The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon/Chapter 9

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Danger of challenging the Papal dispensing power—The Royal family of Spain—Address of the English Peers to the Pope—Compromise proposed by the Duke of Norfolk—The English Agents at Rome—Arrival of a new Nuncio in England—His interview with the King—Chapuys advises the King's excommunication—Position of the English clergy—Statute of Provisors—The clergy in a Præmunire—Remonstrances of the Nuncio—Despair of Catherine—Her letter to the Pope—Henry prepares for war—The introduction of briefs from Rome forbidden—Warnings given to the Spanish Ambassador and the Nuncio.

The question whether the Pope had power to license marriages within the forbidden degrees affected interests immeasurably wider than the domestic difficulties of Henry VIII. Innumerable connections had been contracted, in reliance upon Papal dispensations, the issue of which would be illegitimate if the authority was declared to be insufficient. The Emperor himself was immediately and personally concerned. Emmanuel of Portugal had been three times married. His first wife was Isabel, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, Catherine's sister and Charles's aunt. His second wife was her sister Maria; his third, Charles's sister Eleanor. Charles's own Empress was the child of the second of these marriages, and they had all been contracted under dispensations from Rome. A sudden change of the law or the recognition in a single instance that the Pope's authority in such matters might be challenged would create universal disturbance; and it was not for Catherine's sake alone that the Emperor had so peremptorily resisted Henry's demand. The difficulty would have been evaded had Catherine agreed to take the vows; and Henry himself, when Catherine refused, had been so far conscious of the objection that he had hitherto based his demand on the irregularity of the original Bull of Pope Julius. Clement had said often that a way could be found if Charles would consent; but Charles had not consented. In England, the marriage having been once challenged, a decision of some kind was necessary to avoid a disputed succession, and larger issues had now to be raised. The Emperor having dismissed the English Embassy at Bologna with scant courtesy, the Pope, as we have seen, had fallen back secretly on his old wish that Henry would take the matter into his own hands, disregard the inhibition, and marry as he pleased, without throwing the responsibility on himself. Henry, however, after the assurances which the Pope had given him, was determined that he should not escape in this way. He had gained or extorted a favourable opinion from his own learned corporations. Francis had assisted him to a similar opinion from the University of Paris. Confident in these authorities, a great body of English peers, spiritual and temporal, now presented a formal demand to Clement that the King's petition should be conceded, and intimated that if it was again refused they must seek a remedy for themselves. Wolsey himself signed, for the petition was drawn in the summer before his death. Archbishop Warham signed, followed by bishops, abbots, dukes, earls, and barons. Some, doubtless, had to strain their consciences, but the act as a whole must be taken as their own. The King, unless he was supported by the people, had no means of forcing them or of punishing them if they refused. Norfolk still laboured desperately to work upon Chapuys. He told him, before the address was despatched, that, as there seemed no other way of bringing the business to an end, he would sacrifice the greater part of what he owned in the world if God would be pleased to take to himself the Queen and his niece also,[1] for the King would never enjoy peace of mind till he had made another marriage, for the relief of his conscience and the tranquillity of the realm, which could only be secured by male posterity to succeed to the crown.

The King, Norfolk said, could not plead at Rome, which was garrisoned by a Spanish army, and the Pope would do the Emperor's bidding if it was to dance in the streets in a clown's coat; the Queen objected to a trial in England; but could not a neutral place be found with impartial judges? Might not the Cardinal of Liége be trusted, and the Bishop of Tarbes?

The blunt and honest Norfolk was an indifferent successor to the dexterous Cardinal. To wish that Catherine and Anne Boleyn were both dead was a natural, but not a valuable, aspiration. A neutral place of trial was, no doubt, desirable, and the Cardinal of Liége might be admissible, but de Tarbes would not do at all. "He had been one of the first," Chapuys remarked, "to put the fancy in the King's head."[2]

At Rome the diplomatic fencing continued, the Pope secretly longing to "commit some folly" and to come to terms with Henry, while the Imperial agents kept their claws fixed upon him. In October Mai reported that Henry's representatives were insisting that Clement should dissolve the marriage without legal process, on the ground that the kingdom must have an heir, and because the King protested that he was living in mortal sin. If this could not be done, the Pope should at least promise that if the King married he should not be proceeded against. The Pope seemed too much inclined to listen;[3] but with Mai at his shoulder, he could not afford to be valiant. He was made to answer that he had done his best; but he could not reject the Queen's appeal; the King had not named a proctor to appear for him, and therefore delay had been unavoidable; the threat of the Peers in their address that unless the divorce was granted they would seek a remedy elsewhere, was unworthy of them, and could not have been sanctioned by the King; he had always wished to comply with the King's requests when it could be done with justice.[4]

True to his policy of doing nothing and trusting to time, Clement hoped to tire Henry out by smooth words and hopes indirectly conveyed; but he was slowly swept on by the tide, and, when forced to act at all, had to act at Mai's dictation. The Nuncio in England had been too openly on Henry's side. A change was necessary. John Casalis was recalled. The Baron de Burgo was sent to succeed him, who was expected to be of sterner material. Chapuys had ascertained from two legal friends in the House of Commons that, when the next session opened, the divorce would be brought before Parliament, and that Parliament would stand by the King; also that M. du Bellay had come from Paris with promises from Francis to settle matters with the Pope afterwards, if the King cut the knot and married.[5] Unless the Emperor gave way, of which there was no hope, or unless the Pope dared the Emperor's displeasure, to which Clement was as disinclined as ever, a breach with the Papacy seemed now unavoidable. His Holiness still hoped, however, that there might be a third alternative.

The new Nuncio reached England in the middle of September. He reported briefly that at his first interview the King told him that, unless the cause was committed to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the English Bishops, he would act for himself, since he knew that the Pope had promised the Emperor to declare for the Queen. Chapuys supplied the Emperor with fuller particulars of the interview. The Nuncio had declared to the King that, in view of the injury likely to ensue to the authority of the Church, "his Holiness would rather die or resign the Papacy than that the cause should not be settled to the mutual satisfaction of those concerned in it." The King, instead of replying graciously, as the Nuncio expected, had broken into violent abuse of the Pope himself and the whole Roman Court. The Church, Henry had said, required a thorough reformation, and the Church should have it. The Pope alone was to blame for the difficulty in which he found himself. He had sent him a brief from Orvieto, admitting the divorce to be a necessity, and now he had promised the Emperor, as he knew from good authority, that judgment should be given for the Queen. He would not endure such treatment. He would never consent that the cause should be decided at Rome, or in any place where either Pope or Emperor had jurisdiction. It was an ancient privilege of England, "that no cause having its origin in that kingdom should be advoked to another." If the Pope would not do him justice, he would appeal to his Parliament, which was about to assemble, and if the Emperor threatened him with war, he hoped to be able to defend himself. The Nuncio had deprecated precipitate action. If the King would only do nothing, the Pope, he said, would pause also, till an amicable settlement could be arrived at; but the King would promise nothing; "he would act as seemed best to himself."

Henry being thus peremptory, Chapuys and the Nuncio had to consider what was to be done. The Pope, before the Nuncio's despatch, had received private advices from Wolsey, of which the Baron de Burgo had been informed. The evil, Wolsey had admitted, was too far gone for gentle treatment: it needed cautery and incision; but they must proceed cautiously. If the Pope used threats, the King would go at once to Parliament; there would then be war, in which France would take a part. Might not a personal interview be brought about between the King and the Emperor? The Nuncio could not see his way, but was willing to be guided by Chapuys. Chapuys was for instant action on the Pope's part. Moderation, he said, was useless. He believed (of course Wolsey had told him so) that, if the Pope would deliver sentence at Rome immediately, the King would find no one in the realm, or out of it, to help him in a quarrel against the Church. The responsibility ought not to be thrown upon the Emperor. The Pope must speak, and all good Catholics would be at his side.[6] The Nuncio agreed. The clergy in England were irritated and alarmed, and the opportunity was favourable. The Nuncio and the Ambassadors decided between them that the Pope was to be advised to end the cause at once, threaten the King with excommunication, and let a copy of the brief be in England before Parliament opened.

Chapuys, well as he thought that he understood England, had something to learn about it which was to be a disagreeable surprise. He had imagined that the Pope's authority, when boldly asserted there, had never been successfully resisted. Tradition remembered Anselm and Becket. It had forgotten the legislation of the Edwards and of Richard II. According to Chapuys, the Pope was to issue a brief forbidding Parliament to meddle in the divorce case. There were laws on the statute book which forbade the interference of the Pope under any circumstances in the internal affairs of the English realm. Should the Pope, by bull or brief, by presentation to offices of the Church or by delegation of his authority, attempt to exercise direct jurisdiction in England to the prejudice of the rights of the Crown, all persons who introduced such bulls or briefs, who recognized the Pope's pretensions or acted on his orders, fell under Præmunire—a vague but terrible consequence, almost as fatal as a proved charge of treason. The statutes had been long obsolete. The sword was in its scabbard. Wolsey had forgotten their existence when he sought and accepted the position of Legate of the Holy See. Henry had forgotten them when he applied for a Legatine commission to try his cause in London. The clergy who had claimed to be independent of the State, to be an imperium in imperio with the Pope at their head, the officials who had made the name of a Church court execrated in every county in England—all had forgotten them. But the Acts themselves were unrepealed, and survived as a monument of the spirit of a past generation. Doubtless it was known that the Pope was being urged to violence. Doubtless it was known that large numbers of the clergy were prepared to stand by him, in terror at the threatened Reformation. The blow was to be parried by an appeal to the historical precedents of the realm. These impatient persons were to learn that, instead of joining in attack upon the King, they would have enough to do to purchase their pardons for their own offences. The well-tempered steel sprang to light again bright as ever, and while the Nuncio was dreaming of excommunication and interdict, he learnt to his astonishment that the subject coming before Parliament was not the divorce of the Queen, but the position of the whole spiritualty of the realm.

By recognising Wolsey as Legate from the Holy See the entire clergy were found to be under Præmunire. On the divorce, perhaps, or on excommunication arising out of it, there might still have been a difference of opinion in Parliament; but the Papal authority was now to be argued there on the lines of the past development of English liberty. Notice of what was coming was given at the beginning of October by a proclamation warning all persons of the illegality of introducing briefs from Rome. The Nuncio rushed to the council chamber; he saw the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk; he asked passionately what was meant? what was the Pope accused of? what English privileges had he violated? why had he not been warned beforehand? The two Dukes answered "that they cared nothing for Pope or Popes in England—not even if St. Peter himself came to life again. The King was Emperor and Pope in his own dominions. The Pope was alienating the English people, and, if he wished to recover their affection, he must deserve it by attending to their petitions."[7]

The Nuncio assumed a bold face and told them they would find themselves mistaken if they thought they could intimidate the Holy See. He applied to the King. Henry told him that nothing had been published to the Pope's injury. He was merely using his prerogative to guard against opposition to the ordinances which he had made, or was about to make, for the reformation of the clergy. He had gone promptly to work, lest the Pope should issue an inhibition. The Nuncio knew not what to make of it. Queen Catherine was greatly disturbed; she feared the edict was a proof that the King was not afraid of the Pope after all. On the whole, the Nuncio considered that an attempt was being made to frighten him, and he sent off fresh letters advising the Pope to proceed at once to pass sentence.[8]

Henry was, in fact, checkmating them all. With the help of the revived Statute of Provisors he was able to raise the whole question of the Pope's authority in England without fresh legislation on present points of difference. Parliament, which was to have met in October, was prorogued till January, to mature the intended measures. The King went to Hampton Court. He sent for the Nuncio to come to him. He told him that by the citation to Rome the Pope had violated the privileges of sovereign princes, and had broken the promise which he had given him In writing at Orvieto. If the Pope showed no more consideration for him, he would have to show that the Pope's pretension to authority was a usurpation, and very serious consequences would then follow.

The King, the Nuncio said, spoke with much show of regret and with tears in his eyes. He added that the present Parliament had been called at the request of the nation for the restraint of the clergy. They were so hated throughout the realm, both by nobles and people, that, but for his protection, they would be utterly destroyed. He should wait to take action till February, to see whether the Pope would meanwhile change his conduct towards him.[9]

Norfolk, to whom the Nuncio went next, gave him no comfort; he said that, "though Queen Catherine was a good woman, her coming to England had been the curse of the country;" God had shown his displeasure at the marriage by denying the King a male heir; if the King should die without a son, old feuds would be reopened and the realm would be plunged into misery. It was not tolerable that the vital interests of England should be sacrificed to the Emperor. He advised the Nuncio to use his influence with the Pope. "The King's severity might then perhaps be modified."

One more direct appeal was made by Henry himself to Clement. "Finding his just demands neglected, the requests of the King of France unattended to, and the address of his nobles despised and derided," he perceived, he said, that the Pope was wholly devoted to the Emperor's will, and ordained, prorogued and altered to serve the times. He required the Pope, therefore, to set down in writing his grounds for rejecting his suit. He demanded once more that the cause should be heard in England before indifferent judges. "The laws of the realm would not suffer the contrary; he abhorred contention, but would not brook denial."[10]

Queen Catherine was in despair. The hearing of the cause had again been postponed at Rome. A party in her favour had been formed in the House of Commons, but were at a loss what course to follow. If the Pope would give a decision they would know what to do, but the delay of sentence seemed to imply that he was himself uncertain where the right really lay. They questioned Chapuys whether any directions had arrived from Rome on which to rest their opposition, hoping perhaps that an inhibitory brief had been issued. Opposition, they feared, would be useless without further action at the Papal Court.

"The Pope," Chapuys said, "had been so dilatory and so dissembling that he was not in favour with either side."[11] A change was passing over public feeling. Every day gave strength to the King's cause. Archbishop Warham, who had been hitherto for the Queen, was beginning to waver, and even to think that he might try the suit in his own court.[12] The Queen, the Nuncio, the Bishop of Rochester, and the friends who remained staunch to her agreed unanimously that the boldest course would be the wisest. Immediate sentence at Rome in the Queen's favour was the only remedy. Gentleness was thrown away. Let the King see that the Pope was really in earnest, and he would not venture to go further. Catherine herself wrote to Clement with the passion of a suffering woman. "Delay," she said, "would be the cause of a new hell upon earth, the remedy for which would be worse than the worst that had ever yet been tried."[13] She did not blame the King. The fault was with the wicked counsellors who misled him. Once delivered out of their hands, he would be as dutiful a son of the Church as he had ever been.[14]

It is noticeable throughout that each of the two parties assumed that the Pope's judgment when he gave it must be on its own side. The King demanded a sentence in favour of the divorce; the Queen and the Emperor a sentence that the marriage was good. The Pope was to try the cause; but neither admitted that the right or the wrong was doubtful, or that the Pope must hear the arguments before he could decide. Doubtless they were justified in so regarding the Pope's tribunal. The trial would be undertaken, if a trial there was to be, with a foregone conclusion; but what kind of a court of justice could the Rota be if it could be so spoken of, and its master so be addressed?

Most idolatries pass through the same stage. The idol is whipped before he is finally discarded. The Holy Ghost is still invited to assist the Cathedral Chapters in the choice of a Bishop, but must choose the person already named by the Prime Minister under pain of Præmunire. Men should choose their idols better. Reasonable beings are not fit objects of such treatment. Much is to be said in favour of stuffed straw or the graven image, which the scourge itself cannot force to speak. Anne Boleyn was jubilant. "She is braver than a lion," wrote Chapuys. She said to one of the Queen's ladies that she wished all the Spaniards in the world were in the sea. The lady told her such language was disrespectful to her mistress. She said she cared nothing for the Queen, and would rather see her hanged than acknowledge her as her mistress.[15] Clement, goaded by Micer Mai, issued at last a second brief, repeating the terms of the first, again forbidding the second marriage, and threatening Parliaments, Bishops, and Divines in England if they dared to interfere. But between a brief and the execution of it was a long interval. Sentence on the original cause he would not pass; and in leaving his final decision doubtful he left opinion free to the rest of the world. The brief was to be presented by the Nuncio. The Pope accompanied it with a deprecatory, and not undignified, letter to Henry from himself.[16] Chapuys feared that "by his loose talk" Clement was secretly encouraging the King. The brief might bring on a crisis. He did not relish the prospect of remaining in England "in the boiling vortex likely to be opened." But as the Queen insisted that he should stay, he pressed unceasingly for "excommunication and interdict." "The Emperor might then make effectual war with the English. They would lose their trade with Spain and Flanders, and the disaffection to the King and Council would be greatly increased."[17]

On the spot and surrounded by an atmosphere of passion, Chapuys was in favour of war. The Emperor, still unwilling to part with the hereditary friendship of England, was almost as reluctant as Clement. He had supposed that Henry was influenced by a passing infatuation, that by supporting Catherine he would please the greater part of the nation, and ultimately, perhaps, secure the gratitude of Henry himself. He had not allowed for the changes which were passing over the mind of the English people. He had not foreseen the gathering indignation of a proud race jealous of their liberties when they saw him dictating to the Spiritual Judge of Europe on a question which touched their own security. But he had gone too far to draw back. He found himself sustained, not only by Spanish opinion, but by the part of his subjects about whom he had felt most uneasy. The Italian universities had for the most part gone with Paris and declared against the dispensing power. In Germany Henry had been disappointed. The King of England had been an old antagonist of Luther. Sir Thomas More, as Chancellor, had been enforcing the heresy laws against Luther's English proselytes with increased severity. The Lutherans in turn declared decidedly against Henry's divorce. The Emperor was their feudal sovereign. They saw no reason for entering into a new quarrel with him on a cause which, so far as they understood, was none of their own. Henry was evidently alarmed. Chapuys reported that he was busy building ships, casting cannon, repairing fortresses, and replenishing the Tower arsenal, as if conscious that he might have serious work before him. The Emperor still clung to the belief that he would be afraid to persevere, and Chapuys himself began to think that the Emperor might be more right than himself, and that the storm might pass off. No sign, however, appeared of yielding. The new brief was known to have been issued, and to have been forwarded to the Nuncio. Not contented with the warning already given by proclamation, Norfolk on the 13th of January sent for Chapuys to draw his attention once more to the law. The introduction of briefs from Rome touching the honour and authority of the Crown was forbidden by Act of Parliament. It was understood that "certain decretals" had been procured by the Queen's friends, and were about to be published. The Duke desired the Ambassador to know that if the Pope came in person to present such briefs he would be torn in pieces by the people. It was not a new question. Popes had tried in past times to usurp authority in England. The King's predecessors had always resisted, and the present King would resist also. Kings were before Popes. The King was master in his own dominions. If any such decretal came into the Ambassador's hands, the Duke warned him not to issue it.[18]

Imperialist officials were more accustomed to dictate to others than to submit to commands. Chapuys was brave, and, when occasion required, could be haughty to insolence. He thanked the Duke for giving him the notice. "He would not argue," he said, "on the authority possessed by Popes over disobedient kings and kingdoms. It was a notorious fact in full practice at that very time. His curiosity had not extended so far as the study of the English statute book, and on such points he must refer the Council to the Nuncio. For himself he could only say he thought they would have done better if they had not given occasion for such 'briefs' from the Pope. The Emperor would not consent to an unreasonable sentence against the King, for he regarded him as his ally and friend, but he could assure the Duke that if his master was to direct him to assist the publication of any Papal brief in England he would unquestionably execute his Majesty's commands. As to the nation at large, he did not think they would resist the Pope's decretals. He thought, on the contrary, they would help their execution with all their power. Truth and justice must reign everywhere, even among thieves and in hell. The Church of Christ was never so unprovided with defenders as to be unable to carry the world with her, and the English would have no right to complain if the Emperor, having exhausted all means of conciliation, caused justice to take her course."[19]

Such language could bear but one meaning. Chapuys perhaps intended to frighten Norfolk. The Duke was suspected to be less staunch in support of the King than he professed to be in Council. The Duchess was a fiery partisan of Catherine, and a close intimate of the Ambassador himself. He thought that he had produced an impression; but Norfolk answered at last that, "if the King could take another wife he certainly would;" the Pope had no business to interfere, except in cases of heresy.[20] To the Nuncio the Duke gave the same warning which he had given to the Ambassador, drawing special attention to the pains and penalties to which disobedience would make him liable. The Nuncio answered, like Chapuys, that at whatever cost he would obey the Pope's orders, and "would die if necessary for his lord and master."

  1. Anne Boleyn.
  2. Chapuys to Charles V., July 11, 1530.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iv. part 1, p. 630.
  3. Mai to Charles V., Oct. 2 and Oct. 10, 1530.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. pp. 3002, 3009.
  4. Answer of the Pope, Sept. 27, 1530.—Ibid. p. 2291.
  5. Chapuys to Charles V., Sept. 4, 1530.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iv. part 1, p. 707.
  6. Chapuys to Charles, Sept. 20, 1530.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iv. part 1, p. 726.
  7. Chapuys to Charles V., Oct. 1, 1530.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iv. part 1, p. 734.
  8. Chapuys to Charles V., Oct. 1, 1530.—Spanish Calendar, vol, iv. part 1, p. 734.
  9. Chapuys to Charles V., Oct. 15, 1530.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iv. part 1, p. 759.
  10. Henry VIII. to Clement VII., Dec. 6, 1530.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. iv. p. 3055.
  11. Chapuys to Charles V., Dec. 21, 1530.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iv. part 1, p. 853.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Catherine to the Pope, Dec. 17, 1530.—Ibid. p. 855.
  14. Catherine to the Pope, December 17, 1530.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iv. part 1, p. 855.
  15. Chapuys to Charles V., Jan. 1, 1531.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. v. p. 10.
  16. Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. v. p. 12.
  17. Chapuys to Charles, Dec. 21, 1530.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iv. part 1, p, 854,
  18. Chapuys to Charles V., January 13, 1531.—Spanish Calendar, vol. iv. part 2, p. 22.
  19. Chapuys to Charles V., January 13, 1531.—Spanish Calendar, vol, iv. part 2, p. 23.
  20. Ibid. p. 26.