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Marriage with My Kingdom
By Alison Plowden
The History PressCopyright © 2011 The estate of Alison Plowden
All rights reserved.
The King's Last Daughter
When Anne Boleyn gave birth to a girl between the hours of three and four o'clock on the afternoon of Sunday, 7 September, 1533, Catholic Europe sniggered behind its hands over the devastating snub which Providence had dealt the King of England and his concubine. Messire Eustace Chapuys, the Holy Roman Emperor's ambassador at the Court of St James's, did not attempt to conceal his malicious amusement.
Te Deum for Queen Anne's safe delivery was sung in St Paul's Cathedral in the presence of the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London, and the 'high and mighty Princess of England, Elizabeth', was given a splendid christening in the Friar's Church at Greenwich. Over these proceedings, however, there hung a faint but palpable air of defiance. No amount of pompous ceremony and displays of official rejoicing could conceal the embarrassing fact that the flamboyantly masculine Henry VIII had once more failed to get a legitimate son. In his quest for a male heir, Henry had repudiated his blameless first wife and offended her influential relatives; he had challenged the Pope and resigned from the Church of Rome; he had ruthlessly manipulated the accepted laws of God and man to suit his own ends – and all he had got for his pains was another daughter.
In 1533 the break with Rome was not yet irrevocable. In July, Pope Clement had solemnly condemned the King's separation from Catherine of Aragon, denounced his second marriage and framed (but not published) a bull of excommunication. In November, at a meeting with the Pope arranged under the auspices of the King of France, Henry's representatives made what seemed a deliberately provocative appeal against the threatened excommunication to a future General Council of the Church. But still the way to reconciliation was not finally barred. For years now Clement had temporised and delayed in the matter of the King of England's divorce. If he could have devised some face-saving formula, he would, even at this eleventh hour, have used it thankfully. As for Henry, if he had been offered a settlement on his own terms, he might, even now, have accepted it. The King's position was not unlike that of a man who has quarrelled with the committee of his club and left to set up a rival establishment, but who, at the same time, cherishes a sneaking desire to be invited to return.
The invitation never came. On 23 March 1534 the Pope was finally forced to give a ruling on the divorce. Twenty-two cardinals in secret consistory pronounced in favour of Queen Catherine – declaring her marriage to be lawful and valid, and optimistically enjoining the King to take her back as his wife. Later that year Parliament at Westminster passed the Act of Supremacy, 26 Henry VIII, recognising the King, his heirs and successors, without qualification, as 'the only supreme head in earth of the church of England', with all the 'honours, dignities, pre-eminences, jurisdictions, privileges, authorities, immunities, profits and commodities ... belonging and appertaining'. After this, nothing short of unconditional surrender by one party or the other could heal the breach between England and Rome.
The King's divorce, the Great Matter which had occupied Henry's thoughts and energies almost exclusively for the past seven years, had come to overshadow every aspect of English domestic and foreign policy, and had had the effect of forcing the country further and further into the arms of France. France might remain the ancestral enemy, Spain the traditional ally, the Netherlands – now a Spanish apanage – the trading partner on which England's economic prosperity depended; but unfortunately Charles V – ruler of Spain, Lord of the Netherlands, the Franche-Comte and Austria, King of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia, suzerain of the Habsburg fiefs in Germany and northern Italy, and Holy Roman Emperor – also happened to be the nephew of the discarded Queen of England. Charles, with the cares of half Europe on his shoulders, menaced by advancing Turkish hordes in the east, harassed by heresy in Germany and by French territorial ambitions in Italy, was naturally reluctant to add war with England to his problems. Common decency and the obligations of family honour compelled him to protest at the humiliation of his aunt, and to promote her cause by all the diplomatic means at his disposal. More than that he had not, so far, been prepared to do. At the same time, the Empire represented the greatest power-bloc in Europe and the Emperor could, if sufficiently provoked, make things very uncomfortable for the King of England. It had, therefore, seemed a necessary precaution to strengthen English ties with France. In 1532 a new defensive treaty was negotiated between the two countries and in September of that year the entente cordiale was sealed by a meeting between the two kings – Henry and François – at Boulogne.
Their alliance was based on mutual self-interest. Henry needed a promise of French assistance in case of an Imperial attack. He also needed friends in Rome, especially since he had dispensed with the invaluable services of Cardinal Wolsey. François needed English support in his perennial feud with the Emperor – with English help he could close the Channel and cut sea-borne communications between Spain and the Netherlands. To embarrass Charles, he was prepared to side with Henry in his battle for the divorce, and French cardinals were instructed to use their influence at the Vatican on his behalf. The King of France was not, however, prepared to offend the Pope and certainly not, as Henry appears to have believed, to join England in schism. François needed papal backing for his Italian ploys and in 1533 acquired the Pope's niece, Catherine de Medici, as a daughter-in-law. He was, in fact, attempting to perform the increasingly difficult feat of running with the King of England while hunting with the Pope.
Then, in the autumn of 1534, Clement VII died, to be succeeded by Paul III. Though an Italian, the new Pope was said to be 'a good Frenchman'. He was also said to have been pro-Henry in the matter of the divorce and soon after his election began asking for advice on 'what means he should take to win back the King of England'. François, always an optimist, began to hope that here might be an opportunity to realise his long-cherished ambition to weld England, the papacy and perhaps even the German Protestant states into a grand alliance directed against the hegemony of the Empire. In terms of practical politics this had never been a particularly realistic scheme, and in 1534 it was probably less so than ever, but the Emperor was sufficiently disturbed by the general trend of events to make some friendly overtures to François and to send the Count of Nassau on a special mission to France. The English government maintained an attitude of elaborate unconcern although, in the opinion of Eustace Chapuys, Nassau's visit was 'a flea in their ear'. English immunity from fears of Imperial vengeance depended largely on the continued animosity between France and the Empire, and Henry was haunted by a suspicion that François would not hesitate to stab his ally in the back any time it suited him.
It was common gossip that the Count of Nassau had come to discuss 'great affairs and marriages' with the King of France, but no one seemed to know any details. The details were, in fact, being carefully concealed, for Nassau had brought a top-secret proposition from Charles that François should suggest a match between Mary Tudor, Catherine of Aragon's only surviving child, and his own third son, the Duke of Angoulême. It was true that Mary had recently been bastardised and disinherited by Act of Parliament, but in the eyes of Rome, and therefore of all orthodox Catholics, she was still the legitimate English heiress. This was to be pointed out to François, together with a reminder of the various financial and political advantages to be gained by himself and his son, and a hint that if he co-operated with the Emperor, the thing could be carried through whether the King of England was willing or not. In other words, France and the Empire could jointly exert enough pressure on Henry to force him to restore his elder daughter to her proper place in the succession.
Charles naturally took a close interest in his young cousin, who was currently being bullied and threatened by her father and step-mother, and made to yield precedence to her baby half-sister. The Emperor was not without human feelings and, besides, Mary was a potentially valuable weapon in his dynastic armoury. If the King of France could be induced to make an offer for her without revealing the Emperor's interest, it might kill three Imperial birds with one stone; it would divert François from further Italian adventures, drive a useful wedge into the Anglo-French alliance – Henry could scarcely miss the wounding implication that not even his closest ally recognised his do-it-yourself divorce – and might also provide an escape-hatch for Mary.
Unhappily for these amiable intentions, the only effect of Nassau's cautiously worded approach was to impress François with a sense of the Emperor's disquiet and to strengthen his hopes of being able to make a successful challenge. A few weeks after the Count's departure, a mission led by Philippe Chabot, sieur de Brion and Admiral of France, crossed the Channel for high-level talks in London. De Brion at once passed on Charles's suggestion of a French marriage for Mary – a suggestion which Henry had no hesitation in ascribing to the Emperor's malice and his intent to 'dissolve the amity' between François and himself. At the same time, the King resisted French proposals designed to involve him in the Habsburg–Valois vendetta. Instead, he put forward a proposal of his own. If François could obtain from Pope Paul a reversal of Clement's 'unjust and slanderous' verdict on the divorce, Henry would consider formally renouncing the title of King of France, still borne by the kings of England, and would also be willing to open negotiations for a marriage between the Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Angoulême. Thus the twelve-year-old duke achieved the distinction of becoming the first in a long line of Elizabeth Tudor's suitors and Elizabeth, at the age of fourteen months made her debut on the international political stage.
In spite of much outward cordiality, the French were disappointed by Henry's reluctance to be drawn into their net and by his evident determination not to give an inch in dealing with the Pope. According to Eustace Chapuys, de Brion left for home in a mood of disenchantment, and certainly his departure was followed by a somewhat ominous silence. Henry, who seems to have been expecting a prompt reply to his flattering offer, grew so impatient that de Morette, the resident French ambassador, began to avoid the Court, but it was not until the end of January 1535 that de Brion's secretary, Palamedes Gontier, returned to London to resume discussions. The King received him informally, leaning against a sideboard as Gontier opened the subject of the Angoulême marriage with a discreet enquiry about the prospective bride's exact legal status – a matter of some interest to her prospective father-in-law. François assumed that, having given Elizabeth the title of princess, Henry intended to assure it to her and treat her as his only heiress; but, said Gontier, his king felt that in the circumstances steps ought to be taken which would 'deprive lady Mary of any occasion or means of claiming the Crown'.
Henry hastened to allay any French misgivings by explaining 'what had been done by Parliament' – that is, by the 1534 Act for the Establishment of the King's Succession. This was the Act which had ratified the divorce proceedings conducted under the aegis of Thomas Cranmer at Dunstable in May 1533. It declared Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon 'utterly void and annulled' and settled the succession on children born of the Anne Boleyn marriage, naming 'the Lady Elizabeth, now princess', as heiress presumptive. To make assurance doubly sure, it further laid down that the King's subjects were to 'make a corporal oath' to 'truly, firmly and constantly ... observe, fulfil, maintain, defend and keep ... the whole effects and contents of this present act' or incur the penalties of misprision of high treason. This oath, Henry assured Gontier, had now been taken throughout the kingdom, adding pleasantly that everyone took Mary for the bastard she was. Elizabeth had been quickly proclaimed his sole heiress and there was no question of Mary ever becoming Queen or claiming any right to the crown. He went on to point out that, if François would only persuade the Pope to agree that his first marriage was null and void, all doubts would cease. This was not strictly true, for the French had already been taking legal advice as to whether or not Mary could still be considered legitimate, even if her parents' marriage was invalid.
Palamedes Gontier did not, however, feel it necessary to mention this to Henry, but turned instead to financial matters, indicating that the King of France would be obliged if the annual pensions being paid to England under the terms of the Treaty of Amiens were remitted as part of Elizabeth's dowry. The King of England 'took this ill'. Considering that he had, of his own accord, offered the heiress of a kingdom 'of most certain title, without remainder of querel to the contrary', to a younger son, all the obligation was on the French side and 'they ought rather to give him something than ask'. Such looking of a gift horse in the mouth, together with the long delay in giving him an answer, made him think 'there was a practice going on elsewhere'.
Having got over these preliminary skirmishes, Gontier was passed on to the King's advisers, and during the month he spent in England the rough draft of a marriage treaty was drawn up and arrangements made for a further meeting between the representatives of both sides to be held at Calais at Whitsun, so that the Bishop of Faenza, papal nuncio in France, thought the matter could reasonably be expected to take effect.
But, unknown to the Bishop, some devious cross-currents were moving beneath the surface. Thomas Cromwell, the King of England's hardheaded secretary and man of business, placed little long-term reliance on the French connection. Cromwell, who had already set in train the complicated administrative machinery for nationalising the resources of the Catholic Church in England, knew there was not going to be any accommodation with the Pope, that, in fact, the open hostility of the Pope could not be long delayed. He also knew that France, a Continental power with important interests in Italy, would never break her ties with Rome and that, if it came to a showdown, England could not rely on her support. By far the most logical alliance for England was still with the Emperor, and Cromwell, unhampered by illusions, ideals or old-fashioned notions of honour and filial piety, found it hard to credit that Charles could seriously mean to go on denying himself the obvious advantages of English friendship just for the sake of a surely expendable aunt and cousin. As early as February 1535, Master Secretary was remarking to Eustace Chapuys that it would be better to be talking of a marriage between the Spanish prince – the Emperor's eight-year-old son Philip – and the King's last daughter. This unlikely suggestion was apparently intended as a joke, and the ambassador took it as such, but a month later Cromwell brought the subject up again – only to drop it hastily at the sight of Chapuys' frosty expression, saying wistfully that he suspected the Emperor would not hear of it out of respect for his cousin.
Meanwhile, negotiations with France continued. The Calais meeting duly took place at the end of May, but ended in stalemate. The English commissioners, headed by the Duke of Norfolk, had been instructed to press their opposite numbers to agree that young Angoulême should come to England immediately to complete his education, although the formal betrothal would not be solemnised until Elizabeth was seven years old. The French, not unnaturally, jibbed at the idea of parting with their bridegroom before the bride was of full marriageable age and, according to the Bishop of Faenza, François refused disdainfully to send his son to be a hostage in England. But this was a negotiable point, and the rock on which the talks foundered seems to have been Henry's 'exorbitant demand' that François should make a public declaration binding himself to uphold the validity of the Anne Boleyn marriage against all comers. The King of France was quite prepared to do his best to persuade the Pope to re-open the King of England's case with a view to revoking Clement's 'false and unreasonable' judgement on the divorce; for such a revocation would not only place Henry under a heavy obligation to France but, more important, would also go a long way towards realising her king's dreams of detaching the papacy from its dependence on the Empire. But François could only move through conventional channels. He neither could nor would reject or even question the Pope's right of jurisdiction in matters of Canon Law. By July, therefore, the Angoulême marriage negotiations had petered out and the Anglo-French entente was showing distinct signs of strain.
Excerpted from Marriage with My Kingdom by Alison Plowden. Copyright © 2011 The estate of Alison Plowden. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
ContentsMarriage With My Kingdom,
The Courtships of Elizabeth I,
1 The King's Last Daughter,
2 The Noblest Man Unmarried in This Land,
3 Le plus beau gentilhomme d'Angleterre,
4 No Alliance More Advantageous than That with the Duke of Savoy,
5 I Am Already Wedded to an Husband,
6 If the Emperor So Desires Me for a Daughter,
7 Lord Robert Would Be Better in Paradise,
8 Without a Certain Heir, Living and Known,
9 Talk Is All of the Archduke,
10 To Marry With France,
11 A Frog He Would-a-Wooing Go,
Notes and Abbreviations,
Sources and Bibliography,