Vives, Moro and Catalina of Aragón

The prestige of Vives made Erasmus introduce the Spaniard to Thomas More. An episode that would link the figure of Vives to the vicissitudes of the chancellor of England and Catherine of Aragon.

Santiago Leyra Curiá-February 5, 2023-Reading time: 9 minutes

Thomas More had visited Bruges in 1515 as a member of a trade mission and, in 1517, with the same task, he was in Flanders. In March 1520, More read the book by Vives Declamationes Syllanaemoved by the latter's introduction, written by Erasmus. In May of the same year Moro wrote to Erasmus about Vives:

He is already famous as a teacher of Latin and Greek, for Vives is excellent in both languages... Who teaches better, more effectively and more charmingly than he? Erasmus replied to More: I am pleased to see that your opinion of Vives coincides with mine. Vives is one of those who will eclipse the name of Erasmus...I appreciate you the more precisely because he likes you too. Vives is a powerful philosophical mind.

Another significant piece of writing by Vives during these years is his Aedes legum (1520), an eloquent testimony of his concern for the Philosophy of Law.

In the summer of 1520 Erasmus arrived in Bruges with Charles V's entourage and Thomas More was also there, as a member of Henry VIII's royal council, when an alliance with Charles V against Francis I of France was being prepared. It was then that Erasmus introduced Thomas More to Juan Luis Vives. Erasmus was preparing an edition of the works of St. Augustine and had asked Vives to revise the text and write the commentaries to the Civitas Deiof St. Augustine. Vives began in January 1521 the work with a great variety of codices, plagued with deletions, additions and changes, and indicated in many passages the most truthful version. In these CommentsVives surpassed all those who had gone before him and, in spite of his fatigue, had the satisfaction "of consecrating something of his studies to St. Augustine and indirectly to Christ".

In a eulogy that Moro would make to those comments, Moro's attunement with Vives is revealed: it is as if a common star wanted to unite our souls by means of a secret power".

After the death of De Croy in 1521, Vives sought the help of More to obtain the patronage of Queen Catherine and, in July of that year, Vives informed Erasmus that he had been taken under the protection of the Queen Consort of England.

In 1522 Vives, invited by the University of Alcalá to take the chair of Humanities, vacant after the death of Nebrija, did not accept. On October 12, 1522 he addressed a letter to Pope Adrian VI, to which this significant title is given: De Europae statu ac tumultibus. In it Vives expresses his concern for peace and his awareness of the historical reality of Europe.

In January 1523, Vives wrote to his friend Cranevelt: "It seems that my father is involved in a fierce trial involving our family property; I have three sisters, now orphaned and destitute... I am more and more worried with such news... I do not know whether it is wiser to go there or to remain here."

On 10-5-1523, Vives wrote to Cranevelt and Erasmus announcing his plan to travel to Spain via England, making it clear that he had arrived at such a decision with great doubts, only because he saw such a trip as an inexcusable obligation. Two days later he arrived in England in a pitiful state of mind: "everything is very dark and the night haunts me. I am trying to withdraw into an innocent silence". He never made the trip to Spain.

In that year 1523 Vives dedicated to Catalina his treatise De Institutione Feminae Christanae. In August he was promoted, by the chancellor of England Wolsey as professor of Latin, Greek and rhetoric in the Corpus Christi College, in Oxford, founded in 1516 as an Erasmist adaptation for England of the University of Alcalá. At that College, medieval theological authorities were replaced by patristic ones (especially Jerome, Augustine, John Chrysostom and Origen).  

In October 1523 the king and queen arrived in Oxford, visited Vives and invited him to spend the next Christmas at Windsor Castle. Vives had just finished writing his pedagogical treatise From Ratione studii pueriliVives' work, a study plan for the seven-year-old princess Maria, which he offered and dedicated to Queen Catherine. During that vacation, the queen found in Vives a good and loyal friend. From Oxford, on 25-1-1524, Vives wrote to Cranevelt: "the queen, one of the purest and most Christian souls I have ever seen. Lately, when we were sailing in a skiff to a monastery of virgins, the conversation fell on adversity and prosperity in life. The queen said, "If I could choose between the two, I would prefer a suitable mixture of both: neither total adversity nor complete prosperity. And if I were forced to choose between these extremes, I would rather have everything adverse to me than too prosperous, for people in misfortune need only some comfort while the prosperous too often lose their heads." His lessons at Oxford lasted until April 1524.

On April 24 Vives returned to Bruges and on May 26, the feast of Corpus Christi, Juan Luis Vives, 32, and Margarita Valdaura, 19, married and went to live in the house of Margarita's mother, the widow Clara Cervent, who needed constant care because of her health condition.

By order of Henry VIII Vives had to return to England in October, which he did on the 2nd of that month. He returned without Margarita, who stayed in Bruges taking care of her mother. In January 1525 he returned to his chair of Humanities. At the beginning of May Vives left Oxford, never to return, and from there he went to London, where he stayed for a week or two in the company of Thomas More. On May 10 he returned to Bruges, where Marguerite was suffering from an eye infection, from which she was cured shortly afterwards. Her mother-in-law's illness prevented her from returning to England in October, and she remained in Bruges until February 1526.

At the request of Charles V's ambassador to England, Vives began his social tract De subventione Pauperum, published in 1526. It is an investigation on the causes of social injustice and a manual on public welfare and the education of the poor and handicapped. It did not reach the Platonic idealization of Moro's Utopia, but it surpasses it in the pragmatism of the program. Vives sees in human miseries the result of the errors and vices of men, among them in a special way the madness of wars.

On October 8, Vives wrote to Henry VIII encouraging him about the reconciliation of all Christian princes. But, in the play of Wolsey's alliance with France against the emperor, Juan Luis Vives was beginning to be frowned upon at the English court, as Wolsey worked to isolate Catherine, alienate his pro-Hispanic courtiers from Henry, and remove Vives from his professorship at Oxford. In this dark period, Vives found a loyal supporter in T. More, whom Erasmus called the man of all seasons. At T. More's house, Vives befriended Thomas's sons-in-law and daughters and the elite of the London intelligentsia. There he met, among others, John Fisher. In More, Vives saw the ideal figure of the new times: a layman of deep Christian faith, respected head of a family, servant of his king and a brilliantly educated intellectual.

In May 1526, Vives was in Bruges writing the dialogue De Europae desidiis et beautiful Turkish. And he remained there until April 1527. At the end of April he sailed from Calais; but Marguerite's anxiety forced him to return to Bruges. The queen begged Vives to return to England to begin his task as Latin teacher to Princess Mary. King Henry had in turn asked Vives to send him a copy of the Adagia He was asked by Erasmus to prepare a reply to a letter from Luther dated September 1525, in which Henry was presented as a victim of the Roman episcopate of England. On July 13, from Bruges, John Louis wrote to Henry sending him the copy of the requested book and informing him that he had prepared an opuscule, in answer to Luther (opuscule that has not been found yet).

On July 4, 1527, Wolsey tried to convince John Fisher that a declaration of invalidity of the marriage between Henry and Catherine was feasible. The treaty of Amiens (4 -VIII- 1527), by which England allied with France against the emperor, meant the doom of Catherine and the beginning of the misfortunes of Vives in Great Britain. Nevertheless, at the beginning of October, fulfilling the promise given to Catherine, Vives returned to England to teach Latin to Princess Mary. In January 1528, Vives wrote to Cranevelt telling him that he was closely watched and, in early February, Wolsey dared to question Vives about his private conversations with Catherine and demanded a written statement from him explaining his part in the plan to inform the pope, through the Spanish ambassador Inigo de Mendoza, about the queen's situation.

Vives did so immediately. In noble and dignified style, he lamented that his human rights -humanum ius- were violated by forcing him to break the secrecy of his private conversations with the queen. It was true that the queen had found in him, her compatriot, a person to whom she could confide her problems. According to Vives, the queen was only complaining about the separation from Henry, a man she loved more than herself. And Vives said: Who can reproach me for listening to a sad and unfortunate woman, for speaking to her with sympathy, for consoling a queen of such noble ancestry whose parents were also my own natural sovereigns? Vives admitted that, at the request of the queen, sanctissima Matron, he himself asked the Spanish ambassador to write to Charles V and the Pope about His Majesty's case. This statement prompted Wolsey to confine Vives to the house of a counselor along with the Spanish ambassador, a confinement that lasted 38 days (from February 25 to April 1, 1528). Fearing reprisals from the emperor, Vives was released on condition that he never set foot in the royal palace again. The queen sent him a messenger recommending him to leave England.

Already in Bruges, in May, he wrote a letter to Erasmus asking him to try something for the cause of Catherine, to which the Dutchman reacted with this unpleasant and unfortunate annotation: Far be it from me to involve myself in the quarrel of Jupiter and Juno. I would rather give every Jupiter two Junos than tear one from him.

In November 1528, Henry VIII guaranteed Catherine the help of two lawyers from Flanders and one of his own choice to assist him in the examination of the process of her marriage by the special legate of Clement VII, Cardinal Campeggio. Catherine appointed Vives, the only Spaniard whom Henry had not explicitly excluded. On November 17, 1528, Vives crossed the channel again with Catherine's two Flemish lawyers and tried to convince the queen to desist from any defense, which he considered a waste of time and a continuation of Henry's sinister game. The queen was very discouraged at first, until she came to show her distance from Vives whose attitude she interpreted as resignation and cowardice. Vives commented it with his friend Juan Vergara: The queen was angry with me because I did not want to put myself immediately at her orders. A few days later, Vives left England forever, lonely, discouraged, bitter and, as an enemy of the king and disobedient to the queen, he was deprived by both of them of the royal pension.

In January 1529, in his treatise De officio maritipaid a warm tribute to Catherine's virtues: "Every time I think of such a woman, I feel ashamed of myself. Among all the examples of fortitude in the midst of adversity that history has offered us, not one can compare with Catherine's truly virile fortitude in the midst of the most adverse circumstances....

Finally, the opinion of Vives ended up prevailing. In May 1529 the trial of the royal marriage began in the presence of Campeggio, Wolsey and several English bishops. There, in June, Catherine proclaimed aloud before Henry her uncompromising love for him and asked him to go no further. Erasmus was blind to Henry's injustice. John Fisher, like Vives, showed unswerving loyalty to Catherine's cause.

In July 1529, Vives dedicated his magnificent treatise to Emperor Charles V. De Concordia et Discordia Generis Humania masterpiece, a profound meditation on the correlations between the disorder of human passions and international disasters.

A few weeks later, he offered a rehearsal, De Pacificationeto Alonso Manrique, Archbishop of Seville and General Inquisitor of Spain. There, Vives tells him: To be an inquisitor of heretics is a task so dangerous and elevated that, if you were ignorant of its true purpose and aim, you would sin gravely, especially because there the properties, reputations and existence of many people are involved. It is astonishing that the authority granted to the judge, who is not free from human passions, or to the accuser, who in many circumstances can be a cynical slanderer moved by hatred, is so wide....

On January 13, 1531 he wrote a brave message to Henry, in which, among other things, he said: Your Majesty asks me the opinion of the Universities on those words of Leviticus: "The brother shall not marry his brother's wife>>... I beg you to think for a moment what you are going to do in such an important matter... and where you are going... What is the purpose of this war? A wife? You have her already, and such as the one you covet neither in goodness nor in beauty, nor in lineage or nobility can compare with her... You have already a daughter, thank God, of magnificent disposition; you can choose at your pleasure your son-in-law such as you could never do with your own son.

At the end of 1531 he was in a position to invite Beatriz, his youngest sister, to move from Valencia to Bruges because the result of the inquisitorial process had turned her into a complete pauper. In August 1532 Vives told his friend Vergara that the emperor regularly assigned him 150 ducats, which, he added, covered more or less half of my expenses.

Moro resigned as chancellor in May 1532, following the dictates of his conscience. In June 1533, Catherine was humiliated with the coronation of Anne Boleyn; a few months later, Princess Mary, Vives' ward, was declared a bastard and excluded from the succession to the crown. Henry VIII was excommunicated by the Pope. In May 1534, Vives told Erasmus that Moro and Fisher were in prison. In July 1535, Fisher's head was replaced on London Bridge by that of Thomas More. In January 1536, Catherine died completely abandoned in poverty. In July 1536, Erasmus died in Basel and his disciples were persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition.

Read more
La Brújula Newsletter Leave us your email and receive every week the latest news curated with a catholic point of view.