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Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Continued) page 11

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On hearing this astounding announcement, the friends of the king - who was himself a hearer and witness of the whole proceeding, in an adjoining apartment - were struck dumb, all except Brandon, the impetuous Duke of Suffolk, who, in his impatience, struck his fist on the table, and exclaimed, "Now is the old proverb verified: 'Never did cardinal bring good to England.'" Wolsey, who felt the accusation as particularly aimed at him, could not restrain himself; but rising, replied, with mingled warmth and dignity, "Sir, of all men in this realm, ye have the least cause to dispraise or be offended with cardinals; for, but for me, simple cardinal as I am, you at this moment would have had no head upon your shoulders, and no tongue therein to make so rude a report against us, who intend you no manner of displeasure. Know you then, proud lord, that I, and my brother here, will give place neither to you nor to any other in honourable intentions to the king, and a desire to accomplish his lawful wishes, But bethink ye, my lord, were ye the king's commissioner in a foreign country, having a weighty matter to treat upon, would ye not advertise His Majesty, or ever ye went through the same? Doubtless that ye would, right carefully; and, therefore, I advise you to banish all hasty malice, and consider that we be here nothing but commissioners for a time, and dare not proceed to judgment without the knowledge of our supreme head. It is for this cause that we do no more or less than our commission alloweth. Therefore, my lord, take my counsel; hold your peace, pacify yourself, and frame your words like a man of honour and wisdom. Ye know best what friendship ye have received at my hands, and which I never before this time revealed to any one alive, either to my own glory or to your dishonour."

It would be difficult to conceive the state of agitation into which the Court of Henry was now thrown. Instead of receiving a decision, it was put off till October; and that was not the worst, for in a few days the news arrived that the commission of the cardinals had been revoked by the Pope on the 15th of July, or eight days previous to this adjournment, and that the Papal Court had entertained the appeal of Queen Catherine, and recalled Campeggio. Thus, not even in October, was there any chance of a decision, and had such taken place at this time it would have been null, the commission having previously expired. Still worse, whilst Henry was in the highest state of irritation, there arrived an instrument from Rome, forbidding him to pursue his cause by the legates, but citing him to appear by attorney in the Papal Court, under a penalty of 10,000 ducats.

All these circumstances fell with accumulating force on Wolsey. Anne Boleyn, in her chagrin, accused him as the cause of all. The king listened to these charges in the worst of moods; and called on Wolsey to try some means by which ho could clear himself of such damaging suspicions, and open some new way to the accomplishment of the desired object. Several schemes appear to have been attempted. In the first place, Wolsey prevailed on Campeggio to accompany him in an interview with the queen, for the purpose of seeking to bend her mind to concession. The cause of this was a fiery scene with Henry. He had sent for Wolsey, and had poured out his storm of fury upon him for a good hour. On returning to his barge, the Bishop of Carlisle, who was waiting in it for him, observed that it was warm weather. "Yea, my lord," said Wolsey, "and if you had been where I have been, you would say it was hot" That night, two hours after he had retired to bed, if not to rest, he was called up again by the father of Anne Boleyn, now Earl of Wiltshire, by command of the king, to hasten his going to Bridewell palace, that he might be ready to accompany Campeggio at an earlier hour in the morning, such was the impatience of the king, Lady Anne, and her friends. Wolsey is said again so far to have forgotten prudence as to rate the earl soundly for his eagerness in pushing on this matter; so soundly that the old man sat on the bedside, and wept bitterly all the time the cardinal was dressing. All parties seem to have been worked up at this period into a state in which their patience and their discretion had forsaken them.

Early in the morning Wolsey and Campeggio waited on the queen, and requested an interview. She was at work in the midst of her maids, but she arose just as she was, and came to them in the presence-chamber, with a skein of silk round her neck. ''You see," said the queen, showing the silk, "my employment. In this way I pass my time with my maids, who are indeed none of the ablest counsellors. But I have no other in England; and Spain, where there are those on whom I could rely, is, God knoweth, far off." They begged to see Her Majesty in private; but Catherine, at first, said there could be nothing affecting her that the people about her might not hear. Wolsey then addressed her in Latin, but she desired him to speak English. Then Wolsey communicated the king's message, which was to offer her everything which she could name of riches and honours, and the succession of Mary next after the male issue of the next marriage, if she would consent to a divorce. Upon this the queen again repeated that her position was that of a stranger, destitute of the support and counsel of friends; and, begging the cardinals would be good unto her, and advise her for the best, she led the way to her private room. The result of this interview was never, but it was clear from the future, that it did not move Catherine from her determination to stand on her rights.

This attempt having failed, another was tried. The king set out on a procession, taking Catherine with him, and treating her with all the honours due to the Queen of England. They went first to Moore, the Royal residence in Hertfordshire, where they remained a month, and then went on to Grafton, in Northamptonshire, the ancient seat of the Wydvilles. The design of this journey appears to have been that Henry, by affected kindness and respect, should soften Catherine, and move her to consent to the separation. But the experiment decidedly failed, for we find that at Grafton the Lady Anne was there as well as the queen; that the king had used all his persuasion to induce the queen to become a nun, but that he found it lost time, and again neglected her, spending all his time with Anne Boleyn. Catherine contrived, though strictly watched, to correspond with Rome and Spain, such expedients for her transmission of letters being used as presents of poultry, with which letters passed enclosed in oranges or the like.

All this time Anne Boleyn, her father, and the other enemies of Wolsey, were working hard for his ruin. Everything was brought forward against him that could be thought of. They declared that he was a settled enemy of Anne's; that he had long been in treasonable correspondence with France; and that he had been bribed by Louise, the regent, to order the Duke of Suffolk to retreat from Montdidier, when he might have advanced and taken Paris. Probably, since the cardinal had so sharply snubbed Suffolk in the court at the trial, he might be ready to assert this. All this Henry drank in with obvious avidity. The cardinal was no longer called to Court, and was never consulted on special affairs, except by messengers. His letters were intercepted and read, to find cause of accusation against him. The courtiers, and especially the great families immediately connected with the Boleyns, as Norfolk and others, were all eager for a share of the cardinal's enormous wealth. So open was this become, that they talked of it freely at table, and, moreover, added that the cardinal once gone, they could relieve the Church of its huge estates too.

Wolsey was perfectly aware of all this; and his solo hope was in obtaining an interview with the king, on whom he trusted to exercise some of his old influence. Such an interview came, but it brought little comfort. Campeggio was about to take leave, and return to Rome: Wolsey was allowed to accompany him to Court, and the two legates proceeded to Grafton, where the king was. The Italian legate was received with all the respect due to his rank, and was even presented with some parting gifts, as customary on such occasions; but Wolsey's reception was cold; and he found that though Campeggio had an apartment prepared for him, there was none for himself, and he was obliged to retire for the night to Towcester. At first he had hoped that things were not so bad; for when the cardinals were admitted to kiss the king's hand, and all eyes were fixed on Wolsey, expecting to see the king frown on him, they were greatly confounded and astonished to see Henry raise him up with both hands,' and, taking him aside, converse with him for a considerable time with his old familiarity. The cardinals dined with the ministers; Henry, with the Lady Anne, in her chamber. After dinner he sent for him again, led Mm by the hand into his closet, kept him in private conference till it was dark, and gave him his command to return on the following morning.

This wavering of Henry, this return, as it were, of the old feeling of regard for the cardinal, which continued to the last, warrants the belief that, if the party against him at Court had not been of so peculiar a kind - if the wit, the influence, and the witchcraft of woman had not been set with a deadly power against him, he might still have triumphed over all his enemies, and remained the all-powerful minister, perhaps, till his death. But, as he said, "there was a night-crow that possessed the Royal ear against him, and misrepresented all his actions." No one saw so clearly as Anne the lurking regard in the bosom of the king, the strength of the old habit of consulting with him, and depending on his judgment. This was perceived by Du Bellai, the French ambassador, who attributes the fall of Wolsey entirely to Anne Boleyn. He greatly commiserated his fate, and in one of his letters says, "The worst of the evil is, that Mademoiselle de Boulen has made her friend promise that he will never hear him speak, for she well thinks that lie cannot help having pity upon him." Shakespeare makes Wolsey himself assert this as the one insuperable fatality of his case: -

"There was the weight that pulled me down, O Cromwell!
The king has gone beyond me - all my glories
In that one woman I have lost for ever!
No sun shall ever usher forth my honours,
Or gild the noble troops that waited
Upon my smiles."

Accordingly, though all the Court was thrown into consternation by the kind manner in which the king had received the cardinal, and were trembling for their own safety, before morning the night-crow had again succeeded in embittering Henry's mind against his old minister, and extracted from him a promise that he would never speak to him more. In that lay the victory, and she knew it. If the cardinal was kept out of sight and hearing, his destiny was sealed by the deadly enmity and art of the new and all-powerful favourite. "When, therefore, Wolsey returned in the morning, the king was already on horseback, and, instead of seeing him, he sent him a message to attend the council, and then depart with Campeggio, and so he rode away. Cavendish, Wolsey's faithful secretary, says, "This sudden departure of the king was the especial labour of Mistress Anne Boleyn, who rode with him purposely to draw him away, because he should not return till after the departure of the cardinals. The king rode that morning to view a piece of ground to make a park of (afterwards called Hare well Park), where Mistress Anne had provided him a place to dine in, fearing his return before my lord cardinal's departure."

Campeggio took his leave of England at the commencement of Michaelmas term; but he was not permitted to depart without a gross insult. At Dover the officers of the customs broke into his apartment, and charged him with endeavouring to carry off Wolsey's treasure. The stern old legate, who had repeatedly refused Henry's bribes, by which he might have enriched himself to any extent, was not likely to engage in any such transaction; of which the contents, on being turned out, displayed the most surprising proofs, for there was such an assemblage of old shoes, old clothes, roasted eggs, and dry crusts, as were only the fitting possessions of a most rigorous and abstinent ascetic. The real quest was after the legate's papers, the all-sufficient decretal bull, any letters of Wolsey to the Pope, and, still more anxiously sought after, a set of Henry's love-letters to Anne Boleyn, which, by some means, had got into the legate's hands. The search was fruitless. The wily Italian had probably obeyed the injunction of the Pope to the letter, and burnt the bull, and sent forward before him the especial prize of the love-letters, which arrived safe, and are still shown in the library of the Vatican.

Wolsey did not escape so well as the indignant Campeggio. On the 9th, the same month as he opened the Court of Chancery, he perceived that there was a deadly coldness as of winter frost around him. No one did him honour - the sun of Royal favour had set to him for ever. On the same day Hales, the attorney-general, filed two bills against him in the King's Bench, charging him with having incurred the penalty of praemunire by acting in the kingdom as the Pope's legate. This was a most barefaced accusation, for he had accepted the legative authority by Henry's express permission; had exercised it for many years with his full knowledge and approbation, and in the affairs of the divorce, at the earnest request of the king. But Henry VIII. had no law but his own will, and never could want reasons for punishing those who had offended him. Wolsey now saw that his doom was fixed, and his spirit sank prostrate and irrevocably.

The fall of Wolsey is one of the most complete and perfect things in the history of man. The hold which he had so long on that fierce and lion-like king - that passionate and capricious king - is amazing; but at once it gives way, and down he goes for ever. But great as he was in his prosperity, so he is great in his ruin. There are those who accuse him of servility and meanness, but they do not well comprehend human nature. Wolsey knew himself, his master, and the world. Wolsey knew himself. He knew his own proud ambition, and he knew that his story must stand for ever a brilliant point in the annals of his country; but to give it an effect that would cover a multitude of sins, and make him, who had hitherto been a daring adventurer and a despot of no mean degree, an object of lasting commiseration, it was necessary to fall with dignity and die with penitence. He knew his master, that his favour was gone, his resistance at the pitch, and kept there by a fair enemy whom there was 110 thrusting away. His cupidity once kindled, there was nothing to expect but destruction, certain and at hand.

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