Read CHAPTER VIII - THE POPE'S DILEMMA of Henry VIII. , free online book, by A. F. Pollard, on ReadCentral.com.

In February, 1527, in pursuance of the alliance with France, which Wolsey, recognising too late the fatal effects of the union with Charles, was seeking to make the basis of English policy, a French embassy arrived in England to conclude a marriage between Francis I. and the Princess Mary. At its head was Gabriel de Grammont, Bishop of Tarbes; and in the course of his negotiations he is alleged to have first suggested those doubts of the validity of Henry’s marriage, which ended in the divorce. The allegation was made by Wolsey three months later, and from that time down to our own day it has done duty with Henry’s apologists as a sufficient vindication of his conduct. It is now denounced as an impudent fiction, mainly on the ground that no hint of these doubts occurs in the extant records of the negotiations. But unfortunately we have only one or two letters relating to this diplomatic mission. There exists, indeed, a detailed narrative, drawn up some time afterwards by Claude Dodieu, the French secretary; but the silence, on so confidential a matter, of a third party who was not present when the doubts were presumably suggested, proves little or nothing. Du Bellay, in 1528, reported to the French Government Henry’s public assertion that Tarbes had mentioned these doubts; the statement was not repudiated; Tarbes himself believed in the validity of Henry’s case and was frequently employed in efforts to win from the Pope an assent to Henry’s divorce. It is rather a strong assumption to suppose in the entire absence of positive evidence that Henry and Wolsey were deliberately lying. There is nothing impossible in the supposition that some such doubts were expressed; indeed, Francis I. had every reason to encourage doubts of Henry’s marriage as a means of creating a breach between him and Charles V. In return for Mary’s hand, Henry was endeavouring to obtain various advantages from Francis in the way of pensions, tribute and territory. Tarbes represented that the French King was so good a match for the English princess, that there was little need for further concession; to which Henry replied that Francis was no doubt an excellent match for his daughter, but was he free to marry? His precontract with Charles V.’s sister, Eleanor, was a complication which seriously diminished the value of Francis’s offer; and the papal dispensation, which he hoped to obtain, might not be forthcoming or valid. As a counter to this stroke, Tarbes may well have hinted that the Princess Mary was not such a prize as Henry made out. Was the dispensation for Henry’s own marriage beyond cavil? Was Mary’s legitimacy beyond question? Was her succession to the English throne, a prospect Henry dangled before the Frenchman’s eyes, so secure? These questions were not very new, even at the time of Tarbes’s mission. The divorce had been talked about in 1514, and now, in 1527, the position of importance given to the Duke of Richmond was a matter of public comment, and inevitably suggested doubts of Mary’s succession. There is no documentary evidence that this argument was ever employed, beyond the fact that, within three months of Tarbes’s mission, both Henry and Wolsey asserted that the Bishop had suggested doubts of the validity of Henry’s marriage. Henry, however, does not say that Tarbes first suggested the doubts, nor does Wolsey. The Cardinal declares that the Bishop objected to the marriage with the Princess Mary on the ground of these doubts; and some time later, when Henry explained his position to the Lord-Mayor and aldermen of London, he said, according to Du Bellay, that the scruple of conscience, which he had long entertained, had terribly increased upon him since Tarbes had spoken of it.

However that may be, before the Bishop’s negotiations were completed the first steps had been taken towards the divorce, or, as Wolsey and Henry pretended, towards satisfying the King’s scruples as to the validity of his marriage. Early in April, 1527, Dr. Richard Wolman was sent down to Winchester to examine old Bishop Fox on the subject. The greatest secrecy was observed and none of the Bishop’s councillors were allowed to be present. Other evidence was doubtless collected from various sources, and, on 17th May, a week after Tarbes’s departure, Wolsey summoned Henry to appear before him to explain his conduct in living with his brother’s widow. Wolman was appointed promoter of the suit; Henry put in a justification, and, on 31st May, Wolman replied. With that the proceedings terminated. In instituting them Henry was following a precedent set by his brother-in-law, the Duke of Suffolk. In very early days that nobleman had contracted to marry Sir Anthony Browne’s daughter, but for some reason the match was broken off, and he sought the hand of one Margaret Mortimer, to whom he was related in the second and third degrees of consanguinity; he obtained a dispensation, completed the marriage, and cohabited with Margaret Mortimer. But, like Henry VIII., his conscience or other considerations moved him to regard his marriage as sin, and the dispensation as invalid. He caused a declaration to that effect to be made by “the official of the Archdeacon of London, to whom the cognisance of such causes of old belongs,” married Ann Browne, and, after her death, Henry’s sister Mary. A marriage, the validity of which depended, like Henry’s, upon a papal dispensation, and which, like Henry’s, had been consummated, was declared null and void on exactly the same grounds as those upon which Henry himself sought a divorce, namely, the invalidity of the previous dispensation. On 12th May, 1528, Clement VII. issued a bull confirming Suffolk’s divorce and pronouncing ecclesiastical censures on all who called in question the Duke’s subsequent marriages. That is precisely the course Henry wished to be followed. Wolsey was to declare the marriage invalid on the ground of the insufficiency of the papal dispensation; Henry might then marry whom he pleased; the Pope was to confirm the sentence, and censure all who should dispute the second marriage or the legitimacy of its possible issue.

Another precedent was also forced on Henry’s mind. On 11th March, 1527, two months before Wolsey opened his court, a divorce was granted at Rome to Henry’s sister Margaret, Queen of Scotland. Her pretexts were infinitely more flimsy than Henry’s own. She alleged a precontract on the part of her husband, Angus, which was never proved. She professed to believe that James IV. had survived Flodden three years, and was alive when she married Angus. Angus had been unfaithful, but that was no ground for divorce by canon law; and she herself was living in shameless adultery with Henry Stewart, who had also procured a divorce to be free to marry his Queen. No objection was found at Rome to either of these divorces; but neither Angus nor Margaret Mortimer had an Emperor for a nephew; no imperial armies would march on Rome to vindicate the validity of their marriages, and Clement could issue his bulls without any fear that their justice would be challenged by the arms of powerful princes. Not so with Henry; while the secret proceedings before Wolsey were in progress, the world was shocked by the sack of Rome, and Clement was a prisoner in the hands of the Emperor’s troops. There was no hope that a Pope in such a plight would confirm a sentence to the detriment of his master’s aunt. “If the Pope,” wrote Wolsey to Henry on receipt of the news, “be slain or taken, it will hinder the King’s affairs not a little, which have hitherto been going on so well." A little later he declared that, if Catherine repudiated his authority, it would be necessary to have the assent of the Pope or of the cardinals to the divorce. To obtain the former the Pope must be liberated; to secure the latter the cardinals must be assembled in France.

To effect the Pope’s liberation, or rather to call an assembly of cardinals in France during Clement’s captivity, was the real object of the mission to France, on which Wolsey started in July. Such a body, acting under Wolsey’s presidency and in the territories of the French King, was as likely to favour an attack upon the Emperor’s aunt as the Pope in the hands of Charles’s armies was certain to oppose it. Wolsey went in unparalleled splendour, not as Henry’s ambassador but as his lieutenant; and projects for his own advancement were, as usual, part of the programme. Louise of Savoy, the queen-mother of France, suggested to him that all Christian princes should repudiate the Pope’s authority so long as he remained in captivity, and the Cardinal replied that, had the overture not been made by her, it would have been started by himself and by Henry. It was rumoured in Spain that Wolsey “had gone into France to separate the Church of England and of France from the Roman, not merely during the captivity of the Pope and to effect his liberation, but for a perpetual division," and that Francis was offering Wolsey the patriarchate of the two schismatic churches. To win over the Cardinal to the interest of Spain, it was even suggested that Charles should depose Clement and offer the Papacy to Wolsey. The project of a schism was not found feasible; the cardinals at Rome were too numerous, and Wolsey only succeeded in gaining four, three French and one Italian, to join him in signing a protest repudiating Clement’s authority so long as he remained in the Emperor’s power. It was necessary to fall back after all on the Pope for assent to Henry’s divorce, and the news that Charles had already got wind of the proceedings against Catherine made it advisable that no time should be lost. The Emperor, indeed, had long been aware of Henry’s intentions; every care had been taken to prevent communication between Catherine and her nephew, and a plot had been laid to kidnap a messenger she was sending in August to convey her appeal for protection. All was in vain, for the very day after Wolsey’s court had opened in May, Mendoza wrote to Charles that Wolsey “as the finishing stroke to all his iniquities, had been scheming to bring about the Queen’s divorce”; and on the 29th of July, some days before Wolsey had any suspicion that a hint was abroad, Charles informed Mendoza that he had despatched Cardinal Quignon to Rome, to act on the Queen’s behalf and to persuade Clement to revoke Wolsey’s legatine powers.

In ignorance of all this, Wolsey urged Henry to send Ghinucci, the Bishop of Worcester, and others to Rome with certain demands, among which was a request for Clement’s assent to the abortive proposal for a council in France. But now a divergence became apparent between the policy of Wolsey and that of his king. Both were working for a divorce, but Wolsey wanted Henry to marry as his second wife Renee, the daughter of Louis XII., and thus bind more closely the two kings, upon whose union the Cardinal’s personal and political schemes were now exclusively based. Henry, however, had determined that his second wife was to be Anne Boleyn, and of this determination Wolsey was as yet uninformed. The Cardinal had good reason to dread that lady’s ascendancy over Henry’s mind; for she was the hope and the tool of the anti-clerical party, which had hitherto been kept in check by Wolsey’s supremacy. The Duke of Norfolk was her uncle, and he was hostile to Wolsey for both private and public reasons; her father, Viscount Rochford, her cousins, Sir William Fitzwilliam and Sir Francis Brian, and many more distant connections, were anxious at the first opportunity to lead an attack on the Church and Cardinal. Before the divorce case began Wolsey’s position had grown precarious; taxes at home and failure abroad had turned the loyalty of the people to sullen discontent, and Wolsey was mainly responsible. “Disaffection to the King,” wrote Mendoza in March, 1527, “and hatred of the Legate are visible everywhere.... The King would soon be obliged to change his councillors, were only a leader to present himself and head the malcontents;” and in May he reported a general rumour to the effect that Henry intended to relieve the Legate of his share in the administration. The Cardinal had incurred the dislike of nearly every section of the community; the King was his sole support and the King was beginning to waver. In May there were high words between Wolsey and Norfolk in Henry’s presence; in July King and Cardinal were quarrelling over ecclesiastical patronage at Calais, and, long before the failure of the divorce suit, there were other indications that Henry and his minister had ceased to work together in harmony.

It is, indeed, quite a mistake to represent Wolsey’s failure to obtain a sentence in Henry’s favour as the sole or main cause of his fall. Had he succeeded, he might have deferred for a time his otherwise unavoidable ruin, but it was his last and only chance. He was driven to playing a desperate game, in which the dice were loaded against him. If his plan failed, he told Clement over and over again, it would mean for him irretrievable ruin, and in his fall he would drag down the Church. If it succeeded, he would be hardly more secure, for success meant the predominance of Anne Boleyn and of her anti-ecclesiastical kin. Under the circumstances, it is possible to attach too much weight to the opinion of the French and Spanish ambassadors, and of Charles V. himself, that Wolsey suggested the divorce as the means of breaking for ever the alliance between England and the House of Burgundy, and substituting for it a union with France. The divorce fitted in so well with Wolsey’s French policy, that the suspicion was natural; but the same observers also recorded the impression that Wolsey was secretly opposing the divorce from fear of the ascendancy of Anne Boleyn. That suspicion had been brought to Henry’s mind as early as June, 1527. It was probably due to the facts that Wolsey was not blinded by passion, as Henry was, to the difficulties in the way, and that it was he who persuaded Henry to have recourse to the Pope in the first instance, when the King desired to follow Suffolk’s precedent, obtain a sentence in England, marry again, and trust to the Pope to confirm his proceedings.

It is not, however, impossible to trace Wolsey’s real designs behind these conflicting reports. He knew that Henry was determined to have a divorce and that this was one of those occasions upon which “he would be obeyed, whosoever spoke to the contrary”. As minister he must therefore either resign a difficult thing in the sixteenth century or carry out the King’s policy. For his own part he had no objection to the divorce in itself; he was no more touched by the pathos of Catherine’s fate than was her nephew Charles V., he wished to see the succession strengthened, he thought that he might restore his tottering influence by obtaining gratification for the King, and he was straining every nerve to weaken Charles V., either because the Emperor’s power was really too great, or out of revenge for his betrayal over the papal election. But he was strenuously hostile to Henry’s marriage with Anne Boleyn for two excellent reasons: firstly she and her kin belonged to the anti-ecclesiastical party which Wolsey had dreaded since 1515, and secondly he desired Henry to marry the French Princess Renee in order to strengthen his anti-imperial policy. Further, he was anxious that the divorce problem should be solved by means of the Papacy, because its solution by merely national action would create a breach between England and Rome, would ruin Wolsey’s chances of election as Pope, would threaten his ecclesiastical supremacy in England, which was merely a legatine authority dependent on the Pope, and would throw Clement into the arms of Charles V., whereas Wolsey desired him to be an effective member of the anti-imperial alliance. Thus Wolsey was prepared to go part of the way with Henry VIII., but he clearly saw the point at which their paths would diverge; and his efforts on Henry’s behalf were hampered by his endeavours to keep the King on the track which he had marked out.

Henry’s suspicions, and his knowledge that Wolsey would be hostile to his marriage with Anne Boleyn, induced him to act for the time independently of the Cardinal; and, while Wolsey was in France hinting at a marriage between Henry and Renee, the King himself was secretly endeavouring to remove the obstacles to his union with Anne Boleyn. Instead of adopting Wolsey’s suggestion that Ghinucci should be sent to Rome as an Italian versed in the ways of the Papal Curia, he despatched his secretary, Dr. William Knight, with two extraordinary commissions, the second of which he thought would not be revealed “for any craft the Cardinal or any other can find". The first was to obtain from the Pope a dispensation to marry a second wife, without being divorced from Catherine, the issue from both marriages to be legitimate. This “licence to commit bigamy” has naturally been the subject of much righteous indignation. But marriage-laws were lax in those days, when Popes could play fast and loose with them for political purposes; and, besides the “great reasons and precedents, especially in the Old Testament,” to which Henry referred, he might have produced a precedent more pertinent, more recent, and better calculated to appeal to Clement VII. In 1521 Charles V.’s Spanish council drew up a memorial on the subject of his marriage, in which they pointed out that his ancestor, Henry IV. of Castile, had, in 1437, married Dona Blanca, by whom he had no children; and that the Pope thereupon granted him a dispensation to marry a second wife on condition that, if within a fixed time he had no issue by her, he should return to his first. A licence for bigamy, modelled after this precedent, would have suited Henry admirably, but apparently he was unaware of this useful example, and was induced to countermand Knight’s commission before it had been communicated to Clement. The demand would not, however, have shocked the Pope so much as his modern defenders, for on 18th September, 1530, Casale writes to Henry: “A few days since the Pope secretly proposed to me that your Majesty might be allowed two wives. I told him I could not undertake to make any such proposition, because I did not know whether it would satisfy your Majesty’s conscience. I made this answer because I know that the Imperialists have this in view, and are urging it; but why, I know not." Ghinucci and Benet were equally cautious, and thought the Pope’s suggestion was only a ruse; whether a ruse or not, it is a curious illustration of the moral influence Popes were then likely to exert on their flock.

The second commission, with which Knight was entrusted, was hardly less strange than the first. By his illicit relations with Mary Boleyn, Henry had already contracted affinity in the first degree with her sister Anne, in fact precisely the same affinity (except that it was illicit) as that which Catherine was alleged to have contracted with him before their marriage. The inconsistency of Henry’s conduct, in seeking to remove by the same method from his second marriage the disability which was held to invalidate his first, helps us to define the precise position which Henry took up and the nature of his peculiar conscience. Obviously he did not at this stage deny the Pope’s dispensing power; for he was invoking its aid to enable him to marry Anne Boleyn. He asserted, and he denied, no principle whatever, though it must be remembered that his own dispensation was an almost, if not quite, unprecedented stretch of papal power. To dispense with the “divine” law against marrying the brother’s wife, and to dispense with the merely canonical obstacle to his marriage with Anne arising out of his relations with Mary Boleyn, were very different matters; and in this light the breach between England and Rome might be represented as caused by a novel extension of papal claims. Henry, however, was a casuist concerned exclusively with his own case. He maintained merely that the particular dispensation, granted for his marriage with Catherine, was null and void. As a concession to others, he condescended to give a number of reasons, none of them affecting any principle, but only the legal technicalities of the case the causes for which the dispensation was granted, such as his own desire, and the political necessity for the marriage were fictitious; he had himself protested against the marriage, and so forth. For himself, his own conviction was ample sanction; he knew he was living in sin with Catherine because his children had all died but one, and that was a manifest token of the wrath of Providence. The capacity for convincing himself of his own righteousness is the most effective weapon in the egotist’s armoury, and Henry’s egotism touched the sublime. His conscience was clear, whatever other people might think of the maze of apparent inconsistencies in which he was involved. In 1528 he was in some fear of death from the plague; fear of death is fatal to the peace of a guilty conscience, and it might well have made Henry pause in his pursuit after the divorce and Anne Boleyn. But Henry never wavered; he went on in serene assurance, writing his love letters to Anne, as a conscientiously unmarried man might do, making his will, “confessing every day and receiving his Maker at every feast," paying great attention to the morals of monasteries, and to charges of malversation against Wolsey, and severely lecturing his sister Margaret on the sinfulness of her life. He hopes she will turn “to God’s word, the vively doctrine of Jesu Christ, the only ground of salvation 1 COR. 3, etc.”; he reminds her of “the divine ordinance of inseparable matrimony first instituted in Paradise,” and urges her to avoid “the inevitable damnation threatened against advoutrers”. Henry’s conscience was convenient and skilful. He believed in the “ordinance of inseparable matrimony,” so, when he wished to divorce a wife, his conscience warned him that he had never really been married to her. Hence his nullity suits with Catherine of Aragon, with Anne Boleyn and with Anne of Cleves. Moreover, if he had never been married to Catherine, his relations with Mary Boleyn and Elizabeth Blount were obviously not adultery, and he was free to denounce that sin in Margaret with a clear conscience.

Dr. Knight had comparatively little difficulty in obtaining the dispensation for Henry’s marriage with Anne Boleyn; but it was only to be effective after sentence had been given decreeing the nullity of his marriage with Catherine of Aragon; and, as Wolsey saw, that was the real crux of the question. Knight had scarcely turned his steps homeward, when he was met by a courier with fresh instructions from Wolsey to obtain a further concession from Clement; the Pope was to empower the Cardinal himself, or some other safe person, to examine the original dispensation, and, if it were found invalid, to annul Henry’s marriage with Catherine. So Knight returned to the Papal Court; and then began that struggle between English and Spanish influence at Rome which ended in the victory of Charles V. and the repudiation by England of the Roman jurisdiction. Never did two parties enter upon a contest with a clearer perception of the issues involved, or carry it on with their eyes more open to the magnitude of the results. Wolsey himself, Gardiner, Foxe, Casale, and every English envoy employed in the case, warned and threatened Clement that, if he refused Henry’s demands, he would involve Wolsey and the Papal cause in England in a common ruin. “He alleged,” says Campeggio of Wolsey, “that if the King’s desire were not complied with... there would follow the speedy and total ruin of the kingdom, of his Lordship and of the Church’s influence in this kingdom." “I cannot reflect upon it,” wrote Wolsey himself, “and close my eyes, for I see ruin, infamy and subversion of the whole dignity and estimation of the See Apostolic if this course is persisted in. You see in what dangerous times we are. If the Pope will consider the gravity of this cause, and how much the safety of the nation depends upon it, he will see that the course he now pursues will drive the King to adopt remedies which are injurious to the Pope, and are frequently instilled into the King’s mind." On one occasion Clement confessed that, though the Pope was supposed to carry the papal laws locked up in his breast, Providence had not vouchsafed him the key wherewith to unlock them; and Gardiner roughly asked in retort whether in that case the papal laws should not be committed to the flames. He told how the Lutherans were instigating Henry to do away with the temporal possessions of the Church. But Clement could only bewail his misfortune, and protest that, if hérésies and schisms arose, it was not his fault. He could not afford to offend the all-powerful Emperor; the sack of Rome and Charles’s intimation conveyed in plain and set terms that it was the judgment of God had cowed Clement for the rest of his life, and made him resolve never again to incur the Emperor’s enmity.

From the point of view of justice, the Pope had an excellent case; even the Lutherans, who denied his dispensing power, denounced the divorce. Quod non fieri debuit, was their just and common-sense point, factum valet. But the Pope’s case had been hopelessly weakened by the evil practice of his predecessors and of himself. Alexander VI. had divorced Louis XII. from his Queen for no other reasons than that Louis XII. wanted to unite Brittany with France by marrying its duchess, and that Alexander, the Borgia Pope, required Louis’ assistance in promoting the interests of the iniquitous Borgia family. The injustice to Catherine was no greater than that to Louis’ Queen. Henry’s sister Margaret, and both the husbands of his other sister, Mary, had procured divorces from Popes, and why not Henry himself? Clement was ready enough to grant Margaret’s divorce; he was willing to give a dispensation for a marriage between the Princess Mary and her half-brother, the Duke of Richmond; the more insuperable the obstacle, the more its removal enhanced his power. It was all very well to dispense with canons and divine laws, but to annul papal dispensations was that not to cheapen his own wares? Why, wrote Henry to Clement, could he not dispense with human laws, if he was able to dispense with divine at pleasure? Obviously because divine authority could take care of itself, but papal prerogatives needed a careful shepherd. Even this principle, such as it was, was not consistently followed, for he had annulled a dispensation in Suffolk’s case. Clement’s real anxiety was to avoid responsibility. More than once he urged Henry to settle the matter himself, as Suffolk had done, obtain a sentence from the courts in England, and marry his second wife. The case could then only come before him as a suit against the validity of the second marriage, and the accomplished fact was always a powerful argument. Moreover, all this would take time, and delay was as dear to Clement as irresponsibility. But Henry was determined to have such a sentence as would preclude all doubts of the legitimacy of his children by the second marriage, and was as anxious to shift the responsibility to Clement’s shoulders as the Pope was to avoid it. Clement next urged Catherine to go into a nunnery, for that would only entail injustice on herself, and would involve the Church and its head in no temporal perils. When Catherine refused, he wished her in the grave, and lamented that he seemed doomed through her to lose the spiritualties of his Church, as he had lost its temporalties through her nephew, Charles V.

It was thus with the utmost reluctance that he granted the commission brought by Knight. It was a draft, drawn up by Wolsey, apparently declaring the law on the matter and empowering Wolsey, if the facts were found to be such as were alleged, to pronounce the nullity of Catherine’s marriage. Wolsey desired that it should be granted in the form in which he had drawn it up. But the Pope’s advisers declared that such a commission would disgrace Henry, Wolsey and Clement himself. The draft was therefore amended so as to be unobjectionable, or, in other words, useless for practical purposes; and, with this commission, Knight returned to England, rejoicing in the confidence of complete success. But, as soon as Wolsey had seen it, he pronounced the commission “as good as none at all". The discovery did not improve his or Henry’s opinion of the Pope’s good faith; but, dissembling their resentment, they despatched, in February, 1528, Stephen Gardiner and Edward Foxe to obtain fresh and more effective powers. Eventually, on 8th June a commission was issued to Wolsey and Campeggio to try the case and pronounce sentence; even if one was unwilling, the other might act by himself; and all appeals from their jurisdiction were forbidden. This was not a decretal commission; it did not bind the Pope or prevent him from revoking the case. Such a commission was, however, granted on condition that it should be shown to no one but the King and Wolsey, and that it should not be used in the procedure. The Pope also gave a written promise, in spite of a protest lodged on Catherine’s behalf by the Spanish ambassador, Muxetula, that he would not revoke, or do anything to invalidate, the commission, but would confirm the cardinals’ decision. If, Clement had said in the previous December, Lautrec, the French commander in Italy, came nearer Rome, he might excuse himself to the Emperor as having acted under pressure. He would send the commission as soon as Lautrec arrived. Lautrec had now arrived; he had marched down through Italy; he had captured Melfi; the Spanish commander, Moncada, had been killed; Naples was thought to be on the eve of surrender. The Spanish dominion in Italy was waning, the Emperor’s thunderbolts were less terrifying, and the justice of the cause of his aunt less apparent.

On 25th July Campeggio embarked at Corneto, and proceeded by slow stages through France towards England. Henry congratulated himself that his hopes were on the eve of fulfilment. But, unfortunately for him, the basis, on which they were built, was as unstable as water. The decision of his case still depended upon Clement, and Clement wavered with every fluctuation in the success or the failure of the Spanish arms in Italy. Campeggio had scarcely set out, when Doria, the famous Genoese admiral, deserted Francis for Charles; on the 17th of August Lautrec died before Naples; and, on 10th September, an English agent sent Wolsey news of a French disaster, which he thought more serious than the battle of Pavia or the sack of Rome. On the following day Sanga, the Pope’s secretary, wrote to Campeggio that, “as the Emperor is victorious, the Pope must not give him any pretext for a fresh rupture, lest the Church should be utterly annihilated.... Proceed on your journey to England, and there do your utmost to restore mutual affection between the King and Queen. You are not to pronounce any opinion without a new and express commission hence." Sanga repeated the injunction a few days later. “Every day,” he wrote, “stronger reasons are discovered;” to satisfy Henry “involves the certain ruin of the Apostolic See and the Church, owing to recent events.... If so great an injury be done to the Emperor... the Church cannot escape utter ruin, as it is entirely in the power of the Emperor’s servants. You will not, therefore, be surprised at my repeating that you are not to proceed to sentence, under any pretext, without express commission; but to protract the matter as long as possible." Clement himself wrote to Charles that nothing would be done to Catherine’s detriment, that Campeggio had gone merely to urge Henry to do his duty, and that the whole case would eventually be referred to Rome. Such were the secret instructions with which Campeggio arrived in England in October. He readily promised not to proceed to sentence, but protested against the interpretation which he put upon the Pope’s command, namely, that he was not to begin the trial. The English, he said, “would think that I had come to hoodwink them, and might resent it. You know how much that would involve." He did not seem to realise that the refusal to pass sentence was equally hoodwinking the English, and that the trial would only defer the moment of their penetrating the deception; a trial was of no use without sentence.

In accordance with his instructions, Campeggio first sought to dissuade Henry from persisting in his suit for the divorce. Finding the King immovable, he endeavoured to induce Catherine to go into a nunnery, as the divorced wife of Louis XII. had done, “who still lived in the greatest honour and reputation with God and all that kingdom". He represented to her that she had nothing to lose by such a step; she could never regain Henry’s affections or obtain restitution of her conjugal rights. Her consent might have deferred the separation of the English Church from Rome; it would certainly have relieved the Supreme Pontiff from a humiliating and intolerable position. But these considerations of expediency weighed nothing with Catherine. She was as immovable as Henry, and deaf to all Campeggio’s solicitations. Her conscience was, perhaps, of a rigid, Spanish type, but it was as clear as Henry’s and a great deal more comprehensible. She was convinced that her marriage was valid; to admit a doubt of it would imply that she had been living in sin and imperil her immortal soul. Henry did not in the least mind admitting that he had lived for twenty years with a woman who was not his wife; the sin, to his mind, was continuing to live with her after he had become convinced that she was really not his wife. Catherine appears, however, to have been willing to take the monastic vows, if Henry would do the same. Henry was equally willing, if Clement would immediately dispense with the vows in his case, but not in Catherine’s. But there were objections to this course, and doubts of Clement’s power to authorise Henry’s re-marriage, even if Catherine did go into a nunnery.

Meanwhile, Campeggio found help from an unexpected quarter in his efforts to waste the time. Quite unknown to Henry, Wolsey, or Clement, there existed in Spain a brief of Julius II. fuller than the original bull of dispensation which he had granted for the marriage of Henry and Catherine, and supplying any defects that might be found in it. Indeed, so conveniently did the brief meet the criticisms urged against the bull, that Henry and Wolsey at once pronounced it an obvious forgery, concocted after the doubts about the bull had been raised. No copy of the brief could be found in the English archives, nor could any trace be discovered of its having been registered at Rome; while Ghinucci and Lee, who examined the original in Spain, professed to see in it such flagrant inaccuracies as to deprive it of all claim to be genuine. Still, if it were genuine, it shattered the whole of Henry’s case. That had been built up, not on the denial of the Pope’s power to dispense, but on the technical defects of a particular dispensation. Now it appeared that the validity of the marriage did not depend upon this dispensation at all. Nor did it depend upon the brief, for Catherine was prepared to deny on oath that the marriage with Arthur had been anything more than a form; in that case the affinity with Henry had not been contracted, and there was no need of either dispensation or brief. This assertion seems to have shaken Henry; certainly he began to shift his position, and, early in 1529, he was wishing for some noted divine, friar or other, who would maintain that the Pope could not dispense at all. This was his first doubt as to the plenitude of papal power; his marriage with Catherine must be invalid, because his conscience told him so; if it was not invalid through defects in the dispensation, it must be invalid because the Pope could not dispense. Wolsey met the objection with a legal point, perfectly good in itself, but trivial. There were two canonical disabilities which the dispensation must meet for Henry’s marriage to be valid; first, the consummation of Catherine’s marriage with Arthur; secondly, the marriage, even though it was not consummated, was yet celebrated in facie ecclesiae, and generally reputed complete. There was thus an impedimentum publicae honestatis to the marriage of Henry and Catherine, and this impediment was not mentioned in, and therefore not removed by, the dispensation.

But all this legal argument might be invalidated by the brief. It was useless to proceed with the trial until the promoters of the suit knew what the brief contained. According to Mendoza, Catherine’s “whole right” depended upon the brief, a statement indicating a general suspicion that the bull was really insufficient. So the winter of 1528-29 and the following spring were spent in efforts to get hold of the original brief, or to induce Clement to declare it a forgery. The Queen was made to write to Charles that it was absolutely essential to her case that the brief should be produced before the legatine Court in England. The Emperor was not likely to be caught by so transparent an artifice. Moreover, the emissary, sent with Catherine’s letter, wrote, as soon as he got to France, warning Charles that his aunt’s letter was written under compulsion and expressed the reverse of her real desires. In the spring of 1529 several English envoys, ending with Gardiner, were sent to Rome to obtain a papal declaration of the falsity of the brief. Clement, however, naturally refused to declare the brief a forgery, without hearing the arguments on the other side, and more important developments soon supervened. Gardiner wrote from Rome, early in May, that there was imminent danger of the Pope revoking the case, and the news determined Henry and Wolsey to relinquish their suit about the brief, and push on the proceedings of the legatine Court, so as to get some decision before the case was called to Rome. Once the legates had pronounced in favour of the divorce, Clement was informed, the English cared little what further fortunes befel it elsewhere.

So, on the 31st of May, 1529, in the great hall of the Black Friars, in London, the famous Court was formally opened, and the King and Queen were cited to appear before it on the 18th of June. Henry was then represented by two proxies, but Catherine came in person to protest against the competence of the tribunal. Three days later both the King and the Queen attended in person to hear the Court’s decision on this point. Catherine threw herself on her knees before Henry; she begged him to consider her honour, her daughter’s and his. Twice Henry raised her up; he protested that he desired nothing so much as that their marriage should be found valid, in spite of the “perpetual scruple” he had felt about it, and declared that only his love for her had kept him silent so long; her request for the removal of the cause to Rome was unreasonable, considering the Emperor’s power there. Again protesting against the jurisdiction of the Court and appealing to Rome, Catherine withdrew. Touched by her appeal, Henry burst out in her praise. “She is, my Lords,” he said, “as true, as obedient, and as conformable a wife, as I could, in my phantasy, wish or desire. She hath all the virtuous qualities that ought to be in a woman of her dignity, or in any other of baser estate." But these qualities had nothing to do with the pitiless forms of law. The legate, overruled her protest, refused her appeal, and summoned her back. She took no notice, and was declared contumacious.

The proceedings then went on without her; Fisher Bishop of Rochester, made a courageous defence of the validity of the marriage, to which Henry drew up a bitter reply in the form of a speech addressed to the legates. The speed with which the procedure was hurried on was little to Campeggio’s taste. He had not prejudged the case; he was still in doubt as to which way the sentence would go; and he entered a dignified protest against the orders he received from Rome to give sentence, if it came to that point, against Henry. He would pronounce what judgment seemed to him just, but he shrank from the ordeal, and he did his best to follow out Clement’s injunctions to procrastinate. In this he succeeded completely. It seemed that judgment could no longer be deferred; it was to be delivered on the 23rd of July. On that day the King himself, and the chief men of his Court, were present; his proctor demanded sentence. Campeggio stood up, and instead of giving sentence, adjourned the Court till October. “By the mass!” burst out Suffolk, giving the table a great blow with his hand, “now I see that the old-said saw is true, that there was never a legate nor cardinal that did good in England.” The Court never met again; and except during the transient reaction, under Mary, it was the last legatine Court ever held in England. They might assure the Pope, Wolsey had written to the English envoys at Rome a month before, that if he granted the revocation he would lose the devotion of the King and of England to the See Apostolic, and utterly destroy Wolsey for ever.

Long before the vacation was ended, news reached Henry that the case had been called to Rome; the revocation was, indeed, decreed a week before Campeggio adjourned his court. Charles’s star, once more in the ascendant, had cast its baleful influence over Henry’s fortunes. The close alliance between England and France had led to a joint declaration of war on the Emperor in January, 1528, into which the English ambassadors in Spain had been inveigled by their French colleagues, against Henry’s wishes. It was received with a storm of opposition in England, and Wolsey had some difficulty in justifying himself to the King. “You may be sure,” wrote Du Bellay, “that he is playing a terrible game, for I believe he is the only Englishman who wishes a war with Flanders." If that was his wish, he was doomed to disappointment. Popular hatred of the war was too strong; a project was mooted by the clothiers in Kent for seizing the Cardinal and turning him adrift in a boat, with holes bored in it. The clothiers in Wiltshire were reported to be rising; in Norfolk employers dismissed their workmen. War with Flanders meant ruin to the most prosperous industry in both countries, and the attempt to divert the Flanders trade to Calais had failed. So Henry and Charles were soon discussing peace; no hostilities took place; an agreement, that trade should go on as usual with Flanders, was followed by a truce in June, and the truce by the Peace of Cambrai in the following year. That peace affords the measure of England’s decline since 1521. Wolsey was carefully excluded from all share in the negotiations. England was, indeed, admitted as a participator, but only after Louise and Margaret of Savoy had practically settled the terms, and after Du Bellay had told Francis that, if England were not admitted, it would mean Wolsey’s immediate ruin.

By the Treaty of Cambrai Francis abandoned Italy to Charles. His affairs beyond the Alps had been going from bad to worse since the death of Lautrec; and the suggested guard of French and English soldiers which was to relieve the Pope from fear of Charles was never formed. That failure was not the only circumstance which made Clement imperialist. Venice, the ally of England and France, seized Ravenna and Cervia, two papal towns. “The conduct of the Venetians,” wrote John Casale from Rome, “moves the Pope more than anything else, and he would use the assistance of any one, except the Devil, to avenge their injury." “The King and the Cardinal,” repeated Sanga to Campeggio, “must not expect him to execute his intentions, until they have used their utmost efforts to compel the Venetians to restore the Pope’s territories." Henry did his best, but he was not sincerely helped by Francis; his efforts proved vain, and Clement thought he could get more effective assistance from Charles. “Every one is persuaded,” said one of the Emperor’s agents in Italy on 10th January, 1529, “that the Pope is now sincerely attached to his Imperial Majesty." “I suspect,” wrote Du Bellay from London, in the same month, “that the Pope has commanded Campeggio to meddle no further, seeing things are taking quite a different turn from what he had been assured, and that the Emperor’s affairs in Naples are in such a state that Clement dare not displease him." The Pope had already informed Charles that his aunt’s petition for the revocation of the suit would be granted. The Italian League was practically dissolved. “I have quite made up my mind,” said Clement to the Archbishop of Capua on 7th June, “to become an Imperialist, and to live and die as such... I am only waiting for the return of my nuncio."

That nuncio had gone to Barcelona to negotiate an alliance between the Pope and the Emperor; and the success of his mission completed Clement’s conversion. The revocation was only delayed, thought Charles’s representative at Rome, to secure better terms for the Pope. On 21st June, the French commander, St. Pol, was utterly defeated at Landriano; “not a vestige of the army is left,” reported Casale. A few days later the Treaty of Barcelona between Clement and Charles was signed. Clement’s nephew was to marry the Emperor’s natural daughter; the Medici tyranny was to be re-established in Florence; Ravenna, Cervia and other towns were to be restored to the Pope; His Holiness was to crown Charles with the imperial crown, and to absolve from ecclesiastical censures all those who were present at, or consented to, the sack of Rome. It was, in effect, a family compact; and part of it was the quashing of the legates’ proceedings against the Emperor’s aunt, with whom the Pope was now to be allied by family ties. “We found out secretly,” write the English envoys at Rome, on the 16th of July, “that the Pope signed the revocation yesterday morning, as it would have been dishonourable to have signed it after the publication of the new treaty with the Emperor, which will be published here on Sunday." Clement knew that his motives would not bear scrutiny, and he tried to avoid public odium by a characteristic subterfuge. Catherine could hope for no justice in England, Henry could expect no justice at Rome. Political expediency would dictate a verdict in Henry’s favour in England; political expediency would dictate a verdict for Catherine at Rome. Henry’s ambassadors were instructed to appeal from Clement to the “true Vicar of Christ,” but where was the true Vicar of Christ to be found on earth? There was no higher tribunal. It was intolerable that English suits should be decided by the chances and changes of French or Habsburg influence in Italy, by the hopes and the fears of an Italian prince for the safety of his temporal power. The natural and inevitable result was the separation of England from Rome.