Augustana College Library
Augustana History Department
In 1537, Reginald Pole was appointed Papal legate to France and the Netherlands "for the settlement of English concerns" so that he might negotiate with the conservative (Catholic) religious party in England and force Henry VIII to heal the schism. In 1539 Pole was appointed legate to Charles V and Francis I in order to negotiate an end to trade with England and a peace with the Turks so that the greater part of their energy could be directed at England. In 1553, Pole was appointed legate to the Emperor, the king of France, and the Queen of England in order to facilitate the healing of the schism and negotiate peace between France and the Holy Roman Empire. In all cases, Pole believed that the success of his legations was prevented by the willingness of Charles V and the French king to sacrifice the success of his legation in order to achieve their own ends.
The legation of 1537 failed largely because Pole's true purpose, to aid the rebels in England, was the worst kept secret in Europe. Henry demanded that Francis I turn him over to be disposed of, and Pole was forced to flee to Imperial holdings, where the Emperor stalled him at Cambrai until Pole was forced to beg to be allowed to move on. Shortly after, he was recalled.
The legation of 1539 failed because Charles V backed out at the last minute. Pole had successfully gotten Francis I to conditionally agree to a cessation of war with the Turks, a publication of Henry VIII's excommunication, and a cessation of trade with England. The condition was that Charles V, who had previously agreed to all of the above, do the same. At the last moment Charles, quoting the Lutherans and the Turks as more immediete threats and considering a possible marriage with Princess Mary, backed out, leaving Pole with nothing.
Although the legation of 1553 could be considered a success based on the facts that Pole did eventually make it to England and that England reverted, at least temporarily, to Catholicism, thereby achieving the mission of his legation, it appears to have been a political fiasco. "The potential of Pole's legation failed to materialize because he never convince Charles V to give him support."
If, instead of playing their own hands, the Emperor and the French king had given Pole unconditionally support, there would have been no need for the second or third legations to England. Henry VIII would have been forced by trade embargoes or armies arriving on his coast to abjure and England would have returned to the Holy See.
Pole's failure can be interpreted in a number of ways. The first would be the growing secularization of Europe. As power and influence leaked away from the Church, secular monarchs gathered it up and had no qualms about wielding it. Possibly, sending one man on a mission just wasn't enough to heal the schism, because the power of the Church was at a decline. What might have worked a few centuries previous no longer got results. Henry VIII's excommunication, the Church's penultimate weapon, would have sent many an earlier monarch scuttling back to the church in fear of his immortal soul. Once, when the Church said jump, kings said "how high?" An order from the Holy See would have had both Charles V and the King of France feting Pole and giving him whatever was ordered. In the more secularized atmosphere of the sixteenth century, it was less important to follow the pope's orders, for what was the pope but another prince?
The failure of Pole's mission could also be attributed to the personalities of the men to whom he was assigned. No one has ever accused Henry VIII of being stable, and being in constant fear of assassination and expecting to hear of the execution of another family member any time couldn't have been good for Pole. It also showed the other two monarchs with which he dealt Pole's standing at the English Court. Both being shrewd men, they didn't wish to be the one standing between Henry VIII and the target of his rage. Charles V, a brilliant, stubborn ruler, could never concede any point that might make him look weak or make him lose face- hence, he couldn't make peace until Francis treated, couldn't leave the Lutheran Problem, even temporarily, without damage to his honor, and refused to recognize his cousin on her ascension to her throne until it became obvious that she had a firm hold on that throne. Francis I, and later his son, were bright and witty and very shrewd. Neither was going to step into anything that could mean danger or loss for their countries or themselves. And Henry II had another powerful reason to stall Pole- as long as Mary was considered a schismatic, his daughter-in-law, Mary of Scotland, had a fair claim to the English throne.
If these three men had been more concerned about the state of religion, or willing to work together, Pole's legations might have been among the most significant events in the Catholic Reformation. As it was, with two of the three powers of Europe using Pole and his legations to achieve their own ends, Pole's legations accomplished very little.
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