The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon/Chapter 24

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Expectation that Henry would return to the Roman Communion—Henry persists in carrying out the Reformation—The Crown and the clergy—Meeting of a new Parliament—Fresh repudiation of the Pope's authority—Complications of the succession—Attitude of the Princess Mary—Her reluctant submission—The King empowered to name his successor by will—Indication of his policy—The Pilgrimage of Grace—Cost of the Reformation—The martyrs, Catholic and Protestant.

Whether Henry, on the exposure of the character of the woman for whom, in the world's union, he had quarrelled with Rome and broken the union of Christendom, would now reverse his course and return to the communion of the Apostolic See, was the question on which all minds were exercising themselves. The Pope and the European Powers were confident, believing the reports which had reached them of the discontent in England. Cranmer feared it, as he almost confessed in the letter which he wrote to the King when he first heard of the arrest of Anne. She had been conspicuously Lutheran; her family and her party were Lutheran, and the disgrace might naturally extend to the cause which they represented. The King was to show that he had not, as he said himself, "proceeded on such light grounds." The divorce had been the spark which kindled the mine; but the explosive force was in the temper of the English nation. The English nation was weary of a tribunal which sold its decrees for money, or allowed itself to be used as a tool by the Continental Sovereigns. It was weary of the iniquities of its own Church Courts, which had plundered rich and poor at their arbitrary pleasure—of a clergy which, protected by the immunities which Becket had won for them, and restrained by no laws save those which they themselves allowed, had made their lives a scandal and their profession an offence. The property which had been granted them in pious confidence for holy uses was squandered in luxurious self-indulgence; and they had replied to the reforms which were forced upon them by disloyalty and treason. They had been coerced into obedience; they had been brought under the control of the law, punished for their crimes in spite of their sacred calling under which they had claimed exemption, and been driven into the position of ordinary citizens. Their prelates were no longed able to seize and burn ex officio obnoxious preachers, or imprison or ruin under the name of heretics rash persons who dared to speak the truth of them.

In exasperation at the invasion of these time-honoured privileges, they denounced as sacrilege the statutes which had been required to restrain them. They had conspired to provoke the Pope to excommunicate their Sovereign, and solicited the Catholic Powers to invade their country and put the Reformers down with fire and sword. The King, who had been the instrument of their beneficent humiliation, did not intend either to submit the internal interests of the country to the authority of a foreign bishop, or to allow the black regiments at home to recover the power which they had so long abused.

Cromwell's commissioners were still busy on the visitation of the religious houses. Each day brought in fresh reports of their condition. These communities, supposed to be special servants of God, had become special servants of the Devil. The eagerness with which the Pope solicited Henry's return, the assurance that he had always been his friend—had always maintained that Henry was right in the divorce case, when he had a Bull ready in his desk taking his crown from him—was in itself sufficient evidence of the fitness of such a ruler to be the Supreme Judge in Christendom. Just as little could the Emperor be trusted, whose affectations of friendship were qualified by secret reservations. The King had undertaken a great and beneficent work in his own realm and meant to go through with it. The Pope might do as he pleased. The Continental Princes might quarrel or make peace, hold their Councils, settle as they liked their own affairs, in their own way; England was sufficient for herself. He had called his people under arms; he had fortified the coasts; he had regenerated the navy. The nation, or the nobler part of it, he believed to be loyal to himself—to approve what he had done and to be ready to stand by him. He was not afraid of attack from abroad. If there was a rebellious spirit at home, if the clergy were mutinous because the bit was in their mouths, if the Peers of the old blood were alarmed at the growth of religious liberty and were discontented because they could no longer deal with it in the old way, the King was convinced that he was acting for the true interests of the country, that Parliament would uphold him, and that he could control both the ecclesiastics and the nobles. The world should see that the reforms which he had introduced into England were not the paltry accidents of a domestic scandal, but the first steps of a revolution deliberately resolved on and sternly carried out which was to free the island for ever from the usurped authority of an Italian Prelate, and from the poisonous influences within the realm of a corrupt and demoralising superstition.

The call of Parliament after Anne's execution was the strongest evidence of confidence in his people which Henry had yet given. He had much to acknowledge and much to ask. He had to confess that, although he had been right in demanding a separation from his brother's wife, he had fatally mistaken the character of the woman whom he had chosen to take her place. The succession which he had hoped to establish he had made more intricate than before. He had now three children, all technically illegitimate. The Duke of Richmond was the son of the only mistress with whom he was ever known to have been really connected. The Duke was now eighteen years old. He had been educated as a Prince, but had no position recognised by the law. Elizabeth's mother had acknowledged to having committed herself before her marriage with the King, and many persons doubted whether Elizabeth was the King's true daughter. Mary's claim was justly considered as the best, for, though her mother's marriage had been declared illegal, she had been born bonâ fide parentum. What Parliament would do in such extraordinary circumstances could not be foreseen with any certainty, and the elections had to be made with precipitancy and without time for preparation. The writs were issued on the 7th of May. The meeting was to be on the 8th of June. The Crown could influence or control the elections at some particular places. At Canterbury Cromwell named the representatives who were to be chosen,[1] as, till the Reform Bill of 1832, they continued to be named by the patrons of boroughs. Yet it would be absurd to argue from single instances that the Crown could do what it pleased. Even with leisure to take precautions and with the utmost exercise of its powers, it could only affect the returns, in the great majority of the constituencies, through the Peers and landowners, and the leading citizens in the corporations. With only four weeks to act in, a Queen to try and execute, and a King to marry in the interval, no ingenuity and no industry could have sufficed to secure a House of Commons whose subserviency could be counted on, if subserviency was what the King required. It is clear only that, so far as concerned the general opinion of the country, the condemnation of Anne Boleyn had rather strengthened than impaired his popularity. As Queen she had been feared and disliked. Her punishment was regarded as a creditable act of justice, and the King was compassionated as a sufferer from abominable ingratitude.

Little is known in detail of the proceedings of this Parliament. The Acts remain: the debates are lost. The principal difficulties with which it had to deal concerned Anne's trial and the disposition of the inheritance of the Crown. On the matter of real importance, on the resolution of King and Legislature to go forward with the Reformation, all doubts were promptly dispelled. An Act was passed without opposition reasserting the extinction of the Pope's authority, and another taking away the protection of sanctuary from felonious priests. The succession was a harder problem. Day after day it had been debated in the Council. Lord Sussex had proposed that, as all the children of the King were illegitimate, the male should be preferred to the female and the crown be settled on the Duke of Richmond.[2] Richmond was personally liked. He resembled his father in appearance and character, and the King himself was supposed to favour this solution. With the outer world the favourite was the Princess Mary, Both she and her mother were respected for a misfortune which was not due to faults of theirs, and the Princess was the more endeared by the danger to which she was believed to have been exposed through the machinations of Anne. The new Queen was her strongest advocate, and the King's affection for her had not been diminished even when she had tried him the most. He could not have been ignorant of her correspondence with Chapuys: he probably knew that she had wished to escape out of the realm, and that the Pope, who was now suing to him, had meant to bestow his own crown upon her. But her qualities were like his own, tough and unmalleable, and in the midst of his anger he had admired her resolution. Every one expected that she would be restored to her rank after Anne's death. The King had apparently been satisfied with her letter to him. Cromwell was her friend, and Chapuys, who had qualified her submission, was triumphant and confident. He was led to expect that an Act would be introduced declaring her the next heir—nay, he had thought that such an Act had been passed. Unfortunately for him the question of her acknowledgment of the Act of Supremacy was necessarily revived. Had she or had she not accepted it? The Act had been imposed, with the Statute of Treasons attached, as a test of loyalty to the Reformation. It was impossible to place her nearest to the throne as long as she refused obedience to a law essential to the national independence. To refuse was to confess of a purpose of undoing her father's work, should he die and the crown descend to her. She had supposed that "she was out of her trouble" while she had saved her conscience by the reservation in her submission. Chapuys found her again "in extreme perplexity and anger." The reservation had been observed. The Duke of Norfolk, Lord Sussex, a Bishop, and other Privy Councillors, had come with a message to her, like those which had been so often carried ineffectually to her mother, to represent the necessity of obedience. Chapuys said that she had confounded them with her wise answers, and that, when they could not meet her arguments, they "told her that, if she was their daughter, they would knock her head against the wall till it was as soft as a baked apple." In passing through Mary and through Chapuys the words, perhaps, received some metaphorical additions. It is likely enough, however, that Norfolk, who was supporting her claims with all his power, was irritated at the revival of the old difficulties which he had hoped were removed. The Princess "in her extreme necessity" wrote for advice to the Ambassador. The Emperor was no longer in a condition to threaten, and to secure Mary's place as next in the succession was of too vital importance to the Imperialists to permit them to encourage her in scruples of conscience. Chapuys answered frankly that, if the King persisted, she must do what he required. The Emperor had distinctly said so. Her life was precious, she must hide her real feelings till a time came for the redress of the disorders of the realm. Nothing was demanded of her expressly against God or the Articles of Faith, and God looked to intentions rather than acts.

Mary still hesitated. She had the Tudor obstinacy, ind she tried her will against her father's. The King was extremely angry. He had believed that she had given way and that the troubles which had distracted his family were at last over. He had been exceptionally well-disposed towards her. He had probably decided to be governed by the wishes of the people and to appoint her by statute presumptive heir, and she seemed determined to make it impossible for him. He suspected that she was being secretly encouraged. To defend her conduct, as Cromwell ventured to do, provoked him the more, for he felt, truly, that to give way was to abandon the field. Lady Hussey was sent to the Tower; Lord Exeter and Sir William Fitzwilliam were suspended from attendance on the Council; and even Cromwell, for four or five days, counted himself a lost man. Jane Seymour interceded in vain. To refuse to acknowledge the supremacy was treason, and had been made treason for ample reason. Mary, as the first subject in the realm, could not be allowed to deny it. Henry sent for the Judges, to consider what was to be done, and the Court was once more in terror. The Judges advised that a strict form of submission should be drawn, and that the Princess should be required to sign it. If she persisted in her refusal, she would then be liable to the law. The difficulty was overcome, or evaded, in a manner characteristic of the system to which Mary so passionately adhered. Chapuys drew a secret protest that, in submitting, she was yielding only to force. Thus guarded, he assured her that her consent would not be binding, that the Pope would not only refrain from blaming her, but would highly approve. She was still unsatisfied, till she made him promise to write to the Imperial Ambassador at Rome to procure a secret absolution from the Pope for the full satisfaction of her conscience. Thus protected, she disdainfully set her name to the paper prepared by the Judges, without condescending to read it, and the marked contempt, in Chapuys's opinion, would serve as an excuse for her in the future.[3]

While the crisis lasted the Council were in permanent session. Timid Peers were alarmed at the King's peremptoriness, and said that it might cost him his throne. The secret process by which Mary had been brought to yield may have been conjectured, and her resistance was not forgotten, but she had signed what was demanded, and it was enough. In the Court there was universal delight. Chapuys congratulated Cromwell, and Cromwell led him to believe that the crown would be settled as he wished. The King and Queen drove down to Richmond to pay the Princess a visit. Henry gave her a handsome present of money and said that now she might have anything that she pleased. The Queen gave her a diamond. She was to return to the court and resume her old station. One cloud only remained. If it was generally understood that the heir presumptive in her heart detested the measures in which she had formally acquiesced, the country could no longer be expected to support a policy which would be reversed on the King's death. Mary's conduct left little doubt of her real feelings, and therefore it was not held to be safe to give her by statute the position which her friends desired for her. The facility with which the Pope could dispense with inconvenient obligations rendered a verbal acquiescence an imperfect safeguard. Parliament, therefore, did not, after all, entail the crown upon her, in the event of the King's present marriage being unfruitful, but left her to deserve it and empowered the King to name his own successor.

Chapuys, however, was able to console himself with the reflection that the Bastard, as he called Elizabeth, was now out of the question. The Duke of Richmond was ill—sinking under the same weakness of constitution which had been so fatal in the Tudor family and of which he, in fact, died a few weeks later. The prevailing opinion was that the King could never have another child. Mary's prospects, therefore, were tolerably "secure. I must admit," Chapuys wrote on the 8th of July, "that her treatment improves every day. She never had so much liberty as now, or was served with so much state even by the little Bastard's waiting-women. She will want nothing in future but the name of Princess of Wales,[4] and that is of no consequence, for all the rest she will have more abundantly than before."

Mary, in fact, now wanted nothing save the Pope's pardon for having abjured his authority. Chapuys had undertaken that it would be easily granted. The Emperor had himself asked for it, yet not only could not Cifuentes obtain the absolution, but he did not so much as dare to speak to Paul on the subject. The absolution for the murder of an Archbishop of Dublin had been bestowed cheerfully and instantly on Fitzgerald. Mary was left with perjury on her conscience, and no relief could be had. There appeared to be some technical difficulty. "Unless she retracted and abjured in the presence of the persons before whom she took the oath, it was said that the Pope's absolution would be of no use to her." There was, perhaps, another objection. Cifuentes imperfectly trusted Paul. He feared that if he pressed the request the secret would be betrayed and that Mary's life would be in danger.[5]

Time, perhaps, and reflection alleviated Mary's remorse and enabled her to dispense with the Papal anodyne, while Cromwell further comforted the Ambassador in August by telling him that the King felt he was growing old, that he was hopeless of further offspring, and was thinking seriously of making Mary his heir after all.[6]

Age the King could not contend with, but for the rest he had carried his policy through. The first act of the Reformation was closing, and he was left in command of the situation. The curtain was to rise again with the Lincolnshire and Yorkshire rebellion, to be followed by the treason of the Poles. But there is no occasion to tell a story over again which I can tell no better than I have done already, nor does it belong to the subject of the present volume. The Pilgrimage of Grace was the outbreak of the conspiracy encouraged by Chapuys to punish Henry, and to stop the progress of the Reformation; Chapuys's successors in the time of Elizabeth followed his example; and with them all the result was the same—the ruin of the cause which with such weapons they were trying to maintain, and the deaths on the scaffold of the victims of visionary hopes and promises which were never to be made good.

All the great persons whom Chapuys names as willing to engage in the enterprise—the Peers, the Knights, who, with the least help from the Emperor, would hurl the King from his throne, Lord Darcy and Lord Hussey, the Bishop of Rochester, as later on, the Marquis of Exeter, Lord Montague, and his mother—sank one after another into bloody graves. They mistook their imaginations for facts, their passions for arguments, and the vain talk of an unscrupulous Ambassador for solid ground on which to venture into treason. In their dreams they saw the phantom of the Emperor coming over with an army to help them. Excited as they had been, they could not part with their hopes. They knew that they were powerful in numbers. Their preparations had been made, and many thousands of clergy and gentlemen and yeomen had been kindled into crusading enthusiasm. The flame burst out sporadically and at intervals, without certain plan or purpose, at a time when the Emperor could not help them, even if he had ever seriously intended it, and thus the conflagration, which at first blazed through all the northern counties, was extinguished before it turned to civil war. The common people who had been concerned in it suffered but lightly. But the roots had penetrated deep; the conspiracy was of long standing; the intention of the leaders was to carry out the Papal censures, and put down what was called heresy. The rising was really formidable, for the loyalty of many of the great nobles was not above suspicion, and, if not promptly dealt with, it might have enveloped the whole island. Those who rise in arms against Governments must take the consequences of failure, and the leaders who had been the active spirits in the sedition were inexorably punished. In my History of the time I have understated the number of those who were executed. Care was taken to select only those who had been definitely prominent. Nearly three hundred were hanged in all—in batches of twenty-five or thirty, in each of the great northern cities; and, to emphasize the example and to show that the sacerdotal habit would no longer protect treason, the orders were to select particularly the priests and friars who had been engaged. The rising was undertaken in the name of religion. The clergy had been the most eager of the instigators. Chapuys had told the Emperor that of all Henry's subjects the clergy were the most disaffected, and the most willing to supply money for an invasion. They were therefore legitimately picked out for retribution, and in Lincoln, York, Hull, Doncaster, Newcastle, and Carlisle, the didactic spectacle was witnessed of some scores of reverend persons swinging for the crows to eat in the sacred dress of their order. A severe lesson was required to teach a superstitious world that the clerical immunities existed no longer and that priests who broke the law would suffer like common mortals; but it must be clearly understood that, if these men could have had their way, the hundreds who suffered would have been thousands, and the victims would have been the poor men who were looking for a purer faith in the pages of the New Testament.

When we consider the rivers of blood which were shed elsewhere before the Protestant cause could establish itself, the real wonder is the small cost in human life of the mighty revolution successfully accomplished by Henry. With him, indeed, Chapuys must share the honour. The Catholics, if they had pleased, might have pressed their objections and their remonstrances in Parliament; and a nation as disposed for compromise as the English might have mutilated the inevitable changes. Chapuys's counsels tempted them into more dangerous and less pardonable roads. By encouraging them in secret conspiracies he made them a menace to the peace of the realm. He brought Fisher to the block. He forced the Government to pass the Act of Supremacy as a defence against treason, and was thus the cause also of the execution of Sir Thomas More and the Charterhouse Monks.

To Chapuys, perhaps, and to his faithful imitators later in the century—De Quadra and Mendoza—the country owes the completeness of the success of the Reformation. It was a battle fought out gallantly between two principles—a crisis in the eternal struggle between the old and the new. The Catholics may boast legitimately of their martyrs. But the Protestants have a martyrology longer far and no less honourable, and those who continue to believe that the victory won in England in the sixteenth century was a victory of right over wrong, have no need to blush for the actions of the brave men who, in the pulpit or in the Council Chamber, on the scaffold or at the stake, won for mankind the spiritual liberty which is now the law of the world.

  1. Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, June 6, 1536, vol. x. p. 389.
  2. Chapuys to Charles V., June 6, 1536.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. x. p. 441.
  3. Chapuys to Charles V., July 1, 1536.—Spanish Calendar, vol. v. part 2, pp. 184 et seq.
  4. Chapuys to Charles V., July 8, 1536.—Spanish Calendar, vol. v. part 2, p, 221. In using the words, "Princess of Wales," Chapuys adds a curious fact, if fact it be—"Nowhere that I know of," he says, "is the title of Princess given to a King's daughter as long as there is hope of male descent. It was the Cardinal of York who, for some whim or other of his own, broke through the rule and caused Henry's daughter by Catherine to be called 'Princess of Wales.'"
  5. Cifuentes to Charles V., August 4, 1536.—Spanish Calendar, vol. v. part 2, p. 221.
  6. Chapuys to Charles V., August 12, 1536.