Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Concluded). page 12
The two knights were beheaded on the 10th of July; the Marchioness of Exeter was kept in prison for six months, and then dismissed; the son of Lord Montagu, the grandson of the countess, was probably, too, allowed to escape, for no record of his death appears; but the venerable old lady herself, the near relative of the king, and the last direct descendant of the Plantagenets, after having been kept in prison for nearly two years, was brought out, probably on some fresh act of the cardinal's, and on the 27th of May, 1541, was condemned to the scaffold. There she still showed the determination of her character. Unlike many who had fallen there before her, so far from making any ambiguous speech, or giving any hypocritical professions of reverence for the king, she refused to do anything which appeared consenting to her own death. When told to lay her head on the block, she replied, "No, my head never committed treason; if you will have it, you must take it as you can." The executioner tried to seize her, but she moved swiftly round the scaffold, tossing her head from side to side. At last, covered with blood, for the guards struck her with their weapons, she was seized, and forcibly held down, and whilst exclaiming, "Blessed are they who suffer persecution for righteousness' sake," the axe descended, and her head fell.
A more revolting tragedy, in defiance of all law and justice, a more frightful murder committed in open day, by brutal force, on a venerable, meritorious, and innocent woman, never took place, whether the murderer were called king or assassin. It proclaimed to all the world that the King of England was now demoralised to the grade of the hardened despot, no longer sensible to any feeling of honour or humanity, and obedient only to his brutal passions.
But the time of Cromwell himself was coming. The block was the pretty certain goal of Henry's ministers. The more he caressed and favoured them, the more certain was that result. As a cat plays with a mouse, so Henry played with his ministers and his wives. Cromwell had gone on long advocating the utmost stretches of despotism. He had done his best to level all the safeguards of the constitution, and, therefore, of every man's life and safety. He had sprung from the lowest rank, and, therefore, was naturally beheld with hatred by the old nobility; but this hatred he had infinitely augmented in a large party by attacking their then most deeply rooted objects of veneration. He had destroyed the property of the Church without being able to eradicate from the mind of the king its doctrines, and these had now recoiled upon him with a fatal force. He had failed to prevent the passing of the Six Articles, which made Roman Catholicism still the unquestioned religion of the land; and he saw the Duke of Norfolk and Bishop Gardiner, the stanch champions of the old faith, steadily gaining the ascendancy at Court. Reflecting anxiously on the critical nature of his position, the deep and unprincipled minister came to the conclusion that the only mode of regaining his influence with the king was to promote a Protestant marriage. For a time at least Henry allowed himself to be governed by a new wife, and that time gained might prove everything to Cromwell. Circumstances seemed to favour him at this moment. The king was in constant alarm at the combination betwixt France and Spain; and a new alliance with the Protestant princes of Germany, if accomplished, would equally serve the purposes of the king and of Cromwell.
Henry had now been a widower for more than two years, but by no means a willing one. Immediately after the death of Jane Seymour, he had made an offer of his hand to the Duchess Dowager of Milan, the niece of the emperor; but the duchess was not at all flattered by the proposal. It was too well known all over Europe that he had already disposed of three wives; Catherine of Arragon, it was said, by poison, Anne Boleyn by the axe, and Jane Seymour by the want of proper care in childbed. His butcheries of numbers of other people, some of them of the highest rank and of near kindred to himself, made every one recoil from his alliance, especially as he was now become a huge and bloated mass of disease. The witty Dowager of Milan, therefore, sent him word that, as she had but one head, and could not very well do without it, she declined the honour. He then addressed himself to the Princess Marie of Guise, the Duchess-Dowager of Longueville, but she was already affianced to a younger and much more desirable husband, James V. of Scotland. The accounts which he received of the beauty and accomplishments of the Duchess de Longueville made him unwilling to take a refusal. Chatillon, the French ambassador at London, wrote to Francis that Henry would hear of nothing else but the duchess. The ambassador reiterated that she was betrothed to his nephew, James of Scotland; but Henry said he would not believe it, and that he would do much greater things for her, and for the French king, too, than James could. In fact, Henry hated James, and this was an additional stimulus: he would have been delighted to mortify the King of Scots by snatching her away from him. Chatillon asked him if he would marry another man's wife - a very pointed question, for both Catherine and Anne had been got rid of by the plea that they had been previously affianced to other men. This was lost, however, on the gross, callous mind of Henry, and Francis was-obliged to tell him plainly it could not be, but offered him Mary of Bourbon, daughter of the Duke of Vendome. Henry refused Mademoiselle Vendome, because she had been formerly offered to James of Scotland, who preferred the Longueville, and Henry said he would not take the leavings of another king. In August, 1538, Madame de Montreuil, a lady who had accompanied Magdalen of France, the first wife of James V., to Scotland, was returning through England to France, and Henry thought that perhaps she might suit him; she was, therefore, detained at Dover some time, that the king might go and see her, but probably he soon: learnt from others enough to withdraw him from the project, for he never went, but turned again to Francis L, who then offered him either of the sisters of the Queen of Scotland, the princesses of Guise. Henry listened to this, and proposed that Francis should come to Calais on pretence of a private conference, and bring these ladies with him, and others of the finest ladies of France, that he might look at them, and make a choice amongst them. Francis spurned this coarse proposal, saying he had too much regard for the fair sex to trot them out like horses at a fair, to be taken or refused at the humour of the purchaser.
Now was the time for Cromwell, while Henry was chagrined by these difficulties. He informed him that Anne, daughter of John III., Duke, of Cleves, Count of Mark, and Lord of Ravenstein, was greatly extolled for her beauty and good sense; that her sister Sybilla, the wife of Frederick, Duke of Saxony, the head of the Protestant confederation of Germany, called the Smalcaldic League, was famed for her beauty, talents, and virtues, and universally regarded as one of the most distinguished ladies of the time. He pointed out to Henry the advantages of thus, by this alliance, acquiring the firm friendship of the princes of Germany, in counterpoise to the designs of France and Spain; and he assured him. that he heard that the sisters of the Electress of Saxony, educated under the same wise mother, were equally attractive in person and in mind, and waited only a higher position to give them greater lustre, especially the Princess Anne.
Henry immediately caught at the idea, and desired to have the portraits of the two sisters sent over to him. Christopher Mount, who was employed to negotiate this matter, and who was probably a creature of Cromwell's, •urged the Duke of Cleves to have the portraits done with all dispatch; but the duke, who, probably, had no faith in the result of the experiment, was in no hurry. He replied to Mount's importunities that Lucas, his painter, was sick; but he would see to it, and find some occasion to send it. This lukewarmness argued little hope or inclination in the Duke of Cleves; and, singularly enough, it appears that Anne, his daughter, was already engaged to the Duke of Lorraine. These pre-engagements, broken to oblige Henry, had always been used by him afterwards to get rid of the wife, and the duke might well pause upon it. Mount, however, who must have been no judge of beauty, or was destitute of judgment altogether, gave the business no rest. He reported that every man praised the beauty of the lady, as well for face as for the whole body, above all other ladies excellent, and that she as far excelled the duchess (of Milan?) as the golden sun excelleth the silver moon.
The Duke of Cleves died on the 6th of February, 1539, and Henry dispatched Hans Holbein to take the lady's portrait. Nicholas "Wotton, Henry's envoy at the Court of Cleves, in a letter dated August 11th of the same year, reported both of the progress of the portrait and of the lady's character as follows: - "As for the education of my said ladye, she hath from her childhood been like as the Ladye Sybille, till she was married, and the Ladye Amelye hath been, and now is, brought up with the ladye duchess, her mother, and in manner never from her elbow - the ladye duchess being a very wise ladye, and one that straitly looketh to her children. All the gentlemen of the Court, and others that I have asked, report her to be of very lowly and gentle condition, by which she hath so much won her mother's favour, that she is very loth to suffer her to depart from her. She employeth her time much with her needle; she can read and write her own, but French and Latin, or other language, she knoweth not; nor yet can sing, or play on any instrument, - for they take it here in Germany for a rebuke and an occasion of lightness, that great ladies should be learned, or have any knowledge of music. Her wit is so good that, no doubt, she will in short space learn the English tongue, whenever she putteth her mind to it. I could never hear that she is inclined to the good cheer of this country; and marvel it were if she should, seeing that her brother, in whom it were somewhat more tolerable, doth well abstain from it. Your grace's servant, Hans Holbein, hath taken the effigies of my Ladye Anne and the Ladye Amelye, and hath expressed their images very lively."
This miniature of Anne of Cleves is still in existence, perfect as when it was executed, upwards of 300 years ago. Horace "Walpole describes the box which enclosed it, as in the form of a white rose, delicately carved in ivory, and says that he saw it in the cabinet of Mr. Barrett, of Lee. I have myself seen it in the possession of my late friend Sir Samuel Meyrick, of Goodrich Court, where it yet remains, the property of his nephew. The box screws into three parts, and in each end is a miniature portrait, one of Anne of Cleves and the other of Henry VIII. The portrait of Anne certainly is that of a very comely lady. Unfortunately, it was more lively than the original; and this box became to Cromwell, who had thus succeeded in accomplishing the marriage, fatal as the box of Pandora herself.
Henry, being delighted with the portrait - which, agreed so well with the many praises written of the lady by his agents - acceded to the match; and in the month of September the count palatine and ambassadors from Cleves arrived in London, where Cromwell received them with real delight, and the king bade them right welcome. The treaty was soon concluded; and Henry, impatient for the arrival of his wife, dispatched the Lord Admiral Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton, to receive her at Calais, and conduct her to England. Anne set out from her native city of Dusseldorf in the first week in October, 1539, attended by an escort of 400 horse, and the chief personages of the household of her brother, the Duke of Cleves. She arrived, on the 11th of December, on the English frontiers of Calais, and was received by the Lord Lisle, deputy of Calais, the lieutenant of the castle, the knight porter, and the marshal of Calais, and by the cavalry of the garrison, all freshly and gallantly appointed for the occasion, with the men-at-arms in velvet coats and chains of gold, and all the king's archers. About a mile from the town she was received by the lord admiral, the Lord William Howard, and many other lords and gentlemen. In the train which conducted Anne of Cleves into Calais there were kinsmen of five out of the six queens of Henry VIII.
Henry beguiled the tedium of his waiting for his expected bride by the executions of the venerable abbot of Glastonbury, the abbot of Tending, and others. It was not enough that he suppressed the monasteries, and took possession of them - he must quench his blood-thirst in the lives of the superiors. The abbot of Glastonbury, Richard Whiting, aged, and sinking under divers ailments, was executed on the charge of endeavouring to conceal the plate of the abbey, with John Thorne, his treasurer, and Roger James, his under-treasurer. Lord John Russell declares that the jury which condemned the abbot and his monks showed a wonderful devotion to the king's will; and that ferocious will was certainly carried out in a truly savage style. The venerable abbot and his two officers were conducted to the top of Tor Hill, and here, in full view of the grand old abbey, and the noble parks and farms over which he had so long presided, they were hanged and quartered. The abbot's head was stuck upon the gates of the abbey, and his four quarters were sent to be exposed on the gates of Wells, Bath, Ilchester, and Bridgewater. About the same time, the abbot of Reading and the abbot of Colchester were executed, and exposed in the same barbarous manner.
Whilst these horrible atrocities were every day spreading wider over Europe the terrible fame of Henry VIII., he was impatiently awaiting his new wife. On the 27th of December, 1539, Anne landed at Deal, having been escorted across the Channel by a fleet of fifty ships. She was received with all the respect due to the Queen of England by Sir Thomas Cheney, lord warden of the port, and conducted to a castle nearly built, supposed to have been Walmer Castle. There she was waited upon by the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, the Bishop of Chichester, and a great number of the nobility, gentry, and ladies of Kent. By them she was conducted to Dover, where she remained till Monday, and then, on a very stormy day, set out on her progress to Canterbury. On Barham Downs she was met by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishops of Ely, St. Asaph, St. David's, and Dover, and a great company of gentlemen, who attended her to St. Augustine's, outside of Canterbury. On reaching Sittingbourne, the Duke of Norfolk, the Lord Dacre of the south, Lord Mountjoy, and a great company of knights and gentlemen of Norfolk and Suffolk, with the barons of the exchequer, all clad in coats of velvet, waited upon her, and conducted her to Rochester. So far all was grand and imposing; but it is impossible to suppose that any woman, going to meet such a Bluebeard of a husband, must not have inwardly trembled. And, in truth, she had great cause. She was a woman of the plainest education - scarcely of any education at all; totally destitute of those accomplishments so necessary to take the fancy of Henry, and to preside in the English Court; where, amid all its blood and savagery, music, dancing, and many courtly sports and practices prevailed. She was a thorough Protestant, going into the midst of as thoroughly Papist a faction, and to consort with a monarch the most fickle and dogmatic in the world. She could speak no language but German, and of that Henry did not understand a word. It would have required a world of charms to have reconciled all this to Henry, even for a time, and of these poor Anne of Cleves was destitute. That she was not ugly, many contemporaries testify; but she was at least plain in person, and still plainer in manners. Both she and her maidens, of whom she brought a great train, are said to have been as homely and as awkward a bevy as ever came to England in the cause of royal matrimony.
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