This was a phenomenal speech, Catherine’s chance to plead her case before the world. And she did. Masterfully.
Some context: the “King’s Great Matter” started in 1527 or so. Henry was pursuing annulment the only way possible – through the Church. Annulment should have been a foregone conclusion – other monarchs had gotten them easily, and on much less legitimate grounds. The problem in this case was that Catherine’s nephew Charles V had just sacked Rome and therefore held the Pope essentially prisoner.
The Pope dickered for a long time, hoping the King would tire of Anne Boleyn and the issue would die, but that didn’t happen. Finally he made what looked like a concession – he agreed that a Legatine Court could hear the case in England and sent Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio to hear the case with Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. The first day, they called the King of England to the court – he gave the proper answer (“Here, my lords”). Then they called the Queen. Rather than answering (which would have acknowledged the court and its legitimacy), she rose, walked over to her husband, and threw herself on her knees to speak directly to him. George Cavendish (Wolsey’s gentleman-usher and then biographer) recorded the speech she gave:
Sir, I beseech you for all the loves there hath been between us, and for the love of God, let me have justice and right, take of me some pity and compassion, for I am a poor woman and a stranger born out of your dominions. I have here no assured friend, and much less indifferent counsel. I flee to you as to the head of justice within your realm. Alas! Sir, wherein have I offended you, or what occasion of displeasure have I designed against your will and pleasure? Intending (as I perceive) to put me from you, I take God and all the world to witness that I have been to you a true, humble, and obedient wife, ever conformable to your will and pleasure, that never said or did anything to the contrary thereof, being always well pleased and contented with all things wherein ye had any delight or dalliance, whether it were in little or much. I never grudged in word or countenance nor showed a visage or spark of discontentment. I loved all those whom ye loved only for your sake, whether I had cause or no and whether they were my friends or my enemies. This twenty years have I been your true wife, or more, and by me ye have had divers children, although it hath pleased God to call them out of the world, which has been no fault of mine.
And when ye had me at the first, I take God to be my judge, I was a true maid without touch of man; and whether it be true or no, I put it to your conscience. If there by any just cause by the law that ye can allege against me, either of dishonesty or any other impediment to banish and put me from you, I am well content to depart, to my great shame and disparagement; and if there be none, then here I most lowly beseech you let me remain in my former estate and receive justice at your princely hands. The king your father was in the time of his reign of such estimation through the world for his excellent wisdom, that he was accounted and called of all men the second Solomon; and my father Ferdinand, King of Spain, who was esteemed to be one of the wittiest princes that reigned in Spain many years before, were both wise and excellent kings in wisdom and princely behavior. It is not therefore to be doubted but that they elected and gathered as wise counselors about them as to their high discretions were thought meet. Also, as me-seemeth, they had in their days as wise, well-learned men, and men of good judgment as be at this present in both realms, who thought then the marriage between you and me good and lawful. Therefore is it a wonder to me to hear what new inventions are now invented against me, that never intended but honesty. And cause me to stand to the order and judgment of this new court, wherein ye may do me much wrong if ye intend any kind of cruelty; for ye may condemn me for lack of sufficient answer, having no indifferent counsel but such as be assigned me, with whose wisdom and learning I am not acquainted. Ye must consider that they cannot be indifferent counselors for my part which be your subjects, and taken out of your own council before, wherein they be made privy, and dare not for your displeasure, disobey your will and intent, being once made privy thereto. Therefore, I most humbly require you, in the way of charity and for the love of God, who is the just judge, to spare the extremity of this new court until I may be advertised what way and order my friends in Spain will advise me to take. And if ye will not extend to me so much indifferent favor, your pleasure then be fulfilled, and to God I commit my case.”
With that, “she rose up, making low courtesy to the king, and so departed from thence.”
A formidable woman.
[There’s lots more good stuff where this came from. Cavendish’s The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey is just wonderful! – You can access it through Archive.Org here]
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