IV. A TALE OF THREE QUEENS

Within some thirty months of More’s death Henry lost three of his six queens. Catherine of Aragon wasted away in her northern retreat, still claiming to be Henry’s only lawfully wedded wife and England’s rightful queen. Her faithful maids continued to give her that title. In 1535 she was removed to Kimbalton Castle, near Huntingdon, and there she confined herself to one room, leaving it only to hear Mass. She received visitors, and “used them very obligingly.” 61 Mary, now nineteen, was kept at Hatfield, only twenty miles away; but mother and daughter were not allowed to see each other, and were forbidden to communicate. They did nevertheless, and Catherine’s letters are among the most touching in all literature. Henry offered them better quarters if they would acknowledge his new queen; they would not, Anne Boleyn had her aunt made governess to Mary, and bade her keep “the bastard” in place by “a box on the ears now and then.” 62 In December 1535, Catherine sickened, made her will, wrote to the Emperor asking him to protect her daughter, and addressed a moving farewell to her “most dear lord and husband” the King:

The hour of my death now approaching, I cannot choose but, out of the love I bear you, advise you of your soul’s health, which you ought to prefer above all considerations of the world or flesh whatsoever; for which yet you have cast me into many calamities, and yourself into many troubles. But I forgive you all, and pray God to do likewise. For the rest I commend unto you Mary our daughter, beseeching you to be a good father to her Lastly I make this vow, that my eyes desire you above all things. Farewell.63

Henry wept on receiving the letter; and when Catherine died (January 7, 1536), aged fifty, he ordered the court to go into mourning. Anne refused.64

Anne could not know that within five months she too would be dead; but she knew that she had already lost the King. Her hot temper, her imperious tantrums, her importunate demands, wearied Henry, who contrasted her railing tongue with Catherine’s gentleness.65 On the day of Catherine’s burial Anne was delivered of a dead child; and Henry, who still yearned for a son, began to think of another divorce—or, as he would put it, an annulment; his second marriage, he was quoted as saying, had been induced by witchcraft, and was therefore void.66 From October 1535 he began to pay special attention to one of Anne’s maids, Jane Seymour. When Anne reproached him he bade her bear with him patiently, as her betters had done.67 Perhaps following ancient tactics, he accused her of infidelity. It seems incredible that even a flighty woman should have risked her throne for a moment’s dalliance, but the King appears to have sincerely believed in her guilt. He referred the rumors of her amours to his Council; it investigated, and reported to the King that she had committed adultery with five members of the court-Sir William Brereton, Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Mark Smeton, and her brother Lord Rochford. The five men were sent to the Tower, and on May 2,1536, Anne followed them.

Henry wrote to her holding out hopes of forgiveness or lenience if she would be honest with him. She replied that she had nothing to confess. Her attendants in prison alleged that she had admitted receiving proposals of love from Norris and Weston, but that she claimed to have repulsed them. On May 11 the grand jury of Middlesex, having been asked to make local inquiries into offenses allegedly committed by the Queen in that county, reported that it found her guilty of adultery with all five of the accused men, and gave specific names and dates.68 On May 12 four of the men were tried at Westminster by a jury including Anne’s father, the Earl of Wiltshire. Smeton confessed himself guilty as charged; the others pleaded not guilty; all four were convicted. On May 15 Anne and her brother were tried by a panel of twenty-six peers under the presidency of the Duke of Norfolk, her uncle but political enemy. Sister and brother affirmed their innocence, but each member of the panel announced himself convinced of their guilt, and they were sentenced to be “burned or beheaded, as shall please the King.” On May 17 Smeton was hanged; the other four men were beheaded as befitted their rank. On that day Archbishop Cranmer was required by royal commissioners to declare the marriage with Anne invalid, and Elizabeth a bastard; he complied. The grounds for this judgment are not known, but presumably Anne’s alleged prior marriage with Lord Northumberland was now pronounced real.

On the eve of her death Anne knelt before Lady Kingston, wife of the warden, and asked a last favor: that she should go and kneel before Mary and beseech her, in Anne’s name, to forgive the wrongs that had come to her through the pride and thoughtlessness of a miserable woman.69 On May 19 she begged that her execution should take place soon. She appeared to derive some comfort from the thought that “the executioner I have heard to be very good, and I have a little neck”—whereupon she laughed. That noon she was led to the scaffold. She asked the spectators to pray for the King, “for a gentler and more merciful prince was there never; and to me he was ever a good, a gentle, and sovereign lord.” 70 No one could be sure of her guilt, but few regretted her fall.

On the day of her death Cranmer gave the King a dispensation to marry again in renewed quest for a son; on the morrow Henry and Jane Seymour were secretly betrothed; on May 30, 1536, they were married; and on June 4 she was proclaimed queen. She was of royal lineage, being descended from Edward III; she was related to Henry in the third or fourth degree of consanguinity, which called for another dispensation from the obedient Cranmer. She was of no special beauty, but she impressed all with her intelligence, kindness, even modesty; Cardinal Pole, Henry’s most thoroughgoing enemy, described her as “full of goodness.” She discouraged the King’s advances while Anne lived, refused his gifts, returned his letters unopened, and asked him never to speak to her except in the presence of others.71

One of her first acts after marriage was to effect a reconciliation between Henry and Mary. He did it in his own way. He had Cromwell send her a paper entitled “The Confession of the Lady Mary”: it acknowledged the King as supreme head of the Church in England, repudiated “the Bishop of Rome’s pretended authority,” and recognized the marriage of Henry with Catherine as “incestuous and unlawful.” Mary was required to sign her name to each clause. She did, and never forgave herself. Three weeks later the King and Queen came to see her, and gave her presents and 1,000 crowns. She was again called Princess; and at Christmas, 1536, she was received at court. There must have been something good in Henry—and in “Bloody Mary”—for in his later years she almost learned to love him.

When Parliament met again (June 8, 1536) it drew up at the King’s request a new Act of Succession, by which both Elizabeth and Mary were declared illegitimate, and the crown was settled on the prospective issue of Jane Seymour. In July Henry’s bastard son, the Duke of Richmond, died; now all the hopes of the King lay in Jane’s pregnancy. England rejoiced with him when (October 12,1537) she was delivered of a boy, the future Edward VI. But poor Jane, to whom the King was now as deeply attached as his self-centered spirit allowed, died twelve days after her son’s birth. Henry was for some time a broken man. Though he married thrice again, he asked, at his death, to be buried beside the woman who had given her life in bearing his son.

What were the reactions of the English people to the events of this world-shaking reign? It is difficult to say; the testimony is prejudiced, ambiguous, and sparse. Chapuys reported in 1533 that, in the opinion of many Englishmen, “the last King Richard was never so much hated by his people as this King.” 72 Generally the people sympathized with Henry’s desire for a son, condemned his severity to Catherine and Mary, shed no tears over Anne, but were deeply shocked by the execution of Fisher and More. The nation was still overwhelmingly Catholic,73 and the clergy—now that the government had appropriated the annates—were hoping for reconciliation with Rome. But hardly any man dared raise his voice in criticism of the King. Criticism he received, and from an Englishman, but one with the Channel between him and the King’s practiced arm.

Reginald Pole was the son of Margaret Plantagenet, Countess of Salisbury, herself the niece of Edward IV and Richard III. He was educated at Henry’s expense, received a royal pension of 500 crowns a year, and was apparently destined for the highest offices in the English Church. He studied in Paris and Padua, and returned to England in high favor with the King. But when Henry insisted on hearing his opinion of the divorce, Reginald frankly replied that he could not approve of it unless it should be sanctioned by the Pope. Henry continued the youth’s pension, and permitted him to return to the Continent. There Pole remained twenty-two years, rose in papal esteem as scholar and theologian, and was made a cardinal at the age of thirty-six (15 3 6). In that year he composed in Latin a passionate attack upon Henry—Pro ecclesiasticae unitatis defensione (In Defense of Church Unity). He argued that Henry’s assumption of ecclesiastical supremacy in England invited the division of the Christian religion into national varieties, and that the resultant clash of creeds would bring social and political chaos to Europe. He charged Henry with egomania and autocracy. He scored the English bishops for yielding to the enslavement of the Church by the state. He denounced the marriage with Anne as adultery, and predicted (not too wisely) that the English nobility would forever rank Elizabeth as “a harlot’s bastard.”74 He called upon Charles V to waste no ammunition on the Turks, but to turn the Imperial forces against England’s impious King. It was a powerful invective, spoiled by youthful pride in eloquence. Cardinal Contarini advised the author not to publish it, but Pole insisted, and sent a copy to England. When Paul III made Pole a cardinal Henry took it as an act of war. The King abandoned all thought of compromise, and agreed with Cromwell that the monasteries of England should be dissolved, and their property added to the Crown.

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