CHAPTER VII. HENRY VIII (iii), 1527-29 - THE FALL OF WOLSEY
There was one possible plea, then, for urging that a divorce was necessary: namely that political considerations made it imperative for the good of the nation that the King should take to himself a wife who might bear him a male heir to the throne. And there was one possible plea for demanding a formal enquiry into the validity of the dispensation: namely a conscientious doubt on the part of the King or Queen whether the union with a brother's widow was contrary to the Moral Law. No doubt existed as to the Pope's power of abrogating a law, made by the Church for the public good, in a specific case; but it was not claimed that he could abrogate the Law of God in like manner. If this was a case in which the Pope possessed the dispensing power, the dispensation held; if it was not, the marriage was no marriage however innocently the parties entered upon it. One or other of these pleas must be made the pretext of any public action.
[The need of an heir]
The plea that Henry must have a male heir is so absolutely conclusive in the judgment of Henry's great apologist that he feels it necessary to offer excuses for the womanly weakness which blinded Katharine to her obvious duty. It may also have appealed with considerable force to a statesman who regarded all pledges and bonds as being in the last resort dissoluble on grounds of national expediency. England had suffered enough from disputed successions; and while it is not probable that a title so incontrovertible as Mary's would have been directly challenged, it is evident that disastrous complications might have been involved by her union with any possible husband, or by her death. It may have been that it was Henry's own wish to act directly on this view, and to declare his marriage null, arbitrarily, on the ground of public expediency. But whatever were Wolsey's views on expediency, and on the desirability of nullifying the marriage, such a course would have been too flagrant a violation of the universally accepted belief in the sanctity of the marriage tie to meet with his support. Moreover the offspring of a new marriage contracted under such conditions could hardly escape having his legitimacy challenged when opportunity offered. The security of the succession could not therefore be obtained by this method. Yet the burden of discovering some way to enable Henry to marry again was laid upon the Cardinal's shoulders.
[The plea of invalidity]
A pretext was forthcoming, whether devised by the Cardinal or another. The marriage with Katharine might be held invalid on the ground that the dispensation under which it was contracted was invalid, as being ultra vires. [Footnote: Cf. however Wolsey's letter, Brewer, ii., 180. Katharine argued that since she had remained a maiden, no actual affinity had been contracted, therefore the re-marriage was not contrary to God's Law. Wolsey was prepared to reply that in that case, the dispensation was invalid; since it specified only the impediment of "affinity" but not that of "public honesty" created by a contract not consummated, and so failed to cover the admitted circumstances. It appears from the complete context that this plea was hit upon only as a rejoinder to this particular plea of Katharine's. But see Taunton,Thomas Wolsey, chap, x., where a different view is taken; the whole context, however, is not there cited.] This was the line that Wolsey advised, and to which the King committed himself. It should be clear that it finally precluded the other line of arbitrary dissolution, since it rested on the inviolability of a marriage once validly contracted. If the Pope could not set aside the bar to re-marriage with a dead husband's brother, the King could hardly set aside his own marriage, if it had been itself lawful. Stated conversely; if the King could, so to speak cancel a living wife on the ground of public expediency, the Pope had surely been entitled to cancel a dead husband on the same ground.
[Conjunction of incentives]
When Wolsey had propounded the theory that the validity of the dispensation was doubtful, it is easy enough to see how Henry might have persuaded himself that his conscience must be set at ease. What if the death of all his male children had been a Divine Judgment on an unlawful union? The wish is father to the thought. From this point, it was a short step to a conviction that, whatever any one might say, the union was unlawful. Thus Henry could with comparative equanimity adopt the role of one who merely felt that his doubts must be set at rest, while he would be only overjoyed to be finally certified that they were groundless. It is not till this professed hope is in danger of being realised that the mask is dropped and the King's determination to have a divorce by hook or by crook is avowed.
On this view of the policy pursued, passion and patriotism may have combined - in uncertain proportions - to make the King desire a new marriage; obedience and patriotism may have likewise combined to produce the same desire in the Cardinal. But it is extremely difficult to doubt that the King's conscientious scruples were an after-thought, since they had not overtly troubled him for eighteen years of married life; while the Cardinal's position was painfully complicated by an intense aversion to the particular marriage in contemplation. The Boleyns were closely associated with the group of courtiers who were most antagonistic to Wolsey; while on the other hand, Katharine had for long regarded him as her husband's evil genius.
[The Orleans betrothal]