The SolutionIt was Stephen Gardiner[i] who found the cleric with the solution to all Henry’s marital problems; Thomas Cranmer, proposed that the king’s case should be considered by the doctors of divinity at the universities and not by Rome. The truth would be found in the scriptures in divine law, not canon law. If the divines found in favour of the king, then all that was needed was an official pronouncement by the Archbishop of Canterbury[ii]. Unsurprisingly Henry was taken by this idea;
‘Marry, this man has the sow by the right ear!’[iii]
The Boleyn family were at the forefront of the espousal of Lutheranism; Eustace Chapuys[iv] wrote of Anne and Thomas;
‘Who are more Lutherans than Luther himself.’[v]
Thomas and Anne may have encouraged Henry to consider Cranmer’s stance that the ‘godly prince’ had a divine commission to reform the church in his lands, whether the pope approved or no. Henry met with Cranmer and ordered him to set all his work aside to concentrate on a treatise expounding his opinions. Thomas was ordered to prepare accommodation for Cranmer at his London home.
Seeing how much Cranmer admired Anne, Thomas made much of this scholar who had lost his chance of a career when he married a barmaid known as Black Joan. When Joan died in childbirth Cranmer was readmitted to Cambridge University and he took holy orders. Now Cranmer was made Thomas’s chaplain.
Due to his own folly Henry was politically isolated within Europe, and his disillusionment with Rome was growing apace. The solution to divorce the church in England from the church in Rome was becoming ever more appealing and would also be a solution to his own personal divorce problem.
Embassy to Bologna
In February 1530 Henry sent Cranmer and Thomas, now Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, as his ambassadors to the crowning of Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor[vi] in Bologna. Thomas and Cranmer were to impress on Charles that Henry only wanted a dissolution of his marriage to Katherine
The embassy was not a success; for once Thomas’s diplomatic skills deserted him; he was provocative and made no secret of his ardent desire for reform in the church. In any event Charles seems to have heard of Henry’s liaison with Mary, undermining his alleged scruples;
‘His Majesty has heard……….that the King had kept company with the sister of her whom he now wanted to marry.’[ix]
Storms at Home
In July 1530 the Lords temporal and spiritual in England, including Wolsey, sent a petition to Clement beseeching him to find in Henry’s favour. Clement accused them of troubling him over a little matter and pointed out that he had to take all points of view into consideration, including those of the queen’s; he was being pressed by Charles to find in favour of the emperor’s aunt. Charles pressed Clement to order Henry’s separation from Anne; in this he was supported by the disgraced Wolsey[x].
In November 1530 Wolsey wrote to Henry seeking the mitre and pall he had formerly used to celebrate the divine office; Henry marvelled at Wolsey’s;
‘Brazen insolence………is there still arrogance in this fellow who is so obviously ruined?’[xi]
By the 29th Wolsey was dead and dishonoured; he died at Leicester obeying the king’s summons to return to court. Henry was saddened by Wolsey’s death, although Anne was jubilant at the passing of one of her greatest enemies.
|Duke of Norfolk|
Early in 1531 Chapuys reported to his master;
‘She [Anne] is becoming more arrogant every day, using words in authority towards the king of which he has several times complained to the Duke of Norfolk, saying that she was not like the Queen who never in her life used ill words to him.’[xii]
Seeing the problem as intractable as ever, and her youth passing her by, Anne was becoming ever more desperate and accused Henry of keeping her waiting. Anne informed Henry that she could have had a husband and children in the time she had waited for him.
In January 1531 Anne and Henry had a violent quarrel; as ever, Anne threatened to leave him. Henry was so worried that he turned to Thomas and her uncle Norfolk to patch up matters between them. This time Anne was placated with gifts of furs and rich embroideries. And this vicious cycle continued; Anne worrying that her youth and beauty were fast disappearing, which resulted in the rows and then the expensive making ups.
|Chapter House, Westminster Abbey|
On 21st January the Convocations of Canterbury and York met at Westminster. This meeting marked the beginning of the English Reformation. The following month Henry stood up before parliament and demanded that the Church of England recognise and acknowledge him as its ‘sole protector and supreme head.’
Parliament and Convocation did not dare defy the king and on the 11th Archbishop Warham announced that the clergy were ready to accept the king as their head; ‘as far as the law of Christ allows.’ Thomas offered to prove from the scriptures that;
‘When God left this world He left no successor or vicar.’[xiii]
The nobility supported their king and the man the Pope had named Defender of the Faith in October 1521 was to lead his country into a break from Rome, but for many of the faithful it was not final.
The Fall of More
On 22nd March 1531 Chapuys wrote to Charles V, reporting a conversation with Norfolk, wherein Norfolk mentioned the unfortunate arrest of a Lutheran preacher who was liable to be burnt alive for heresy. A number of nobles, including Norfolk and Thomas, were assigned to question John Frith[xiv], who was later conducted before Henry. According to Chapuys Henry said about Frith’s claim that the pope was not the sovereign chief of the Christian church;
‘”This proposition cannot be counted as heretical, for it is both true and certain.”’[xv]
Henry did not agree with all Frith’s doctrines and released him on condition that Frith retract those doctrines Henry did not consider orthodox.
By the late spring of 1532 Thomas and Cromwell, amongst others were bullying the English bishops. On 15th May they made their submission to the king; to Chancellor More, faithful to the doctrines of the Catholic church, Henry’s actions seemed like tyranny.
‘[Norfolk] by importunate suit had at length of the King obtained for Sir Thomas More a clear discharge of his office………..and then at a time convenient by his highness’s appointment repaired he [More] to his Grace to yield up unto him the Great Seal.’[xvi]
The following day More delivered the Great Seal of his office to Henry, who promptly gave it to Thomas Audeley. With More’s resignation the Catholic church lost its last advocate in government for the eradication of heresy by fire and the anti-heresy campaign and burnings that More had been so energetic in supporting, died away.
n March 1533 Erasmus[xvii], looking for a new patron following the fall of
More, dedicated his book on the Apostles’ Creed to Thomas, whom he called ‘outstandingly learned’. The
following January Erasmus again dedicated a book to Thomas; ‘On Preparation for Death’. In the
appendix Erasmus published More’s last two letters to him.
By now Thomas was accusing More of taking bribes during his time as chancellor. On 13th April 1534, More was asked to appear before a commission and swear his allegiance to the parliamentary Act of Succession; he refused. On 17th Henry committed More to the Tower.
It was not until 6th July 1535, following a trial at which George Boleyn was one of the Commissioners, that More paid the ultimate price for opposing his king. The trial had never intended to prove his innocence. More was executed, saying on the scaffold;
‘"I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself…….[I am} the king's good servant, but God's first."’[xviii]
Long Live the Queen
By January 1533 Henry knew that Anne was pregnant and to ensure the legitimacy of his heir, he married Anne in a secret ceremony on 25th January. Thomas and his countess, George and two others were witnesses to the marriage held in York Place. It was some weeks later that the new archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer[xix], announced the marriage between Henry and Katherine was null and void.
Norfolk and Suffolk were given the task of informing the king’s first wife of the change in her status, telling Katherine that;
‘She need not trouble anymore about the King, for he had taken another wife and that, in the future, she must abandon the title of Queen and be called the “Princess-Dowager”………...she could hardly expect the King to support her and her household.’[xx]
Henry was already showing evidence of his inclination to treat discarded wives shabbily.
Thomas More refused to attend Anne’s coronation as queen held on 1st June. Anne had finally given in to Henry’s desires, at the latest, by the previous autumn when Henry and François met at Calais. There Anne and Henry had connecting bedchambers. Mary’s future second husband William Stafford was in the king’s entourage as Mary was in her sister’s.
Thomas seems to have had a very different reaction to his younger daughter’s affair with the king; after all Anne was likely to achieve what Mary signally had not tried playing for; the chance to be queen. Elizabeth Boleyn was part of her daughter’s entourage throughout the remainder of her life.
Thomas Cromwell – Robert Hutchinson, Phoenix 2008
Henry VIII – Robert Lacey, George Weidenfeld & Nicholson & Book Club Associates 1992
The Earlier Tudors – JD Mackie, Oxford University Press 1992
Thomas More – Richard Marius, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1993
Mary Tudor – HFM Prescott, Phoenix 2003
Rivals in Power – David Starkey (ed), Toucan Books 1990
Elizabeth – David Starkey, Chatto & Windus 2000
The Lisle Letters – Muriel St Clare Byrne (ed), Penguin Books Ltd 1985 1533
The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir, Pimlico 1992
Mary Boleyn – Alison Weir, AudioGO Ltd 2012
[i] Later Mary’s Lord Chancellor
[iii] The Six Wives of Henry VIII - Weir
[v] Thomas More - Marius
[vi] All Holy Roman Emperors had to be invested by the pope
[vii] Popular opinion was in favour of Katherine and Anne was deeply disliked
[viii] The Six Wives of Henry VIII - Weir
[ix] Mary Boleyn - Weir
[x] Chapuys thought that Wolsey believed that once the ‘great matter’ was resolved in Katherine’s favour that Wolsey would return to power
[xi] Thomas Cromwell – Hutchinson
[xii] The Six Wives of Henry VIII - Weir
[xiv] Frith was burnt at the stake as a heretic on 23rd June 1533, one week before Henry’s excommunication
[xv] Thomas More - Marius
[xvii] One of the leading scholars of the period
[xix] Appointed 1st October 1532 and approved in Rome in February 1533
[xx] Henry VIII - Lacey