It was needful for the Cardinal to find some expedients to carry out the King's will; but his schemes one by one broke down before the difficulties of the Papal Court. Clement indeed, perplexed at once by his wish to gratify Henry, his own conscientious doubts as to the course proposed, and his terror of the Emperor whose power was now predominant in Italy, even blamed Wolsey for having hindered the King from judging the matter in his own realm, and marrying on the sentence of his own courts. Henry was resolute in demanding the express sanction of the Pope to his divorce, and this Clement steadily evaded. He at last, however, consented to a legatine commission for the trial of the case in England. In this commission Cardinal Campeggio was joined with Wolsey. Months however passed in fruitless negotiations. The Cardinals pressed on Catharine the expediency of her withdrawal to a religious house, while Henry pressed on the Pope that of a settlement of the matter by his formal declaration against the validity of the marriage. At last in 1529 the two Legates opened their court in the great hall of the Blackfriars. Henry briefly announced his resolve to live no longer in mortal sin.
The Queen offered an appeal to Clement, and on the refusal of the Legates to admit it she flung herself at Henry's feet. "Sire," said Catharine, "I beseech you to pity me, a woman and a stranger, without an assured friend and without an indifferent counsellor. I take God to witness that I have always been to you a true and loyal wife, that I have made it my constant duty to seek your pleasure, that I have loved all whom you loved, whether I have reason or not, whether they are friends to me or foes. I have been your wife for years, I have brought you many children. God knows that when I came to your bed I was a virgin, and I put it to your own conscience to say whether it was not so. If there be any offence which can be alleged against me I consent to depart with infamy; if not, then I pray you to do me justice." The piteous appeal was wasted on a King who was already entertaining Anne Boleyn with royal state in his own palace. The trial proceeded, and the court assembled to pronounce sentence. Henry's hopes were at their highest when they were suddenly dashed to the ground. At the opening of the proceedings Campeggio rose to declare the court adjourned. The adjournment was a mere evasion.
The pressure of the Imperialists had at last forced Clement to summon the cause to his own tribunal at Rome, and the jurisdiction of the Legates was at an end.
"Now see I," cried the Duke of Suffolk as he dashed his hand on the table, "that the old saw is true, that there was never Legate or Cardinal that did good to England!" "Of all men living," Wolsey boldly retorted, "you,my lord Duke,have the least reason to dispraise Cardinals, for if I, a poor Cardinal, had not been, you would not now have had a head on your shoulders wherewith to make such a brag in disrepute of us." But both the Cardinal and his enemies knew that the minister's doom was sealed. Through the twenty years of his reign Henry had known nothing of opposition to his will. His imperious temper had chafed at the weary negotiations, the subterfuges and perfidies of the Pope. His wrath fell at once on Wolsey, who had dissuaded him from acting at the first independently, from conducting the cause in his own courts and acting on the sentence of his own judges; who had counselled him to seek a divorce from Rome and promised him success in his suit. From the close of the Legatine court he would see him no more. If Wolsey still remained minister for a while, it was because the thread of the complex foreign negotiations could not be roughly broken.
Here too, however, failure awaited him as he saw himself deceived and outwitted by the conclusion of peace between France and the Emperor in a new treaty at Cambray. Not only was his French policy no longer possible, but a reconciliation with Charles was absolutely needful, and such a reconciliation could only be brought about by Wolsey's fall. He was at once prosecuted for receiving bulls from Rome in violation of the Statute of Praemunire. A few days later he was deprived of the seals. Wolsey was prostrated by the blow. He offered to give up everything that he possessed if the King would but cease from his displeasure. " His face," wrote the French ambassador, " is dwindled to half its natural size. In truth his misery is such that his enemies, Englishmen as they are, cannot help pitying him." Office and wealth were flung desperately at the King's feet, and for the moment Henry seemed contented with his disgrace. A thousand boats full of Londoners covered the Thames to see the Cardinal's barge pass to the Tower, but he was permitted to retire to Esher. Pardon was granted him on surrender of his vast possessions to the Crown, and he was permitted to withdraw to his diocese of York, the one dignity he had been suffered to retain.
But hardly a year had passed before the jealousy of his political rivals was roused by the King's regrets, and on the eve of his installation feast he was arrested on a charge of high treason, and conducted by the Lieutenant of the Tower towards London. Already broken by his enormous labours, by internal disease, and the sense of his fall, Wolsey accepted the arrest as a sentence of death. An attack of dysentery forced him to rest at the abbey of Leicester, and as he reached the gate he said feebly to the brethren who met him, " I am come to lay my bones among you." On his death-bed his thoughts still clung to the prince whom he had served. "He is a prince," said the dying man to the Lieutenant of the Tower, "of a most royal courage: sooner than miss any part of his will he will endanger one half of his kingdom: and I do assure you I have often kneeled before him, sometimes for three hours together, to persuade him from his appetite, and could not prevail. And, Master Knyghton, had I but served God as diligently as I have served the king, He would not have given me over in my grey hairs.
But this is my due reward for my pains and study, not regarding my service to God, but only my duty to my prince." No words could paint with so terrible a truthfulness the spirit of the new despotism which Wolsey had done more than any of those who went before him to build up. All sense of loyalty to England, to its freedom, to its institutions, had utterly passed away. The one duty which the statesman owned was a duty to his " prince," a prince whose personal will and appetite was overriding the highest interests of the State, trampling under foot the wisest counsels, and crushing with the blind ingratitude of Fate the servants who opposed him. But even Wolsey, while he recoiled from the monstrous form which had revealed itself, could hardly have dreamed of the work of destruction which the royal courage, and yet more royal appetite, of his master was to accomplish in the years to come.