The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon/Chapter 23

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Competition for Henry's hand—Solicitations from France and from the Emperor—Overtures from the Pope—Jane Seymour—General eagerness for the King's marriage—Conduct of Henry in the interval before Anne's execution—Marriage with Jane Seymour—Universal satisfaction—The Princess Mary—Proposal for a General Council—Neutrality of England in the war between France and the Empire.

Human nature is said to be the same in all ages and countries. Manners, if it be so, signally vary. Among us, when a wife dies, some decent interval is allowed before her successor is spoken of. The execution for adultery of a Queen about whom all Europe had been so long- and so keenly agitated might have been expected to be followed by a pause. No pause, however, ensued after the fall of Anne Boleyn. If Henry had been the most interesting and popular of contemporary princes, there could not have been greater anxiety to secure his vacant hand. Had he been the most pious of Churchmen, the Pope could not have made greater haste to approach him with offers of friendship. There was no waiting even for the result of the trial. No sooner was it known that Anne had been committed to the Tower for adultery than the result was anticipated as a certainty. It was assumed as a matter of course that the King would instantly look for another wife, and Francis and the Emperor lost not a moment in trying each to be beforehand with the other. M. d'Inteville had come over to intercede for Sir Francis Weston, but he brought a commission to treat for a marriage between Henry and a French princess. To this overture the King replied at once that it could not be, and, according to Chapuys, added ungraciously, and perhaps with disgust, that he had experienced already the effects of French education.[1] The words, perhaps, were used to Cromwell, and not to the French Ambassador; but Chapuys was hardly less surprised when Cromwell, in reporting them, coolly added that the King could not marry out of the realm, because, if a French princess misconducted herself, they could not punish her as they had punished the last.[2] The Ambassador did not understand irony, and was naturally startled, for he had received instructions to make a similar application on behalf of his own master. Charles was eager to secure the prize, and, anticipating Anne's fate, he despatched a courier to Chapuys on hearing of her arrest, with orders to seize the opportunity. "If Hannaert's news be true," he wrote on the 15th of May, the day of the trial at Westminster, "the King, now that God has permitted this woman's damnable life to be discovered, may be more inclined to treat with us, and there may be a better foundation for an arrangement in favour of the Princess. But you must use all your skill to prevent a marriage with France. The King should rather choose one of his own subjects, either the lady for whom he has already shown a preference or some other."

So far Charles had written when Chapuys's messenger arrived with later news. "George has just come," the Emperor then continued, "and I have heard from him what has passed about the Concubine. It is supposed that she and the partners of her guilt will be executed, and that the King, being of amorous complexion and anxious, as he has always pretended, for a male heir, will now marry immediately. Overtures will certainly be made to him from France. You will endeavour, either as of yourself or through Cromwell, to arrange a match for him with the Infanta of Portugal, my niece, who has a settlement by will of 400,000 ducats. Simultaneously you will propose another marriage between the Princess Mary and the Infant of Portugal, Don Louis, my brother-in-law. You will point out that these alliances will remove past unpleasantness, and will unite myself, the King, and our respective countries. You will show the advantage that will accrue to the realm of England should a Prince be the result, and we may reasonably hope that it will be so, the Infanta being young and well nurtured. If you find the King disinclined to this marriage, you may propose my niece, the Duchess Dowager of Milan, a beautiful young lady with a good dowry."[3]

On the same 15th of May Granvelle, no less eager, wrote to Chapuys also. "M. l'Ambassadeur, my good brother and friend, I have received your letters and have heard what your messenger had to tell me. You have done well to keep us informed about the Concubine. It is indeed fine music and food for laughter.[4] God is revealing the iniquity of those from whom so much mischief has risen. We must make our profit of it, and manage matters as the Emperor directs. Use all your diligence and dexterity. Immense advantage will follow, public and private. You will yourself not fail of your reward for your true and faithful services."[5]

So anxious was Charles for fresh matrimonial arrangements with Henry, that he wrote again to the same purpose three days later—a strange wish if he believed Catherine to have been murdered, or her successor to be on the eve of execution because the King was tired of her. To Charles and Granvelle, as to Chapuys himself, the unfortunate Anne was the English Messalina. The Emperor and all the contemporary world saw in her nothing but a wicked woman at last detected and brought to justice.[6]

What came of these advances will be presently seen; but, before proceeding, a glance must be given at the receipt of the intelligence of Anne's fall at the Holy See. This also was chose de rire. Chapuys had sent to Rome in the past winter a story that Henry had said Anne Boleyn had bewitched him. The Pope had taken it literally, and had supposed that when the witch was removed the enchantment would end. He sent for Sir Gregory Casalis on the 17 th of May, and informed him of what he had heard from England. He said that he had always recognised the many and great qualities of the King; and those qualities he did not doubt would now show themselves, as he had been relieved from his unfortunate marriage. Let the King reattach himself to Holy Church and take the Pope for an ally; they could then give the law both to the Emperor and to the King of France, and the entire glory of restoring peace to Christendom would attach to Henry himself. The King, he said, had no cause to regard him as an enemy; for he had always endeavored to be his friend. In the matrimonial cause he had remonstrated in private with his predecessor. At Bologna he had argued for four hours with the Emperor, trying to persuade him that the King ought not to be interfered with.[7] Never had he desired to offend the King, although so many violent acts had been done in England against the Holy See. He had made the Bishop of Rochester a cardinal solely with a view to the General Council, and because the Bishop had written a learned book against Luther. On the Bishop's execution, he had been compelled to say and do certain things, but he had never intended to give effect to them.

If the Pope had thought the King to have been right in his divorce suit, it was not easy to understand why he had excommunicated him and tried to deprive him of his crown because he had disobeyed a judgment thus confessed to have been unjust. Casalis asked him if he was to communicate what he had said to the King. The Pope, after reflecting a little, said that Casalis might communicate it as of himself; that he might tell the King that the Pope was well-disposed towards him, and that he might expect every favour from the Pope. Casalis wrote in consequence that on the least hint that the King desired a reconciliation, a Nuncio would be sent to England to do everything that could be found possible; after the many injuries which he had received, opinion at Rome would not permit the Pope to make advances until he was assured that they would be well received; but some one would be sent in Casalis's name bringing credentials from his Holiness.

Never since the world began was a dastardly assassination, if Anne Boleyn was an innocent woman, rewarded with so universal a solicitation for the friendship of the assassin. In England the effect was the same. Except by the Lutherans, Anne had been universally hated, and the king was regarded with the respectful compassion due to a man who had been cruelly injured. The late marriage had been tolerated out of hope for the birth of the Prince who was so passionately longed for. Even before the discovery of Anne's conduct, a considerable party, with the Princess Mary among them, had desired to see the King separated from her and married to some other respectable woman. Jane Seymour had been talked about as a steady friend of Catherine, and, when Catherine was gone, of the Princess. The King had paid her attentions which, if Chapuys's stories were literally true—as probably they were not—had been of a marked kind. In all respects she was the opposite of Anne. She had plain features, pale complexion, a low figure—in short, had no personal beauty, or any pretensions to it, with nothing in her appearance to recommend her, except her youth. She was about twenty-five years of age. She was not witty either, or brilliant; but she was modest, quiet, with a strong understanding and rectitude of principle, and, so far as her age and her opportunities allowed, she had taken Mary's part at the court. Perhaps this had recommended her to Henry. Whether he had himself ever seriously thought of dismissing Anne and inviting Jane Seymour to take her place is very dubious; nor has anyone a right to suppose that under such conditions Jane Seymour would have regarded such a proposal as anything but an insult. How soon after the detection of Anne's crime the intention was formed is equally uncertain.[8] Every person at home and abroad regarded it as obvious that he must marry some one, and marry at once. He himself professed to be unwilling, "unless he was constrained by his subjects."

In Chapuys's letters, truth and lies are so intermixed that all his personal stories must be received with distrust. Invariably, however, he believed and reported the most scandalous rumours which he could hear. Everybody, he said, rejoiced at the execution of the putaine; but there were some who spoke variously of the King. He had heard, from good authority, that in a conversation which passed between Mistress Seymour and the King before the arrest of the Concubine, the lady urged him to restore the Princess to the court. The King told her she was a fool; she ought to be thinking more of the children which they might expect of their own, than of the elevation of the other. The lady replied that in soliciting for the Princess, she was consulting for the good of the King, of herself, of her children should she have any, and of all the realm, as, without it, the English nation would never be satisfied. Such a conversation is not in itself likely to have been carried on before Anne's arrest, and certainly not where it could be overheard by others; especially as Chapuys admitted that the King said publicly he would not marry anyone unless the Parliament invited him. One would like to know what the trustworthy authority might have been. Unfortunately for the veracity of his informant, he went on with an account of the King's personal behaviour, the accuracy of which can be tested.

"People," he said, "had found it strange that the King, after having received such ignominy, should have gone about at such a time banqueting with ladies, sometimes remaining after midnight, and returning by the river, accompanied by music and the singers of his chamber. He supped lately," the Ambassador continued, "with several ladies at the house of the Bishop of Carlisle, and showed extravagant joy." The Bishop came the next morning to tell Chapuys of the visit, and added a story of the King having said that he had written a tragedy on Anne's conduct which he offered the Bishop to read.[9] Of John Kite, the Bishop of Carlisle, little is known, save that Sir William Kingston said he used to play "penny gleek" with him. But it happens that a letter exists, written on the same day as Chapuys's, which describes Henry's conduct at precisely the same period.

John Husee, the friend and agent of Lord Lisle, was in London on some errand from his employer. His business required him to speak to the King, and he said that he had been unable to obtain admittance, the King having remained in strict seclusion from the day of Anne's arrest to her execution. "His Grace," Husee wrote, "came not abroad this fortnight, except it was in the garden or in his boat, when it may become no man to interrupt him. Now that this matter is past I hope to see him."[10]

Chapuys was very clever; he may be believed, with limitations, when writing on business or describing conversations of his own with particular persons; but so malicious was he, and so careless in his matters of fact or probability, that he cannot be believed at all when reporting scandalous anecdotes which reached him from his "trustworthy authorities."

It is, however, true that, before the fortnight had expired, the King had resolved to do what the Council recommended—marry Jane Seymour, and marry her promptly, to close further solicitation from foreign Powers. There is no sign that she had herself sought so questionable an elevation. A powerful party in the State wished her to accept a position which could have few attractions, and she seems to have acquiesced without difficulty. Francis and Charles were offering their respective Princesses; the readiest way to answer them without offence was to place the so much coveted hand out of the reach of either. On the 20th of May, the morning after Anne was beheaded, Jane Seymour was brought secretly by water to the palace at Westminster, and was then and there formally betrothed to the King. The marriage followed a few days later. On Ascension Day, the 25th of May, the King, in rejecting the offered match from Francis, said that he was not then actually married. On the 29th or 30th, Jane was formally introduced as Queen.

Chapuys was disappointed in his expectation of popular displeasure. Not a murmur was heard to break the expression of universal satisfaction. The new Queen was a general favourite; everyone knew that she was a friend of the Princess Mary, and everyone desired to see Mary replaced in her rights. Fortunately for the Princess, the attempt at escape had never been carried out. She had remained quietly watching the overthrow of her enemy, and trusting the care of her fortunes to Cromwell, who, she knew, had always been her advocate. She had avoided writing to him to intercede for her, because, as she said, "I perceived that nobody dared speak for me as long as that woman lived who is now gone, whom God in his mercy forgive!"[11] The time had now come for her to be received back into favour. Submission of some kind it would be necessary for her to make; and the form in which it was to be done was the difficulty. The King could not replace in the line of the succession a daughter who was openly defying the law. Cromwell drew for Mary a sketch of a letter which he thought would be sufficient. It was to acknowledge that she had offended her father, to beg his blessing and his forgiveness, and to promise obedience for the future, to congratulate him on his marriage, and to ask permission to wait on the new Queen. He showed the draft to Chapuys, for the Princess to transcribe and send. Chapuys objected that the surrender was, too absolute. Cromwell said that he might alter it if he pleased, and a saving clause was introduced, not too conspicuous. She was to promise to submit in all things "under God." In this form, apparently, the letter was despatched, and was said to have given great satisfaction both to Henry and the new Queen. Now it was thought that Mary would be restored to her rank as Princess. She would be excluded from the succession only if a son or daughter should be born of the new marriage; but this did not alarm Chapuys, for "according to the opinion of many," he said, "there was no fear of any issue of either sex."

On Ascension Day, the Ambassador had been admitted to an audience, the first since the unprosperous discussion at Greenwich. The subject of the treaty with the Emperor had been renewed under more promising auspices. The King had been gracious. Chapuys had told him that the Emperor desired to explain and justify the actions of which the King had complained; but before entering on a topic which might renew unpleasant feelings, he said that the Emperor had instructed him to consult the King's wishes; and he undertook to conform to them. The King listened with evident satisfaction; and a long talk followed, in the course of which the Ambassador introduced the various proposals which the Emperor had made for fresh matrimonial connections. The King said that Chapuys was a bringer of good news; his own desire was to see a union of all Christian princes; if the Emperor was in earnest, he hoped that he would furnish the Ambassador with the necessary powers to negotiate, or would send a plenipotentiary for that particular purpose.

The offer of the Infanta of Portugal for the King himself was, of course, declined, the choice being already made; but Cromwell said afterwards that Don Luis might perhaps be accepted for the Princess, the position of the Princess being the chief point on which the stability of all other arrangements must depend. As to the "General Council," it was not to be supposed that the King wanted to set up "a God of his own," or to separate himself from the rest of Christendom. He was as anxious as any one for a Council, but it must be a Council called by the Emperor as chief of Christian Europe. It is to be observed that Henry, as Head of the Church of England, took upon himself the entire ordering of what was or was not to be. Even the form of consulting the clergy was not so much as thought of. Chapuys could not answer for as much indifference on the Emperor's part. The Council, he thought, must be left in the Pope's hand at the outset. The Council itself, when it assembled, could do as it pleased. He suggested, however, that Cromwell should put in writing his conception of the manner in which a Council could be called by the Emperor, which Cromwell promised to do.

All things were thus appearing to run smooth. Four days later, when the marriage with Jane Seymour had been completed, Chapuys saw Henry again. The King asked him if he had heard further from the Emperor. Chapuys was able to assent. Charles's eager letters had come in by successive posts, and one had just arrived in which he had expressed his grief and astonishment at the conduct of Anne Boleyn, had described how he had spoken to his own Council about the woman's horrible ingratitude, and had himself offered thanks to God for having discovered the conspiracy, and saved the King from so great a danger. Henry made graceful acknowledgments, replied most politely on the offer of the Infanta, for which he said he was infinitely obliged to the Emperor, and conducted the Ambassador into another room to introduce him to the Queen.

Chapuys was all courtesy. At Henry's desire he kissed and congratulated Jane. The Emperor, he said, would be delighted that the King had found so good and virtuous a wife. He assured her that the whole nation was united in rejoicing at her marriage. He recommended the Princess to her care, and hoped that she would have the honourable name of peacemaker.

The King answered for her that this was her nature. She would not for the world that he went to war.

Chapuys was aware that Henry was not going to war on the side of Francis—that danger had passed; but that he would not go to war at all was not precisely what Chapuys wished to hear. What Charles wanted was Henry's active help against the French. The fourth condition of the proposed treaty was an alliance offensive and defensive. Henry merely said he would mediate, and, if France would not agree to reasonable terms, he would then declare for the Emperor.[12]

The Emperor, like many other persons, had attributed the whole of Henry's conduct to the attractions of Anne Boleyn. He had supposed that after his eyes had been opened he would abandon all that he had done, make his peace with the Pope, and return to his old friends with renewed heartiness. He was surprised and disappointed. Mediation would do no good at all, he said. If the King would join him against France, the Emperor would undertake to make no peace without including him, and would take security for the honour and welfare of the realm. But he declined to quarrel with the Pope to please the King; and if the King would not return to the obedience of the Holy See or submit his differences with the Pope to the Emperor and the Council, he said that he could make no treaty at all with him. He directed Chapuys, however, to continue to discuss the matter in a friendly way, to gain time till it could be seen how events would turn.[13]

How events did turn is sufficiently well known. The war broke out—the French invaded Italy; the Emperor, unable to expel them, turned upon Provence, where he failed miserably with the loss of the greater part of his army.

Henry took no part. The state of Europe was considered at length before the English Council. Chapuys was heard, and the French Ambassador was heard; and the result was a declaration of neutrality—the only honourable and prudent course where the choice lay between two faithless friends who, if the King had committed himself to either, would have made up their own quarrels at England's expense.

  1. "Le Roy respondit qu'il avoit trop experimenté en la dicte Concubine, que c'estoit de la nourriture de France." Chapuys à l'Empereur, June 6.—M.S. Vienna.
  2. "Me dict qu'icelluy Baily de Troyes et l'autre Ambassadeur avoient proposé le mariage de l'aisnée fille de France avec ce Roy, mais que c'estoit peine perdue. Car ce Roy ne se marieroit oncques hors de son royaulme, et, luy demandant raison pourquoy, il m'en dit avec assez mine assurance que se venant à mesfaire de son corps une Reine estrangere qui fut de grand sang et parentage, l'on ne pourroit chastier et s'en faire quitte comme il avoit fait de la derniere." Chapuys à l'Empereur.—MS, Vienna, June 6.
  3. Charles V. to Chapuys, May 15, 1536.—MS. Vienna; Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. x. p. 370.
  4. "Qui à la verité est une musique de hault genre et digne de rire."
  5. MS. Vienna.
  6. Chapuys to Granvelle, May 19, 1536.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. X. p. 380.
  7. "In causâ matrimonii et in consistoriis et publico et privatim apud Clementem VII. se omnia quæ potuit pro vestrâ Majestate egisse: et Bononiæ Imperatori per horas quatuor accurate persuadere conatum fuisse, non esse Majestatem vestram per illam causam impugnandam." Sir Greg:ory Casalis to Henry VIII., May 27, 1536.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. x. pp. 406 et seq.
  8. Cromwell, writing to Gardiner to inform him of the marriage, said that "the nobles and Council upon their knees had moved him to it." If their entreaty had been no more than a farce, Cromwell would hardly have mentioned it so naturally in a private letter to a brother Privy Councillor.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. xi, p. 16.
  9. Chapuys to Charles V., May 19, 1536.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol, x. p. 378.
  10. John Husee to Lord Lisle, May 19.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. x. p. 385.
  11. The Princess Mary to Cromwell, May 26, 1536.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic.
  12. Chapuys to Charles V., June 6.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. x. p. 440; Spanish Calendar, vol. v. pp. 137 et seq.
  13. Charles V. to Chapuys, June 30, 1536.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. x. p. 511.