Read CHAPTER V - KING AND CARDINAL of Henry VIII. , free online book, by A. F. Pollard, on

“Nothing,” wrote Giustinian of Wolsey in 1519, “pleases him more than to be called the arbiter of Christendom." Continental statesmen were inclined to ridicule and resent the Cardinal’s claim. But the title hardly exaggerates the part which the English minister was enabled to play during the next few years by the rivalry of Charles and Francis, and by the apparently even balance of their powers. The position which England held in the councils of Europe in 1519 was a marvellous advance upon that which it had occupied in 1509. The first ten years of Henry’s reign had been a period of fluctuating, but continual, progress. The campaign of 1513 had vindicated England’s military prowess, and had made it possible for Wolsey, at the peace of the following year, to place his country on a level with France and Spain and the Empire. Francis’s conquest of Milan, and the haste with which Maximilian, Leo and Charles sought to make terms with the victor, caused a temporary isolation of England and a consequent decline in her influence. But the arrangements made between Charles and Francis contained, in themselves, as acute English diplomatists saw, the seeds of future disruption; and, in 1518, Wolsey was able so to play off these mutual jealousies as to reassert England’s position. He imposed a general peace, or rather a truce, which raised England even higher than the treaties of 1514 had done, and made her appear as the conservator of the peace of Europe. England had almost usurped the place of the Pope as mediator between rival Christian princes.

These brilliant results were achieved with the aid of very moderate military forces and an only respectable navy. They were due partly to the lavish expenditure of Henry’s treasures, partly to the extravagant faith of other princes in the extent of England’s wealth, but mainly to the genius for diplomacy displayed by the great English Cardinal. Wolsey had now reached the zenith of his power; and the growth of his sense of his own importance is graphically described by the Venetian ambassador. When Giustinian first arrived in England, Wolsey used to say, “His Majesty will do so and so”. Subsequently, by degrees, forgetting himself, he commenced saying, “We shall do so and so”. In 1519 he had reached such a pitch that he used to say, “I shall do so and so". Fox had been called by Badoer “a second King,” but Wolsey was now “the King himself". “We have to deal,” said Fox, “with the Cardinal, who is not Cardinal, but King; and no one in the realm dares attempt aught in opposition to his interests." On another occasion Giustinian remarks: “This Cardinal is King, nor does His Majesty depart in the least from the opinion and counsel of his lordship". Sir Thomas More, in describing the negotiations for the peace of 1518, reports that only after Wolsey had concluded a point did he tell the council, “so that even the King hardly knows in what state matters are". A month or two later there was a curious dispute between the Earl of Worcester and West, Bishop of Ely, who were sent to convey the Treaty of London to Francis. Worcester, as a layman, was a partisan of the King, West of the Cardinal. Worcester insisted that their detailed letters should be addressed to Henry, and only general ones to Wolsey. West refused; the important letters, he thought, should go to the Cardinal, the formal ones to the King; and, eventually, identical despatches were sent to both. In negotiations with England, Giustinian told his Government, “if it were necessary to neglect either King or Cardinal, it would be better to pass over the King; he would therefore make the proposal to both, but to the Cardinal first, lest he should resent the precedence conceded to the King". The popular charge against Wolsey, repeated by Shakespeare, of having written Ego et rex meus, though true in fact, is false in intention, because no Latin scholar could put the words in any other order; but the Cardinal’s mental attitude is faithfully represented in the meaning which the familiar phrase was supposed to convey.

His arrogance does not rest merely on the testimony of personal enemies like the historian, Polydore Vergil, and the poet Skelton, or of chroniclers like Hall, who wrote when vilification of Wolsey pleased both king and people, but on the despatches of diplomatists with whom he had to deal, and on the reports of observers who narrowly watched his demeanour. “He is,” wrote one, “the proudest prelate that ever breathed." During the festivities of the Emperor’s visit to England, in 1520, Wolsey alone sat down to dinner with the royal party, while peers, like the Dukes of Suffolk and Buckingham, performed menial offices for the Cardinal, as well as for Emperor, King and Queen. When he celebrated mass at the Field of Cloth of Gold, bishops invested him with his robes and put sandals on his feet, and “some of the chief noblemen in England” brought water to wash his hands. A year later, at his meeting with Charles at Bruges, he treated the Emperor as an equal. He did not dismount from his mule, but merely doffed his cap, and embraced as a brother the temporal head of Christendom. When, after a dispute with the Venetian ambassador, he wished to be friendly, he allowed Giustinian, with royal condescension, and as a special mark of favour, to kiss his hand. He never granted audience either to English peers or foreign ambassadors until the third or fourth time of asking. In 1515 it was the custom of ambassadors to dine with Wolsey before presentation at Court, but four years later they were never served until the viands had been removed from the Cardinal’s table. A Venetian, describing Wolsey’s embassy to France in 1527, relates that his “attendants served cap in hand, and, when bringing the dishes, knelt before him in the act of presenting them. Those who waited on the Most Christian King, kept their caps on their heads, dispensing with such exaggerated ceremonies."

Pretenders to royal honours seldom acquire the grace of genuine royalty, and the Cardinal pursued with vindictive ferocity those who offended his sensitive dignity. In 1515, Polydore Vergil said, in writing to his friend, Cardinal Hadrian, that Wolsey was so tyrannical towards all men that his influence could not last, and that all England abused him. The letter was copied by Wolsey’s secretary, Vergil was sent to the Tower, and only released after many months at the repeated intercession of Leo X. His correspondent, Cardinal Hadrian, was visited with Wolsey’s undying hatred. A pretext for his ruin was found in his alleged complicity in a plot to poison the Pope; the charge was trivial, and Leo forgave him. Not so Wolsey, who procured Hadrian’s deprivation of the Bishopric of Bath and Wells, appropriated the see for himself, and in 1518 kept Campeggio, the Pope’s legate, chafing at Calais until he could bring with him the papal confirmation of these measures. Venice had the temerity to intercede with Leo on Hadrian’s behalf; Wolsey thereupon overwhelmed Giustinian with “rabid and insolent language”; ordered him not to put anything in his despatches without his consent; and revoked the privileges of Venetian merchants in England. In these outbursts of fury, he paid little respect to the sacrosanct character of ambassadors. He heard that the papal nuncio, Chieregati, was sending to France unfavourable reports of his conduct. The nuncio “was sent for by Wolsey, who took him into a private chamber, laid rude hands upon him, fiercely demanding what he had written to the King of France, and what intercourse he had held with Giustinian and his son, adding that he should not quit the spot until he had confessed everything, and, if fair means were not sufficient, he should be put upon the rack". Nine years later, Wolsey nearly precipitated war between England and the Emperor by a similar outburst against Charles’s ambassador, De Praet. He intercepted De Praet’s correspondence, and confined him to his house. It was a flagrant breach of international law. Tampering with diplomatic correspondence was usually considered a sufficient cause for war; on this occasion war did not suit Charles’s purpose, but it was no fault of Wolsey’s that his fury at an alleged personal slight did not provoke hostilities with the most powerful prince in Christendom.

Englishmen fared no better than others at Wolsey’s hands. He used the coercive power of the State to revenge his private wrongs as well as to secure the peace of the realm. In July, 1517, Sir Robert Sheffield, who had been Speaker in two Parliaments, was sent to the Tower for complaining of Wolsey, and to point the moral of Fox’s assertion, that none durst do ought in opposition to the Cardinal’s interests. Again, the idea reflected by Shakespeare, that Wolsey was jealous of Pace, has been described as absurd; but it is difficult to draw any other inference from the relations between them after 1521. While Wolsey was absent at Calais, he accused Pace, without ground, of misrepresenting his letters to Henry, and of obtaining Henry’s favour on behalf of a canon of York; he complained that foreign powers were trusting to another influence than his over the King; and, when he returned, he took care that Pace should henceforth be employed, not as secretary to Henry, but on almost continuous missions to Italy. In 1525, when the Venetian ambassador was to thank Henry for making a treaty with Venice, which Pace had concluded, he was instructed not to praise him so highly, if the Cardinal were present, as if the oration were made to Henry alone; and, four years later, Wolsey found an occasion for sending Pace to the Tower treatment which eventually caused Pace’s mind to become unhinged.

Wolsey’s pride in himself, and his jealousy of others, were not more conspicuous than his thirst after riches. His fees as Chancellor were reckoned by Giustinian at five thousand ducats a year. He made thrice that sum by New Year’s presents, “which he receives like the King". His demand for the Bishopric of Bath and Wells, coupled with the fact that it was he who petitioned for Hadrian’s deprivation, amazed even the Court at Rome, and, “to avoid murmurs," compliance was deferred for a time. But these scruples were allowed no more than ecclesiastical law to stand in the way of Wolsey’s preferment. One of the small reforms decreed by the Lateran Council was that no bishoprics should be held in commendam; the ink was scarcely dry when Wolsey asked in commendam for the see of the recently conquered Tournay. Tournay was restored to France in 1518, but the Cardinal took care that he should not be the loser. A sine qua non of the peace was that Francis should pay him an annual pension of twelve thousand livres as compensation for the loss of a bishopric of which he had never obtained possession. He drew other pensions for political services, from both Francis and Charles; and, from the Duke of Milan, he obtained the promise of ten thousand ducats a year before Pace set out to recover the duchy. It is scarcely a matter for wonder that foreign diplomatists, and Englishmen, too, should have accused Wolsey of spending the King’s money for his own profit, and have thought that the surest way of winning his favour was by means of a bribe. When England, in 1521, sided with Charles against Francis, the Emperor bound himself to make good to Wolsey all the sums he would lose by a breach with France; and from that year onwards Charles paid or owed Wolsey eighteen thousand livres a year. It was nine times the pensions considered sufficient for the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk; and even so it does not include the revenue Wolsey derived from two Spanish bishoprics. These were not bribes in the sense that they affected Wolsey’s policy; they were well enough known to the King; to spoil the Egyptians was considered fair game, and Henry was generous enough not to keep all the perquisites of peace or war for himself.

Thus the Cardinal
Does buy and sell his honour as he pleases
And for his own advantage.]

Two years after the agreement with Charles, Ruthal, Bishop of Durham, died, and Wolsey exchanged Bath and Wells for the richer see formerly held by his political ally and friend. But Winchester was richer even than Durham; so when Fox followed Ruthal to the grave, in 1528, Wolsey exchanged the northern for the southern see, and begged that Durham might go to his natural son, a youth of eighteen. All these were held in commendam with the Archbishopric of York, but they did not satisfy Wolsey; and, in 1521, he obtained the grant of St. Albans, the greatest abbey in England. His palaces outshone in splendour those of Henry himself, and few monarchs have been able to display such wealth of plate as loaded the Cardinal’s table. Wolsey is supposed to have conceived vast schemes of ecclesiastical reform, which time and opportunity failed him to effect. If he had ever seriously set about the work, the first thing to be reformed would have been his own ecclesiastical practice. He personified in himself most of the clerical abuses of his age. Not merely an “unpreaching prelate,” he rarely said mass; his commendams and absenteeism were alike violations of canon law. Three of the bishoprics he held he never visited at all; York, which he had obtained fifteen years before, he did not visit till the year of his death, and then through no wish of his own. He was equally negligent of the vow of chastity; he cohabited with the daughter of “one Lark,” a relative of the Lark who is mentioned in the correspondence of the time as “omnipotent” with the Cardinal, and as resident in his household. By her he left two children, a son, for whom he obtained a deanery, four archdeaconries, five prebends, and a chancellorship, and sought the Bishopric of Durham, and a daughter who became a nun. The accusation brought against him by the Duke of Buckingham and others, of procuring objects for Henry’s sensual appetite, is a scandal, to which no credence would have been attached but for Wolsey’s own moral laxity, and the fact that the governor of Charles V. performed a similar office.

Repellent as was Wolsey’s character in many respects, he was yet the greatest, as he was the last, of the ecclesiastical statesmen who have governed England. As a diplomatist, pure and simple, he has never been surpassed, and as an administrator he has had few equals. “He is,” says Giustinian, “very handsome, learned, extremely eloquent, of vast ability and indefatigable. He alone transacts the same business as that which occupies all the magistracies, offices, and councils of Venice, both civil and criminal; and all State affairs are managed by him, let their nature be what it may. He is thoughtful, and has the reputation of being extremely just; he favours the people exceedingly, and especially the poor, hearing their suits and seeking to despatch them instantly. He also makes the lawyers plead gratis for all poor suitors. He is in very great repute, seven times more so than if he were Pope." His sympathy with the poor was no idle sentiment, and his commission of 1517, and decree against enclosures in the following year, were the only steps taken in Henry’s reign to mitigate that curse of the agricultural population.

The Evil May Day riots of 1517 alone disturbed the peace of Wolsey’s internal administration; and they were due merely to anti-foreign prejudice, and to the idea that strangers within the gates monopolised the commerce of England and diverted its profits to their own advantage. “Never,” wrote Wolsey to a bishop at Rome in 1518, “was the kingdom in greater harmony and repose than now; such is the effect of my administration of justice and equity." To Henry his strain was less arrogant. “And for your realm,” he says, “our Lord be thanked, it was never in such peace nor tranquillity; for all this summer I have had neither of riot, felony, nor forcible entry, but that your laws be in every place indifferently ministered without leaning of any manner. Albeit, there hath lately been a fray betwixt Pygot, your Serjeant, and Sir Andrew Windsor’s servants for the seisin of a ward, whereto they both pretend titles; in the which one man was slain. I trust the next term to learn them the law of the Star Chamber that they shall ware how from henceforth they shall redress their matter with their hands. They be both learned in the temporal law, and I doubt not good example shall ensue to see them learn the new law of the Star Chamber, which, God willing, they shall have indifferently administered to them, according to their deserts."

Wolsey’s “new law of the Star Chamber,” his stern enforcement of the statutes against livery and maintenance, and his spasmodic attempt to redress the evils of enclosures, probably contributed as much as his arrogance and ostentation to the ill-favour in which he stood with the nobility and landed gentry. From the beginning there were frequent rumours of plots to depose him, and his enemies abroad often talked of the universal hatred which he inspired in England. The classes which benefited by his justice complained bitterly of the impositions required to support his spirited foreign policy. Clerics who regarded him as a bulwark on the one hand against heresy, and, on the other, against the extreme view which Henry held from the first of his authority over the Church, were alienated by the despotism Wolsey wielded by means of his legatine powers. Even the mild and aged Warham felt his lash, and was threatened with Praemunire for having wounded Wolsey’s legatine authority by calling a council at Lambeth. Peers, spiritual no less than temporal, regarded him as “the great tyrant”. Parliament he feared and distrusted; he had urged the speedy dissolution of that of 1515; only one sat during the fourteen years of his supremacy, and with that the Cardinal quarrelled. He possessed no hold over the nation, but only over the King, in whom alone he put his trust.

For the time he seemed secure enough. No one could touch a hair of his head so long as he was shielded by Henry’s power, and Henry seemed to have given over his royal authority to Wolsey’s hands with a blind and undoubting confidence. “The King,” said one, in 1515, “is a youngling, cares for nothing but girls and hunting, and wastes his father’s patrimony." “He gambled,” reported Giustinian in 1519, “with the French hostages, occasionally, it was said, to the amount of six or eight thousand ducats a day." In the following summer Henry rose daily at four or five in the morning and hunted till nine or ten at night; “he spares,” said Pace, “no pains to convert the sport of hunting into a martyrdom". “He devotes himself,” wrote Chieregati, “to accomplishments and amusements day and night, is intent on nothing else, and leaves business to Wolsey, who rules everything." Wolsey, it was remarked by Leo X., made Henry go hither and thither, just as he liked, and the King signed State papers without knowing their contents. “Writing,” admitted Henry, “is to me somewhat tedious and painful." When Wolsey thought it essential that autograph letters in Henry’s hand should be sent to other crowned heads, he composed the letters and sent them to Henry to copy out. Could the most constitutional monarch have been more dutiful? But constitutional monarchy was not then invented, and it is not surprising that Giustinian, in 1519, found it impossible to say much for Henry as a statesman. Agere cum rege, he said, est nihil agere; anything told to the King was either useless or was communicated to Wolsey. Bishop West was sure that Henry would not take the pains to look at his and Worcester’s despatches; and there was a widespread impression abroad and at home that the English King was a negligible quantity in the domestic and foreign affairs of his own kingdom.

For ten years Henry had reigned while first his council, and then Wolsey, governed. Before another decade had passed, Henry was King and Government in one; and nobody in the kingdom counted for much but the King. He stepped at once into Wolsey’s place, became his own prime minister, and ruled with a vigour which was assuredly not less than the Cardinal’s. Such transformations are not the work of a moment, and Henry’s would have been impossible, had he in previous years been so completely the slave of Vanity Fair, as most people thought. In reality, there are indications that beneath the superficial gaiety of his life, Henry was beginning to use his own judgment, form his own conclusions, and take an interest in serious matters. He was only twenty-eight in 1519, and his character was following a normal course of development.

From the earliest years of his reign Henry had at least two serious preoccupations, the New Learning and his navy. We learn from Erasmus that Henry’s Court was an example to Christendom for learning and piety; that the King sought to promote learning among the clergy; and on one occasion defended “mental and ex tempore prayer” against those who apparently thought laymen should, in their private devotions, confine themselves to formularies prescribed by the clergy. In 1519 there were more men of learning at the English Court than at any university; it was more like a museum, says the great humanist, than a Court; and in the same year the King endeavoured to stop the outcry against Greek, raised by the reactionary “Trojans” at Oxford. “You would say,” continues Erasmus, “that Henry was a universal genius. He has never neglected his studies; and whenever he has leisure from his political occupations, he reads, or disputes of which he is very fond with remarkable courtesy and unruffled temper. He is more of a companion than a king. For these little trials of wit, he prepares himself by reading schoolmen, Thomas, Scotus or Gabriel." His theological studies were encouraged by Wolsey, possibly to divert the King’s mind from an unwelcome interference in politics, and it was at the Cardinal’s instigation that Henry set to work on his famous book against Luther. He seems to have begun it, or some similar treatise, which may afterwards have been adapted to Luther’s particular case, before the end of the year in which the German reformer published his original theses. In September, 1517, Erasmus heard that Henry had returned to his studies, and, in the following June, Pace writes to Wolsey that, with respect to the commendations given by the Cardinal to the King’s book, though Henry does not think it worthy such great praise as it has had from him and from all other “great learned” men, yet he says he is very glad to have “noted in your grace’s letters that his reasons be called inevitable, considering that your grace was sometime his adversary herein and of contrary opinion". It is obvious that this “book,” whatever it may have been, was the fruit of Henry’s own mind, and that he adopted a line of argument not entirely relished by Wolsey. But, if it was the book against Luther, it was laid aside and rewritten before it was given to the world in its final form. Nothing more is heard of it for three years. In April, 1521, Pace explains to Wolsey the delay in sending him on some news-letters from Germany “which his grace had not read till this day after his dinner; and thus he commanded me to write unto your grace, declaring he was otherwise occupied; i.e., in scribendo contra Lutherum, as I do conjecture". Nine days later Pace found the King reading a new book of Luther’s, “which he dispraised”; and he took the opportunity to show Henry Leo’s bull against the Reformer. “His grace showed himself well contented with the coming of the same; howbeit, as touching the publication thereof, he said he would have it well examined and diligently looked to afore it were published." Even in the height of his fervour against heresy, Henry was in no mood to abate one jot or one tittle of his royal authority in ecclesiastical matters.

His book was finished before 21st May, 1521, when the King wrote to Leo, saying that “ever since he knew Luther’s heresy in Germany, he had made it his study how to extirpate it. He had called the learned of his kingdom to consider these errors and denounce them, and exhort others to do the same. He had urged the Emperor and Electors, since this pestilent fellow would not return to God, to extirpate him and his heretical books. He thought it right still further to testify his zeal for the faith by his writings, that all might see he was ready to defend the Church, not only with his arms, but with the resources of his mind. He dedicated therefore, to the Pope, the first offerings of his intellect and his little erudition." The letter had been preceded, on 12th May, by a holocaust of Luther’s books in St. Paul’s Churchyard. Wolsey sat in state on a scaffold at St. Paul’s Cross, with the papal nuncio and the Archbishop of Canterbury at his feet on the right, and the imperial ambassador and Tunstall, Bishop of London, at his feet on the left; and while the books were being devoured by the flames, Fisher preached a sermon denouncing the errors contained therein. But it was July before the fair copy of Henry’s book was ready for presentation to Leo; possibly the interval was employed by learned men in polishing Henry’s style, but the substance of the work was undoubtedly of Henry’s authorship. Such is the direct testimony of Erasmus, and there is no evidence to indicate the collaboration of others. Pace was then the most intimate of Henry’s counsellors, and Pace, by his own confession, was not in the secret. Nor is the book so remarkable as to preclude the possibility of Henry’s authorship. Its arguments are respectable and give evidence of an intelligent and fairly extensive acquaintance with the writings of the fathers and schoolmen; but they reveal no profound depth of theological learning nor genius for abstract speculation. It does not rank so high in the realm of theology, as do some of Henry’s compositions in that of music. In August it was sent to Leo, with verses composed by Wolsey and copied out in the royal hand. In September the English ambassador at Rome presented Leo his copy, bound in cloth of gold. The Pope read five leaves without interruption, and remarked that “he would not have thought such a book should have come from the King’s grace, who hath been occupied, necessarily, in other feats, seeing that other men which hath occupied themselves in study all their lives cannot bring forth the like". On 2nd October it was formally presented in a consistory of cardinals; and, on the 11th, Leo promulgated his bull conferring on Henry his coveted title, “Fidei Defensor”.

Proud as he was of his scholastic achievement and its reward at the hands of the Pope, Henry was doing more for the future of England by his attention to naval affairs than by his pursuit of high-sounding titles. His intuitive perception of England’s coming needs in this respect is, perhaps, the most striking illustration of his political foresight. He has been described as the father of the British navy; and, had he not laid the foundations of England’s naval power, his daughter’s victory over Spain and entrance on the path that led to empire would have been impossible. Under Henry, the navy was first organised as a permanent force; he founded the royal dockyards at Woolwich and Deptford, and the corporation of Trinity House; he encouraged the planting of timber for shipbuilding, enacted laws facilitating inland navigation, dotted the coast with fortifications, and settled the constitution of the naval service upon a plan from which it has ever since steadily developed. He owed his inspiration to none of his councillors, least of all to Wolsey, who had not the faintest glimmering of the importance of securing England’s naval supremacy, and who, during the war of 1522-23, preferred futile invasions on land to Henry’s “secret designs” for destroying the navy of France. The King’s interest in ships and shipbuilding was strong, even amid the alluring diversions of the first years of his reign. He watched his fleet sail for Guienne in 1512, and for France in 1513; he knew the speed, the tonnage and the armament of every ship in his navy; he supervised the minutest details of their construction. In 1520 his ambassador at Paris tells him that Francis is building a ship, “and reasoneth in this mystery of shipman’s craft as one which had understanding in the same. But, sir, he approacheth not your highness in that science." A French envoy records how, in 1515, the whole English Court went down to see the launch of the Princess Mary. Henry himself “acted as pilot and wore a sailor’s coat and trousers, made of cloth of gold, and a gold chain with the inscription, ‘Dieu est mon droit,’ to which was suspended a whistle, which he blew nearly as loud as a trumpet". The launch of a ship was then almost a religious ceremony, and the place of the modern bottle of champagne was taken by a mass, which was said by the Bishop of Durham. In 1518 Giustinian tells how Henry went to Southampton to see the Venetian galleys, and caused some new guns to be “fired again and again, marking their range, as he is very curious about matters of this kind".

It was not long before Henry developed an active participation in serious matters other than theological disputes and naval affairs. It is not possible to trace its growth with any clearness because no record remains of the verbal communications which were sufficient to indicate his will during the constant attendance of Wolsey upon him. But, as soon as monarch and minister were for some cause or another apart, evidence of Henry’s activity in political matters becomes more available. Thus, in 1515, we find Wolsey sending the King, at his own request, the Act of Apparel, just passed by Parliament, for Henry’s “examination and correction". He also desires Henry’s determination about the visit of the Queen of Scotland, that he may make the necessary arrangements. In 1518 Henry made a prolonged stay at Abingdon, partly from fear of the plague, and partly, as he told Pace, because at Abingdon people were not continually coming to tell him of deaths, as they did daily in London. During this absence from London, Henry insisted upon the attendance of sufficient councillors to enable him to transact business; he established a relay of posts every seven hours between himself and Wolsey; and we hear of his reading “every word of all the letters” sent by his minister. Every week Wolsey despatched an account of such State business as he had transacted; and on one occasion, “considering the importance of Wolsey’s letters,” Henry paid a secret and flying visit to London. In 1519 there was a sort of revolution at Court, obscure enough now, but then a subject of some comment at home and abroad. Half a dozen of Henry’s courtiers were removed from his person and sent into honourable exile, receiving posts at Calais, at Guisnes, and elsewhere. Giustinian thought that Henry had been gambling too much and wished to turn over a new leaf. There were also rumours that these courtiers governed Henry after their own appetite, to the King’s dishonour; and Henry, annoyed at the report and jealous as ever of royal prestige, promptly cashiered them, and filled their places with grave and reverend seniors.

Two years later Wolsey was abroad at the conference of Calais, and again Henry’s hand in State affairs becomes apparent. Pace, defending himself from the Cardinal’s complaints, tells him that he had done everything “by the King’s express commandment, who readeth all your letters with great diligence”. One of the letters which angered Wolsey was the King’s, for Pace “had devised it very different”; but the King would not approve of it; “and commanded me to bring your said letters into his privy chamber with pen and ink, and there he would declare unto me what I should write. And when his grace had your said letters, he read the same three times, and marked such places as it pleased him to make answer unto, and commanded me to write and rehearse as liked him, and not further to meddle with that answer; so that I herein nothing did but obeyed the King’s commandment, and especially at such time as he would upon good grounds be obeyed, whosoever spake to the contrary." Wolsey might say in his pride “I shall do so and so,” and foreign envoys might think that the Cardinal made the King “go hither and thither, just as he liked”; but Wolsey knew perfectly well that when he thought fit, Henry “would be obeyed, whosoever spake to the contrary”. He might delegate much of his authority, but men were under no misapprehension that he could and would revoke it whenever he chose. For the time being, King and Cardinal worked together in general harmony, but it was a partnership in which Henry could always have the last word, though Wolsey did most of the work. As early as 1518 he had nominated Standish to the bishopric of St. Asaph, disregarding Wolsey’s candidate and the opposition of the clerical party at Court, who detested Standish for his advocacy of Henry’s authority in ecclesiastical matters, and dreaded his promotion as an evil omen for the independence of the Church.

Even in the details of administration, the King was becoming increasingly vigilant. In 1519 he drew up a “remembrance of such things” as he required the Cardinal to “put in effectual execution". They were twenty-one in number and ranged over every variety of subject. The household was to be arranged; “views to be made and books kept”; the ordnance seen to; treasurers were to make monthly reports of their receipts and payments, and send counterparts to the King; the surveyor of lands was to make a yearly declaration; and Wolsey himself and the judges were to make quarterly reports to Henry in person. There were five points “which the King will debate with his council,” the administration of justice, reform of the exchequer, Ireland, employment of idle people, and maintenance of the frontiers. The general plan of Wolsey’s negotiations at Calais in 1521 was determined by King and Cardinal in consultation, and every important detail in them and in the subsequent preparations for war was submitted to Henry. Not infrequently they differed. Wolsey wanted Sir William Sandys to command the English contingent; Henry declared it would be inconsistent with his dignity to send a force out of the realm under the command of any one of lower rank than an earl. Wolsey replied that Sandys would be cheaper than an earl, but the command was entrusted to the Earl of Surrey. Henry thought it unsafe, considering the imminence of a breach with France, for English wine ships to resort to Bordeaux; Wolsey thought otherwise, and they disputed the point for a month. Honours were divided; the question was settled for the time by twenty ships sailing while the dispute was in progress. Apparently they returned in safety, but the seizure of English ships at Bordeaux in the following March justified Henry’s caution. The King was already an adept in statecraft, and there was at least an element of truth in the praise which Wolsey bestowed on his pupil. “No man,” he wrote, “can more groundly consider the politic governance of your said realm, nor more assuredly look to the preservation thereof, than ye yourself.” And again, “surely, if all your whole council had been assembled together, they could not have more deeply perceived or spoken therein".

The Cardinal “could not express the joy and comfort with which he noted the King’s prudence”; but he can scarcely have viewed Henry’s growing interference without some secret misgivings. For he was developing not only Wolsey’s skill and lack of scruple in politics, but also a choleric and impatient temper akin to the Cardinal’s own. In 1514 Carroz had complained of Henry’s offensive behaviour, and had urged that it would become impossible to control him, if the “young colt” were not bridled. In the following year Henry treated a French envoy with scant civility, and flatly contradicted him twice as he described the battle of Marignano. Giustinian also records how Henry went “pale with anger” at unpleasant news. A few years later his successor describes Henry’s “very great rage” when detailing Francis’s injuries; Charles made the same complaints against the French King, “but not so angrily, in accordance with his gentler nature". On another occasion Henry turned his back upon a diplomatist and walked away in the middle of his speech, an incident, we are told, on which much comment was made in Rome.

But these outbursts were rare and they grew rarer; in 1527 Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador, remarks that it was “quite the reverse of the King’s ordinary manner” to be more violent than Wolsey; and throughout the period of strained relations with the Emperor, Chapuys constantly refers to the unfailing courtesy and graciousness with which Henry received him. He never forgot himself so far as to lay rude hands on an ambassador, as Wolsey did; and no provocation betrayed him in his later years, passionate though he was, into a neglect of the outward amenities of diplomatic and official intercourse. Outbursts of anger, of course, there were; but they were often like the explosions of counsel in law courts, and were “to a great extent diplomatically controlled". Nor can we deny the consideration with which Henry habitually treated his councillors, the wide discretion he allowed them in the exercise of their duties, and the toleration he extended to contrary opinions. He was never impatient of advice even when it conflicted with his own views. His long arguments with Wolsey, and the freedom with which the Cardinal justified his recommendations, even after Henry had made up his mind to an opposite course, are a sufficient proof of the fact. In 1517, angered by Maximilian’s perfidy, Henry wrote him some very “displeasant” letters. Tunstall thought they would do harm, kept them back, and received no censure for his conduct. In 1522-23 Wolsey advised first the siege of Boulogne and then its abandonment. “The King,” wrote More, “is by no means displeased that you have changed your opinion, as his highness esteemeth nothing in counsel more perilous than one to persevere in the maintenance of his advice because he hath once given it. He therefore commendeth and most affectuously thanketh your faithful diligence and high wisdom in advertising him of the reasons which have moved you to change your opinion." No king knew better than Henry how to get good work from his ministers, and his warning against persevering in advice, merely because it has once been given, is a political maxim for all time.

A lesson might also be learnt from a story of Henry and Colet told by Erasmus on Colet’s own authority. In 1513 war fever raged in England. Colet’s bishop summoned him “into the King’s Court for asserting, when England was preparing for war against France, that an unjust peace was preferable to the most just war; but the King threatened his persecutor with vengeance. After Easter, when the expedition was ready against France, Colet preached on Whitsunday before the King and the Court, exhorting men rather to follow the example of Christ their prince than that of Cæsar and Alexander. The King was afraid that this sermon would have an ill effect upon the soldiers and sent for the Dean. Colet happened to be dining at the Franciscan monastery near Greenwich. When the King heard of it, he entered the garden of the monastery, and on Colet’s appearance dismissed his attendants; then discussed the matter with him, desiring him to explain himself, lest his audience should suppose that no war was justifiable. After the conversation was over he dismissed him before them all, drinking to Colet’s health and saying ’Let every man have his own doctor, this is mine’.” The picture is pleasing evidence of Henry’s superiority to some vulgar passions. Another instance of freedom from popular prejudice, which he shared with his father, was his encouragement of foreign scholars, diplomatists and merchants; not a few of the ablest of Tudor agents were of alien birth. He was therefore intensely annoyed at the rabid fury against them that broke out in the riots of Evil May Day; yet he pardoned all the ringleaders but one. Tolerance and clemency were no small part of his character in early manhood; and together with his other mental and physical graces, his love of learning and of the society of learned men, his magnificence and display, his supremacy in all the sports that were then considered the peculiar adornment of royalty, they contributed scarcely less than Wolsey’s genius for diplomacy and administration to England’s renown. “In short,” wrote Chieregati to Isabella d’Este in 1517, “the wealth and civilisation of the world are here; and those who call the English barbarians appear to me to render themselves such. I here perceive very elegant manners, extreme decorum, and very great politeness. And amongst other things there is this most invincible King, whose accomplishments and qualities are so many and excellent that I consider him to surpass all who ever wore a crown; and blessed and happy may this country call itself in having as its lord so worthy and eminent a sovereign; whose sway is more bland and gentle than the greatest liberty under any other."