Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honour's at the stake.
Hamlet, IV, iv
THE THIRTY-SECOND YEAR of the King's reign was not a success. If the misfortunes of 1525-27 had been sufficient to send Henry in search of the cause of God's malediction, those of 1541 were enough to smash all illusions, leaving only a bitter, sick old man. The giant who had dominated the matrimonial stage of Europe for the last fifteen years and could not doubt the physical magnetism of his royal person was in November held up before all Christendom as the cuckolded husband. The new year had augured no such calamity. It had begun as a perfect Indian summer, a moment of golden health and spiritual satisfaction when the domestic and international affairs of the sovereign prospered mightily. Abroad, the key to England's international well-being, mistrust among the major powers, was unlocking the door to further Habsburg-Valois discord. The diplomatic heavens, so long in perilous harmony, were returning to their warlike formation. For two years the King had lived with the nightmare that Charles and Francis might forget their hatred, come to terms over Burgundy and Milan, and unite to crush sin and schism throughout Europe, but ever since the Emperor had bestowed Milan upon his son in October 1540 it was clear that the giants of the international system were safely back on a collision course. At home, the embarrassing six months' comedy of the King's fourth marriage to Anne of Cleves was mercifully over. In her stead reigned Henry's "rose without a thorn," Mistress Catherine Howard, who since July 28, 1540, had