The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon/Chapter 8

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Hope of Wolsey to return to power—Anger of Anne Boleyn and the Duke of Norfolk—Charles V. at Bologna—Issue of a prohibitory brief—The Pope secretly on Henry's side—Collection of opinions—Norfolk warns Chapuys—State of feeling in England—Intrigues of Wolsey—His illness and death.

The momentous year of 1529 wore out. Parliament rose before Christmas; Peers and Commons dispersed to their homes; and the chief parties in the drama were still undetermined what next to do. The Duke of Norfolk was afraid of Wolsey's return to power. It was less impossible than it seemed. A parliamentary impeachment, though let fall, ought to have been fatal; but none knew better than Wolsey by how transitory a link the parties who had combined for his ruin were really held together. More and Darcy had little sympathy with the advanced Reformers whose eyes were fixed on Germany. They agreed in cutting down the temporal encroachments of the clergy; they agreed in nothing besides. The King had treated Wolsey with exceptional forbearance. He had left him the Archbishopric of York, with an income equal in modern money to eight or ten thousand pounds a year, and had made him large presents besides of money, furniture, and jewels. Finding himself so leniently dealt with, the Cardinal recovered heart, and believed evidently that his day was not over. In a letter to Gardiner, written in January, 1530, he complained as a hardship of having been made to surrender Winchester and St. Albans. He had not "deserved to lose them," he said, "and had not expected to lose them on his submission. His long services deserved at least a pension."[1] The King agreed, or seemed to agree; for a further grant of 3,000 crowns was allowed him, charged on the See of Winchester. Anne Boleyn was furious. The Duke of Norfolk swore that "sooner than suffer Wolsey's return to office he would eat him up alive."[2] Though he had never seen his diocese, the Cardinal was making no haste to go thither. He lingered on at Esher, expecting to be sent for, and it is evident from the alarm of his rivals that there was real likelihood of it. The Lady Anne so hated him that she quarrelled with her uncle Norfolk for not having pressed his attainder. Catherine liked him equally ill, for she regarded him as the cause of her sufferings. He had been "disevangelised," as Norfolk called it; but Henry missed at every turn his dexterity and readiness of hand. He had monopolised the whole business of the realm; the subordinate officials everywhere were his creatures, and the threads of every branch of administration had centred in his cabinet; without him there was universal confusion. The French Court was strongly in his favour. He had himself made the Anglo-French alliance; and the Anglo-French alliance was still a necessity to Henry, if he meant to defy the Emperor and retain an influence at Rome. The King wished, if he could, to keep on terms with the Pope, and Wolsey, if any one, could keep the Papal Court within limits of moderation.

The situation was thus more critical than ever. Catherine knew not what to look for. Those among the peers who, like Norfolk, would naturally have been her friends, and would have preferred that the divorce should never have been spoken of, yet saw no reason why on a private ground the Emperor should light up a European war again. They conceived that by protesting he had done enough for his honour, and that he ought to advise his aunt to give way. According to Chapuys, attempts were privately made to obtain a declaration of opinion from the House of Commons before Parliament rose.[3] He says that the attempts were unsuccessful. It may have been so.

But Chapuys could not hope that the unwillingness would last. Charles was determined to stand by Catherine to all extremities. Henry was threatening to marry his mistress whether the Pope consented or not, professing to care not a straw, and almost calling the Pope a heretic. The Pope did not wish to be a party to a scandal, but also would be sorry to see the King lose all submission and reverence to the See of Rome. For himself, the Emperor said he could not see how the affair would end, "but he was certain that Henry would persist, and war would probably come of it." He directed his brother Ferdinand to avoid irritating the German Lutherans, as France might probably take part with England.[4] Fresh efforts were made to persuade Catherine to take the veil. They were as unsuccessful as before.[5]

The Emperor was now in Italy. He had gone to Bologna for his coronation on the conclusion of the Peace of Cambray, and the Pope was to be made to feel the weight of his Imperial presence. Henry used the occasion to send a deputation to Bologna, composed of the Earl of Wiltshire, Anne's father, who was personally known to Charles, Dr. Cranmer, then coming into prominence, and Stokesly, the Bishop of London, who, having been first on Catherine's side, had been converted. They were directed to lay before the Emperor the motives for the King's action, to protest against his interference, and to explain the certain consequences if he persisted in supporting the Queen.

The Emperor gave a cold answer, and declined to hear the Earl's instructions, while the Pope, the Earl said, was led by the Emperor, and dared not displease him. The second act of the drama was now to open, and Clement was made to strike the first blow. In consequence of the reports from Catherine and Chapuys that Henry was collecting the opinions of the canonists of Europe, and intended to act on them if favourable, a brief was issued on the 7th of March ordering the King to restore Catherine to her rights, and prohibiting him from making a second marriage while the suit was undetermined. The divines and lawyers of Catholic Europe were at the same time threatened with excommunication if they presumed to declare themselves favourable to the divorce. But though the voice was Clement's, the hand was the Emperor's. Clement was being dragged along against his will, and was still "facing both ways" in honest or dishonest irresolution. While issuing the brief under compulsion, he said precisely the opposite in his communication with the French Ambassador, the Bishop of Tarbes. The Ambassador was able to assure his own master that the Pope would never give sentence in Catherine's favour. In direct contradiction of the brief, the Bishop wrote "that the Pope had told him more than three times in secret he would be glad if the marriage between Henry and Anne was already made, either by dispensation of the English Legate or otherwise, provided it was not by his authority or in diminution of his powers of dispensation and limitation of divine law."[6] In England the Pope had still his own Nuncio—a Nuncio who, as Chapuys declared, was "heart and soul" with the King. He was the brother of Sir Gregory Casalis, Henry's agent at Rome, and Henry was said to have promised him a bishopric as soon as his cause should be won. The Pope could not have been ignorant of the disposition of his own Minister.

Chapuys reported a mysterious State secret which had reached him through Catherine's physician. The Smalcaldic League was about to be formed among the Protestant Princes of Germany. Francis was inviting the King to support them and to join with himself in encouraging them to dethrone the Emperor; the King was said to have agreed on the ground that the Pope and the Emperor had behaved ill to him, and the probability was that both France and England in the end would become Lutheran.

Had there been nothing else, the Queen's sterility was held a sufficient ground for the divorce. If she had been barren from the first, the marriage would have been held invalid at once. Now that the hope of succession was gone, the Pope, it was said, ought to have ended it.[7]

The King had been busy all the winter carrying out his project of collecting the opinions of the learned. The Pope's prohibition not having been issued in England, his own Bishops, the Universities, and the canonists had declared themselves in favour of the divorce. The assent had not in all instances been given very willingly. Oxford and Cambridge had attempted a feeble resistance, and at Oxford the Commissioners had been pelted with stones. Still, given it had been, and the conservative Peers and gentry were coming to the same conclusion. The King was known to be wishing to recall Wolsey. The return of Wolsey to power might imply the acceptance of the French policy; perhaps the alliance with the Lutherans—at any rate, war with the Emperor. The Duke of Norfolk and his friends were English aristocrats, adherents of the old traditions, dreading and despising German revolutionists; but they believed that the King and the Emperor could only be drawn together by Charles's consent to the divorce. The King, Norfolk said to Chapuys, was so much bent on it that no one but God could turn him. He believed it imperative for the welfare of the realm that his master should marry again and have male succession; he would give all that he possessed for an hour's interview with the Emperor; if his Majesty would but consent to the marriage, the friendship between him and the King would then be indissoluble;[8] the divorce was nothing by the side of the larger interests at issue; "the King," it was rumoured, "had written, or was about to write, to the Archbishop of Canterbury, that if the Pope persisted in refusing justice, his own and all Church authority would be at an end in England;" the nobles and people, provoked and hurt at the advocation of the suit to Rome, were daily more and more incensed against Churchmen, and would become Lutherans in the end.[9] The Pope had confessed that the presence of the Imperial army in Italy left him no liberty. If revolution came, the Emperor would be the cause of it. The Duke spoke with the indignation of an Englishman at a rumour that the Emperor had "threatened to use all his power in the Queen's support." Such menaces, he said, were useless, and the nation would not endure them. Foreign princes had no authority over English kings.

Chapuys did not mend matters by saying that the Emperor was not thinking of employing force, for he did not believe that the King would give occasion for it. The Emperor's interference, indeed, would be unnecessary, for the Duke must be aware that if the divorce was proceeded with there would be a civil war in England.[10] Chapuys was vain of his insight into things and characters. Like so many of his successors, he mistook the opinion of a passionate clique of priests and priest-ridden malcontents for the general sentiment of the nation. They told him, as they told other Spanish ambassadors after him, that all the world thought as they did. Fanatics always think so; and the belief that they were right proved in the end the ruin of the Spanish empire. In the present instance, however, Chapuys may be pardoned for his error. Norfolk imagined that Wolsey was scheming for a return to power on the old anti-Imperial lines. Wolsey was following a more dangerous line of his own. Impatient with the delay in his restoration, he imagined that by embroiling matters more fatally he could make his own help indispensable; and he was drifting into what can only be called treachery—treachery specially dishonourable to him. Wolsey, the originator of the divorce and the French alliance, had now become the friend of Catherine and the secret adviser of Chapuys. He had welcomed, had perhaps advised, the issue of the prohibitory Papal brief. Copies of it were sent for from Flanders to be shown in England. "The Queen," wrote Chapuys on the 10th of May,[11] "is now firmer than ever, and believes the King will not dare make the other marriage; if he does, which may God prevent, I suspect he will repent and be thankful to return to his first marriage, if by so doing he could be freed from his second. This is the opinion of Cardinal Wolsey and of many others. The Cardinal would have given his archbishopric that this had been done two years ago. He would have been better revenged on the intrigue which has ruined him."

These words, taken by themselves, prove that Wolsey was now in the confidence of Catherine's friends, but would not justify further inference. Another letter which follows leaves no room for doubt.

On the 15th of June Chapuys writes again.[12] "I have a letter from the Cardinal's physician, in which he tells me that his master, not knowing exactly the state of the Queen's affairs, cannot give any special advice upon them; but with fuller information would counsel and direct as if he was to gain Paradise by it, as on her depended his happiness, honour, and peace of mind. As things stood he thought that the Pope should proceed to the weightier censures, and should call in the secular arm; there was want of nerve in the way in which things were handled."[13] The calling in the secular arm meant invasion and open war. To advise it was treasonable in any English subject. There may be circumstances under which treason of such a kind might be morally defended. No defence, moral or political, can be made for Wolsey; and it was the more discreditable because at this time he was professing the utmost devotion to his King, and endeavouring to secure his confidence. Three different petitions Norfolk discovered him to have sent in, "desiring as much authority as ever he had." Norfolk no doubt watched him, and may have learnt enough to suspect what he was doing. The whispers and the messages through the intriguing physician had not gone unobserved. The King persisted in his generous confidence, and could not be persuaded that his old friend could be really treacherous,[14] but he consented to send him down to his diocese. Wolsey went, still affecting his old magnificence, with a train of six hundred knights and gentlemen; but he never reached his cathedral city. Chapuys heard, to his alarm, that the physician was arrested and was in the Tower. He congratulated himself that, were all revealed which had passed between him and Wolsey, nothing could be discovered which would compromise his own safety. But it was true that Wolsey's physician had betrayed his master, revealing secrets which he had bound himself never to tell. He had confessed, so Chapuys learnt, that the Cardinal had advised the Pope to excommunicate the King, if he did not send away the "Lady" from the court, hoping thus "to raise the country and obtain the management."[15] Too evidently the Cardinal had been intriguing, and not honourably, merely for his own purposes. He might have persuaded himself that the divorce would be injurious to the country; but after the part which he had played it was not for him to advise the Pope to strike at his master, whom he had himself tempted to go so deep with it. The King was convinced at last. Orders were sent down to arrest him and bring him back to London. He knew that all was now over with him, and that he would not be again forgiven. He refused to take food, and died on his way at Leicester Abbey on St. Andrew's Day. He was buried, it was observed, in the same church where the body lay of Richard III. One report said that he had starved himself; another that he had taken poison. Chapuys says "that he died like a good Christian, protesting that he had done nothing against the King." His designs had failed, whatever they might have been, and he ended his great career struggling ineffectually to conjure back into the vase the spirit which he had himself let loose.

  1. Wolsey to Gardiner, Jan. 1530.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. p. 2763.
  2. Chapuys to Charles V., Feb. 6, 1530.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iv. pp. 449–50.
  3. Chapuys to Charles V., Jan. 31, 1529.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iv. p. 387.
  4. Charles V. to Ferdinand, Jan. 11, 1530.—Ibid. vol. iv. part 1, pp. 405–6.
  5. Chapuys to Charles V., Feb. 6, 1530.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. p. 2780.
  6. Bishop of Tarbes to Francis I., from Bologna, March 27, 1530.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. p. 2826.
  7. Chapuys to Charles V., Dec. 31, 1529.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iv. part 1, p. 394.
  8. Chapuys to Charles V., Jan. 12, 1530.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iv. part 1, p. 417.
  9. Chapuys to Charles V., Jan. 20, 1530.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iv. part 1, p. 436.
  10. Ibid. April 23, 1530, p. 511.
  11. Chapuys to Charles V., April 23, 1530.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iv. part 1, p. 533.
  12. Ibid. p. 600.
  13. "J'ay reçeu lettres du medicin du Cardinal, par lesquelles il m'advertit que son maystre pour non sçavoir en quelles termes sont les affaires de la Reyne, il ne scauroit particulierement quel conseil donner et que estant informe, il y vouldroit donner conseil et addresse comme ce estoit pour gagner paradis. Car de la depend son bien, honneur et repoz, et qu'il lui semble pour maintenant que l'on debvroyt proceder a plus grandes censures et a la invocation du bras seculier. Car maintenant il n'y a nul nerf."
  14. T. Arundel to Wolsey, Oct. 16, 1530.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. p. 3013.
  15. Chapuys to Charles V., Nov. 27, 1530.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iv. part 1, p. 3035.