THE LAST EFFORTS OF DIPLOMACY
I have now to resume the thread of the political history where it was dropped at the sentence of divorce pronounced by Cranmer, and the coronation of the new queen. The effect was about to be ascertained of these bold measures upon Europe; and of what their effect would be, only so much could be foretold with certainty, that the time for trifling was past, and the pope and Francis of France would be compelled to declare their true intentions. If these intentions were honest, the subordination of England to the papacy might be still preserved in a modified form. The papal jurisdiction was at end, but the spiritual supremacy of the Bishop of Rome, with a diminished but considerable revenue attached to it, remained unaffected; and it was for the pope to determine whether, by fulfilling at last his original engagements, he would preserve these remnants of his power and privileges, or boldly take up the gage, excommunicate his disobedient subjects, and attempt by force to bring them back to their allegiance.
The news of what had been done did not take him wholly by surprise. It was known at Brussels at the end of April that the king had married. The queen regent spoke of it to the ambassador sternly and significantly, not concealing her expectation of the mortal resentment which would be felt by her brothers; and the information was forwarded with the least possible delay to the cardinals of the imperial faction at Rome. The true purposes which underlay the contradiction of Clement’s language are undiscoverable. Perhaps in the past winter he had been acting out a deep intrigue—perhaps he was drifting between rival currents, and yielded in any or all directions as the alternate pressure varied; yet whatever had been the meaning of his language, whether it was a scheme to deceive Henry, or was the expression only of weakness and good-nature desiring to avoid a quarrel to the latest moment, the decisive step which had been taken in the marriage, even though it was nominally undivulged, obliged him to choose his course and openly adhere to it. After the experience of the past, there could be no doubt what that course would be.
On the 12th of May a citation was issued against the King of England, summoning him to appear by person or proxy at a stated day. It had been understood that no step of such a kind was to be taken before the meeting of the pope and Francis; Bennet, therefore, Henry’s faithful secretary, hastily inquired the meaning of this measure. The pope told him that it could not be avoided, and the language which he used revealed to the English agent the inevitable future. The king, he said, had defied the inhibitory brief which had been lately issued, and had incurred excommunication; the imperialists insisted that he should be proceeded against for contempt, and that the excommunication should at once be pronounced.