corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 23 — Protestantism in England From the Times of Henry VIII

Chapter 7 — The Divorce, and Wolsey's fall

Resource Toolbox

 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24

 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20

Bull for Dissolving the King's Marriage — Campeggio's Arrival — His Secret Instructions — Shows the Bull to Henry — The Commission Opened — The King and Queen Cited — Catherine's Address to Henry — Pleadings — Campeggio Adjourns the Court — Henry's Wrath — It First Strikes Wolsey — His Many Enemies — His Disgrace — The Cause Avoked to Rome — Henry's Fulminations — Inhibits the Bull — His Resolution touching the Popedom — Wolsey's Last Interview with the King — Campeggio's Departure — Bills Filed in King's Bench against Wolsey — Deprived of the Great Seal — Goes to Esher — Indictment against him in Parliament — Thrown out — The Cardinal Banished to York — His Life there — Arrested for High Treason — His Journey to Leicester — His Death — His Burial.

WOLSEY at last made it clear to Clement VII and his cardinals that if the divorce were not granted England was lost to the Popedom. The divorce would not have cost them a thought, nor would Henry have been put to the trouble of asking it twice, but for the terror in which they stood of the emperor, whose armies encompassed them. But at that moment the fortune of war was going against Charles V; his soldiers were retreating before the ]French; and Clement, persuading himself that Charles was as good as driven out of Italy, said, "I shall oblige the King of England." On the 8th of June, 1528, the Pope issued a commission empowering Campeggio and Wolsey to declare the marriage between Henry and Catherine null and void. A few days later he signed a decretal by which he himself annulled the marriage, [1] This important document was put into the hands of Campeggio, who was dispatched to England with instructions to show the bull to no one save to Henry and Wolsey. Whether it should ever be made public would depend upon the course of events. If the emperor were finally beaten, the decretal was to be acted upon; if he recovered his good fortune, it was to be burned. Campeggio set out, and traveled by slow stages, for he had been instructed to avail himself of every pretext for interposing delay, in the hope that time would bring a solution of the matter. At last Campeggio appeared, and his arrival with the bull dissolving the marriage gave unbounded joy to the king. This troublesome business was at an end, Henry thought. His conscience was at rest, and his way opened to contract another marriage. The New Testament was separating England from the Papacy, but the decretal had come to bind the king and the realm more firmly to Rome than ever. Nevertheless, a Higher than man's wisdom made the two — Tyndale's New Testament and Clement's decretal — combine in the issue to effect the same result.

Eight months passed away before Campeggio opened his commission. He had been overtaken on the road by messengers from Clement, who brought him fresh instructions. The arms of the emperor having triumphed, the whole political situation had been suddenly changed, and hence the new orders sent after Campeggio, which were to the effect that he should do his utmost to persuade Catherine to enter a nunnery; and, failing this, that he should not decide the cause, but send it to Rome. Campeggio began with the queen, but she refused to take the veil; he next sought to induce the king to abandon the prosecution of the divorce. Henry stormed, and asked the legate if it was thus that the Pope kept his word, and repaid the services done to the Popedom. To pacify and reassure the monarch, Campeggio showed him the bull annulling the marriage; but no entreaty of the king could prevail on the legate to part with it, or to permit Henry any benefit from it save the sight of it. [2]

After many delays, the Legantine Commission was opened on the 18th of June, 1529, in the great hall of the Black Friars, the same building, and possibly the same chamber, in which the Convocation had assembled that condemned the doctrines of Wicliffe. Both the king and queen had been cited to appear. Catherine, presenting herself before the court, said, "I protest against the legates as incompetent judges, and appeal to the Pope." [3] On this the court adjourned to the 21st of June. On that day the two legates took their places with great pomp; around them was a numerous assemblage of bishops, abbots, and secretaries; on the right hung a cloth of state, where sat the king, attended by his councilors and lords; and on the left was the queen, surrounded by her ladies. The king answered to the call of the usher; but the queen, on being summoned, rose, and making the circuit of the court, fell on her knees before her husband, and addressed him with much dignity and emotion. She besought him by the love which had been between them, by the affection and fidelity she had uniformly shown him during these twenty years of their married life, by the children which had been the fruit of their union, and by her own friendless estate in a foreign land, to do her justice said right, and not to call her before a court formed as this was; yet should he refuse this favor, she would be silent, and remit her just cause to God. Her simple, but pathetic words, spoken with a foreign accent, touched all who heard them, not even except/rag the king and the judges. Having ended, instead of returning to her seat, she left the court, and never again appeared in it.

The queen replied to a second citation by again disowning the tribunal and appealing to the Pope. She was pronounced contumacious, and the cause was proceeded with. The pleadings on both sides went on for about a month. It was believed by every one that

sentence would be pronounced on the 23rd of July. The court, the clergy, the whole nation waited with breathless impatience for the result. On the appointed day the judgment-hall was crowded; the king himself had stolen into a gallery adjoining the hall, so that Unobserved he might witness the issue. Campeggio slowly rose: the silence grew deeper: the moment was big with the fate of the Papacy in England. "As the vacation of the Rota at Rome," said the legate, "begins to-morrow, I adjourn the court to the 1st of October." [4]

These words struck the audience with stupefaction. The noise of a violent blow on the table, re-echoing through the hall, roused them from their astonishment. The Duke of Suffolk accompanied the stroke, for he it was who had struck the blow, with the words, "By the Mass! the old saw is verified today: never was there legate or cardinal that brought good to England." [5] But the man on whose ears the words of Campeggio fell with the most stunning effect was the king. His first impulse was to give vent to the indignation with which they filled him. He saw that he was being deluded and befooled by the Pope; that in spite of all the services he had rendered the Popedom, Clement cared nothing for the peace of his conscience or the tranquillity of his kingdom, and was manifestly playing into the hands of the emperor. Henry's wrath grew hotter every moment; but, restraining himself, he went back to his palace, there to ruminate over the imbroglio into which this unexpected turn of affairs had brought him, and if possible devise measures for finding his way out of it.

A King John would have sunk under the blow: it but roused the tyrant that slumbered in the breast of Henry VIII. From that hour he was changed; his pride, his truculence, his selfish, morose, bloodthirsty despotism henceforward overshadowed the gaiety, and love of letters, and fondness for pomps which had previously characterized him.

Of the two men who had incurred his deeply-rooted displeasure — Clement and Wolsey — the latter was the first to feel the effects of his anger. The cardinal was now fallen in the eyes of his master; and the courtiers, who were not slow to discover the fact, hastened to the king with additional proofs that Wolsey had sacrificed the king for the Pope, and England for the Papacy. Those who before had neither eyes to see his intrigues nor a tongue to reveal them, now found both, and accusers started up on all sides, and, as will happen, those sycophants who had bowed the lowest were now the loudest in their condemnations. Hardly was there a nobleman at court whom Wolsey's haughtiness had not offended, and hardly was there a citizen whom his immoralities, his greed, and his exactions had not disgusted, and wherever he looked he saw only contemners and enemies. Abroad the prospect that met the eye of the cardinal was not a whir more agreeable. He had kindled the torch of war in Europe; he had used both Charles and Francis for his own interests; they knew him to be revengeful as well as selfish and false. Wherever his fame had traveled — and it had gone; to all European lands — there too had come the report of the qualities that distinguished him, and by which he had climbed to his unrivalled eminence — a craft that was consummate, an avarice that was insatiable, and an ambition that was boundless. Whichever way the divorce should go, the cardinal was undone: if it were refused he would be met by the vengeance of Henry, and if it were granted he would inevitably fall under the hostility and hatred of Anne Boleyn and her friends. Seldom has human career had so brilliant a noon, and seldom has such a noon been followed by a night so black and terrible. But the end was not yet: a little space was interposed between the withdrawal of the royal favor and the final fall of Wolsey.

On the 6th of July, the Pope avoked to Rome the cause between Henry of England and Catherine of Aragon. [6] On the 3rd of August, the king was informed that lie had been cited before the Pope's tribunal, and that, failing to appear, he was condemned in a fine of 10,000 ducats. "This ordinance of the Pope," says Sanders, "was not only posted up at Rome, but at Bruges, at Tournay, and on all the churches of Flanders." [7] What a humiliation to the proud and powerful monarch of England! This citation crowned the insults given him by Clement, and filled up the cup of Henry's wrath. Gardiner, who had just returned from Rome with these most unwelcome news, witnessed the strata that now burst in the royal apartment. [8] The chafed and affronted Tudor fulminated against the Pope and all his priests. Yes, he would go to Rome, but Rome should repent his coming. He would go at the head of his army, and see if priest or Pope dare cite him to his tribunal, or look him in the face. [9] But second thoughts taught Henry that, bad as the matter was, any ebullition of temper would only make it worse by showing how deep the affront had sunk. Accordingly, he ordered Gardiner to conceal this citation from the knowledge of his subjects; and, meanwhile, in the exercise of the powers vested in him by the Act of Praemunire, he inhibited the bull and forbade it to be served upon him. The commission of the two legates was, however, at an end, and the avocation of the cause to Rome was in reality an adjudication against the king.

Two years had been lost: this was not all; the king had not now a single ally on the Continent. Charles V and Clement VII were again fast friends,

and were to spend the winter together in Bologna. [10] Isolation abroad, humiliation at home, and bitter disappointment in the scheme on which his heart was so much set, were all that he had reaped from the many fair promises of Clement and the crafty handling of Wolsey. Nor did the king see how ever he could realize his hopes of a divorce, of a second marriage, and of an heir to his throne, so long as he left the matter in the hands of the Pope. He must either abandon the idea of a divorce, with all that he had built upon it, or he must withdraw it from the Papal jurisdiction. He was resolved not to take the first course the second only remained open to him. He would withdraw his cause, and, along with it, himself and his throne, from the Roman tribunals and the jurisdiction of the Papal supremacy. In no other way could he rescue the affair from the dead-lock into which it had fallen. But the matter was weighty, and had to be gone about with great deliberation. Meanwhile events were accelerating the ruin of the cardinal.

The king, seeking in change of residence escape from the vexations that filled his mind, had gone down to Grafton in Northamptonshire. Thither Campeggio followed him, to take leave of the court before setting out for Italy. Wolsey accompanied his brother-legate to Grafton, but was coldly received. The king drew him into the embrasure of a window, and began talking with him. Suddenly Henry pulled out a letter, and, handing it to Wolsey, said sharply, "Is not this your hand?" [11] The cardinal's reply was not heard by the lords that filled the apartment, and who intently watched the countenances of the two; but the letter was understood to be an intercepted one relating to the treaty which Wolsey had concluded with France, without the consent or knowledge of the king. The conversation lasted a few minutes longer, and Wolsey was dismissed to dinner, but not permitted to sleep under the same roof with the king. This was the last audience he ever had of his master, and Wolsey but too truly divined that the star of his greatness had set. On the morrow the two cardinals set forth on their journey, Wolsey returning to London, and Campeggio directing his steps towards his port of debarkation. At Dover, [12] his baggage was strictly searched, by the king's orders, for important papers, especially the decretal [13] annulling his marriage, which Henry had been permitted to see, but not to touch. The decretal was not found, for this very sufficient reason, that the cardinal, agreeably to instructions, had burned it. All other important documents were already across the Channel, the crafty Italian having taken the precaution to send them on by a special messenger. Campeggio was glad to touch French soil, leaving his fellow-churchman to face as he best could the bursting of the tempest.

It now came. At the next Michaelmas term (October 9th) Wolsey proceeded to open, with his usual pomp, his Court of Chancery. The gloom on his face, as he sat on the bench, cast its shadow on the members of court, and seemed even to darken the hall. This display of authority was the last gleam in the setting splendors of the great cardinal; for the same hour the Attorney-General, Hales, was filing against him two bills in the King's Bench, charging him with having brought bulls into England, in virtue of which he had exercised an office that encroached upon the royal prerogative, and incurred the penalties of Praemunire. Soon after this the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk waited on him from the king, to demand delivery of the Great Seal, and to say that, vacating his palaces of Whitehall and Hampton Court, he must confine himself to his house at Esher. "My lords," said the stricken man, with something of his old spirit, "the Great Seal of England was delivered to me by the hands of my sovereign, and I may not deliver it at the simple word of any lord." The two noblemen returned next day with a written order from the king, and the seal was at once given up. [14] Stripped of his great office, his other possessions, though of immense value, seemed a small matter. His treasures of gold and silver, his rich robes, his costly and curious furniture — all he would present to the king, peradventure it Would soften his heart and win back his favor, or at least save the giver from the last disgrace of the block. He understood Henry's disposition, and knew that like other spendthrifts he was fond of money. Summoning the officers of his household before him, he ordered them to place tables in the great hall, and lay out upon them the various articles entrusted to their care. His orders were immediately obeyed. Soon the tables groaned under heaps of glittering spoil. Cloths of gold, with which the walls of the great gallery were hung; Eastern silks, satins, velvets; tapestry adorned with scriptural subjects, and stories from the old romances; furred robes, gorgeous copes, and webs of a valuable stuff named baudekin, wrought in the looms of Damascus, were piled up in wonderful profusion. In another room, called the Gilt Chamber, the tables were covered with gold plate, some articles being of massive fabric, and set with precious stones; in a second apartment was arranged the silver-gilt; and so abundant were these articles of luxury, that whole basketfuls of gold and silver plate, which had fallen out of fashion, were stowed away under the tables. [15] An inventory having been taken, Sir William Gascoigne was commanded by the cardinal to see all this wealth delivered to the king.

The cardinal now set out for Esher, accompanied by his attached and sorrowing domestics. On his journey, a horseman was seen galloping towards him across

country. It was Sir Henry Norris, with a ring from the king, "as a token of his confidence." The fallen man received it with ecstatic but abject joy. It was plain there lingered yet an affection for his former minister in the heart of the monarch. He reached Esher, and took up his abode within four bare walls. [16] What a contrast to the splendid palaces he had left! Meanwhile his enemies — and these were legion — pushed on proceedings against him. Parliament had been summoned the first tune for seven years — during that period England had been governed by a Papal legate — and an impeachment, consisting of forty-four clauses, founded upon the Act of Praemunire, was preferred against Wolsey. The indictment comprehended all, from the pure Latin in which he had put himself above the king (Ego et Rex meus) to the foul breath with which he had infected the royal presence; and it placed in bold relief his Legantine function, with the many violations of law, monopolizing of church revenues, grievous exactions, and unauthorized dealings with foreign Powers of which he had been guilty under cover of it. [17] The indictment was thrown out by the Commons, mainly by the zeal of Thomas Cromwell, an affectionate servant of Wolsey's, who sat for the City of London, and whose chief object in seeking election to Parliament was to help his old master, and also to raise himself.

But the process commenced against him in the King's Bench was not likely to end so favorably. The cardinal had violated the Act of Praemunire beyond all question. He had brought Papal bulls into the country, and he had exercised powers in virtue of them, which infringed the law and usurped the prerogatives of the sovereign. True, Wolsey might plead that the king, by permitting the unchallenged exercise of these powers for so many years, had virtually, if not formally, sanctioned them; nevertheless, from his knowledge of the king, he deemed it more politic to plead guilty. Nor did he :miscalculate in this. Henry accorded him an ample pardon, and thus he escaped the serious consequences with which the Act of Praemunire menaced him. [18]

At Esher the cardinal fell dangerously ill, and the king, hearing of his sickness, sent three physicians to attend upon him. On his recovery, he was permitted to remove to Richmond; but the Privy Council, alarmed at his near approach to the court, prevailed on the king to banish him to his diocese of York. The hopes Wolsey had begun to cherish of the return of the royal favor were again dashed. He set out on his northward journey in the early spring of 1530. His train, according to Cavendish, consisted of 160 persons and seventy-two wagons loaded with the relics of his furniture. "How great must have been that grandeur which, by comparison, made such wealth appear poverty!" [19] Taking up his abode at Cawood Castle, the residence of the Archbishops of York, he gave himself with great assiduity to the discharge of his ecclesiastical duties. He distributed alms to the poor he visited his numerous parish churches; he incited his clergy to preach regularly to their flocks; he reconciled differences, said mass in the village churches, was affable and courteous to all, and by these means he speedily won the esteem of every class. This he hoped was the beginning of a second upward career. Other arts he is said to have employed to regain the eminence from which he had fallen. He entered into a secret correspondence with the Pope; and it was believed at court that he was intriguing against his sovereign both at home and abroad.

These suspicions were strengthened by the magnificent enthronization which he was preparing for himself at York. The day fixed for the august ceremonial was near, when the tide in the cardinal's fortunes turned adversely, nevermore to change. Suddenly the Earl of Northumberland — the same Percy whose affection for Anne Boleyn Wolsey had thwarted — arrived at Cawood Castle with an order to arrest him for high treason. The shock well-nigh killed him; he remained for some time speechless. Instead of ascending his throne in York Cathedral, he had to mount his mule and begin his pilgrimage to the Tower; thence to pass, it might be, to the block.

On beginning his journey, the peasantry of the neighborhood assembled at Cawood, and with lighted torches and hearty cheers strove to raise his spirits; but nothing could again bring the light of joy into his face. His earthly glory was ended, and all was ended with it. He halted on his way at Sheffield Park, the residence of the Earl of Shrewsbury. One morning during his stay there, George Cavendish, the most faithful of all his domestics, came running into his chamber, crying out, "Good news, my lord! Sir William Kingston is come to conduct you to the king." The word "Kingston" went like an arrow to his heart. "Kingston!" he repeated, sighing deeply. A soothsayer had warned him that he should have his end at Kingston. He had thought that the town of that name was meant: now he saw that it was the Tower, of which Kingston was the Constable, that was to be fatal to him. The arrival of Sir William was to the poor man the messenger of death. Blow was coming after. blow, and heart and strength were rapidly failing him. It was a fortnight before he was able to set out from Sheffield Park. On the way he was once and again near falling from his mule through weakness. On the third day — Saturday, the 26th of November — he reached Leicester. The falling leaf and the setting sun — the last he was ever to see — seemed but the emblems of his own condition. By the time he had got to the abbey, where he was to lodge, the

night had closed in, and the abbot and friars waited at the Portal with torches to light his entrance. "Father," said he to the abbot, as he crossed the threshold, "I am come to lay my bones among you." He took to his bed, from which he was to rise not again. Melancholy vaticinations and forebodings continued to haunt him. "Upon Monday, in the morning," says Cavendish, his faithful attendant, and the chronicler of his last hours, "as I stood by his bedside about eight of the clock, the windows being close shut, having wax lights burning upon the cupboard, I beheld him, as me seemed, drawing fast to his end. He, perceiving my shadow upon the wall by his bedside, asked…. 'What is it of the clock?' 'Forsooth, sir,' said I, 'it is past eight o'clock in the morning.' 'Eight of the clock?' quoth he, 'that cannot be,' rehearsing divers times, 'Eight of the clock, eight of the clock. Nay, nay,' quoth he at last, 'it cannot be eight of the clock, for by eight of the clock ye shall lose your master.'" [20] He survived all that day.

At six on Tuesday morning, Kingston, Lieutenant of the Tower, entered his chamber to inquire how he did? "Sir," said he, "I tarry but the will and pleasure of God." His intellect remained perfectly clear. "Be of good cheer," rejoined Kingston. "Alas! Master Kingston," replied the dying cardinal, "if I had served God as diligently as I have served the king, He would not have given me over thus in my gray hairs. Howbeit," he added, "this is the just reward I must receive for all my worldly diligence and pains, only to satisfy his vain pleasure, not regarding my duty to God." [21] Such was Wolsey's judgment upon his own life.

He had but few minutes to live, and the use he made of them was to send a last message to his former master, on a matter that lay near his heart. "Master Kingston," he said, "attend to my last request: tell the king that I conjure him in God's name to destroy this new pernicious sect of Lutherans…. The king should know that if he tolerates heresy, God will take away his power." Wolsey is the same man on his death-bed as when, sitting under the canopy of state, he had sent martyrs to the fire. His last breath is expended in fanning the torch of persecution in England. But now the faltering tongue and glazing eye told those around him that the last moment was come. "Incontinent," says Cavendish, "the clock struck eight, and then gave he up the ghost," leaving the attendants awe-struck at the strange fulfillment of the words, "By eight of the clock ye shall lose your master." The corpse, decked out in Pontifical robes, with mitre and cross and ring, was put into a coffin of boards and carried into "Our Lady Chapel," where the magistrates of Leicester were permitted to view the uncovered ghastly face, and satisfy themselves that the cardinal was really dead. A grave was hastily dug within the precincts of the abbey, wax tapers were kept burning all night round the bier, orisons were duly sung, and next morning, before daybreak, the coffin containing the body of the deceased legate was carried out, amidst funeral chants and flaring torches, and deposited in the place prepared for it. Dust to dust. The man who had filled England with his glory, and Europe with his fame, was left without tomb or epitaph to say, "Here lies Wolsey."

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
Search Historical Writings
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology