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Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Concluded). page 13

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The impatient though unwieldy lover, accompanied by eight gentlemen of his privy chamber, rode to Rochester to meet the bride. They were all clad alike, in coats "of marble colour," whatever that was; for Henry, with a spice of his old romance, was going incognito, to get a peep at his queen without her being aware which was he, as if that huge and remarkable figure, and that lion's face, could be passed for a moment as belonging to any one else. He told Cromwell that "he intended to visit her privily, to nourish love." On his arrival, he sent Sir Anthony Browne, his master of the horse, to inform. Anne that he had brought her a new year's gift, if she would please to accept it. Sir Anthony, on being introduced to the lady who was to occupy the place of the two most celebrated beauties of the day, the Boleyn and the Seymour, was, he afterwards confessed, "never so much dismayed in his life," but, of course, said nothing. So now the enamoured king, whose eyes were dazzled with the recollection of what his queens had been, and what Holbein and his ambassadors had promised him should again be, entered the presence of Anne of Cleves, and was thunderstruck at the first sight of the reality. Lord John Russell, who was present, declared, "that he had never seen his highness so marvellously astonished and abashed as on that occasion."

He had made it a point that his present queen should be of large and tall stature, as he was himself now become of ample proportions; and his bride was as tall and large as heart could wish, but her features, though not irregular, wanted softness, her bearing was ungraceful, and her figure ill-proportioned. The wrathful monarch felt that he was taken in, and after a very cold reception, he hastened back to his lodgings, and, sending for the lords who had attended her, thus addressed Fitzwilliam, the lord admiral, who had received her at Calais: "How like you this woman? Do you find her so personable, fair, and beautiful, as report has been made unto me? I pray you tell me true." They dared not venture to praise her, now that he had seen her, and the chagrined tyrant exclaimed, "Alas! whom shall men trust? I promise you I see no such thing as hath been shown me of her by pictures or report. I am ashamed that men have praised her as they have done; and I love her not."

Instead of presenting himself the new year's gift which he had brought - a muff and tippet of rich sables - he sent them to her with a very cold message, and rode back to Greenwich in great dudgeon. There, the moment that he saw Cromwell, he burst out upon him for being the means of bringing him, not a wife, but "a great Flanders mare." Cromwell excused himself by not having seen her, and threw the blame on Fitzwilliam, the lord admiral, who, he said, when he found the princess at Calais so different from the pictures and reports, should have detained her there till he knew the king's pleasure; but the admiral replied brusquely that he had not had the choosing of her, but had simply executed his commission; and if he had in his despatches spoken of her beauty, it was because she was reckoned beautiful, and it was not for him to judge of his queen.

This altercation did not tend to pacify the king by any means, and he abruptly broke into it by demanding that some plan should be hit upon to rid him of her. But this was a most formidable matter. They had now no simple subject to deal with, whose head might be lopped off with little ceremony: but the lady had the whole of the princes of the Smalcaldic League and the Protestant interest of Germany at her back; and to insult them as he had insulted the Catholics and the emperor in the person of Catherine of Arragon was no indifferent matter. He called a council suddenly to devise the best mode of extricating him from this difficulty, and Anne was detained at Dartford till it was settled. Henry fell at once on his old stratagem. The precontract with the Duke of Lorraine, at which he would not even look when it was pressed upon him while he was fascinated by Holbein's unlucky miniature, was next pleaded as a sufficient obstacle to the marriage. But the German ambassadors who accompanied Anne treated the idea of the precontract with contempt, and offered to remain as hostages for the arrival of ample proofs of the revocation of that contract; and Cranmer and the Bishop of Durham, who trembled for the Protestant interest, declared that there was no just impediment to the marriage. On hearing this he exclaimed fiercely, "Is there, then, no remedy, but I must needs put my neck into this yoke?"

None being found, orders were given for the lady to proceed from Dartford, and at Greenwich she was received outwardly with all the pomp and rejoicings the most welcome beauty could have elicited. But still the mind of the mortified king revolted at the completion of the wedding, and once more he summoned his council, and declared himself unsatisfied about the contract, and required that Anne should make a solemn protestation that she was free from all pre-contracts. Probably Henry hoped that, seeing that she was far from pleasing him, she might be willing to give him up, but deeply wounded as her just pride as a woman must have been by his treatment, and her fears excited by the recollection of the fates of Catherine and Anne Boleyn, the princess could be no free agent in the matter. The ambassadors would urge the impossibility of her going back, thus insulting all Protestant Germany, and her own pride would second their arguments on that side too. The ignominy of being sent back, rejected as unattractive and unwelcome, was not to be thought of. She made a most clear and positive declaration of her freedom from all pre-contracts. On hearing this, the surly monarch fell into such a humour that Cromwell got away from his presence as quickly as he could. Seeing no way out of it, the marriage was celebrated on the 6th of January, 1540, but nothing could reconcile Henry to his German queen. He loathed her person, he could not even talk with her without an interpreter; and he soon fell in love with Catherine Howard, niece to the "puke of Norfolk, a young lady who was much handsomer than Anne, as little educated, and more unprincipled. From the moment that Henry cast his eyes on this new favourite, the little remains of outward courtesy towards the queen vanished. He ceased to appear with her in public. He began to express scruples about having a Lutheran wife. He did not hesitate to propagate the most shameful calumnies against her, declaring that she had not been virtuous before her marriage. He openly avowed that he had never meant to keep her, and he dismissed, as a preparatory step, her German attendants, and placed about her English ladies of his own selection. Wriothesley, whom the fair historian of our queens justly styles "the most unprincipled of the low-born parasites who rose to greatness by truckling to the lawless passions of the sovereign," talked freely of the hardness of the king's case, bound to a woman that he could not love, and recommended a divorce.

The situation of Anne must now have been intolerable to a woman of any feeling and spirit: in a foreign court and country, deprived of the solace of the society of her own countrywomen - in the hands of a tyrant steeped in the blood of his wives and subjects, and surrounded by his creatures, who well knew how to make her life bitter to her. These circumstances seem to have stung her, at length, to speak with spirit. She told him that, if she had not been compelled to marry him, she could have had a younger and more amiable prince, whom she should have much preferred. That was enough - he resolved to be rid of her without delay; and he avenged himself on her freedom of speech by encouraging the ladies of the bedchamber to ridicule her, and to mimic her for their amusement. Anne is said to have resented this so much, that she ceased to behave with the submissive complaisance which she had hitherto maintained, and returned these unmanly outrages with so much independence, that Henry complained to Cromwell, "that she waxed wilful and stubborn to him."

Anne, in need of counsel, could find none in those who ought to have stood by her. Cranmer, as the Reformer, and Cromwell, the advocate of Protestantism, and who had, in fact, brought about the marriage, kept aloof from her. She sent expressly to Cromwell, and repeatedly, but in vain; he refused to see her, for he knew that he stood on the edge of a precipice already; that he had deeply offended the choleric monarch by promoting this match; and that he was surrounded by spies and enemies, who were watching for occasion for his ruin. There is no doubt whatever that his ruin was already determined, but Cromwell was an unhesitating tool of the quality which Henry needed; for it was just at this time that Henry executed the relatives of Cardinal Pole, and probably it was an object of his to load that minister with as much of the odium of that measure as he could before he cast him down. Cromwell still, then, apparently retained the full favour of the king, notwithstanding this unfortunate marriage, but the conduct of his friends precipitated his fate.

Bishop Gardiner, a bigoted Papist, and one who saw the signs of the times as quickly as any man living, did not hear Henry's scruples about a Lutheran wife with unheeding ears. On the 14th of February, 1540, he preached a sermon at St. Paul's Cross, in which he unsparingly denounced as a damnable doctrine the Lutheran tenet of justification by faith without works. Dr. Barnes, a dependant of Cromwell's, but clearly a most imprudent one, on the 28th of February, just a fortnight afterwards, mounted the same pulpit, and made a violent attack on Gardiner and his creed. Barnes could never have intimated to Cromwell his intention to make this assault on a creed which was as much the king's as Gardiner's, or he would have shown him the fatality of it. But Barnes, like a rash and unreflecting zealot, not only attacked Gardiner's sermon, but got quite excited, and declared that he himself was a fighting-cock, and Gardiner was another fighting-cock, but that the garden-cock lacked good spurs. As was inevitable, Henry, who never let slip an opportunity to champion his own religious views, summoned Barnes forthwith before a commission of divines, compelled him to recant his opinion, and ordered him to preach another sermon, in the same place, on the first Sunday after Easter, and there to read his recantation, and beg pardon of Gardiner. Barnes obeyed. He read his recantation, publicly asked pardon of Gardiner, and then, getting warm in his sermon, reiterated in stronger terms than ever the very doctrine he had recanted.

The man must have made up his mind to punishment for his religious faith, for no such daring conduct was ever tolerated for a moment by Henry. He threw the offender into the Tower, together with Garret and Jerome, two preachers of the same belief, who followed his example.

The enemies of Cromwell rejoiced in this event, believing that his connection with Barnes would not fail to influence the king. So confidently did they entertain this notion, that they already talked of the transfer of his two chief offices, those of vicar-general and keeper of the privy seal, to Tunstall, Bishop of Durham, and Clarke, Bishop of Bath. But the king had not yet come to his own point of action. Cromwell's opponents were, therefore, astonished to see him open Parliament on the 12th of April, as usual, when he announced the king's sorrow and displeasure at the religious dissensions which appeared in the nation, his subjects branding each other with the opprobrious epithets of Papists and heretics, and abusing the indulgence which the king had granted them of reading the Scriptures in their native tongue; that, to remedy these evils, his Majesty had appointed two committees of prelates and doctors - one to set forth a system of pure doctrine, and the other to decide what ceremonies and rites should be retained in the Church or abandoned; and, in the meantime, he called on both houses to assist him in enacting penalties against all those who treated with irreverence, or rashly and presumptuously explained, the Holy Scriptures.

Never did Cromwell appear so fully to possess the favour of his sovereign. He had obtained a grant of thirty manors belonging to suppressed monasteries; the title of Earl of Essex was revived in his favour, and the office of lord-chamberlain was added to his other appointments. He was the performer of all the great acts of the state. He brought in two bills, vesting the property of the knights hospitallers in the king, and settling a competent jointure on the queen. He obtained from the laity the enormous subsidy of four-tenths and fifteenths, besides ten per cent, from their income from lands, and five per cent, on their goods; and from the clergy two-tenths, and twenty per cent, on their incomes for two years. So little did there appear any prospect of the fall of Cromwell, that his own conduct augured that he never felt himself stronger in his monarch's esteem. He dealt about his blows on all who offended himself or the king, however high. He committed to the Tower the Bishop of Chichester and Dr. Wilson, for relieving prisoners confined for refusing to take the oath of supremacy; and menaced with the royal displeasure his chief opponents, the Duke of Norfolk, and the Bishops of Durham, Winchester, and Bath.

Yet all this time Henry had determined, and was preparing for his fall. He appointed Wriothesley and Ralph Sadler secretaries of state, and divided the business betwixt them. The king had met Catherine Howard, it is said, at dinner at Gardiner's, who was Bishop of Winchester. As she was a strict Papist, and niece to Norfolk, it was believed that this had been concerted by the Catholic party; and they were not mistaken. She at once caught the fancy of Henry. Every opportunity was afforded the king of meeting her at Gardiner's; and no sooner did that worldly prelate perceive the impression she had made, than he informed Henry that Barnes, whom neither Gardiner nor Henry could forget, had been Cromwell's agent in bringing about the marriage of Anne of Cleves; that Cromwell and Barnes had done this, without regard to the feelings of the king, merely to bring in a queen pledged to German Protestantism; and, instead of submitting to the king's religious views, they were bent on establishing in the country the detestable heresies of Luther.

Henry, whose jealousy was now excited, recollected that when he proposed to send Anne of Cleves back, Cromwell had strongly dissuaded him, and as Anne had now changed her insubordinate behaviour to him, he immediately suspected that it was by the suggestion of Cromwell. No sooner had this idea taken full possession, than down came the thunderbolt on the head of the great minister. The time was come, all was prepared, and, without a single note of warning - without the change of look or manner in the king - Cromwell was arrested at the council-board on a charge of high treason. In the morning, he was in his place in the House of Lords, with every evidence of power about him; in the evening, he was in the Tower.

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