History of the Reformation, vol. 5


Book 20—The Two Divorces

Chapter 1

Progress of the Reformation—The two Divorces—Entreaties to Anne Boleyn—The Letters in the Vatican—Henry to Anne—Henry’s Second Letter—Third—Fourth—Wolsey’s Alarm—His fruitless Proceedings—He turns—The Sweating Sickness—Henry’s Fears—New Letters to Anne—Anne falls sick; her Peace—Henry writes to her—Wolsey’s Terror—Campeggio does not arrive—All dissemble at Court

While England seemed binding herself to the court of Rome, the general course of the church and of the world gave stronger presage every day of the approaching emancipation of Christendom. The respect which for so many centuries had hedged in the Roman pontiff was everywhere shaken; the Reform, already firmly established in several states of Germany and Switzerland, was extending in France, the Low Countries, and Hungary, and beginning in Sweden, Denmark, and Scotland. The South of Europe appeared indeed submissive to the Romish church; but Spain, at heart, cared little for the pontifical infallibility; and even Italy began to inquire whether the papal dominion was not an obstacle to her prosperity. England, notwithstanding appearances, was also going to throw off the yoke of the bishops of the Tiber, and many faithful voices might already be heard demanding that the word of God should be acknowledged the supreme authority in the church. HRSCV5 809.2

The conquest of Christian Britain by the papacy occupied all the seventh century, as we have seen. The sixteenth was the counterpart of the seventh. The struggle which England then had to sustain, in order to free herself from the power that had enslaved her during nine hundred years, was full of sudden changes; like those of the times of Augustine and Oswy. This struggle indeed took place in each of the countries where the church was reformed; but nowhere can it be traced in all its diverse phases so distinctly as in Great Britain. The positive work of the Reformation—that which consisted in recovering the truth and life so long lost—was nearly the same everywhere; but as regards the negative work—the struggle with the popedom—we might almost say that other nations committed to England the task by which they were all to profit. An unenlightened piety may perhaps look upon the relations of the court of London with the court of Rome, at the period of the Reformation, as void of interest to the faith; but history will not think the same. It has been too often forgotten that the main point in this contest was not the divorce (which was only the occasion), but the contest itself and its important consequences. The divorce of Henry Tudor and Catherine of Aragon is a secondary event; but the divorce of England and the popedom is a primary event, one of the great evolutions of history, a creative act (so to speak) which still exercises a normal influence over the destinies of mankind. And accordingly everything connected with it is full of instruction for us. Already a great number of pious men had attached themselves to the authority of God; but the king, and with him that part of the nation, strangers to the evangelical faith, clung to Rome, which Henry had so valiantly defended. The word of God had spiritually separated England from the papacy; the great matter separated it materially. There is a close relationship between these two divorces, which gives extreme importance to the process between Henry and Catherine. When a great revolution is to be effected in the bosom of a people (we have the Reformation particularly in view), God instructs the minority by the Holy Scriptures, and the majority by the dispensations of the divine government. Facts undertake to push forward those whom the more spiritual voice of the word leaves behind. England, profiting by this great teaching of facts, has thought it her duty ever since to avoid all contact with a power that had deceived her; she has thought that popery could not have the dominion over a people without infringing on its vitality, and that it was only by emancipating themselves from this priestly dictatorship that modern nations could advance safely in the paths of liberty, order, and greatness. HRSCV5 809.3

For more than a year, as Henry’s complaints testify, Anne continued deaf to his homage. The despairing king saw that he must set other springs to work, and taking Lord Rochford aside, he unfolded his plans to him. The ambitious father promised to do all in his power to influence his daughter. “The divorce is a settled thing,” he said to her; “you have no control over it. The only question is, whether it shall be you or another who shall give an heir to the crown. Bear in mind that terrible revolutions threaten England if the king has no son.” Thus did everything combine to weaken Anne’s resolution. The voice of her father, the interests of her country, the king’s love, and doubtless some secret ambition, influenced her to grasp the proffered scepter. These thoughts haunted her in society, in solitude, and even in her dreams. At one time she imagined herself on the throne, distributing to the people her charities and the word of God; at another, in some obscure exile, leading a useless life, in tears and ignominy. When, in the sports of her imagination, the crown of England appeared all glittering before her, she at first rejected it; but afterwards that regal ornament seemed so beautiful, and the power it conferred so enviable, that she repelled it less energetically. Anne still refused, however, to give the so ardently solicited assent. HRSCV5 810.1

Henry, vexed by her hesitation, wrote to her frequently, and almost always in French. As the court of Rome makes use of these letters, which are kept in the Vatican, to abuse the Reformation, we think it our duty to quote them. The theft committed by a cardinal has preserved them for us; and we shall see that, far from supporting the calumnies that have been spread abroad, they tend, on the contrary, to refute them. We are far from approving their contents as a whole; but we cannot deny to the young lady, to whom they are addressed the possession of noble and generous sentiments. HRSCV5 810.2

Henry, unable to support the anguish caused by Anne’s refusal, wrote to her, as it is generally supposed, in May 1528: HRSCV5 810.3

“By revolving in my mind the contents of your last letters, I have put myself into great agony, not knowing how to interpret them, whether to my disadvantage, as I understand some passages, or not, as I conclude from others. I beseech you earnestly to let me know your real mind as to the love between us two. It is needful for me to obtain this answer of you, having been for a whole year wounded with the dart of love, and not yet assured whether I shall succeed in finding a place in your heart and affection. This uncertainty has hindered me of late from declaring you my mistress, lest it should prove that you only entertain for me an ordinary regard. But if you please to do the duty of a true and loyal mistress, I promise you that not only the name shall be given to you, but also that I will take you for my mistress, casting off all others that are in competition with you, out of my thoughts and affection, and serving you only. I beg you to give an entire answer to this my rude letter, that I may know on what and how far I may depend. But if it does not please you to answer me in writing, let me know some place where I may have it by word of mouth, and I will go thither with all my heart. No more for fear of tiring you. Written by the hand of him who would willingly remain yours, “H. Rex.” HRSCV5 810.4

Such were the affectionate, and we may add (if we think of the time and the man) the respectful terms employed by Henry in writing to Anne Boleyn. The latter, without making any promises, betrayed some little affection for the king, and added to her reply an emblematical jewel, representing “a solitary damsel in a boat tossed by the tempest,” wishing thus to make the prince understand the dangers to which his love exposed her. Henry was ravished, and immediately replied:— HRSCV5 810.5

“For a present so valuable, that nothing could be more (considering the whole of it), I return you my most hearty thanks, not only on account of the costly diamond, and the ship in which the solitary damsel is tossed about, but chiefly for the fine interpretation, and the too humble submission which your goodness hath made to me. Your favor I will always seek to preserve, and this is my firm intention and hope, according to the matter, aut illic aut nullibi. HRSCV5 811.1

“The demonstrations of your affections are such, the fine thoughts of your letter so cordially expressed, that they oblige me for ever to honor, love, and serve you sincerely. I beseech you to continue in the same firm and constant purpose, and assuring you that, on my part, I will not only make you a suitable return, but outdo you, so great is the loyalty of the heart that desires to please you. I desire, also, that if, at any time before this, I have in any way offended you, that you would give me the same absolution that you ask, assuring you, that hereafter my heart shall be dedicated to you alone. I wish my person were so too. God can do it, if he pleases, to whom I pray once a day for that end, hoping that at length my prayers will be heard. I wish the time may be short, but I shall think it long till we see one another. Written by the hand of that secretary, who in heart, body, and will, is “Your loyal and most faithful Servant, “H.T. Rex.” HRSCV5 811.2

Henry was a passionate lover, and history is not called upon to vindicate that cruel prince; but in the preceding letter we cannot discover the language of a seducer. It is impossible to imagine the king praying to God once a day for anything but a lawful union. These daily prayers seem to present the matter in a different light from that which Romanist writers have imagined. HRSCV5 811.3

Henry thought himself more advanced than he really was. Anne then shrank back; embarrassed by the position she held at court, she begged for one less elevated. The king submitted, although very vexed at first: HRSCV5 811.4

“Nevertheless that it belongeth not to a gentleman,” he wrote to her, “to put his mistress in the situation of a servant, yet, by following your wishes, I would willingly concede it, if by that means you are less uncomfortable in the place you shall choose than in that where you have been placed by me. I thank you most cordially that you are pleased still to bear me in your remembrance. “H.T.” HRSCV5 811.5

Anne, having retired in May to Hever castle, her father’s residence, the king wrote to her as follows:—“My Mistress and my Friend, HRSCV5 811.6

“My heart and I surrender ourselves into your hands, and we supplicate to be commended to your good graces, and that by absence your affections may not be diminished to us. For that would be to augment our pain, which would be a great pity, since absence gives enough, and more than I ever thought could be felt. This brings to my mind a fact in astronomy, which is, that the longer the days are, the farther off is the sun, and yet the more scorching is his heat. Thus is it with our love; absence has placed distance between us, nevertheless fervor increases, at least on my part. I hope the same from you, assuring you that in my case the anguish of absence is so great that it would be intolerable were it not for the firm hope I have of your indissoluble affection towards me. In order to remind you of it, and because I cannot in person be in your presence, I send you the thing which comes nearest that is possible, that is to say, my picture, and the whole device, which you already know of, set in bracelets; wishing myself in their place when it pleases you. This is from the hand of “Your Servant and Friend, “H.T. Rex.” HRSCV5 811.7

Pressed by her father, her uncles, and by Henry, Anne’s firmness was shaken. That crown, rejected by Renee and by Margaret, dazzled the young Englishwoman; every day she found some new charm in it; and gradually familiarizing herself with her new future, she said at last: “If the king becomes free, I shall be willing to marry him.” This was a great fault; but Henry was at the height of joy. HRSCV5 811.8

The courtiers watched with observant eyes these developments of the king’s affection, and were already preparing the homage which they proposed to lay at Anne Boleyn’s feet. But there was one man at court whom Henry’s resolution filled with sorrow; this was Wolsey. He had been the first to suggest to the king the idea of separating from Catherine; but if Anne is to succeed her, there must be no divorce. He had first alienated Catherine’s party; he was now going to irritate that of the Boleyns; accordingly he began to fear that whatever might be the issue of this affair, it would cause his ruin. He took frequent walks in his park at Hampton Court, accompanied by the French ambassador, the confidant of his sorrows: “I would willingly lose one of my fingers,” he said, “if I could only have two hours’ conversation with the king of France.” At another time, fancying all England was pursuing him, he said with alarm, “The king my master and all his subjects will cry murder against me; they will fall upon me more fiercely than on a Turk, and all Christendom will rise against me!” The next day Wolsey, to gain the French ambassador, gave him a long history of what he had done for France against the wishes of all England: “I need much dexterity in my affairs,” he added, “and must use a terrible alchemy.” But alchemy could not save him. Rarely has so much anguish been veiled beneath such grandeur. Du Bellay was moved with pity at the sight of the unhappy man’s sufferings. “When he gives way,” he wrote to Montmorency, “it lasts a day together;—he is continually sighing.—You have never seen a man in such anguish of mind.” HRSCV5 811.9

In truth Wolsey’s reason was tottering. That fatal idea of the divorce was the cause of all his woes, and to be able to recall it, he would have given, not a finger only, but an arm, and perhaps more. It was too late; Henry had started his car down the steep, and whoever attempted to stop it would have been crushed beneath its wheels. However, the cardinal tried to obtain something. Francis I had intercepted a letter from Charles V in which the emperor spoke of the divorce as likely to raise the English nation in revolt. Wolsey caused this letter to be read to the king, in the hope that it would excite his serious apprehensions; but Henry only frowned, and Du Bellay, to whom the monarch ascribed the report on these troubles foreboded by Charles, received “a gentle lash.” This was the sole result of the manoeuvre. HRSCV5 812.1

Wolsey now resolved to broach this important subject in a straightforward manner. The step might prove his ruin; but if he succeeded he was saved and the popedom with him. Accordingly, one day (shortly before the sweating sickness broke out, says Du Bellay, probably in June 1528) Wolsey openly prayed the king to renounce his design; his own reputation, he told him, the prosperity of England, the peace of Europe, the safety of the church,—all required it; besides the pope would never grant the divorce. While the cardinal was speaking, Henry’s face grew black; and before he had concluded the king’s anger broke out. “The king used terrible words,” said Du Bellay. He would have given a thousand Wolseys for one Anne Boleyn. “No other than God shall take her from me” was his most decided resolution. HRSCV5 812.2

Wolsey, now no longer doubting of his disgrace, began to take his measures accordingly. He commenced building in several places, in order to win the affections of the common people; he took great care of his bishoprics, in order that they might ensure him an easy retreat; he was affable to the courtiers; and thus covered the earth with flowers to deaden his fall. Then he would sigh as if he were disgusted with honors, and would celebrate the charms of solitude. He did more than this. Seeing plainly that the best way of recovering the king’s favor would be to conciliate Anne Boleyn, he made her the most handsome presents, and assured her that all his efforts would now be directed to raise her to the throne of England. Anne, believing these declarations, replied, that she would help him in her turn, “As long as any breath was in her body.” Even Henry had no doubt that the cardinal had profited by his lesson. HRSCV5 812.3

Thus were all parties restless and uneasy—Henry desiring to marry Lady Anne, the courtiers to get rid of Wolsey, and the latter to remain in power—when a serious event appeared to put every one in harmony with his neighbor. About the middle of June, the terrible sweating sickness (sudor anglicus) broke out in England. The citizens of London, “thick as flies,” said Du Bellay, suddenly feeling pains in the head and heart, rushed from the streets or shops to their chambers, began to sweat, and took to their beds. The disease made frightful and rapid progress, a burning heat preyed on their limbs; if they chanced to uncover themselves, the perspiration ceased, delirium came on, and in four hours the victim was dead and “stiff as a wall,” says the French ambassador. Every family was in mourning. Sir Thomas More, kneeling by his daughter’s bedside, burst into tears, and called upon God to save his beloved Margaret. Wolsey, who was at Hampton Court, suspecting nothing amiss, arrived in London as usual to preside in the Court of Chancery; but he ordered his horses to be saddled again immediately and rode back. In four days, 2000 persons died in London. HRSCV5 812.4

The court was at first safe from the contagion; but on the fourth day one of Anne Boleyn’s ladies was attacked; it was as if a thunderbolt had fallen on the palace. The king removed with all haste, and stayed at a place twelve miles off, for he was not prepared to die. He ordered Anne to return to her father, invited the queen to join him, and took up his residence at Waltham. His real conscience awoke only in the presence of death. Four of his attendants and a friar, Anne’s confessor, as it would appear, falling ill, the king departed for Hunsdon. He had been there two days only when Powis, Carew, Carton, and others of his court, were carried off in two or three hours. Henry had met an enemy whom he could not vanquish. He quitted the place attacked by the disease; he removed to another quarter; and when the sickness laid hold of any of his attendants in his new retreat, he again left that for a new asylum. Terror froze his blood; he wandered about pursued by that terrible scythe whose sweep might perhaps reach him; he cut off all communication, even with his servants; shut himself up in a room at the top of an isolated tower; ate all alone, and would see no one but his physician; he prayed, fasted, confessed, became reconciled with the queen; took the sacrament every Sunday and feast-day; received his Maker, to use the words of a gentleman of his chamber; and the queen and Wolsey did the same. Nor was that all: his councillor, Sir Brian Tuke, was sick in Essex; but that mattered not; the king ordered him to come to him, even in his litter; and on the 20th of June, Henry after hearing three masses (he had never done so much before in one day) said to Tuke: “I want you to write my will.” He was not the only one who took that precaution. “There were a hundred thousand made,” says Du Bellay. HRSCV5 812.5

During this time, Anne in her retirement at Hever was calm and collected; she prayed much, particularly for the king and for Wolsey. But Henry, far less submissive, was very anxious. “The uneasiness my doubts about your health gave me,” he wrote to her, “disturbed and frightened me exceedingly; but now, since you have as yet felt nothing, I hope it is with you as it is with us I beg you, my entirely beloved, not to frighten yourself, or be too uneasy at our absence, for wherever I am, I am yours. And yet we must sometimes submit to our misfortunes, for whoever will struggle against fate, is generally but so much the farther from gaining his end. Wherefore, comfort yourself and take courage, and make this misfortune as easy to you as you can.” HRSCV5 813.1

As he received no news, Henry’s uneasiness increased; he sent to Anne a messenger and a letter: “To acquit myself of the duty of a true servant, I send you this letter, beseeching you to apprize me of your welfare, which I pray may continue as long as I desire mine own.” HRSCV5 813.2

Henry’s fears were well founded; the malady became more severe; in four hours eighteen persons died at the archbishop of Canterbury’s; Anne Boleyn herself and her brother also caught the infection. The king was exceedingly agitated; Anne alone appeared calm; the strength of her character raised her above exaggerated fears; but her enemies ascribed her calmness to other motives. “Her ambition is stronger than death,” they said. “The king, queen, and cardinal tremble for their lives, but she… she would die content if she died a queen.” Henry once more changed his residence. All the gentlemen of his privy-chamber were attacked, with one exception; “he remained alone, keeping himself apart,” says Du Bellay, and confessed every day. He wrote again to Anne, sending her his physician, Dr. Butts: “The most displeasing news that could occur came to me suddenly at night. On three accounts I must lament it. One, to hear of the illness of my mistress, whom I esteem more than all the world, and whose health I desire as I do my own. I would willingly bear half of what you suffer to cure you. The second, from the fear that I shall have to endure my wearisome absence much longer, which has hitherto given me all the vexation that was possible; and when gloomy thoughts fill my mind, then I pray God to remove far from me such troublesome and rebellious ideas. The third, because my physician, in whom I have most confidence, is absent. Yet, from the want of him, I send you my second, and hope that he will soon make you well. I shall then love him more than ever. I beseech you to be guided by his advice in your illness. By your doing this, I hope soon to see you again, which will be to me a greater comfort then all the precious jewels in the world.” HRSCV5 813.3

The pestilence soon broke out with more violence around Henry; he fled in alarm to Hatfield, taking with him only the gentlemen of his chamber; he next quitted this place for Tittenhanger, a house belonging to Wolsey, whence he commanded general processions throughout the kingdom in order to avert this scourge of God. At the same time he wrote to Wolsey: “As soon as any one falls ill in the place where you are, fly to another; and go thus from place to place.” The poor cardinal was still more alarmed than Henry. As soon as he felt the slightest perspiration, he fancied himself a dead man. “I entreat your highness,” he wrote trembling to the king on the 5th of July, “to show yourself full of pity for my soul; these are perhaps the last words I shall address to you The whole world will see by my last testament that you have not bestowed your favor upon an ungrateful man.” The king, perceiving that Wolsey’s mind was affected, bade him “put apart fear and fantasies,” and wear a cheerful humor in the midst of death. HRSCV5 813.4

At last the sickness began to diminish, and immediately the desire to see Anne revived in Henry’s bosom. On the 18th of August she re-appeared at court, and all the king’s thoughts were now bent on the divorce. HRSCV5 813.5

But this business seemed to proceed in inverse ratio to his desires. There was no news of Campeggio; was he lost in the Alps or at sea? Did his gout detain him in some village, or was the announcement of his departure only a feint? Anne Boleyn herself was uneasy, for she attached great importance to Campeggio’s coming. If the church annulled the king’s first marriage, Anne, seeing the principal obstacle removed, thought she might accept Henry’s hand. She therefore wrote to Wolsey: “I long to hear from you news of the legate, for I do hope (an’ they come from you) they shall be very good.” The king added in a postscript: “The not hearing of the legate’s arrival in France causeth us somewhat to muse. Notwithstanding we trust by your diligence and vigilancy (with the assistance of Almighty God) shortly to be eased out of that trouble.” HRSCV5 814.1

But still there was no news. While waiting for the long-desired ambassador, every one at the English court played his part as well as he could. Anne, whether from conscience, prudence, or modesty, refused the honors which the king would have showered upon her, and never approached Catherine but with marks of profound respect. Wolsey had the look of desiring the divorce, while in reality he dreaded it, as fated to cause his ruin and that of the popedom. Henry strove to conceal the motives which impelled him to separate from the queen; to the bishops, he spoke of his conscience, to the nobility of an heir, and to all of the sad obligation which compelled him to put away so justly beloved a princess. In the meanwhile, he seemed to live on the best terms with her, from what Du Bellay says. But Catherine was the one who best dissembled her sentiments; she lived with the king as during their happiest days, treated Anne with every kindness, adopted an elegant costume, encouraged music and dancing in her apartments, often appeared in public, and seemed desirous of captivating by her gracious smiles the good-will of England. This was a mournful comedy, destined to end in tragedy full of tears and agony. HRSCV5 814.2