The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon/Chapter 18
Negotiations for a treaty—Appeal of Catherine to the Emperor—Fresh plans for the escape of Mary—Forbidden by the Emperor—The King and his daughter—Suggestion of Dr. Butts—The clergy and the Reformation—The Charterhouse monks—More and Fisher in the Tower—The Emperor in Africa—The treaty—Rebellion in Ireland—Absolution of Lord Thomas Fitzgerald for the murder of the Archbishop of Dublin—Treason of Lord Hussey—Fresh debates in the Spanish Council—Fisher created cardinal—Trial and execution of Fisher and More—Effect in Europe.
More than a year had now passed since Clement had delivered judgment on the divorce case. So far the discharge had been ineffective, and the Brief of Execution, the direct command to the Catholic Powers to dethrone Henry and to his subjects to renounce their allegiance, was still withheld. The advances which the new Pope had made to England having met with no response, Paul III. was ready to strike the final blow, but his hand had been held by Charles, who was now hoping by a treaty to recover the English alliance. Catherine had consented, but consented reluctantly, to an experiment from which she expected nothing. Chapuys himself did not wish it to succeed, and was unwilling to part with the expectations which he had built on Darcy's promises. The Spanish Council, in recommending the course which the Emperor had taken, had foreseen the dispiritment which it might produce among the Queen's friends, and the injury to the Holy See by the disregard of a sentence which Charles had himself insisted on. The treaty made no progress. The sacrifice appeared to be fruitless, and Catherine appealed to Charles once more in her old tone. She would be wanting in her duty to herself, she said, and she would offend God, if she did not seek the help of those who alone could give her effectual assistance. She must again press upon his Majesty the increasing perils to the Catholic Faith and the injury to the English realm which his neglect to act was producing. The sentence of Clement had been powerless. She entreated him with all her energy as a Christian woman to hesitate no longer. Her daughter had been ill, and had not yet recovered. Had her health been strong, the treatment which she received would destroy it, and, if she died, there would be a double sin. The Emperor need not care for herself. She was accustomed to suffering and could bear anything. But she must let him know that she was as poor as Job, and was expecting a time when she would have to beg alms for the love of God.
Mary was scarcely in so bad a case as her mother represented. Her spirit had got the better of her illness, and she was again alert and active. The King had supplied her with money and had sent her various kind messages, but she was still eager to escape out of the realm, and Charles had again given a qualified consent to the attempt being made if it was sure of success. With Mary in his hands, he could deal with Henry to better advantage. A favourable opportunity presented itself. Three Spanish ships were lying in the Lower Pool; Mary was still at Greenwich, and their crews were at her disposition. Chapuys asked if she was ready. She was not only ready but eager. She could leave the palace at night with the help of confederates, be carried on board, and disappear down the river.
Accident, or perhaps a whispered warning, deranged her plans. By a sudden order she was removed from Greenwich to Eltham. The alteration of residence was not accompanied with signs of suspicion. She was treated with marked respect. A State litter of some splendour was provided for her. The governess, Mrs. Shelton, however, was continued at her side, and the odious presence redoubled her wish to fly. Before she left Greenwich she sent a message to Chapuys imploring his advice and his assistance. She begged him for the love of God to contrive fresh means for removing her from the country. The enterprise, he thought, would be now dangerous, but not impossible, and success would be a glorious triumph. The Princess had told him that in her present lodging she could not be taken away at night, but she might walk in the day in fine weather, and might be surprised and carried off as if against her consent. The river would not be many miles distant, and, if she could be fallen in with when alone, there might be less difficulty than even at Greenwich, because she could be put on board below Gravesend.
As a ship would be required from Flanders, Chapuys communicated directly with Granvelle. He was conscious that, if he was himself in England when the enterprise was attempted, his own share in it would be suspected and it might go hard with him. He proposed, therefore, under some excuse of business in the Low Countries, to cross over previously.
It would be a splendid coup, he said, and, considering how much the Princess wished it and her remarkable prudence and courage, the thing could, no doubt, be managed. Could she be once seized and on horseback, and if there was a galley at hand and a large ship or two, there would be no real difficulty. The country-people would help her, and the parties sent in pursuit would be in no hurry.
Either the difficulties proved greater than were expected, or Charles was still hoping for the treaty, and would not risk an experiment which would spoil the chances of an accommodation. Once more he altered his mind and forbade the venture, and Chapuys had to take up again a negotiation from which he had no expectation of good. He met Cromwell from time to time, his master's pleasure being to preserve peace on tolerable terms; and the Ambassador continued to propose the reference of the divorce case to the General Council, on which Cromwell had seemed not unwilling to listen to him. If Henry could be tempted by vague promises to submit his conduct to a Council called by the Pope, he would be again in the meshes out of which he had cut his way. The cunning Ambassador urged on Cromwell the honour which the King would gain if a Council confirmed what he had done; and when Cromwell answered that a Council under the Emperor's influence might rather give an adverse sentence, he said that, if it was so, the King would have shown by a voluntary submission that his motives had been pure, and might have perfect confidence in the Emperor's fairness. Cromwell said he would consult the King; but the real difficulty lay in the pretensions of the Princess. Cromwell was well served; he probably knew, as well as Chapuys, of the intended rape at Eltham, and all that it would involve. "Would to God"—he broke out impatiently, and did not finish the sentence; but Chapuys thought he saw what the finish would have been. Henry may be credited with some forbearance towards his troublesome daughter. She defied his laws. Her supporters were trying to take his crown from him, and she herself was attempting to escape abroad and levy war upon him. Few of his predecessors would have hesitated to take ruder methods with so unmalleable a piece of metal. She herself believed that escape was her only chance of life. She was in the power of persons who, she had been told, meant to poison her, while no means were neglected to exasperate the King's mind against her. He, on his side, was told that she was incurably obstinate, while everything was concealed that might make him more favourably disposed towards her. In the midst of public business with which he was overwhelmed, he could not know what was passing inside the walls at Eltham. He discovered occasionally that he had been deceived. He complained to Cromwell "that he had found much good in his daughter of which he had not been properly informed." But if there was a conspiracy against Mary, there was also a conspiracy against himself, in a quarter where it could have been least expected.
Dr. Butts, the King's physician, whose portrait by Holbein is so familiar to us, was one of the most devoted friends of Queen Catherine. During Mary's illness. Dr. Butts had affected to be afraid of the responsibility of attending upon her. He had consented afterwards, though with apparent reluctance, and had met in consultation Catherine's doctor, who had also allowed himself to be persuaded. Henry sent Butts down to Eltham with his own horses. The Royal physician found his patient better than he expected, and, instead of talking over her disorders, he talked of the condition of the realm with his brother practitioner. "The Doctor is a very clever man," wrote Chapuys, reporting the account of the conversation which he received from the Queen's physician, "and is intimate with the nobles and the Council. He says that there are but two ways of assisting the Queen and Princess and of setting right the affairs of the realm: one would be if it pleased God to visit the King with some little malady." "The second method was force, of which, he said, the King and his Ministers were in marvellous fear. If it came to a war, he thought the King would be specially careful of the Queen and Princess, meaning to use them, should things turn to the worst, as mediators for peace. But if neither of these means were made use of, he really believed they were in danger of their lives. He considered it was lucky for the King that the Emperor did not know how easy the enterprise of England would be; and the present, he said, was the right time for it."
His private physician, it is to be remembered, was necessarily, of all Henry's servants, the most trusted by him; and the doctor was not contented with indirect suggestions, for he himself sent a secret message to Chapuys that twenty great peers and a hundred knights were ready, they and their vassals, to venture fortune and life, with the smallest assistance from the Emperor, to rise and make a revolution.
Dr. Butts with his petite maladie was a "giant traitor," though, happily for himself, he was left undiscovered. Human sympathies run so inevitably on the side of the sufferers in history, that we forget that something also is due to those whom they forced into dealing hardly with them. Catherine and the faithful Catholics who conspired and lost their lives for her cause and the Pope's, are in no danger of losing the favourable judgment of the world; the tyranny and cruelty of Henry VIII. will probably remain for ever a subject of eloquent denunciation; but there is an altera pars—another view of the story, which we may be permitted without offence to recognise. Henry was, on the whole, right; the general cause for which he was contending was a good cause. His victory opened the fountains of English national life, won for England spiritual freedom, and behind spiritual freedom her political liberties. His defeat would have kindled the martyr-fires in every English town, and would have burnt out of the country thousands of poor men and women as noble as Catherine herself. He had stained the purity of his action by intermingling with it a weak passion for a foolish and bad woman, and bitterly he had to suffer for his mistake; but the revolt against, and the overthrow of, ecclesiastical despotism were precious services, which ought to be remembered to his honour; and, when the good doctor to whom he trusted his life, out of compassion for an unfortunate lady was, perhaps, willing to administer a doubtful potion to him, or to aid in inviting a Catholic army into England to extinguish the light that was dawning there, only those who are Catholics first and Englishmen afterwards will say that it was well done on the doctor's part.
The temper of the nation was growing dangerous, and the forces on both sides were ranging themselves for the battle. Bishop Fisher has been seen sounding on the same string. He, with More, had now been for many months in the Tower, and his communications with Chapuys having been cut off, he had been unable to continue his solicitations; but the Ambassador had undertaken for the whole of the clergy on the instant that the Emperor should declare himself. The growth of Lutheranism had touched their hearts with pious indignation; their hatred of heresy was almost the sole distinction which they had preserved belonging to their sacred calling. The regular orders were the most worthless; the smaller monasteries were nests of depravity; the purpose of their existence was to sing souls out of purgatory, and the efficacy of their musical petitionings being no longer believed in, the King had concluded that monks and nuns could be better employed, and that the wealth which maintained them could be turned to better purpose—to the purpose especially of the defence of the realm against them and their machinations. The monks everywhere were the active missionaries of treason. They writhed under the Act of Supremacy. Their hope of continuance depended on the restoration of the Papal authority. When they were discovered to be at once useless and treacherous, it was not unjust to take their lands from them and apply the money for which those lands could be sold, to the fleet and the fortresses on the coast.
In this, the greatest of his reforms, Cromwell had been the King's chief adviser. He had been employed under Wolsey in the first suppression of the most corrupt of the smaller houses. In the course of his work he had gained an insight into the scandalous habits of their occupants, which convinced him of the impolicy and uselessness of attempting to prolong their existence. Institutions however ancient, organizations however profoundly sacred, cannot outlive the recognition that the evil which they produce is constant and the advantage visionary.
That the monastic system was doomed had become generally felt; that the victims of the intended overthrow should be impatient of their fate was no more than natural. The magnitude of the design, the interests which were threatened, the imagined sanctity attaching to property devoted to the Church, gave an opportunity for outcry against sacrilege. The entire body of monks became in their various orders an army of insurrectionary preachers, well supplied with money, terrifying the weak, encouraging the strong, and appealing to the superstitions so powerful with a people like the English, who were tenacious of their habits and associations.
The Abbots and Priors had sworn to the supremacy, but had sworn reluctantly, with secret reservations to save their consciences. With the prospect of an Imperial deliverer to appear among them, they were recovering courage to defy their excommunicated enemy. Those who retained the most of the original spirit of their religion were the first to recover heart for resistance. The monks of the London Charterhouse, who were exceptions to the general corruption, and were men of piety and character, came forward to repudiate their oaths and to dare the law to punish them. Their tragical story is familiar to all readers of English history. Chapuys adds a few particulars. Their Prior, Haughton, had consented to the Act of Supremacy; but his conscience told him that in doing so he had committed perjury. He went voluntarily, with three of the brotherhood, to Cromwell, and retracted his oath, declaring that the King in calling himself Head of the Church was usurping the Pope's authority. They had not been sent for; their house was in no immediate danger; and there was no intention of meddling with them. Their act was a gratuitous defiance; and under the circumstances of the country was an act of war. The effect, if not the purpose, was, and must have been, to encourage a spirit which would explode in rebellion. Cromwell warned them of their danger, and advised them to keep their scruples to themselves. They said they would rather encounter a hundred thousand deaths. They were called before a Council of Peers. The Knights of the Garter were holding their annual Chapter, and the attendance was large. The Duke of Norfolk presided, having returned to the Court, and the proceedings were unusually solemn. The monks were required to withdraw their declaration; they were told that the statute was not to be disputed. They persisted. They were allowed a night to reflect, and they spent it on their knees in prayer. In the morning they were recalled; their courage held, and they were sentenced to die, with another friar who had spoken and written to similar purpose.
They had thrown down a challenge to the Government; the challenge was accepted, and the execution marked the importance of the occasion. They were not a handful of insignificant priests, they were the advanced guard of insurrection; and to allow them to triumph was to admit defeat. They were conducted through the streets by an armed force. The Duke of Norfolk, the Duke of Richmond, Henry's illegitimate son, Lord Wiltshire, and Lord Rochford attended at the scaffold. Sir Henry Norris was also there, masked, with forty of the Royal Guard on horseback. At the scaffold they were again offered a chance of life; again they refused, and died gallantly. The struggle had begun for the Crown of England. In claiming the supremacy for the Pope, these men had abjured their allegiance to the King whom the Pope had excommunicated. Conscience was nothing—motive was nothing. Conscience was not allowed as a plea when a Lutheran was threatened with the stake. In all civil conflicts high motives are to be found on both sides, and in earnest times words are not used without meaning. The Statute of Supremacy was Henry's defence against an attempt to deprive him of his crown and deprive the kingdom of its independence. To disobey the law was treason; and the penalty of treason was death.
Chapuys in telling the story urged it as a proof to Charles that there was no hope of the King's repentance. It was now expected that More and Fisher, and perhaps the Queen and Princess, would be called on also to acknowledge the supremacy, and, if they refused, would suffer the same fate. The King's Ministers, Chapuys said, were known to have often reproached the King, and to have told him it was a shame for him and the kingdom not to punish them as traitors. Anne Boleyn was fiercer and haughtier than ever she was. Sir Thomas More was under the same impression that Anne had been instigator of the severities. She would take his head from him, he said, and then added, prophetically, that her own would follow. The presence of her father and brother and her favourite Norris at the execution of the Carthusians confirmed the impression. The action of the Government had grounds more sufficient than a woman's urgency. More and Fisher received notice that they would be examined on the statute, and were allowed six weeks to prepare their answer. Chapuys did not believe that any danger threatened Catherine, or threatened her household. She herself, however, anticipated the worst, and only hoped that her own fate might rouse the Emperor at last.
The Emperor was not to be roused. He was preparing for his great expedition to Tunis to root out the corsairs, and had other work on hand. In vain Chapuys had tried to make him believe that Cromwell meditated the destruction of the Princess Mary; in vain Chapuys had told him that words were useless, and that "cautery was the only remedy"—that the English Peers were panting for encouragement to take arms. He had no confidence in insurgent subjects who could not use the constitutional methods which they possessed to do anything for themselves. He saw Henry crushing down resistance with the relentless severity of the law. He replied to Chapuys's entreaties that, although he could not in conscience abandon his aunt and cousin, yet the Ambassador must temporise. He had changed his mind about Mary's escape: he said it was dangerous, unadvisable, and not to be thought of. The present was not the proper moment. He wrote a cautious letter to the King, which he forwarded for Chapuys to deliver. In spite of Charterhouse monks and Lutheran preachers, the Ambassador was to take up again the negotiations for the treaty.
Thus Cromwell and he recommenced their secret meetings. A country-house was selected for the purpose, where their interviews would be unobserved. Chapuys had recommended that Henry should assist in calling a General Council. Cromwell undertook that Henry would consent, provided the Council was not held in Italy, or in the Pope's or the Emperor's dominions, and provided that the divorce should not be among the questions submitted to it. The Emperor, he said, had done enough for his honour, and might now leave the matter to the King's conscience. With respect to the Queen and Princess, the King had already written to Sir John Wallop, who was to lay his letters before the Spanish Ambassador in Paris. The King had said that, although the Emperor, in forsaking a loyal friend for the sake of a woman, had not acted well with him, yet he was willing to forget and forgive. If the Emperor would advise the ladies to submit to the judgment of the Universities of Europe, which had been sanctioned by the English estates of the realm, and was as good as a decree of a Council, they would have nothing to complain of. Chapuys observed that such a letter ought to have been shown to himself before it was sent; but that was of no moment. The King of France, Cromwell went on, would bring the Turk, and the Devil, too, into Christendom to recover Milan; the King and the Emperor ought to draw together to hold France in check; and yet, to give Chapuys a hint that he knew what he had been doing, he said he had heard, though he did not believe it, that the Emperor and the King of the Romans had thought of invading England, in a belief that they would make an easy conquest of it. They would find the enterprise more costly than they expected, and, even if they did conquer England, they could not keep it. Chapuys, wishing to learn how much had been discovered, asked what Cromwell meant. Cromwell told him the exact truth. The scheme had been to stop the trade between England and Flanders. A rebellion was expected to follow, which, Cromwell admitted, was not unlikely; and then, in great detail and with a quiet air of certainty, he referred to the solicitations continually made to the Emperor to send across an army.
Leaving Chapuys to wonder at his sources of information, so accurate, Cromwell spoke of an approaching conference at Calais, which was to be held at the request of the French King. He did not think anything would come of it. He had himself declined to be present, but one of the proposals to be made would be an offer of the Duke of Angoulême for the young Princess Elizabeth. The Council, he said, had meantime been reviewing the old treaty for the marriage of the Emperor to the Princess Mary, and the King had spoken in the warmest terms of the Emperor. Perhaps as a substitute for the French connection, and provided the divorce was not called in question again, he thought that the Princess Elizabeth might be betrothed to Philip, and a marriage could be found out of the realm for the Princess Mary with the Emperor's consent and approbation. The King, in this case, would give her the greatest and richest dower that was ever given to any Queen or Empress.
Chapuys observed that the divorce must be disposed of before fresh marriages could be thought of. Cromwell wished him to speak himself to the King. Chapuys politely declined to take so delicate a negotiation out of Cromwell's hands. For himself, he had not yet abandoned hope of a different issue. Lord Darcy was still eager as ever, and wished to communicate directly with the Emperor. From Ireland, too, the news were less discouraging. The insurrection had burnt down, but was still unsubdued. Lord Thomas found one of his difficulties to lie in the incompleteness of the Papal censures. The formal Bull of Deposition was still unpublished. The young chief had written to the Pope to say that, but for this deficiency, he would have driven the English out of the island, and to beg that it might be immediately supplied. He had himself, too, perhaps, been in fault. The murder of an archbishop who had not been directly excommunicated was an irregularity and possibly a crime. He prayed that the Pope would send him absolution. Paul as he read the letter showed much pleasure. He excused his hesitation as having risen from a hope that the King of England would repent. For the future he said he would do his duty; and at once sent Lord Thomas the required pardon for an act which had been really meritorious.
The absolution may have benefited Lord Thomas's soul. It did not save him from the gallows.
Again Cromwell and Chapuys met. Again the discussion returned to the insoluble problem. The Spanish Council of State had half recommended that the divorce should be passed over, as it had been at Cambray. Chapuys laboured to entangle Henry in an engagement that it should be submitted to the intended General Council. The argumnent took the usual form. Cromwell said that the King could not revoke what he had done, without disgrace. Chapuys answered that it was the only way to avoid disgrace, and the most honourable course which he could adopt. The King ought not to be satisfied in such a matter with the laws and constitutions of his own country. If he would yield on this single point, the taking away the property of the clergy might in some degree be confirmed. The ground alleged for it being the defence of the realm, there would be less occasion for such measures in future; the Emperor would allow the King to make his submission in any form that he might choose, and everything should be made as smooth as Henry could desire.
Cromwell, according to Chapuys, admitted the soundness of the argument, but he said that it was neither in his power, nor in any man's power, to persuade the King, who would hazard all rather than yield. Even the present Pope, he said, had, when Cardinal, written an autograph letter to the King, telling him that he had a right to ask for a divorce, and that Clement had done him great wrong.
The less reason then, Chapuys neatly observed, for refusing to lay the matter before a General Council.
The Ambassador went through his work dutifully, though expecting nothing from it, and his reports of what passed with the English Ministers ended generally with a recommendation of what he thought the wiser course. Lord Hussey, he said, had sent to him to say that he could remain no longer in a country where all ranks and classes were being driven into heresy; and would, therefore, cross the Channel to see the Emperor in person, to urge his own opinion and learn the Emperor's decision from his own lips. If the answer was unfavourable he would tell his friends, that they might not be deceived in their expectations. They would then act for themselves.
It is likely that Chapuys had been instructed to reserve the concessions which Charles was prepared to make till it was certain that, without them, the treaty would fail. France meanwhile was outbidding the Emperor, and the King was using, without disguise, the offers of each Power to alarm the other. Cromwell at the next meeting told Chapuys that Francis was ready to support the divorce unreservedly if Henry would assist him in taking Milan. The French, he said, should have a sharp answer, could confidence be felt in the Emperor's overtures. A sharp struggle was going on in the Council between the French and Imperial factions. Himself sincerely anxious for the success of the negotiation in which he was engaged, Cromwell said he had fallen into worse disgrace with Anne Boleyn than he had ever been. Anne had never liked him. She had told him recently "she would like to see his head off his shoulders." She was equally angry with the Duke of Norfolk, who had been too frank in the terms in which he had spoken of her. If she discovered his interviews with Chapuys she would do them both some ill turn.
The King himself agreed with Cromwell in preferring the Emperor to Francis, but he would not part company with France till he was assured that Charles no longer meant his harm. Charles, it will be remembered, had himself written to Henry, and the letter had by this time arrived. Chapuys feared that, if he presented it at a public audience, the Court would conclude that the Emperor was reconciled, and had abandoned the Queen and Princess, so he applied for a private reception. The King granted it, read the letter, spoke graciously of the expedition against the Turks, and then significantly of his own armaments and the new fortifications at Dover and Calais. He believed (as Chapuys had heard from the Princess Mary) that, if he could tide over the present summer, the winter would then protect him, and that in another year he would be strong enough to fear no one. Seeing that he said nothing of the treaty, Chapuys began upon it, and said that the Emperor was anxious to come to terms with him, so far as honour and conscience would allow. Henry showed not the least eagerness. He replied with entire frankness that France was going to war for Milan. Large offers had been made to him, which, so far, he had not accepted; but he might be induced to listen, unless he could be better assured of the Emperor's intention.
It was evident that Henry could neither be cajoled nor frightened. Should Charles then give up the point for which he was contending? Once more the Imperial Privy Council sat to consider what was to be done. It had become clear that no treaty could be made with Henry unless the Emperor would distinctly consent that the divorce should not be spoken of. The old objections were again weighed—the injuries to the Queen and to the Holy See, the Emperor's obligations, the bad effect on Christendom and on England which a composition on such terms would produce, the encouragement to other Princes to act as Henry had done—stubborn facts of the case which could not be evaded. On the other hand were the dangerous attitude of Francis, the obstinacy of Henry, the possibility that France and England might unite, and the inability of the Emperor to encounter their coalition. Both Francis and Henry were powerful Princes, and a quarrel would not benefit the Queen and her daughter if the Emperor was powerless to help them. The divorce was the difficulty. Should the Emperor insist on a promise that it should be submitted to a General Council? It might be advisable, under certain circumstances, to create disturbances in England and Ireland, so as to force the King into an alliance on the Emperor's terms. But if Henry could be induced to suspend or modify his attacks on the Faith and the Church, to break his connection with France and withdraw from his negotiations with the Germans, if securities could be taken that the Queen and Princess should not be compelled to sign or promise anything without the Emperor's consent, the evident sense of the Spanish Council of State was that the proceedings against the King should be suspended, perhaps for his life, and that no stipulations should be insisted on, either for the King's return to the Church or for his consent to the meeting of the General Council. God might perhaps work on the King's conscience without threat of force or violence; and the Emperor, before starting on his expedition to Tunis, might tell the English Ambassador that he wished to be the King's friend, and would not go to war with any Christian Prince unless he was compelled. The Queen's consent would, of course, be necessary; she and the Princess would be more miserable than ever if they were made to believe that there was no help for them. But their consent, if there was no alternative, might be assumed when a refusal would be useless.
If the willingness to make concessions was the measure of the respective anxieties for an agreement between the two countries, Spain was more eager than England, for the Emperor was willing to yield the point on which he had broken the unity of Christendom and content himself with words, while Henry would yield nothing, except the French alliance, for which he had cared little from the time that France had refused to follow him into schism.
An alliance of the Emperor with an excommunicated sovereign in the face of a sentence which he had himself insisted on, and with a Bull of Deposition ready for launching, would be an insult to the Holy See more dangerous to it than the revolt of a single kingdom. The treaty might, however, have been completed on the terms which Wallop and the Imperial Ambassador had agreed on at Paris, and which the Imperial Council had not rejected. The Pope saw the peril, struck in, and made it impossible. In the trial and execution of the Carthusians Henry had shown to Europe that he was himself in earnest. The blood of martyrs was the seed of the Church, and Paul calculated rightly that he could not injure the King of England more effectually than by driving him to fresh severities and thus provoking an insurrection. No other explanation can be given for his having chosen this particular moment for an act which must and would produce the desired consequence. Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More had been allowed six weeks to consider whether they would acknowledge the Statute of Supremacy. More was respected by every one, except the Lutherans, whom he confessed that he hated; Fisher was regarded as a saint by the Catholic part of England; and the King, who was dependent after all on the support of his subjects and could not wish to shock or alienate them, would probably have pressed them no further, unless challenged by some fresh provocation. Fisher had waded deep into treason, but, if the King knew it, there was no evidence which could be produced. Before the six weeks were expired the Court and the world were astonished to hear that Paul had created the Bishop of Rochester a cardinal, and that the hat was already on the way. Casalis, who foresaw the consequences, had protested against the appointment, both to the Pope and the Consistory. Paul pretended to be frightened. He begged Casalis to excuse him to the King. He professed, what it was impossible to believe, that he had intended to pay England a compliment. A general Council was to meet. He wished England to be represented there by a Prelate whom he understood to be distinguished for learning and sanctity. The Roman Pontiffs have had a chequered reputation, but the weakest of them has never been suspected of a want of worldly acuteness. The condition of England was as well understood at Rome as it was understood by Chapuys, and, with Dr. Ortiz at his ear, Paul must have been acquainted with the disposition of every peer and prelate in the realm. Fisher's name had been familiar through the seven years' controversy as of the one English Bishop who had been constant in resistance to every step of Henry's policy. Paul, who had just absolved Silken Thomas for the Archbishop of Dublin's murder, had little to learn about the conspiracy, or about Fisher's share in it. The excuse was an insolence more affronting than the act itself. It was impossible for the King to acknowledge himself defied and defeated. He said briefly that he would send Fisher's head to Rome, for the hat to be fitted on it. Sir Thomas More, as Fisher's dearest friend, connected with him in opposition to the Reformation and sharing his imprisonment for the same actions, was involved along with him in the fatal effects of the Pope's cunning or the Pope's . The six weeks ran out. The Bishop and the ex-Chancellor were called again before the Council, refused to acknowledge the supremacy, and were committed for trial.
The French and English Commissioners had met and parted at Calais. Nothing had been concluded there, as Cromwell said with pleasure to Chapuys, prejudicial to the Emperor; but as to submitting the King's conduct to a Council, Cromwell reiterated that it was not to be thought of. Were there no other reason, the hatred borne to him by all the English prestraylle for having pulled down the tyranny of the Church and tried to reform them, would be cause sufficient. The Council would be composed of clergy. More than this, and under the provocation of the fresh insult, Cromwell said that neither the King nor his subjects would recognise any Council convoked by the Pope. A Council convoked by the Emperor they would acknowledge, but a Papal Council never. They intended to make the Church of England a true and singular mirror to all Christendom.
Paul can hardly have deliberately contemplated the resxdts of what he had done. He probably calculated, either that Henry would not dare to go to extremities with a person of so holy a reputation as Bishop Fisher, or that the threat of it would force Fisher's and the Queen's friends into the field in time to save him. They had boasted that the whole country was with them, and the Pope had taken them at their word. Yet his own mind misgave him. The Nuncio at Paris was directed to beg Francis to intercede. Francis said he would do his best, but feared the "hat" would prove the Bishop's death. Henry, Francis said, was not always easy to deal with. He almost treated him as a subject. He was the strangest man in the world. He feared he could do no good with him. There was not the least likelihood that the King would allow the interposition either of Francis or of any one. The crime created by the Act of Supremacy was the denial by word or act of the King's sovereignty, ecclesiastical or civil, and the object was to check and punish seditious speaking or preaching. As the Act was first drafted, to speak at all against the supremacy brought an offender under the penalties. The House of Commons was unwilling to make mere language into high treason, and a strong attempt was made to introduce the word "maliciously." Men might deny that the King was Head of the Church in ignorance or inadvertence; and an innocent opinion was not a proper subject for severity. But persons who had exposed themselves to suspicion might be questioned, and their answers interpreted by collateral evidence, to prove disloyal intention. Chapuys's letters leave no doubt of Fisher's real disloyalty. But his desire to bring in an Imperial army was shared by half the Peers, and, if proof of it could be produced, their guilty consciences might drive them into open rebellion. It was ascertained that Fisher and More had communicated with each other in the Tower on the answers which they were to give. But other points had risen for which Fisher was not prepared. Among the papers found in his study were letters in an unknown hand addressed to Queen Catherine, which apparently the Bishop was to have forwarded to her, but had been prevented by his arrest. They formed part of a correspondence between the Queen and some Foreign Prince, carried on through a reverend father spoken of as E. R.… alluding to things which "no mortal man was to know besides those whom it behoved," and to another letter which E. R. had received of the Bishop himself. Fisher was asked who wrote these letters: "Who was E. R.? Who was the Prince?" What those things were which no mortal was to know? If trifles, why the secrecy, and from whom were they to be concealed? What were the letters which had been received from the Bishop himself to be sent oversea? The letters found contained also a request to know whether Catherine wished the writer to proceed to other Princes in Germany and solicit them; and again a promise that the writer would maintain her cause among good men there, and would let her know what he could succeed in bringing to pass with the Princes.
The Bishop was asked whether, saving his faith and allegiance, he ought to have assisted a man who was engaged in such enterprises, and why he concealed a matter which he knew to be intended against the King; how the letter came into his hands, who sent it, who brought it. If the Bishop refused to answer or equivocated, he was to understand that the King knew the truth, for he had proof in his hands. The writer was crafty and subtle and had promised to spend his labour with the Princes that they should take in hand to defend the Lady Catherine's cause.
The King held the key to the whole mystery. The mine had been undermined. The intended rebellion was no secret to Henry or to Cromwell. Catherine, a divorced wife, and a Spanish princess, owed no allegiance in England. But Fisher was an English subject, and conscience is no excuse for treason, until the treason succeeds.
Fisher answered warily, but certainly untruly, that he could not recollect the name either of the Prince who wrote the letter which had been discovered or of the messenger who brought it. It was probably some German prince, but, as God might help him, he could not say which, unless it was Ferdinand, King of Hungary. E. R. was not himself, nor did he ever consent that the writer should attempt anything with the German Princes against the King.
He had been careful. He had desired Chapuys from the beginning that his name should not be mentioned, except in cipher. He had perhaps abstained from directly advising an application to Ferdinand, who could not act without the Emperor's sanction. His messages to Charles through his Ambassador even Fisher could scarcely have had the hardiness to deny; but these messages, if known, were not alleged. The Anglo-Imperial alliance was on the anvil, and the question was not put to him.
Of Fisher's malice, however, as the law construed it, there was no doubt. He persisted in his refusal to acknowledge the supremacy of the Crown. Five days after his examination he was tried at Westminster Hall, and in the week following he was executed on Tower Hill. He died bravely in a cause which he believed to be right. To the last he might have saved himself by submission, but he never wavered. He knew that he could do better service to the Queen and the Catholic Church by his death than by his life. Cromwell told Chapuys that "the Bishop of Rome was the cause of his punishment, for having made a Cardinal of the King's worst enemy." He was "greatly pitied of the people." The pity would have been less had his real conduct been revealed.
A nobler victim followed. In the lists of those who were prepared to take arms against the King there is no mention of the name of Sir Thomas More; but he had been Fisher's intimate friend and companion, and he could hardly have been ignorant of a conspiracy with which Fisher had been so closely concerned; while malice might be inferred without injustice from an acquaintance with dangerous purposes which he had not revealed. He paid the penalty of the society to which he had attached himself. He, even more than the Bishop of Rochester, was the chief of the party most opposed to the Reformation. He had distinguished himself as Chancellor by his zeal against the Lutherans, and, if that party had won the day, they would have gone to work as they did afterwards when Mary became Queen. No one knew better than More the need in which the Church stood of the surgeon's hand; no one saw clearer the fox's face under the monk's cowl: but, like other moderate reformers, he detested impatient enthusiasts who spoilt their cause by extravagance. He felt towards the Protestantism which was spreading in England as Burke felt towards the Convention and the Jacobin Club, and while More lived and defied the statute the vast middle party in the nation which was yet undecided found encouragement in opposition from his example. His execution has been uniformly condemned by historians as an act of wanton tyranny. It was not wanton, and it was not an act of tyranny. It was an inevitable and painful incident of an infinitely blessed revolution.
The received accounts of his trial are confirmed with slight additions by a paper of news from England which was sent to the Imperial Court.
More was charged with having deprived the King of the title of "Supreme Head of the Church," which had been granted to him by the last Parliament. He replied that, when questioned by the King's Secretary what he thought of the statute, he had answered that, being a dead man to the world, he cared nothing for such things, and he could not be condemned for silence. The King's Attorney said that all good subjects were bound to answer without dissimulation or reserve, and silence was the same as speech. Silence, More objected, was generally taken to mean consent. Whatever his thoughts might be, he had never uttered them.
He was charged with having exchanged letters with the Bishop of Rochester in the Tower on the replies which they were to give on their examination. Each had said that the statute was a sword with two edges, one of which slew the body, the other the soul. As they had used the same words it was clear that they were confederated.
More replied that he had answered as his conscience dictated, and had advised the Bishop to do the same. He did not believe that he had ever said or done anything maliciously against the statute.
The jury consulted only for a quarter of an hour and returned a verdict of "guilty." Sentence passed as a matter of course, and then More spoke out. As he was condemned, he said he would now declare his opinion. He had studied the question for seven years, and was satisfied that no temporal lord could be head of the spiritualty. For each bishop on the side of the Royal Supremacy he could produce a hundred saints. For their Parliament he had the Councils of a thousand years. For one kingdom he had all the other Christian Powers. The Bishops had broken their vows; the Parliament had no authority to make laws against the unity of Christendom, and had capitally sinned in making them. His crime had been his opposition to the second marriage of the King. He had faith, however, that, as St. Paul persecuted St. Stephen, yet both were now in Paradise, so he and his judges, although at variance in this world, would meet in charity hereafter.
The end came quickly. The trial was on the 1st of July; on the 6th the head fell of one of the most interesting men that England ever produced. Had the supremacy been a question of opinion, had there been no conspiracy to restore by arms the Papal tyranny, no clergy and nobles entreating the landing of an army like that which wasted Flanders at the command of the Duke of Alva, no Irish nobles murdering Archbishops and receiving Papal absolution for it, to have sent Sir Thomas More to the scaffold for believing the Pope to be master of England would have been a barbarous murder, deserving the execration which has been poured upon it. An age which has no such perils to alarm its slumbers forgets the enemies which threatened to waste the country with fire and sword, and admires only the virtues which remain fresh for all time; we, too, if exposed to similar possibilities might be no more merciful than our forefathers.
The execution of Fisher and More was the King's answer to Papal thunders and domestic conspirators, and the effect was electric. Darcy again appealed to Chapuys, praying that the final sentence should be instantly issued. He did not wish to wait any longer for Imperial aid. The Pope having spoken, the country would now rise of itself. The clergy would furnish all the money needed for a beginning, and a way might be found to seize the gold in the treasury. Time pressed. They must get to work at once. If they loitered longer the modern preachers and prelates would corrupt the people, and all would be lost. Cifuentes wrote from Rome to the Emperor that the Bishop of Paris was on his way there with proposals from Francis for an arrangement with England which would be fatal to the Queen, the Church, and the morals of Christendom. He begged to be allowed to press the Pope to hold in readiness a brief deposing Henry; a brief which, if once issued, could not be recalled.
- Queen Catherine to Charles V., April 8.—MS. Vienna; Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. viii. p. 197.
- Chapuys to Charles V., April 4, 1535.—MS. Vienna; Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. viii, p. 193.
- Chapuys to Granvelle, April 5, 1535.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. viii. p. 194 and MS. Vienna.
- Chapuys to Charles V., April 17, 1535.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. viii. p. 209.
- "Le premier estoit si Dieu vouloit visiter le Roy de quelque petite maladie." The word petite implied perhaps in Chapuys's mind that Dr. Butts contemplated a disorder of which he could control the dimensions, and the word, if he used it, is at least as suspicious as Cromwell's language about Mary.
- "Affirmant pour tout certain qu'il y avoit une xx des principaulx Seigneurs d'Angleterre et plus de cent Chevaliers tout disposés et prests à employer personnes, biens, armes, et subjects, ayant le moindre assistance de vostre Majesté." Chapuys to Charles V., April 25, 1535.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. viii. p. 222; and MS. Vienna.
- Chapuys to Charles V., May 5, 1535.—Spanish Calendar, vol. v. p. 452.
- Charles V. to Chapuys, May 10, 1535.—Spanish Calendar, vol. v. p. 459.
- Spanish Calendar, vol. v. p. 459.
- Chapuys to Charles V., May 8, 1535.—Spanish Calendar, vol. v. p. 457.
- Dr. Ortiz to Charles V., May 27, 1535.—Spanish Calendar, vol. v, p. 462.
- Chapuys to Charles V., May 23, 1535.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. viii. p. 280; Spanish Calendar, vol. v. p. 465.
- Spanish Calendar, vol. v. p. 484.
- Chapuys to Charles V., June 5, 1535.—Spanish Calendar, vol. v. p. 483.
- Spanish Calendar, vol. v. p. 486.
- Chapuys to Charles V., June 30, 1535.—Spanish Calendar, vol. v. p. 500.
- The Bishop of Faenza to M. Ambrogio, June 6, 1535.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. viii. p. 320.
- Examination of Fisher in the Tower, June 12, 1535.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. viii, pp. 331 et seq.
- News from England, July 1, 1535.—Spanish Calendar, vol. v. p. 507.
- Chapuys to Charles V., July 11, 1535.—Spanish Calendar, vol. v. p. 512.
- Cifuentes to Charles V., July 16, 1535.—Ibid. p. 515.