The Betrothal of Baby Princess Elizabeth Flounders
Many Acts in Parliament – Valor Ecclesiasticus – Protestants Diverge – Friction with France – Anne Is Desperate for a French Marriage for Elizabeth – Another Power Struggle Begins – Anne Wants Cromwell’s Head Off
The rejection of papal supremacy manifested itself during 1534, encapsulated in the Act of Absolute Restraint of Annates and Election of Bishops, the Act Forbidding Papal Dispensations and Payment of Peters Pence, the Act of Heresy, the Act for the Submission of the Clergy, the First Act of Succession, the Second Act of Succession, the Act of Supremacy, the Treason Act and an Oath of Succession.
In 1535, a valuation of the church, the Valor Ecclesiasticus, was underway. Legislation for the dissolution of monastic houses was yet to come, in the spring of 1536, but the legislation, passed at the sixth session of the Reformation Parliament in November and December 1534, effectively completed the English break from Rome.
An angry but diverse group of people had trampled over Wolsey when he fell. They, in the aftermath of the overbearing cleric’s demise, had come together, unified in their desire to curtail the influence of the ecclesiastical lords and their adherents. None of them wanted to see the like of the megalomaniac cardinal again and all wanted reform in the church. Having beaten down the English ‘I wanna be pope’ and ensured upon his death that he was gone forever, the definition of the Reformation became so broad that it was almost impossible to define.
On one side, a conservative faction felt that some wing-clipping and well-directed pruning in the wake of Wolsey’s departure would suffice. There was perhaps a middle way where it was thought church and state could live harmoniously side by side and respect the extent of each other’s authority. But on the other side there were those whose ancestors had borne the nature of papal interference for centuries and wished to end the jurisdiction of Rome altogether. Stirred into this mix were any number of other permutations for interpretation, particularly the Wycliffe doctrine that found its way to Bohemia and the Hussites in the late 1300s and early 1400s. It was now seeping back in from northern Christendom.
The strongest faction in England had used the royal divorce as a vehicle to achieve its own ends – a separation from Rome, which had been achieved through Parliament principally via the Ecclesiastical Appeals Act in the spring of 1533. (The Act is dated 1532 because the legal year ended on 24 March)
Thus, before the end of 1534, that large group which had trampled gleeful and untethered over the prostrate Wolsey began to split. With one party encouraged by events in Germany and the other subservient to the French, they were setting out on very different paths.
The figurehead of one group was Thomas Cromwell and that of the other was Anne de Boulogne. One group was in steep ascendancy and the other in sharp decline.
The de Boulognes were floundering and needed a lifeline, so again they turned to France.
During 1534, they began negotiations to marry baby Elizabeth into the French royal family, and by the autumn Philippe de Chabot, Admiral de Brion of France, was on his way to England to discuss terms. Chabot arrived during the Parliament sitting. At court, there were anti-French murmurs and mockery of all the flattery, pandering and cowering shown to the French delegation.
Thomas Cromwell, however, was not one of those on bended knee. He was busy entertaining his friends from Germany and exchanging views on their version of Christianity without the pope.
Matters with the French, however, did not go well. They arrived with a proposal that the dauphin should marry Henry’s oldest daughter, Mary, not Elizabeth. There were doubts in France over Elizabeth’s legitimacy. It was a slur cast upon Anne and her daughter, ‘and the lady [Anne]’, said the Imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys, ‘is very angry about it’. It was also proposed somewhat maliciously by the emperor that his son should marry Francis’s daughter. If the proposals were intended to upset Anne de Boulogne in an attempt to thwart her desire for the marriage of her daughter Elizabeth to the French, they succeeded.
In November 1534, counter-proposals were drawn up for an alternative marriage arrangement between Francis’s third son (Charles the Duke of Angoulême) and Princess Elizabeth if ‘the French King would obtain from the Bishop of Rome a decision for that the unjust and slanderous sentence given by the late Bishop of Rome is void’; in this event, Henry VIII of England would renounce the title of King of France. With very little agreed, the admiral’s visit ended acrimoniously and he declined to go to Windsor and other places ‘as the King desired’.
Weeks then passed. Christmas came and went, and still in at the beginning of February the French had sent no response to the English proposals. During this time, Cromwell boasted that he would make his master wealthier than all the other princes in Christendom, which relentlessly undermined the de Boulogne position.
Eventually, after months of silence, Palamedes Gontier, Chabot’s secretary, arrived in England. He was hastily conducted to Westminster. Tensions now ran high; the long delay had fuelled a lack of trust in the French and relations were at a low ebb. Henry interpreted the silence as a snub. He had already spoken to the French ambassador, Charles de Solier, Comte de Morette, so sharply about his countrymen’s conduct that the Frenchman dare not ‘show himself to the King at court’.
Anne de Boulogne also complained mournfully about the long delay, which she said had caused her husband many doubts about her. She was ill at ease and having difficulty maintaining his trust, so reported Gontier. She was living in fear of ruin, she was in more grief and trouble than before her marriage, and she needed help from France before the evangelists trampled over her and the entire country.
The Queen of England was wholly French; she had been mentored by the King of France’s sister Marguerite. The de Boulognes had steered England away from the clutches of the Holy Roman Emperor and Anne had fulfilled her part in wresting Henry from the emperor’s aunt Catharine of Aragon. She had assured Henry that Francis would be persuaded to take control of the church in France as Henry had done in England, a policy that the de Boulognes were optimistic in believing would gather pace after the death of Pope Clement VII in December 1534.
Anne had been offered up as bait for Henry when the French were desperate for English help to have Francis released from Spain. However, those days were long gone. Increasingly isolated, her position was ever weakening; she clung to the ambition to unite the reigning Valois of France with her daughter Elizabeth, who was of de Boulogne blood, but many of those who counselled Henry filled his head with pro-Lutheran and anti-French sentiment. Now she was more vulnerable than she had been before she was married. Her daughter’s marriage was vital to secure her future before the Francophobes wrenched the royal sanction from her grasp.
As winter turned to spring, negotiations continued, but the French were deserting Anne. Still Francis wanted to know: if Mary were one day successful in her claim of legitimacy and did succeed to the throne of England, what state then would the marriage between Elizabeth and his son the duke be in?
Henry continued to reject a union with Mary. If there were to be a marriage, it would be with Elizabeth. He wrote thus to Chabot: Both by the King our brother’s letters and yours we feel assured of his desire to preserve the amity between us to our successors; and though we cannot agree to the propositions made by the treasurer Palamedes, our reasons for declining them are such as you yourself will see to be right. As to the marriage proposed, as we were the first inventor of that knot, we purpose to send shortly to Calais deputies for our part, viz., the duke of Norfolk. Fitzwilliam and Cromwell, to arrange the conditions.
The most convenient time for the meeting at Calais is about Whitsuntide next, not sooner, that Francis may have an opportunity of using his great influence with the bishop of Rome that he may revoke the sentence of his predecessor Clement about the pretended marriage with the lady Katharine. and declare it naught; which should be easy, as we find the opinion of the learned men about the Pope agrees with ours, and that he himself is somewhat disposed that way. But if the said Bishop follow the steps of his predecessor, we trust our good brother, considering the decision of his own universities and of Christendom, will adhere to us; and, meantime, that he will not practise either by marriage or otherwise with the Emperor or the king of Portugal. When we know our good brother’s determination on these points, we shall send our said deputies at Whitsuntide.
Cromwell, who when the time came did not go to Calais, was working in an entirely different direction, edging closer to an alliance with the Germans. He was also planning the 1535 summer royal progress to the west country. The negotiations with the French failed.
Anne’s brother George de Boulogne, Viscount Rochford, went to Calais at Whitsun in place of Cromwell. He carried with him an English stipulation, fatal to Boulogne ambitions, for the young French duke to be educated in England. Francis was furious about the audacity of that suggestion. Cromwell, he perceived, had inserted a clause to hold his son hostage. Hadn’t his brothers suffered enough incarcerated as hostages in Spain by Charles a decade earlier?
Cromwell, however, had every reason to hold his ground. The duke’s eldest brother, the Dauphin, had boasted from the rooftops that he ‘would regain the title and arms which the king of England bore’ and that he would succeed where the Dauphin Prince Louis had failed in the time of King John’.
With Francis fuming, Rochford broke from the interview and returned to England desperate for alternative instructions, but first he was a long time consulting with his sister about their impending predicament. Anne, according to Chapuys, had been in bad humour and said a ‘thousand shameful words’ of the King of France, and generally the whole nation. Cromwell held Rochford back from making a swift return to Calais. The negotiations collapsed and at the same time Cromwell continued to consult with the Germans.
According to Chapuys, on 2 June Anne, as her fortunes crumbled, admonished Cromwell and wished she could see his head cut off.
Within a year this fate would become hers instead.