The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon/Chapter 4

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Anne Boleyn—Letters to her from the King—The Convent at Wilton—The Divorce—The Pope's promises—Arrival of Campeggio in England—Reception at the Bridewell Palace—Proposal to Catherine to take the veil—Her refusal—Uncertainty of the succession—A singular expedient—Alarms of Wolsey—The true issue—Speech of the King in the City—Threats of the Emperor—Defects in the Bull of Pope Julius—Alleged discovery of a brief supplying them—Distress of Clement.

The marriage with Anne Boleyn was now a fixed idea in Henry's mind. He had become passionately attached to her, though not perhaps she to him. The evidence of his feeling remains in a series of letters to her—how preserved for public inspection no one knows. Some of them were said to have been stolen by Campeggio. Perhaps they were sold to him; at any rate, they survive. A critic in the "Edinburgh Review" described them as such as "might have been written by a pot-boy to his girl." The pot-boy must have been a singular specimen of his kind. One, at any rate, remains to show that, though Henry was in love, he did not allow his love to blind him to his duty as a prince. The lady, though obliged to wait for the full gratification of her ambition, had been using her influence to advance her friends, while Wolsey brought upon himself the rebuke of his master by insufficient care in the distribution of Church patronage. The correspondence throws an unexpected light upon the King's character.

The Abbess of Wilton had died. The situation was a pleasant one. Among the sisters who aspired to the vacant office was a certain Eleanor Carey, a near connection of Anne, and a favourite with her. The appointment rested virtually with the Crown. The Lady Anne spoke to the King. The King deputed Wolsey to inquire into the fitness of the various candidates, with a favourable recommendation of Eleanor Carey's claims. The inquiry was made, and the result gives us a glimpse into the habits of the devout recluses in these sacred institutions.[1]

"As for the matter of Wilton," wrote Henry to Anne, "my Lord Cardinal here had the nuns before him, and examined them in the presence of Master Bell, who assures me that she whom we would have had Abbess has confessed herself to have had two children by two different priests, and has since been kept not long ago by a servant of Lord Broke that was. Wherefore I would not for all the gold in the world clog your conscience nor mine, to make her ruler of a house which is of so ungodly demeanour, nor I trust you would not that, neither for brother nor sister,[2] I should so distain mine honour or conscience. And as touching the Prioress [Isabella Jordan] or Dame Eleanor's elder sister, though there is not any evident cause proved against them, and the Prioress is so old that of many years she could not be as she was named, yet notwithstanding, to do you pleasure I have done that neither of them shall have it, but that some other good and well-disposed woman shall have it, whereby the house shall be better reformed, whereof I assure you it hath much need, and God much the better served."

This letter is followed by another to the Cardinal. Wolsey, in whose hands the King had left the matter, in a second letter which is lost, instead of looking out for the "good and well-disposed woman," though Isabella Jordan's reputation was doubtful, yet chose to appoint her, and the King's observations upon this action of his are worth attending to, as addressed by such a person as Henry is supposed to have been to a Cardinal Archbishop and Legate of the Holy See. Many of the letters signed by the King were the composition of his ministers and secretaries. This to Wolsey was his own.

"The great affection and love I bear you, causeth me, using the doctrine of my Master, quem diligo castigo, thus plainly as now ensueth to break to you my mind, ensuring you that neither sinister report, affection to my own pleasure, interest, nor mediation of any other body beareth part in this case, wherefore whatsoever I do say, I pray you think it spoken of no displeasure, but of him that would you as much good both of body and soul as you would yourself.

"Methinks it is not the right train of a trusty loving friend and servant when the matter is put by the master's consent into his arbitre and judgement—especially in a matter wherein his master hath both royalty and interest, to elect and choose a person who was by him defended. And yet another thing which displeaseth me more. That is to cloke your offence made by ignorance of my pleasure, saying that you expressly knew not my determinate mind in that behalf. Alas, my lord, what can be more evident or plainer than these words, specially to a wise man—'His Grace careth not who, but referreth it all to you, so that none of those who either be or have been spotted with incontinence, like as by report the Prioress hath been in her youth, have it;' and also in another place in the letter, 'And therefore his Highness thinketh her not meet for that purpose;' thirdly, in another place in the same letter by these words, 'And though his Grace speaketh not of it so openly, yet meseemeth his pleasure is that in no wise the Prioress have it, nor yet Dame Eleanor's eldest sister, for many considerations the which your Grace can and will best consider.'

"Ah, my Lord, it is a double offence both to do ill and to colour it too; but with men that have wit it cannot be accepted so. Wherefore, good my Lord, use no more that way with me, for there is no man living that more hateth it. These things having been thus committed, either I must have reserved them in pectore, whereby more displeasure might happen to breed, or else thus soundly and plainly to declare them to you, because I do think that cum amico et familiari sincere semper est agendum, and especially the master to his best beloved servant and friend, for in so doing the one shall be more circumspect in his doing, the other shall declare and show the lothness that is in him to have any occasion to be displeased with him.

"And as touching the redress of Religion [convent discipline], if it be observed and continued, undoubtedly it is a gracious act. Notwithstanding, if all reports be true, ab imbecillis imbecilla expectantur. How be it, Mr. Bell hath informed me that the Prioress's age, personage and manner, præ se fert gravitatem. I pray God it be so indeed, seeing she is preferred to that room. I understand furthermore, which is greatly to my comfort, that you have ordered yourself to Godward as religiously and virtuously as any Prelate or father of Christ's Church can do, where in so doing and persevering there can be nothing more acceptable to God, more honour to yourself, nor more desired of your friends, among the which I reckon myself not the least. . . .

"I pray you, my Lord, think it not that it is upon any displeasure that I write this unto you. For surely it is for my discharge before God, being in the room that I am in, and secondly for the great zeal I bear unto you, not undeserved in your behalf. Wherefore I pray you take it so; and I assure you, your fault acknowledged, there shall remain in me no spark of displeasure, trusting hereafter you shall recompense that with a thing much more acceptable to me. And thus fare you well; advertising you that, thanked be God, I and all my folk be, and have been since we came to Ampthill, which was on Saturday last, July 11, in marvellous good health and clearness of air.

"Written with the hand of him that is, and shall be your loving Sovereign Lord and friend,—Henry R."[3]

Campeggio meanwhile was loitering on his way as he had been directed, pretending illness, pretending difficulties of the road. In sending him at all the Pope had broken his promise to Charles. He engaged, however, that no sentence should be given which had not been submitted first to Charles's approval. The Emperor, anxious to avoid a complete rupture with England, let the Legate go forward, but he directed Mendoza to inform Wolsey that he must defend his aunt's honour; her cause was his and he would hold it as such.[4] Wolsey, though afraid of the consequence of opposing the divorce to himself and the Church, yet at heart had ceased to desire it. Mendoza reported that English opinion was still unfavourable, and that he did not believe that the commission would have any result. The Pope would interpose delays. Wolsey would allow and recognise them. Both Legates would agree privately to keep the matter in suspense. The English Cardinal appeared to be against the Queen, but every one knew that secretly he was now on her side.[5] Catherine only was seriously frightened. She had doubtless been informed of the secret decretal by which the Pope appeared to have prejudged her cause. She supposed that the Pope meant it, and did not understand how lightly such engagements sate upon him. The same Clement, when Benvenuto Cellini reproached him for breaking his word, replied, smiling, that the Pope had power to bind and to loose. Catherine came before long to know him better and to understand the bearings of this singular privilege; but as yet she thought that words meant what they seemed to say. When she heard that Campeggio was actually coming, she wrote passionately to the Emperor, flinging herself upon him for protection. Charles calmed her alarm. She was not, he said, to be condemned without a hearing. The Pope had assured him that the Legates should determine nothing to her detriment. The case should be decided at Rome, as she had desired. Campeggio's orders were to advise that it should be dropped. Apart from his present infatuation, the King was a good Christian and would act as one. If he persisted, she might rely on the Pope's protection. She must consent to nothing which would imply the dissolution of her marriage. If the worst came, the King would be made conscious of his duties.[6]

In the middle of October the Legate arrived. He had been ill in earnest from gout and was still suffering. He had to rest two days in Calais before he could face the Channel. The passage was wild. A deputation of Peers and Bishops waited to receive him at Dover. Respectful demonstrations had been prepared at the towns through which he was to pass, and a state ceremonial was to accompany his entrance into London. But he was, or pretended to be, too sick to allow himself to be seen. He was eight days on the road from the coast, and on reaching his destination he was carried privately in a state barge to the house provided for his residence. Wolsey called the next morning. The King was absent, but returned two days later to the Bridewell palace. There Campeggio waited on him, accompanied by Wolsey. The weather continued to frown. "I wish," wrote Gerardo Molza to the Marchioness of Mantua, "that you could have seen the two Cardinals abreast, one on his mule, the other carried in his chair, the rain falling fast so that we were all drenched." The King, simple man, believed that the documents which he held secured him. The Pope in sending the Legate had acted in the teeth of the Emperor's prohibition, and no one guessed how the affair had been soothed down. The farce was well played, and the language used was what Henry expected. Messer Floriano, one of Campeggio's suit, made a grand oration, setting out the storming of Rome, the perils of the Church, and the misery of Italy, with moving eloquence. The crowd was so dense in the hall of audience that some of the Italians lost their shoes, and had to step back barefoot to their lodgings through the wet streets.

The Legate was exhausted by the exertion, but he was not allowed to rest, and the serious part of the business began at once behind the scenes. He had hoped, as the Emperor said, that the case might be dropped. He found Henry immoveable. "An angel from heaven," he wrote on the 17th of October,[7] "would not be able to persuade the King that his marriage was not invalid. The matter had come to such a pass that it could no longer be borne with. The Cardinal of York and the whole kingdom insisted that the question must be settled in some way." One road out of the difficulty alone presented itself. The Emperor had insisted that the marriage should not be dissolved by Catherine's consent, objecting reasonably that a judgment invalidating it would shake other royal marriages besides hers. But no such judgment would be necessary if Catherine could be induced to enter "lax religion," to take vows of chastity which, at her age and under her conditions of health, would be a mere form. The Pope could then allow Henry to take another wife without offence to any one. The legitimacy of the Princess would not be touched, and the King undertook that the succession should be settled upon her if he had no male heir. The Queen in consenting would lose nothing, for the King had for two years lived apart from her, and would never return to cohabitation. The Emperor would be delivered from an obligation infinitely inconvenient to him, and his own honour and the honour of Spain would be equally untouched.

These arguments were laid before the Queen by both the Legates, and urged with all their eloquence. In the interests of the realm, in the interests of Europe, in the interests of the Church, in her own and her daughter's interest as well, it would have been wiser if she had complied. Perhaps she would have complied had the King's plea been confined, as at first, to the political exigencies of the succession. But the open and premature choice of the lady who was to take her place was an indignity not to be borne. She had the pride of her race. Her obstinacy was a match for her husband's. She was shaken for a moment by the impassioned entreaties of Campeggio, and she did not at once absolutely refuse. The Legate postponed the opening of his court. He referred to Rome for further instructions, complaining of the responsibility which was thrown upon him. Being on the spot he was able to measure the danger of disappointing the King after the secret commission, the secret decretal, and the Pope's private letter telling Henry that he was right. Campeggio wrote to Salviati, after his first interview with Catherine, that he did not yet despair. Something might be done if the Emperor would advise her to comply. He asked Fisher to help him, and Fisher seemed not wholly unwilling; but, after a few days' reflection, Catherine told him that before she would consent she would be torn limb from limb; she would have an authoritative sentence from the Pope, and would accept nothing else; nothing should make her alter her opinion, and if after death she could return to life, she would die over again rather than change it.[8]

Wolsey was in equal anxiety. He had set the stone rolling, but he could not stop it. If Clement failed the King now, after all that he had promised, he might not only bring ruin on Wolsey himself, but might bring on the overthrow of the temporal power of the Church of England. Catherine was personally popular; but in the middle classes of the laity, among the peers and gentlemen of England, the exactions of the Church courts, the Pope's agents and collectors, the despotic tyranny of the Bishops, had created a resentment the extent of which none knew better than he. The entire gigantic system of clerical dominion, of which Wolsey was himself the pillar and representative, was tottering to its fall. If the King was driven to bay, the favour of a good-natured people for a suffering woman would be a poor shelter either for the Church or for him. Campeggio turned to Wolsey for advice on Catherine's final refusal. The Pope, he said, had hoped that Wolsey would advise the King to yield. Wolsey had advised. He told Cavendish that he had gone on his knees to the King, but he could only say to Campeggio that "the King—fortified and justified by reasons, writings, and counsels of many learned men who feared God—would never yield." If he was to find that the Pope had been playing with him, and the succession was to be left undetermined, "the Church would be ruined and the realm would be in infinite peril."

How great, how real, was the dread of a disputed succession, appears from an extraordinary expedient which had suggested itself to Campeggio himself, and which he declares that some perplexed politicians had seriously contemplated. "They have thought," he wrote on the 28th of October, "of marrying the Princess Mary to the King's natural son [the Duke of Richmond] if it could be done by dispensation from His Holiness." The Legate said that at first he had himself thought of this as a means of establishing the succession; but he did not believe it would satisfy the King's desire.[9] If anything could be more astonishing than a proposal for the marriage of a brother and sister, it was the reception which the suggestion met with at Rome. The Pope's secretary replied that "with regard to the dispensation for marrying the son to the daughter of the King, if on the succession being so established the King would abandon the divorce, the Pope would be much more inclined to grant it."[10]

Clement's estimate of the extent of the dispensing power was large. But the situation was desperate. He had entangled himself in the meshes. He had promised what he had no intention of performing. He was finding that he had been trifling with a lion, and that the lion was beginning to rouse himself. Again and again Wolsey urged the dangers upon him. He wrote on the 1st of November to Casalis that "the King's honour was touched, having been so great a benefactor to the Holy See. The Pope would alienate all faith and devotion to the Apostolic See. The sparks of opposition which had been extinguished with such care and vigilance would blaze out to the utmost anger of all, both in England and elsewhere."[11] Clement and his Cardinals heard, but imperfectly believed. "He tells us," wrote Sanga, "that if the divorce is not granted the authority of the Apostolic See in England will be annihilated; he is eager to save it because his own greatness is bound up with ours." The Curia was incredulous, and thought that Wolsey was only alarmed for himself. Wolsey, however, was right. Although opinions might have varied on the merits of the King's request, people were beginning to ask what value as a supreme judge a pope could have, who could not decide on a point of canon law.

The excitement was growing. Certain knowledge of what was going on was confined to the few who had access to the secret correspondence, and they knew only what was meant for their own eyes. All parties, English and Imperial alike, distrusted the Pope. He had impartially lied to both, and could be depended on by neither, except so far as they could influence his fears. Catherine was still the favourite with the London citizens. She had been seen accidentally in a gallery of the Palace, and had been enthusiastically cheered. The King found it necessary to explain himself. On the 8th of November he summoned the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, the Privy Council, and a body of Peers, and laid the situation before them from his own point of view. He spoke of his long friendship with the Emperor, and of his hope that it would not be broken, and again of his alliance with France, and of his desire to be at peace with all the world. "He had wished," he said, "to attach France more closely to him by marrying his daughter to a French prince, and the French Ambassador, in considering the proposal, had raised the question of her legitimacy. His own mind had long misgiven him on the lawfulness of his marriage. M. de Tarbes' words had added to his uneasiness. The succession to the crown was uncertain; he had consulted his bishops and lawyers, and they had assured him that he had been living in mortal sin. … He meant only to do what was right, and he warned his subjects to be careful of forming hasty judgments on their Prince's actions."

Apart from the present question the King was extremely popular, and reports arriving from Spain touched the national pride. There was a talk of calling Parliament. Mendoza and Catherine again urged Charles to speak plainly. The Pope must inhibit Parliament from interfering. The Nuncio in London would present the order, and Parliament, they thought, would submit.[12] They were mistaking the national temper. Mendoza's letters had persuaded the Spanish Council that the whole of England was in opposition to the King. The Spanish Chancellor had said publicly that if the cause was proceeded with there would be war, and "the King would be dethroned by his own subjects." The words were reported to Wolsey, and were confirmed by an English agent, Sylvester Darius, who had been sent to Valladolid on business connected with the truce.[13] Darius had spoken to the Chancellor on the probability of England taking active part with France. "Why do you talk of the King of England?" the Chancellor had answered; "if we wished, we could expel him from his kingdom in three months. What force had the King? his own subjects would expel him. He knew how matters were."[14] It was one thing for a free people to hold independent opinions on the arrangements of their own royal family. It was another to be threatened with civil war at the instigation of a foreign sovereign. Wolsey quoted the dangerous language at a public meeting in London; and a voice answered, "The Emperor has lost the hearts of a hundred thousand Englishmen."[15] A fresh firebrand was thrown into the flames immediately after. The national pride was touched on a side where it was already sensitive from interest. There were 15,000 Flemish artisans in London. English workmen had been jealous of their skill, and had long looked askance at them. The cry rose that they had an army of traitors in their midst who must be instantly expelled. The Flemings' houses were searched for arms, and watched by a guard, and the working city population, traders, shopkeepers, mechanics, apprentices, came over to the King's side, and remained there.

Meantime the cause itself hung fire. A new feature had been introduced to enable Campeggio to decline to proceed and the Pope to withdraw decently from his promises. The original Bull of Pope Julius permitting the marriage had been found to contain irregularities of form which were supposed fatal to it. The validity of the objection was not denied, but was met by the production of a brief alleged to have been found in Spain, and bearing the same date with the Bull, which exactly met that objection. No trace of such a brief could be found in the Vatican Register. It had informalities of its own, and its genuineness was justly suspected, but it answered the purpose of a new circumstance. A copy only was sent to England, which was shown by Catherine in triumph to Henry, but the original was detained. It would be sent to Rome, but not to London; without it Campeggio could pretend inability to move, and meanwhile he could refuse to proceed on his commission. Subterfuges which answer for the moment revenge themselves in the end. Having been once raised, it was absolutely necessary that a question immediately affecting the succession should be settled in some way, and many of the peers who had been hitherto cool began to back the King's demands. An address was drawn up, having among others the Duke of Norfolk's signature, telling the Pope that the divorce must be conceded, and complaints were sent through Casalis againt Campeggio's dilatoriness. The King, he was to say, would not submit to be deluded.

Casalis delivered his message, and describes the effect which it produced. "The Pope," he wrote, "very angry, laid his hand on my arm and forbade me to proceed, saying there was but too good ground for complaint, and he was deluded by his own councillors. He had granted the decretal only to be shown to the King, and then burnt. Wolsey now wished to divulge it. He saw what would follow, and would gladly recall what had been done, even with the loss of one of his fingers."

Casalis replied that Wolsey wished only to show it to a few persons whose secrecy might be depended on. Was it not demanded for that purpose? Why had the Pope changed his mind? The Pope, only the more excited, said he saw the Bull would be the ruin of him, and he would make no more concessions. Casalis prayed him to consider. Waving his arms violently, Clement said, "I do consider. I consider the ruin which is hanging over me. I repent what I have done. If heresies arise, is it my fault? I will not violate my conscience. Let them, if they like, send the Legate back, because he will not proceed. They can do as they please, provided they do not make me responsible."

Did the Pope mean, then, Casalis asked, that the commission should not proceed? The Pope could not say as much as that; he had told Campeggio, he said, to dissuade the King and persuade the Queen. "What harm could there be," Casalis Inquired, "in showing the decretal, under oath, to a few of the Privy Council?"

The Pope said the decretal ought to have been burnt, and refused to discuss the matter further.[16]

  1. Henry VIII. to Anne Boleyn, June or July, 1528.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. part 2, p. 1960.
  2. Eleanor Carey was the sister of Mary Boleyn's husband.
  3. Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv., Introduction, pp. 388–9.
  4. The Emperor to Mendoza, July 5, 1528.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iii. part 2, p. 728.
  5. Mendoza to the Emperor, September 18, 1528.—Ibid. vol. iii. part 2, p. 788.
  6. Charles V. to Queen Catherine, September 1, 1528.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iii. part 2, p. 779.
  7. Campeggio to Salviati and to Sanga, October 17, 1528.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. part 2, pp. 2099–2102.
  8. Campeggio to Salviati, October 26, 1528,—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. part 2, p. 2108.
  9. Campeggio to Sanga, Oct. 28.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. vi. part 2, p. 2113.
  10. Sanga to Campeggio, Dec. –, 1528.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. vi. part 2, p. 2210.
  11. Wolsey to Casalis. Nov. 1, 1528.—Ibid. vol. iv. part 2, p. 2120.
  12. Catherine to Charles V., Nov. 24, 1528.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iii. part 2, p. 855.
  13. Mendoza to Charles V., Dec. 2, 1528.—Ib. p. 862. Jan. 16, 1529.—Ib. p. 878.
  14. Sylvester Darius to Wolsey, Nov. 25, 1528.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. pt. 2, p. 2126.
  15. Du Bellay to Montmorency, Dec. 9, 1528.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. pt. 2, p. 2177.
  16. John Casalis to Wolsey, Dec. 17, 1528.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. part 2, p. 2186.