I F the destruction of the monasteries made plain the meaning of the royal supremacy, no less plain became the meaning of imperium merum in the last decade of Henry's reign. Though condemned by the pope and designated as the object of a catholic crusade, Henry not only defied the threat of invasion, but carried the war to France and to France's ally, Scotland. At home, he married and discarded wives at will, crushed the remains of aristocratic opposition, prescribed the religion of his people, and all the while raised from his subjects vast sums in subsidies and in forced loans. Although most of the forms of the constitution were observed and its machinery even developed, his ministers were his obedient servants and the whole conduct of the state was the expression of his imperious will.
To catholic Europe Henry's position must have seemed precarious when, on 17 December 1538, the pope ordered the execution of the Bull of excommunication drawn up in 1535. The ambitious Alessandro Farnese who, between 1534 and 1549 wore the tiara as Paul III, cherished the constant hope of reuniting Christendom. In 1536 he had issued two Bulls, one for reform, the other for a general council to meet in Mantua in May 1537, and though this council was postponed, first to Vicenza for 1538 and later to Trent for 1542, the possibility of a common catholic effort seemed to be drawing near. In 1538 a league was made against the Turks, and when, in that year, Charles and Francis drew together, it seemed to the pope and to Cardinal Pole that something could now be attempted against the presumptuous king of England.
Henry had endeavoured to keep the breach between France and the empire open by offering simultaneously to each of the contending powers a marriage with his own royal person. Whilst he discussed with Charles a match between himself and the widowed duchess of Milan, the emperor's niece, he was also suggesting that, since he was disappointed of Mary of Guise, given to his nephew James, he might wed some French lady to be selected by himself from a bevy of beauties paraded at Calais. There is no authority for the story that Christina