[Transcriber's note: A small number of typographical errors found in the original, printed book have been corrected; neither the language nor the spelling has been modernized. There are two chapters numbered thirteen; they have been labeled XIIIa and XIIIb.]
MEMOIRS OF THE COURT OF QUEEN ELIZABETH
BY LUCY AIKIN
IN TWO VOLUMES. (combined)
PRINTED FOR LONGMAN, HURST, REES, ORME, AND BROWN, PATERNOSTER ROW. 1818.
PRINTED BY RICHARD AND ARTHUR TAYLOR, SHOE-LANE.
In the literature of our country, however copious, the eye of the curious student may still detect important deficiencies.
We possess, for example, many and excellent histories, embracing every period of our domestic annals;—biographies, general and particular, which appear to have placed on record the name of every private individual justly entitled to such commemoration;—and numerous and extensive collections of original letters, state-papers and other historical and antiquarian documents;—whilst our comparative penury is remarkable in royal lives, in court histories, and especially in that class which forms the glory of French literature,—memoir.
To supply in some degree this want, as it affects the person and reign of one of the most illustrious of female and of European sovereigns, is the intention of the work now offered with much diffidence to the public.
Its plan comprehends a detailed view of the private life of Elizabeth from the period of her birth; a view of the domestic history of her reign; memoirs of the principal families of the nobility and biographical anecdotes of the celebrated characters who composed her court; besides notices of the manners, opinions and literature of the reign.
Such persons as may have made it their business or their entertainment to study very much in detail the history of the age of Elizabeth, will doubtless be aware that in the voluminous collections of Strype, in the edited Burleigh, Sidney, and Talbot papers, in the Memoirs of Birch, in various collections of letters, in the chronicles of the times,—so valuable for those vivid pictures of manners which the pen of a contemporary unconsciously traces,—in the Annals of Camden, the Progresses of Nichols, and other large and laborious works which it would be tedious here to enumerate, a vast repertory existed of curious and interesting facts seldom recurred to for the composition of books of lighter literature, and possessing with respect to a great majority of readers the grace of novelty. Of these and similar works of reference, as well as of a variety of others, treating directly or indirectly on the biography, the literature, and the manners of the period, a large collection has been placed under the eyes of the author, partly by the liberality of her publishers, partly by the kindness of friends.
In availing herself of their contents, she has had to encounter in full force the difficulties attendant on such a task; those of weighing and comparing authorities, of reconciling discordant statements, of bringing insulated facts to bear upon each other, and of forming out of materials irregular in their nature and abundant almost to excess, a compact and well-proportioned structure.
How far her abilities and her diligence may have proved themselves adequate to the undertaking, it remains with a candid public to decide. Respecting the selection of topics it seems necessary however to remark, that it has been the constant endeavour of the writer to preserve to her work the genuine character of Memoirs, by avoiding as much as possible all encroachments on the peculiar province of history;—that amusement, of a not illiberal kind, has been consulted at least equally with instruction:—and that on subjects of graver moment, a correct sketch has alone been attempted.
By a still more extensive course of reading and research, an additional store of anecdotes and observations might unquestionably have been amassed; but it is hoped that of those assembled in the following pages, few will be found to rest on dubious or inadequate authority; and that a copious choice of materials, relatively to the intended compass of the work, will appear to have superseded the temptation to useless digression, or to prolix and trivial detail.
The orthography of all extracts from the elder writers has been modernized, and their punctuation rendered more distinct; in other respects reliance may be placed on their entire fidelity.
MEMOIRS OF THE COURT OF QUEEN ELIZABETH.
1533 TO 1536.
Birth of Elizabeth.—Circumstances attending the marriage of her parents.—Public entry of Anne Boleyn into London.—Pageants exhibited.—Baptism of Elizabeth.—Eminent persons present.—Proposal of marriage between Elizabeth and a French prince.—Progress of the reformation.—Henry persecutes both parties.—Death of Catherine of Arragon.—Disgrace of Anne Boleyn.—Her death.—Confesses an obstacle to her marriage.—Particulars on this subject.—Elizabeth declared illegitimate.—Letter of lady Bryan respecting her.—The king marries Jane Seymour.
On the 7th of September 1533, at the royal palace of Greenwich in Kent, was born, under circumstances as peculiar as her after-life proved eventful and illustrious, ELIZABETH daughter of king Henry VIII. and his queen Anne Boleyn.
Delays and difficulties equally grievous to the impetuous temper of the man and the despotic habits of the prince, had for years obstructed Henry in the execution of his favourite project of repudiating, on the plea of their too near alliance, a wife who had ceased to find favor in his sight, and substituting on her throne the youthful beauty who had captivated his imagination. At length his passion and his impatience had arrived at a pitch capable of bearing down every obstacle. With that contempt of decorum which he displayed so remarkably in some former, and many later transactions of his life, he caused his private marriage with Anne Boleyn to precede the sentence of divorce which he had resolved that his clergy should pronounce against Catherine of Arragon; and no sooner had this judicial ceremony taken place, than the new queen was openly exhibited as such in the face of the court and the nation.
An unusual ostentation of magnificence appears to have attended the celebration of these august nuptials. The fondness of the king for pomp and pageantry was at all times excessive, and on this occasion his love and his pride would equally conspire to prompt an extraordinary display. Anne, too, a vain, ambitious, and light-minded woman, was probably greedy of this kind of homage from her princely lover; and the very consciousness of the dubious, inauspicious, or disgraceful circumstances attending their union, might secretly augment the anxiety of the royal pair to dazzle and impose by the magnificence of their public appearance. Only once before, since the Norman conquest, had a king of England stooped from his dignity to elevate a private gentlewoman and a subject to a partnership of his bed and throne; and the bitter animosities between the queen's relations on one side, and the princes of the blood and great nobles on the other, which had agitated the reign of Edward IV., and contributed to bring destruction on the heads of his helpless orphans, stood as a strong warning against a repetition of the experiment.
The unblemished reputation and amiable character of Henry's "some-time wife," had long procured for her the love and respect of the people; her late misfortunes had engaged their sympathy, and it might be feared that several unfavorable points of comparison would suggest themselves between the high-born and high-minded Catherine and her present rival—once her humble attendant—whose long-known favor with the king, whose open association with him at Calais, whither she had attended him, whose private marriage of uncertain date, and already advanced pregnancy, afforded so much ground for whispered censures.
On the other hand, the personal qualities of the king gave him great power over popular opinion. The manly beauty of his countenance, the strength and agility which in the chivalrous exercises of the time rendered him victorious over all competitors; the splendor with which he surrounded himself; his bounty; the popular frankness of his manners, all conspired to render him, at this period of his life, an object of admiration rather than of dread to his subjects; while the respect entertained for his talents and learning, and for the conscientious scruples respecting his first marriage which he felt or feigned, mingled so much of deference in their feelings towards him, as to check all hasty censures of his conduct. The protestant party, now considerable by zeal and numbers, foresaw too many happy results to their cause from the circumstances of his present union, to scrutinize with severity the motives which had produced it. The nation at large, justly dreading a disputed succession, with all its long-experienced evils, in the event of Henry's leaving behind him no offspring but a daughter whom he had lately set aside on the ground of illegitimacy, rejoiced in the prospect of a male heir to the crown. The populace of London, captivated, as usual, by the splendors of a coronation, were also delighted with the youth, beauty, and affability of the new queen.
The solemn entry therefore of Anne into the city of London was greeted by the applause of the multitude; and it was probably the genuine voice of public feeling, which, in saluting her queen of England, wished her, how much in vain! a long and prosperous life.
The pageants displayed in the streets of London on this joyful occasion, are described with much minuteness by our chroniclers, and afford ample indications that the barbarism of taste which permitted an incongruous mixture of classical mythology with scriptural allusions, was at its height in the learned reign of our eighth Henry. Helicon and Mount Parnassus appeared on one side; St. Anne, and Mary the wife of Cleophas with her children, were represented on the other. Here the three Graces presented the queen with a golden apple by the hands of their orator Mercury; there the four cardinal Virtues promised, in set speeches, that they would always be aiding and comforting to her.
On the Sunday after her public entry, a day not at this period regarded as improper for the performance of such a ceremonial, Henry caused his queen to be crowned at Westminster with great solemnity; an honor which he never thought proper to confer on any of her successors.
In the sex of the child born to them a few months afterwards, the hopes of the royal pair must doubtless have sustained a severe disappointment: but of this sentiment nothing was suffered to appear in the treatment of the infant, whom her father was anxious to mark out as his only legitimate offspring and undoubted heir to the crown.
She was destined to bear the auspicious name of Elizabeth, in memory of her grandmother, that heiress of the house of York whose marriage with the earl of Richmond, then Henry VII., had united the roses, and given lasting peace to a country so long rent by civil discord. The unfortunate Mary, now in her sixteenth year, was stripped of the title of princess of Wales, which she had borne from her childhood, that it might adorn a younger sister; one too whose birth her interest, her religion, and her filial affection for an injured mother, alike taught her to regard as base and infamous.
A public and princely christening served still further to attest the importance attached to this new member of the royal family.
By the king's special command, Cranmer archbishop of Canterbury stood godfather to the princess; and Shakespeare, by a fiction equally poetical and courtly, has represented him as breaking forth on this memorable occasion into an animated vaticination of the glories of the "maiden reign." Happy was it for the peace of mind of the noble personages there assembled, that no prophet was empowered at the same time to declare how few of them should live to share its splendors; how awfully large a proportion of their number should fall, or behold their nearest connexions falling, untimely victims of the jealous tyranny of Henry himself, or of the convulsions and persecutions of the two troubled reigns destined to intervene before those halcyon days which they were taught to anticipate!
For the purpose of illustrating the truth of this remark, and at the same time of introducing to the reader the most distinguished personages of Henry's court, several of whom will afterwards be found exerting different degrees of influence on the character or fortunes of the illustrious subject of this work, it may be worth while to enumerate in regular order the performers in this august ceremonial. The circumstantial Holinshed, to whom we are indebted for their names and offices, will at the same time furnish some of those minute particulars which serve to bring the whole pompous scene before the eye of fancy.
Early in the afternoon, the lord-mayor and corporation of London, who had been summoned to attend, took boat for Greenwich, where they found many lords, knights, and gentlemen assembled. The whole way from the palace to the friery was strown with green rushes, and the walls were hung with tapestry, as was the Friers' church in which the ceremony was performed.
A silver font with a crimson canopy was placed in the middle of the church; and the child being brought into the hall, the long procession set forward. It began with citizens walking two-and-two, and ended with barons, bishops, and earls. Then came, bearing the gilt basins, Henry earl of Essex, the last of the ancient name of Bourchier who bore the title. He was a splendid nobleman, distinguished in the martial games and gorgeous pageantries which then amused the court: he also boasted of a royal lineage, being sprung from Thomas of Woodstock, youngest son of Edward III.; and perhaps he was apprehensive lest this distinction might hereafter become as fatal to himself as it had lately proved to the unfortunate duke of Buckingham. But he perished a few years after by a fall from his horse; and leaving no male issue, the king, to the disgust of this great family, conferred the title on the low-bred Cromwel, then his favorite minister.
The salt was borne by Henry marquis of Dorset, the unfortunate father of lady Jane Grey; who, after receiving the royal pardon for his share in the criminal plot for setting the crown on the head of his daughter, again took up arms in the rebellion of Wyat, and was brought to expiate this treason on the scaffold.
William Courtney marquis of Exeter followed with the taper of virgin wax; a nobleman who had the misfortune to be very nearly allied to the English throne; his mother being a daughter of Edward IV. He was at this time in high favor with the king his cousin, who, after setting aside his daughter Mary, had even declared him heir-apparent, to the prejudice of his own sisters: but three years after he fell a victim to the jealousy of the king, on a charge of corresponding with his proscribed kinsman cardinal Pole: his honors and estates were forfeited; and his son, though still a child, was detained in close custody.
The chrism was borne by lady Mary Howard, the beautiful daughter of the duke of Norfolk; who lived not only to behold, but, by the evidence which she gave on his trial, to assist in the most unmerited condemnation of her brother, the gallant and accomplished earl of Surry. The king, by a trait of royal arrogance, selected this lady, descended from our Saxon monarchs and allied to all the first nobility, for the wife of his base-born son created duke of Richmond; but it does not appear that the spirit of the Howards was high enough in this reign to feel the insult as it deserved.
The royal infant, wrapped in a mantle of purple velvet, having a long train furred with ermine, was carried by one of her godmothers, the dowager-duchess of Norfolk. Anne Boleyn was this lady's step-grand-daughter: but in this alliance with royalty she had little cause to exult; still less in the closer one which was afterwards formed for her by the elevation of her own grand-daughter Catherine Howard. On discovery of the ill conduct of this queen, the aged duchess was overwhelmed with disgrace; she was even declared guilty of misprision of treason, and committed to custody, but was released by the king after the blood of Catherine and her paramours had quenched his fury.
The dowager-marchioness of Dorset was the other godmother at the font:—of the four sons of this lady, three perished on the scaffold; her grand-daughter lady Jane Grey shared the same fate; and the surviving son died a prisoner during the reign of Elizabeth, for the offence of distributing a pamphlet asserting the title of the Suffolk line to the crown.
The marchioness of Exeter was the godmother at the confirmation, who had not only the affliction to see her husband brought to an untimely end, and her only son wasting his youth in captivity, but, being herself attainted of high treason some time afterwards, underwent a long and arbitrary imprisonment.
On either hand of the duchess of Norfolk walked the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, the only nobles of that rank then existing in England.
Their names occur in conjunction on every public occasion, and in almost every important transaction, civil and military, of the reign of Henry VIII., but the termination of their respective careers was strongly contrasted. The duke of Suffolk had the extraordinary good fortune never to lose that favor with his master which he had gained as Charles Brandon, the partner of his youthful pleasures. What was a still more extraordinary instance of felicity, his marriage with the king's sister brought to him neither misfortunes nor perils, and he did not live to witness those which overtook his grand-daughters. He died in peace, lamented by a sovereign who knew his worth.
The duke of Norfolk, on the contrary, was powerful enough by birth and connexions to impress Henry with fears for the tranquillity of his son's reign. The memory of former services was sacrificed to present alarm. Almost with his last breath he ordered his old and faithful servant to the scaffold; but even Henry was no longer absolute on his death-bed. For once he was disobeyed, and Norfolk survived him; but the long years of his succeeding captivity were poorly compensated by a brief and tardy restoration to liberty and honors under Mary.
One of the child's train-bearers was the countess of Kent. This was probably the widow of the second earl of that title and of the name of Grey: she must therefore have been the daughter of the earl of Pembroke, a zealous Yorkist who was slain fighting in the cause of Edward IV. Henry VIII. was doubtless aware that his best hereditary title to the crown was derived from his mother, and during his reign the Yorkist families enjoyed at least an equal share of favor with the Lancastrians, whom his father had almost exclusively countenanced.
Thomas Boleyn earl of Wiltshire, the proud and happy grandfather of the princely infant, supported the train on one side. It is not true that he afterwards, in his capacity of a privy councillor, pronounced sentence of death on his own son and daughter; even Henry was not inhuman enough to exact this of him; but he lived to witness their cruel and disgraceful end, and died long before the prosperous days of his illustrious grandchild.
On the other side the train was borne by Edward Stanley third earl of Derby. This young nobleman had been a ward of Wolsey, and was carefully educated by that splendid patron of learning in his house and under his own eye. He proved himself a faithful and loyal subject to four successive sovereigns; stood unshaken by the tempests of the most turbulent times; and died full of days in the possession of great riches, high hereditary honors, and universal esteem, in 1574.
A splendid canopy was supported over the infant by four lords, three of them destined to disastrous fates. One was her uncle, the elegant, accomplished, viscount Rochford, whom the impartial suffrage of posterity has fully acquitted of the odious crime for which he suffered by the mandate of a jealous tyrant.
Another was lord Hussey; whom a rash rebellion brought to the scaffold a few years afterwards. The two others were brothers of that illustrious family of Howard, which furnished in this age alone more subjects for tragedy than "Thebes or Pelops' line" of old. Lord William, uncle to Catherine Howard, was arbitrarily adjudged to perpetual imprisonment and forfeiture of goods for concealing her misconduct; but Henry was pleased soon after to remit the sentence: he lived to be eminent in the state under the title of lord Howard of Effingham, and died peacefully in a good old age. Lord Thomas suffered by the ambition so frequent in his house, of matching with the blood royal. He formed a secret marriage with the lady Margaret Douglas, niece to the king; on discovery of which, he was committed to a close imprisonment, whence he was only released by death.
After the ceremony of baptism had been performed by Stokesly bishop of London, a solemn benediction was pronounced upon the future queen by Cranmer, that learned and distinguished prelate, who may indeed be reproached with some too courtly condescensions to the will of an imperious master, and what is worse, with several cruel acts of religious persecution; but whose virtues were many, whose general character was mild and benevolent, and whose errors and weaknesses were finally expiated by the flames of martyrdom.
In the return from church, the gifts of the sponsors, consisting of cups and bowls, some gilded, and others of massy gold, were carried by four persons of quality: Henry Somerset second earl of Worcester, whose father, notwithstanding his illegitimacy, had been acknowledged as a kinsman by Henry VII., and advanced to the peerage; lord Thomas Howard the younger, a son of the duke of Norfolk who was restored in blood after his father's attainder, and created lord Howard of Bindon; Thomas Ratcliffe lord Fitzwalter, afterwards earl of Sussex; and sir John Dudley, son of the detested associate of Empson, and afterwards the notorious duke of Northumberland, whose crimes received at length their due recompense in that ignominious death to which his guilty and extravagant projects had conducted so many comparatively innocent victims.
We are told, that on the same day and hour which gave birth to the princess Elizabeth, a son was born to this "bold bad man," who received the name of Robert, and was known in after-times as earl of Leicester. It was believed by the superstition of the age, that this coincidence of their nativities produced a secret and invincible sympathy which secured to Dudley, during life, the affections of his sovereign lady. It may without superstition be admitted, that this circumstance, seizing on the romantic imagination of the princess, might produce a first impression, which Leicester's personal advantages, his insinuating manners, and consummate art of feigning, all contributed to render deep and permanent.
The personal history of Elizabeth may truly be said to begin with her birth; for she had scarcely entered her second year when her marriage—that never-accomplished project, which for half a century afterwards inspired so many vain hopes and was the subject of so many fruitless negotiations, was already proposed as an article of a treaty between France and England.
Henry had caused an act of succession to be passed, by which his divorce was confirmed, the authority of the pope disclaimed, and the crown settled on his issue by Anne Boleyn. But, as if half-repenting the boldness of his measures, he opened a negotiation almost immediately with Francis I., for the purpose of obtaining a declaration by that king and his nobility in favor of his present marriage, and the intercession of Francis for the revocation of the papal censures fulminated against him. And in consideration of these acts of friendship, he offered to engage the hand of Elizabeth to the duke d'Angouleme, third son of the French king. But Francis was unable to prevail upon the new pope to annul the acts of his predecessor; and probably not wishing to connect himself more closely with a prince already regarded as a heretic, he suffered the proposal of marriage to fall to the ground.
The doctrines of Zwingle and of Luther had at this time made considerable progress among Henry's subjects, and the great work of reformation was begun in England. Several smaller monasteries had been suppressed; the pope's supremacy was preached against by public authority; and the parliament, desirous of widening the breach between the king and the pontiff, declared the former, head of the English church. After some hesitation, Henry accepted the office, and wrote a book in defence of his conduct. The queen was attached, possibly by principle, and certainly by interest, to the antipapal party, which alone admitted the validity of the royal divorce, and consequently of her marriage; and she had already engaged her chaplain Dr. Parker, a learned and zealous reformist, to keep a watchful eye over the childhood of her daughter, and early to imbue her mind with the true principles of religious knowledge.
But Henry, whose passions and interests alone, not his theological convictions, had set him in opposition to the old church establishment, to the ceremonies and doctrines of which he was even zealously attached, began to be apprehensive that the whole fabric would be swept away by the strong tide of popular opinion which was now turned against it, and he hastened to interpose in its defence. He brought to the stake several persons who denied the real presence, as a terror to the reformers; whilst at the same time he showed his resolution to quell the adherents of popery, by causing bishop Fisher and sir Thomas More to be attainted of treason, for refusing such part of the oath of succession as implied the invalidity of the king's first marriage, and thus, in effect, disallowed the authority of the papal dispensation in virtue of which it had been celebrated.
Thus were opened those dismal scenes of religious persecution and political cruelty from which the mind of Elizabeth was to receive its early and indelible impressions.
The year 1536, which proved even more fertile than its predecessor in melancholy incidents and tragical catastrophes, opened with the death of Catherine of Arragon; an event equally welcome, in all probability, both to the sufferer herself, whom tedious years of trouble and mortification must have rendered weary of a world which had no longer a hope to flatter her; and to the ungenerous woman who still beheld her, discarded as she was, with the sentiments of an enemy and a rival. It is impossible to contemplate the life and character of this royal lady, without feelings of the deepest commiseration. As a wife, the bitter humiliations which she was doomed to undergo were entirely unmerited; for not only was her modesty unquestioned, but her whole conduct towards the king was a perfect model of conjugal love and duty. As a queen and a mother, her firmness, her dignity, and her tenderness, deserved a far other recompense than to see herself degraded, on the infamous plea of incest, from the rank of royalty, and her daughter, so long heiress to the English throne, branded with illegitimacy, and cast out alike from the inheritance and the affections of her father. But the memory of this unhappy princess has been embalmed by the genius of Shakespeare, in the noble drama of which he has made her the touching and majestic heroine; and let not the praise of magnanimity be denied to the daughter of Anne Boleyn, in permitting those wrongs and those sufferings which were the price of her glory, nay of her very existence, to be thus impressively offered to the compassion of her people.
Henry was moved to tears on reading the tender and pious letter addressed to him by the dying hand of Catherine; and he marked by several small but expressive acts, the respect, or rather the compunction, with which the recollection of her could not fail to inspire him. Anne Boleyn paid to the memory of the princess-dowager of Wales—such was the title now given to Catherine—the unmeaning compliment of putting on yellow mourning; the color assigned to queens by the fashion of France: but neither humanity nor discretion restrained her from open demonstrations of the satisfaction afforded her by the melancholy event.
Short was her unfeeling triumph. She brought into the world a few days afterwards, a dead son; and this second disappointment of his hopes completed that disgust to his queen which satiety, and perhaps also a growing passion for another object, was already beginning to produce in the mind of the king.
It is traditionally related, that at Jane Seymour's first coming to court, the queen, espying a jewel hung round her neck, wished to look at it; and struck with the young lady's reluctance to submit it to her inspection, snatched it from her with violence, when she found it to contain the king's picture, presented by himself to the wearer. From this day she dated her own decline in the affections of her husband, and the ascendancy of her rival. However this might be, it is certain that the king about this time began to regard the conduct of his once idolized Anne Boleyn with an altered eye. That easy gaiety of manner which he had once remarked with delight, as an indication of the innocence of her heart and the artlessness of her disposition, was now beheld by him as a culpable levity which offended his pride and alarmed his jealousy. His impetuous temper, with which "once to suspect was once to be resolved," disdained to investigate proofs or to fathom motives; a pretext alone was wanting to his rising fury, and this he was not long in finding.
On May-day, then observed at court as a high festival, solemn justs were held at Greenwich, before the king and queen, in which viscount Rochford, the queen's brother, was chief challenger, and Henry Norris principal defender. In the midst of the entertainment, the king suddenly rose and quitted the place in anger; but on what particular provocation is not certainly known. Saunders the Jesuit, the great calumniator of Anne Boleyn, says that it was on seeing his consort drop her handkerchief, which Norris picked up and wiped his face with. The queen immediately retired, and the next day was committed to custody. Her earnest entreaties to be permitted to see the king were disregarded, and she was sent to the Tower on a charge of treason and adultery.
Lord Rochford, Norris, one Smeton a musician, and Brereton and another gentleman of the bed-chamber, were likewise apprehended, and brought to trial on the accusation of criminal intercourse with the queen. They were all convicted; but from the few particulars which have come down to us, it seems to be justly inferred, that the evidence produced against some at least of these unhappy gentlemen, was slight and inconclusive. Lord Rochford is universally believed to have fallen a victim to the atrocious perjuries of his wife, who was very improperly admitted as a witness against him, and whose infamous conduct was afterwards fully brought to light. No absolute criminality appears to have been proved against Weston and Brereton; but Smeton confessed the fact. Norris died much more generously: he protested that he would rather perish a thousand times than accuse an innocent person; that he believed the queen to be perfectly guiltless; he, at least, could accuse her of nothing; and in this declaration he persisted to the last. His expressions, if truly reported, seem to imply that he might have saved himself by criminating the queen: but besides the extreme improbability that the king would have shown or promised any mercy to such a delinquent, we know in fact that the confession of Smeton did not obtain for him even a reprieve: it is therefore absurd to represent Norris as having died in vindication of the honor of the queen; and the favor afterwards shown to his son by Elizabeth, had probably little connexion with any tenderness for the memory of her mother, a sentiment which she certainly exhibited in no other circumstance.
The trial and condemnation of the queen followed. The process was conducted with that open disregard of the first principles of justice and equity then universal in all cases of high treason: no counsel were assigned her, no witnesses confronted with her, and it does not appear that she was even informed of Smeton's confession: but whether, after all, she died innocent, is a problem which there now exist no means of solving, and which it is somewhat foreign from the purpose of this work to discuss.
One part of this subject, however, on account of the intimate relation which it bears to the history of Elizabeth, and the influence which it may be presumed to have exercised in the formation of her character, must be treated somewhat at large.
The common law of England, by an anomaly truly barbarous, denounced, against females only, who should be found guilty of high treason, the punishment of burning. By menaces of putting into execution this horrible sentence, instead of commuting it for decapitation, Anne Boleyn was induced to acknowledge some legal impediment to her marriage with the king; and on this confession alone, Cranmer, with his usual subserviency, gratified his royal master by pronouncing that union null and void, and its offspring illegitimate.
What this impediment, real or pretended, might be, we only learn from a public declaration made immediately afterwards by the earl of Northumberland, stating, that whereas it had been pretended, that a precontract had subsisted between himself and the late queen, he has declared upon oath before the lords of the council, and taken the sacrament upon it, that no such contract had ever passed between them. In explanation of this protest, the noble historian of Henry VIII. furnishes us with the following particulars. That the earl of Northumberland, when lord Percy, had made proposals of marriage to Anne Boleyn, which she had accepted, being yet a stranger to the passion of the king; that Henry, unable to bear the idea of losing her, but averse as yet to a declaration of his sentiments, employed Wolsey to dissuade the father of lord Percy from giving his consent to their union, in which he succeeded; the earl of Northumberland probably becoming aware how deeply the personal feelings of the king were concerned: that lord Percy, however, refused to give up the lady, alleging in the first instance that he had gone too far to recede with honor; but was afterwards compelled by his father to form another matrimonial connexion. It should appear by this statement, that some engagement had in fact subsisted between Northumberland and Anne; but there is no necessity for supposing it to have been a contract of that solemn nature which, according to the law as it then stood, would have rendered null the subsequent marriage of either party. The protestation of the earl was confirmed by the most solemn sanctions; which there is no ground for supposing him capable of violating, especially as on this occasion, so far from gaining any advantage by it, he was likely to give high offence to the king. If then, as appears most probable, the confession by which Anne Boleyn disinherited and illegitimatised her daughter was false; a perjury so wicked and cowardly must brand her memory with everlasting infamy:—even should the contrary have been the fact, the transaction does her little honor; in either case it affords ample justification to that daughter in leaving, as she did, her remains without a monument and her conduct without an apology.
[Note 1: Lord Herbert of Chirbury.]
The precarious and equivocal condition to which the little Elizabeth was reduced by the divorce and death of her mother, will be best illustrated by the following extracts of a letter addressed soon after the event, by lady Bryan her governess, to lord Cromwel. It may at the same time amuse the modern reader to remark the minute details on which, in that day, the first minister of state was expected to bestow his personal attention.
* * * * *
"...My lord, when your lordship was last here, it pleased you to say, that I should not mistrust the king's grace, nor your lordship. Which word was more comfort to me than I can write, as God knoweth. And now it boldeneth me to show you my poor mind. My lord, when my lady Mary's grace was born, it pleased the king's grace to [appoint] me lady mistress, and made me a baroness. And so I have been to the children his grace have had since.
"Now, so it is, my lady Elizabeth is put from that degree she was afore; and what degree she is at now, I know not but by hearsay. Therefore I know not how to order her, nor myself, nor none of hers that I have the rule of; that is, her women and her grooms. Beseeching you to be good lord to my lady and to all hers; and that she may have some rayment. For she hath neither gown, nor kirtle, nor petticoat, nor no manner of linen, nor foresmocks, nor kerchiefs, nor sleeves, nor rails, nor body-stitchets, nor mufflers, nor biggins. All these, her grace's mostake, I have driven off as long as I can, that, by my troth, I cannot drive it no lenger. Beseeching you, my lord, that you will see that her grace may have that is needful for her, as my trust is ye will do—that I may know from you by writing how I shall order myself; and what is the king's grace's pleasure and yours, that I shall do in every thing.
"My lord, Mr. Shelton saith he is the master of this house: what fashion that shall be, I cannot tell; for I have not seen it before.—I trust your lordship will see the house honourably ordered, howsomever it hath been ordered aforetime.
"My lord, Mr. Shelton would have my lady Elizabeth to dine and sup every day at the board of estate. Alas! my lord, it is not meet for a child of her age to keep such rule yet. I promise you, my lord, I dare not take it upon me to keep her in health and she keep that rule. For there she shall see divers meats and fruits, and wine: which would be hard for me to restrain her grace from it. Ye know, my lord, there is no place of correction there. And she is yet too young to correct greatly. I know well, and she be there, I shall nother bring her up to the king's grace's honour, nor hers; nor to her health, nor my poor honesty. Wherefore I show your lordship this my desire. Beseeching you, my lord, that my lady may have a mess of meat to her own lodging, with a good dish or two, that is meet for her grace to eat of.
"God knoweth my lady hath great pain with her great teeth, and they come very slowly forth: and causeth me to suffer her grace to have her will, more than I would. I trust to God and her teeth were well graft, to have her grace after another fashion than she is yet: so as I trust the king's grace shall have great comfort in her grace. For she is as toward a child, and as gentle of conditions, as ever I knew any in my life. Jesu preserve her grace! As for a day or two at a hey time, or whensomever it shall please the king's grace to have her set abroad, I trust so to endeavour me, that she shall so do, as shall be to the king's honour and hers; and then after to take her ease again.
"Good my lord, have my lady's grace, and us that be her poor servants in your remembrance.
"From Hunsdon." (No date of time.)
[Note 2: This is a word which I am utterly unable to explain; but it is thus printed in Strype's "Memorials," whence the letter is copied.]
* * * * *
On the day immediately following the death of the unfortunate Anne Boleyn, the king was publicly united in marriage to Jane Seymour; and an act of parliament soon after passed by which the lady Elizabeth was declared incapable of succeeding to the crown, which was now settled on the offspring of Henry by his present queen.
1536 TO 1542.
Vague notions of hereditary succession to the English throne.—Henry's jealousy of the royal family.—Imprisonment of lord T. Howard and lady M. Douglas.—After-fortunes of this lady.—Princess Mary reconciled with her father.—Dissolution of monasteries proceeds.—Insurrections in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.—Remarkable trait of the power of the nobles.—Rebellion of T. Fitzgerald.—Romantic adventures of Gerald Fitzgerald.—Birth of prince Edward.—Death of the queen.—Rise of the two Seymours.—Henry's views in their advancement.—His enmity to cardinal Pole.—Causes of it.—Geffrey Pole discloses a plot.—Trial and death of lord Montacute, the marquis of Exeter, sir Edward Nevil, and sir N. Carew.—Particulars of these persons.—Attainder of the marchioness of Exeter and countess of Salisbury.—Application of these circumstances to the history of Elizabeth.—Decline of the protestant party.—Its causes.—Cromwel proposes the king's marriage with Anne of Cleves.—Accomplishments of this lady.—Royal marriage.—Cromwel made earl of Essex.—Anger of the Bourchier family.—Justs at Westminster.—The king determines to dissolve his marriage.—Permits the fall of Cromwel.—Is divorced.—Behaviour of the queen.—Marriage of the king to Catherine Howard.—Ascendency of the papists.—Execution of the countess of Salisbury—of lord Leonard Grey.—Discovery of the queen's ill-conduct.—Attainders passed against her and several others.
Nothing could be more opposite to the strict principles of hereditary succession than the ideas entertained, even by the first lawyers of the time of Henry VIII., concerning the manner in which a title to the crown was to be established and recognised.
When Rich, the king's solicitor, was sent by his master to argue with sir Thomas More on the lawfulness of acknowledging the royal supremacy; he inquired in the course of his argument, whether sir Thomas would not own for king any person whatever,—himself for example,—who should have been declared so by parliament? He answered, that he would. Rich then demanded, why he refused to acknowledge a head of the church so appointed? "Because," replied More, "a parliament can make a king and depose him, and that every parliament-man may give his consent thereunto, but a subject cannot be bound so in case of supremacy." Bold as such doctrine respecting the power of parliaments would now be thought, it could not well be controverted at a time when examples were still recent of kings of the line of York or Lancaster alternately elevated or degraded by a vote of the two houses, and when the father of the reigning sovereign had occupied the throne in virtue of such a nomination more than by right of birth.
[Note 3: See Herbert's Henry VIII.]
But the obvious inconveniences and dangers attending the exercise of this power of choice, had induced the parliaments of Henry VIII. to join with him in various acts for the regulation of the succession. It was probably with the concurrence of this body, that in 1532 he had declared his cousin, the marquis of Exeter, heir to the crown; yet this very act, by which the king excluded not only his daughter Mary, but his two sisters and their children, every one of whom had a prior right according to the rules at present received, must have caused the sovereignty to be regarded rather as elective in the royal family than properly hereditary—a fatal idea, which converted every member of that family possessed of wealth, talents, or popularity, into a formidable rival, if not to the sovereign on the throne, at least to his next heir, if a woman or a minor, and which may be regarded as the immediate occasion of those cruel proscriptions which stained with kindred blood the closing years of the reign of Henry, and have stamped upon him to all posterity the odious character of a tyrant.
The first sufferer by the suspicions of the king was lord Thomas Howard, half-brother to the duke of Norfolk, who was attainted of high treason in the parliament of 1536, for having secretly entered into a contract of marriage with lady Margaret Douglas, the king's niece, through which alliance he was accused of aiming at the crown. For this offence he was confined in the Tower till his death; but on what evidence of traitorous designs, or by what law, except the arbitrary mandate of the monarch confirmed by a subservient parliament, it would be difficult to say. That his marriage was forbidden by no law, is evident from the passing of an act immediately afterwards, making it penal to marry any female standing in the first degree of relationship to the king, without his knowledge and consent.
The lady Margaret was daughter to Henry's eldest sister, the queen-dowager of Scotland, by her second husband the earl of Angus. She was born in England, whither her mother had been compelled to fly for refuge by the turbulent state of her son's kingdom, and the ill success of her own and her husband's struggles for the acquisition of political power. In the English court the lady Margaret had likewise been educated, and had formed connexions of friendship; whilst her brother James V. laboured under the antipathy with which the English then regarded those northern neighbours, with whom they were involved in almost perpetual hostilities. It might easily therefore have happened, in case of the king's death without male heirs, that in spite of the power recently bestowed on him by parliament of disposing of the crown by will, which it is very uncertain how he would have employed, a connexion with the potent house of Howard might have given the title of lady Margaret a preference over that of any other competitor. Henry was struck with this danger, however distant and contingent: he caused his niece, as well as her spouse, to be imprisoned; and though he restored her to liberty in a few months, and the death of Howard, not long afterwards, set her free from this ill-starred engagement, she ventured not to form another, till the king himself, at the end of several years, gave her in marriage to the earl of Lenox; by whom she became the mother of lord Darnley, and through him the progenitrix of a line of princes destined to unite another crown to the ancient inheritance of the Plantagenets and the Tudors.
The princess Mary, after the removal of Anne Boleyn, who had exercised towards her the utmost insolence and harshness, ventured upon some overtures towards a reconciliation with her father; but he would accept them on no other conditions than her adopting his religious creed, acknowledging his supremacy, denying the authority of the pope, and confessing the unlawfulness of her mother's marriage. It was long before motives of expediency, and the persuasion of friends, could wring from Mary a reluctant assent to these cruel articles: her compliance was rewarded by the return of her father's affection, but not immediately by her reinstatement in the order of succession. She saw the child of Anne Boleyn still a distinguished object of the king's paternal tenderness; the new queen was likely to give another heir to the crown; and whatever hopes she, with the catholic party in general, had founded on the disgrace of his late spouse, became frustrated by succeeding events.
The death of Catherine of Arragon seemed to have removed the principal obstacles to an agreement between the king and the pope; and the holy father now deigned to make some advances towards a son whom he hoped to find disposed to penitence: but they were absolutely rejected by Henry, who had ceased to dread his spiritual thunders. The parliament and the convocation showed themselves prepared to adopt, without hesitation, the numerous changes suggested by the king in the ancient ritual; and Cromwel, with influence not apparently diminished by the fall of the late patroness of the protestant party, presided in the latter assembly with the title of vicegerent, and with powers unlimited.
The suppression of monasteries was now carried on with increasing rigor, and thousands of their unfortunate inhabitants were mercilessly turned out to beg or starve. These, dispersing themselves over the country, in which their former hospitalities had rendered them generally popular, worked strongly on the passions of the many, already discontented at the imposition of new taxes, which served to convince them that the king and his courtiers would be the only gainers by the plunder of the church; and formidable insurrections were in some counties the result. In Lincolnshire the commotions were speedily suppressed by the interposition of the earl of Shrewsbury and other loyal noblemen; but it was necessary to send into Yorkshire a considerable army under the duke of Norfolk. Through the dexterous management of this leader, who was judged to favor the cause of the revolters as much as his duty to his sovereign and a regard to his own safety would permit, little blood was shed in the field; but much flowed afterwards on the scaffold, where the lords Darcy and Hussey, sir Thomas Percy, brother to the earl of Northumberland, and several private gentlemen, suffered as traitors.
The suppression of these risings strengthened, as usual, the hands of government, but at the expense of converting into an object of dread, a monarch who in the earlier and brighter period of his reign had been regarded with sentiments of admiration and love.
In lord Herbert's narrative of this insurrection, we meet with a passage too remarkable to be omitted. "But the king, who was informed from divers parts, but chiefly from Yorkshire, that the people began there also to take arms, and knowing of what great consequence it might be if the great persons in those parts, though the rumour were false, should be said to join with him, had commanded George earl of Shrewsbury, Thomas Manners earl of Rutland, and George Hastings earl of Huntingdon, to make a proclamation to the Lincolnshire-men, summoning and commanding them on their allegiance and peril of their lives to return; which, as it much disheartened them, so many stole away," &c.
In this potency of the hereditary aristocracy of the country, and comparative feebleness, on some occasions at least, of the authority of the most despotic sovereign whom England had yet seen on the throne, we discern at once the excuse which Henry would make to himself for his severities against the nobility, and the motive of that extreme popularity of manners by which Elizabeth aimed at attaching to herself the affections of the middling and lower orders of her subjects.
Soon after these events, Henry confirmed the new impressions which his subjects had received of his character, by an act of extraordinary, but not unprovoked, severity, which involved in destruction one of the most ancient and powerful houses among the peerage of Ireland, that of Fitzgerald earl of Kildare. The nobleman who now bore this title had married for his second wife lady Elizabeth Grey, daughter of the first marquis of Dorset, and first-cousin to the king by his mother; he had been favored at court, and was at this time lord deputy of Ireland. But the country being in a very disturbed state, and the deputy accused of many acts of violence, he had obeyed with great reluctance a summons to answer for his conduct before the king in council, leaving his eldest son to exercise his office during his absence. On his arrival, he was committed to the Tower, and his son, alarmed by the false report of his having lost his head, broke out immediately into a furious rebellion. After a temporary success, Thomas Fitzgerald was reduced to great difficulties: at the same time a promise of pardon was held out to him; and confiding in it he surrendered himself to lord Leonard Grey, brother to the countess his step-mother. His five uncles, also implicated in the guilt of rebellion, were seized by surprise, or deceived into submission. The whole six were then conveyed to England in the same ship; and all, in spite of the entreaties and remonstrances of lord Leonard Grey, who considered his own honor as pledged for the safety of their lives, were hanged at Tyburn.
The aged earl had died in the Tower on receiving news of his son's rash enterprise; and a posthumous attainder being issued against him, his lands and goods were forfeited. The king however, in pity to the widow, and as a slight atonement for so cruel an injustice, permitted one of her daughters to retain some poor remains of the family plate and valuables; and another of them, coming to England, appears to have received her education at Hunsdon palace with the princesses Mary and Elizabeth her relations. Here she was seen by Henry earl of Surry, whose chaste and elegant muse has handed her down to posterity as the lovely Geraldine, the object of his fervent but fruitless devotion. She was married first to sir Anthony Brown, and afterwards became the wife of the earl of Lincoln, surviving by many years her noble and unfortunate admirer.
The countess of Kildare, and the younger of her two sons, likewise remained in England obscure and unmolested; but the merciless rancour of Henry against the house of Fitzgerald still pursued its destitute and unoffending heir, who was struggling through a series of adventures the most perilous and the most romantic.
This boy, named Gerald, then about twelve years old, had been left by his father at a house in Kildare, under the care and tuition of Leverous a priest who was his foster-brother. The child was lying ill of the small-pox, when the news arrived that his brother and uncles had been sent prisoners to England: but his affectionate guardian, justly apprehensive of greater danger to his young charge, wrapped him up as carefully as he could, and conveyed him away with all speed to the house of one of his sisters, where he remained till he was quite recovered. Thence his tutor removed him successively into the territories of two or three different Irish chieftains, who sheltered him for about three quarters of a year, after which he carried him to his aunt the lady Elenor, at that time widow of a chief named Maccarty Reagh.
This lady had long been sought in marriage by O'Donnel lord of Tyrconnel, to whose suit she had been unpropitious: but wrought upon by the hope of being able to afford effectual protection to her unfortunate nephew, she now consented to an immediate union; and taking Gerald along with her to her new home in the county of Donegal, she there hospitably entertained him for about a year. But the jealous spirit of the implacable king seemed to know no rest while this devoted youth still breathed the air of liberty, and he caused a great reward to be offered for his apprehension, which the base-minded O'Donnel immediately sought to appropriate by delivering him up. Fortunately the lady Elenor discovered his intentions in time, and instantly causing her nephew to disguise his person, and storing him, like a bountiful aunt, with "sevenscore portugueses," she put him under the charge of Leverous and an old servant of his father's, and shipped him on board a vessel bound for St. Malo's.
Having thus secured his escape, she loftily expostulated with her husband on his villainy in plotting to betray her kinsman, whom she had stipulated that he should protect to the utmost of his power; and she bid him know, that as the danger of the youth had alone induced her to form any connection with him, so the assurance of his safety should cause her to sequester herself for ever from the society of so base and mercenary a wretch: and hereupon, collecting all that belonged to her, she quitted O'Donnel and returned to her own country.
Gerald, in the mean time, arrived without accident in Bretagne, and was favorably received by the governor of that province, when the king of France, being informed of his situation, gave him a place about the dauphin. Sir John Wallop however, the English embassador, soon demanded him, in virtue of a treaty between the two countries for the delivering up of offenders and proscribed persons; and while the king demurred to the requisition, Gerald consulted his safety by making a speedy retreat into Flanders. Thither his steps were dogged by an Irish servant of the embassador's; but the governor of Valenciennes protected him by imprisoning this man, till the youth himself generously begged his release; and he reached the emperor's court at Brussels, without further molestation. But here also the English embassador demanded him; the emperor however excused himself from giving up a fugitive whose youth sufficiently attested his innocence, and sent him privately to the bishop of Liege, with a pension of a hundred crowns a month. The bishop entertained him very honorably, placing him in a monastery, and watching carefully over the safety of his person, till, at the end of half a year, his mother's kinsman, cardinal Pole, sent for him into Italy.
Before he would admit the young Irishman to his presence, the cardinal required him to learn Italian; and allowing him an annuity, placed him first with the bishop of Verona, then with a cardinal, and afterwards with the duke of Mantua. At the end of a year and a half he invited him to Rome, and soon becoming attached to him, took him into his house, and for three years had him instructed under his own eye in all the accomplishments of a finished gentleman. At the end of this time, when Gerald had nearly attained the age of nineteen, his generous patron gave him the choice either of pursuing his studies or of travelling to seek his adventures. The youth preferred the latter; and repairing to Naples, he fell in with some knights of Rhodes, whom he accompanied to Malta, and thence to Tripoli, a place at that time possessed by the order, whence they carried on fierce war against the "Turks and miscreants," spoiling and sacking their villages and towns, and taking many prisoners whom they sold to the Christians for slaves. In these proceedings, the young adventurer took a strenuous and valiant part, much to his profit; for in less than a year he returned to Rome laden with a rich booty. "Proud was the cardinal to hear of his prosperous exploits," and increased his pension to three hundred pounds a year. Shortly after, he entered into the service of Cosmo duke of Florence, and remained three years his master of the horse.
The tidings of Henry's death at length put an end to his exile, and he hastened to London in the company of some foreign embassadors, and still attended by his faithful guardian Leverous. Appearing at king Edward's court in a mask, or ball, he had the good fortune to make a deep impression on the heart of a young lady, daughter to sir Anthony Brown, whom he married; and through the intercession of her friends was restored to a part of his inheritance by the young monarch, who also knighted him. In the next reign, the interest of cardinal Pole procured his reinstatement in all the titles and honors of his ancestors. He was a faithful and affectionate subject to queen Elizabeth, in whose reign he turned protestant; was by her greatly favored, and finally died in peace in 1585.
That ill-directed restlessness which formed so striking a feature in the character of Henry VIII. had already prompted him to interfere, as we have seen, on more than one occasion, with the order of succession; and the dangerous consequences of these capricious acts with respect to the several branches of the royal family have already been observed. To the people at large also, his instability on so momentous a point was harassing and alarming, and they became as much at a loss to conjecture what successor, as what religion, he would at last bequeath them.
Under such circumstances, great indeed must have been the joy in the court and in the nation on the occurrence of an event calculated to end all doubts and remove all difficulties—the birth of a prince of Wales.
This auspicious infant seemed to strangle in his cradle the serpents of civil discord. Every lip hastened to proffer him its homage; every heart united, or seemed at least to unite, in the general burst of thankfulness and congratulation.
[Note 4: See Chron. of Ireland in Holinshed, pass. Collins's Peerage, by sir E. Brydges, article Viscount Leinster.]
The zealous papists formed the party most to be suspected of insincerity in their professions of satisfaction; but the princess Mary set them an excellent example of graceful submission to what was inevitable, by soliciting the office of godmother. Her sister was happily too young to be infected with court-jealousies, or to behold in a brother an unwelcome intruder, who came to snatch from her the inheritance of a crown: between Elizabeth and Edward an attachment truly fraternal sprung up with the first dawnings of reason; and notwithstanding the fatal blow given to her interests by the act of settlement extorted from his dying hand, this princess never ceased to cherish his memory, and to mention him in terms of affectionate regret.
The conjugal felicities of Henry were destined to be of short duration, and before he could receive the felicitations of his subjects on the birth of his son, the mother was snatched away by death. The queen died deeply regretted, not only by her husband, but by the whole court, whom she had attached by the uncommon sweetness of her disposition. To the princess Mary her behaviour had been the reverse of that by which her predecessor had disgraced herself; and the little Elizabeth had received from her marks of a maternal tenderness. Jane Seymour was accounted a favourer of the protestant cause; but as she was apparently free from the ambition of interfering in state affairs, her death had no further political influence than what resulted from the king's marriage thus becoming once more an object of speculation and court intrigue. It did not even give a check to the advancement of her two brothers, destined to act and to suffer so conspicuously in the fierce contentions of the ensuing minority; for the king seemed to regard it as a point of policy to elevate those maternal relations of his son, on whose care he relied to watch over the safety of his person in case of his own demise, to a dignity and importance which the proudest nobles of the land might view with respect or fear. Sir Edward Seymour, who had been created lord Beauchamp the year before, was now made earl of Hertford; and high places at court and commands in the army attested the favor of his royal brother-in-law. Thomas Seymour, afterwards lord high-admiral, attained during this reign no higher dignity than that of knighthood; but considerable pecuniary grants were bestowed upon him; and whilst he saw his wealth increase, he was secretly extending his influence, and feeding his aspiring spirit with fond anticipations of future greatness.
All now seemed tranquil: but a discerning eye might already have beheld fresh tempests gathering in the changeful atmosphere of the English court. The jealousies of the king, become too habitual to be discarded, had in fact only received a new direction from the birth of his son: his mind was perpetually haunted with the dread of leaving him, a defenceless minor, in the hands of contending parties in religion, and of a formidable and factious nobility; and for the sake of obviating the distant and contingent evils which he apprehended from this source, he showed himself ready to pour forth whole rivers of the best blood of England.
The person beyond all comparison most dreaded and detested by Henry at this juncture was his cousin Reginald Pole, for whom when a youth he had conceived a warm affection, whose studies he had encouraged by the gift of a deanery and the hope of further church-preferment, and of whose ingratitude he always believed himself entitled to complain. It was the long-contested point of the lawfulness of Henry's marriage with his brother's widow, which set the kinsmen at variance. Pole had from the first refused to concur with the university of Paris, in which he was then residing, in its condemnation of this union: afterwards, alarmed probably at the king's importunities on the subject, he had obtained the permission then necessary for leaving England, to which he had returned, and travelled into Italy. Here he formed friendships with the most eminent defenders of the papal authority, now incensed to the highest degree against Henry, on account of his having declared himself head of the English church; and both his convictions and his passions becoming still more strongly engaged on the side which he had already espoused, he published a work on the unity of the church, in which the conduct of his sovereign and benefactor became the topic of his vehement invective.
The offended king, probably with treacherous intentions, invited Pole to come to England, and explain to him in person certain difficult passages of his book: but his kinsman was too wary to trust himself in such hands; and his refusal to obey this summons, which implied a final renunciation of his country and all his early prospects, was immediately rewarded by the pope, through the emperor's concurrence, with a cardinal's hat and the appointment of legate to Flanders. But alarmed, as well as enraged, at seeing the man whom he regarded as his bitterest personal enemy placed in a situation so convenient for carrying on intrigues with the disaffected papists in England, Henry addressed so strong a remonstrance to the governess of the Netherlands, as caused her to send the cardinal out of the country before he had begun to exercise the functions of his legantine office.
From this time, to maintain any intercourse or correspondence with Pole was treated by the king as either in itself an act of treason, or at least as conclusive evidence of traitorous intentions. He believed that the darkest designs were in agitation against his own government and his son's succession; and the circumstance of the cardinal's still declining to take any but deacon's orders, notwithstanding his high dignity in the church, suggested to him the suspicion that his kinsman aimed at the crown itself, through a marriage with the princess Mary, of whose legitimacy he had shown himself so strenuous a champion. What foundation there might be for such an idea it is difficult to determine.
There is an author who relates that the lady Mary was educated with the cardinal under his mother, and hints that an early attachment had thus been formed between them: A statement manifestly inaccurate, since Pole was sixteen years older than the princess; though it is not improbable that Mary, during some period of her youth, might be placed under the care of the countess of Salisbury, and permitted to associate with her son on easy and affectionate terms. It is well known that after Mary's accession, Charles V. impeded the journey of Pole into England till her marriage with his son Philip had been actually solemnized; but this was probably rather from a persuasion of the inexpediency of the cardinal's sooner opening his legantine commission in England, than from any fear of his supplanting in Mary's affections his younger rival, though some have ascribed to the emperor the latter motive.
[Note 5: See Lloyd's Worthies, article Pole.]
When however it is recollected, that in consequence of Henry's having caused a posthumous judgement of treason to be pronounced against the papal martyr Becket, his shrine to be destroyed, his bones burned, and his ashes scattered, the pope had at length, in 1538, fulminated against him the long-suspended sentence of excommunication, and made a donation of his kingdom to the king of Scots, and thus impressed the sanction of religion on any rebellious attempts of his Roman-catholic subjects,—it would be too much to pronounce the apprehensions of the monarch to have been altogether chimerical. But his suspicion appears, as usual, to have gone beyond the truth, and his anger to have availed itself of slight pretexts to ruin where he feared and hated.
Such was the state of his mind when the treachery or weakness of Geffrey Pole furnished him with intelligence of a traitorous correspondence carried on with his brother the cardinal by several persons of distinction attached to the papal interest, and in which he had himself been a sharer. On his information, the marquis of Exeter, viscount Montacute, sir Edward Nevil, and sir Nicholas Carew, were apprehended, tried and found guilty of high treason. Public opinion was at this time nothing; and notwithstanding the rank, consequence and popularity of the men whose lives were sacrificed on this occasion; notwithstanding that secret consciousness of his own ill-will towards them, which ought to have rendered Henry more than usually cautious in his proceedings,—not even an attempt was made to render their guilt clear and notorious to the nation at large; and posterity scarcely even knows of what designs they were accused; to overt acts it is quite certain that they had not proceeded.
Henry lord Montacute was obnoxious on more than one account: he was the brother of cardinal Pole; and as eldest son of Margaret, sole surviving child of the duke of Clarence and heiress to her brother the earl of Warwick, he might be regarded as succeeding to those claims on the crown which under Henry VII. had proved fatal to the last-mentioned unfortunate and ill-treated nobleman. During the early part of this reign, however, he, in common with other members of the family of Pole, had received marks of the friendship of Henry. In 1514, his mother was authorized to assume the title of countess of Salisbury, and he that of viscount Montacute, notwithstanding the attainder formerly passed against the great house of Nevil, from whom these honors were derived. In 1521 lord Montacute had been indicted for concealing the treasons, real or pretended, of the duke of Buckingham; but immediately on his acquittal he was restored to the good graces of his sovereign, and, two years after, attended him on an expedition to France.
It is probable that lord Montacute was popular; he was at least a partisan of the old religion, and heir to the vast possessions which his mother derived from the king-making earl of Warwick her maternal grandfather; sufficient motives with Henry for now wishing his removal. If the plot in which he was charged by his perfidious brother with participating, had in view the elevation of the cardinal to a matrimonial crown by his union with the princess Mary, which seems to have been insinuated, lord Montacute must at least stand acquitted of all design of asserting his own title; yet it may justly be suspected that his character of representative of the house of Clarence, was by Henry placed foremost in the catalogue of his offences.
A similar remark applies still more forcibly to the marquis of Exeter. Son of Catherine, youngest daughter of Edward IV., and so lately declared his heir by Henry himself, it is scarcely credible that any inducement could have drawn this nobleman into a plot for disturbing the succession in favour of a claim worse founded than his own; and that the blood which he inherited was the true object of Henry's apprehensions from him, evidently appeared to all the world by his causing the son of the unhappy marquis, a child at this period, to be detained a state prisoner in the Tower during the remainder of his reign.
Sir Edward Nevil was brother to lord Abergavenny and to the wife of lord Montacute—a connection likely to bring him into suspicion, and perhaps to involve him in real guilt; but it must not be forgotten that he was a lineal descendant of the house of Lancaster by Joan daughter of John of Gaunt. The only person not of royal extraction who suffered on this occasion was sir Nicholas Carew, master of the horse, and lately a distinguished favourite of the king; of whom it is traditionally related, that though accused as an accomplice in the designs of the other noble delinquents, the real offence for which he died, was the having retorted, with more spirit than prudence, some opprobrious language with which his royal master had insulted him as they were playing at bowls together. The family of Carew was however allied in blood to that of Courtney, of which the marquis of Exeter was the head.
[Note 6: See Fuller's Worthies in Surry.]
But the attempt to extirpate all who under any future circumstances might be supposed capable of advancing claims formidable to the house of Tudor, must have appeared to Henry himself a task almost as hopeless as cruel. Sons and daughters of the Plantagenet princes had in every generation freely intermarried with the ancient nobles of the land; and as fast as those were cut off whose connection with the royal blood was nearest and most recent, the pedigrees of families pointed out others, and others still, whose relationship grew into nearness by the removal of such as had stood before them, and presented to the affrighted eyes of their persecutor, a hydra with still renewed and multiplying heads.
Not content with these inflictions,—sufficiently severe it might be thought to intimidate the papal faction,—Henry gratified still further his stern disposition by the attainder of the marchioness of Exeter and the aged countess of Salisbury. The marchioness he soon after released; but the countess was still detained prisoner under a sentence of death, which a parliament, atrocious in its subserviency, had passed upon her without form of trial, but which the king did not think proper at present to carry into execution, either because he chose to keep her as a kind of hostage for the good behaviour of her son the cardinal, or because, tyrant as he had become, he had not yet been able to divest himself of all reverence or pity for the hoary head of a female, a kinswoman, and the last who was born to the name of Plantagenet.
It is melancholy, it is even disgusting, to dwell upon these acts of legalized atrocity, but let it be allowed that it is important and instructive. They form unhappily a leading feature of the administration of Henry VIII. during the latter years of his reign; they exhibit in the most striking point of view the sentiments and practices of the age; and may assist us to form a juster estimate of the character and conduct of Elizabeth, whose infant mind was formed to the contemplation of these domestic tragedies, and whose fame has often suffered by inconsiderate comparisons which have placed her in parallel with the enlightened and humanized sovereigns of more modern days, rather than with the stern and arbitrary Tudors, her barbarous predecessors.
It is remarkable that the protestant party at the court of Henry, so far from gaining strength and influence by the severities exercised against the adherents of cardinal Pole and the ancient religion, was evidently in a declining state. The feeble efforts of its two leaders Cromwel and Cranmer, of whom the first was deficient in zeal, the last in courage, now experienced irresistible counteraction from the influence of Gardiner, whose uncommon talents for business, joined to his extreme obsequiousness, had rendered him at once necessary and acceptable to his royal master. The law of the Six Articles, which forbade under the highest penalties the denial of several doctrines of the Romish church peculiarly obnoxious to the reformers, was probably drawn up by this minister. It was enacted in the parliament of 1539: a vast number of persons were soon after imprisoned for transgressing it; and Cranmer himself was compelled, by the clause which ordained the celibacy of the clergy, to send away his wife.
Under these circumstances Cromwel began to look on all sides for support; and recollecting with regret the powerful influence exerted by Anne Boleyn in favor of the good cause, and even the gentler and more private aid lent to it by the late queen, he planned a new marriage for his sovereign, with a lady educated in the very bosom of the protestant communion. Political considerations favored the design; since a treaty lately concluded between the emperor and the king of France rendered it highly expedient that Henry, by way of counterpoise, should strengthen his alliance with the Smalcaldic league. In short, Cromwel prevailed. Holbein, whom the king had appointed his painter on the recommendation of sir Thomas More, and still retained in that capacity, was sent over to take the portrait of Anne sister of the duke of Cleves; and rashly trusting in the fidelity of the likeness, Henry soon after solicited her hand in marriage.
"The lady Anne," says a historian, "understood no language but Dutch, so that all communication of speech between her and our king was intercluded. Yet our embassador, Nicholas Wotton doctor of law, employed in the business, hath it, that she could both read and write in her own language, and sew very well; only for music, he said, it was not the manner of the country to learn it." It must be confessed that for a princess this list of accomplishments appears somewhat scanty; and Henry, unfortunately for the lady Anne, was a great admirer of learning, wit and talents, in the female sex, and a passionate lover of music, which he well understood. What was still worse, he piqued himself extremely on his taste in beauty, and was much more solicitous respecting the personal charms of his consorts than is usual with sovereigns; and when, on the arrival of his destined bride in England, he hastened to Rochester to gratify his impatience by snatching a private view of her, he found that in this capital article he had been grievously imposed upon. The uncourteous comparison by which he expressed his dislike of her large and clumsy person is well known. Bitterly did he lament to Cromwel the hard fortune which had allotted him so unlovely a partner, and he returned to London very melancholy. But the evil appeared to be now past remedy; it was contrary to all policy to affront the German princes by sending back their countrywoman after matters had gone so far, and Henry magnanimously resolved to sacrifice his own feelings, once in his life, for the good of his country. Accordingly, he received the princess with great magnificence and with every outward demonstration of satisfaction, and was married to her at Greenwich in January 1540.
[Note 7: Herbert.]
Two or three months afterwards, the king, notwithstanding his secret dissatisfaction, rewarded Cromwel for his pains in concluding this union by conferring on him the vacant title of earl of Essex;—a fatal gift, which exasperated to rage the mingled jealousy and disdain which this low-born and aspiring minister had already provoked from the ancient nobility, by intruding himself into the order of the garter, and which served to heap upon his devoted head fresh coals of wrath against the day of retribution which was fast approaching. The act of transferring this title to a new family, could in fact be no otherwise regarded by the great house of Bourchier, which had long enjoyed it, than either as a marked indignity to itself, or as a fresh result of the general Tudor system of depressing and discountenancing the blood of the Plantagenets, from which the Bourchiers, through a daughter of Thomas of Woodstock, were descended. The late earl had left a married daughter, to whom, according to the customary courtesy of English sovereigns in similar circumstances, the title ought to have been continued; and as this lady had no children, the earl of Bath, as head of the house, felt himself also aggrieved by the alienation of family honors which he hoped to have seen continued to himself and his posterity.
In honor, probably, of the recent marriage of the king, unusually splendid justs were opened at Westminster on May-day; in which the challengers were headed by sir John Dudley, and the defenders by the earl of Surry. This entertainment was continued for several successive days, during which the challengers, according to the costly fashion of ancient hospitality, kept open house at their common charge, and feasted the king and queen, the members of both houses, and the lord-mayor and aldermen with their wives.
But scenes of pomp and festivity had no power to divert the thoughts of the king from his domestic grievance,—a wife whom he regarded with disgust: on the contrary, it is probable that this season of courtly revelry encreased his disquiet, by giving him opportunities of beholding under the most attractive circumstances the charms of a youthful beauty whom he was soon seized with the most violent desire of placing beside him on the throne which he judged her worthy to adorn.
No considerations of rectitude or of policy could longer restrain the impetuous monarch from casting off the yoke of a detested marriage: and as a first step towards emancipation, he determined to permit the ruin of its original adviser, that unpopular minister, but vigorous and serviceable instrument of arbitrary power, whom he had hitherto defended with pertinacity against all attacks.
No sooner was the decline of his favor perceived, and what so quickly perceived at courts? than the ill-fated Cromwel found himself assailed on every side. His active agency in the suppression of monasteries had brought upon him, with the imputation of sacrilege, the hatred of all the papists;—a certain coldness, or timidity, which he had manifested in the cause of religious reformation in other respects, and particularly the enactment of the Six Articles during his administration, had rendered him an object of suspicion or dislike to the protestants;—in his new and undefined office of royal vicegerent for the exercise of the supremacy, he had offended the whole body of the clergy;—and he had just filled up the measure of his offences against the nobility by procuring a grant of the place of lord high-steward, long hereditary in the great house of the Veres earls of Oxford. The only voice raised in his favor was that of Cranmer, who interceded with Henry in his behalf in a letter eloquent, touching, and even courageous, times and persons considered. Gardiner and the duke of Norfolk urged on his accusation; the parliament, with its accustomed subserviency, proceeded against him by attainder; and having voted him guilty of heresy and treason, left it in the choice of the king to bring him either to the block or the stake for whichever he pleased of these offences; neither of which was proved by evidence, or even supported by reasonable probabilities. But against this violation in his person of the chartered rights of Englishmen, however flagrant, the unfortunate earl of Essex had forfeited all right to appeal, since it was himself who had first advised the same arbitrary mode of proceeding in the cases of the marchioness of Exeter, of the countess of Salisbury, and of several persons of inferior rank connected with them; on whom capital punishment had already been inflicted.
With many private virtues, Essex, like his great master Wolsey, and like the disgraced ministers of despotic princes in general, perished unpitied; and the king and the faction of Gardiner and of the Howards seemed equally to rejoice in the free course opened by his removal to their further projects. The parliament was immediately ordered to find valid a certain frivolous pretext of a prior contract, on which its master was pleased to demand a divorce from Ann of Cleves; and the marriage was unanimously declared null, without any opportunity afforded to the queen of bringing evidence in its support.
The fortitude, or rather phlegm, with which her unmerited degradation was supported by the lady Anne, has in it something at once extraordinary and amusing. There is indeed a tradition that she fainted on first receiving the information that her marriage was likely to be set aside; but the shock once over, she gave to the divorce, without hesitation or visible reluctance, that assent which was required of her. Taking in good part the pension of three thousand pounds per annum, and the title of his sister which her ex-husband was graciously pleased to offer her, she wrote to her brother the elector to entreat him still to live in amity with the king of England, against whom she had no ground of complaint; and she continued, till the day of her death, to make his country her abode. Through the whole affair she gave no indication of wounded pride; unless her refusal to return in the character of a discarded and rejected damsel, to the home which she had so lately quitted in all the pomp and triumph of a royal bride, is to be regarded as such. But even for this part of her conduct a different motive is with great plausibility assigned by a writer, who supposes her to have been swayed by the prudent consideration, that the regular payment of her pension would better be secured by her remaining under the eyes and within the protection of the English nation.
A very few weeks after this apparently formidable business had been thus readily and amicably arranged, Catherine Howard niece to the duke of Norfolk, and first cousin to Anne Boleyn, was declared queen. This lady, beautiful, insinuating, and more fondly beloved by the king than any of her predecessors, was a catholic, and almost all the members of the council who now possessed office or influence were attached, more or less openly, to the same communion. In consequence, the penalties of the Six Articles were enforced with great cruelty against the reformers; but this did not exempt from punishment such as, offending on the other side, ventured to deny the royal supremacy; the only difference was, that the former class of culprits were burned as heretics, the latter hanged as traitors.
The king soon after seized the occasion of a trifling insurrection in Yorkshire, of which sir John Nevil was the leader, to complete his vengeance against cardinal Pole, by bringing to a cruel and ignominious end the days of his venerable and sorrow-stricken mother, who had been unfortunate enough thus long to survive the ruin of her family. The strange and shocking scene exhibited on the scaffold by the desperation of this illustrious and injured lady, is detailed by all our historians: it seems almost incredible that the surrounding crowd were not urged by an unanimous impulse of horror and compassion to rush in and rescue from the murderous hands of the executioner the last miserable representative of such a line of princes. But the eyes of Henry's subjects were habituated to these scenes of blood; and they were viewed by some with indifference, and by the rest with emotions of terror which effectually repressed the generous movements of a just and manly indignation.
In public causes, to be accused and to suffer death were now the same thing; and another eminent victim of the policy of the English Tiberius displayed in a novel and truly portentous manner his utter despair of the justice of the country and the mercy of his sovereign.
Lord Leonard Grey, late deputy of Ireland, was accused of favouring the escape of that persecuted child his nephew Gerald Fitzgerald, of corresponding with cardinal Pole, and of various other offences called treasonable. Being brought before a jury of knights, "he saved them," says lord Herbert, "the labour of condemning him, and without more ado confessed all. Which, whether this lord, who was of great courage, did out of desperation or guilt, some circumstances make doubtful; and the rather, that the articles being so many, he neither denied nor extenuated any of them, though his continual fighting with the king's enemies, where occasion was, pleaded much on his part. Howsoever, he had his head cut off."
[Note 8: Many years after, the earl of Kildare solemnly assured the author of the "Chronicles of Ireland" in Holinshed, that lord Leonard Grey had no concern whatever in his escape.]
The queen and her party were daily gaining upon the mind of the king; and Cranmer himself, notwithstanding the high esteem entertained for him by Henry, had begun to be endangered by their machinations, when an unexpected discovery put into his hands the means of baffling all their designs, and producing a total revolution in the face of the court.
It was towards the close of the year 1541 that private information was conveyed to the primate of such disorders in the conduct of the queen before her marriage as could not fail to plunge her in infamy and ruin. Cranmer, if not exceedingly grieved, was at least greatly perplexed by the incident:—at first sight there appeared to be equal danger in concealing or discovering circumstances of a nature so delicate, and the archbishop was timid by nature, and cautious from the experience of a court. At length, all things well weighed, he judiciously preferred the hazard of making the communication at once, without reserve, and directly, to the person most interested; and, forming into a narrative facts which his tongue dared not utter to the face of a prince whose anger was deadly, he presented it to him and entreated him to peruse it in secret.
Love and pride conspired to persuade the king that his Catherine was incapable of having imposed upon him thus grossly, and he at once pronounced the whole story a malicious fabrication; but the strict inquiry which he caused to be instituted for the purpose of punishing its authors, not only established the truth of the accusations already brought, but served also to throw the strongest suspicions on the conjugal fidelity of the queen.
The agonies of Henry on this occasion were such as in any other husband would have merited the deepest compassion: with him they were quickly succeeded by the most violent rage; and his cry for vengeance was, as usual, echoed with alacrity by a loyal and sympathizing parliament. Party animosity profited by the occasion and gave additional impulse to their proceedings. After convicting by attainder the queen and her paramours, who were soon after put to death, the two houses proceeded also to attaint her uncle, aunt, grandmother, and about ten other persons, male and female, accused of being accessary or privy to her disorders before marriage, and of not revealing them to the king when they became acquainted with his intention of making her his consort; an offence declared to be misprision of treason by an ex post facto law. But this was an excess of barbarity of which Henry himself was ashamed: the infamous lady Rochford was the only confident who suffered capitally; the rest were released after imprisonments of longer or shorter duration; yet a reserve of bitterness appears to have remained stored up in the heart of the king against the whole race of Howard, which the enemies of that illustrious house well knew how to cherish and augment against a future day.
1542 TO 1547.
Rout of Solway and death of James V. of Scotland.—Birth of queen Mary.—Henry projects to marry her to his son.—Offers the hand of Elizabeth to the earl of Arran.—Earl of Lenox marries lady M. Douglas.—Marriage of the king to Catherine Parr.—Her person and acquirements.—Influence of her conduct on Elizabeth.—Henry joins the emperor against Francis I.—His campaign in France.—Princess Mary replaced in order of succession, and Elizabeth also.—Proposals for a marriage between Elizabeth and Philip of Spain.—The duke of Norfolk and earl of Hertford heads of the catholic and protestant parties. Circumstances which give a preponderance to the latter.—Disgrace of the duke.—Trial of the earl of Surry.—His death and character.—Sentence against the duke of Norfolk.—Death of Henry.