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The Court At Blackfriars

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Henry Advised To Marry Without Waiting For Sentence






The Court At Blackfriars








The great scene in the hall at the Blackfriars when the cause of Henry
VIII. and Catherine of Aragon was pleaded before Wolsey and Campeggio is
too well known to require further description. To the Legates it was a
splendid farce. They knew that it was to end in nothing. The world
outside, even the parties chiefly concerned, were uncertain what the Pope
intended, and waited for the event to determine their subsequent conduct.
There was more at issue than the immediate question before the Court. The
point really at stake was, whether the interests of the English nation
could be trusted any longer to a judge who was degrading his office by
allowing himself to be influenced by personal fears and interests; who,
when called on to permit sentence to be delivered, by delegates whom he
had himself appointed, yet confessed himself unable, or unwilling, to
decide whether it should be delivered or not. Abstractly Henry's demand
was right. A marriage with a brother's wife was not lawful, and no Papal
dispensation could make it so; but long custom had sanctioned what in
itself was forbidden. The Pope could plead the undisputed usage of
centuries, and if when the case was first submitted to him he had
unequivocally answered that a marriage contracted bona fide under his
predecessor's sanction could not be broken, English opinion, it is likely,
would have sustained him, even at the risk of a disputed succession, and
the King himself would have dropped his suit. But the Pope, as a weak
mortal, had wished to please a powerful sovereign. He had entertained the
King's petition; he had hesitated, had professed inability to come to a
conclusion, finally had declared that justice was on the King's side, and
had promised that it should be so declared. If he now drew back, broke his
engagements, and raised new difficulties in the settlement of a doubt
which the long discussion of it had made serious; if he allowed it to be
seen that his change of purpose was due to the menaces of another secular
Prince, was such a judge to be any longer tolerated? Was not the Papacy
itself degenerate, and unfit to exercise any longer the authority which it
had been allowed to assume? This aspect of the matter was not a farce at
all. The Papal supremacy itself was on its trial.

On the 16th of June the King and Queen were cited to appear in court.
Catherine was unprepared. She had been assured by the Emperor that her
cause should not be tried in England. She called on Campeggio to explain.
Campeggio answered that the Pope, having deputed two Legates for the
process, could not revoke their commission without grave consideration. He
exhorted her to pray God to enlighten her to take some good advice,
considering the times. He was not without hope that, at the last
extremity, she would yield and take the vows. But she did not in the least
accede to his hints, and no one could tell what she meant to do. She
soon showed what she meant to do. On the 18th the court sate. Henry
appeared by a proctor, who said for him that he had scruples about the
validity of his marriage, which he required to be resolved. Catherine
attended in person, rose, and delivered a brief protest against the place
of trial and the competency of the judges. Wolsey was an English subject,
Campeggio held an English bishopric. They were not impartial. She demanded
to be heard at Rome, delivered her protest in writing, and withdrew.

It was at once answered for the King that he could not plead in a city
where the Emperor was master. The court adjourned for three days that the
Cardinals might consider. On the 21st they sate again. The scene became
more august. Henry came now himself, and took his place under a canopy at
the Legates' right hand. Catherine attended again, and sate in equal state
at their left. Henry spoke. He said he believed that he had been in mortal
sin. He could bear it no longer, and required judgment. Wolsey replied
that they would do what was just; and then Catherine left her seat,
crossed in front of them, and knelt at her husband's feet. She had been
his lawful wife, she said, for twenty years, and had not deserved to be
repudiated and put to shame. She begged him to remember their daughter, to
remember her own relations, Charles and Ferdinand, who would be gravely
offended. Crowds of women, gathered about the palace gates, had cheered
her as she came in, and bade her care for nothing. If women had to decide
the case, said the French Ambassador, the Queen would win. Their voices
availed nothing. She was told that her protest could not be admitted. She
then left the court, was thrice summoned to come back, and, as she
refused, was pronounced contumacious.

For the King to appear as a suitor at Rome was justly regarded as
impossible. Casalis was directed to tell Clement that, being in the
Emperor's hands, he could not be accepted as a judge in the case, and that
sovereign princes were exempted by prerogative from pleading in courts
outside their own dominions. If he admitted the Queen's appeal, he would
lose the devotion of the King and of England to the See Apostolic, and
would destroy Wolsey for ever. Had the Legates been in earnest there
would have been no time to learn whether the appeal was allowed at Rome or
not; they would have gone on and given sentence under their commission. It
appeared as if this was what they intended to do. The court continued
sitting. Catherine being contumacious, there was nothing left to delay the
conclusion. She was in despair; she believed herself betrayed. Mendoza,
who might have comforted her, was gone. She wrote to him that she was lost
unless the Emperor or the Pope interposed. Even Campeggio seemed to be
ignorant how he was to avoid a decision. Campeggio, the French Ambassador
wrote, was already half conquered. If Francis would send a word to him, he
might gather courage to pass sentence, and Henry would be brought to his
knees in gratitude. The very Pope, perhaps, in his heart would not have
been displeased if the Legates had disobeyed the orders which he had
given, and had proceeded to judgment, as he had often desired that they
might. Micer Mai's accounts to Charles of the shifts of the poor old man,
as the accounts from England reached him, are almost pathetic. Pope,
Cardinals, canon lawyers, Mai regarded as equally feeble, if not as
equally treacherous. One reads with wonder the Spaniard's real estimate of
the persons for whose sake and in whose name Charles and Philip were to
paint Europe red with blood.

"Salviati," said Mai, "who, though a great rogue, has not wit enough to
hide his tricks, showed me the minute of a letter they had written to
Campeggio: a more stupid or rascally composition could not have been
concocted in hell." Campeggio was directed in this letter to reveal to
no one that he had received orders not to give sentence. He was to go on
making delays, which was what "those people desired," because, if he was
to say that he would make no declaration in the affair, the Archbishop of
York would act by himself, the Pope's mandate having been originally
addressed to the two Legates conjointly or to one individually. The letter
had gone on to direct Campeggio, if he could not manage this, to carry on
the proceedings until the final sentence, but not deliver sentence without
first consulting Rome. If possible, he was to keep this part of his
instructions secret, for fear of displeasing the King.

"I lost all patience," Mai continued. "Andrea de Burgo and I went to the
Pope, and told him we had seen the instructions sent to Campeggio, which
were of such a nature that if we were to inform your Majesty of their
contents you would undoubtedly resent the manner in which you were being
treated. We would not do that, but we would speak our minds plainly. The
letter to Campeggio was a breach of faith so often pledged by his Holiness
to your Majesty that the divorce suit should be advocated to Rome. The
violation of such a promise and the writing to Campeggio to go on with
the proceeding was a greater insult and offence to your Majesty than the
commission given to him in the first instance. It was a wonder to see how
lightly his Holiness held promises made in accordance with justice and
reason. An offence of such a kind bore so much on the honour of your
Majesty and the princes of the Imperial family, that your Majesty would
not put up with it. The King would have but to ask Campeggio whether he
would or would not give sentence, and, if he refused, the duty would then
devolve on the other Legate. His Holiness should be careful how he added
fuel to the fire now raging in Christendom."

It was not enough for Mai that the cause should be revoked to Rome. The
English agents said that if an independent sovereign was to be forced to
plead at Rome, the Pope must at least hear the suit in person. He must not
refer it to the Rota. Mai would not hear of this. To the Rota it must go
and nowhere else. The Pope might mean well, but he might die and be
succeeded by a pope of another sort, or the English might regain the
influence they once had, and indeed had still, in the Papal court. They
were great favourites, bribing right and left and spending money
freely. What was a miserable pope to do? Casalis, and Dr. Benet who
had joined him from England, pointed out the inevitable consequences if he
allowed himself to be governed by the Emperor. The Pope replied with
lamentations that none saw that better than he, but he was so placed
between the hammer and the anvil, that, though he wished to please the
King, the whole storm would fall on him. The Emperor would not endure an
insult to his family, and had said that he regarded the cause more than
all his kingdoms. Those were only ornaments of fortune, while this touched
his honour. He would postpone the advocation for a few days, but it could
not be refused. He was in the Emperor's power, and the Emperor could do as
he pleased with him.

The few days' respite meant a hope that news of some decisive act might
arrive meanwhile from England. The King must determine, Casalis and Benet
thought, whether it would be better to suspend the process at his own
request, or to proceed to sentence before the advocation. The Pope,
the Commissioners added, was well disposed to the King, and would not
refuse to shed his blood for him; but in this cause and at this time he
said it was impossible.

While matters were going thus at Rome, the suit in England went forward.
The Cardinals availed themselves of every excuse for delay; but in the
presence of Catherine's determined refusal to recognise the court, delay
became daily more difficult. The King pressed for judgment; formal
obstacles were exhausted, and the Roman Legate must either produce his
last instructions, which he had been ordered not to reveal, or there was
nothing left for him to urge as a reason for further hesitation. It was
not supposed that in the face of a distinct promise the Pope would revoke
the commission. Campeggio and Wolsey were sitting with full powers to hear
and determine. Determine, it seemed, they must; when, at the fifth
session, uncalled on and unlooked for, the Bishop of Rochester rose and
addressed the court. The King, he said, had declared that his only
intention was to have justice done, and to relieve himself of a scruple of
conscience, and had invited the judges and everyone else to throw light
upon a cause which distressed and perplexed him. He [the Bishop], having
given two years' diligent study to the question, felt himself bound in
consequence to declare his opinion, and not risk the damnation of his soul
by withholding it. He undertook, therefore, to declare and demonstrate
that the marriage of the King and Queen could be dissolved by no power,
human or divine, and for that conclusion he was ready to lay down his
life. The Baptist had held it glorious to die in a cause of marriage, when
marriage was not so holy as it had been made by the shedding of Christ's
blood. He was prepared to encounter any peril for the truth, and he ended
by presenting his arguments in a written form.

The Bishop's allusion to the Baptist was neither respectful nor
felicitous. It implied that Henry, who as yet at least had punished no one
for speaking freely, was no better than a Herod. Henry's case was that to
marry a brother's wife was not lawful, and the Baptist was of the same
opinion. The Legates answered quietly that the cause had not been
committed to Fisher, and that it was not for him to pronounce judicially
upon it. Wolsey complained that the Bishop had given him no notice of his
intended interference. They continued to examine witnesses as if nothing
had happened. But Fisher's action was not without effect. He was much
respected. The public was divided on the merits of the general question.
Many still thought the meaning of it to be merely that the King was tired
of an old wife and wanted a young one. Courage is infectious, and comment
grew loud and unfavourable. The popular voice might have been disregarded.
But Campeggio, who had perhaps really wavered, not knowing what Clement
wished him to do, gathered heart from Fisher's demonstration. "We are
hurried on," he wrote to Salviati on the 13th of July, "always faster than
a trot, so that some expect a sentence in ten days.... I will not fail in
my duty or office, nor rashly or willingly give offence to any one. When
giving sentence I will have only God before my eyes and the honour of the
Holy See." A week later Du Bellay said that things were almost as the
King wished, and the end was expected immediately, when Campeggio acted on
the Pope's last verbal instructions at their parting at Rome. He was told
to go on to the last, but must pause at the final extremity. He obeyed.
When nothing was left but to pronounce judgment, he refused to speak it,
and said that he must refer back to the Holy See. Wolsey declined to act
without him, and Campeggio, when pressed, if we can believe his own
account of what he said, answered: "Very well, I vote in favour of the
marriage and the Queen. If my colleague agrees, well and good. If not,
there can be no sentence, for we must both agree."


Wolsey's feelings must be conjectured, for he never revealed them. To the
Commissioners at Rome he wrote: "Such discrepancies and contrariety of
opinion has ensued here that the cause will be long delayed. In a week the
process will have to cease, and two months of vacation ensue. Other
counsels, therefore, are necessary, and it is important to act as if the
advocation was granted. Campeggio unites with me to urge the Pope, if it
must be granted, to qualify the language; for if the King be cited to
appear in person or by proxy, and his prerogative be interfered with, none
of his subjects will tolerate it; or if he appears in Italy it will be at
the head of a formidable army. A citation of the King to Rome on
threat of excommunication is no more tolerable than the whole loss of the
King's dignity. If, therefore, the Pope has granted any such advocation,
it must be revoked. If it arrives here before such a revocation, no
mention of it shall be made, not even to the King."

This was Wolsey's last effort. Before his despatch could reach Rome the
resolution was taken. Had it arrived in time, it would have made no
difference while Micer Mai was able to threaten to behead Cardinals in
their own apartments. The cause was advoked, as it was called--reserved to
be heard in the Rota. The Legates' commission was cancelled. The court at
Blackfriars was dissolved, as Campeggio said, in anger, shame, and
disappointment. He had fulfilled his orders not without some alarm for
himself as he thought of his bishopric of Salisbury.

Catherine, springing from despondency into triumph, imagined that all was
over. The suit, she thought, would be instantly recommenced at Rome, and
the Pope would give judgment in her favour without further form. She was
to learn a harsher lesson, and would have consulted better for her
happiness if she had yielded to the Pope's advice and retired into
seclusion. While the Legates were sitting in London, another conference
was being held at Cambray, to arrange conditions of European peace. France
and the Empire adjusted their quarrels for another interval. The Pope and
the Italian Princes were included--England was included also--and the
divorce, the point of central discord between Henry and the Emperor, was
passed over in silence as too dangerous to be touched.





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