Henry VIII, the Reign,
Part 2 of 3
Thus, the papal prestige that he was trying to reignite they now sought to suffocate with an anti-clerical dogma.
Anti-clericalism in this context concerned a rejection of clerical interference in secular matters and specifically of interference from a foreign power. Over previous centuries, the English Parliament had introduced legislation (such as the Statutes of Mortmain, Praemunire and Provisors) to combat such interventions, but the laws had become dormant over the past century or so. Now some of their contents was about to be reinforced, with spectacular consequences.
Anti-clericalism had reached its zenith in England at the turn of the fifteenth century, and to repress its expansion Henry V had led a diversionary war against France. It had remained a latent force throughout the consequent Wars of the Roses – but Wolsey had woken it up.
The period of hibernation was over. With Wolsey’s fall, the anti-clericalists, and there were very many of them, seized the moment. On 9 August 1529, within days of the collapse of the Blackfriars trial, the first of the Reformation Parliaments – the so-called anti-clerical Commons – was summoned.
Work was begun under the direction of Thomas Cranmer to compile the Collectanea satis copiosa (Sufficiently Abundant Collections), a book of historical documents that were said to prove that the kings of England, historically, had no superiors on earth, even in the office of the pope.
Parliament opened an attack on the clergy, and by 1532 the entire ecclesiastical establishment was on its knees, guilty of breaching the Statute of Praemunire and begging for pardon upon payment of a fine of one hundred thousand pounds.
This, however, was no way to persuade Pope Clement VII, whose office was reliant on the protection of Catherine of Aragon’s nephew, to grant a divorce from his patron’s niece and afterwards consent to the marriage of Henry to the wholly French, anti-Habsburg Anne de Boulogne.
To the anti-clericalists, the Henry–Johnites, the king’s matrimonial status was a subsidiary matter. Anne had waited years, six and probably more, for her marriage to the King of England. She was ever more isolated from France but she seized an opportunity in late 1532 to revive the support of her sponsors at the French court. Catherine de’ Medici, the pope’s niece and herself of de Boulogne heritage, was pledged to marry Francis’s son Henri the following year.
In late autumn, a series of pageants were arranged at the English garrison of Calais and the French-governed Boulogne.
Amid all the pomp and ceremony, Francis persuaded Henry that he would not allow the wedding of his son to the pope’s niece to proceed in Marseilles unless the pope granted ‘his brother’ Henry the divorce Anne craved.
With that promise from the King of France, the reluctant Henry was persuaded that the French has sufficient influence over the pope to declare his existing marriage to Catherine of Aragon void. At last Anne had her way; she and Henry were married, probably in Boulogne,and soon she was pregnant. Anne had snared him, had seduced him by witchcraft, Henry later claimed.
The pregnancy changed everything for Henry and he battled with his conscience. The hapless king now had two wives and an heir due to be born in September – would the new child be legitimate in the eyes of God? He had hedged against the pro-French marriage to Anne de Boulogne for years but now he was forced to do something for himself and be rid of his first wife. The hard-line anti-clericals, the antipapists, began to move. The opportunity was perfect: they would use Anne de Boulogne as their vehicle to break from Rome altogether.
In early 1533, Parliament outlawed all appeals to Rome. The act severed papal authority in England and allowed the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The anti-clerical plan, from the antipapists’ point of view, had worked perfectly. The pope threatened Henry with excommunication unless he took Catherine back, and Francis’s assurances to halt the Medici marriage were trampled underfoot at Marseilles. Henry was beside himself with rage and embarrassment at his treatment by the pope and the French.
The climate was perfect for the propagation of the cause of the Henry–Johnites, descendants of the Marcher Lords and their autonomous culture.
The baby born in September to Anne de Boulogne was Elizabeth, future queen of England. Frantic moves followed to arrange a marriage for her into the French royal family, but Henry, humiliated, now fell under the influence of the Henry–Johnites. They filled his head with the injustices suffered by Henry II, King John and others at the hands of the papacy and the French in earlier reigns.
Anne had almost served her purpose to the Henry–Johnites as the vehicle to sever papal influence, and now, to finish her off, they would use her to poison the king against the French too.
Cromwell crushed the de Boulogne overtures for a French marriage to baby Elizabeth.
The city of Bristol, guardian of Avalon and the legend of Joseph of Arimathea, was the Henry–Johnites’ historical capital.
It was for Bristol that the royal court was bound in July 1535, just as Sir Thomas More was executed. The tour – the royal progress – was marshalled by Edward Seymour, whose family held sway in the lands that had been laid to waste during ‘the Anarchy’, the civil war between Stephen and Matilda in the twelfth-century fight for the succession of Eustace de Boulogne to the crown.
Anne de Boulogne was fearful. She had few friends in England now, and French priorities had changed in the years since Wolsey had recruited her. By the time the royal progress returned in late October, Anne was a broken woman, subjected day after day to anti-French rhetoric and Henry–Johnite taunting. Her faction was in tatters.
Early the following year, she miscarried a pregnancy, and alleged incidents on the progress were used to convict her of adultery, incest and high treason. She was executed on 19 May 1536. Within weeks, Henry’s son and potential heir, Henry Fitzroy (who had been born in 1519), was also dead, aged just seventeen.
The orchestrators of the 1535 royal progress, Edward Seymour and his family, assumed control over Henry VIII.
To enforce Seymour’s position, the day after Anne’s execution, Seymour’s sister Jane was betrothed to the king, and they were married a few days later. Now the Seymours held the royal sanction, but there was trouble in the north: a rebellion that threatened to overturn the new regime. Known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, this revolt lasted for several months and cost many lives before it was stifled.
Jane’s tenure was short. She died after giving birth to a son named Edward, later Edward VI. The death of his sister was a setback for Seymour’s ambitions; however, he was down but not out.
After the queen’s death, Thomas Cromwell emerged as the architect of policy in England. His ambitions lay with an alliance with the German states, which, through Martin Luther and his adherents, had taken their lead from the teachings of John Wycliffe. Wycliffe’s doctrine had been prevalent in England until Henry V’s diversionary war with the French (began in 1515) and had been exported to the Continent via Anne of Bohemia (wife of Richard II), reaching a major proponent in the form of Jan Hus. The Lutherans and the Henry–Johnites were cut from the same cloth.
Cromwell envisaged himself heading an enlarged version of the confederation of Protestant states known as the Schmalkaldic League. It would be an alliance with England at its forefront, expanding its domination across northern Europe from the Atlantic to Bohemia and beyond. To achieve his ends, Cromwell duped his malleable king, on the strength of a dodgy portrait, into a marriage with a German noblewoman, Anne of Cleves.
Cromwell, like Wolsey before him, had over-reached himself. Francis and Charles, unlike Henry, were wise to Cromwell’s dogma and engaged Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and consequently Howard’s young niece Catherine to blow open Cromwell’s underhand plan to achieve what his kinsman and namesake succeeded in doing a century later – to create a monarchless state.
Howard’s actions, with no little help from Bishop Stephen Gardiner, resulted in Cromwell’s downfall and execution. The Cleves marriage was annulled and Howard secured his conservative position against radical reform by arranging the marriage of his teenage niece to the ageing Henry VIII.