CHAPTER X. HENRY VIII (vi), 1540-47 - HENRY'S LAST YEARS

[1540 Katherine Howard]

The complaisant and very plain lady who had been the cause of Cromwell's downfall had no objection (subject to compensation), to being discarded on technical grounds by her spouse. Before the minister was dead, the marriage had been pronounced null: not without compensatory gifts. But her brother the Duke of Cleves was less easily pacified, and all prospect of an alliance with the Protestant League was at an end. A new bride was promptly found for the King in the person of Katharine Howard, a kinswoman of the Duke of Norfolk - a marriage which marked the renewal of the ascendancy of the old nobility in alliance with the reactionary Church party.

[The King his own Minister]

Thirty-one years had passed since Henry, in the first flush of a manhood exceptionally rich in promise, but untried and inexperienced, had taken his place on the throne of England as the successor of the most astute sovereign in Europe. For nearly twenty years thereafter Wolsey had served him with such latitude of action that nearly every one except the Cardinal believed that he dominated the King. After a brief interval, for nearly ten years more the same statement would have applied to Cromwell. While those two great ministers held office, each of them towered immeasurably above all his fellow-subjects: though each knew that the brilliant boy had hardened into a masterful King who could hurl him headlong with a nod. But when Cromwell had fallen, none took his place; there is no statesman who stands out conspicuous. Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, brother of Jane Seymour, showed some military capacity; Paget proved himself an astute diplomatist; Cranmer and Gardiner led the rival Church parties, but neither the parties nor their leaders exercised any semblance of control over the Supreme Head. Abroad, Henry's battle with the Pope was won: at home his autocracy was established alike as temporal and spiritual head of the nation. There was no one left who needed crushing. Cromwell had seen to that before he was dispensed with. After that revolutionary decade, there were no more marked changes. There were incidents in the now slowly moving course of the reformation; there was even an unimportant insurrection; but the chief interest of Henry's closing years is once more to be found mainly in foreign relations, and more especially in those with Scotland.

[England and the European Powers]

On the continent, the two leading Powers, France and the Empire, were in a chronic state of antagonism only occasionally veiled: while the Pope was in permanent opposition to England. This situation was complicated by the Schmalkaldic League of Protestant German Princes. When Charles was disposed to religious toleration, the League were his very good subjects, the Pope became antagonistic, and a Franco-papal alliance threatened. When Charles leaned to intolerance, the Pope grew favourable to him, and Francis turned a friendly eye on the perturbed Protestant League. Charles, Francis, and the League, would each of them have been pleased to make use of England, but none of them wished to be of service to her: and now Thomas Cromwell's great desire of bringing about a cordial relation between England and the League had been frustrated instead of furthered by the affair of Anne of Cleves. The risk of this alliance had forced Charles into a conciliatory attitude towards Francis; relieved from it, he could now revert to his normal attitude. At the end of 1540, the Emperor and the French King were almost within measurable distance of hostilities, while the relations between the latter and Henry were becoming seriously strained by his neglect to pay the instalments of cash due under past treaties. For the time being, however, there was no immediate likelihood of a breach of the peace.

[Cardinal Beton]

In Scotland, James Beton Archbishop of St. Andrews, the most consistent enemy of England, had died in 1539, and had been succeeded, both in his office and his influence, by his nephew, the still more famous Cardinal, David Beton. The Cardinal was the last of the old school of militant ecclesiastical statesmen; a foe to the English the more deadly because of Henry's anti-clerical policy, as well as on account of traditional views, and of the specific grounds of distrust for which Henry himself had been responsible during twenty years past - including the proposal to let Angus kidnap James Beton [Footnote: Cf. p. 81.] under a safe-conduct. He was moreover a zealous persecutor of heretics; which greatly intensified the bitterness with which all the historians of the reforming party treated not only the man himself but the whole policy which he was supposed to have instigated. In Scotland, religious reformers were almost of necessity Anglophiles, since Henry did all he could to encourage their doctrines.

North of the Tweed, English writers have relied so much on the statements of John Knox and Buchanan that the persistent hostility not only of the King and the clergy but also of the Scottish Commons to Henry's overtures is generally represented as mere frowardness. It was in fact due to a distrust sufficiently accounted for by the English King's undeniable complicity in the deliberate fostering of disorder, and more than justified by his re-assertion in public documents of the English claim to suzerainty which had been finally and decisively repudiated at Bannockburn - a repudiation confirmed by treaty [Footnote: It is true that this had not prevented Edward III. from re-asserting the claim.] in 1328.

[Scotland and England, 1541]