CHAPTER II. THE RELIGIOUS CHANGES UNDER HENRY VIII. AND EDWARD VI.

Though it would seem that doubts had long since arisen in Henry's mind regarding the lawfulness of his marriage to his deceased brother's wife, and that questions of policy may have influenced the attitude of his advisers towards the projected separation, yet it is certain that it was the charms of the young and accomplished Anne Boleyn, that brought matters to a crisis. With her experience of the gay and corrupt court of France, she was not likely to be mistaken about the influence of her charms or the violence of the king's passion. She would be the king's wife if he wished; but she would not be, like her sister, the king's mistress. Overcome by the force of his desires, he determined to rid himself of a wife of whom he was tired, in favour of her young and more attractive rival. The fact that Catharine had been married to his brother Arthur was seized upon by him to furnish a decent pretext for the projected separation. His conscience, he averred, reproached him for such an incestuous alliance, and for his own peace of mind it was necessary, he maintained, to submit the validity of his marriage to the decision of the Church.

There is no convincing evidence that the idea of a separation from Catharine originated with Cardinal Wolsey, though the latter, longing for a matrimonial alliance of his king with a French princess, and not aware of Henry's intention with regard to Anne, was probably not sorry when he learned of Henry's scruples; and it is not true to say that the first doubts regarding the illegitimacy of the Princess Mary were raised by the French Ambassador in 1527. The whole story of the negotiations with France regarding Mary's marriage at the time, makes it perfectly clear that her legitimacy was assumed. The divorce proceedings originated in Henry's own mind, and the plan of marrying Anne Boleyn was kept a secret from Wolsey and from most of the royal advisers. When exactly the question of a separation from Catharine was first mooted is uncertain; but there can be no doubt that early in 1527 active steps were taken to secure a condemnation of the marriage. Wolsey entered warmly into the project, but most of the bishops whom he consulted were not anxious to assist him; and what was still more serious Fisher, the learned and saintly Bishop of Rochester, declared himself from the beginning a determined opponent. The capture of Rome by imperial troops (1527) made it imperative that the terms of the French alliance should be completed at once, and Cardinal Wolsey set out for Paris as the representative of England. While Wolsey was absent in France arranging the terms of the alliance, Anne Boleyn took occasion to warn Henry that his great minister was unreliable, that in his heart he was opposed to the separation, and that without his knowledge or consent negotiations should be opened directly with the Roman court. An agent was dispatched to Rome and succeeded in securing an interview with Clement VII., after the latter had made his escape from Rome to Orvieto (December 1527). It was contended on behalf of the king that the dispensation granted by Julius II. was null and void. In proof of this it was contended: that in the Bull it had been stated that Henry desired to marry Catharine, and that the marriage was necessary for preserving peace between England and Spain, both of which statements, it was alleged, were false; that at the time the disposition was granted Henry was only twelve years of age and therefore incapable of accepting it; that several persons mentioned in the Bull, as for example, Queen Isabella and Henry VII., had died before the marriage took place; and lastly that when Henry reached the age of puberty he had protested against the marriage, thereby renouncing for himself the favours granted in the Bull of dispensation.[5] Later on it was contended, by those who favoured the separation, that the dispensation was issued by the Pope on the supposition that the marriage between Arthur and Catharine had not been consummated, and that therefore, since this condition was not verified, the dispensation was invalid. But here they were faced with the difficulty that the great weight of evidence favoured the view that the marriage had not been consummated; that in any case the dispensation was ample enough to cover both the impediment of affinity and public honesty; and that, whatever might be said against the Bull of dispensation, no such objection could be urged against the brief said to have been forwarded by the Pope to the court of Spain.[6] As the English agents had been instructed to seek not merely the appointment of a commission to declare the invalidity of the dispensation, and consequently of the marriage, but also for a dispensation which would permit the king to marry a woman related to him in the first degree of affinity, whether the affinity had been contracted by a lawful or unlawful connexion, it was thought prudent not to lay stress on the argument that marriage with the deceased brother's wife was prohibited by the divine law, and that, therefore, the Pope could not grant a dispensation such as had been issued by Julius II. At a later date great stress was laid upon this argument.