["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]

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]

There is a single feature of the situation in the spring of 1527 which might be taken as pointing to a belief on the King's part that the validity of the marriage would be confirmed: namely the betrothal of his daughter to Orleans. This however would completely negative the activity of that patriotic motive by which Mr. Froude set so much store. Moreover, it is flatly contradicted by the letter to Anne [Footnote: L. &P., iv., 1467.] in which Henry unmistakably declares his determination to marry her: and by Wolsey's [Footnote: S. P., i., 194. Brewer, ii., 193 ff.] letter to him, stating the case for the divorce.


The only possible conclusion is that the one motive which really actuated the King was the desire to gratify an illicit passion. Other subsidiary motives he may have called in to justify himself to himself, on which he dwelt till he really persuaded himself that they were genuine. For it was his unfailing practice to do or get done whatsoever served his personal interest, and to parade some high moral cause as his unimpeachable motive - or if this proved quite impossible, to condemn a minister as the responsible person. Yet however difficult it is to reconcile such avowed motives with the known facts, the avowal always has about it a tone of conviction which can only have been the outcome of successful self-deception.

[The first plan (May)]

It was the Cardinal's task then to procure by some means a formal and authoritative pronouncement that the Papal Dispensation was invalid. The first scheme was that he should hold a Legatine Court before which the King should be cited for living in an unlawful union with his brother's widow. Since the Legate was also the King's subject, the royal assent had to be formally given. This was duly arranged in May, the affair being conducted with the utmost secrecy; but after the first beginnings [Footnote: L. & P., iv., 1426.] these proceedings were dropped: presumably because, if they had been carried through, Katharine might have appealed to the Pope and Wolsey would have had no voice in the ultimate decision. [Footnote: The Pope in that case must either have decided the case himself, or have given full powers to a Legatine Court to act without appeal. In the latter event, Wolsey could not have been appointed, since Katharine's appeal would have been an appeal against his previous decision.]

In the same month the world learnt with amazement that the troops of Bourbon and the Lutheran Frundsberg had stormed and sacked Rome; and that the Imperial troops held Clement himself a prisoner in the castle of St. Angelo. The Pope was thus completely in the Emperor's power: the Emperor was Katharine's nephew and would most certainly veto the divorce. Moreover, Katharine had now an inkling that steps to obtain a divorce were being projected; and, unknown to Henry, Mendoza the Spanish ambassador had already warned the Emperor.

[The second plan (June)]

Thus the difficulties of Wolsey's task were increased; since the next move must be to get a Papal Commission appointed which should be under Wolsey's control. To that end, the ecclesiastical support of the English Bishops and the political support of Francis were requisite. Wolsey played upon the guilelessness of Fisher of Rochester, till he persuaded the saintly bishop that the confirmation of the marriage was the one thing desired - that the Queen's opposition was due to an unfortunate misconception, and entirely opposed to her own interests. The same course was pursued with Warham of Canterbury. [Footnote: Brewer, ii., pp. 193 ff.] The necessity for the enquiry was fathered upon the Bishop of Tarbes, a member of the French embassy which had settled the betrothal of Orleans and Mary, who was said [Footnote: There is some reason to suppose that this story of the Bishop of Tarbes was merely concocted by Wolsey and Henry. It appears to have been referred to only in Wolsey's communications with Warham and Fisher. - Brewer, Henry VIII., ii., 216. But cf. Pollard, Henry VIII., sub loc.] to have questioned the validity of the dispensation, and by consequence the certainty of the princess's legitimacy.

In July Wolsey proceeded to France, ostensibly for the settlement of details in connexion with the recent treaty: actually, that Francis might be induced to bring pressure to bear on Charles for the release of the Pope - in the somewhat desperate hope that Clement in his gratitude would thereupon grant Henry's wishes. Should the Pope's release be refused, Wolsey had the idea (soon to be abandoned) that the Cardinals might be summoned to meet in France, on the ground that the Pope was being forcibly deprived of the power of action. [Footnote: S. P., i., 230, 270. Brewer, ii., 209, 219.]

[Knight's mission (Autumn)]

The treaty of Amiens, cementing the union between Francis and Henry, was signed late in August without reference to divorce. Now however Henry began to conduct operations independently of Wolsey, sending his own secretary Knight to Rome with private instructions, the object of which was to evade the ultimate submission of the question to Wolsey's jurisdiction. Under the influence of the Boleyn clique, and knowing Wolsey's aversion to the Boleyn marriage, the King may have suspected that his minister would play him false if he lost all hope of averting that conclusion to the divorce. Or he may merely have resolved that it was time to check any development of his minister's authority. On Wolsey's return to England, instead of being received in privacy according to precedent, he was summoned on his arrival at Richmond Palace to meet his master in the presence of Anne Boleyn.

[Its failure (Dec)]

Knight's mission was a failure. In December, Clement escaped in disguise from his Imperial guards: Knight found him at Orvieto. It was evident that the secret plan of getting the Pope's permission to marry again without upsetting the existing marriage [Footnote: Brewer, ii., 224, 234-239. Both the Conscience of the King and the need of an heir, are dwelt on in the instructions.] was out of the question. So the Secretary presented a form for a dispensation, and for a Commission which was to give Wolsey power to decide summarily against the validity of the dispensation granted by Pope Julius, without appeal; and power to declare Mary legitimate at the same time. The dispensation was to enable Henry to marry thereafter in despite of difficulties which might be raised on certain specified grounds - intelligible only if those difficulties applied in Anne Boleyn's case: and implying the truth of allegations subsequently made as to relations between Henry and Anne's mother and sister. Knight was outwitted by a Cardinal, Lorenzo Pucci, who redrafted the documents so as to make them useless for Henry's purpose. The deluded envoy returned to England under the impression that he had achieved a diplomatic triumph. But the King saw that he must leave the management of such delicate matters to Wolsey.

[The Pope and the Cardinal]

It is evident that the Pope's one desire was to evade all responsibility in the matter; as it was Wolsey's, on the contrary part, to fix the ultimate responsibility on him. Clement wanted the support of England and France; but, though now no longer actually the Emperor's prisoner, he was distinctly in greater danger from him than from the other Powers. Moreover for one Pope to be invited to nullify the proceedings of another was a somewhat dangerous precedent: as implying that a papal decision was not necessarily unimpeachable. The Cardinal however required the Pope's authority. The divorce was not popular in England, where the general inclination was towards the Imperial alliance. Besides, Katharine was firmly convinced that Wolsey was the moving spirit; so was the general public. If the divorce were carried through by any method which seemed to bear out that theory - if it could be looked upon as a political job of the Cardinal's - Henry too would come in for a share of the odium, and might be trusted to visit that misfortune on his minister. So Wolsey would have nothing to say to the suggestion that the King should act on his own account without the Pope, and take his chance of an appeal.

[1528 Gardiner's mission]

Early in 1528, the negotiations were again on foot. This time they were in the hands of Wolsey's own men - Steven Gardiner and Foxe, the King's almoner. Their instructions were to obtain a commission with absolute authority, in which a legate - Campeggio for choice - should be associated with Wolsey; failing that, a legate without Wolsey but one on whom Wolsey could depend; finally, as least desirable, the commission was to consist of Wolsey and Warham. If the Pope continued recalcitrant, he was to be given to understand that the results for him might be very awkward. Gardiner in fact did not hesitate to indulge in threats which were more than hints. England's goodwill was at stake. If Clement had so little faith in his own authority that he dared not exercise it in a manifestly righteous cause, Henry might repudiate papal authority altogether. Nevertheless, in spite of all Gardiner's skill and vigour - and he showed himself deficient in neither - the result was unsatisfactory. A commission was obtained for Wolsey with Campeggio; but it was not absolute. The decision they might arrive at could not take effect till referred to Rome for confirmation.

[Wolsey's critical position]

Although the purpose of Gardiner and Foxe was not completely achieved, it certainly appeared at this time that Wolsey had practically won over the Pope; in other words, had made sure that the King should get his desire under cover of law, and of the highest moral sanctions, without any breach with the Church, defiance of Authority, or association with heresy. So far, the credit was the Cardinal's, who had dissuaded his master from following a much more arbitrary course. Nevertheless indications were not wanting that the Boleyn influence was at work in a manner very detrimental to Wolsey; that Henry was fully alive to his minister's unpopularity; and that if occasion served he might take the popular side. Thus when Wolsey appointed a suitable person to be Abbess of Wilton, instead of a very unsuitable person who was connected with the Boleyns, the King reprimanded him in his most elevated style - taking occasion at the same time to be scandalised at the subscriptions to Wolsey's educational schemes provided by monasteries which had pleaded poverty at the time of the "Amicable Loan". It was at least tolerably evident that "the King's matter" as the divorce was generally called would have to be brought to a speedy and successful issue if Wolsey was to retain the royal favour.

Clement VII. however was a dexterous procrastinator. Campeggio got his Commission in April. But he did not start from Rome till June: he did not reach French soil till the end of July: in September he got as far as Paris. Meantime, the French troops in Italy were not doing so well, but the Pope was strongly suspected of Imperial leanings. The French King formed the opinion - which he transmitted to his brother of England - that Campeggio's object was to induce Henry to change his determination.

[Campeggio and Wolsey (Autumn)]

When at last Campeggio reached London, still suffering seriously from the gout which was the ostensible cause of his dilatory journeying, Wolsey was explicit. He warned the Legate that the business must be put through promptly. The need of a male heir was imperative; the King was convinced that his wedlock with Katharine was contrary to the Divine law: if he were not quickly released, the respect hitherto shown for the Church by the Defender of the Faith would certainly vanish; while Wolsey himself, whose influence had hitherto kept his master loyal in the face of strong temptation, would no longer be able to restrain him. From Campeggio's letters, [Footnote: Brewer, ii., 296.] it is evident that the King had mastered his own case thoroughly, and knew the legal aspects better than any one else: also, that the intention was to declare Mary his heir unless there should be male issue of the new marriage. The Legate let slip that in view of the determined attitude of Henry and Wolsey, he would have to await further instructions from Rome; whereupon he was again threatened with the secession of England from the Roman Obedience. Next, the two Cardinals tried to induce Katharine to accede to a divorce without a formal trial; on the ground that thereby she would ensure that save on the single point of the re-marriage any demand she might put forward would be granted, and much scandal would be averted. The Queen took some days to consider her reply: but was absolutely obdurate. She was Henry's wife; she could not and would not profess that she was not. On every ground, she would fight to the last.

Campeggio did his best to impress the Pope with the urgency of the case: but Clement was more than ever afraid of Charles, and persisted in the first place that proceedings were to be postponed and prolonged by every effort of ingenuity, and in the second that no verdict adverse to the marriage was to be pronounced without his ratification.

[Henry's attitude]

Henry for his part, learning or knowing before that Ferdinand had received from Pope Julius a confirmation of the dispensation in ampler terms, urged upon Katharine the necessity of obtaining this document in her own interests - hoping that there would be a chance of repudiating it as a forgery. Also he instructed his agents at Rome to persuade the Pope to give him a dispensation for re-marriage, without a divorce, if Katharine retired into a nunnery; [Footnote: L. &P., iv., 2157, 2161. Brewer, ii., 312, 313, and note. Such a marriage was admissible according to some of the Lutherans.] or even for an openly bigamous union. Moreover about the same time, Henry openly separated himself from his wife, and began to treat Anne Boleyn publicly as his partner-elect on the throne.

[Sidenote 1: 1529] [Sidenote 2: The trial]

The Pope's one object was to evade the responsibility of any pronouncement. The Imperialist cause in Italy was progressing: Charles was growing steadily stronger. Clement dared not pronounce in Henry's favour; he was only less afraid of pronouncing against him. He told the agents that the King should act on his own responsibility on the ground of dissatisfaction with Campeggio's conduct; whereas the King was quite resolved to act, but also quite resolved to force the responsibility for his action on Clement. There was a limit to the possibilities of procrastination, but it was not till June 1529 that the Court opened proceedings, citing the King and Queen to appear. Fisher of Rochester, appearing on behalf of the Queen, boldly declared that the marriage was valid and could not be dissolved. Standish supported him, less vigorously. The Queen challenged the jurisdiction of the Court, and appealed from it to the Pope. She regarded Wolsey as the source of her woes; Anne believed that the procrastination was due to his machinations; the King was quite capable of crushing the Cardinal to relieve his own feelings. Popular sentiment was entirely on the Queen's side, but held the Cardinal to blame rather than the King: though even in Court Henry declared, in answer to Wolsey's appeal, that the minister had not suggested but had deterred him from the course adopted. Campeggio prorogued the Court in July. At about the same time, Clement, acting under Imperial pressure, formally revoked the case to Rome. Before the revocation reached England, a desperate attempt was made to persuade Katharine to place herself in the King's hands: it failed. A sharp public altercation between Wolsey and Suffolk showed how the current was setting.

[The storm gathers]

During the following months, Wolsey's loss of the royal favour became increasingly evident, and the opposition to him on the part of the nobility more and more open. Steven Gardiner, who had proved his conspicuous ability, was made the King's private secretary, and became the normal medium of communication - the close personal intercourse hitherto prevalent was at an end. Wolsey's European policy was thrown over by Henry, who allowed Francis and Charles to come to terms without his claiming any voice in the negotiation. A treaty of amity was signed at Cambrai, which terminated all prospect of Francis being induced to assist Henry in bringing pressure to bear either on the Emperor or the Pope, and released Clement from serious alarms as to the results of his accepting the Imperial policy. England had deliberately vacated the position of arbiter, because Henry was too thoroughly engrossed with the divorce to care about anything else. Since both Francis and Charles were for the time satisfied to restrict their ambitions so as not to collide with each other, there was no further demand for the Cardinal's diplomatic genius. The best to which Wolsey could now look forward was that he might be permitted to turn his vast talents to the reform of administration, ecclesiastical, legal, and educational, which he had always postponed to what he regarded as the more vital demands of international politics.

[The storm breaks (Oct.)]

It was not long before even these hopes were destroyed. At the beginning of October, Campeggio departed from England. At Dover, his baggage was ransacked by the King's authority, in the hope of discovering documents which would enable Wolsey to deal with the divorce in his absence. The documents were not forthcoming. Wolsey was of no more use to his master. The day after Campeggio reached Dover a writ was demanded by the King's attorney against the Cardinal for breach of the statute of Praemunire in acting as Legate.

[Sidenote 1: Wolsey's fall] [Sidenote 2: 1530] [Sidenote 3: Wolsey's death (Nov.)]

The fatal blow had been struck. From that hour, the Cardinal's doom was sealed. He ceased absolutely to be a political force and became merely an object for the King, and for every enemy he had raised up against himself, to buffet. A week later, on October 16th, the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk demanded the seals from Wolsey as Chancellor; he was deprived of all his benefices and retired to his house at Esher, where he abode in poverty. This contented Henry for the time, and he sent gracious messages - but restricted them to words. Even Thomas More, who succeeded him as Chancellor, is said to have acted so far out of character as to speak of him publicly in insulting terms. Parliament had been summoned for November; a bill depriving him for ever of office was introduced in the Lords: in the Commons, it was boldly resisted by Thomas Cromwell who won thereby great credit for his loyalty; and it was dropped - not against the wishes of the King, who was as yet disinclined to deprive himself of the chance of resuscitating the great minister. In February Wolsey was restored to the see of York, whither he departed to act in the novel capacity of a diocesan devoted solely to his duties - duties which he so discharged as to change bitter unpopularity into warm affection. The King kept a firm hold on his forfeited properties, Gardiner was advanced to his see of Winchester: the college at Ipswich was dissolved. Wolsey was rash enough to attempt to open secret communications with Francis I., in the hope that his influence might be exercised to restore to favour the man who had done so much for him. But Norfolk, in power, had to cultivate Francis; and Francis, finding him a much simpler diplomatic antagonist, had no wish to reinstate the Cardinal. The attempted correspondence became known, and in November, without warning, Wolsey was arrested for high treason. Sick and worn, he started on his last journey towards London; but was stricken with mortal illness, and could travel no further than Leicester Abbey where the end came.

[Wolsey's achievement]

So died the great Cardinal who for nearly twenty years had mainly swayed the destinies of England. Henry VII. had slowly recovered a place among the nations for a country brought low by long years of reckless civil strife. His son's minister again raised her to be the arbiter of Europe, holding the scales between the two mighty princes who virtually ruled Christendom: not by deeds of arms like Edward III. or Henry V., for no English soldier of real distinction arose in his time; but by a diplomatic genius almost without parallel among English statesmen. In this field, the superiority of his abilities to those of his contemporaries made his position with his master absolutely secure, so long as foreign relations were the primary consideration; for though the ends the minister himself had in view were always the same, he was ready to exert his powers to the full, even at the expense of those objects, in carrying out any policy on which Henry himself might determine; and as a general rule the King's wishes did not run counter to his own.

[Appraisement of Wolsey]

His absorbing aim was to magnify England and the King of England in the eyes of Europe: nor was personal ambition lacking, but it was subordinate. That he desired the popedom is clear, and that Henry desired it for him; but he was above the temptation of allowing that desire to dominate his national aims, and had he achieved it, he would have regarded the alliance of the Ecclesiastical Power with England as the real prize secured. His personal weight in the Counsels of Europe would hardly have been increased; and he cared more for Power than for the appearance of it, though he had a possibly exaggerated perception of the practical value of magnificence in securing both national and personal prestige. In part at least this was the cause of that habitual display which, while impressing, also roused the anger of the nobles, who regarded him as an upstart, and of the satirists of ecclesiastical ostentation and luxury. Secure in the confidence of the King, he never attempted to conciliate either popular sentiment or the rivals whom he deposed.

But at all times, if he magnified his own office, it was as the King's right hand. If the King's will, even in opposition to his own, necessitated unpopular measures, he carried those measures out, and took the odium for them on his own head, preserving his master's popularity at the price of his own. He ruled the country on autocratic principles, and the increase of his power was the increase also of the King's. And the King rewarded him after his kind.

But for the all-absorbing interest of diplomacy, his vast abilities as an administrator and organiser might have achieved great things. He would at least have pruned ecclesiastical abuses; and would have forced upon the clergy as an ecclesiastic those reforms which they were always on the verge of introducing when they found themselves anticipated by the drastic action of the temporal Power. Reform was the inevitable corollary of Education, and the development of Education was of all schemes the nearest to Wolsey's heart. Yet whether, if the Divorce question had never arisen, he would have played an effective part in the Reformation is open to doubt, for at bottom the Puritan movement in these islands, the Lutheran movement, and the Counter-reformation, were all the outcome or expression of Moral ideals, not of state-craft; and for Wolsey morals were subordinate to state-craft. It is probable that in any case the assertion in England by the State of its supremacy over the Church would only have been deferred; but Wolsey might have deferred it. As it was, Henry willed otherwise. The great statesman, failing to carry out his master's demands, was hurled from power. The battle of the Reformation was to be fought under other captains.


The term "Divorce" has been employed above, because, although a misnomer, it is universally applied. Properly a divorce is the cancellation of a legally contracted marriage. What Henry sought was adeclaration of nullity - that no valid marriage had ever taken place.