registers of Edmund Bonner, bishop of London, and Thomas Thirlby, bishop of the short-lived see of Westminster, both shed valuable light on this scheme. Diocesan bishops recorded their formal administrative acts in registers, the compilation of which was supervised by the diocesan registrar. Unfortunately, the archiepiscopal archives at Lambeth are silent on the collections of 1543. The registers for the dioceses of London and Westminster, however, are particularly informative for the opening years of the Reformation. It is my purpose to consider the nature of the new evidence and to offer a transcript of the more important documents.