Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, came to England in 1501, aged sixteen, and married (November 14) Arthur, aged fifteen, oldest son of Henry VII. Arthur died on April 2, 1502. It was generally assumed that the marriage had been consummated; the Spanish ambassador dutifully sent “proofs” thereof to Ferdinand; and Arthur’s title, Prince of Wales, was not officially transferred to his younger brother Henry till two months after Arthur’s death.49 But Catherine denied the consummation. She had brought with her a dowry of 200,000 ducats ($5,000,000?). Loath to let Catherine go back to Spain with these ducats, and anxious to renew a marital alliance with the powerful Ferdinand, Henry VII proposed that Catherine should marry Prince Henry, though she was the lad’s elder by six years. A Biblical passage (Lev. 20:21) forbade such a marriage: “If a man shall take his brother’s wife it is an unclean thing... they shall be childless.” Another passage, however, ruled quite the contrary: “If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child... her husband’s brother... shall take her to him to wife” (Deut. 25:5). Archbishop Warham condemned the proposed union; Bishop Fox of Winchester defended it if a papal dispensation could be obtained from the impediment of affinity. Henry VII applied for the dispensation; Pope Julius II granted it (1503). Some canonists questioned, some affirmed, the papal power to dispense from a Biblical precept,50 and Julius himself had some doubts.51 The betrothal—in effect a legal marriage—was made formal (1503), but as the bridegroom was still only twelve, cohabitation was postponed. In 1505 Prince Henry asked to have the marriage annulled as having been forced upon him by his father,52 but he was prevailed upon to confirm the union as in the interest of England; and in 1509, six weeks after his accession, the marriage was publicly celebrated.
Seven months later (January 31, 1510) Catherine bore her first child, which died at birth. A year thereafter she bore a son; Henry rejoiced in a male heir who would continue the Tudor line; but in a few weeks the infant died. A second and third son succumbed soon after birth (1513, 1514). Henry began to think of a divorce—or, more precisely, an annulment of his marriage as invalid. Poor Catherine tried again, and in 1516 she gave birth to the future Queen Mary. Henry relented; “if it was a daughter this time,” he told himself, “by the grace of God the sons will follow.”53 In 1518 Catherine was delivered of another stillborn child. The disappointment of King and country was sharpened by the fact that Mary, aged two, had already been betrothed to the dauphin of France; if no son came to Henry, Mary would inherit the English throne, and her husband, becoming King of France, would in effect be King of England too, making Britain a province of France. The dukes of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Buckingham had hopes of displacing Mary and securing the crown; Buckingham talked too much, was accused of treason, and was beheaded (1521). Henry expressed fear that his sonlessness was a divine punishment for having used a papal dispensation from a Biblical command.54 He took a vow that if the Queen would bear him a son he would lead a crusade against the Turks. But Catherine had no further pregnancies. By 1525 all hope of additional offspring by her was abandoned.
Henry had long since lost taste for her as a woman. He was now thirty-four, in the prime of lusty manhood; she was forty, and looked older than her years. She had never been alluring, but her frequent illnesses and misfortunes had deformed her body and darkened her spirit. She excelled in culture and refinement, but husbands have seldom found erudition charming in a wife. She was a good and faithful spouse, loving her husband only next to Spain. She thought of herself as—for a time she was—Spanish envoy, and she argued that England should always side with Ferdinand or Charles. About 1518 Henry took his first-known post-marriage mistress, Elizabeth Blount, sister of Erasmus’ friend Mountjoy. She gave him a son in 1519; Henry made the boy Duke of Richmond and Somerset, and thought of entailing the succession to him. About 1524 he took another mistress, Mary Boleyn;55 indeed, Sir George Throckmorton accused him to his face of adultery with Mary’s mother, too.56 It was an unwritten law of the times that royalty, if married for reasons of state rather than choice, might seek outside of marriage the romance that had missed the legal bed.
In or before 1527 Henry turned his charm upon Mary’s sister Anne. Their father was Sir Thomas Boleyn, a merchant and diplomat long favored by the King; their mother was a Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. Anne was sent to Paris as a finishing school; there she was made a lady-in-waiting to Queen Claude, then to Marguerite of Navarre, from whom she may have imbibed some Protestant leanings. Henry could have seen her as a vivacious girl of thirteen at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Returning to England at fifteen (1522), she became lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine. She was not strikingly beautiful; she was short, with dark complexion, broad mouth, and long neck; but Henry and others were lured by her flashing black eyes, her flowing brown hair, her grace and wit and gaiety. She had some ardent lovers, including Thomas Wyatt the poet, and Henry Percy, future Earl of Northumberland; her enemies later charged that she had been clandestinely married to Percy before she set her sights on the King; the evidence is inconclusive.57 We do not know when Henry began to court her; the earliest of his extant love letters to her is conjecturally assigned to July 1527.
What was the relation of this romance to Henry’s petition for the annulment of his marriage? Unquestionably he had thought of this as far back as 1514, when Anne was a girl of seven. He seems to have put the notion aside till 1524, when, according to his own account, he ceased to have conjugal relations with Catherine.58 The earliest recorded proceedings for an annulment were taken in March 1527, long after Henry’s acquaintance with Anne, and about the time that she replaced her sister in the bosom of the King. Wolsey was apparently unaware of any royal intention to marry Anne when, in July 1527, he went to France partly to arrange a union between Henry and Renée, that daughter of Louis XII who was soon to make a Protestant stir in Italy. The first known reference to Henry’s intention is in a letter sent on August 16, 1527, by the Spanish ambassador informing Charles V of a general belief in London that if the King obtained a “divorce” he would marry “a daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn”;59 this could hardly have meant Mary Boleyn, for by the end of 1527 Henry and Anne were living in neighboring apartments under the same roof in Greenwich.60 We may conclude that Henry’s suit for annulment was acèélerated, though hardly caused, by his infatuation with Anne. The basic cause was his desire for a son, to whom he might transmit the throne with some confidence in a peaceful succession. Practically all England shared that hope. The people remembered with horror the many years (1454–85) of war between the houses of York and Lancaster for the crown. The Tudor dynasty was but forty-two years old in 1527; its title to the throne was dubious; only a legitimate and direct male heir to the King could continue the dynasty unchallenged. If Henry had never met Anne Boleyn he would still have desired and deserved a divorce and an adequately fertile wife.
Wolsey agreed with the King on this point, and assured him that a papal annulment could be readily obtained; the papal power to grant such separations was generally accepted as a wise provision for precisely such national needs, and many precedents could be adduced. But the busy Cardinal had reckoned without two disagreeable developments: Henry wanted not Renée but Anne, and the annulment would have to come from a pope who, when the problem reached him, was a prisoner of an emperor who had plentiful cause for hostility to Henry. Probably Charles would have opposed the annulment as long as his aunt resisted it, and all the more if a new marriage, such as Wolsey planned, would ally England firmly with France. The proximate cause of the English Reformation was not the climbing beauty of Anne Boleyn but the obstinate refusal of Catherine and Charles to see the justice of Henry’s desire for a son; the Catholic Queen and the Catholic Emperor collaborated with the captive Pope to divorce England from the Church. But the ultimate cause of the English Reformation was not Henry’s suit for annulment so much as the rise of the English monarchy to such strength that it could repudiate the authority of the pope over English affairs and revenues.
Henry affirmed that his active desire for an annulment was occasioned by Gabriel de Grammont, who came to England in February 1527, to discuss the proposed marriage of Princess Mary with French royalty. Grammont, according to Henry, raised a question as to Mary’s legitimacy, on the ground that Henry’s marriage with Catherine might have been invalid as violating a Scriptural ban irremovable by a pope. Some have thought that Henry invented the story,61 but Wolsey repeated it, it was reponed to the French government (1528), it was not (so far as is known) denied by Grammont, and Grammont labored to persuade Clement that Henry’s suit for annulment was just. Charles informed his ambassador in England (July 29, 1527) that he was advising Clement to deny Henry’s plea.
While he was in France Wolsey was definitely informed that Henry wished to marry not Renée but Anne. He continued to work for the annulment, but he did not hide his chagrin over Henry’s choice. By-passing his Chancellor, the King, in the fall of 1527, sent his secretary, William Knight, to present two requests to the captive Pope. The first was that Clement, recognizing the doubtful validity of Henry’s marriage, its lack of male issue, and Catherine’s unwillingness to be divorced, should allow Henry to have two wives. A last-minute order from Henry deterred Knight from presenting this proposal; Henry’s audacity had abated; and he must have marveled when, three years later, he received from Giovanni Casale, one of his agents in Rome, a letter dated September 18,1530, saying, “A few days ago the Pope secretly proposed to me that your Majesty might be allowed two wives.”62 Henry’s second request was quite as strange: that the Pope should grant him a dispensation to marry a woman with whose sister the King had had sexual relations.63The Pope agreed to this on condition that the marriage with Catherine should be annulled; but as to this annulment he was not yet ready to decide. Clement was not only fearful of Charles; he was reluctant to rule that a previous pope had made a serious error in validating the marriage. At the end of 1527 he received a third request—that he should appoint Wolsey and another papal legate to sit as a court in England, to hear evidence, and to pass judgment on the validity of Henry’s marriage with Catherine. Clement complied (April 13, 1528), named Cardinal Campeggio to sit with Wolsey in London, and promised—in a bull to be shown only to Wolsey and Henry—to confirm whatever decision the legates should render.64 Probably the fact that Henry had joined Francis (January 1528) in declaring war on Charles and pledging themselves to liberate the Pope affected Clement’s compliance.
Charles protested, and sent to Clement a copy of a document which he claimed had been found in Spanish archives, and in which Julius II confirmed as valid the dispensation that Henry and Wolsey proposed to void. At his wits’ end the Pope, still a prisoner of Charles, rushed instructions to Campeggio “not to pronounce sentence without express commission hence.... If so great an injury be done to the Emperor, all hope is lost of universal peace, and the Church cannot escape utter ruin, as it is entirely in the power of the Emperor’s servants.... . Delay as much as possible.”65
On Campeggio’s arrival in England (October 1528) he tried to secure Catherine’s consent to retire to a nunnery. She agreed, on condition that Henry should take monastic vows. But nothing could be further from Henry’s mind than poverty, obedience, and chastity; however, he suggested that he would take these vows if the Pope would promise to release him from them on demand. Campeggio refused to transmit this proposal to the Pope. Instead he reported (February 1529) the King’s determination to marry Anne. “This passion,” he wrote, “is a most extraordinary thing. He sees nothing, he thinks of nothing, but his Anne; he cannot be without her for an hour. It moves me to pity to see how the King’s life, the stability and downfall of the whole country hang upon this one question.” 66
Changes in the military situation turned the Pope more and more against Henry’s proposal. The French army that Henry had helped to finance failed in its Italian campaign, leaving the Pope completely dependent upon the Emperor. Florence expelled its ruling Medici—and Clement was as devoted to that family as Charles to the Hapsburgs. Venice took advantage of the Pope’s impotence to snatch Ravenna from the Papal States. Who now could rescue the papacy except its captor? “I have quite made up my mind,” said Clement (June 7, 1529), “to become an Imperialist, and to live and die as such.”67 On June 29 he signed the Treaty of Barcelona, by which Charles promised to restore Florence to the Medici, Ravenna to the papacy, and liberty to Clement; but one condition was that Clement would never agree to the annulment of Catherine’s marriage without Catherine’s free consent. On August 5 Francis I signed the Treaty of Cambrai, which in effect surrendered Italy and the Pope to the Emperor.
On May 31 Campeggio, having delayed as long as possible, opened with Wolsey the legatine court to hear Henry’s suit. Catherine, having appealed to Rome, refused to acknowledge the competence of the court. On June 21, however, both King and Queen attended. Catherine threw herself on her knees before him, and made a moving plea for the continuance of their marriage. She reminded him of their many labors, her complete fidelity, her patience with his extramural sports; she took God to witness that she had been a maid when Henry married her; and she asked, in what had she offended him?68 Henry raised her up, and assured her that he wished nothing so earnestly as that their marriage had been successful; he explained that his reasons for separation were not personal but dynastic and national and he rejected her appeal to Rome on the ground that the Emperor controlled the Pope. She withdrew in tears, and refused to take further part in the proceedings. Bishop Fisher spoke in her defense, thereby earning the enmity of the King. Henry demanded a clear decision from the court. Campeggio procrastinated skillfully, and finally (July 23, 1529) adjourned the court for the summer vacation. To make indecision more decisive Clement “revoked” the case to Rome.
Henry raged. Feeling that Catherine had been unreasonably obstinate, he refused to have anything more to do with her, and spent his pleasure hours openly with Anne. Probably to this period belong most of the seventeen love letters that Cardinal Campeggio spirited away from England,69 and which the Vatican Library preserves among its literary treasures. Anne, wise in the ways of men and kings, had apparently given him as yet only encouragement and titillation; now she complained that her youth was passing while cardinals, who could not understand the desire of a maid for a well-to-do man, dallied over Henry’s right to adorn desire with a marriage tie. She blamed Wolsey for not pressing Henry’s appeal with more resolution and dispatch; and the King shared her resentment.
Wolsey had done his best, though his heart was not in the matter. He had sent money to Rome to bribe the cardinals,70 but Charles had sent money too, and an army to boot. The Cardinal had even connived at the idea of bigamy,71 as Luther would do a few years afterward. Yet Wolsey knew that Anne and her influential relatives were maneuvering for his fall. He tried to appease her with dainty viands and costly gifts, but her hostility grew as the annulment issue dragged on. He spoke of her as “the enemy that never slept, both studied and continually imagined, both sleeping and waking, his utter destruction.”72 He foresaw that if the annulment should be granted Anne would be queen and would ruin him; and that if it were not granted Henry would dismiss him as a failure, and would demand an account of his stewardship, in painful financial detail.
The King had many reasons for dissatisfaction with his Chancellor. The foreign policy had collapsed, and the turn from friendship with Charles to alliance with France had proved disastrous. Hardly a man in England now had a good word to say for the once omnicompetent Cardinal. The clergy hated him for his absolute rule; the monks feared more dissolution of monasteries; the commons hated him for taking their sons and money to fight futile wars; the merchants hated him because the war with Charles obstructed their trade with Flanders; the nobles hated him for his exactions, his upstart pride, his proliferating wealth. Some nobles, reported the French ambassador (October 17, 1529), “intend, when Wolsey is dead or destroyed, to get rid of the Church, and spoil the goods of the Church and Wolsey both.”73 Kentish clothiers suggested that the Cardinal should be installed in a leaking boat and set adrift in the sea.74
Henry was subtler. On October 9, 1529, one of his attorneys issued a writ summoning Wolsey to answer, before the King’s judges, a charge that his acts as legate had violated the Statute of Praemunire (1392), which imposed forfeiture of goods upon any Englishman who brought papal bulls into England. It made no difference that Wolsey had secured the legatine authority at the King’s request,75 and had used it chiefly in the King’s behalf. Wolsey knew that the King’s judges would convict him. He sent in to Henry a humble submission, confessing his failures, but begging him to remember also his services and his loyalty. Then he left London by a barge on the Thames. At Putney he received a kindly message from the King. In abject gratitude he knelt in the mud and thanked God. Henry appropriated the rich contents of the Cardinal’s palace at Whitehall, but allowed him to retain the archbishopric of York, and enough personal goods to require 160 horses and 72 carts to haul them to his episcopal seat.76 The Duke of Norfolk succeeded Wolsey as prime minister; Thomas More succeeded him as chancellor (November 1529).
For almost a year the fallen Cardinal served as a pious and exemplary archbishop, visiting his parishes regularly, arranging the repair of churches, and acting as a trusted court of arbitration. “Who was less loved in the north than my Lord the Cardinal before he was amongst them?” asked a Yorkshireman, “and who better beloved after he had been there awhile?”77 But ambition reawoke in him as the fear of death subsided. He wrote letters to Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador to England; they are lost, but a report from Chapuys to Charles reads: “I have a letter from the Cardinal’s physician, in which he tells me that his master... thought the Pope should proceed to weightier censures, and should call in the secular arm”78—i.e., excommunication, invasion, and civil war. Norfolk got wind of these exchanges, arrested Wolsey’s physician, and drew from him, by means uncertain, a confession that the Cardinal had advised the Pope to excommunicate the King. We do not know if the Ambassador or the Duke honestly reported the physician, or if the physician truthfully reported the Cardinal. In any case Henry, or the Duke, ordered Wolsey’s arrest.
He submitted peaceably (November 4, 1530), bade farewell to his household, and set out for London. At Sheffield Park a severe dysentery confined him to bed. There the King’s soldiers came with orders to conduct him to the Tower. He resumed the journey, but after two more days of riding he was so weak that his escort allowed him to take to bed in Leicester Abbey. To the King’s officer, Sir William Kingston, he uttered the words reported by Cavendish and adapted by Shakespeare: “If I had served my God as diligently as I have done my King, He would not have given me over in my gray hairs.”79 In Leicester Abbey, November 29, 1530, Wolsey, aged fifty-five, died.