The Divorce of
Catherine of Aragon
by JA Froude, 1891
Mission of Wolsey to Paris — Visits Bishop Fisher on the way — Anxieties of the Emperor — Letter of the Emperor to Henry VIII. -Large offers to Wolsey — Address of the French Cardinals to the Pope — Anne Boleyn chosen by Henry to succeed Catherine — Surprise and displeasure of Wolsey — Fresh attempts of the Emperor to bribe him — Wolsey forced to continue to advocate the divorce -Mission of Dr. Knight to Rome — The Pope at Orvieto — The King applies for a dispensation to make a second marriage — Language of the dispensation demanded — Inferences drawn from it — Alleged intrigue between the King and Mary Boleyn.
IT was believed at the time — and it was the tradition afterwards — that Wolsey, in his mission to Paris, intended to replace Catherine by a French princess, the more surely to commit Francis to the support of Henry in the divorce, and to strengthen the new alliance. Nothing can be inherently more likely. The ostensible reason, however, was to do away with any difficulties which might have been suggested by the objection of the Bishop of Tarbes to the legitimacy of the Princess Mary. If illegitimate, she would be no fitting bride for the Duke of Orleans. But she had been born bonâ fide parentum. There was no intention of infringing her prospective rights or of altering her present position. Her rank and title were to be secured to her in amplest measure.
The Cardinal went upon his journey with the splendour attaching to his office and befitting a churchman who was aspiring to be the spiritual president of the two kingdoms. On his way to the coast he visited two prelates whose support to his policy was important. Archbishop Warham had been cold about the divorce, if not openly hostile. Wolsey found him “not much changed from his first fashion,” but admitting that, although it might be unpleasant to the Queen, truth and justice must prevail. Bishop Fisher was a more difficult subject. He had spoken in the Legate’s court in Catherine’s favour. It was from him, as the King supposed, that Catherine herself had learnt what was impending over her. Wolsey called at his palace as he passed through Rochester. He asked the Bishop plainly if he had been in communication with the Queen. The Bishop, after some hesitation, confessed that the Queen had sought his advice, and said that he had declined to give an opinion without the King’s command. Before Wolsey left London, at a last interview at York Place, the King had directed him to explain “the whole matter” to the Bishop. He went through the entire history, mentioned the words of the Bishop of Tarbes, and discussed the question which had risen upon it, on account of which he had been sent into France. Finally, he described the extreme violence with which Catherine had received the intelligence.
The Bishop greatly blamed the conduct of the Queen, and said he thought that if he might speak to her he might bring her to submission. He agreed, or seemed to agree, that the marriage had been irregular, though he did not himself think that it could now be broken. Others of the bishops, he thought, agreed with him; but he was satisfied that the King meant nothing against the laws of God, and would be fully justified in submitting his misgivings to the Pope.
Mendoza’s and the Queen’s letters had meanwhile been despatched to Spain, to add to the anxieties which were overwhelming the Emperor. Nothing could have been less welcome at such a juncture than a family quarrel with his uncle of England, whose friendship he was still hoping to retain. The bird that he had caged at Rome was no convenient prisoner. The capture of Rome had not been ordered by himself, though politically he was obliged to maintain it. The time did not suit for the ambitious Church reforms of Lope de Soria. Peace would have to be made with the Pope on some moderate conditions. His own Spain was hardly quieted after the revolt of the Comunidades. Half Germany was in avowed apostasy from the Church of Rome. The Turks were overrunning Hungary, and sweeping the Mediterranean with their pirate fleets, and the passionate and restless Francis was watching his opportunity to revenge Pavia and attack his captor in the Low Countries and in Italy. The great Emperor was moderate, cautious, prudent to a fault. In a calmer season he might have been tempted to take the Church in hand; and none understood better the condition into which it had fallen. But he was wise enough to know that if a reform of the Papacy was undertaken at all it must be undertaken with the joint consent of the other Christian princes, and all his present efforts were directed to peace. He was Catherine’s natural guardian. Her position in England had been hitherto a political security for Henry’s friendship. It was his duty and his interest to defend her, and he meant to do it; not, however, by sending roving expeditions to land in Cornwall and raise a civil war; all means were to be tried before that; to attempt such a thing, he well knew, would throw Europe into a blaze. The letters found him at Valladolid. He replied, of course, that he was shocked at a proceeding so unlooked for and so scandalous, but he charged Mendoza to be moderate and to confine himself to remonstrance. He wrote himself to Henry — confidentially, as from friend to friend, and ciphering his letter with his own hand. He was unable to believe, he said, that Henry could contemplate seriously bringing his domestic discomforts before the world. Even supposing the marriage illegitimate — even supposing that the Pope had no power to dispense in such cases — “it would be better and more honourable to keep the matter secret, and to work out a remedy.” He bade Mendoza remind the King that to question the dispensing power affected the position of other princes besides his own; that to touch the legitimacy of his daughter would increase the difficulties with the succession, and not remove them. He implored the King “to keep the matter secret, as he would do himself.” Meanwhile, he told Mendoza, for Catherine’s comfort, that he had written to demand a mild brief from the Pope to stop the scandal. He had requested him, as Catherine had suggested, to revoke Wolsey’s powers, or at least to command that neither he nor any English Court should try the case. If heard at all it must be heard before his Holiness and the Sacred College. But he could not part with the hope that he might still bring Wolsey to his own and the Queen’s side. A council of Cardinals was to meet at Avignon to consider the Pope’s captivity. The Cardinal of England was expected to attend. Charles himself might go to Perpignan. Wolsey might meet him there, discuss the state of Europe, and settle the King’s secret affair at the same time.
Should this be impossible, he charged Mendoza once more to leave no stone unturned to recover Wolsey’s friendship. “In our name,” he said, “you will make him the following offers: —
1. The payment of all arrears on his several pensions, amounting to 9,000 ducats annually.
2. Six thousand additional ducats annually until such a time as a bishoprick or other ecclesiastical endowment of the same revenue becomes vacant in our kingdom.
3. The Duke, who is to have Milan, to give him a Marquisate in that Duchy, with an annual rent of 12,000 ducats, or 15,000 if the smaller sum be not enough; the said Marquisate to be held by the Cardinal during his life, and to pass after him to any heir whom he shall appoint.
As if this was not sufficient, the Emperor’ paid a yet further tribute to the supposed all-powerful Cardinal. He wrote himself to him as to his “good friend.” He said that if there was anything in his dominions which the Cardinal wished to possess he had only to name it, as he considered Wolsey the best friend that he had in the world.
For the ministers of great countries deliberately to sell themselves to foreign princes was the custom of the age. The measure of public virtue which such a custom indicates was not exalted; and among the changes introduced by the Reformation the abolition or suspension of it was not the least beneficial. Thomas Cromwell, when he came to power, set the example of refusal, and corruption of public men on a scale so scandalously enormous was no more heard of.
Gold, however, had flowed in upon Wolsey in such enormous streams and from so many sources that the Emperor’s munificence and attention failed to tempt him. On reaching Paris he found Francis bent upon war, and willing to promise anything for Henry’s assistance. The belief at the French Court was that the Emperor, hearing that the Churches of England and France meant to decline from their obedience to the Roman Communion, would carry the Pope to Spain; that Clement would probably be poisoned there, and the Apostolic See would be established permanently in the Peninsula. Wolsey himself wrote this, and believed it, or desired Henry to believe it, proving the extreme uncertainty among the best-informed of contemporary politicians as to the probable issue of the capture of Rome. The French Cardinals drew and sent an address to the Pope, intimating that as long as he was in confinement they could accept no act of his as lawful, and would not obey it. Wolsey signed at the head of them. The Cardinals Salviati, Bourbon, Lorraine, and the Chancellor Cardinal of Sens, signed after him. The first stroke in the game had been won by Wolsey. Had the Pope recalled his powers as legate, an immediate schism might have followed. But a more fatal blow had been prepared for him by his master in England. Trusting to the Cardinal’s promises that the Pope would make no difficulty about the divorce, Henry had considered himself at liberty to choose a successor to Catherine. He had suffered once in having allowed politics to select a wife for him. This time he intended to be guided by his own inclination. When Elizabeth afterwards wished to marry Leicester, Lord Sussex said she had better fix after her own liking; there would be the better chance of the heir that her realm was looking for. Her father fixed also after his liking in selecting Elizabeth’s mother.
Anne Boleyn was the second daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, a Norfolk knight of ancient blood, and himself a person of some distinction in the public service. Lady Boleyn was a Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. Anne was born in 1507, and by birth and connection was early introduced into the court. When a girl she was taken to Paris to be educated. In 1522 she was brought back to England, became a lady-in-waiting, and, being a witty, brilliant young woman, attracted and encouraged the attentions of the fashionable cavaliers of the day. Wyatt, the poet, was among her adorers, and the young Percy, afterwards Earl of Northumberland. It was alleged afterwards that between her and Percy there had been a secret marriage which had been actually consummated. That she had been involved in some dangerous intrigue or other she herself subsequently confessed. But she was attractive, she was witty; she drew Henry’s fancy, and the fancy became an ardent passion. Now, for the first time, in Wolsey’s absence, the Lady Anne’s name appears in connection with the divorce. On the 16th of August Mendoza informed Charles, as a matter of general belief, that if the suit for the divorce was successful the King would marry a daughter of Master Boleyn, whom the Emperor would remember as once ambassador at the Imperial court. There is no direct evidence that before Wolsey had left England the King had seriously thought of Anne at all. Catherine could have had no suspicion of it, or her jealous indignation would have made itself heard. The Spanish Ambassador spoke of it as a new feature in the case.
The Boleyns were Wolsey’s enemies, and belonged to the growing faction most hostile to the Church. The news as it came upon him was utterly distasteful. (1) Anne in turn hated Wolsey, as he probably knew that she would, and she compelled him to stoop to the disgrace of suing for her favour. The inference is reasonable, therefore, that the King took the step which in the event was to produce such momentous consequences when the Cardinal was not at hand to dissuade him. He was not encouraged even by her own family. Her father, as will be seen hereafter, was from the first opposed to his daughter’s advancement. He probably knew her character too well. But Henry, when he had taken an idea into his head, was not to be moved from it. The lady was not beautiful: she was rather short than tall, her complexion was dark, her neck long, her mouth broad, her figure not particularly good. The fascinating features were her long flowing brown hair, a pair of effective dark eyes, and a boldness of character which might have put him on his guard, and did not.
The immediate effect was to cool Wolsey’s ardour for the divorce. His mission in France, which opened so splendidly, eventuated in little. The French cardinals held no meeting at Avignon. They had signed the address to Clement, but they had not made the Cardinal of York into their patriarch. Rouen was not added to his other preferments. Could he but have proposed a marriage for his sovereign with the Princess of Alencon, all might have been different, but it had fared with him as it fared with the Earl of Warwick, whom Henry’s grandfather had sent to France to woo a bride for him, and in his absence married Elizabeth Grey. He perhaps regretted the munificent offers of the Emperor which he had hastily rejected, and he returned to England in the autumn to feel the consequences of the change in his situation. Mr. Brewer labours in vain to prove that Wolsey was unfavourable to the divorce from the beginning. Catherine believed that he was the instigator of it. Mendoza was of the same opinion. Unquestionably he promoted it with all his power, and made it a part of a great policy. To maintain that he was acting thus against his conscience and to please the King is more dishonouring to him than to suppose that he was either the originator or the willing instrument. All, however, was altered when Anne Boleyn came upon the stage, and she made haste to make him feel the change. “The Legate has returned from France,” wrote Mendoza on the 26th of October. He went to visit the King at Richmond, and sent to ask where he could see him. The King was in his chamber. It happened that the lady, who seemed to entertain no great affection for the Cardinal, was in the room with the King, and before the latter could answer the message she said for him, “Where else is the Cardinal to come? Tell him he may come here where the King is.” The Legate felt that such treatment boded no good to him, but concealed his resentment. “The cause,” said Mendoza, “is supposed to be that the said lady bears the Legate a grudge, for other reasons, and because she has discovered that during his visit to France the Legate proposed to have an alliance for the King found in that country.” Wolsey persuaded Mendoza that the French marriage had been a fiction, but at once he began to endeavour to undo his work, and prevent the dissolution of the marriage with Catherine. He tried to procure an unfavourable opinion from the English Bishops before legal proceedings were commenced. Mendoza, however, doubted his stability if the King persisted in his purpose, and advised that a papal decision on the case should be procured and forwarded as soon as possible.
The Pope’s captivity, however, would destroy the value of any judgment which he might give while he continued in durance. The Emperor, encouraged by the intimation that Wolsey was wavering, reverted to his previous hope. In a special memorandum of measures to be taken, the most important, notwithstanding the refusal of the previous offers, was still thought to be to “bribe the Cardinal.” He must instantly be paid the arrears of his pensions out of the revenues of the sees of Palencia and Badajoz. If there was not money enough in the treasury, a further and larger pension of twelve or fourteen thousand crowns was to be given to him out of some rich bishopric in Castile. The Emperor admitted that he had promised the Cortes to appoint no more foreigners to Spanish sees, but such a promise could not be held binding, being in violation of the liberties of the Church. Every one would see that it was for the good of the kingdom.
The renewed offer was doubtless conveyed to Wolsey, but he probably found that he had gone too deep to retire. If he made such an effort as Mendoza relates, he must have speedily discovered that it would be useless. He had encouraged the King in a belief that the divorce would be granted by the Pope as a matter of course, and the King, having made up his own mind, was not to be moved from it. If Wolsey now drew back, the certain inference would be that he had accepted an imperial bribe. There was no resource, therefore, but to go on.
While Wolsey had been hesitating, the King had, unknown to him, sent his secretary, Dr. Knight, to Rome with directions to obtain access if possible to the Pope, and procure the dispensation which had been already applied for to enable him to marry a second time without the formalities of a judgment. Such an expedient would be convenient in many ways. It would leave Catherine’s position unaffected and the legitimacy of the Princess Mary unimpugned. Knight went. He found that without a passport he could not even enter the city, still less be allowed an interview. “With ten thousand crowns he could not bribe his way into St. Angelo.” He contrived, however, to have a letter introduced, which the Pope answered by telling Knight to wait in some quiet place. He (the Pope) would “there send him all the King’s requests in as ample a form as they were desired.” Knight trusted in a short time “to have in his custody as much, perfect, sped, and under lead, as his Highness had long time desired.”
Knight was too sanguine. The Emperor, finding the Pope’s detention as a prisoner embarrassing, allowed him, on the 9th of December, to escape to Orvieto, where he was apparently at liberty; but he was only in a larger cage, all his territories being occupied by Imperial troops, and he himself watched by the General of the Observants, and warned at his peril to grant nothing to Catherine’s prejudice. Henry’s Secretary followed him, saw him, and obtained something which on examination proved to be worthless. The negotiations were left again in Wolsey’s hands, and were pressed with all the eagerness of a desperate man.
Pope Clement had ceased to be a free agent. He did not look to the rights of the case. He would gladly have pleased Henry could he have pleased him without displeasing Charles. The case itself was peculiar, and opinions differed on the rights and wrongs of it. The reader must be from time to time reminded that, as the law of England has stood ever since, a marriage with a brother’s widow was not a marriage. As the law of the Church then stood, it was not a marriage unless permitted by the Pope; and according to the same law of England the Pope neither has, nor ever had, any authority to dispense with the law. Therefore Henry, on the abstract contention, was in the right. He had married Catherine under an error. The problem was to untie the knot with as little suffering to either as the nature of the case permitted. That the negotiations were full of inconsistencies, evasions, and contradictions, was natural and inevitable. To cut the knot without untying it was the only direct course, but that all means were exhausted before the application of so violent a remedy was rather a credit than a reproach.
The first inconsistency was in the King. He did not regard his marriage as valid; therefore he thought himself at liberty to marry again; but he did not wish to illegitimatise his daughter or degrade Catherine. He disputed the validity of the dispensation of Julius II.; yet he required a dispensation from Clement which was equally questionable to enable him to take a second wife. The management of the case having reverted to Wolsey, fresh instructions were sent to Sir Gregory Casalis, the regular English agent at the Papal court, to wait on Clement. Casalis was “bid consider how much the affair concerned the relief of the King’s conscience, the safety of his soul, the preservation of his life, the continuation of his succession, the welfare and repose of all his subjects now and hereafter.” The Pope at Orvieto was personally accessible. Casalis was to represent to him the many difficulties which had arisen in connection with the marriage, and the certainty of civil war in England should the King die leaving the succession no better provided for. He was, therefore, to request the Pope to grant a commission to Wolsey to hear the case and to decide it, and (perhaps as an alternative) to sign a dispensation, a draft of which Wolsey enclosed. The language of the dispensation was peculiar. Wolsey explained it by saying that “the King, remembering by the example of past times what false claims [to the crown] had been put forward, to avoid all colour or pretext of the same, desired this of the Pope as absolutely necessary.” If these two requests were conceded, Henry undertook on his part to require the Emperor to set the Pope at liberty, or to declare war against him if he refused.
A dispensation, which was to evade the real point at issue, yet to convey to the King a power to take another wife, was a novelty in itself and likely to be carefully worded. It has given occasion among modern historians to important inferences disgraceful to everyone concerned. The sinister meaning supposed to be obvious to modern critics could not have been concealed from the Pope himself. Here, therefore, follow the words which have been fastened on as for ever fatal to the intelligence and character of Henry and his Ministers.
The Pope, after reviewing the later history of England, the distractions caused by rival claimants of the crown, after admitting the necessity of guarding against the designs of the ambitious, and empowering Henry to marry again, was made to address the King in these words: —
“In order to take away all occasion from evil doers, we do in the plenitude of our power hereby suspend hâc vice all canons forbidding marriage in the fourth degree, also all canons de impedimento publicœ honestatis preventing marriage in consequence of clandestine espousals, further all canons relating to precontracts clandestinely made but not consummated, also all canons affecting impediments created by affinity rising ex illicito coitu, in any degree even in the first, so far as the marriage to be contracted by you, the petitioner, can be objected to or in any wise be impugned by the same. Further, to avoid canonical objections on the side of the woman by reason of former contract clandestinely made, or impediment of public honesty or justice arising from such clandestine contract, or of any affinity contracted in any degree even the first, ex illicito coitu: and in the event that it has proceeded beyond the second or third degrees of consanguinity, whereby otherwise you, the petitioner, would not be allowed by the canons to contract marriage, we hereby license you to take such woman for wife, and suffer you and the woman to marry free from all ecclesiastical objections and censures.”
The explanation given by Wolsey of the wording of this document is that it was intended to preclude any objections which might be raised to the prejudice of the offspring of a marriage in itself irregular. It was therefore made as comprehensive as possible. Dr. Lingard, followed by Mr. Brewer, and other writers see in it a transparent personal application to the situation in which Henry intended to place himself in making a wife of Anne Boleyn. Two years subsequent to the period when this dispensation was asked for, when the question of the divorce had developed into a battle between England and the Papacy, and the passions of Catholics and Reformers were boiling over in recrimination and invective, the King’s plea that he was parting from Catherine out of conscience was met by stories set floating in society that the King himself had previously intrigued with the mother and sister of the lady whom he intended to marry; precisely the same obstacle existed, therefore, to his marriage with Anne, being further aggravated by incest. No attempt was ever made to prove these charges; no particulars were given of time or place. No witnesses were produced, nor other evidence, though to prove them would have been of infinite importance. Queen Catherine, who if any one must have known it if the accusation was true, never alludes to Mary Boleyn in the fiercest of her denunciations. It was heard of only in the conversation of disaffected priests or secret visitors to the Spanish Ambassador, and was made public only in the manifesto of Reginald Pole, which accompanied Paul III.’s Bull for Henry’s deposition. Even this authority, which was not much in itself, is made less by the fact that in the first draft of “Pole’s Book,” sent to England to be examined in 1535, the story is not mentioned. Evidently, therefore, Pole had not then heard of it or did not believe it. The guilt with the mother is now abandoned as too monstrous. The guilt with the sister is peremptorily insisted on, and the words of the dispensation are appealed to as no longer leaving room for doubt. To what else, it is asked, can such extraordinary expressions refer unless to some disgraceful personal liaison?
The uninstructed who draw inferences of fact from the verbiage of legal documents will discover often what are called “mare’s nests.” I will request the reader to consider what this supposition involves. The dispensation would have to be copied into the Roman registers, subject to the inspection of the acutest canon lawyers in the world. If the meaning is so clear to us, it must have been clear to them. We are, therefore, to believe that Henry, when demanding to be separated from Catherine, as an escape from mortal sin, for the relief of his conscience and the surety of his succession, was gratuitously putting the Pope in possession of a secret which had only to be published to extinguish him and his plea in an outburst of scorn and laughter.
There was no need for such an acknowledgment, for the intrigue could not be proved. It could not be required for the legitimation of the children that were to be born; for a man of Wolsey’s ability must have known that no dispensation would be held valid that was granted after so preposterous a confidence. It was as if a man putting in a claim for some great property, before the case came on for trial privately informed both judge and jury that it was based on forgery.
We are called on to explain further, why, when all Europe was shaken by the controversy, no hint is to be found in any public document of a fact which, if true, would be decisive; and yet more extraordinary, why the Pope and the Curia, when driven to bay in all the exasperation of a furious controversy, left a weapon unused which would have assured them an easy victory. Wolsey was not a fool. Is it conceivable that he would have composed a document so fatal and have drawn the Pope’s pointed attention to it? My credulity does not extend so far. We cannot prove a negative; we cannot prove that Henry had not intrigued with Mary Boleyn, or with all the ladies of his court. But the language of the dispensation cannot be adduced as an evidence of it, unless King, Pope, and all the interested world had parted with their senses.
As to the story itself, there is no ground for distinguishing between the mother and the daughter. When it was first set circulating both were named together. The mother only has been dropped, lest the improbability should seem too violent for belief. That Mary Boleyn had been the King’s mistress before or after her own marriage is now asserted as an ascertained fact by respectable historians — a fact sufficient, can it be proved, to cover with infamy for ever the English separation from Rome, King, Ministers, Parliaments, Bishops, and every one concerned with it. The effectiveness of the weapon commends it to Catholic controversialists. I have only to repeat that the evidence for the charge is nothing but the floating gossip of Catholic society, never heard of, never whispered, till the second stage of the quarrel, when it had developed into a passionate contest; never even then alleged in a form in which it could be met and answered. It could not have been hid from Queen Catherine if it was known to Reginald Pole. We have many letters of Catherine, eloquent on the story of her wrongs; letters to the Emperor, letters to the Pope; yet no word of Mary Boleyn. What reason can be given save that it was a legend which grew out of the temper of the time? Nothing could be more plausible than to meet the King’s plea of conscience with an allegation which made it ridiculous. But in the public pleadings of a cause which was discussed in every capital in Europe by the keenest lawyers and diplomatists of the age, an accusation which, if maintained, would have been absolutely decisive, is never alluded to in any public document till the question had passed beyond the stage of discussion. The silence of all responsible persons is sufficient proof of its nature. It was a mere floating calumny, born of wind and malice.
Mr. Brewer does indeed imagine that he has discovered what he describes as a tacit confession on Henry’s part. When the Act of Appeals was before the House of Commons which ended the papal jurisdiction in England, a small knot of Opposition members used to meet privately to deliberate how to oppose it. Among these one of the most active was Sir George Throgmorton, a man who afterwards, with his brother Michael, made himself useful to Cromwell and played with both parties, but was then against the divorce and against all the measures which grew out of it. Throgmorton, according to his own account, had been admitted to an interview with the King and Cromwell. In 1537, after the Pilgrimage of Grace, while the ashes of the rebellion were still smouldering, after Michael Throgmorton had betrayed Cromwell’s confidence and gone over to Reginald Pole, Sir George was reported to have used certain expressions to Sir Thomas Dyngley and to two other gentlemen, which he was called on by the Council to explain. The letter to the King in which he replied is still extant. He said that he had been sent for by the King after a speech on the Act of Appeals, “and that he saw his Grace’s conscience was troubled about having married his brother’s wife.” He professed to have said to Dyngley that he had told the King that if he did marry Queen Anne his conscience would be more troubled at length, for it was thought he had meddled both with the mother and the sister; that his Grace said: “Never with the mother,” and my Lord Privy Seal (Cromwell), standing by, said, “nor with the sister neither, so put that out of your mind.” Mr. Brewer construes this into an admission of the King that Mary Boleyn had been his mistress, and omits, of course, by inadvertence, that Throgmorton, being asked why he had told this story to Dyngley, answered that “he spake it only out of vainglory, to show he was one that durst speak for the Commonwealth.” Nothing is more common than for “vainglorious” men, when admitted to conversations with kings, to make the most of what they said themselves, and to report not very accurately what was said to them. Had the conversation been authentic, Throgmorton would naturally have appealed to Cromwell’s recollection. But Mr. Brewer accepts the version of a confessed boaster as if it was a complete and trustworthy account of what had actually passed. He does not ask himself whether if the King or Cromwell had given their version it might not have borne another complexion. Henry was not a safe person to take liberties with. Is it likely that if one of his subjects, who was actively opposing him in Parliament, had taxed him with an enormous crime, he would have made a confession which Throgmorton had only to repeat in the House of Commons to ruin him and his cause? Mr. Brewer should have added also that the authority which he gave for the story was no better than Father Peto, afterwards Cardinal Peto, as bitter an enemy of the Reformation as Pole himself. Most serious of all, Mr. Brewer omits to mention that Throgmorton was submitted afterwards to a severe cross-examination before a Committee of Council, the effect of which, if he had spoken truly, could only be to establish the authenticity of a disgraceful charge.
The last evidence alleged is the confession made by Anne Boleyn, after her condemnation, of some mystery which had invalidated her marriage with the King and had been made the ground of an Act of Parliament. The confession was not published, and Catholic opinion concluded, and concludes still, that it must have been the Mary Boleyn intrigue. Catholic opinion does not pause to inquire whether Anne could have been said to confess an offence of the King and her sister. The cross-examination of Throgmorton turns the conjecture into an absurdity. When asked, in 1537, whom he ever heard say such a thing, he would have had but to appeal to the proceedings in Parliament in the year immediately preceding.
Is it likely finally that if Throgmorton’s examination proves what Mr. Brewer thinks it proves, a record of it would have been preserved among the official State Papers?
If all the stories current about Henry VIII. were to be discussed with as much detail as I have allowed to this, the world would not contain the books which should be written. An Irish lawyer told me in my youth to believe nothing which I heard in that country which had not been sifted in a court of justice, and only half of that. Legend is as the air invulnerable, and blows aimed at it, if not “malicious mockery” are waste of effort. Charges of scandalous immorality are precious to controversialists, for if they are disproved ever so completely the stain adheres.
Notes: 1. The date of Henry’s resolution to marry Anne is of some consequence, since the general assumption is that it was the origin of the divorce. Rumour, of course, said so afterwards, but there is no evidence for it. The early love-letters written by the King to her are assigned by Mr. Brewer to the midsummer of 1527. But they are undated, and therefore the period assigned to them is conjecture merely.
From The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon: The Story as Told by the Imperial Ambassadors Resident at the Court of Henry VIII by J.A. Froude. Published in New York by C. Scribner’s Sons, 1891.
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