The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon/Chapter 5

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Demands of the Imperial Agent at Rome—The alleged Brief—Illness of the Pope—Aspirations of Wolsey—The Pope recovers—Imperial menaces—Clement between the anvil and the hammer—Appeal of Henry to Francis—The trial of the cause to proceed—Instructions to Campeggio—Opinion at Rome—Recall of Mendoza—Final interview between Mendoza and the King.

Human pity is due to the unfortunate Pope—Vicar of Christ, supreme judge in Europe, whose decrees were the inspirations of the Holy Ghost—spinning like a whipped top under the alternate lashes of the King of England and the Emperor. He had hoped that his decretal would not be known. It could not be concealed from Mendoza, who discovered, putting the worst interpretation upon it, "that the Pope and King had been endeavouring to intimidate the Queen into retiring into a convent." Finding that he, too, could put no faith in Clement, the Emperor's representative at Rome now forced a new promise from him. The proceedings in England were not to be opened without a fresh direct order from the Pope, and this the Pope was to be forbidden to give. If the King was obstinate and the Queen demanded it, Campeggio was to leave England, and, notwithstanding his engagements to the contrary, Clement was to advocate the cause to Rome. The new brief was sufficient plea. Without it the Legates could come to no conclusion, "the whole right of the Queen being based upon its contents." The Emperor had it in his hands, and by refusing to allow it to be examined, except at Rome, might prevent them from moving.

There was little doubt that the brief had been forged for the occasion. The Pope having sent a commission to England, the King considered that he had a right to the production of documents essential to the case. He required Catherine to write to Charles to ask for it. Catherine did as he desired, and the messenger who carried her letter to the Spanish Court was sworn to carry no private or separate missive from her. Mendoza dared not write by the same hand himself, lest his despatches should be examined. He made the messenger, therefore, learn a few words by heart, telling the Emperor that the Queen's letter was not to be attended to. "We thought," he said, "that the man's oath was thus saved."[1] Thus time drifted on. The new year came, and no progress had been made, though Campeggio had been three months in England. The Pope, more helpless than dishonest, continued to assure the King that he would do all that by law could be required of him, and as much as he could do ex plenitudine potestatis. No peril should prevent him. "If the King thought his resigning the Papacy would conduce to his purpose, he could be content, for the love he bore his Highness, rather than fail to do the same."

If the Pope was so well disposed, the King could not see where the difficulty lay. The Queen had refused his entreaty that she should enter religion. Why should not the Pope, then, allow the decretal to be put in execution? But Cardinal Salviati informed Casalis that a sentence given in virtue of the decretal woukl have no effect, but would only cause the Pope's deposition.[2] Visibly and unpleasantly it became now apparent to Henry to what issues the struggle was tending. He had not expected it. Wolsey had told him that the Pope would yield; and the Pope had promised what was asked; but his promises were turning to vapour. Wolsey had said that the Emperor could not afford to quarrel with him. The King found that war with the Emperor in earnest was likely enough unless he himself drew back, and draw back he would not. The poor Pope was as anxious as Henry. He had spoken of resigning. He was near being spared the trouble. Harassed beyond his strength, he fell ill, and was expected to die; and before Wolsey there was now apparently the strange alternative either of utter disgrace or of himself ascending the chair of St. Peter as Clement's successor. His election, perhaps, was really among the chances of the situation. The Cardinals had not forgiven the sack of Rome. A French or English candidate had a fair prospect of success, and Wolsey could command the French interest. He had boundless money, and money in the Sacred College was only not omnipotent. He undertook, if he was chosen, to resign his enormous English preferments and reside at Rome, and the vacancy of his three bishoprics and his abbey would pour a cataract of gold into the Cardinals' purses. The Bulls for English bishoprics had to be paid for on a scale which startled Wolsey himself. Already archbishop of York, bishop of Winchester, and abbot of St. Albans, he had just been presented to Durham. He had paid 8,000 ducats to "expedite" his Bulls for Winchester. The Cardinals demanded 13,000 ducats for Durham. The ducat was worth five shillings, and five shillings in 1528 were worth fifty shillings of modern money. At such a rate were English preferments bled to support the College of Cardinals; and if all these great benefices were again vacated there would be a fine harvest to be gathered. For a week or two the splendid vision suspended even the agitation over the divorce; but the Pope revived, and the Legates and he had to resume their ungrateful burden.

It was still really uncertain what Clement would do. Weak, impulsive men often leave their course to fate or chance to decide for them. Casalis, when he was able to attend to business again, told him in Wolsey's name that he must take warning from his late danger. "By the wilfully suffering a thing of such high importance to be unreformed to the doing whereof Almighty God worked so openly he would incur God's displeasure and peril his soul." The Imperialists were as anxious as Wolsey, and equally distrustful. In the Sacred College English gold was an influence not to be despised, and Henry had more to give than Charles. Micer Mai, the Imperial agent at Rome, found, as the spring came on, that the Italian Cardinals were growing cold. Salviati insisted to him that Catherine must go into a convent. Casalis denounced the new brief as a forgery, and the Sacred College seemed to be of the same opinion. The fiery Mai complained in the Pope's presence of the scant courtesy which the Ministers of the Emperor were meeting with, while the insolent and overbearing were regaled like the Prodigal Son.[3] The Pope assured him that, come what might, he would never authorise the divorce; but Mai only partially believed him. At trying moments Mai was even inclining to take the same view of the Papacy as Lope de Soria. "At other times," he said, "many things could be got out of the Pope by sheer intimidation; but now that could not be tried, for he would fall into despair, and the Imperialists would lose him altogether. They owed him something for what he had done for them before, otherwise he would be of opinion that it would be for God's service to reduce them to their spiritual powers."[4]

Occasionally Mai's temper broke through, and he used language worth observing. One of the Cardinals had spoken slightingly of the Emperor.

"I did not call on his Holiness," he wrote to Charles, "but sent him a message, adding that, if ever it came to my notice that the same Cardinal, or any member of the College, had dared to speak in such an indecent manner of the Emperor, I took my most solemn oath that I would have him beheaded or burnt alive within his own apartment. I had this time refrained out of respect for his Holiness; but should the insult be repeated I would not hesitate. They might do as they would with their Bulls and other rogueries—grant or refuse them as they liked; but they were not to speak evil of princes, or make themselves judges in the affairs of kingdoms."[5]

This remarkable message was conveyed to the Pope, who seemed rather pleased than otherwise. Mai, however, observed that the revolt of the Lutherans was not to be wondered at, and in what they said of Rome he considered that they were entirely right, except on points of faith.[6]

Cardinals had been roughly handled in the sack of the Holy City at but a year's distance. The possibility was extremely real. The Imperial Minister, it appeared, could still command the services of the Spanish garrisons in the Papal territories if severity was needed, and the members of the Sacred College had good reason to be uneasy; but King Henry might reasonably object to the trial of his cause in a country where the assessors of the supreme judge were liable to summary execution if they were insubordinate. That Charles could allow his representative to write in such terms to him proves that he and Mai, and Henry himself, were in tolerable agreement on Church questions. The Pope knew it; one of his chief fears was that the Emperor, France, England, and the German Princes, might come to an understanding to his own disadvantage. Perhaps it might have been so had not the divorce kept Henry and Charles apart. Campeggio wrote to Sanga on the 3rd of April that certain advances had been made by the Lutherans to Henry, in which they promised to relinquish all heresies on articles of faith, and to believe according to Divine law if he and the King of France would reduce the ecclesiastical state to the condition of the Primitive Church, taking from it all its temporalities. He had told the King this was the Devil dressed in angel's clothing, a mere design against the property of the Church; and that it had been ruled by councils and theologians that it was right for the Church to hold temporal property. The King said those rules had been made by Churchmen themselves, and now the laity must interfere. He said also that Churchmen were said to be leading wicked lives, especially about the Court of Rome.[7]

Growled at on both sides, in terror for himself, in terror for the Church, the Pope drifted on, hoping for some accident to save him which never came, and wishing perhaps that his illness had made an end of him.

The Emperor complained of Campeggio as partial to the King because he held an English bishopric. "If the Pope leaves the succession undetermined," insisted Wolsey, on the other side, "no Prince would tolerate such an injury." "Nothing was done," wrote the Pope's secretary to Campeggio, "and nothing would be done. The Pope was in great trouble between the English and Imperial Ambassadors. He wished to please the King, but the King and Cardinal must not expect him to move till they had forced the Venetians to restore the Papal territories." Stephen Gardiner, who knew Clement well and watched him from day to day, said: "He was a man who never resolved anything unless compelled by some violent affection. He was in great perplexity, and seemed willing to gratify the King if he could, but when it came to the point did nothing. He would be glad if the King's cause could be determined in England by the Legates; and if the Emperor made any suit against what should be done there, they would serve him as they now served the King, and put off the time." So matters would go on, "unless Campeggio would frankly promise to give sentence in the King's favour; otherwise such delays would be found as the counterfeit Brief had caused."[8] Sir Francis Bryan, who was also at the Papal court, wrote to the King that the Pope would do nothing for him, and whoever had told the King that he would, had not done him the best service. "He was very sorry to write thus, but the King must not be fed with their flattering words."[9]

To wait longer on the Pope's action was now seen in England to be useless. The Pope dared not offend the Emperor further, and the Emperor had interposed to prohibit future action. Clement had himself several times suggested that the best way was to decide the case first in England in the Legate's court, and leave Catherine to appeal; he had promised Charles that no judgment should be given in England by the Legates; but he had worn so double a face that no one could say which truly belonged to him. Gardiner and Bryan were recalled. The King, finding the Pope's ingratitude, "resolved to dissemble with him, and proceed on the commission granted to Wolsey and Campeggio."[10] The Cardinal of York encouraged his brother Legate by assuring him that if the marriage was now dissolved means would be found to satisfy the Emperor. Catherine would be left with her state undiminished, would have anything that she desired "except the person of the King." The Emperor's natural daughter might be married to the Duke of Richmond, and all would be well.[11]

So Wolsey wrote, but his mind was less easy than he pretended. Unless Henry was supported actively by the French, he knew that the Pope would fail him in the end; and Francis had been disappointed in the hope that Henry would stand actively by him in the war. Without effectual help from that quarter, Wolsey saw that he was himself undone. The French Ambassador represented to his Court that Wolsey was sincerely attached to the French alliance, that the King had only been induced to enterprise the affair by the assurance which the Cardinal had always given that he had nothing to fear from the Emperor; Wolsey had advanced the divorce as a "means to break off for ever the alliance with the Emperor"; and Francis, by now declaring himself, would confer a very great favour on the King, and would oblige Wolsey as much as if he had made him pope.[12] His master was not only now concerned for the discharge of his conscience and his desire to have issue, but the very safety and independence of England was at stake. He could not have it said that he left the succession to the throne uncleared for the threats of his enemy.[13]

The Duke of Suffolk was despatched to Paris to bring Francis to the point. Francis professed the warmest good-will to his brother of England. He undertook to advise the Pope, He assured Suffolk that if the Emperor attempted force Henry would find him at his side; but further he would not pledge himself. The time was past for a Wolsey patriarchate, and Francis, curiously enough, expressed doubts whether Wolsey was not after all betraying Henry. "There are some," he said, "which the King my brother doth trust in that matter that would it should never take effect. Campeggio told me he did not think the divorce would be brought about, but should be dissembled well enough. When the Cardinal of England was with me, as far as I could perceive, he desired the divorce might take place, for he loved not the Queen; but I advise my brother not to trust any man too much, and to look to his own matters. The Cardinal has great intelligence with the Pope, and Campeggio and they are not inclined to it."[14]

Things could not go on thus for ever. There would have been an excuse for Clement, if with a consciousness of his high office he had refused to anticipate a judgment till the case had been heard and considered. But from the first the right or wrong of the cause itself had been disregarded as of no moment. Nothing had been thought of but the alternate dangers to be anticipated from the King or the Emperor. Had the French driven the Imperialists out of Italy, the divorce would have been granted without further question. The supreme tribunal in Christendom was transparently influenced by no motive save interest or fear. Clement, in fact, had anticipated judgment, though he dared not avow it. He had appointed a commission, and by the secret decretal had ruled what the decision was to be. The decretal could not be produced, but, with or without it, the King insisted that the court should sit. Campeggio had been sent to try the cause, and try it he should. Notice was given that the suit was to be heard at the end of June. Wolsey perhaps had chosen a date not far from the close of term, that the vacation might suspend the process, and give time for further delay.

Since a trial of some kind could not be avoided, final instructions were sent from Rome to Campeggio. "If," wrote Sanga to him, "the Pope was not certain that he remembered the injunctions which he gave him by word of mouth, and which had been written to him many times, he would be very anxious. His Holiness had always desired that the cause should be protracted in order to find some means by which he could satisfy the King without proceeding to sentence. The citation of the cause to Rome, which he had so often insisted on, had been deferred, not because it was doubted whether the matter could be treated with less scandal at Rome than there, but because His Holiness had ever shrunk from a step which would offend the King. But, since Campeggio had not been able to prevent the commencement of the proceedings. His Holiness warned him that the process must be slow, and that no sentence must in any manner be pronounced. He would not lack a thousand means and pretexts, if on no other point, at least upon the brief which had been produced."[15]

According to Casalis the view taken of the general situation at Rome was this.

"The Pope would not declare openly for the Emperor till he saw how matters went. He thought the Emperor would come to Italy, and if there was a war would be victorious, so that it would be for His Holiness's advantage to obtain his friendship beforehand. If peace was made the Emperor would dictate terms, and more was to be hoped from his help than from the French King. The Emperor was the enemy of the Allies, and sought to recover the honour which he lost by the sack of Rome by making himself protector of the Pope."[16]

Wolsey's dream was over, and with it the dreams of Lope de Soria and Micer Mai. The fine project to unite France and England in defence of the Papacy was proving baseless as the sand on which it was built. Henry VIII. was to lead the reform of the Church in England. Charles, instead of beheading cardinals, was to become the champion of the Roman hierarchy. The air was clearing. The parties in the great game were drifting into their natural situations. The fate which lay before Wolsey himself, the fate which lay before the Church of England, of the worst corruptions of which he was himself the chief protector and example, his own conscience enabled him too surely to foresee.

Mendoza was recalled, and before leaving had an interview with the King. "The Emperor," he said, "was obliged to defend his aunt. It was a private affair, which touched the honour of his family." The King answered that the Emperor had no right to interfere. He did not meddle himself with the private affairs of other princes. Mendoza was unable to guess what was likely to happen. The suit was to go on. If a prohibitory mandate arrived from the Pope, it was uncertain whether Wolsey would obey it, and it was doubtful also whether any such mandate would be sent. He suspected Clement of possible deliberate treachery. He believed that orders had been sent to the Legate to proceed, and give sentence in virtue of the first commission. In that case the sentence would certainly be against the Queen, and not a moment must be lost in pressing an appeal to Rome.[17]

  1. Mendoza to Charles V., Feb. 4, 1529.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iii, part 2.
  2. Knight and Benet to Wolsey, Jan. 8, 1529.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. part 3, p. 2262.
  3. Mai to Charles V., April 3, 1529.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iii. part 2, p. 973.
  4. Micer Mai to the Emperor, May 11, 1529.—Ibid. vol. iv. part 1, p. 20.
  5. In Spanish the words are even more emphatically contemptuous: "Y que ennoramala que se curasen de sus bulas y de sus bellaquerias, si las querian dar ó no dar, y que no pongan lengna en los reyes y querir ser jueces de la subjeccion de los reynos."
  6. Micer Mai to the Emperor, June 5, 1529.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iv. part 1, p. 60.
  7. Campeggio to Sanga, April 3, 1529.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. p. 2379.
  8. Gardiner to Henry VIII., April 21.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. p. 2415.
  9. Bryan to Henry VIII.—Ibid. p. 2418.
  10. Wolsey to Gardiner, May 5, 1529.—Ibid. p. 2442.
  11. Campeggio to Salviati, May 12, 1529.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, p. 2451.
  12. Du Bellay to Montmorency, May 22, 1529.—Ibid. vol. iv. p. 2469.
  13. Ibid. May 28, 1529, p. 2476–7.
  14. The Duke of Suffolk to Henry VIII., June 4, 1529.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. p. 2491.
  15. Sanga to Campeggio, May 29, 1529.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. p. 2479.
  16. Casalis to Wolsey, June 13, 1529.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, pp. 2507—8.
  17. Mendoza to Charles V., June 17, 1529.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iv. part 1, p. 96.