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.