It was, therefore, with no little anxiety that the council of Henry VIII perceived his male children, on whom their hopes were centred, either born dead, or dying within a few days of birth.
The life of the Princess Mary was precarious, for her health was weak from her childhood. If she lived, her accession would be a temptation to insurrection; if she did not live and the king had no other children, a civil war was inevitable. The next heir in blood was James of Scotland, and gravely as statesmen desired the union of the two countries, in the existing mood of the people, the very stones in London streets, it was said, would rise up against a king of Scotland who entered England as sovereign.
So far were Henry and Catherine alike that both had imperious tempers and both were indomitably obstinate; but Henry was hot and impetuous, Catherine cold and self-contained. She had been the wife of Prince Arthur, eldest son of Henry VII, but the death of that prince occurred only five months after the marriage. The uncertainty of the laws of marriage and the innumerable refinements of the Roman canon law affecting the legitimacy of children had raised scruples of conscience in the mind of the king. The loss of his children must have appeared as a judicial sentence on a violation of the Divine law. The divorce presented itself to him as a moral obligation when national advantage combined with superstition to encourage what he secretly desired.
Wolsey, after thirty years' experience of public life, was as sanguine as a boy. Armed with this little lever of divorce, he saw himself in imagination the rebuilder of the Catholic faith and the deliverer of Europe from ecclesiastical revolt and from innovations of faith. The mass of the people hated Protestantism as he, a true friend of the Catholic cult, sincerely detested the reformation of Luther. He believed that the old life-tree of Catholicism, which in fact was but cumbering the ground, might bloom again in its old beauty. But a truer political prophet than Wolsey would have been found in the most ignorant of those poor men who were risking death and torture in disseminating the pernicious volumes of the English Testament.
Catherine being a Spanish princess, Henry, in 1527, formed a league with Francis I, with the object of breaking the Spanish alliance. The pope was requested to make use of his dispensing power to enable the king of England to marry a wife who could bear him children. Deeply as we deplore the outrage inflicted on Catherine, and the scandal and suffering occasioned by the dispute, it was in the highest degree fortunate that at the crisis of public dissatisfaction in England with the condition of the Church, a cause should have arisen which tested the whole question of Church authority in its highest form. It was no accident which connected a suit for divorce with the reformation of religion.
The Spanish emperor, Charles V, gave Catherine his unwavering support and refused to allow the pope to pass a judicial sentence of divorce. Catherine refused to yield. Another person now comes into conspicuous view. It has been with Anne Boleyn as with Catherine of Aragon-both are regarded as the victims of a tyranny which Catholics and Protestants unite to remember with horror and each has taken the place of a martyred saint in the hagiology of the respective creeds. Anne Boleyn was the second daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, a gentleman of noble family. She was educated in Paris, and in 1525 came back to England to be maid of honour to Queen Catherine and to be distinguished at the court by her talents, accomplishments and beauty.
The fortunes of Anne Boleyn were unhappily linked with those of men to whom the greatest work ever yet accomplished in this country was committed.