Henry VIII, the Reign
Cromwell’s New Strategy via Cleves – Another Delegation Sent
As head of the church Henry VIII enjoyed the revenue from the sale of the dissolved monasteries, but he was both disturbed by and fearful of a move any further away from the religious traditions and the orthodoxy that he had grown up with and that had been instilled in him, by heart, from birth. His conscience would not let him abandon the traditions of the Christian faith, so revered over the centuries.
Cromwell’s political and religious change, its blandness, was an innovation the king found instinctively repellent and he was not persuaded to engage with it.
Henry refused to subscribe to the Augsburg Confession as a means to an alliance with the Germans. For him the sacraments were inviolable, ingrained, entrenched and utterly unnegotiable.
Cromwell therefore sought an alternative strategy to achieve his ambitions and further his root-and-branch changes.
The German state of Cleves was not a member of the Schmalkaldic League and John III the Peaceful, Duke of Cleves and Count of Mark, was open to adopting a religious middle way in the stand-off between the two creeds. He was married to Maria, Duchess of Jülich-Berg, and so ruled over the United Duchies of Jülich-Cleves-Berg.
The peaceful John’s eldest daughter, Sibylla of Cleves, however, was married to Johann Friedrich I, Elector of Saxony, who was at the heart of the Lutheran reform and a principal member of the Schmalkaldic League. He had a son, William, who on John the Peaceful’s death would inherit his father’s lands to add to the Duchy of Guelders, which had come down to him by the recently deceased Duke of Guelders. This duke, a short time before his death, had snubbed and so incurred the wrath of Charles V, who claimed the duchy for himself.
In the latter part of January 1539 Christopher Mont was again sent to Germany to go to John Fredrick, ‘Champion of the Reformation’, and question him ‘to find out the inclination which both dukes of Cleves, father and son, bear to the bishop of Rome; he shall also enquire, in case they are still of the old popish fashion, whether they will be inclinable to alter their opinions. If the Duke and the Landgrave are together the said Christopher is to address himself to both; if not, he shall go first to the Duke and then to the Landgrave. He shall solicit the sending of the notable legation spoken of at the said Duke's orators' last being here.’
Mont was to speak to Franz Burchard, John Fredrick’s vice chancellor, about a possible marriage to be arranged between Princess Mary and Anne of Cleves’s brother, William. Once this was done, he was to inquire about the beauty and quality of both daughters of the Duke of Cleves.
No sooner had the strategy been employed than Anne of Cleves’s father died, on 6 February 1539, and all his responsibilities passed to William.
However, for as long as Cromwell propagated the alliance with Germany, there existed the probability of a military intercession from Charles or Francis, or the two of them in unison.
Cromwell was contending with a divide-and-rule strategy against England and the Germans and so employed the same tactic against his adversaries. In the spring of 1539, work began on what became known as device forts or Henrician castles, many of which remain in existence today along the south coast.
Cromwell turned to the states of northern Christendom to find his military engineer. He engaged one Stephen von Haschenperg to undertake the castle-building programme, and the first were built in Kent at Sandgate and Camber along with the bulwarks between Sandown and Walmer. Cromwell’s policy was twofold. On the one hand, these were defensive fortifications against invasion along the coast and so provoked Henry’s fear that his kingdom was in continuous danger of invasion. On the other hand, they were part of an offensive strategy to control the ‘narrow sea’ between England and the Continent. The new fortifications therefore were employed to divide Charles, who ruled from Spain, from the northern parts of his empire while at the same time offering protection to the rebellious Germans, with whom Cromwell wanted an alliance.
The northern port of Hull was not fortified until after Cromwell’s demise. There were no other deep-water havens to the north between Harwich and Hull and, when the work was undertaken, it was on a considerable scale. However, given England was allied to Germany during his time, Cromwell was not concerned about an attack on the northern coast and therefore the fortification of Hull was unnecessary.
Charles’s alternative route to Germany, avoiding the ‘narrow sea’ unless he travelled through France, was by ship to Italy and over land from there, but the Turks presented a considerable risk to him in the Mediterranean.
Cromwell continued to discreetly pursue a direct alliance with the Schmalkaldic League but towards the end of March was much annoyed with the lack of commitment from the Duke of Cleves and Landgrave of Hesse. On 22 March 1539, his frustrations spilt over in a letter to Christopher Mont. Cromwell was fearful that Melanchthon and Charles were about to sign a truce, which would stall his plans for an Anglo-German confederation. Nothing, Cromwell ranted, would be more fearful to the papists nor more encouraging to the evangelical company than to see all its professors joined in an indissoluble knot. It was critical to his cause that the evangelists evolve as a unified power, ‘virtis unita vincit dispersa decr escit’.
His worries were well founded.
On 19 April 1539, the Schmalkaldic League did reach an agreement with Charles. The Treaty of Frankfurt was signed on 19 April 1539. The treaty stipulated that the emperor would not take any violent action against the Protestant members of the Schmalkaldic League for fifteen months starting in 1 May 1539, and during this time both parties would work to resolve the differences in their confessions.
Notwithstanding, a small delegation did, however, arrive from Germany five days before the opening of Parliament on 23 April 1539, but without Melanchthon.
Notes and Links
Cromwell’s fears about Melanchthon and Charles signing a truce. LP 580
Charles has been advised not to make war on England, until he has broken the power of her allies, Denmark, Cleves and Germany. LP 767
Stephen von Haschenperg See Oxford Dictionary of National Biography