The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon/Chapter 17

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Prospects of civil war—England and Spain—Illness of the Princess Mary—Plans for her escape—Spirit of Queen Catherine—The Emperor unwilling to interfere—Negotiations for a new treaty between Henry and Charles—Debate in the Spanish Council of State—The rival alliances—Disappointment of the confederate Peers—Advance of Lutheranism in England—Cromwell and Chapuys—Catherine and Mary the obstacles to peace—Supposed designs on Mary's life.

England, to all appearance, was now on the eve of a bloody and desperate war. The conspirators were confident of success; but conspirators associate exclusively with persons of their own opinions, and therefore seldom judge accurately of the strength of their opponents. Chapuys and his friends had been equally confident about Ireland. Fitzgerald was now a fugitive, and the insurrection was burning down; yet the struggle before Henry would have been at least as severe as had been encountered by his grandfather Edward, and the country itself would have been torn to pieces; one notable difference only there was in the situation—that the factions of the Roses had begun the battle of themselves, without waiting for help from abroad; the reactionaries under Henry VIII., confessedly, were afraid to stir without the avowed support of the Emperor; and Charles, when the question came seriously before him, could not have failed to ask himself why, if they were as strong as they pretended, and the King's party as weak as they said it was, they endured what they could easily prevent.

These reflections naturally presented themselves both to the Emperor and to the Spanish Council when they had to decide on the part which they would take. If what Chapuys represented as a mere demonstration should turn into serious war, England and France would then unite in earnest; they would combine with Germany; and Europe would be shaken with a convulsion of which it was impossible to foresee the end. The decision was momentous, and Charles paused before coming to a resolution. Weeks passed, and Chapuys could have no positive answer, save that he was to give general encouragement to the Queen's friends, and let them know that the Emperor valued their fidelity. Weary of his hesitation, and hoping to quicken his resolution, Catherine sent Chapuys word that the Princess was to be forced to swear to the Act of Supremacy, and that, on her refusal, she was to be executed or imprisoned for life. Catherine wrote what she, perhaps, believed, but could not know. But the suspense was trying, and the worst was naturally looked for. News came that English sailors had been burnt by the Inquisition at Seville as heretics. Cromwell observed to Chapuys that "he had heard the Emperor was going to make a conquest of the realm." The Ambassador had the coolness to assure him that he was dreaming; and that such an enterprise had never been thought of. Cromwell knew better. He had learnt, for one thing, of the plans for Mary's escape. He knew what that would mean, and he had, perhaps, prevented it. The project had been abandoned for the moment. Instead of escaping, she had shown symptoms of the same dangerous illness by which she had been attacked before. There was the utmost alarm, and, as a pregnant evidence of the condition of men's minds, the physicians refused to prescribe for her, lest, if she died, they should be suspected of having poisoned her. The King's physician declined. Queen Catherine's physician declined—unless others were called in to assist—and the unfortunate girl was left without medical help, in imminent likelihood of death, because every one felt that her dying at such a time would be set down to foul play. The King sent for Chapuys and begged that he would select a doctor, or two doctors, of eminence to act with his own. Chapuys, with polite irony, replied that it was not for him to make a selection; the King must be better acquainted than he could be with the reputation of the London physicians; and the Emperor would be displeased if he showed distrust of his Majesty's care for his child. Cromwell, who was present, desired that if the Princess grew worse Chapuys would allow one of his own people to be with her. Henry continued to express his grief at her sufferings. Some members of the Council "had not been ashamed to say" that as men could find no means of reconciling the King with the Emperor, God might open a door by taking the Princess to himself. It was a very natural thought. Clement had said the same about Catherine. But the aspiration would have been better left unexpressed.[1] Chapuys' s suspicions were not removed. He perceived the King's anxiety to be unfeigned; but he detested him too sincerely to believe that in anything he could mean well. The Princess recovered. Catherine took advantage of the attack to entreat again that her daughter might be under her own charge. It was cruel to be obliged to refuse.

Chapuys presented the Queen's request. The King, he said, heard him patiently and graciously, and, instead of the usual answer that he knew best how to provide for his daughter, replied, gently, that he would do his utmost for the health of the Princess, and, since her mother's physician would not assist, he would find others. But to let Chapuys understand that he was not ignorant of his secret dealings, he said he could not forget what was due to his own honour. The Princess might be carried out of the kingdom, or might herself escape. She could easily do it if she was left in her mother's charge. He had perceived some indications, he added significantly, that the Emperor wished to have her in his hands.

Ambassadors have a privilege of lying. Chapuys boldly declared that there was no probability of the Emperor attempting to carry off the Princess. The controversy had lasted five years, and there had been no indication of any such purpose. The King said that it was Catherine who had made the Princess so obstinate. Daughters owed some obedience to their mothers, but their first duty was to the father. This Chapuys did not dispute, but proposed as an alternative that she should reside with her old governess, Lady Salisbury. The King said the Countess was a foolish woman, and of no experience.[2]

The difficulty was very great. To refuse so natural a request was to appear hard and unfeeling; yet to allow Catherine and Mary to be together was to furnish a head to the disaffection, of the extent of which the King was perfectly aware. He knew Catherine, and his words about her are a key to much of their relations to one another. "She was of such high courage," he said, "that, with her daughter at her side, she might raise an army and take the field against him with as much spirit as her mother Isabella."[3]

Catherine of Aragon had qualities with which history has not credited her. She was no patient, suffering saint, but a bold and daring woman, capable, if the opportunity was offered her, of making Henry repent of what he had done. But would the opportunity ever come? Charles was still silent. Chapuys continued to feed the fire with promises. Granvelle, Charles's Minister, might be more persuasive than himself. To Granvelle the Ambassador wrote "that the Concubine had bribed some one to pretend a revelation from God that she was not to conceive children while the Queen and the Princess were alive. The Concubine had sent the man with the message to the King, and never ceased [Wolsey had called Anne 'the night crow'] to exclaim that the ladies were rebels and traitresses, and deserved to die."[4]

Norfolk, irritated at Anne's insolence to him, withdrew from court in ill-humour. He complained to Reginald Pole's brother, Lord Montague, that his advice was not attended to, and that his niece was intolerable. The Marquis of Exeter regretted to Chapuys that the chance had not been allowed him so far to shed his blood for the Queen and Princess. "Let the movement begin, and he would not be the last to join." Mary, notwithstanding the precautions taken to keep her safe, had not parted with her hope of escape. If she could not be with her mother she thought the Emperor might, perhaps, intercede with the King to remove her from under Mrs. Shelton's charge. The King might be brought to consent; and then, Chapuys said, with a pinnace and two ships in the river, she might still be carried off when again at Greenwich, as he could find means to get her out of the house at any hour of the night.[5]

At length the suspense was at an end, and the long-waited-for decision of the Emperor arrived. He had considered, he said, the communications of Lord Darcy and Lord Sandys; he admitted that the disorders of England required a remedy; but an armed interference was at the present time impossible.[6] It was a poor consolation to the English Peers and clergy; and there was worse behind. Not only the Emperor did not mean to declare war against Henry, but, spite of Catherine, spite of excommunication, spite of heresy, he intended, if possible, to renew the old alliance between England and the House of Burgundy. Politics are the religion of princes, and if they are wise the peace of the world weighs more with them than orthodoxy and family contentions. Honour, pride. Catholic obligations recommended a desperate stroke. Prudence and a higher duty commanded Charles to abstain. Sir John Wallop, the English representative at Paris, was a sincere friend of Queen Catherine, but was unwilling, for her sake, to see her plunge into an insurrectionary whirlpool. Viscount Hannart, a Flemish nobleman with English connections, was Charles's Minister at the same Court. Together they discussed the situation of their respective countries. Both agreed that a war between Henry and the Emperor would be a calamity to mankind; while in alliance they might hold in check the impatient ambition of France. Wallop suggested that they might agree by mutual consent to suspend their differences on the divorce; might let the divorce pass in silence for future settlement, and be again friends.

The proposal was submitted to the Spanish Council of State. The objections to it were the wrongs done, and still being done, to the Queen and Princess in the face of the Pope's sentence, and the obligations of the Emperor to see that sentence enforced. An arrangement between the Emperor and the King of England on the terms suggested would be ill received in Christendom, would dispirit the two ladies, and their friends in England who had hitherto supported the claims of the Princess Mary to the succession; while it might, further, encourage other princes to divorce their wives on similar grounds. In favour of a treaty, on the other hand, were the notorious designs of the French King. France was relying on the support of England. If nothing was done to compose the existing differences the King of England might be driven to desperate courses. The Faith of the Church would suffer. The General Council, so anxiously looked for, would be unable to meet. The French King would be encouraged to go to war. Both he and the King of England would support the German schism, and the lives of the Princess and her mother would probably be sacrificed. A provisional agreement might modify the King of England's action, the Church might be saved, the ladies' lives be secured, and doubt and distrust be introduced between England and France. The Emperor could then deal with the Turks, and other difficulties could be tided over till a Council could meet and settle everything.[7]

Chapuys had written so confidently on the strength of the insurrectionary party that it was doubted whether choice between the alternative courses might not better be left for him to decide. Charles, who could better estimate the value of the promises of disaffected subjects, determined otherwise. The Ambassador, therefore, was informed that war would be inconvenient. Lord Darcy's sword must remain in the scabbard, and an attempt be made for reconciliation on the lines suggested by Sir John Wallop. Meanwhile, directions were given to the Inquisitors at Seville to be less precipitate in their dealings with English seamen.

From the first it had been Cromwell's hope and conviction that an open quarrel would be escaped. The French party in the English Council—Anne Boleyn, her family, and friends—had been urging the alliance with France, and a general attack on Charles's scattered dominions. Cromwell, though a Protestant in religion, distrusted an associate who, when England was once committed, might make his own terms and leave Henry to his fate. In politics Cromwell had been consistently Imperialist. He had already persuaded the King to allow the Princess to move nearer to Kimbolton, where her mother's physician could have charge of her. He sent thanks to Charles in the King's name for his interference with the Holy Office. He left nothing undone to soften the friction and prepare for a reconciliation. Catherine and Mary he perceived to be the only obstacle to a return to active friendship. If the broken health of one, and the acute illness of the other, should have a fatal termination, as a politician he could not but feel that it would be an obstacle happily removed.

Chapuys's intrigue with the confederate Peers had been continued to the latest moment. All arrangements had been made for their security when the rising should break out. Darcy himself was daily looking for the signal, and begged only for timely notice of the issue of the Emperor's manifesto to escape to his castle in the north.[8] The Ambassador had now to trim his sails on the other tack. The Emperor was ready to allow the execution of Clement's sentence to stand over till the General Council, without prejudice to the rights of parties, provided an engagement was made for the respectful treatment of the Queen and Princess, and a promise given that their friends should be unmolested. To Catherine the disappointment was hard to bear. The talk of a treaty was the deathknell of the hopes on which she had been feeding. A close and confidential intercourse was established between Chapuys and Cromwell to discuss the preliminary conditions, Chapuys, ill liking his work, desiring to fail, and on the watch for any point on which to raise a suspicion.

The Princess was the first difficulty. Cromwell had promised that she should be moved to her mother's neighbourhood. She had been sent no nearer than Ampthill. Cromwell said that he would do what he could, but the subject was disagreeable to the King, and he could say no more. He entered at once, however, on the King's desire to be again on good terms with the Emperor. The King had instructed him to discuss the whole situation with Chapuys, and it would be unfortunate, he said, if the interests of two women were allowed to interfere with weighty matters of State. The Queen had been more than once seriously ill, and her life was not likely to be prolonged. The Princess was not likely to live either; and it did not appear that either in Spain or France there was much anxiety for material alteration in their present position. Meanwhile, the French were passionately importuning the King to join in a war against the Emperor. Cromwell said that he had been himself opposed to it, and the present moment, when the Emperor was engaged with the Turks, was the last which the King would choose for such a purpose. The object to be arrived at was the pacification of Christendom and the general union of all the leading Powers. The King desired it as much as he, and had, so far, prevented war from being declared by France.

It was true that the peace of the world was of more importance than the complaints of Catherine and Mary. Catherine had rejected a compromise when the Emperor himself recommended it, and Mary had defied her father and had defied Parliament at her mother's bidding. There were limits to the sacrifices which they were entitled to demand. Chapuys protested against Cromwell's impression that the European Powers were indifferent. The strongest interest was felt in their fate, he said, and many inconveniences would follow should harm befall them. The world would certainly believe that they had met with foul play. The Emperor would be charged with having caused it by neglecting to execute the Pope's sentence, and it would be said also that, but for the expectations which the Emperor had held out to them of defending their cause, they would themselves have conformed to the King's wishes; they would then have been treated with due regard and have escaped their present miseries. Cromwell undertook that the utmost care and vigilance should be observed that hurt should not befall them. The Princess, he said, he loved as much as Chapuys himself could love her, and nothing that he could do for them should be neglected; but the Ambassador and the Emperor's other agents were like hawks who soared high to stoop more swiftly on their prey. Their object was to have the Princess declared next in succession to the crown, and that was impossible owing to the late statutes.

Chapuys reported what had passed to his master, but scarcely concealed his contempt for the business in which he was engaged. "I cannot tell," he wrote, "what sort of a treaty could be made with this King as long as he refuses to restore the Queen and Princess, or repair the hurts of the Church and the Faith, which grow worse every day. No later than Sunday last a preacher raised a question whether the body of Christ was contained, or not, in the consecrated wafer. Your Majesty may consider whither such propositions are tending."[9]

A still more important conversation followed a few days later. It can hardly be doubted, in the face of Chapuys's repeated declaration that both Catherine and her daughter were in personal danger, that Anne Boleyn felt her position always precarious as long as they were alive, and refused to acknowledge her marriage. She perhaps felt that it would go hard with herself in the event of a successful insurrection. She had urged, as far as she dared, that they should be tried under the statute; but Henry would not allow such a proposal to be so much as named to him. Other means, however, might be found to make away with them, and Sir Arthur Darcy, Lord Darcy's son, thought they would be safer in the King's hands in the Tower than in their present residence. "The devil of a Concubine would never rest till she had grained her object."

The air was thick with these rumours when Chapuys and Cromwell again met. The overtures had been commenced by the Emperor. Cromwell said the King had given him a statement in writing that he was willing to renew his old friendship with the Emperor and make a new treaty with him, if proper safeguards could be provided for his honour and reputation; but it was to be understood distinctly that he would not permit the divorce question to be reopened; he would rather forfeit his crown and his life than consent to it, or place himself in subjection to any foreign authority; this was his firm resolution, which he desired Chapuys to make known to the Emperor.

The Spanish Ministry had been willing that the Pope's sentence should be revised by a General Council. Why, Chapuys asked, might not the King consent also to refer the case to the Council? The King knew that he was right. He had once been willing—why should he now refuse? A Council, it had been said, would be called by the Pope, and would be composed of clergy who were not his friends; but Chapuys would undertake that there should be no unfair dealing. Were the Pope and clergy to intend harm, all the Princes of Christendom would interfere. The Emperor would recommend nothing to which the King would not be willing to subscribe. The favourable verdict of a Council would restore peace in England, and would acquit the Emperor's conscience. The Emperor, as matters stood, was bound to execute the sentence which had been delivered, and could not hold back longer without a hope of the King's submission.

Cromwell admitted the reasonableness of Chapuys's suggestion. The Emperor was showing by the advances which he had commenced that he desired a reconciliation. A Council controlled by the princes of Europe might perhaps be a useful instrument. Cromwell promised an answer in two days.

Then, after a pause, he returned to the subject of which he had spoken before:—In a matter of so much consequence to the world as the good intelligence of himself and the King of England, he said that the Emperor ought not to hesitate on account of the Queen and the Princess. They were but mortal. If the Princess was to die, her death would be no great misfortune, when the result of it would be the union and friendship of the two Princes.[10] He begged Chapuys to think it over when alone and at leisure. He then went on to inquire (for Chapuys had not informed him that the Emperor had already made up his mind to an arrangement) whether the ladies' business might not be passed over silently in the new treaty, and be left in suspense for the King's life. A General Council might meet to consider the other disorders of Christendom, or a congress might be held, previously appointed jointly by the King and the Emperor, when the ladies' rights might be arranged without mystery. Then once more, and, as Chapuys thought, with marked emphasis, he asked again what harm need be feared if the Princess were to die. The world might mutter, but why should it be resented by the Emperor?[11]

Chapuys says that he replied that he would not dwell on the trouble which might arise if the Princess suddenly died in a manner so suspicious. God forbid that such a thing should be! How could the Emperor submit to the reproach of having consented to the death of his cousin, and sold her for the sake of a peace?

Chapuys professed to believe, and evidently wished the Emperor to believe, that Cromwell was seriously proposing that the Princess Mary should be made away with. A single version of a secret conversation is an insufficient evidence of an intended monstrous crime. We do not know in what language it was carried on. Cromwell spoke no language but English with exactness, and Chapuys understood English imperfectly. The recent and alarming illness of the Princess, occasioned by restraint, fear, and irritation, had made her condition a constant subject of Chapuys's complaints, and Cromwell may have been thinking and speaking only of her dying under the natural consequences of prolonged confinement. Chapuys's unvarying object was to impress on the Emperor that her life was in danger. But Cromwell he admitted had been uniformly friendly to Mary, and, had foul play been really contemplated, the Emperor's Ambassador was the last person to whom the intention would have been communicated.

The conversation did not end with Chapuys's answer. Cromwell went on, he said (still dwelling on points most likely to wound Charles), to rage against popes and cardinals, saying that he hoped the race would soon be extinct, and that the world would be rid of their abomination and tyranny. Then he spoke again of France, and of the pressure laid on Henry to join with the French in a war. Always, he said, he had dissuaded his master from expeditions on the Continent. He had himself refused a large pension which the French Government had offered him, and he intended at the next Parliament to introduce a Bill prohibiting English Ministers from taking pensions from foreign princes on pain of death.

Men who have been proposing to commit murders do not lightly turn to topics of less perilous interest.

Some days passed before Chapuys saw Cromwell again; but he continued to learn from him the various intrigues which were going on. Until the King was sure of his ground with Charles, the French faction at the court continued their correspondence with Francis. The price of an Anglo-French alliance was to be a promise from the French King to support Henry in his quarrel with Rome at the expected Council, and Chapuys advised his master not to show too much eagerness for the treaty, as he would make the King more intractable.

The Emperor's way of remedying the affairs of England could not be better conceived, he said, provided the English Government met him with an honest response, provided they would forward the meeting of the Council, and treat the Queen and Princess better, who were in great personal danger. This, however, he believed they would never do. The Queen had instructed him to complain to the Emperor that her daughter was still left in the hands of her enemies, and that if she was to die it would be attributed to the manner in which she had been dealt with; the Queen, however, was satisfied that the danger would disappear if the King and the Emperor came to an understanding; and, if she could be assured that matters would be conducted as the Emperor proposed, he would be able to persuade her to approve of the whole plan.

Chapuys never repeated his suspicion that danger threatened Mary from Cromwell, and, if he had really believed it, he would hardly have failed to make further mention of so dark a suggestion. He was not scrupulous about truth: diplomatists with strong personal convictions seldom are. He had assured the King that a thought had never been entertained of an armed interference in England, while his letters for many months had been full of schemes for insurrection and invasion. He was eager for the work to begin. He was incredulous of any other remedy, and, if he dared, would have forced the Emperor's hand. He depended for his information of what passed at the court upon Anne Boleyn's bitterest enemies, and he put the worst interpretation upon every story which was brought to him. Cromwell, he said, had spoken like Caiaphas. It is hardly credible that Cromwell would have ventured to insult the Emperor with a supposition that he would make himself an accomplice in a crime. But though I think it more likely that Chapuys misunderstood or misrepresented Cromwell than that he accurately recorded his words, yet it is certain that there were members of Henry's Council who did seriously desire to try and to execute both Mary and her mother. Both of them were actively dangerous. Their friends were engaged in a conspiracy for open rebellion in their names, and, under the Tudor princes, nearness of blood or station to the Crown was rather a danger than a protection. Royal pretenders were not gently dealt with, even when no immediate peril was feared from them. Henry VII. had nothing to fear from the Earl of Warwick, yet Warwick lay in a bloody grave. Mary herself executed her cousin Jane Grey, and was hardly prevented from executing her sister Elizabeth. Elizabeth, in turn, imprisoned Catherine Grey, and let her die as Chapuys feared that Mary was now about to die. The dread of another war of succession lay like a nightmare on the generations which carried with them an ever-present memory of the Wars of the Roses.

  1. Chapuys to Charles V., Feb. 9, 1535.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. viii. pp. 68–72.
  2. Chapuys to Charles V., Feb. 25, 1535.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. viii. p. 100.
  3. "Car estant la Royne si haultain de cœur, luy venant en fantasye, a l'appuy de la faveur de la Princesse, elle se pourroit mettre an champs et assembler force des gents et luy faire la guerre aussy hardiment que fit la Royne sa mere." Chapuys à l'Empereur, Mar. 23, 1535.—MS. Vienna.
  4. Chapuys to Granvelle, March 23, 1535.—Spanish Calendar, vol. v. p. 432; and MS. Vienna.
  5. Chapuys to Charles V., Feb. 25, 1534.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. viii. p. 105.
  6. Spanish Calendar, Feb. 26, 1535, vol. v. p. 402.
  7. Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, Feb. 26, 1535, vol. viii. p. 106.
  8. Spanish Calendar, vol. v. pp. 421–22.
  9. Chapuys to Charles V., March 7, 1535.—Spanish Calendar, vol. v. pp. 413–422.
  10. "Il me dit que vostre Majesté ne se debvoit arrester pour empescher ung si inestimable bien que produiroit en toute la Chresteaneté l'union et la bonne intelligence dentre vostre Majesté et le Roi son maistre pour l'affaire des Royne et Princesse qui n'estoient que mortelles; et que ne seroit grande dommage de la morte de la dicte Princesse au pris du bien que sortiroit de la dicte union et intelligence; en quoy il me prioit vouloir considerer quand seroy seul et desoccupé." Chapuys to Charles V., March 23, 1535.—MS. Vienna; and Spanish Calendar, vol. v. p. 426. This and other of Chapuys's most important letters I transcribed myself at Vienna.
  11. "Me repliequant de nouveaulx quel dommage on danger seroyt que la dicte Princesse feust morte oyres que le peuple en murmurast, et quelle raison arroit vostre Majesté en fayre cas."