Throughout the ages, the politics and power-plays of popes have equaled or surpassed the very best (or worst) of the many secular political disciples of Machiavelli. A prime example of such papal political maneuvering can be seen in the way Pope Clement VII handled the question of Henry VIII’s application to divorce his first wife, Queen Catherine.
The catalyst behind The Great Matter, as it was known at the time, essentially, involved Henry VIII’s desire to have a legitimate son, his dissatisfaction with his wife’s inability to give him one, and, finally, his ardent desire to marry Anne Boleyn. For the latter to occur, however, the King of England needed papal permission to divorce the Queen of England, Catherine of Aragon.
So, how did Pope Clement VII respond? The wily Florentine, as Starkey describes him, used prevarication as an art form (217). With discourse of inordinate length, he confused, exacerbated, and avoided “ever reaching a conclusion;” in so doing, he bought the time he needed to improve his position (Starkey, 217). Starkey states, Pope Clement “knew every word, in mellifluous Italian or fluent Latin, apart from ‘yes’ and ‘no’” (217).
Starkey, David. Six Wives: The
Queens of Henry VIII. Toronto:
Harper Perennial, 2003.