Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10, January-June 1536. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1887.
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Henry's position was now becoming desperate. For eight years he had been endeavouring to maintain in the face of the world that Katharine was not his wife; and the world would not agree with him. For two years he had been labouring with very indifferent success to have Anne Boleyn acknowledged and respected as his Queen. He had made himself head of the Church in England; he had obtained from a subservient archbishop a formal sentence of divorce and formal recognition of his second marriage; he had got Acts of Parliament to ratify the new settlement and determine the succession accordingly. He had put the statutes passed to please himself in operation with remorseless persistency, and the heads of the Carthusian martyrs, of Fisher and of Sir Thomas More, had paid the penalty. But the very extremity of his proceedings at home had raised up a new danger from abroad. The Pope was taking steps to procure the aid of Christian princes in depriving Henry of his kingdom; and diplomacy was taxed to the utmost to keep even Francis true to his alliance with England.
Under these circumstances, as we have already seen, Henry had been urging his most confidential councillors to find some means by the time Parliament met again to relieve him "from the trouble, fear, and suspense that he had so long endured on account of the Queen and Princess" (fn. 1) — or, as he would, of course, have called them, the Lady Dowager and the Lady Mary. His own perplexity with regard to them was aggravated by the jealousy and the terror of Anne Boleyn, who could not but feel her position and that of her daughter insecure as long as either of these ladies still lived to attract sympathy. And though the King could not have shared the intensity of her feeling,— and might indeed, as an alternative policy, have contemplated getting rid of Anne herself,—yet having done so much for her sake hitherto, his self-esteem would not permit him to do otherwise than still maintain the justice of all his acts in the face of popes, emperors and kings, and whoever might seek to impugn them.
Early in December Katharine had a fit of illness which was believed by Cromwell to be rather serious; but her physician wrote to Chapuys that unless worse symptoms appeared it was not a case for anxiety. (fn. 2) About Christmas, however, the physician wrote again, a letter which Chapuys received on Wednesday the 29th December, saying that she had had a relapse and wished particularly to see him as she was worse than before. Chapuys immediately went to Court to obtain the necessary leave, and just before setting out for Kimbolton received a message from the King by the Duke of Suffolk that she was dying and that he was not likely to see her alive. (fn. 3) The King added, as if for the satisfaction of the Imperial ambassador, that her decease would remove all diplomatic difficulties between the Emperor and England. Chapuys, however, was not anxious to look at the matter in this light. From what the physician had reported he still trusted that the Queen's danger was not imminent; but he immediately took horse and rode with all possible haste to Kimbolton, where he arrived before dinner on Sunday the 2nd January. (fn. 4) The Queen desired that he might be admitted at once, and wisely directed at the same time that a friend of Cromwell's whom the King had appointed to accompany him upon the journey (though he was evidently intended as a spy,) should witness their first interview, along with the chamberlain and steward of her household (her gaolers as they might be called,) who had not seen her for more than a year. (fn. 5)
She had been troubled with sickness and a pain in the stomach, which had made it impossible for her for some days to eat or to retain her food; (fn. 6) and when the ambassador came she had not slept two hours during the previous six days. She was so wasted and worn out that she could neither stand nor sit in bed. But the ambassador's arrival seems to have acted upon her like medicine; and during the four days he staid with her, though he often desired to shorten the interviews for fear of wearying her, not only did she listen to his conversation for about two hours each day, but she slept and ate better than she had done before. In fact she was so much better that her physician considered her out of immediate danger, and agreed with Katharine herself in thinking it advisable Chapuys should return to London, "so as not to abuse the licence the King had given him." (fn. 7)
It was certainly a very special privilege, for Chapuys had not been able to obtain the like even for the Princess Mary to visit her own mother. (fn. 8) Nor was Katharine's old Spanish servant, Doña Maria de Salinas, now known as Lady Willoughby, one whit more successful. In spite of old promises from Cromwell to be allowed to see her mistress whenever she should be in danger, she applied in vain for the requisite permission; (fn. 9) till at last, taking the matter into her own hands, she rode to Kimbolton and obtained admittance by stratagem the night before Chapuys arrived there. Who could refuse shelter on a winter night to a person of her condition, fatigued and ill at ease, after a long journey? Her licence would be forthcoming by and by, but she was at present suffering from a fall from her horse (had she managed to do it on purpose?) and it was out of the question to keep her at the door till every formality was gone through when she had ridden so hard in the hope of seeing her mistress alive. So Lady Willoughby was admitted to Katharine's chamber, where she remained with her old mistress, and the keepers of the house saw no more either of her or of her licence. (fn. 10)
On Wednesday the 5th January Chapuys started on his return to London. Although her physician seemed hopeful, he rode slowly in case he should be overtaken by further tidings, which, if serious, the physician promised that he would send with all possible despatch. He reached London, however, without being called back on his journey; and on Sunday following (the 9th January) sent a message to Cromwell to know when he might have an audience of the King. In reply Cromwell sent him word that news had arrived of Katharine's death on the preceding Friday, little more than forty-eight hours after Chapuys had left Kimbolton. (fn. 11) The end had indeed come very suddenly. The improvement in her health appeared to have been maintained not only on the day of Chapuys' departure, but also on the day after, and in the evening she combed and dressed her own hair without assistance. But an hour after midnight she began to make inquiries what o'clock it was, and whether it was near day, her object, as it appeared, being to take the Sacrament. Her Spanish confessor, the Bishop of Llandaff, was ready to say mass for her before four o'clock, but she would not allow him to depart from the prescribed times on her account, and she received the Sacrament at daybreak; after which she continued to repeat some beautiful orisons, and finally received extreme unction. (fn. 12) A little before two o'clock in the afternoon she breathed her last. (fn. 13)
The circumstances struck Chapuys as suspicious. The King and Anne Boleyn, he said, impatient of longer delay, especially in view of the proceedings taken at Rome, had determined to make an end of the Queen's process. It must have been very convenient for them, he observed, that she died before her daughter, as it was at her suit that the proceedings were taken at Rome, and there was much less chance of bringing over her than her daughter, to a recognition of the invalidity of her marriage. (fn. 14) Taking this into consideration, the suddenness of her death, and some things which took place immediately after, were certainly open to a very ugly interpretation. Within eight hours the body was opened, with a view to being embalmed, by a fellow engaged for the purpose, in presence only of the chandler of the house and one servant, not even her physician being allowed to witness what was done. The man employed was not inexperienced in the work, but he was no surgeon, and was destitute even of such poor scientific, or rather technical, knowledge as the times possessed; and the appearance presented by the internal organs seemed to him suspicious in the extreme. All looked healthy except the heart, which was perfectly black, and did not change color after it had been three times washed. When cut through the middle, the interior presented the same unnatural appearance, and a black, round object adhered closely to the outside. This information the man who conducted the post mortem imparted with the utmost secrecy, as a thing which, if known, would cost him his life, to the Bishop of Llandaff; and on his report Katharine's physician said it was too clear she had died by poison, a thing which, indeed, was apparent to him, even from the course and circumstances of her illness. (fn. 15)
It is clear, however, that in this case the physician's opinion was not worth much more than that of anybody else. It was not a scientific opinion, and all that we are told with regard to the appearance of the heart and organs, even taken in connection with the previous symptoms of Katharine's illness, is considered to be perfectly compatible with a theory of natural death. Suspicious, moreover, as the circumstances were, no plausible theory could be formed how the poison had been administered. Some suggested that the drug had been sent from Italy, and that one, Goron, or Gurone, a servant of Sir Gregory Casale, had brought it with him from England. (fn. 16) The physician suspected that it had been administered in some Welsh beer; but said that it must have been a slow and subtle poison, as he could never detect the appearance of ordinary poisoning while she was alive. (fn. 17) Perhaps the most difficult thing to explain, if a murder there actually was, is how the suspicion of such a thing should have abated so completely as to have become generally discredited and almost forgotten by historians until recent investigations in the Archives of Vienna brought it once more to light.
A very different story, which rests upon the authority of Polydore Vergil, (fn. 18) must certainly be dismissed as fabulous. Katharine, it is said, shortly before her death, wrote a tender letter to Henry, which drew tears into his eyes when he perused it. The facts ascertained by Chapuys at the time will unhappily not permit us to relieve Henry's memory even to this extent of the characteristic brutality of which we have seen so much. When he heard of Katharine's death he and the Boleyns at once gave vent to a most indecent joy. "God be praised," he exclaimed, "we are now free from all fear of war!" Next day he clothed himself in yellow (fn. 19) from head to foot, with a white feather in his yellow bonnet, danced with the ladies as if mad with delight, and exhibited the infant Elizabeth in his arms to all the Court; whose title as his legitimate daughter he seemed now to think fully established. He was relieved at last from an embarrassing situation, and while he himself took no pains to conceal his satisfaction, the father and mother of Anne Boleyn did not refrain from saying that it was a pity the Princess Mary had not kept her mother company. (fn. 20)
But outside the Court the whole world was shocked and indignant. Fears, too, were naturally entertained more than ever for the safety of the Princess Mary, for whose escape from England Chapuys was anxiously endeavouring to arrange some feasible plan, as he had been authorised to do by letters from the Emperor himself, written from Naples on the 13th December. The enterprise, of course, was one of very serious difficulty, but Chapuys seems to have thought it not impracticable before Katharine's death. A plan for carrying it out had actually been drawn up by the Sieur de Roeulx in the Netherlands; but after Katharine's death not only was Mary more carefully guarded, (fn. 21) but, just when everything had been arranged for her escape she was removed to a place much less convenient, and Chapuys wrote with regret that he feared the opportunity had gone by. The special messenger sent by de Roeulx upon the business arrived just four days after the Princess had changed her lodging; and though Chapuys contrived to inform her that he had come, he had little hope of the success of the project. She, for her part, undervalued difficulties, and was so anxious to escape that she believed if she could only drug the women about her the most formidable obstacle would have been overcome. She was ready, Chapuys said, to cross the Channel in a sieve if he advised her; but it was possible, for one thing, that she was more closely guarded than she was aware of. Besides, she was forty miles from Gravesend, fifteen further than where she had been before, and she could not safely embark further up the river; moreover, she would have to pass through several large villages where she might easily be detained. So it seemed that the project must be deferred at least till after Easter, when the Princess expected to be removed once more, perhaps to the same house that she had occupied before. (fn. 22)
It was not Mary, however, who had most cause to be anxious at this time. Her insubordination in persistently refusing to acknowledge the Statute of Succession might be a source of danger to herself; but it was still more a source of danger to Anne Boleyn, who was now beginning to feel her position insecure from other causes as well. She was too well aware that she had lost her hold over the King; and reports which Chapuys at first found great difficulty in believing became more full and particular every day. Soon after her first transports of joy at the death of Katharine, she was frequently seen to weep, "fearing," as Chapuys was informed, "that they might do with her as with the good Queen." For several weeks the King had hardly spoken to her; (fn. 23) and he was now heard to say—though he said it in the strictest confidence—that he had married her under the influence of witchcraft and sorcery; for which reason he considered the marriage null.
Of this awful secret the ambassador was informed on the 29th Jan., the day of Katharine's funeral, and probably the very day on which it was first uttered; for on that day, though Chapuys seems not to have been aware of it when he wrote, Anne Boleyn had had a miscarriage; and the fact must have given greater point to the reason advanced by the King in proof of his contention. "For God," he said, "did not permit them to have any male issue; and he believed that he might take another wife, which he gave to understand that he had some wish to do." (fn. 24)
Not very long before this Anne had made overtures to the Princess Mary, which, considering the bitter jealousy which she had previously expressed, must have been a desperate effort to win her confidence. She desired Lady Shelton to inform her that if she would give up her obstinacy and obey her father, she would be the best friend to her in the world—in fact she would be a new mother to her and procure for her everything she could ask; and if she wished to come to Court she would have her released from the duty of holding her train — nay, she should walk by her side, (fn. 25) and be treated with all possible consideration. To these offers Mary, as might have been expected, turned a deaf ear. She replied that she would die a hundred times rather than change her opinion or do anything against her honor or her conscience; and the Queen in a rage wrote to Lady. Shelton not to attempt any longer to control her wilfulness, indicating that she would very soon have to repent it. "What I have done," wrote the Queen, "has been more for charity than for anything the King or I care what way she takes; for if I have a son, as I hope shortly to have, I know what will happen to her." The letter was, either accidentally or on purpose, dropped in Mary's oratory; it was carefully transcribed by the Princess, and replaced where it was found; but if it was intended to terrify her, it wholly failed in its object. (fn. 26)
It was weak enough as a menace, if intended to meet the Princess's eye, to hint that there was anything conditional about the vengeance she was likely to incur. But the words "if I have a son" tell a pitiful tale of the one last hope that Anne Boleyn had of regaining her former influence. Painful in the extreme must have been her disappointment when this last hope ended in a miscarriage. Unpopular as her marriage had been all along, she was now aware that she had lost the King's affection, and that he was daily paying considerable attention to a lady named Jane Seymour. People, too, had begun to whisper that she was incapable of bearing any more children; and there was only too much fear of the report that the King might take another wife becoming more common than it ought to be. Anne chafed and fretted under her misfortune, blaming (most unreasonably) her uncle the Duke of Norfolk for having precipitated it by the way in which he told her of an accident that had happened to the King five days before, when Henry and his horse fell together at the lists, but he escaped unhurt. (fn. 27)
But whatever might be the case with Anne Boleyn, Henry at least was relieved from a great embarrassment by Katharine's death. "Thank God, we are now free from all fear of war!" was his unfeeling remark, and he had calculated truly. The Emperor had longbeen preparing to strike whenever he could strike with safety;—not that he wished to quarrel with England, but the dishonor shown to his aunt reflected on himself. The Pope and the Consistory had at length passed the bull of privation, but its publication was deferred till the Emperor's arrival at Rome. (fn. 28) Francis alone stood aloof, and said he would not countenance its execution; but Francis himself was so cool towards England in other things that his support was not worth much in this matter. All the English ships at Bordeaux had been arrested at Michaelmas, and restitution was denied to the merchants in spite of repeated remonstrances. (fn. 29) They were still detained in January, and were only given up at length on an assurance that the King would revoke in Parliament the prohibition to import French wines before Candlemas, of which the Bordeaux merchants complained. (fn. 30) Francis, moreover, had repeatedly declared that he would not defend the King of England's conduct in matters relating to the Church; (fn. 31) and it was clear that if Henry wished his support against the Emperor he would have to pay for it what price it pleased Francis to ask.
But the death of Katharine at once put Henry at his ease, and he saw how to turn it to advantage diplomatically in more quarters than one. The day after the news was known in London Cromwell wrote to Gardiner and Wallop, the English ambassadors in France, to communicate it to the French king at their own discretion. But before sending off the despatch, the King commanded him to add a postscript bidding them point out to the French admiral (the least tractable of the French king's ministers) how by this event every cause of difference between the King and the Emperor was removed, and that it would be well for the French to come to an understanding with England before the King was pressed with overtures for an Imperial alliance. (fn. 32) That was the light in which he hoped the event would be regarded by Francis; and in truth the way it was viewed by the Emperor himself almost justified the insinuation. Not that Charles, when he heard the news, was really anxious to make overtures to Henry,—a line of policy, which, as he observed, would be injurious to the Princess Mary; but he thought his ambassador might suggest, as if on his own responsibility, that perhaps a renewal of amity, such as the English had suggested, might be more easily effected now than during the Queen's life, and the need of a general council might therefore be dispensed with. This would probably abate the insolence of Francis, who was showing every indication of a desire to make war upon the Emperor for Milan, —especially if a match for the Princess Mary formed a part of the suggested arrangement; in which case Francis might possibly in his indignation at the King of England, find himself compelled to treat with Charles in her behalf. (fn. 33)
It was just the sort of cautious policy that might have been expected of the Emperor;—not a spark of indignation at his aunt's death (though he certainly believed her to have been murdered) any more than he had shown hitherto at her long ill-usage, against which he had mildly remonstrated. He wrote to the Empress that he would not on any account have it said, as if the report came from him, that Katharine had been poisoned; but that the popular opinion, of course, could not be suppressed. (fn. 34) Indignation on his part would really have done no good; it would only have deprived him of the power of doing anything to mitigate Mary's lot, while it would of course have disposed Henry to support Francis in his unreasonable demands. His calmness, on the contrary, assisted in loosening the bonds of the old alliance between France and England, which were at this time felt to be not a little uncomfortable on both sides. Henry felt he was being trifled with in the flimsy apologies put forth for the arrest of his ships at Bordeaux, and told his ambassadors to make no agreement with the French till he heard how "other parties" would be disposed to meet him in consequence of Katharine's death. (fn. 35) He had already written to Francis rejoicing at the event, and desiring him to rejoice at it along with him, as he might thereby obtain better terms from the Emperor than he had done before. (fn. 36) But Francis, though he still paraded Henry's friendship as necessary to his own interests, and excused it for that reason to the Pope, did not see in the matter anything to his advantage. He finally -declined to do anything more for Henry's sake against the Pope and the Holy See, and told the English ambassadors that now that Katharine was dead the agreement between them was at an end. (fn. 37)
Francis, indeed, frequently assured the papal nuncio at his Court of his entire disapproval, and even abhorrence, of the conduct of Henry towards the Church and the Holy See. His alliance with England, he said, was merely due to political considerations; he had no confidence in Henry, who was the most unstable man in all the world, but he could not afford to desert him, while the Emperor was seeking to injure France and make himself the sole ruler of Christendom. (fn. 38) And there can be no doubt these were his real sentiments; he did not love Henry, and had no reason for cultivating his friendship except for mutual support against the Emperor. But it was clear that after the death of Katharine, Henry, for his part, was not quite so dependent on France. He was not in fear of the Emperor any longer; and he was in still less fear of the Pope. The bull of privation which had been so long delayed, though it had been fully sanctioned, printed, (fn. 39) and prepared for publication, was now practically laid aside. Executorials indeed were obtained by the Imperial ambassador at Rome on the very day that the news of Katharine's death became generally known; and the Imperial ambassador, who had earlier information, congratulated himself on having obtained them before the fact had got wind. (fn. 40) But as it no longer suited the Emperor's policy to give practical effect to the bull, Henry was relieved of all apprehension on that score.
There was no reason, therefore, why Henry should commit himself to take part with Francis against the Emperor, even by a contribution towards the expenses of the coming war, which the Bishop of Tarbes was instructed to solicit at the English Court. Henry told the ambassador point blank that the Emperor had always been his friend and had of late gone so far as even to forbid the Pope to pass sentence against him; and though the statement was not literally true, the fact virtually amounted to much the same thing. (fn. 41) Henry further objected that the sum demanded of him by Francis was more than he could afford, especially considering the expense he was likely to incur in the reduction of Ireland; and that he had reason to believe if it were granted it would only help Francis to make his own terms with the Emperor. In fact, he had every reason to remain neutral, seeing that Francis refused to take his side against the Pope, while the Emperor had shown himself so friendly. (fn. 42)
Henry, in fact, was merely seeking to balance himself between the two continental powers and to profit by their differences Francis told the-Bishop of Faenza that though the King of England held aloof for the moment, he was only anxious to see the war begin, and would contribute handsomely to the expenses. (fn. 43) He probably had not received at that time contrary information from the Bishop of Tarbes, whose despatch containing Henry's refusal to contribute was written just seven days before; but he must have been very sanguine if he believed the latter part of his own statement. The first part, that Henry was anxious to see the war begin, was certainly far more credible, for Chapuys in England was much of the same opinion. The English, he thought, were afraid of some agreement taking place between the Emperor and Francis, and believed, at the time he wrote, that such a thing was not unlikely. (fn. 44) The French, indeed, were greatly dissatisfied with Henry's refusal to aid them in the war. (fn. 45) But by and by these clouds passed away, and it was noted in France that there was something like a renewal of confidence with England, (fn. 46) just as the breach between Francis and the Emperor was becoming more and more pronounced.
The first rumblings of the coming storm were heard in January when Francis was preparing to attack Savoy. (fn. 47) In February he had already gained possession of Bresse, (fn. 48) and by the end of the month there was a general alarm on the borders of France and Flanders, people removing their goods on both sides in expectation of war being declared. (fn. 49) By the middle of March Francis was already master of all Savoy, (fn. 50) and by the beginning of April nearly the whole of Piedmont had submitted to him without resistance. (fn. 51) Still, there was no positive rupture between him and the Emperor when the latter came to Rome on the 5th April, and the question of European peace still hung in the balance. On the 17th Charles delivered his celebrated speech in the Consistory, declaring how Francis had rejected every reasonable proposal for the arrangement of their differences. (fn. 52) And though he still professed his desire for a peaceful settlement—with the alternative of a single combat between him and Francis to avoid general bloodshed,—there could be little doubt now what way events were tending.
All this, of course, was carefully noted in England, and by none more carefully than by the King, who, as we shall presently find, kept his own counsel in the matter entirely to himself. In February Cromwell, at his instigation, pressed upon the Imperial ambassador the great advantage it would be alike to the Emperor and England if they could form a new and closer alliance; for if foreign princes were only convinced of their entire and perfect union, no one would venture to disturb the peace of Europe. Cromwell added that he for his own part had invariably opposed every project of negociation with Francis, who was continually soliciting his master to join him in an invasion of Flanders; and though Chapuys might be assured the King would never listen to such a proposal, it was a great pity that the mutual good will of England and the Emperor, of which the latter had shown some evidence by restraining the publication of the papal censures, should not be made manifest to all the world. (fn. 53) The ambassador, as a matter of course, reported these conversations to the Emperor, who, though by no means blind to their real drift, thought it better (as he had reason to believe that the English would not actively aid France) to keep Henry in good humor, so as possibly to obtain some influence over him hereafter. (fn. 54) And it would seem that when just on the point of entering Rome the Emperor himself wrote to Henry a letter which the latter was able to represent to the French ambassador as an appeal to him for sympathy, if not support, against the threatened aggression of Francis. (fn. 55) The sympathy, at least, and not unlikely the support also, would have been given if it had depended on Henry's councillors; for everybody about him, not even excepting Anne Boleyn, blamed severely the French invasion of Savoy, and desired more cordial relations with the Emperor. But when Chapuys came to touch upon these points with Henry, who had given him a patient and courteous hearing upon other matters, he, to the astonishment of all the Council, and to the deep mortification especially of Cromwell, interrupted the ambassador by asserting that Milan belonged rightfully to France, and angrily reproached the Emperor with great acts of ingratitude to himself. (fn. 56)
He went on to contradict Chapuys in other matters, justifying the conduct of Francis also about Savoy, and while acknowledging that he himself had certain duties under existing treaties (which he said he would fulfil better than some others discharged theirs towards him), made a very haughty answer to the conditions proposed as the terms of the new alliance. The ambassador then asked what terms he himself would propose, and he actually suggested (as a pleasant mode of initiating a new amity) that the Emperor should write to him beseeching him not to remember past ingratitude. Chapuys of course remonstrated against this, and he so far modified the demand as to insist only on a letter requesting him to say no more of the past; but a letter from the Emperor to that effect was absolutely necessary. Chapuys met this by saying that it was what he himself requested in the Emperor's name, that Henry would harp no more upon bygone things; and by degrees he conquered the King's ill-humor, so that Henry at last promised to examine the treaties along with the Chancellor and Cromwell, and inform him afterwards of their determination. (fn. 57)
Thus did the King utterly stultify the earnest efforts made by Cromwell two months before (and not made without authority, although professedly originating from himself) to get the Emperor to propose a new alliance. Cromwell afterwards felt compelled to tell Chapuys in self defence (what indeed was sufficiently manifest, though it was unusual to unmask these diplomatic fictions in private) that though he had always pretended what he said to be his own suggestion he had really neither said nor done anything without the King's express command. He at the same time informed Chapuys that he had now told the King he would never again treat with ambassadors without having a colleague present; for if be had known what was to be the result of his diplomacy in this matter he would never have engaged in it. (fn. 58) He was in truth sick at heart at the King's perversity, and took to his bed for very sorrow. (fn. 59)
But the King knew quite well what he was about; for on the very next day he reported to the French ambassador his conversations with Chapuys, and told him, what he also reported to Gardiner and Wallop in France for the information of the French king, that Charles had solicited his alliance, offering to be a mediator for his reconciliation to the See of Rome if he would only for his part assist the Emperor against Francis and the Turks. He took care also that Francis should know of the haughty answer he had returned, that notwithstanding the Emperor's ingratitude (which he could forgive if the Emperor wrote to him) he would be glad to renew the old amity, but he declined any reconciliation with Rome, being fully satisfied of the justice of all that he had done, and he could not discuss the question of aid against the French until the amity was settled. (fn. 60) Nor did he forbear from writing the very same thing on the very same day to Pate, his ambassador at the Imperial Court, dwelling particularly on the Emperor's ingratitude as a ground why the overture for a renewal of amity should proceed from him, and why his Majesty should "by his express writings" desire the King to forget his unkindness. Pate, however, was not to act upon this information as if commissioned to say or do anything in the King's behalf. He was to profess only a general knowledge of the overtures made by Chapuys and defend the King's position by the King's argu merits, as if they were his own, to see what they would say to them. (fn. 61)
In short, Henry knew quite well that his alliance or even neutrality at this time was of so much consequence to the Emperor that the latter could afford to pass by the most provoking taunts, and even the most studied rudeness, (fn. 62) rather than incur the risk of his open enmity; while he made his profit at the same time of the overtures submitted to him by Chapuys by reporting them to the agents of Francis along with the answer which he had returned. He was carefully balancing in his own mind the chances of events, helping to embroil the Emperor and Francis I., but resolved not to commit himself to either side beyond the bounds of prudence. (fn. 63) He was also playing a similar game as to religion, not having been quite sure for some years past what doctrines he should order to be upheld or denounced from the various pulpits, except that the preachers were of course to denounce the authority of the See of Rome. Purgatory had been put in suspense ever since Whitsuntide 1534; (fn. 64) and in February of the present year the King gave contrary orders against and in favor of certain doctrines within the brief space of four days. (fn. 65)
Religious and political questions were certainly mixed up together when Henry considered his position in view of a papal sentence. He had sought to make common cause with the Protestants of Germany, (fn. 66) but the conditions offered by the German princes were scarcely such as he could altogether wisely accept; and the cautious Gardiner, to whom they were referred, had no difficulty in pointing out these dangers. (fn. 67) It is not to be supposed that the King undervalued the warning; still he was not deterred from continuing the negociation and agreeing provisionally to various points which it would have been extremely impolitic to accept without reserve. (fn. 68) He stipulated, however, for material aid in case he were invaded, and (what seems rather strange at the first blush) that the German princes would promise to maintain an opinion given by their own divines on the subject of his marriage. (fn. 69) He certainly would not have liked their view, when stated on the subject of his divorce; but it seems some old opinion had been obtained from them as to the unlawfulness of marriage with a brother's widow, and this was sufficient for his purpose, if he could do no better.
Luther and his followers had been clear from the first that marriage with a brother's widow was a wrong thing in itself; but if it had once been allowed to take place, they held that the marriage was valid. As yet, however, they had pronounced no formal opinion on the latter subject, and the King had some hopes of converting them to his own view when he sent Foxe and Heath over to Germany in the autumn of 1535. Barnes and the two ambassadors were to discuss the matter with the German theologians, and Luther, while wondering that they felt so sure of the justice of the King's cause, declared himself very willing to hear what they had to say. (fn. 70) He accordingly advised the Duke of Saxony, who would rather have refused the application, to allow Melancthon to proceed to Wittenberg for the disputation; and thither the latter repaired accordingly in the middle of January for the purpose. (fn. 71) But Luther who had hoped that the discussion would have been concluded in three days, was already disgusted on the 25th Jan. that there was no prospect of the ambassadors soon taking their departure. (fn. 72) There they remained disputing all through the month of February, with the exception of a brief interval when Melancthon retired to Jena, and they for a time to Nuremberg. (fn. 73) And they still remained disputing during the most part of April (fn. 74) till it was finally and manifestly hopeless to bring over the German divines to the King's side. Bishop Foxe even accompanied or followed the doctors to the diet at Frankfort. (fn. 75) But he and his colleagues were dismissed with the reply that their King had doubtless been moved by very weighty reasons (maximis et gravissimis causis), and nobody could deny that the marriage was against natural and moral law; but in the matter of his divorce the divines were not satisfied that he had acted rightly. (fn. 76)
It was practically needless, except for the satisfaction of the King's amour propre, to have persisted in seeking a justification of his past acts by the judgment of foreign divines. His own Parliament had ratified what he had done, and he required no additional weight of authority,—at least from a mere constitutional point of view. But no King was ever so anxious as Henry to obtain for his policy the moral support of men who might be considered capable and unprejudiced judges; and his failure in this matter, though it must have been long foreseen, was probably one among a multitude of concurrent causes which led to the startling and unexpected catastrophe that was now impending.
It was in January that the King had said he had been led to marry Anne Boleyn by witchcraft, and hinted that he might possibly take another wife. As soon as Chapuys heard of the suggestion he wrote to inform the Emperor, who was by no means anxious to see the thing actually done. If Anne Boleyn were divorced, it was clear the King might have an heir male by a new marriage, which would be to the prejudice of Mary's interests in the succession. If, however, he was really bent on such a project, Chapuys was not to oppose it. (fn. 77) The ambassador, however, hardly required instructions upon this point; for at the very time the Emperor's despatch was written the talk of some new marriage for the King had so far got abroad that Chapuys felt justified in alluding to it in his conversations with Cromwell, who was now well-known to be on bad terms with Anne Boleyn. If it was true, Chapuys said, he thought the thing might be of great advantage to the King, and he heartily wished Cromwell a more gracious mistress, for he had himself formerly told Chapuys that she would like to see his head cut off. And it was clear from Cromwell's answer that though he affected to disbelieve the current rumors, the fall of Anne Boleyn was really not very remote. Indeed, the minister had to put his hand to his mouth to avoid laughing when he told the ambassador that he believed, notwithstanding the King's readiness to pay little attentions to the ladies, he would henceforth lead a chaste life with his present Queen, and never think of leaving her. (fn. 78)
So far had the rumor gone that towards the end of April Stokesley, Bishop of London, who had been one great agent (much to his own regret) in procuring the divorce with Katharine, was asked at the dinner table if the King might not lawfully abandon Anne Boleyn. He warily replied that he would give his opinion on that point to no one but the King himself, and that before he did so, even to him, he would like to know the King's own inclination. (fn. 79) And he was wise, for Henry might still have maintained Anne Boleyn in her position if it had in any way appeared that he could do so with honor and safety to himself. On Easter Tuesday morning (18 April) when Chapuys went to Court by appointment, Cromwell asked him whether he would not pay a visit to Anne Boleyn and kiss her to gratify the King. He said he was at the King's command in most things, but thought this inexpedient, for reasons which he would afterwards explain to the King himself; and Cromwell having reported this to his master came back to assure him that it was taken in good part. (fn. 80)
But, while Chapuys and others were expecting to hear of a divorce, Anne Boleyn was arrested and sent to the Tower on the 2nd May. Her supposed accomplices, Mark Smeaton, Norris, and Lord Rochford were also arrested and sent thither at different times the same day. It is unnecessary here to dwell on facts so well known; and there are no details now to be added to a picture which is sufficiently vivid in our histories. The blow which Anne had so long dreaded had descended at length; but it put an end to an entirely false condition of things, which had become intolerable even to herself. She made up her mind to die, and even looked upon violent death as a welcome friend. "I have seen many men, and also women, executed," wrote her gaoler Kingston to Cromwell, "and all they have been in great sorrow; but to my knowledge this lady has much joy and pleasure in death." (fn. 81) She indeed firmly maintained her innocence of the acts of infidelity imputed to her, asked sadly if she was to die without justice, and at one time cherished a faint hope of life, expecting that the King might be satisfied with sending her to a nunnery. (fn. 82) During the painful seventeen days between her arrest and her execution she was often hysterical and sometimes superstitious. She laughed, as well she might, at the insinuation that she would have a fair trial. (fn. 83) At another time she said there would be no rain till she was delivered out of the Tower. (fn. 84) But after her condemnation she was disappointed at a delay of one day in her execution beyond the date originally fixed, and she laughed as she measured with her hands her own diminutive neck and thought how easily it would be severed. (fn. 85) An executioner from Calais, or, as it appears by other evidence, from St. Omer, was called in to perform the task, which it seems a foreigner could do more deftly than an English headsman. (fn. 86)
Her chief regret was that other innocent persons were involved along with her; and to add to the bitterness of her lot she was made to witness their execution two days before it was her own turn to die. (fn. 87) A fate so cruel, and so patiently or rather joyfully endured on her part, might have atoned in public estimation for much that was amiss in the past. And, doubtless, there were some who sympathised, or would have done so, had they known as much of her latter days as Sir William Kingston did. But to the world at large she seemed only the chief cause of all the cruel tyranny and oppression of the last three years; and the general sentiment was one of joy at her death. (fn. 88) The thought, however, would occur, here and there, to some people, especially to those who knew the circumstances best, that she had been hurried to her doom on insufficient evidence. Long before she was even tried, Sir Edward Baynton was of opinion that it "touched the King's honor" that none of the prisoners would confess anything but Mark Smeaton; (fn. 89) and, as Smeaton was arrested before any of the others, it did not require much explanation in those days how he had been brought to confess. The torture, perhaps, may not have been actually applied to him, as the report ran that it was; the mere dread of it may have been sufficient. (fn. 90)
Hence we find it remarked by Chapuys, even before the sentence was carried into effect, that although every one rejoiced at Anne Boleyn's execution, there were some who murmured at the mode of procedure, and reflections were made upon the King's conduct, which the writer believed would have been made even more freely if the world had known as much as he did of what was then taking place between His Majesty and Mrs. Jane Seymour. (fn. 91) For Chapuys was quite aware even then that he had spoken to this lady about future marriage; (fn. 92) and when that marriage actually did take place so soon after Anne Boleyn's execution, we are not surprised to find it observed at the time, even by those least friendly to Anne, that "as none but the organist confessed, nor herself either, people think he invented this device to get rid of her." (fn. 93) Such was the opinion reported to Mary of Hungary, in the Netherlands, who not unnaturally remarked upon it, "that wives would hardly be content if such customs became general." But we have direct English testimony to the same effect. "I promise you," said George Constantyne, three years later, "there was much muttering of Queen Anne's death." (fn. 94) There was enough, indeed, to scandalise those who knew nothing yet about his relations with Jane Seymour, when, at the very time Anne was lying under sentence of death, the King, who pretended to have been so deeply injured by her misconduct, went about feasting with ladies, showing himself beyond measure happy, and returning by the river from midnight dissipations, accompanied by singers and musicians. (fn. 95) "You never saw prince or man," remarks Chapuys, who made greater show of his horns, or bore them more pleasantly." (fn. 96)
That Henry had fully determined, some time before Anne Boleyn's arrest, by one means or another, to get rid of her, cannot be doubted by the attentive student of Chapuys' correspondence; and it is curious that in the end he was not content with one means, but actually made use of two, either of which might have sufficed alone. Chapuys, as we have seen, had expected a divorce; and even after a criminal prosecution was resorted to a divorce was procured as well. Doubts and controversies have been raised as to the grounds on which this was procured; and the new testimony here collected does not absolutely settle the matter. From what Chapuys says at the moment of Anne Boleyn's arrest, it would seem that the pre-contract with the Earl of Northumberland was intended to serve as the pretext for pronouncing the marriage to have been null and void from the first. (fn. 97) And that this was the pretext actually adopted is the natural inference from a passage in Wriothesley's Chronicle. (fn. 98) But after the sentence had been pronounced, Chapuys reports that he had heard from some persons that it was based upon the King's previous connexion with Anne Boleyn's sister. (fn. 99) The ground which it was proposed to take may have been altered in consequence of the very solemn denial of Northumberland that any such pre-contract had existed. (fn. 100) But, without accusing the Earl of perjury, we may remark that it was a question, not so much of fact as of construction, whether his old love passages with Anne had culminated in a pre-contract. Chapuys himself does not treat the rumors he had heard about the sentence as much to be relied on. (fn. 101)
The news of Anne Boleyn's fall was received abroad with feelings of astonishment, which soon gave way to speculation as to its ultimate results. The fact of her guilt was everywhere taken for granted, and the papal legate in France thought her fall "a great judgment of God." He believed that the alliance of England' and France would now work good instead of mischief, and that Francis had it in his power to bring back Henry to the bosom of the Church. (fn. 102) The Emperor, then in the North of Italy, was chiefly apprehensive lest Henry, having got rid of his second wife, should embrace some new proposal of marriage suggested in France, and he immediately instructed Chapuys if the King did not decide the matter otherwise by marrying Jane Seymour to offer him the Infanta of Portugal. (fn. 103) His sister, Mary of Hungary, thought that with the removal of Anne Boleyn, England would no longer lean to France; (fn. 104) and the Pope, if we may believe Sir Gregory Casale, was anxious to convey to the King of England his strong desire, now that Henry's magnanimous nature was delivered from a malign influence and an unequal yoke, to act with him in restraining the two great continental powers from going to war with each other. (fn. 105)
It is stated in all histories that Henry married Jane Seymour the day after Anne Boleyn's execution. This is not quite true, according to the language of the present day; but the exact truth does not greatly alter the complexion of the matter. A dispensation for the new marriage was procured from Cranmer on the very day that Anne was beheaded, (fn. 106) and next day the King and Jane Seymour were not married but betrothed to each other in private. (fn. 107) The marriage really took place ten days later "in the Queen's closet at York Place;" (fn. 108) but betrothal was frequently spoken of in those days as if it made the parties actual husband and wife. (fn. 109)
Of Henry's previous acquaintance with his new Queen our own records and State papers tell us little. They show us merely that he visited Wolfhall in Wiltshire, the seat of the Seymour family, in his Western progress in September 1535, (fn. 110) and that he proposed in October to pay Sir Edward Seymour another visit at his house at Elvetham, in Hampshire. (fn. 111) It is from Chapuys' letters — the great fund of information on domestic matters—that we know anything more than this; and from them we find that even in the beginning of February 1536 the King's regard for Jane Seymour had become a matter of observation at Court. (fn. 112) He had even then begun to make presents to her. But about the end of March the young lady herself appears to have been uncomfortable about the nature of his advances, and declined a purse full of sovereigns, falling down on her knees before the messenger who brought it and desiring him to entreat the King on her behalf to have regard to her honor, and reserve any present he might wish to make her until she had found an honorable match. The King's passion was all the more inflamed by her modest answer. To put her at her ease, he declared that he would not afterwards speak with her except in the presence of her relations; and he caused Cromwell to dislodge from a chamber to which he himself had access by secret galleries and gave it to her brother, Sir Edward Seymour, to occupy, that he might bring his sister there to converse with him. Her friends were at no loss to see that she might be a very effectual lever to accomplish the fall of Anne Boleyn, and they were careful to give the King every opportunity of legitimate intercourse, while cautioning Jane herself by no means to yield to him on any terms, except marriage. In this, as Chapuys said, she was quite firm. And so strong grew her ascendancy over him that her relations actually advised her to tell the King his marriage with Anne Boleyn was detested by the people, and that none considered it lawful; which it was arranged that she should say when there were present none but titled persons who had a right to speak upon affairs of State, and who promised that if they were appealed to they would say the same. (fn. 113)
That a lady who had shown herself so solicitous about her own honor should have consented to play a part like this with a King whom she knew to be licentious would hardly be consistent with the notions of female modesty which prevail at the present day. And the account given of her a few weeks later by Chapuys (just before she became Queen) will not do much to increase respect for her. "She is of middle stature," he writes, "and no great beauty; so fair that one would call her rather pale than otherwise. She is over five and twenty years old. I leave you to judge whether, being English, and having long frequented the Court, she is likely to have had any scruples about anticipating the knowledge of what matrimony means. Perhaps this King will only be too glad . . . . . . .; besides, he may make a condition in the marriage that she be a virgin, and when he has a mind to divorce her he will find witnesses enough." (fn. 114) It may be that Chapuys' suspicions went just a little too far; but it is clear that real modesty at the Court of Henry VIII. was utterly out of the question. (fn. 115)
The general joy at Anne Boleyn's fall was greatly due to a belief that much injustice would now be redressed, especially the cruel injustice so long done to the Princess Mary; (fn. 116) and a rumor actually got abroad that the King had sent for her and shown her kindness. (fn. 117) A rumor indeed was circulated even in London that she was coming up to town to be received into favor; and so great was the excitement in the city in consequence that the King, to prevent disturbance, caused a message to be conveyed to the people thanking them for their good will both to him and to his daughter, and intimating that their hopes of seeing her would in time be gratified. (fn. 118) It would be interesting to know the exact day of this occurrence, of the truth of which there is no reason to doubt; for though the chief authority is a French poem, it is a poem written in London at the very time, and dated 2nd June 1536. The fact, moreover, got abroad, and was reported to Rome by the papal nuncio in France. (fn. 119) But of the time we can only say that it must have occurred during the month of May, and probably about the middle of the month. This, however, we do know, that on the 24th May Chapuys was informed by Cromwell, in confidence, as a matter not to be divulged, that the King, knowing the good will borne by everybody to the Princess Mary, had resolved to declare her his heir. But when Cromwell went on to explain that certain conditions must be observed which he appeared to treat merely as a matter of course, Chapuys was inclined to doubt the sincerity of this intention. For he not only begged the ambassador not to make any application to the King in her behalf, and especially not to speak of her as Princess, but he said it was of the utmost importance that Mary herself should take the first step by writing a letter to her father after a draft that Cromwell had drawn up. He added that he had sent a confidential lady to her (whom we can identify otherwise as Lady Kingston) to induce her to follow this course; but for more effectual persuasion he said the King would like Chapuys to write to her, that she might have no hesitation in doing so. Chapuys said he hoped there was nothing in the draft letter derogatory to the honor either of Mary herself or of her deceased mother; but Cromwell reassured him on this point, telling him he would have it translated into Latin and shown to Chapuys for his satisfaction. He accordingly gave him the translation next day at Court; but when Chapuys had perused it, he saw clearly, to use his own expression, that there was some bird-catching attempted, and he resolved, as far as possible, to do nothing till he was better assured of the King's intentions. (fn. 120)
Mary, however, was actually induced—such was the success of Lady Kingston's mission—to write, on the 26th May, not to her father, but to Cromwell, desiring his mediation with her father. She wrote that she had had nobody to speak for her as long as Anne Boleyn lived (whom she prayed God of His mercy to forgive), and she begged him, for the love of God, to do his best for her now. (fn. 121) The bird-catching had begun, and the poor flutterer was already in a fair way of being entrapped. On the 30th May she wrote to Cromwell to thank him for having obtained for her her father's blessing and leave for her to write to him, the two greatest comforts that ever came to her; and she begged him to continue his efforts in her behalf. (fn. 122) On the 1st June she wrote to her father in a tone which might have been supposed humble enough to satisfy even such a king as Henry. She entreated him to forgive all her past offences, and promised to submit to him for the future in all things next to God. (fn. 123) But six days passed and she received no reply. Then she wrote to Cromwell again, on the 7th June, and seems to have received a so far encouraging answer that she ventured, on the 8th, to write again to the King, saying that though she understood he had forgiven her, she longed to come to his presence. (fn. 124) At this point, however, the hopes which had been raised were rudely checked. Her letter was not considered satisfactory, and Cromwell told her she must write again in a different style. On the 10th she accordingly wrote another letter to her father, only trusting that she had obtained forgiveness, and hoping for some token of reconciliation; and this was accompanied by a letter to Cromwell, begging him not to press her further, for she had gone as far as her conscience would allow. (fn. 125) From Cromwell she received a reply declaring her to be "the most obstinate woman that ever was," and that he declined to intercede for her any further if she did not show herself more dutiful. (fn. 126)
For further particulars of this sudden change we must anticipate the publication of a letter of Chapuys, dated the 1st July, which will appear in the next volume of this Calendar. "When the Princess," he writes, "having written several good letters to the King her father and to this Queen (Jane Seymour), expected to be out of trouble, trusting to the hope held out to her, she found herself in the most extreme perplexity and danger she had ever been in; and not only herself, but all her principal friends. The King, seven or eight days after the departure of the man (fn. 127) whom I sent to Your Majesty, took a fancy to insist that the Princess should consent to his statutes, or he would proceed by rigor of law against her; and, to induce her to yield, sent to her the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Sussex, the Bishop of Chester" (Chichester is meant), "and certain others, whom she confounded by her wise and prudent answers, till they, seeing that they could not conquer her in argument, told her that since she was so unnatural as to oppose the King's will so obstinately, they could scarcely believe she was his bastard, and if she was their daughter they would beat her and knock her head against the wall and make it as soft as baked apples." This incredible barbarity was followed up by an order to her gouvernante to keep watch over her day and night, and allow no one to speak to her. Nevertheless, she contrived somehow to communicate with Chapuys, who perceiving the extremity to which she was reduced, advised her, if she could do no better, to consent to her father's will, in order to save her life, her honor and conscience being saved by protests which she should make apart, and by the manifest danger to which she was exposed.
Under these circumstances it was that on Thursday, apparently the 15th June, she wrote to her father a more abject letter than she had yet done, acknowledging that she had "so extremely offended him that her heavy and sorrowful heart dared not presume to call him father." She expressly admitted that she had refused obedience to his "just laws," an offence a thousand times more grievous in her than in any other. She declared she would never ask his compassion if she afterwards varied from what she then wrote, and she left it entirely to her father to appoint how she should live in future. (fn. 128) Her power of resistance was completely gone, and all that now remained was to extract from her a formal act of submission, acknowledging, first, her subjection to the King's laws; secondly, his supremacy over the Church of England; and thirdly, (most painful acknowledgment of all,) that the marriage between her father and mother had been "by God's law and man's law incestuous and unlawful." (fn. 129)
But this triumph of despotism was not obtained without considerable difficulty, as the following further extracts from Chapuys' unpublished despatch will show:—
"The King, on hearing the report of the above Commissioners and the prudent answer of the Princess, grew desperate with anger, which was for two reasons—first, for the refusal of the said Princess, and second, because he suspected that several of her attendants had advised her so to do. He accordingly made the most strict inquiries, and the Chancellor and Cromwell visited certain ladies at their houses, who, with others, were called before the Council, and compelled to swear to the Statutes. One of them, the wife of her Chamberlain, (fn. 130) a lady of a great house, and one of the most virtuous in England, was taken to the Tower, where she is at present. The chief servant of the Princess, who knows all her secrets, was kept two days in Cromwell's house, and during six or seven days they were in Council at Court from morning to evening, which was the reason why I could not have audience during that time either of the King or Cromwell, as I greatly wished. As I suspected even then, it was not opportune because the King was too angry; and Cromwell, for having communicated with me upon the affairs of the Princess, and for showing himself rather favourable, was not free from suspicion, or without danger of being put to death. He has since told me that for four or five days he considered himself a lost man and dead. At the same time the Marquis and the Treasurer, (fn. 131) as suspected persons, were excluded from the Council; and the matter went so far that, in spite of the prayers of this Queen, which he rudely repulsed, the King called the judges to proceed according to law to the inquest and first sentence, which is given in the absence of the parties. (fn. 132) I have been informed, from more than one source, that the King had sworn in a great passion that not only the Princess should suffer, but also the Marquis, Cromwell, and several others. Now, I hear that the judges, in spite of threats, refused to decide, and advised that a writing should be sent to the Princess, and that if she refused to sign it they should proceed against her. The Princess, being informed from various quarters how matters stood, signed the document without reading it."
This extract throws considerable light on the examinations of Sir Anthony Brown and others in No. 1134.
It is time, however, that we should turn from the personal history of the King himself, his Queen, and his daughter to other subjects of scarcely inferior consequence, and especially to the beginnings of that great revolution in the social and religious life of the nation which was now at hand—the suppression of the monasteries.
Of the proceedings of Cromwell's visitors in reference to these houses I have already spoken in the Preface to the last volume of this Calendar; and it will be remembered that at first, assuming that the country was to be parcelled out among different commissaries, Dr. Layton had asked for a commission for himself and Dr. Legh, to do the visitation in the North of England. It seems that they had both special acquaintance with the country, and that there was hardly a religious house in those parts but they could learn something about its condition from friends of their own living within ten or twelve miles of it. (fn. 133) The diocese of York had not been visited since Wolsey's time; and Layton had no doubt he could bring to light many irregularities there, while his colleague Legh took in hand the diocese of Chester (Coventry and Lichfield), with the counties of Huntingdon and Lincolnshire. (fn. 134) It was thought fit, however, that their services should be first engaged in the visitation of the Southern monasteries, with what results we have partly seen already.
The South of England must have been almost completely visited during the latter half of the year 1535. Next came the visitation of the Northern monasteries, which was also entrusted to Legh and Layton, according to the desire the latter had expressed in June, only they went about in company, instead of taking each a separate portion of the country. The two seem to have met at Lichfield about Christmas, (fn. 135) and doubtless visited that diocese together first. On the 13th January they were together at York, making the Archbishop give a strict account of himself, and examining the inmates of the great abbey of St. Mary's. (fn. 136) On their way they had already visited several Yorkshire abbeys, and found more degrading practices to prevail than even in the South. By the end of February they had visited the whole of the Northern province, and had drawn up reports unmatched for filth and obscenity of the result of their inquiries. (fn. 137)
That laxity of discipline in some monasteries had led to great demoralisation was doubtless pretty well known, but the extent of the evil had never been fully ascertained, or at all events made public. Each order was responsible in the last resort to its own superiors, and during the interval between one visitation and another all depended on the firmness and integrity of the heads of houses. The royal visitors probably pursued the old methods of inquiry at these visitations, and the only thing that was new was that the result was now reported to the King. But this made a very material difference, the effect of which must not be forgotten in estimating the results obtained; for, although an acknowledgment of royal supremacy had been extorted from every house, it is not to be supposed that abbots and convents generally submitted quietly to a new authority intent on promoting offensive investigations as a pretext for their own destruction. Many of the principal houses, it is clear, would have nothing to say to the visitors; and it is quite possible that the monks in many cases refused even to exculpate themselves before men for whose characters and commission they had very little respect.
Considering the rapidity with which the work was done the investigations could hardly have been very judicially conducted. Special reports, called compendia compertorum, had been transmitted to Cromwell by the visitors at different stages of their progress; and even in the last volume we have a specimen of their quality in the comperta of Chertsey Abbey. (fn. 138) These were taken in September, and sent by Dr. Legh to Cromwell on Michaelmas Day. On the 11th November, when Legh and Ap Rice had reached Westacre, in Norfolk, they despatched to him another "abridgment of the comperts from the last ye had unto Crabhouse" (evidently the third paper in No. 364 of the present volume). Again, on the 17th December, Bedyll informs Cromwell, "Master Layton has written certain comperts unto you." (fn. 139) By the end of February apparently the whole work was completed, as far as Legh and Layton were concerned, for the North and South of England; and Dr. Adam Becansaw and Dr. John Vaughan had meanwhile been holding a similar visitation in Wales, which, not being confined to the monasteries, extended over a somewhat longer period. (fn. 140)
Still, it remains a question how far the filthy scandals revealed in these comperta were really based upon fact. We have no reason indeed to think highly of the character of Cromwell's visitors; and the letters of Layton show that he really gloated over the obscenities that he unearthed. But while in some cases even the terms of the accusation may be more or less deceptive, (fn. 141) there are others in which the charges are unmistakeable and very serious. Thus when opposite the name of a nun we read the word peperit, we cannot reasonably doubt the truth of an accusation, which, if false, would have been a very impudent libel. Yet even here we may draw a false inference as to the impurity of convents; for the occurrence may have taken place before the lady was received into the community. A convent was undoubtedly in many cases a convenient refuge for a lady of good family who had disgraced herself—a case which we have reason to know was by no means very uncommon. (fn. 142)
As to the monks, we can well believe that reports first originated in some cases from the malice of neighbouring proprietors, between whom and them, as monastic chronicles show, there were apt to be frequent disputes. Thus Edward Bestney writes to Cromwell about a "little religious house named Bygyn in the town of Fordham " with only two inmates, a prior and a canon, one of whom was old and like to die. Cromwell, it seems, had encouraged Bestney "to spy out," he does not say what, but apparently anything that might be for his own advantage; and he accordingly insinuates that the house was likely to fall into the King's hands for the "enormities" of its two inmates, and adds that the house and lands both lay so conveniently adjoining to his own lands that he should very much like to have the farm. (fn. 143) Was it after a full and judicial inquiry that the visitors found some minor form of impurity established against both the dwellers in this house, (fn. 144) one of them by report being an old man on the verge of the grave?
The visitors certainly proceeded with greater rigor than some had done before them. (fn. 145) Bishop Gardiner along with Fitzwilliam had visited Chertsey Abbey by the King's command shortly before the general visitation, and found nothing wrong; but Legh succeeded in unveiling things as foul in that establishment as any that were detected elsewhere. (fn. 146) Perhaps even Gardiner was met by an obstacle of which Legh and Layton complain in some of their letters. The great houses did not like even episcopal visitations; but they were so "confederate" against the Royal Commission that the visitors frequently could get no "compertes." That was found to be the case at Bury St. Edmunds and at Ixworth, in Suffolk, at the principal monasteries in Norfolk, and at Leicester. (fn. 147)
Nevertheless, persevering inquiry in two of these cases at least, and probably in the others also, was rewarded with a more or less plentiful crop of scandals. At the same time there were many monasteries named in these reports against which nothing is said; and there were many more in the dioceses reported on which are not named at all. (fn. 148) So that it may be presumed, in the opinion of the visitors of themselves, not a few of the monastic houses were pure and well governed.
The whole work of the visitation was accomplished with extraordinary despatch. There was doubtless an object in having it completed in February. In that month Parliament had re-assembled; and it had been determined to confiscate the lesser monasteries to the Crown. The comperta of the visitors—or the substance at least of what was contained in them—was read aloud in justification of the intended measure; and as we know from a sermon of Latimer's there was a cry of "Down with them!" (fn. 149) The Act accordingly declared that, "forasmuch as manifest sin, vicious, carnal, and abominable living is daily used and committed among the little and small abbeys, priories, and other religious houses of monks, canons, and nuns, where the congregation of such religious persons is under the number of 12 persons,"—and as the King found "by the compertes (fn. 150) of his late visitations" that things were getting worse and worse notwithstanding the continual visitations that had taken place for more than 200 years, there was no remedy but to take into the King's hands all houses not having a revenue of 200l. a year. (fn. 151)
Commissions were accordingly sent out on the 24th April (fn. 152) to some of the leading men in each county to make a new survey of the monasteries (though they had already been valued with other benefices the year before, for the King's tenths and first fruits), to inquire minutely the clear yearly value of each, and the number of the monks, with their lives and conversations, how many were priests and how many desired capacities; also the condition of the buildings as to repair, what sums might be realised from the bells, lead, and other fixtures, the moveable goods, stock, and stores, the debts owing to and by the houses, and the amount of woods, parks, forests, &c. belonging to each. (fn. 153) Returns of the Commissioners for a certain number of the monasteries in five several counties are given in this volume, and it is remarkable that in these the characters given of the inmates are almost uniformly good. More remarkable still, in the return for Leicestershire, we find the inmates of Garadon and Gracedieu—two of the houses against which some of the worst "compertes" were found— reported to be of good and virtuous conversation. The country gentlemen who sat on the commission somehow came to a very different conclusion from that of Drs. Layton and Legh.
The limits of this Preface will but allow us now to glance at, or barely mention a few other subjects of high interest, both foreign and domestic, which we must leave to the reader. The correspondence relating to Pole's book on the Unity of the Church, which he sent to Henry from Italy in compliance with the King's own demand, (fn. 154) is particularly interesting. The Irish papers tell of the first acts of the administration of Lord Leonard Grey, as successor to Skeffington, who died on the 31st December 1535, among which the capture of the five brothers of the late Earl of Kildare was one of the most telling. The Scotch correspondence chiefly relates to the fruitless mission of Lord William Howard and William Barlow (the latter rewarded for his zealous services by a Welsh bishopric, which was immediately exchanged for another in the same country), the object of which mission was to get James to take Henry's side against the Pope and to keep him true to his promise to meet Henry in England. Of foreign matters the chief subject which has not yet been referred to in this Preface is the final collapse of Henry's Scandinavian policy, of the failure of which mention was made in our last volume. The Duke of Holstein's title as King of Denmark was confirmed in January by a German diet, and peace made between him and Lubeck. (fn. 155) Henry's confederates, Wollenwever and Sir Marcus Meyer, had each to be left to his fate, and each in turn to reveal under torture the intrigues of the King of England. Dr. Pack also fell into the hands of the Imperialists, (fn. 156) and after a momentary protest from Cromwell, which was afterwards withdrawn as uncalled for, he too was in like manner abandoned. (fn. 157) But King Christian used his victory with moderation, and while refusing to receive letters not addressed to him as King, seemed ready enough to accept explanations as to the past and to offer mutual aid to Henry against the Pope. (fn. 158)
It remains for me to repeat the acknowledgments made in former volumes of the cordial assistance given me in this work by Mr. Trice Martin and Mr. Brodie.