The King’s Great Matter: 1528


Okay, we’re picking up where we left off with Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon in 1527, so if you haven’t read that post yet, I recommend doing so first. With that, let’s get back into it!


On January 3, 1528, news of Pope Clement VII’s release by Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, reaches London. Two days later, Cardinal Wolsey holds a mass of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral, and then two days after that he invites all the foreign ambassadors in the capital to a banquet with theatrical performances.

On January 22, England and France formally declare war on the Holy Roman Empire. Charles responds by having the French and Italian ambassadors arrested and walked through the streets like criminals. The English ambassadors, meanwhile, were placed until house arrest for four months. His flouting of diplomatic convention stuns Europe.


Henry VIII orders Edward Foxe and Stephen Gardiner to go to Rome to ask Clement to issue a decretal commission that would allow the papal legates in England to decide the validity of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Specifically, they are meant to convince Clement to uphold whatever their verdict is, thus depriving Katherine of her ability to appeal, and to reinforce that Henry was not seeking an annulment because he was in love with another woman.


Foxe and Gardiner finally reach Orvieto on March 31 to visit Clement and carry out Henry’s mission.


On April 13, Clement issues a brief establishing a decretal commission, however he still allows Katherine room to appeal the verdict. When Foxe and Gardiner object, Clement responds that he’s more scared of Charles than Henry. He ends up issuing two more briefs: a dispensation for Henry to remarry while waiting to find out the legitimacy of his first marriage and the authorization of Wolsey and William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury to judge the case.

Foxe then leaves to return to England, while Gardiner remains in Rome.

The Spanish Ambassador, Lopez de Mendoza, shares a copy of the original dispensation granting Henry and Katherine’s marriage to Katherine. It had been secured by Charles for his aunt, and she quickly hid it among her possessions.


Henry is thrilled by Foxe’s news from the Vatican, however Wolsey immediately understands what Clement has pointedly not granted. He sends an urgent message to Gardiner that he must secure a decretal commission barring Katherine from appealing the verdict.


On June 8, Clement finally gives in and issues a decretal commission to Gardiner that Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio will sit with Wolsey and issue a binding verdict. Campeggio leaves Rome the very same day, however he is ill by the time he reaches France, delaying his progress.

One of Anne Boleyn’s ladies falls ill with the sweating sickness, sending the court into panic. Henry begins a frantic nomadic course through the countryside, while Anne retreats to her parents’ home, Hever Castle. Once there, she falls ill and is cared for by Henry’s personal physician, William Boutts, who nurses her back to health.

Henry and Anne’s initial separation, however, is actually spurred by Cardinal Campeggio’s travel. When Henry learns that he has reached Paris, he sends Anne from court so that there isn’t any sign of their relationship or a questioning of his motive.


While Henry is on the move and Anne is recovering, Thomas Cromwell loses his wife and two daughters to the sweating sickness. Also taken is Anne’s brother-in-law, William Carey, husband of her sister, Mary.

Henry applies pressure on Katherine to solve all of their problems by retiring to a convent. She refuses.

After the death of Odet de Foix, Vicomte de Lautrec, the French army disintegrates in Italy.


Cardinal Campeggio finally lands at Dover after more than four months of illness and travel.


On October 9, Cardinal Campeggio reaches London and is greeted by Wolsey.

On October 21, the Faculty of Theology in Paris holds an intellectual debate on the validity of Henry’s marriage and declares in the King’s favor.

The next day, Campeggio is greeted by Henry and Katherine jointly at Bridewell. Henry and Wolsey then join Campeggio in a large room where every foreign ambassador save Ambassador Mendoza was invited. Campeggio’s orator delivers a speech that the the Church has suffered from the Sack of Rome and Henry should seek European peace above all else. Henry’s orator responds by painting Charles as a looming tyrant who had pushed Europe’s princes into an alliance against him.

In a private audience between Campeggio and Henry, Campeggio urges the King to reconcile with Katherine, but Henry refuses on the grounds that the marriage is unlawful. The Cardinal then agrees to help pressure Katherine into a convent.

Two days later, Campeggio and Wolsey meet with Katherine and asks her to consider retiring to a convent. She refuses, stating that she intends to die as she has lived – as a married woman. Even more, she rounds on Wolsey in fury and accuses him of instigating all of this (he did not). Finally, she said there were papal bulls in Spain that proved the validity of her marriage and she would produce them, if needed.

Campeggio responds by promising the Queen that her case would be heard and fairly considered.

The following day, Henry visits Campeggio again and demands that he reach a decision. When Campeggio demurs, Henry raises his voice to him and then walks into the room of the Cardinal’s private secretary and again demands a decision. Naturally, there is none.

Two days later, on October 27, Henry confronts Katherine and tells her that Clement already decided against her and Campeggio was only there to see the verdict carried out. Katherine responds that it’s impossible for Clement to rule without hearing her out. She then insists that once she is heard it will be impossible for anyone to rule against her. Cowed by her tears, Henry finally agrees to let her appoint her own counsel and canon lawyers. She chooses Archbishop Warham, Bishop Tunstall of Rochester and Bishop Fisher of Rochester as counsel.


On November 1, Wolsey writes to Gregory Casale, then in Rome, to urge Clement to understand what would happen if Henry doesn’t get his way. His exact meaning is up for debate, but given this ended in a break from Rome it’s certainly fair to guess he was alluding to that or equally dire consequences.

With Henry’s permission, Katherine meets with Campeggio three more times. First, she asks him to hear her confession and in doing so affirms that she was a virgin when Arthur Tudor died and the dispensation validating her marriage was lawful. Then, she confides in Campeggio that she and Arthur only shared a bed for seven nights out of their entire four-and-a-half-month marriage. In a subsequent meeting, she presents him with the papal dispensation Charles sent her in April. Finally, she breaks the seal of confession and asks Campeggio to ensure Clement knows what she has told and shown him.

Henry organizes a meeting of senior lawyers in London to advise him on whether Katherine was his lawful wife. He swears during the meeting that if he was allowed to marry again, and that marriage was to be “good,” he would choose Katherine before all other women.

Meanwhile, Henry and Wolsey learn that Katherine has possession of the dispensation and begin denouncing it as a forgery. Katherine responds by writing to Charles and begging him to make sure Clement didn’t revoke the earlier dispensation granted by his predecessor, Pope Julius.

By now, Ambassador Mendoza had advised Katherine that the earlier tactics she had been advised to deploy – namely maintaining her virginity after her marriage to Arthur – was a stupid one, for there was no way to prove the matter one way or the other.

Archbishop Warham and Bishop Tunstall are ordered by Henry to confront Katherine with the claim that her behavior would likely cause an assassination attempt against the King or Campeggio. Indeed, Katherine’s popularity with the English people, particularly in London, was impressive and her opposition to Henry was plummeting his own stock. Further, they were instructed to tell the Queen that Henry believed that she must hate him to act this way, and thus he could no longer allow her contact with their daughter, Princess Mary.

Still, Katherine refuses to give way.


Henry informs the Lord May and alderman of London that Francis I asked for assurance of Princess Mary’s legitimacy. He believes this helps make the case that his marriage is questioned.

Henry orders Katherine to leave court, which was then housed at Greenwich. She complies and leaves for Hampton Court Palace. Anne moves into the Queen’s apartments, which are located next to Henry’s to preside over the Christmas festivities.

On December 12, Charles sends Ambassador Mendoza copies of all the documents housed in Spain that might help Katherine’s case.

In compliance with Henry’s demand that Spain turn over the original papal dispensation, Katherine writes a letter to her nephew. Carried by her servant, Thomas Abel, he is given verbal instruction to tell Charles to ignore the letter and to tell him in person what is happening in England. Charles, understanding, responds that he can provide a verified copy of the dispensation, but cannot allow the original to leave Spain.

Finally, Katherine writes to Clement to ask him to remove the case from England and to try it himself in Rome.


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