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Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Continued) page 8

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But during the discussions on the marriage betwixt the English princess and the French prince, a circumstance had taken place which showed that Henry was resolved to let slip no opportunity of carrying his divorce at all costs. The Bishop of Tarbes suddenly asked the question whether, in proceeding to this marriage, the legitimacy of the Princess Mary was beyond all legal and canonical doubt, considering the nature of the king's marriage with her mother, the queen. Henry and Wolsey affected to be much astonished and agitated at the question; and Henry afterwards made it an argument that the idea of the illegality of his marriage, though it had originated with himself, had been greatly strengthened by the question of the bishop, as it showed how apparent the fact was to strangers and even foreigners. Yet the suggestion had undoubtedly been made to the bishop by Wolsey on Henry's behalf. The meaning of the question was quite obvious - it was to serve the cause of the divorce, which must be an object highly pleasing to Francis L, in his resentment of the treatment of himself by the emperor; but it was not believed for a moment to be a real doubt even by the man who made it, or he would not proceed to confirm the choice of an illegitimate maiden for the Queen of France, or the wife of his son.

At the close of this treaty, Wolsey was sent over to France, rather to show to Europe, arid particularly to the King of Spain, the intimate footing betwixt France and England, than for any real use. We have detailed that pompous journey of the cardinal. It was believed that Anne Boleyn and her friends were at the bottom, of Wolsey's being sent abroad for a time, that the affairs regarding " the king's secret" might proceed without his cognisance; and, indeed, before his return, it had ceased to be a secret to any one. Anne was become openly acknowledged as the king's favourite, and had assumed an air and style of great magnificence and consequence on account of it. Meantime, Wolsey, misled by his idea that the king meant to marry a foreign princess, had committed himself deeply, and added fresh and serious preparations to his own destruction. He had given great hints of the divorce of Henry, and of his probable marriage with a princess of the Court of France. He told Louise, the king's mother, that "if she lived another year, she should see as great union on one side, and disunion on the other, as she would ask or wish for. These," he added, "were not idle words. Let her treasure them up in her memory; time would explain them."

The cardinal had, in fact, been looking round him at the French Court for a wife for Henry, and had pitched on the Princess Renee, sister of the late Queen Claude, whilst Henry himself had settled his choice nearer home. On the return of Wolsey, all being now prepared, Henry communicated to the astonished man the secret of his intended marriage with Anne. Confounded at the disclosure, the proud cardinal dropped on his knees, and, it is said, remained there for some hours pleading with the king against this infatuation, as he deemed it, and which he saw compromised himself with the Court of France, and menaced him darkly in the future, from the deep enmity of her who would thus become his queen. His pleadings and arguments were vain. His fair enemy had made her ground wholly secure in his absence, and Wolsey withdrew with gloomy forebodings.

The conduct of Anne Boleyn in this matter has been earnestly discussed and variously represented by different parties. By the Papist world she has been loaded with unmitigated censure, as a selfish, designing, and unprincipled woman, ready to raise herself by the sacrifice of her own sovereign mistress, a woman of great excellence, and of the most meek forbearance towards herself. By the Protestants, who regard Anne as the great champion of the introduction of the Reformation, she has been treated as everything perfect and estimable. The reality, as usual, lies between. Anne, with all her virtues and accomplishments, was a woman with the weakness and the ambition of a woman; and we have only to look forward, and see what a train of other women were ready to tread in her steps, and mount the same throne by the side of this royal Blue Beard, even when it was dripping with the blood of murdered queens, to mitigate our censures and modify our judgment. But no reasonings, no pleas based on the frailties of human nature, can remove the principles of eternal right; the force of temptations cannot be admitted in place of the heroism of virtue. It has been well said by a modern historian, that "in encouraging the addresses of a married man, which she notoriously did, and in entering into schemes of self-aggrandisement, which could only be achieved by degrading Catherine, and wounding to the heart a kind and indulgent mistress and patroness, Anne Boleyn was guilty of crimes of a still deeper dye than that of which she would have been in becoming the king's concubine. It is a quibble, rather than any valid excuse, to urge that she had persuaded herself the marriage with Catherine was illegal and null. She was hardly either an impartial or in any other respect a fit judge of this nice and much disputed question; and even if the canonical objections to the marriage had been as clear as they were the reverse, that would make no difference either to the delicacy or the morality of her conduct."

The communication of the king's secret to Wolsey was immediately followed by more active measures, in which Wolsey, however averse, was obliged to co-operate. The king's treatise was now submitted to Sir Thomas More, who at once saw the peril of acting as a judge in so delicate a matter, declared that he was no theologian, and therefore unqualified to decide. It was next laid before the Bishop of Rochester, who decided against it. Henry then directed Sir Thomas to apply to some other of the bishops; but as he was hostile to the treatise himself, he was not likely to be a very persuasive pleader for it with others. None of the bishops would commit themselves, and Sir Thomas advised Henry to see what St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and the other fathers of the Church, said upon it. Henry then employed the more unscrupulous agency of Wolsey with the prelates, who plied them with all his eloquence; but the most that he could obtain from them was that the arguments of the king's book furnished a reasonable ground for a scruple, and that he had better apply to the Holy See, and abide by its decision.

With the nation at large, the proposal of the amorous king was still less popular than with the bishops. They had a great veneration for the insulted Catherine, who had maintained for so many years the most fair and estimable character on the throne, and against whose virtue not a breath had ever been heard. They attributed this scheme to the acts of the cardinal, who was the enemy of the emperor and the warm ally of France; and they dreaded that the divorce might lead to war, and the suppression of the profitable trade with the Netherlands.

Unable to obtain much sanction at home, Henry at length referred the cause to the Pope; and Stephen Gardiner - then known by the humble name of Mr. Stephen - and Mr. Fox, proceeded to Italy with the Royal instructions. The grand difficulty was to effect the divorce in so legal and complete a manner that no plea might be able to be brought against the legitimacy of the proposed marriage; and for three months fresh instructions were issued and revoked, and issued in amended form again, which were laid before Dr. Knight, the king's agent at the Papal Court, and the three brothers Casali, Wolsey's agents, and before Staphilaeo, Dean of the Rota, who had been gained over whilst lately in London.

But the emperor had not been idle. The Pope, as we have seen, had been shut up by the Imperial troops in, the Castle of St. Angelo- and, in negotiation for his liberation, Charles had made it one of the principal stipulations of his release that he should not consent to act preparatory to a divorce without the previous knowledge of Charles himself. Scarcely had the Pope made his escape to Orvieto, as we have related, when the English emissaries appeared before him. Poor Clement was thrown into a terrible dilemma. The Imperialists were still in possession of Rome, and if he consented to the request of Henry, he had nothing to expect but vengeance from the emperor. To make the matter worse, a French army, under the command of Lautrec, and accompanied by Sir Robert Jerningham as the English commissary, which had been sent over the Alps to his assistance, and to enable him to recover his capital, loitered at Piacenza, and delayed the chance of the restoration and defence of Rome.

The English envoys presented to him two instruments, which had been prepared by the learned agents above named, by the first of which he was to empower Wolsey, or in case of any objection to him, Staphilaeo, to hear and decide the case of the divorce: and by the second he was to grant Henry a dispensation to marry, in the place of Catherine, any other woman soever, even if she were already promised to another, or related to him in the first degree of affinity. This was a most extraordinary proceeding, an acknowledgment by Henry of the very power in the Pope which he affected to doubt and deny. The objection to the marriage of Henry with Catherine was that she was within the proscribed degree of affinity, having been his brother's wife, and moreover, as Henry was accused, and by this instrument appeared to admit, of having established the same degree of relationship, though illicitly, with the sister of Anne, Mary Boleyn, as had existed betwixt Catherine and his brother legally, this was to prevent any objections to the marriage with Anne.

The Pope signed both documents, but recommended that Henry should keep them secret till the French army, under Lautrec, should arrive, and free him from fears, even for his life, of the vengeance of the emperor. That having taken place, he promised to issue a second commission of the same import, which might at once be publicly proceeded with.

Scarcely, however, had Dr. Knight left Orvieto, when Gregorio da Casali brought a request from the English Court that a legate from Rome might be joined in the commission with Wolsey. To this Clement observed, that the King of England was pursuing a very circuitous course. If the king was really convinced in his conscience that his present marriage was null, he had better marry again, and then he himself or a legate could decide the question at once. But if a legate were to sit in jurisdiction, there must be appeals to himself in Rome, exceptions, and adjournments, which would make an affair of years of it. But, after saying this, the Pope signed the requisition.

At the instigation of Wolsey, who was anxious that the treaty which he had signed with France should be carried into effect, war was now declared formally against the emperor. The ambassadors of both France and England were recalled on the same day from the Imperial Court, and on the 27th of January, Clarenceaux and Guienne, kings-at-arms, defied Charles in the name of their respective sovereigns. Charles made a dignified and fitting reply, in which he had evidently by far the best of it. To Guienne, the French king-at-arms, he observed that his message was superfluous, as he and his master had long been at war; but to Clarenceaux he justified his conduct at length. In reply to the demands of the money which he had borrowed of Henry, he acknowledged the debt, and pledged himself to discharge it in due time and manner. As to those of Francis, which he had engaged to pay on the former declaration of war against him. by himself and Henry, he said they were no longer due from him, as Francis had again taken their obligation upon himself, both in the Treaty of Madrid and the recent Treaty of London. To the alleged breach of promise of marriage to Mary of England, and the consequent amount of penalty, he denied the obligation; Henry having refused to allow of the solemnisation of the marriage when demanded, and had, moreover, consented to his marriage with Isabella. "God grant," he continued, "that I may not have better reason to defy him than he has to defy me. Can I pass over the injury with which he threatens my aunt, by his application for a divorce? or the insult which he has offered to me, by soliciting me to marry a daughter whom he now pronounces a bastard? But I am perfectly aware from whom these suggestions proceed. I would not satisfy the rapacity of the Cardinal of York, nor employ my forces to seat, him in the chair of St. Peter; and he, in return, has sworn to be revenged, and now seeks to fulfil his purpose. But if war ensue, let the blood that must be shed rest where it ought, on the head of him who was the original instigator of it."

The news of the war with the emperor was received in England with the utmost disgust and discontent. The people denounced the cardinal as the troubler of the kingdom and the interrupter of its commerce. The merchants refused to frequent the new marts in France which were appointed, instead of their accustomed ones in the Netherlands. The wool-combers, spinners, and clothiers were stopped in their sales by this resolve on the part of the merchants; their people were all thrown out of work; and the spirit of commotion grew so strong, that there were serious fears of open outbreaks. In the cabinet, the cardinal had as little support in his policy as out of doors. There was not a member, except himself, who was an advocate of the French alliance; but all his colleagues at the council-table were eagerly watching for some chance which should hasten his downfall. Even the king himself was averse to the war with his nephew, the emperor; and especially as he was aware that the fear of Charles's resentment deterred Clement from cordially proceeding with the divorce; and Henry hinted that if peace were restored, Charles might be induced to withdraw his opposition. Fortunately, the Flemings were as much incommoded by the breach of commercial relations as the English; and the Archduchess Margaret, the Governess of the Netherlands, had the prudence to make a proposition that peace should be restored. Negotiations commenced, and were carried on for some time for a general pacification; but this being proved unattainable, a peace was concluded with the Netherlands, and the war was allowed to remain betwixt England and Spain.

But the fact was, the war, so far as it regarded these two countries, was merely nominal; it raged only in Italy, betwixt the French and the Imperialists, Henry had no money for war, and, besides, all his thoughts and energies were occupied in carrying through the divorce, which he now found a most formidable affair, fresh difficulties starting up at every step. Had Catherine been only an English subject, instead of the aunt of the great monarch of Germany, Flanders, and Spain, Henry would have made short work of it with his conscience, and the poor woman who was in the way. He would have charged her with some heinous and revolting crime, and severed her head from her shoulders at a blow, and all his difficulties with it. But he had not only royal blood to deal with, but all the ancient prejudices that surrounded it, and which would have made him execrated over the whole world, had he spilled it. He knew that Charles was watching intently to catch him at advantage, and he never felt himself safe in his proceedings.

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