Angelic Cardinal Reginald Pole - C. M. Antony

The Second Legation

Pope Paul III, in pursuance of his policy of peace, had prevailed upon the Emperor Charles and Francis I. to meet him at Nice, during the early summer of 1538. The outcome of the conference was a ten years truce from June, 1538, and a promise from both monarchs to hold no further communication with Henry VIII., but to assist England to the utmost of their power to recover her lost faith. The Holy Father had insisted on Cardinal Pole's presence at the meeting—his unique position giving great weight to his advice—and the Emperor was most anxious to meet the man who had been the champion of Katherine of Aragon, whose nephew he was. Beccadelli tells us how on Charles first visit to the Pope he specially inquired for the Cardinal, and received him "with the cordiality of a brother."

Out of this meeting arose his second Legateship. Three years previously Henry had been solemnly excommunicated, but owing to the lack of unity among the powers, the sentence had never been published. Now that Charles and Francis were at peace, and everyone was growing weary of Henry's increasing blasphemy and impiety, it was felt that a further step might be taken. On his return to Rome, December 17, 1538, the Pope renewed the bull of excommunication of August 30, 1535, by which Henry was deprived of his kingdom; his subjects absolved from their allegiance; and all Catholic princes exhorted to combine against him as an enemy of God and man. The immediate cause of the renewal was the outrageous sacrilege committed by Henry upon the shrine of St. Thomas of Canterbury, whose bones he burnt and scattered to the winds; and whose tomb he had stripped of several cart-loads of gold and jewels—a crime reported in Consistory on October 25, 1538. All the other great shrines had already been desecrated and robbed; this was the last—and the greatest.

Pole was spending a few weeks at Priuli's house at Trevilla, on his way back from Nice, when the news reached him. Contarini was staying near, and the three friends spent some happy days together; "St. Augustine and St. Basil," says Pole, "being always of the company." It was evidently here, though the fact seems to be overlooked by his biographers, that Pole made his retreat before receiving holy orders. On December 12, 1538, Cromwell received a dispatch from a friend, saying that Pole had received the four minor orders from Contarini on November 21, and the subdiaconate next day; "and shortly intends to proceed further." This the writer has learnt in a letter from "Myhel Frognorton" Pole's trusty servant. "They cannot," he adds, "have heard of the prisoners and offenders in the Tower."

This piece of information is extremely interesting, especially as it seems to be the only reference in the State Papers or even the Venetian Calendars, as to the reception of holy orders by the Cardinal; a matter which is passed over entirely by his biographers. Pole was, as a matter of fact, still ignorant of the fate of his hapless family, but when the news of the desecration of the shrine and the impending bull reached him he hastened to Rome, where the Pope urgently required his presence. Paul III. was well aware that without the co-operation of the Emperor and King Francis, the bull would have no effect upon Henry, and he intended to send Pole, who was eminently fitted for so delicate a mission, to Charles at Toledo, and thence to Francis at Paris, to remind both monarchs of the undertaking they had given, and to require them to carry it out.

On December 20, 1538, the day on which David Beaton, Bishop of St. Andrews, was raised to the Cardinalate as special adviser to King James of Scotland, Cardinal Pole received his final instructions. He was to point out to the Emperor the urgent need of an active alliance with France to bring Henry to his senses, in which he would be backed up warmly by James V. and his new Cardinal; and that he should no longer suffer Henry "to rage with impunity against God and the saints hitherto worshipped by him and all the realm." Commerce with England was to be prohibited—a blow Henry could not fail to feel. As regards the Emperor's expedition against the Turks, the crusade against Henry being far more important, it would be better for the Holy League and the King of France to make a truce with the former, and turn their attention to England. [The Holy League was signed at Rome, against the Turks, by the Pope, the Emperor and the Venetian Government, November 3, 1538."] He was to point out, too, that, in case of the Emperor's absence against the Turks, the Lutherans assisted by England might make a very successful expedition against his own dominions.

It required a diplomatist to undertake such a mission, but its success mainly depended upon the disposition of the Emperor. Pole made the mistake, common to all generous natures, of judging others by himself. With so glorious an opportunity before him for the triumph of Holy Church it was impossible for the Cardinal to believe that Charles should not seize it.

This, however, was not the Emperor's intention. Both he and Francis were men who put their visible kingdoms a very long way before the visible Church. Proud and obstinate, the man who held the balance of the power of Europe in his hands was only to be swayed by self-interest; and Francis, weak and vacillating, but well-meaning, dared not act alone; or do anything which might offend the Emperor, or Henry, or both. Each, terrified of playing into the hands of the other, contented himself by marking time vigorously, and loudly proclaiming his loyalty to the Church, and his hatred of heresy. The result of a legation to such men was again a foregone conclusion.

Before leaving Rome, at the beginning of January, 1539, Pole wrote to Cardinal Beaton a most tender and touching letter of encouragement in what promised to be for him the path of martyrdom—as indeed it proved to be. After reminding him of the special privilege of the successors of the Apostles to shed their blood for Christ he refers to the scarlet Cardinals robes "which are worn so that should any ask, as the prophet did: why is thy garment red? the [wearers] may answer as Christ did: because it behoves us to answer by deeds, not by words."

On the feast of the Epiphany he reached Bologna. In order to render his journey safer it had been agreed that he should travel as a layman with a very small retinue; as Henry's assassins lay in wait everywhere. Four days later, at Piacenza, his faithful friend Ghiberti met him, and tried to soothe the overwhelming grief of the Cardinal on receiving, the same day, an express sent after him from Rome, bringing the news that his whole family had been committed to the Tower.

This was Henry's vengeance for the first legation. In August, 1538, the suspicions of the doomed men were first roused. "The kyng," said Geoffrey Pole, "to be revenged off Reynold, I fere, will kyll us all." A few days later he was imprisoned and closely examined. It was endeavored to prove that he had sent money and assistance to his brother in the Low Countries; and a certain priest, Hugh Holland, his messenger, was strictly questioned. Father Holland had certainly seen the Cardinal at Liege, and his account of the interview is pathetic. At the end the Cardinal said: "Commend me to the lady my mother by the same token that she and I, looking upon a wall together read this: 'Spes mea in Deo est;' and desire her blessing for me. . . Commend me to the Lord my brother, by this token: 'in Dno. confido;' and bid my brother Sir Geoffrey meddle little, and let all things alone."

Such charges as could be proved against Lord Montague were that he had said: "Reynold should do good someday;" and that he himself had "never loved the King from childhood." The charge actually brought against him, and his cousin Lord Exeter, was that of conspiring to place Reginald Pole on the throne of England! That they had sent money to the Cardinal they, did not attempt to deny.

In October, 1538, Geoffrey Pole, under fear of torture and death, revealed in his seven "appearances" enough evidence of sympathy, letters, and money having been sent to his brother to make the case for his family hopeless. On November 4, Lord Montague and Lord Exeter were committed to the Tower as traitors, and Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, was placed under arrest about the same time. [Lord Exeter, was next in succession to the throne if Henry died childless, through his mother Katherine, daughter of Edward IV. He was Henry VIII.'s first cousin.]

On November 14, Lord Southampton and the Bishop of Ely wrote to Cromwell "yesterday . . . we travailed with the Lady of Salisbury all day . . . till almost night; but for all we could do she would confess nothing . . . To-day ... we repaired to her again. But first, as instructed, we called her menservants before us ... we then entreated her with all sorts, sometimes with doulx and mild words; now roughly and asperly, by traitoring her and her sons to the ninth degree, yet will she nothing utter . . . surely if it like your lordship we suppose that there hath not been seen or [harde of a] woman so manlique in continuance and so precise in words that wonder is to be. For . . . she behaveth herself so . . . and all thing [so] sincere, pure and up[right] on her part that we have conceyved and needs must deem and think the one of two things, that either her sons have not made her privy and participant ... or else she is the most errant traitress that ever lived." Two days later Blessed Margaret Pole wrote to her eldest son in the Tower: "Son Montague, I send you God's blessing and mine. The greatest gift I can send is to desire God's help for you, for which I perceive there is need. My advice, in the case you stand in, is to endeavor to serve your prince without disobeying God's commandments."

She was removed in custody to Cowdray and her house at Warblington searched by Cromwell's orders. Copies of papal bulls and private documents were discovered, sufficient in themselves to incriminate her household.

On December 3, 1538, Montague and Exeter went through the mockery of a trial, and on the 9th were beheaded on Tower Hill with as many others as Cromwell could implicate. Geoffrey Pole received a free pardon, and lived and died a broken-hearted man.

"Blessed be the God of England that worketh all, whose instrument you are!" wrote Latimer to Cromwell on December 13.

"I heard you say once after you had seen that furious invective of Cardinal Pole that you would make him to eat his own heart; which you have now (I trow) brought to pass, for he must needs now . . . be as heartless as he is graceless."

Pole's tender heart was wrung. Writing to Contarini he points out how Henry had begun with priests and rulers; gone on to slaughter the nobility; and was now wreaking his vengeance on women and children. (Lord Exeter's son, a boy of sixteen, was then in the Tower.) He went on to Carpentras, where Sadolet was impressed by his calmness and fortitude. In Pole's place, he wrote to a friend in Rome, he should have been crushed under the burden of such suffering. The Cardinal's wonderful detachment seems to have struck everybody who met him. His private sorrow was too sacred for utterance; the only grief he expressed was for the public calamity which had befallen England.

From Carpentras, with four attendants, Pole and Ghiberti went on to Barcelona, which they reached at the end of January, 1539, only to find that Henry had been beforehand with them again, and had written to the Emperor a letter which is certainly characteristic. He had heard, he says, that Cardinal Pole is on his way to sow discord throughout the Empire, and knew his nature to be so ungrateful that no good could come of it. While shedding crocodile's tears he would shed, if he could, the venom of his viper nature. He was a traitor, and had conspired to destroy the whole royal family! He concludes by begging for Pole's extradition. To this effusion Charles replied that even if Pole was a traitor to himself he could not refuse to receive him if he came as Papal Legate, and Henry's request was impossible. But Pole soon saw that the Pope had been misinformed as to the Emperor's dispositions and that he had not the slightest intention of allowing the censures to be published in his domains.

He received the Legate coldly, but with every ceremony due to his position; and informed him that the present time was "unseasonable" for carrying out the Pope's wishes; adding that the bull should not have been published in Rome if there was no certainty of its execution. And in spite of all the arguments Pole advanced, in answer to the Emperor's excuses, it was perfectly clear that nothing was to be hoped from Charles. The Legate pointed out that the Pope did not wish for war, but that he hoped that by an alliance between Charles and Francis commerce with England would be so affected that the nation would rise as one man and compel Henry to submit. The Nuncio, who was present, reminded the Emperor that he had previously agreed to this, and even more; but Charles was decided. Pole, on leaving, said with great charity to the councilors that: "His Majesty had much more good will to assist the cause of England than he shewed in words;" and that when the reason for reserve was removed he would no doubt show his "good religious mind."

The Cardinal-legate was now in a most difficult position. If the King of France returned the same negative answer as the Emperor, it would, as he says: "be a very great wound to Mother Church," and make "the enemies of Holy See more insolent than ever." On the other hand, if Francis agreed to publish the censures the truce between the two monarchs on whom the peace of Christendom depended would be broken, and there would be no remedy.

He left Barcelona at the beginning of March, and instead of going himself direct to the French court, sent a messenger, Vincenzo Parpaglia, Abbot of San Salute in Turin, to find out the King's wishes privately, and bring word to the Legate at Carpentras. On March 16, he wrote to the Constable of France explaining his action, and begging him to obtain for the abbot a good audience. Spain was no longer safe for him. Wyatt, the English Ambassador, had openly proclaimed his intention of assassinating the Legate "so soon as he should be proclaimed traitor." Pole looked upon these threats as the "vaporing of an idle and profligate young man;" but when shortly after, the Act of Attainder was passed against him, and Wyatt suddenly disappeared, he attached more importance to them. From a dispatch in cipher of Wyatt's it is perfectly evident that had not the Legate changed his route suddenly, after leaving Toledo, he would have been murdered by an emissary of the accredited English ambassador; and the plot was without doubt known to Henry VIII.

The "sweetness and humanity" of Cardinal Sadolet comforted him greatly at Carpentras. He writes of his host to Contarini, saying that the latter need not ask how he was received, for in this house he feels as if he were in a safe port after a storm. "I have learnt," he adds, "from some years' experience of all kinds of causes that none are more difficult to obtain than those which pertain to God and religion; though men daily pray: Thy will be done."

During this month of March, 1539, there occurs, amongst Cromwell's "Remembrances" "a Bill of Attainder to be drawn . . . for the Lady of Salisbury. Another to be drawn for the false traitor Reynolde Pole and his fellows." This was Henry's revenge for the Emperor's refusal to yield up the Legate. On March 30, Palm Sunday, a sermon was preached by Tunstall before the King, bitterly denouncing the action of the Pope in "moving war against England," and "in getting Reynolde Pole to stir up other nations against England, whose treasons have been disclosed by his own brother."

Henry was very nervous at this time, for in spite of the Emperor's refusal, the outlook was very serious. Ireland had rebelled, and appealed to the Pope. He could by no means depend on the neutrality of James V. of Scotland. A large fleet was in preparation off the coast of Holland, where a number of English ships had been "arrested." He went himself to inspect the coast defenses. His late queen, Jane Seymour, had died October 24, 1537, twelve days after the birth of her son, Prince Edward; and from the day of her death, Cromwell had been urging him to strengthen his hands by a Protestant marriage—which, however, was distasteful to Parliament. A "Protestant League" was one of Cromwell's favorite plans. His influence, however, was waning. His work had been done so thoroughly that Henry could gain little more from him. Nearly all the monasteries were confiscated to the tyrant, and the few which were left would fall immediately. In June one sweeping Act of Attainder was passed, including in its meshes living and dead; Lords Montague and Exeter, Margaret Pole, and her son Reginald, with many others; most of whom were executed at once.

[Illustration] from Cardinal Pole by C. M. Antony


That Henry recognized the Pope and the Legate as his chief dangers is abundantly shown by contemporary MSS. In a commission for musters dated May 8, 1539, we have such words as these: "the realm . . .of which his Highness alone is King and Supreme Head, under God [has lately heard that], the cankered and venomous serpent, Paul, Bishop of Rome, by that arch-traitor Reygnold Pole, enemy to God's word and his own natural country, had moved, excited and stirred divers great princes and potentates of Christendom not alonely to invade this realm of England with mortal war, but also by fire and sword to exterminate and utterly to destroy the whole nation and generation of the same." In another state paper speaking of the English abbots, we read: "I think . . . our Mother Holy Church of Rome, hath not so great a jewel of her own darling Raynolde Poole," and later, "his crafty cardinality." "Could a man wish Poole greater wretchedness, which, the longer he lives, the greater his shame?" In April, 1539, the Papal Ambassador at the French court wrote privately to the Legate at Carpentras, warning him that it was useless to hope for definite help from Francis, who would "do nothing without Charles."

To this disappointment was added the crushing blow of the Attainder. "As for myself," wrote Pole to Contarini, "I am compassed with such a variety of afflictions that I scarcely know how to extricate myself." He was now, with Bembo and Priuli, lodging in a monastery at Carpentras, leading much the same kind of life as at Liege. He tells Contarini that they have begun conferences on the Psalms; and had that day meditated upon the one beginning "Save me, O God, because truth has left the children of men;" adding very sadly: "whoever has much to do with them cannot doubt their treachery." In August, the Pope recalled him to Rome, where his presence was greatly needed, but through Contarini he obtained continued leave of absence, on account of his having so lately heard of the death or imprisonment of nearly all his relations.

"My mother," he says to his friend, "has been sentenced to death—that is, to Life Eternal."

On the death of Cardinal Campeggio, Legate in the late divorce, Pole was offered by the Pope the Bishopric of Salisbury. But he refused, saying with quiet humor that in the present state of things he might as well be Bishop of Antioch! Sadolet wrote about this time to Cardinal Farnese, describing his friend's admirable behavior during these sad months, and his "wisdom, modesty and religion," adding that it greatly redounded to the credit of Holy See for foreign countries to note that such men were placed at the helm.

Pole left Carpentras in October, 1539. Between Aix and Marseilles he visited the great shrine of St. Mary Magdalene at Ste. Beaume, to pray there for the conversion of Henry VIII. and for England. But he found no consolation there. Like the prophet of old, he seemed to hear a voice which said: "Why dost thou intercede for him whom I have cast off?" and he went on his way heavy-hearted. He passed a few weeks with the Bishop of Verona. The air was rife with the rumors of his assassination. Henry was even then doing his best to bring about the removal of the man he feared and hated by means of hired murderers, and his intended victim seemed to think it likely he would be successful. "Though safe at present, I never feel secure." Especially did he dread the return to Rome, where a plot was known to be laid. He was evidently still suffering severely from nervous and mental strain, and the thought of his heroic mother in prison must continually have haunted him. He was annoyed on reaching Rome, to find that De Unitate was on the point of being published without his knowledge or permission. He prefixed, however, to the edition, an open letter to the Emperor, as the most powerful Catholic sovereign in Europe, explaining his reasons for having written the book.

Meanwhile in England, Henry's fourth wife, the Protestant Princess Anne of Cleves, landed in December, 1539, and was regarded with much disfavor by that monarch; though in truth she was but a necessary factor in Cromwell's pet scheme, the alliance of Protestant Princes, which eventually wrought his ruin.

About Christmas-time Cardinal Pole was appointed by the Pope Governor of Viterbo, the most important of the Papal provinces; situated in the heart of Italy; Viterbo itself being only twenty miles from Rome. It was a mark of great confidence, and Pole was sincerely grateful for the opportunity it afforded him of returning to his quiet life of prayer and study. He wrote to the Holy Father, thanking him warmly.

On the Feast of the Epiphany, 1540, a formal alliance was contracted between Henry VIII. and Anne of Cleves; and from that moment Cromwell's downfall was sure; though Henry masked his intentions with hideous cunning, heaping him with titles and honors. The blow was sharp and sudden. On June 10, he was arrested at the council-board on a charge of treason. He dashed his cap on the ground in a passion of fury, but was stripped of his decorations and conveyed to the Tower. Following his own precedent for Blessed Margaret Pole a bill of attainder was passed against him, from which he was not heard in his own defense. As he lay in prison Parliament passed the Bill of Divorce between Henry and Anne on July 12, 1540—no reference being considered necessary, this time, to the Pope. Cromwell had been actually brought out of prison to give evidence in Henry's favor, but even this could not save him; nor the abject letters he wrote and which Henry read "with tears"—letters "written with the heavy heart and trembling hand of your Highness most heavy and most miserable prisoner and poor slave, Thomas Cromwell. Most gracious Prince, I cry for mercy, mercy, mercy." He died horribly on Tower Hill, July 28, 1540; and on the same day Henry, who was certainly an epicure in sensations, married Katharine Howard.

In the meantime Pole lived quietly at Viterbo, spending much time in prayer; and making many friends in his pleasant surroundings. Here he founded a Literary Society, of which he was elected President, and in which were enrolled some of the greatest geniuses of the day. Even a few celebrated women were admitted as members, one of the most remarkable being Vittoria Colonna, Marchesa di Pescara, whose husband, a most gallant soldier, had, after winning the battle of Pavia, refused the crown of Naples. Shortly after her husband's death she left Viterbo to enter a convent at Orvieto, where on April 15, 1541, the Cardinal writes of her to a mutual friend as well and happy. At her death, a few years later, she left Pole a legacy of 10,000 crowns; which he bestowed as a dowry upon her niece—an eminently characteristic act.

Two direct attempts upon Cardinal Pole's life had now been made by Henry's hired assassins; the ruffians being caught in both cases. In the first instance at Viterbo, they were tried and released by Pole; in the second, at Capranica, he sent his would-be murderers—two of whom were Englishmen—to the galleys for a few days. When remonstrated with by his friends, who were terribly anxious as to his safety, he said that as the offence was solely against himself the punishment ought surely to be at his own discretion!

The men were nominally Lutherans, and, incredible as it may sound, upon his leniency towards them was based the absurd charge of heresy, actually brought against the Angelical Cardinal a few years later.

On May 28, 1541, at 7 A.M. Blessed Margaret Pole, the King's cousin, then seventy years old, was martyred on Tower Hill, after an imprisonment of two years,

When the letter containing the awful news reached Cardinal Pole, says Beccadelli, who gave it to him, he sat for a time in silence; and then said quietly that he had thought himself blessed by God in having so noble and virtuous a mother; but from Hence forward he could call himself the son of a martyr. Henry, he added, had thus recompensed one, who after his own children was nearest to him in blood, for the care of his daughter's education, lasting many years; and for all the care and affection the countess had lavished on the Princess Mary. Then, seeing Beccadelli's horror the Cardinal added with deep emotion, "Be of good cheer—we have one patron the more in heaven!" On August 1 he wrote to the Cardinal Archbishop of Burgos in reply to a letter of condolence, that he was now the son of a martyr, "which is certainly grander than to be born of any royal race": that his mother was the cousin of Henry VIII., "worthy of all honor from piety and age: and such death was no ignominy, since to suffer as Christ, the apostles, virgins and martyrs suffered is no disgrace: and that the less consolation can be hoped from nature, the more can be expected from God."

To Cardinal Marcello, afterwards Pope, he wrote at the same time a touching letter, saying that if the shedding of his own blood was necessary to fill up the measure of Henry's iniquity, and bring about his con version, he (Pole) "desires nothing more than that the deed be done forthwith." On the Feast of the Assumption he wrote to thank Vittoria Colonna for the prayers of her convent, by which he had been greatly sustained.

His heroic fortitude and detachment made a vivid impression on all who knew him. All his natural sorrow was drowned in supernatural joy. His mother was in Heaven, and he too was ready to follow, by the same road of tears and blood.

His firmness in the matter of the King's divorce, says an old chronicler, was the cause of "the death of the virtuous lady the countess of Salysbery his mother . . . Surely thys cruelty was great, but that whyche exceeded all the rest: thys olde ladye being at least Ix and x (70) yeares of age, cosin to the king, and beyng (as is said) most innocent and giltles, was without judgement or processe of lawe, drawen by the hore heres (hoar hairs) to the blocke, not knowyng any cause why, to dye."

But even yet the King's vengeance was unsatisfied.