26. Henry VIII And Cardinal Wolsey, A.D. 1509—1529
The new king was very fond of the Princess Katharine, and he married her soon after his father's death, without asking any more questions about the right or wrong of it. He began with very gallant and prosperous times. He was very handsome, and skilled in all sports and games, and had such frank, free manners, that the people felt as if they had one of their best old Plantagenets back again. They were pleased, too, when he quarreled with the King of France, and like an old Plantagenet, led an army across the sea and besieged the town of Tournay. Again, it was like the time of Edward III., for James IV. of Scotland was a friend of the French king, and came across the Border with all the strength of Scotland, to ravage England while Henry was away. But there were plenty of stout Englishmen left, and under the Earl of Surrey, they beat the Scots entirely at the battle of Flodden field; and King James himself was not taken, but left dead upon the field, while his kingdom went to his poor little baby son. Though there had been a battle in France it was not another Crecy, for the French ran away so fast that it was called the battle of the Spurs. However, Henry's expedition did not come to much, for he did not get all the help he was promised; and he made peace with the French king, giving him in marriage his beautiful young sister Mary— though King Louis was an old, helpless, sickly man. Indeed, he only lived six weeks after the wedding, and before there was time to fetch Queen Mary home again, she had married a gentleman named Charles Brandon. She told he brother that she had married once to please him, and now she had married to please herself. But he forgave her, and made her husband Duke of Suffolk.
Henry's chief adviser, at this time, was Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York; a very able man, and of most splendid tastes and habits— outdoing even the Tudors in love of show. The pope had made him a cardinal—that is, one of the clergy, who are counted as parish priests in the diocese of Rome, and therefore have a right to choose the pope. They wear scarlet hats, capes, and shoes, and are the highest rank of all the clergy except the pope. Indeed, Cardinal Wolsey was in hopes of being chosen pope himself, and setting the whole Church to rights—for there had been several very wicked men reigning at Rome, one after the other, and they had brought things to such a pass that everyone felt there would be some great judgment from God if some improvement were not made. Most of Wolsey's arrangements with foreign princes had this end in view. The new king of France, Francis I., was young, brilliant and splendid, like Henry, and the two had a conference near Calais, when they brought their queens and their whole Court, and put up tents of velvet, silk, and gold—while everything was so extraordinarily magnificent, that the meeting has ever since been called the Field of the Cloth of Gold.
However, nothing came of it all. Cardinal Wolsey thought Francis's enemy—the Emperor Charles V.—more likely to help him to be pope, and make his master go over to that side; but after all an Italian was chosen in his stead. And there came a new trouble in his way. The king and queen had been married a good many years, and they had only one child alive, and that was a girl, the Lady Mary—all the others had died as soon as they were born—and statesmen began to think that if there never was a son at all, there might be fresh wars when Henry died; while others said that the loss of the children was to punish them for marrying unlawfully. Wolsey himself began to wish that the pope would say that it had never been a real marriage, and so to set the king free to put Katharine away and take another wife— some grand princess abroad. This was thinking more of what seemed prudent than of the right; and it turned out ill for Wolsey and all besides, for no sooner had the notion of setting aside poor Katharine come into his mind, than the king cast his eyes on Anne Boleyn, one of her maids of honor—a lively lady, who had been to France with his sister Mary. He was bent on marrying her, and insisted on the pope's giving sentence against Katharine. But the pope would not make any answer at all; first, because he was enquiring, and then because he could not well offend Katharine's nephew, the Emperor. Time went on, and the king grew more impatient, and at last a clergyman, named Thomas Cranmer, said that he might settle the matter by asking the learned men at the universities whether it was lawful for a man to marry his brother's widow. "He has got the right sow by the ear," cried Henry, who was not choice in his words, and he determined that the universities should decide it. But Wolsey would not help the king here. He knew that the pope had been the only person to decide such questions all over the Western Church for many centuries; and, besides, he had never intended to assist the king to lower himself by taking a wife like Anne Boleyn. But his secretary, Thomas Crumwell, told the king all of Wolsey's disapproval, and between them they found out something that the cardinal had done by the king's own wish, but which did not agree with the old disused laws. He was put down from all his offices of state, and accused of treason against the king; but while he was being brought to London to be tried, he became so ill at the abbey at Leicester that he was forced to remain there, and in a few days he died, saying, sadly—"If I had served God as I have served my king, He would not have forsaken me in my old age."
With Cardinal Wolsey ended the first twenty years of Henry's reign, and all that had ever been good in it.