Part Nine - Wolsey’s Aspirations to the Papacy
Above - The 1521 Treaty of Bruges
Henry VIII, the Reign
Wolsey’s Aspirations to the Papacy
War Breaks Out in Northern and Southern Christendom – Henry’s Book against Luther Is Published – Wolsey Arbitrates – Double-Dealing in Bruges – Pope Leo X Dies – the Duke of Suffolk Invades France – Another New Pope
Robert III de La Marck
Wolsey reigned supreme in England, and his orchestration of the 1518 peace treaty is laudable, but, while Charles was in northern Europe, news came that trouble had broken out and that Francis was funding an invasion of Luxemburg by the Frenchman Robert de la Marck. Meanwhile, Charles II and the Duke of Guelders were assisting Henry d’Albert to take Spanish-held Navarre.
Charles and Francis, each blamed the other. It was a perfect situation for Wolsey to make another grand appearance as steward and arbitrator, and thus the de facto ruler of England now made his move to become the de jure ruler of Christendom.
Wolsey, as the architect of the 1518 treaty, settled into mediating between Francis and Charles. He convened a conference for which he landed at Calais on 2 August 1521 and with him brought the great seal of England and a clutch of privy councillors. However, on 12 August 1521, the cardinal broke from his mediation and travelled, with great pomp, to meet Charles at Bruges, taking almost three days to complete the sixty-mile journey.
While all of this was going on, Henry printed his Assertio septem sacramentorum, better known as the Defence of the Seven Sacraments, a much-publicised but ineffective attack on Martin Luther for which the pope awarded Henry the title of Fidei Defensor, which translates as Defender of the Faith. The work was written in support of the Edict of Worms, a decree issued against Luther on 25 May 1521 by Emperor Charles V, which declared that:
We forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favour the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work.
Pope Leo X
In Flanders, Wolsey manoeuvred in his own interest, for his own prestige and his own purse, and thus double-crossed Francis and agreed on the Treaty of Bruges. The principal points of the treaty were that Charles would marry Princess Mary by proxy when she reached twelve years of age (she was six at that time and still betrothed to Francis’s son) and that England would aid the emperor if he were attacked, and vice versa. In addition, the English navy was to provide substantial safe cover for Charles to return to Spain via England in 1522, and when he arrived in England, both parties were to declare war on France. In return, Charles, Holy Roman Emperor, promised to make Wolsey the next pope.
The double-dealing done, Wolsey and his entourage made their way, in regal style, to the French, who were clicking their heels and still waiting in the late summer sun at Calais. The French were suspicious, and it fell to Thomas More and Sir Thomas Boleyn to placate them and convince Francis that there had been no duplicitousness in Bruges. Later, Wolsey lied to them that, on the contrary, he would prefer to lose his head than see the destruction of the friendship with France he had built up. He then admitted that the real reason for the recent execution of the Duke of Buckingham was that Buckingham had opposed his pro-French policy.
Hoodwinked, Francis responded by instructing his ambassadors to notify the cardinal of his affection for him.
As he received the pleasantries of Francis’s diplomats, Wolsey was dotting and crossing the i’s, and t’s in the treaty against France with Charles’s ambassadors. Then, his work done, he sailed for Dover on 28 November 1521. He had no sooner set foot in England when Pope Leo X dropped down dead.
Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk
On 1 December 1521, only a week after Wolsey had signed an agreement for the pope’s protection. Leo died so suddenly that there was no time even to administer the last sacraments; remarkable timing indeed.
Efforts were made to have Wolsey elected pope, but the Italian factions stood toe to toe with each other, which had the effect of creating a stand-off. Charles exploited the indecision to his own advantage and, in spite of his pledge to Wolsey, he had Adrian, currently serving as his regent in Spain, elected as pope. At the time of his appointment, Adrian was sixty-three years old and unlikely to live long. Wolsey, the emperor, calculated, could be persuaded that this aged regent of Spain from the Low Countries was merely a subservient stand-in.
The following spring, Charles prepared to make his return to Spain. He reappointed Margaret as his regent in the Netherlands on 15 April 1522, left Brussels on 23 May, arrived at Calais on the 26th and crossed to Dover on the 27th. There he was met by Wolsey and, in accordance with the treaty, on 29 May war was declared on France.
Lavish entertainment followed Charles’s arrival at Greenwich and Windsor, including the inevitable banquets, hunting tournaments and pageants.
Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, was made commander of both the English and the Spanish fleets, and at the end of June, he sailed from Southampton west towards Dartmouth in his flagship the Mary Rose. He waited at Dartmouth, and by 1 July 1522 had sailed across the Channel with his task force, on the lookout for any maritime threat to Charles’s route home. He attacked the French port of Morlaix. He then sailed west to Saint-Pol-de-Léon and burned it down, and next sailed on to the most westerly port in France, Le Conquet, and burned that down too.
Howard and the Mary Rose had made the way safe, and Charles left England from Southampton for Spain on 7 July. Escorted by the English navy and Spanish ships under English command, the Holy Roman Emperor was soon back in Spain, safe and sound, and it was all thanks to Wolsey’s arrangements and hard work. Now Wolsey waited for the demise of Pope Adrian and for Charles V to reward him with that call to Rome to take Adrian’s place as pontiff.
Although the new pope was expected to remain in Spain until Charles returned, he actually left for Rome on 7 July, arriving on 29 July 1522 and, rather than acting as a stand-in, he turned out to be something of a renegade.
Charles III Duke of Bourbon
Then came a twist of fate. The year before, 1521, the wife of Charles, Duke of Bourbon, Constable of France, had died. King Francis and his mother, Louise, claimed the extensive lands that Bourbon’s wife had held and a dispute raged. By the end of 1522, the animosity between them had driven Bourbon to the edge of rebellion against mother and son, and he turned to the enemies of France for aid.
With a noble and rebellious French military commander available and willing to side with them against Francis, Henry VIII and Wolsey moved swiftly. Soon, Bourbon’s fighting skills were recruited by Wolsey and Charles and set against France. Wolsey, however, suspected that Bourbon’s allegiance to Charles exceeded his loyalty to England.
A war plan was devised, and it was decided that Charles’s army would invade France from the south. Bourbon would come from the east and the English from the north-west. At the end of August 1523, led by Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, England invaded from Calais.
In the midst of the invasion, the news that Wolsey had been waiting for arrived. On 14 September 1523 in Rome, Adrian Florensz, Pope Adrian VI, had died. Surely now Wolsey’s time had come.
All had gone well with the invasion for Charles Brandon during the first weeks; he advanced over seventy miles into France, crossed the Somme and by 2 November 1523 was less than sixty miles from Paris.
However, although the emperor’s army had crossed the Pyrenees, it was camped, in poor spirits, on the Spanish side of the border, contained there by the French commander Lautrec. Bourbon’s rebellious plans had been uncovered, and he had fled to Genoa; there was to be no attack by him from the east.
In England, Wolsey waited, day after day. Then days became weeks. Then slowly, painfully and finally angrily, he realised his time had not come after all. Neither Charles nor the cardinals called Wolsey to Rome. Instead, on 19 November 1523, another Medici became pope. Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici was Pope Clement VII.
Furious, Wolsey realised he would gain nothing from the Habsburgs. Despite all his efforts, Charles V and his principal adviser, Gattinara, had humiliated him. The cardinal’s papal ambitions were shattered. For now, he must congratulate the new pope – frothing through gritted teeth and cursing under his breath – feigning loyalty to the English policy of Imperialist friendship. Brandon was at Montdidier and ready to take Paris, but Wolsey cut off supplies and money. The duke was left stranded on the banks of the River Somme, and the invasion of France collapsed.
Holy Roman Emperor Charles was now the cardinal’s enemy. Wolsey switched sides and ‘turned French’.
Supplement to Part 9 – Invasion of France 1523 The invasion of France began in early autumn 1523, and the Duke of Suffolk Charles Brandon left Calais with his troops on 19 September. Within a few days, news arrived that Pope Adrian had died on 14 September. The timing of this for Wolsey couldn’t have been more spectacular if he had designed it himself.
Now, to honour their deal in Bruges, Charles must make Wolsey pope.
The cardinal waited for the outcome of this latest papal election. Brandon pushed on into France and made impressive progress south towards Paris. He called for battering rams to be brought up to the war front, ready to knock down the walls of the capital. Wolsey had expected to hear quickly from Rome. He anticipated his election would be a formality and exchanged correspondence with Pace and Hannibal in Rome about it. On 3 November, brimming with confidence, he was telling Henry that there would never be a better chance of enforcing his entitlement to the French crown, but then the election news came.
The Medici family had taken the papacy – Charles had snubbed Wolsey – again.
The all-conquering Brandon meanwhile was waiting for his battering rams for the assault on Paris; the city was there for the taking.
Wolsey was devastated. He was furious with Charles. He and the Habsburgs had used him; they had used the protection of his navy and had used him to secure his journey to Germany and back home safely to Spain, but he had got nothing in return. The cardinal began to plot revenge.
Montdidier was the furthest point of Brandon’s advance. While he was there, he did not receive pay for his troops, reinforcements, or his battering rams for the walls of Paris, and the 1523 campaign collapsed around him. By the end of the year, Brandon’s army had descended into a dispersed ragtag mob desperate to get back to England.