The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon/Chapter 3

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Anxiety of the Pope to satisfy the King—Fears of the Emperor—Proposed alternatives—France and England declare war in the Pope's defence—Campeggio to be sent to England—The King's account of the Pope's conduct—The Pope's distress and alarm—The secret decretal—Instructions to Campeggio.

The story returns to Orvieto. The dispensation was promised on condition that it should not be immediately acted on.[1] Catherine having refused to acquiesce in a private arrangement, Wolsey again pressed the Pope for a commission to decide the cause in England, and to bind himself at the same time not to revoke it, but to confirm any judgment which he might himself give. "There were secret causes," he said, "which could not be committed to writing which made such a concession imperative: certain diseases in the Queen defying all remedy, for which, as for other causes, the King would never again live with her as his wife."

The Pope, smarting from ill-treatment and grateful for the help of France and England, professed himself earnestly anxious to do what Henry desired. But he was still virtually a prisoner. He had been obliged by the General of the Observants, when in St. Angelo, to promise to do nothing "whereby the King's divorce might be judged in his own dominions." He pleaded for time. He promised a commission of some kind, but he said he was undone if action was taken upon it while the Germans and Spaniards remained in Italy. He saw evident ruin before him, he said, but he professed to be willing to run the hazard rather than that Wolsey should suspect him of ingratitude. He implored the Cardinal, cum suspiriis et lacrymis, not to precipitate him for ever, and precipitated he would be if, on receiving the commission, the Cardinal at once began the process.[2] A fortnight later Casalis described a long conversation with the Pope and Cardinals on the course to be pursued. Henry had desired that a second Legate should be sent from Rome to act with Wolsey. To consent to this would directly compromise the Papal Court. Clement had no objection to the going forward with the cause, but he did not wish to be himself responsible. He signed an imperfect commission not inconsistent with his promise to the General of the Observants. On this Wolsey might act or, if he preferred it, might proceed on his own Legatine authority. For himself, instead of engaging to confirm Wolsey's sentence, he said that no doctor could better resolve the point at issue than the King himself. If he was resolved, said the Pope, let him commit his cause to the Legate, marry again, follow up the trial, and then let a public application be made for a Legate to be sent from the Consistory. If the Queen was cited first, she would put in no answer, save to protest against the place and judges. The Imperialists would demand a prohibition, and then the King could not marry, or, if he did, the offspring would be illegitimate. They would also demand a commission for the cause to be heard at Rome, which the Pope would be unable to refuse. But the King being actually married again, they could not ask for a prohibition. They could only ask that the cause should be re-examined at Rome, when the Pope would give sentence and a judgment could be passed which would satisfy the whole world.[3] This was the Pope's own advice, but he did not wish it to be known that it had come from himself. Casalis might select the Legate to England after the first steps had been taken. Campeggio he thought the fittest, being already an English bishop.[4] At any rate, the Pope bade Casalis say he would do his best to satisfy the King, though he knew that the Emperor would never forgive him.

It is not certain what would have followed had Henry acted on the Pope's suggestion. The judgment which Clement promised might have been in his favour. Clement evidently wished him to think that it would. But he might, after all, have found himself required to take Catherine back. Either alternative was possible. At any rate he did not mean, if he could help it, to have recourse to violent methods. Charles himself, though he intended to prevent, if he could, a legal decision against his aunt, had hinted at the possibility and even desirableness of a private arrangement, if Catherine would agree. Catherine, unfortunately, would agree to nothing, but stood resolutely upon her rights, and Charles was forced to stand by her. Henry was equally obstinate, and the Pope was between the rock and the whirlpool.

The Pope had promised, however, and had promised with apparent sincerity. The Papal states remaining occupied by the Imperial troops, Henry carried out his own part of the engagement by joining France in a declaration of war against the Emperor. Toison d'or and Clarencieulx appeared before Charles at Burgos on the 22nd of January, Charles sitting on his throne to receive their defiance. Toison d'or said that the Emperor had opened Christendom to the Turks, had imprisoned the Pope, had allowed his armies to sack Rome and plunder churches and monasteries, had insulted the holy relics, slain or robbed princes of the Church, cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, outraged nunneries and convents, had encouraged Lutheran heretics in committing these atrocities, &c. For these reasons France declared open war with the Emperor. The English herald—he was accused afterwards of having exceeded his instructions—was almost as peremptory. Henry, in earlier times, had lent Charles large sums of money, which had not been repaid. Clarencieulx said that, unless the Pope was released and the debt settled, the King of England must make common cause with his brother of France. Six weeks' interval was allowed for the Emperor to consider his answer before hostilities on the side of England should commence.

The Emperor replied with calmness and dignity. War with France was inevitable. As to England, he felt like Cicero, when doubting whether he should quarrel with Cæsar, that it was inconvenient to be in debt to an enemy. If England attacked him he said he would defend himself, but he declined to accept the defiance. Mendoza was not recalled from London. At the end of the six weeks the situation was prolonged by successive truces till the peace of Cambray. But Henry had kept his word to the Pope. England appeared by the side of France in the lists as the armed champion of the Papacy, and the Pope was expected to fulfil his promises without disguise or subterfuge.

Clement's method of proceeding with the divorce was rejected. The dispensation and commission which had been amended with a view to it were rejected also as worthless. Dr. Fox and Stephen Gardiner were despatched to Orvieto with fuller powers and with a message peremptory and even menacing. They were again to impress on the Pope the danger of a disputed succession. They were to hint that, if relief was refused in deference to the Emperor, England might decline from obedience to the Holy See. The Pope must, therefore, pass the commission and the dispensation in the form in which it had been sent from England. If he objected that it was unusual, they were to announce that the cause was of great moment. The King would not be defrauded of his expectation through fear of the Emperor. If he could not obtain justice from the Pope, he would be compelled to seek it elsewhere.[5]

The language of these instructions shows that the King and Wolsey understood the Proteus that they were dealing with, and the necessity of binding his hands if he was not to slip from them. It was not now the fountain of justice, the august head of Christendom, that they were addressing, but a shifty old man, clad by circumstances with the robe of authority, but whose will was the will of the power which happened to be strongest in Italy. It was not tolerable that the Emperor should dictate on a question which touched the vital interests of an independent kingdom.

Spanish diplomatists had afterwards to excuse and explain away Clement's concessions on the ground that they were signed when he was angry at his imprisonment, had been extorted by threats, and were therefore of no validity. He struggled hard to avoid committing; himself. The unwelcome documents were recast into various forms. The dispensation was not signed after all, but in the place of it other briefs were signed of even graver importance. The Pope yielded to the demand to send a second Legate to try the cause with Wolsey in England, where it was assumed as a matter of course that judgment would be given for the King. The Legate chosen was Campeggio, who was himself, as was said, an English bishop. The Pope also did express in writing his own opinion on the cause as favourable to the King's plea. What passed at Orvieto was thus afterwards compendiously related by Henry in a published statement of his case.

"On his first scruple the King sent to the Bishop of Rome, as Christ's Vicar, who had the keys of knowledge, to dissolve his doubts. The said Bishop refused to take any knowledge of it and desired the King to apply for a commission to be sent into the realm, authorised to determine the cause, thus pretending that it might no wise be entreated at Rome, but only within the King's own realm. He delegated his whole powers to Campeggio and Wolsey, giving them also a special commission in form of a decretal, wherein he declared the King's marriage null and empowered him to marry again. In the open commission also he gave them full authority to give sentence for the King. Secretly he gave them instructions to burn the commission decretal and not proceed upon it; (but) at the time of sending the commission he also sent the King a brief, written in his own hand, admitting the Justice of his cause and promising sanctissime sub verbo Pontificis that he would never advocate it to Rome."[6]

Engagements which he intended to keep or break according to the turns of the war between Francis and Charles did not press very heavily perhaps on Clement's conscience, but they were not extorted from him without many agonies. "He has granted the commission," Casalis wrote. "He is not unwilling to please the King and Wolsey, but fears the Spaniards more than ever he did. The Friar-General has forbidden him in the Emperor's name to grant the King's request. He fears for his life from the Imperialists if the Emperor knows of it. Before he would grant the brief he said, weeping, that it would be his utter ruin. The Venetians and Florentines desired his destruction. His sole hope of life was from the Emperor. He asked me to swear whether the King would desert him or not. Satisfied on this point, he granted the brief, saying that he placed himself in the King's arms, as he would be drawn into perpetual war with the Emperor. Wolsey might dispose of him and the Papacy as if he were Pope himself."[7]

The Emperor had insisted, at Catherine's desire, that the cause should not be heard in England. The Pope had agreed that it should be heard in England. Consent had been wrung from him, but his consent had been given, and Campeggio was to go and make the best of it. His open commission was as ample as words could make it. He and Wolsey were to hear the cause and decide it. The secret "decretal" which he had wept over while he signed it declared, before the cause was heard, the sentence which was to be given, and he had pledged his solemn word not to revoke the hearing to Rome. All that Clement could do was to instruct the Legate before he started to waste time on his way, and, on his arrival in England, to use his skill to "accommodate matters," and to persuade the Queen—if he found her persuadeable—to save him from his embarrassments by taking the veil. This was a course which Charles himself in his private mind would have recommended, but was too honourable to advise it. The fatal decretal was to be seen only by a very few persons, and then, as Henry said, Campeggio was to burn it. He was instructed also to pass no sentence without first referring back to Rome, and, if driven to extremity, was to find an excuse for postponing a decision; very natural conduct on the part of a weak, frightened mortal—conduct not unlike that of his predecessor, Alexander III., in the quarrel between Becket and Henry II.—but in both cases purely human, not such as might have been looked for in a divinely guided Vicar of Christ.

  1. Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. part 2, p. 1672,
  2. Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. part 2, p. 1672.
  3. Casalis to Wolsey, January 13, 1528.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. part 2, p. 1094.
  4. Three foreigners held English sees, not one of which either of them had probably ever visited. Campeggio was Bishop of Salisbury; Ghinucci, the auditor of the Rota, was Bishop of Worcester; and Catherine's Spanish confessor, who had come with her to England, was Bishop of Llandaff.
  5. Wolsey to Gardiner and Fox, February -, 1528.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. part 2, p. 1740.
  6. Embassy to the German Princes, January 5, 1534.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. vii. p. 10.
  7. Casalis to Peter Vannes, April, 1538.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. part 2, p. 1842.