Katharine of Aragon: Life Story

Chapter 15 : Judgement

By 1532 Henry had had enough prevarication and sought to resolve the issue in England. The Convocation of Clergy was forced to accept that Henry was Supreme Head of the Church of England with only the words ‘so far as the Law of God allows’ interpolated at a late stage to fudge the issue of Papal authority.

Archbishop Warham finally woke up to the seriousness of Henry’s purpose and on 24th February 1532 he protested in Parliament against any acts which might be prejudicial to Papal power or his own primacy as Archbishop. His protest was too little and too late. Henry berated him in open Parliament. Aged in his early 80s, Warham had no hope of turning back the tide and he died in the summer of 1532.

In February 1533, Parliament passed the Act in Restraint of Appeals, which prohibited any appeal to Rome against sentences passed in England. This was followed up in early April by the Convocation of Clergy affirming that the Pope had no authority to grant a dispensation for a man to marry his brother’s widow. Just to be on the safe side, a committee of lawyers ruled that Katharine’s marriage to Arthur had been consummated.

Katharine was given one last chance to co-operate on 9th April when Henry sent a delegation of nobles, including the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, to insist that she accept the jurisdiction of an English court. It was a vain hope – she reiterated that only the Pope could rule satisfactorily. The gentlemen took the opportunity to inform her that Henry had married Anne some months before and the news that Anne was pregnant would soon have reached Katharine.

Henry had seized on Warham’s death to appoint Thomas Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer, who was a Fellow of Cambridge, had come to the King’s attention in 1529 with his suggestion that the universities should be consulted. Following this, he had taken an active part in developing arguments to support the King’s case, as well as taking part in a personal embassy to the Pope, along with two bishops. When Henry requested Cranmer’s appointment as Archbishop, Clement VII was only too happy to grant at least one of the King’s wishes and issued the Papal Bulls. At his consecration on 30th March 1533, Cranmer swore the customary oath to the Papacy with the reservation that it should not conflict with his duties to Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the Church.

Once Archbishop, Cranmer lost no time. He convened an Archiepiscopal court at Dunstable which opened on 10th May. Katharine once again refused to appear so Cranmer proceeded to the hearings and gave judgement on 23rd May. He declared that the marriage of Henry and Katharine had been invalid from the start and that therefore when Henry had married Anne Boleyn he had been a bachelor. After seven years of wrangling Henry was free.

Anne was crowned as Queen of England on 1st June 1533. Just over a month later, Katharine’s Chamberlain, Lord Mountjoy, came to her at Ampthill and informed her that she was to be known henceforth as ‘Princess Dowager’. Katharine, of course, was having none of it. She reiterated her stance that she was Henry’s wife, that their marriage had been legal, and that only the Pope could rule otherwise. She confirmed that whilst she would continue to obey the King in any matters which did not touch her conscience, she would not imperil her soul or that her daughter for fear of any threats. She asked for Mountjoy’s authorisation and struck out any reference to herself as Princess Dowager.

A proclamation was issued by Henry on 5th July stating that the illicit marriage between himself and the Lady Katharine, his brother’s widow, had been dissolved and that he had married Lady Anne, who was now Queen of England. Any of his subjects who were so foolish as to deny either the validity of the annulment or his new marriage would be subject to penalty, as would be anybody who wrote to Katharine or referred to her or acknowledged her as Queen. Katharine was to be treated with all respect due to her royal blood and her status as Princess Dowager of Wales.

In Rome there was uproar at Henry’s actions. Clement continued to vacillate but following two days of debate by the College of Cardinals issued a Papal Bull on 11th July 1533, declaring that Cranmer’s sentence was invalid and any marriage Henry might have undertaken with Anne Boleyn was similarly void. Initially the Cardinals had suggested that Henry should be given one month to mend his ways prior to being excommunicated but Clement gave him until the end of September.

In addition, Clement accepted the advice previously given that the matter of Katharine’s virginity was unprovable but stated that, as her marriage to Henry had been ‘public notorious and consummated’ and subsisted for many years before being questioned by Henry, the King could not now claim to dispute the original dispensation. This was not a decision on the validity of the marriage itself, which he was still considering and Henry had until 1st October to make an appeal. A further Bull was issued on 8th August ordering Henry to separate from Anne and restore Katharine to her rightful position within 10 days, on pain of excommunication.

Katharine of Aragon

Katharine of Aragon

Family Tree