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Excerpts, Part 10: Pressure on the Pope

Catherine always maintained, and there is no reason to doubt her testimony, that the marriage to Arthur had never been consummated. Henry's case depended entirely on the marriage having been consummated, and the pope having no authority to dispense from an impediment in the first degree collateral as this was contrary to Divine law. 43 It is somewhat ironic that in 1503, when the marriage contract was signed between Henry and Catherine, it was Henry VII and his council who insisted that the the dispensation should be from an impediment in the first degree collateral to avoid any possible doubt about the legitimacy of future offspring from the marriage. When Cajetan concluded that the dispensation granted for Henry's marriage must be valid in view of the plenitude of papal power, he did so on the presumption that the marriage had been consummated. The fact that Henry VIII did in fact accept that the pope did have the authority to grant a dispensation in the case of an impediment of affinity in the first degree collateral is proved beyond any possible doubt as he had asked for just such a dispensation in the case of his relationship with Mary Boleyn. The dispensation of Julius II was perfectly valid, and quite unbreakable in canon law. POPE CLEMENT VIIClement VII could not in conscience seriously doubt the Validity of the marriage, nor would he wish to affront the Emperor Charles V, who would not have taken the repudiation of his aunt lightly. The alleged influence of Charles V over Clement VII, which supposedly terrorized the pope into denying the king the annulment to which he was justly entitled, is largely a myth perpetuated by Protestant historians. A detailed examination of the negotiations makes it clear that it was continual pressure from the king, ranging from attempted bribery to implicit and explicit threats of schism, that resulted in continual papal vacillation.

 Monsignor Hughes explains the position as follows: "Terror did indeed influence Clement throughout, and to the end: terror of what would happen in England when once he had antagonized Henry VIII." 44

In December 1528 Henry dismissed Catherine to live in Greenwich and brought Anne Boleyn back to the court. She was provided with lavish apartments next to his own, and the courtiers were instructed to treat her with all the respect that they had shown to Queen Catherine. Early in 1529 news was received in London that the pope was dying, and if not dead already he certainly would be soon. Henry's plan was to use every possible means to have Wolsey elected to the Chair of St. Peter, but the pope lived on, although in very poor health, and still confined to his sick bed where he was importuned by Henry's envoys who used both threats and persuasion to attain their ends.
Clement was told of the danger in which his soul would be if he died without doing justice to Henry who had been his most loyal friend. He was accused of being indifferent to the best interests of the Church, which would certainly be harmed gravely if the king did not obtain the just decision to which he was entitled. Clement always returned the same answer, that he could not refuse to Catherine what the ordinary forms of justice required; that he was devoted to the king and anxious to serve him in any manner conformable with honour and equity; but that they ought not to require from him what was evidently unjust, or they would find that, when his conscience was concerned, he was equally insensible to considerations of interest or danger; that Catherine had already entered a protest at his court against the persons of the judges, and that the best advice that he could give the king was that he should proceed without loss of time to the trial and determination of the cause within his own realm. The legates had the authority to pronounce a judgement.


The Legates were to try the case in London, and the Bishop of Rochester was named among the queen's advisers. Henry had not wanted it to come to an open trial between Catherine and himself; his agents had tried to persuade her to enter a convent, but Bishop Fisher had counselled and supported her in her quiet refusal. Some, at least, of his letters to the queen were seized and read. In a letter dated 18 February 1529, Campeggio reported that Wolsey had begged him to help bring the matter to a swift conclusion in Henry's favour The Italian cardinal was fully aware of the extent of Henry's infatuation. He wrote:

So far as I can see this passion of the king is a most extraordinary thing. He sees nothing, he thinks of nothing but Anne; he cannot do without her for an hour and it moves one to pity to see how the king's life, the stability and downfall of the whole country depend on this one question.

The Legatine Court opened in the great hall of the Dominican house at Blackfriars on 31 May 1529. The first meeting was concerned with legal formalities. The king and queen were cited to appear at the second session, but were not expected until all the routine pleading had been completed. On 16 June in the presence of Cardinal Campeggio, her counsellors, Archbishop Warham and Bishop Tunstall, her Spanish confessor, Jorge de Athequa, Bishop of Llandaffin Wales, and others including notaries, Catherine testified that Prince Arthur had not consummated their marriage during their wedding night or on any other occasion, and that she had entered her marriage with Henry ''as a virgin and an immaculate woman." 45 It is impossible to believe that anyone as sincerely devout as Catherine would tell an outright lie, and Henry himself could never be brought to deny this affirmation himself; although he allowed those representing him to do so. Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador, stated that the queen was "so virtuous, devout and holy, so truthful and God-fearing" that she would not lie. The queen also asked before the notaries that the case should be tried in Rome by the pope himself, and not by the pope's legates in England.

Two days later on 18 June she denied the authority of the Legatine Court to try her case, made it clear that her appearance before it in no way denoted her acceptance of its authority, and insisted that her protests should be notarized and registered by the court. The queen was promised by the legates that she would receive their decision in three days time, on Monday 21 June. Catherine appeared before the Court for the last time on this date when the king was also present. The legates in their flowing scarlet cardinals' robes were seated on a raised platform. The king sat under a canopy of gold brocade on their right, and the queen sat under another canopy at a lower level on their left Henry began the proceedings with his usual speech concerning the sensitivity of his conscience, his desire to learn the truth about the validity of his marriage, and with the addition of a solemn protestation of his loyalty to the Holy See. The legates then overruled the objections made by Catherine at the previous session. They insisted that the court was regularly constituted under the authority of the pope and competent to proceed. Wolsey stated that although he had received infinite benefits from the king, which had resulted in his impartiality being questioned, he would not omit to do what appeared to him to be just.
Catherine then made her dramatic appeal to Henry's conscience, immortalized in Shakespeare's Henry VIII. Accompanied by her maids, Catherine threw herself at the King's feet, saying:
Sir, I beseech you for all the love that hath been between us and for the love of God, let me have justice and right; take of me some pity and some compassion, for I am a poor woman and a stranger, born out of your dominion. I have here no assured friends, and much less indifferent (unbiased) counsel. I flee to you as the head of justice within this realm. Alas, sir, wherein have I offended you, or what occasion of displeasure have I deserved against your will or pleasure? Intending, as I perceive, to put me from you, I take God and all the world to witness that I have always been to you a true, humble, and obedient wife, ever conformable to your will and pleasure, that never said or did anything to the contrary thereof; being always well pleased and contented with all things wherein ye had any delight or dalliance; whether it were in little or much, I never grudged in word or countenance, or showed a visage or spark of discontentation. I loved all whom ye loved only for your sake, whether I had cause or no, and whether they were my friends or my enemies. This twenty years I have been your true wife, and by me ye have had divers children, although it hath pleased God to call them out of this world, which hath been no default in me.
God knows that when I came to your bed, I was a virgin, and I put it to your conscience whether it be true. or no. If there be any just cause by the law that ye can allege against me, either of dishonesty or any other impediment, to banish and put me from you. I am well content to depart to my great shame and dishonour. And if there be none, then here I most lowly beseech you let me remain in my former estate and to receive justice at your hands.

Twice Henry tried to raise her from her knees before him. Observing the impression that her words had made on all present he did not deny the truth of what she had said, but replied that Catherine had always been a dutiful wife, and that his present suit did not proceed from any dislike of her but from the tenderness of his own conscience. His confessor and several other bishops had advised him to put his case before the pontiff; and that in consequence the present court had been appointed, in the decision of which, be what it might, he should cheerfully acquiesce. Catherine told the judges that she must send messengers to the Emperor, her nephew, and to the pope. Then she was gone, and the Court broke up in confusion. Next day, the Bishops of Rochester and Bath rose in their places ready to defend the Queen's rights and to show that she was the king's lawful wife and their own liege lady.

It was at the fifth session of the court that John Fisher made his notable speech. Campeggio's secretary gives the following summary. The bishop declared that he had given two years' diligent study to this question:

Therefore, both in order not to procure the damnation of his soul, and in order not to be unfaithful to the king, or to fail in doing the duty that he owed to the truth, in a matter of such great importance, he presented himself before their reverend lordships to declare, to affirm, and with forcible reasons to demonstrate to them that this marriage of the king and queen can be dissolved by no power, human or Divine, and for this opinion he declared he would even lay down his life. He added that the Baptist in olden times regarded it as impossible for him to die more gloriously than in the cause of marriage; and that as it was not so holy at that time as it has now become by the shedding of Christ's Blood, he could encourage himself more ardently, more effectually, and with greater confidence to dare any great or extreme peril whatever. He used many other suitable words, and at the end presented the book which had been written by him on the subject.
In arguing that the marriage between Henry and Catherine could be dissolved by no power upon earth he challenged every temporizing cleric who sat there uncomfortably listening to him. He was calling on them to act the part of men and Christians, to rally to the defence of a Sacrament It is hardly surprising that the king was outraged at being compared so openly to Herod Antipas, and in his very bitter written reply delivered to the court through Stephen Gardiner, Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, Henry did not ignore the comparison. He claimed that Fisher was motivated by "unbridled arrogance and overweening temerity." He expressed particular outrage at the fact that Fisher had expressed his willingness to die in the cause of marriage. "Whatever Fisher may think of me, I have never been guilty of such cruelty. Let him say if ever I have passed a severe sentence upon those who did not seem favourable to this divorce, and did not rather show them the highest favour in proportion to their deserts." Commenting on this statement, Father Bridgett writes:
The king was fond of repeating this boast, yet there were few who took a prominent part in favour of the injured queen who did not fall victims at last to the king's revenge. But the circumstances of Fisher's death bear so close a resemblance to those of the Baptist's, that it is strange that even Henry did not observe and seek to avoid it. Both were cast into prison, and left there to linger at the will of a tyrant; both at last were beheaded, and both by the revenge of impure women. But what Herod did reluctantly, Henry did with cruel deliberation. 46


The trial dragged on into July and in this month the queen's appeal reached Rome. On 16 July the pope recalled the case to Rome. Wolsey, fearing that this would happen, urged Campeggio to reach a decision as a matter of great urgency. Not only the king but the powerful Boleyn family were pressurizing Wolsey. He realized that unless a decision in the king's favour was reached swiftly he had no future. The Italian cardinal was shocked at the manner in which such a grave matter was being hurried without regard for proper legal procedure. Henry himself was in the court on the day that a judgement was expected, and his counsel at the bar insisted on a judgement being given that day. Campeggio replied:
I will give no judgement herein until I have made relation unto the pope of all our proceedings, whose counsel and commandment in this high case I will observe. The case is too high, and notable known through all the world, for us to give any hasty judgement, considering the highness of the persons and the doubtful allegations. And also whose commissioners we be, under whose authority we sit here, it were therefore reason that we should make our chief head a counsel in the same before we proceed into judgement definitive. I come not so far to please any man for fear, need, or favour, be he king or any other potentate. I have no such respect to the persons that I will offend my conscience. I will not for favour or displeasure of any high estate or mighty prince do that thing that should be against the law of God. I am an old man, both sick and impotent, looking daily for death. What should it then avail me to put my soul in danger of God's displeasure to my utter damnation for the favour of any prince or high estate in this world? My coming and being here is only to see justice ministered according to my conscience, as I thought thereby the matter good or bad.

Campeggio had been instructed by the pope to delay the proceedings to the maximum possible extent, and did so with a masterstroke on 23 July. This was the last day before the beginning of the two month legal vacation of the Roman courts. Campeggio adjourned the court for this period. Before the vacation ended the pope's decision to recall the case to Rome was received, and the Legatine Court did not meet again.

43. Hughes, op. cit., p. 187.
44. Ibid., p. 261. See also p. 218, n. 3.
45. H. A. Kelly, The Matrimonial Trials of Henry VIII (Stanford, California, 1976), p. 4.
46. Bridgett, op. cit., p. 175.


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