Danger Of Challenging The Papal Dispensing Power

The question whether the Pope had power to license marriages within the

forbidden degrees affected interests immeasurably wider than the domestic

difficulties of Henry VIII. Innumerable connections had been contracted,

in reliance upon Papal dispensations, the issue of which would be

illegitimate if the authority was declared to be insufficient. The Emperor

himself was immediately and personally concerned. Emmanuel of Portugal had<
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been three times married. His first wife was Isabel, daughter of Ferdinand

and Isabella, Catherine's sister and Charles's aunt. His second wife was

her sister Maria; his third, Charles's sister Eleanor. Charles's own

Empress was the child of the second of these marriages, and they had all

been contracted under dispensations from Rome. A sudden change of the law

or the recognition in a single instance that the Pope's authority in such

matters might be challenged would create universal disturbance; and it was

not for Catherine's sake alone that the Emperor had so peremptorily

resisted Henry's demand. The difficulty would have been evaded had

Catherine agreed to take the vows; and Henry himself, when Catherine

refused, had been so far conscious of the objection that he had hitherto

based his demand on the irregularity of the original Bull of Pope Julius.

Clement had said often that a way could be found if Charles would consent;

but Charles had not consented. In England, the marriage having been once

challenged, a decision of some kind was necessary to avoid a disputed

succession, and larger issues had now to be raised. The Emperor having

dismissed the English Embassy at Bologna with scant courtesy, the Pope, as

we have seen, had fallen back secretly on his old wish that Henry would

take the matter into his own hands, disregard the inhibition, and marry as

he pleased, without throwing the responsibility on himself. Henry,

however, after the assurances which the Pope had given him, was determined

that he should not escape in this way. He had gained or extorted a

favourable opinion from his own learned corporations. Francis had assisted

him to a similar opinion from the University of Paris. Confident in these

authorities, a great body of English peers, spiritual and temporal, now

presented a formal demand to Clement that the King's petition should be

conceded, and intimated that if it was again refused they must seek a

remedy for themselves. Wolsey himself signed, for the petition was drawn

in the summer before his death. Archbishop Warham signed, followed by

bishops, abbots, dukes, earls, and barons. Some, doubtless, had to strain

their consciences, but the act as a whole must be taken as their own. The

King, unless he was supported by the people, had no means of forcing them

or of punishing them if they refused. Norfolk still laboured desperately

to work upon Chapuys. He told him, before the address was despatched,

that, as there seemed no other way of bringing the business to an end, he

would sacrifice the greater part of what he owned in the world if God

would be pleased to take to himself the Queen and his niece also, for

the King would never enjoy peace of mind till he had made another

marriage, for the relief of his conscience and the tranquillity of the

realm, which could only be secured by male posterity to succeed to the


The King, Norfolk said, could not plead at Rome, which was garrisoned by a

Spanish army, and the Pope would do the Emperor's bidding if it was to

dance in the streets in a clown's coat; the Queen objected to a trial in

England; but could not a neutral place be found with impartial judges?

Might not the Cardinal of Liege be trusted, and the Bishop of Tarbes?

The blunt and honest Norfolk was an indifferent successor to the dexterous

Cardinal. To wish that Catherine and Anne Boleyn were both dead was a

natural, but not a valuable, aspiration. A neutral place of trial was, no

doubt, desirable, and the Cardinal of Liege might be admissible, but de

Tarbes would not do at all. "He had been one of the first," Chapuys

remarked, "to put the fancy in the King's head."

At Rome the diplomatic fencing continued, the Pope secretly longing to

"commit some folly" and to come to terms with Henry, while the Imperial

agents kept their claws fixed upon him. In October Mai reported that

Henry's representatives were insisting that Clement should dissolve the

marriage without legal process, on the ground that the kingdom must have

an heir, and because the King protested that he was living in mortal sin.

If this could not be done, the Pope should at least promise that if the

King married he should not be proceeded against. The Pope seemed too much

inclined to listen; but with Mai at his shoulder, he could not afford

to be valiant. He was made to answer that he had done his best; but he

could not reject the Queen's appeal; the King had not named a proctor to

appear for him, and therefore delay had been unavoidable; the threat of

the Peers in their address that unless the divorce was granted they would

seek a remedy elsewhere, was unworthy of them, and could not have been

sanctioned by the King; he had always wished to comply with the King's

requests when it could be done with justice.

True to his policy of doing nothing and trusting to time, Clement hoped to

tire Henry out by smooth words and hopes indirectly conveyed; but he was

slowly swept on by the tide, and, when forced to act at all, had to act at

Mai's dictation. The Nuncio in England had been too openly on Henry's

side. A change was necessary. John Casalis was recalled. The Baron de

Burgo was sent to succeed him, who was expected to be of sterner material.

Chapuys had ascertained from two legal friends in the House of Commons

that, when the next session opened, the divorce would be brought before

Parliament, and that Parliament would stand by the King; also that M. du

Bellay had come from Paris with promises from Francis to settle matters

with the Pope afterwards, if the King cut the knot and married.

Unless the Emperor gave way, of which there was no hope, or unless the

Pope dared the Emperor's displeasure, to which Clement was as disinclined

as ever, a breach with the Papacy seemed now unavoidable. His Holiness

still hoped, however, that there might be a third alternative.

The new Nuncio reached England in the middle of September. He reported

briefly that at his first interview the King told him that, unless the

cause was committed to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the English

Bishops, he would act for himself, since he knew that the Pope had

promised the Emperor to declare for the Queen. Chapuys supplied the

Emperor with fuller particulars of the interview. The Nuncio had declared

to the King that, in view of the injury likely to ensue to the authority

of the Church, "his Holiness would rather die or resign the Papacy than

that the cause should not be settled to the mutual satisfaction of those

concerned in it." The King, instead of replying graciously, as the Nuncio

expected, had broken into violent abuse of the Pope himself and the whole

Roman Court. The Church, Henry had said, required a thorough reformation,

and the Church should have it. The Pope alone was to blame for the

difficulty in which he found himself. He had sent him a brief from

Orvieto, admitting the divorce to be a necessity, and now he had promised

the Emperor, as he knew from good authority, that judgment should be given

for the Queen. He would not endure such treatment. He would never consent

that the cause should be decided at Rome, or in any place where either

Pope or Emperor had jurisdiction. It was an ancient privilege of England,

"that no cause having its origin in that kingdom should be advoked to

another." If the Pope would not do him justice, he would appeal to his

Parliament, which was about to assemble, and if the Emperor threatened

him with war, he hoped to be able to defend himself. The Nuncio had

deprecated precipitate action. If the King would only do nothing, the

Pope, he said, would pause also, till an amicable settlement could be

arrived at; but the King would promise nothing; "he would act as seemed

best to himself."

Henry being thus peremptory, Chapuys and the Nuncio had to consider what

was to be done. The Pope, before the Nuncio's despatch, had received

private advices from Wolsey, of which the Baron de Burgo had been

informed. The evil, Wolsey had admitted, was too far gone for gentle

treatment: it needed cautery and incision; but they must proceed

cautiously. If the Pope used threats, the King would go at once to

Parliament; there would then be war, in which France would take a part.

Might not a personal interview be brought about between the King and the

Emperor? The Nuncio could not see his way, but was willing to be guided by

Chapuys. Chapuys was for instant action on the Pope's part. Moderation, he

said, was useless. He believed (of course Wolsey had told him so) that, if

the Pope would deliver sentence at Rome immediately, the King would find

no one in the realm, or out of it, to help him in a quarrel against the

Church. The responsibility ought not to be thrown upon the Emperor. The

Pope must speak, and all good Catholics would be at his side. The

Nuncio agreed. The clergy in England were irritated and alarmed, and the

opportunity was favourable. The Nuncio and the Ambassadors decided between

them that the Pope was to be advised to end the cause at once, threaten

the King with excommunication, and let a copy of the brief be in England

before Parliament opened.

Chapuys, well as he thought that he understood England, had something to

learn about it which was to be a disagreeable surprise. He had imagined

that the Pope's authority, when boldly asserted there, had never been

successfully resisted. Tradition remembered Anselm and Becket. It had

forgotten the legislation of the Edwards and of Richard II. According to

Chapuys, the Pope was to issue a brief forbidding Parliament to meddle in

the divorce case. There were laws on the statute book which forbade the

interference of the Pope under any circumstances in the internal affairs

of the English realm. Should the Pope, by bull or brief, by presentation

to offices of the Church or by delegation of his authority, attempt to

exercise direct jurisdiction in England to the prejudice of the rights of

the Crown, all persons who introduced such bulls or briefs, who recognized

the Pope's pretensions or acted on his orders, fell under Praemunire--a

vague but terrible consequence, almost as fatal as a proved charge of

treason. The statutes had been long obsolete. The sword was in its

scabbard. Wolsey had forgotten their existence when he sought and accepted

the position of Legate of the Holy See. Henry had forgotten them when he

applied for a Legatine commission to try his cause in London. The clergy

who had claimed to be independent of the State, to be an imperium in

imperio with the Pope at their head, the officials who had made the name

of a Church court execrated in every county in England--all had forgotten

them. But the Acts themselves were unrepealed, and survived as a monument

of the spirit of a past generation. Doubtless it was known that the Pope

was being urged to violence. Doubtless it was known that large numbers of

the clergy were prepared to stand by him, in terror at the threatened

Reformation. The blow was to be parried by an appeal to the historical

precedents of the realm. These impatient persons were to learn that,

instead of joining in attack upon the King, they would have enough to do

to purchase their pardons for their own offences. The well-tempered steel

sprang to light again bright as ever, and while the Nuncio was dreaming of

excommunication and interdict, he learnt to his astonishment that the

subject coming before Parliament was not the divorce of the Queen, but the

position of the whole spiritualty of the realm.

By recognising Wolsey as Legate from the Holy See the entire clergy were

found to be under Praemunire. On the divorce, perhaps, or on

excommunication arising out of it, there might still have been a

difference of opinion in Parliament; but the Papal authority was now to be

argued there on the lines of the past development of English liberty.

Notice of what was coming was given at the beginning of October by a

proclamation warning all persons of the illegality of introducing briefs

from Rome. The Nuncio rushed to the council chamber; he saw the Dukes of

Norfolk and Suffolk; he asked passionately what was meant? what was the

Pope accused of? what English privileges had he violated? why had he not

been warned beforehand? The two Dukes answered "that they cared nothing

for Pope or Popes in England--not even if St. Peter himself came to life

again. The King was Emperor and Pope in his own dominions. The Pope was

alienating the English people, and, if he wished to recover their

affection, he must deserve it by attending to their petitions."

The Nuncio assumed a bold face and told them they would find themselves

mistaken if they thought they could intimidate the Holy See. He applied to

the King. Henry told him that nothing had been published to the Pope's

injury. He was merely using his prerogative to guard against opposition to

the ordinances which he had made, or was about to make, for the

reformation of the clergy. He had gone promptly to work, lest the Pope

should issue an inhibition. The Nuncio knew not what to make of it. Queen

Catherine was greatly disturbed; she feared the edict was a proof that the

King was not afraid of the Pope after all. On the whole, the Nuncio

considered that an attempt was being made to frighten him, and he sent off

fresh letters advising the Pope to proceed at once to pass sentence.

Henry was, in fact, checkmating them all. With the help of the revived

Statute of Provisors he was able to raise the whole question of the Pope's

authority in England without fresh legislation on present points of

difference. Parliament, which was to have met in October, was prorogued

till January, to mature the intended measures. The King went to Hampton

Court. He sent for the Nuncio to come to him. He told him that by the

citation to Rome the Pope had violated the privileges of sovereign

princes, and had broken the promise which he had given him in writing at

Orvieto. If the Pope showed no more consideration for him, he would have

to show that the Pope's pretension to authority was a usurpation, and very

serious consequences would then follow.

The King, the Nuncio said, spoke with much show of regret and with tears

in his eyes. He added that the present Parliament had been called at the

request of the nation for the restraint of the clergy. They were so hated

throughout the realm, both by nobles and people, that, but for his

protection, they would be utterly destroyed. He should wait to take action

till February, to see whether the Pope would meanwhile change his conduct

towards him.

Norfolk, to whom the Nuncio went next, gave him no comfort; he said that,

"though Queen Catherine was a good woman, her coming to England had been

the curse of the country;" God had shown his displeasure at the marriage

by denying the King a male heir; if the King should die without a son, old

feuds would be reopened and the realm would be plunged into misery. It was

not tolerable that the vital interests of England should be sacrificed to

the Emperor. He advised the Nuncio to use his influence with the Pope.

"The King's severity might then perhaps be modified."

One more direct appeal was made by Henry himself to Clement. "Finding his

just demands neglected, the requests of the King of France unattended to,

and the address of his nobles despised and derided," he perceived, he

said, that the Pope was wholly devoted to the Emperor's will, and

ordained, prorogued and altered to serve the times. He required the Pope,

therefore, to set down in writing his grounds for rejecting his suit. He

demanded once more that the cause should be heard in England before

indifferent judges. "The laws of the realm would not suffer the contrary;

he abhorred contention, but would not brook denial."

Queen Catherine was in despair. The hearing of the cause had again been

postponed at Rome. A party in her favour had been formed in the House of

Commons, but were at a loss what course to follow. If the Pope would give

a decision they would know what to do, but the delay of sentence seemed to

imply that he was himself uncertain where the right really lay. They

questioned Chapuys whether any directions had arrived from Rome on which

to rest their opposition, hoping perhaps that an inhibitory brief had been

issued. Opposition, they feared, would be useless without further action

at the Papal Court.

"The Pope," Chapuys said, "had been so dilatory and so dissembling that he

was not in favour with either side." A change was passing over public

feeling. Every day gave strength to the King's cause. Archbishop Warham,

who had been hitherto for the Queen, was beginning to waver, and even to

think that he might try the suit in his own court. The Queen, the

Nuncio, the Bishop of Rochester, and the friends who remained staunch to

her agreed unanimously that the boldest course would be the wisest.

Immediate sentence at Rome in the Queen's favour was the only remedy.

Gentleness was thrown away. Let the King see that the Pope was really in

earnest, and he would not venture to go further. Catherine herself wrote

to Clement with the passion of a suffering woman. "Delay," she said,

"would be the cause of a new hell upon earth, the remedy for which would

be worse than the worst that had ever yet been tried." She did not

blame the King. The fault was with the wicked counsellors who misled him.

Once delivered out of their hands, he would be as dutiful a son of the

Church as he had ever been.

It is noticeable throughout that each of the two parties assumed that the

Pope's judgment when he gave it must be on its own side. The King demanded

a sentence in favour of the divorce; the Queen and the Emperor a sentence

that the marriage was good. The Pope was to try the cause; but neither

admitted that the right or the wrong was doubtful, or that the Pope must

hear the arguments before he could decide. Doubtless they were justified

in so regarding the Pope's tribunal. The trial would be undertaken, if a

trial there was to be, with a foregone conclusion; but what kind of a

court of justice could the Rota be if it could be so spoken of, and its

master so be addressed?

Most idolatries pass through the same stage. The idol is whipped before he

is finally discarded. The Holy Ghost is still invited to assist the

Cathedral Chapters in the choice of a Bishop, but must choose the person

already named by the Prime Minister under pain of Praemunire. Men should

choose their idols better. Reasonable beings are not fit objects of such

treatment. Much is to be said in favour of stuffed straw or the graven

image, which the scourge itself cannot force to speak. Anne Boleyn was

jubilant. "She is braver than a lion," wrote Chapuys. She said to one of

the Queen's ladies that she wished all the Spaniards in the world were in

the sea. The lady told her such language was disrespectful to her

mistress. She said she cared nothing for the Queen, and would rather see

her hanged than acknowledge her as her mistress. Clement, goaded by

Micer Mai, issued at last a second brief, repeating the terms of the

first, again forbidding the second marriage, and threatening Parliaments,

Bishops, and Divines in England if they dared to interfere. But between a

brief and the execution of it was a long interval. Sentence on the

original cause he would not pass; and in leaving his final decision

doubtful he left opinion free to the rest of the world. The brief was to

be presented by the Nuncio. The Pope accompanied it with a deprecatory,

and not undignified, letter to Henry from himself. Chapuys feared

that "by his loose talk" Clement was secretly encouraging the King. The

brief might bring on a crisis. He did not relish the prospect of remaining

in England "in the boiling vortex likely to be opened." But as the Queen

insisted that he should stay, he pressed unceasingly for "excommunication

and interdict." "The Emperor might then make effectual war with the

English. They would lose their trade with Spain and Flanders, and the

disaffection to the King and Council would be greatly increased."

On the spot and surrounded by an atmosphere of passion, Chapuys was in

favour of war. The Emperor, still unwilling to part with the hereditary

friendship of England, was almost as reluctant as Clement. He had supposed

that Henry was influenced by a passing infatuation, that by supporting

Catherine he would please the greater part of the nation, and ultimately,

perhaps, secure the gratitude of Henry himself. He had not allowed for the

changes which were passing over the mind of the English people. He had not

foreseen the gathering indignation of a proud race jealous of their

liberties when they saw him dictating to the Spiritual Judge of Europe on

a question which touched their own security. But he had gone too far to

draw back. He found himself sustained, not only by Spanish opinion, but by

the part of his subjects about whom he had felt most uneasy. The Italian

universities had for the most part gone with Paris and declared against

the dispensing power. In Germany Henry had been disappointed. The King of

England had been an old antagonist of Luther. Sir Thomas More, as

Chancellor, had been enforcing the heresy laws against Luther's English

proselytes with increased severity. The Lutherans in turn declared

decidedly against Henry's divorce. The Emperor was their feudal sovereign.

They saw no reason for entering into a new quarrel with him on a cause

which, so far as they understood, was none of their own. Henry was

evidently alarmed. Chapuys reported that he was busy building ships,

casting cannon, repairing fortresses, and replenishing the Tower arsenal,

as if conscious that he might have serious work before him. The Emperor

still clung to the belief that he would be afraid to persevere, and

Chapuys himself began to think that the Emperor might be more right than

himself, and that the storm might pass off. No sign, however, appeared of

yielding. The new brief was known to have been issued, and to have been

forwarded to the Nuncio. Not contented with the warning already given by

proclamation, Norfolk on the 13th of January sent for Chapuys to draw his

attention once more to the law. The introduction of briefs from Rome

touching the honour and authority of the Crown was forbidden by Act of

Parliament. It was understood that "certain decretals" had been procured

by the Queen's friends, and were about to be published. The Duke desired

the Ambassador to know that if the Pope came in person to present such

briefs he would be torn in pieces by the people. It was not a new

question. Popes had tried in past times to usurp authority in England. The

King's predecessors had always resisted, and the present King would resist

also. Kings were before Popes. The King was master in his own dominions.

If any such decretal came into the Ambassador's hands, the Duke warned him

not to issue it.

Imperialist officials were more accustomed to dictate to others than to

submit to commands. Chapuys was brave, and, when occasion required, could

be haughty to insolence. He thanked the Duke for giving him the notice.

"He would not argue," he said, "on the authority possessed by Popes over

disobedient kings and kingdoms. It was a notorious fact in full practice

at that very time. His curiosity had not extended so far as the study of

the English statute book, and on such points he must refer the Council to

the Nuncio. For himself he could only say he thought they would have done

better if they had not given occasion for such 'briefs' from the Pope. The

Emperor would not consent to an unreasonable sentence against the King,

for he regarded him as his ally and friend, but he could assure the Duke

that if his master was to direct him to assist the publication of any

Papal brief in England he would unquestionably execute his Majesty's

commands. As to the nation at large, he did not think they would resist

the Pope's decretals. He thought, on the contrary, they would help their

execution with all their power. Truth and justice must reign everywhere,

even among thieves and in hell. The Church of Christ was never so

unprovided with defenders as to be unable to carry the world with her, and

the English would have no right to complain if the Emperor, having

exhausted all means of conciliation, caused justice to take her


Such language could bear but one meaning. Chapuys perhaps intended to

frighten Norfolk. The Duke was suspected to be less staunch in support of

the King than he professed to be in Council. The Duchess was a fiery

partisan of Catherine, and a close intimate of the Ambassador himself. He

thought that he had produced an impression; but Norfolk answered at last

that, "if the King could take another wife he certainly would;" the Pope

had no business to interfere, except in cases of heresy. To the

Nuncio the Duke gave the same warning which he had given to the

Ambassador, drawing special attention to the pains and penalties to which

disobedience would make him liable. The Nuncio answered, like Chapuys,

that at whatever cost he would obey the Pope's orders, and "would die if

necessary for his lord and master."