CHAPTER VII. HENRY VIII (iii), 1527-29 - THE FALL OF WOLSEY

["The King's affair"]

The whole prolonged episode concerned with the "Divorce" of Queen Katharine is singularly unattractive; the character of almost every leading person associated with it is damaged in the course of it - save that of the unhappy Queen. Unfortunately it is an episode which demands close attention and examination, because its vicissitudes exercised a supreme influence on the course of the Reformation initiated by the King, besides bringing into powerful relief the nature of that strange historical phenomenon, the Conscience of Henry VIII. Moreover it has received from the pen of a particularly brilliant writer a colouring which is so misleading and so plausible that the evidence as to facts requires to be presented with exceptional care.

[Sidenote 1: Story of the marriage] [Sidenote 2: Anne Boleyn]

It is not till 1527 that the project of a Divorce emerges definitely, so to speak, into the open; but the evolution of the project had its origin at a considerably earlier date. We have to begin with a review of the conjugal relations between the King and the Queen. Arthur, Prince of Wales had celebrated his marriage with Katharine, daughter of Ferdinand of Spain and aunt of the infant who was to become Charles V. A few months later he died. The young widow was thereafter betrothed to Henry; a dispensation being obtained in 1504 from the Pope, Julius II, since marriage with a brother's widow is forbidden by the laws of the Church. Henry VII. however, who never liked to make any pledges without providing himself with some pretext by which they might be evaded, instructed his son to make a sort of protest at the time. The second marriage was not carried out till Henry VIII. was on the throne: the bride being robed in the manner customary for maidens, not for widows, on such occasions. She was older than her husband, and not particularly attractive; but they lived together with apparent affection. It is uncertain how many children were actually born; but none lived long after birth until Mary (1516), when the King showed himself conspicuously fond of his infant daughter. Henry does not in fact seem to have displayed that extreme licentiousness which characterised most of the monarchs of the time, though one illegitimate son was born to him, three years after Mary, by Mistress Elizabeth Blount - "mistress" being the courtesy title of unmarried ladies. The Court however was undoubtedly licentious, and many of his favourite companions were notoriously profligate. In 1522 Anne Boleyn, then an attractive girl of sixteen, the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, came to Court. At what time Henry became seriously enamoured of her is uncertain; but from 1522 her father became the recipient of numerous favours; and in 1525 was made a peer. It was a symptom of alienation between Henry and his wife that the six-year-old son of Elizabeth Blount was at the same time created Duke of Richmond and Lord High Admiral, with much pomp. [Footnote: Brewer, ii., 102. L.&P. iv., 639.]

[1527 The King prepares]

Apart from expressions in letters of 1526 which can only be reasonably interpreted as having reference to a contemplated divorce, letters of Wolsey's and the King's in the early months of 1527 prove incontestably that Henry had at that time determined that he would marry Anne, and that Wolsey [Footnote: Brewer, ii., 182, 184; S. P. Henry VIII., i, 194. L. &P., iv., 1467.] was elaborating a case, for presentation to the Pope, against the validity of the dispensation under which the marriage with Katharine had been contracted.

What, then, was the King's attitude? In April 1527, he had made up his mind to break with Charles, Katharine's nephew, and concluded a treaty with France; but under this the French King's second son, the Duke of Orleans, was to marry the Princess Mary. It is difficult to believe that when this was done, the King was actually intending at a later stage to have Mary declared illegitimate. He would hardly have proposed to alienate Charles and Francis simultaneously. Possibly he anticipated no difficulty in legitimating Mary while annulling her mother's marriage - as was ultimately done. It may be noted that it is absolutely impossible to maintain that both Mary and Elizabeth were born in lawful wedlock; yet the country accepted both as legitimate without demur. But this French treaty darkens rather than illuminates the problem.

The only fact definitely apparent in the papers of 1527 is that Henry had determined to make Anne his wife. There is no hint of the conscientious scruples or the patriotic motives afterwards alleged, though that of course does not preclude their having been present. Those two alleged motives require to be examined merely as a priori hypotheses.

[Theoretical excuses]