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CATHERINE OF ARAGON

Henry’s favour, but the unlucky imprisonment at this time of Clement VII. at the hands of Charles V., Catherine’s nephew, which obliged the pope, placed thus “between the hammer and the anvil,” to pursue a policy of delay and hesitation. Nor was the immorality of Henry’s own character the primary cause of the project of divorce. Had this been so, a succession of mistresses would have served as well as a series of single wives. The real occasion was the king’s desire for a male heir. But, however clear this may be, the injustice done to Catherine was no less cruel and real. Rumours, probably then unfounded, of an intended divorce had been heard abroad as early as 1524. But the creation in 1525 of the king’s illegitimate son Henry, as duke of Richmond—the title borne by his grandfather Henry VII—and the precedence granted to him over all the peers as well as the princess Mary, together with the special honour paid at this time by the king to his own half-sister Mary, were the first real indications of the king’s thoughts. In 1526, and perhaps earlier, Wolsey had been making tentative inquiries at Rome on the subject. In May 1527 a collusive and secret suit was begun before the cardinal, who, as legate, summoned the king to defend himself from the charge of cohabitation with his brother’s wife; but these proceedings were dropped. On the 22nd of June Henry informed Catherine that they had been living in mortal sin and must separate. During Wolsey’s absence in July at Paris, where he had been commissioned to discuss vaguely the divorce and Henry’s marriage with Renée, daughter of Louis XII., Anne Boleyn is first heard of in connexion with the king, his affection for her having, however, begun probably as early as 1523, and the cardinal on his return found her openly installed at the court. In October 1528 the pope issued a commission to Cardinal Campeggio and Wolsey to try the cause in England, and bound himself not to revoke the case to Rome, confirming his promise by a secret decretal commission which, however, was destroyed by Campeggio. But the trial was a sham. Campeggio was forbidden to pronounce sentence without further reference to Rome, and was instructed to create delays, the pope assuring Charles V. at the same time that the case should be ultimately revoked to Rome.[1]

The object of all parties was now to persuade Catherine to enter a nunnery and thus relieve them of further embarrassment. While Henry’s envoys were encouraged at Rome in believing that he might then make another marriage, Henry himself gave Catherine assurances that no other union would be contemplated in her lifetime. But Catherine with courage and dignity held fast to her rights, demanded a proper trial, and appealed not only to the bull of dispensation, the validity of which was said to be vitiated by certain irregularities, but to a brief granted for the alliance by Pope Julius II. Henry declared the latter to be a forgery, and endeavoured unsuccessfully to procure a declaration of its falsity from the pope. The court of the legates accordingly opened on the 31st of May 1529, the queen appearing before it on the 18th of June for the purpose of denying its jurisdiction. On the 21st both Henry and Catherine presented themselves before the tribunal, when the queen threw herself at Henry’s feet and appealed for the last time to his sense of honour, recalling her own virtue and helplessness. Henry replied with kindness, showing that her wish for the revocation of the cause to Rome was unreasonable in view of the paramount influence then exercised by Charles V. on the pope. Catherine nevertheless persisted in making appeal to Rome, and then withdrew. After her departure Henry, according to Cavendish, Wolsey’s biographer, praised her virtues to the court. “She is, my lords, as true, as obedient, as conformable a wife as I could in my phantasy wish or desire. She hath all the virtues and qualities that ought to be in a woman of her dignity or in any other of baser estate.” On her refusal to return, her plea was overruled and she was adjudged contumacious, while the sittings of the court continued in her absence. Subsequently the legates paid her a private visit of advice, but were unable to move her from her resolution. Finally, however, in July 1529, the case was, according to her wish, and as the result of the treaty of Barcelona and the pope’s complete surrender to Charles V., revoked by the pope to Rome: a momentous act, which decided Henry’s future attitude, and occasioned the downfall of the whole papal authority in England. On the 7th of March 1530 Pope Clement issued a brief forbidding Henry to make a second marriage, and ordering the restitution of Catherine to her rights till the cause was determined; while at the same time he professed to the French ambassador, the bishop of Tarbes, his pleasure should the marriage with Anne Boleyn have been already made, if only it were not by his authority.[2] The same year Henry obtained opinions favourable to the divorce from the English, French and most of the Italian universities, but unfavourable answers from Germany, while a large number of English peers and ecclesiastics, including Wolsey and Archbishop Warham, joined in a memorial to the pope in support of Henry’s cause.

Meanwhile, Catherine, while the great question remained unsolved, was still treated by Henry as his queen, and accompanied him in his visits in the provinces and in his hunting expeditions. On the 31st of May 1531 she was visited by thirty privy councillors, who urged the trial of the case in England, but they met only with a firm refusal. On the 14th of July Henry left his wife at Windsor, removing himself to Woodstock, and never saw her again. In August she was ordered to reside at the Moor in Hertfordshire, and at the same time separated from the princess Mary, who was taken to Richmond. In October she again received a deputation of privy councillors, and again refused to withdraw the case from Rome. In 1532 she sent the king a gold cup as a new year’s gift, which the latter returned, and she was forbidden to hold any communication with him. Alone and helpless in confronting Henry’s absolute power, her cause found champions and sympathizers among the people, among the court preachers, and in the House of Commons, while Bishop Fisher had openly taken her part in the legatine trial. Subsequently Catherine was removed to Bishops Hatfield, while Henry and Anne Boleyn visited Francis I. Their marriage, anticipating any sentence of the nullity of the union with Catherine, took place after their return about the 25th of January 1533, in consequence of Anne’s pregnancy. On the 10th of May Cranmer, for whose consecration as archbishop of Canterbury Henry had obtained bulls from Rome, opened his court, and declared on the 23rd the nullity of Catherine’s marriage and the validity of Anne’s. On the 10th of August the king caused proclamation to be made forbidding her the style of queen; but Catherine refused resolutely to yield the title for that of princess-dowager. Not long afterwards she was removed to Buckden in Huntingdonshire. Here her household was considerably reduced, and she found herself hemmed in by spies, and in fact a prisoner. In July she had refused Henry the loan of a certain rich cloth, which had done service at the baptism of her children, for the use of Anne Boleyn’s expected infant; and on the birth of Elizabeth and the refusal of Mary to give up the title of princess, the latter’s household was entirely dismissed and she herself reduced to the position of attendant in Elizabeth’s retinue. A project for removing Catherine from Buckden to Somersham, an unhealthy solitude in the isle of Ely, with a still narrower maintenance, was only prevented by her own determined resistance. The attempt in November to incriminate the queen in connexion with Elizabeth Barton failed. She passed her life now in religious devotions, taking strict precautions against the possibility of being poisoned. On the 23rd of March 1534 the pope pronounced her marriage valid, but by this time England had thrown off the papal jurisdiction, the parliament had transferred Catherine’s jointure to Anne Boleyn, and the decree had no effect on Catherine’s fortunes. She refused to swear to the new act of succession, which declared her marriage null and Anne’s infant the heir to the throne, and soon afterwards she was removed to Kimbolton, where she was well treated. On the 21st of May she was visited by the archbishop of York and Tunstall, bishop of Durham, who threatened her with death if she persisted in her refusal, but only succeeded in confirming her resolution. She was kept in strict seclusion, separated from Mary

  1. Cal. of State Pap., England and Spain, iii. pt. ii. 779.
  2. Cal. of State Pap., Foreign and Dom., iv. 6290.