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Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Concluded). page 14


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In his career, from the shop of the fuller to the supreme power in the state, next to the king, Cromwell had totally forgotten the wise counsel of Wolsey. He had not avoided, but courted, ambition. He had leaned to the Reformed doctrines secretly, but he had taken care to enrich himself with the spoils of the suppressed monasteries, and many suspected that these spoils were the true incentives to his system of reformation. The wealth he had accumulated was, no doubt, a strong temptation to Henry, as it was in all such cases, and thus Cromwell's avarice brought its own punishment. In his treatment of the unfortunate Romanists whom he had to eject from their ancient houses and lands, his conduct had been harsh and unsparing; and by that party, now in power, he was consequently hated with an intense hatred; and this was a second means of self-punishment. But above all, in the days of his power, he had been perfectly reckless of the liberties and securities of the subject. He had broken down the bulwarks of the constitution, and advised the king to make his own will the sole law, carrying for him through Parliament the monstrous doctrine embodied in the enactment that the royal proclamation superseded Parliamentary decrees, and that the crown could put men to death without any form of trial. Under the monstrous despotism which he had thus erected, he now fell himself, and had no right whatever to complain. Yet he did complain most lamentably. The men who never feel for others, concentrate all their commiseration on themselves; and Cromwell, so ruthless and immovable to the pleadings of his own victims, now sent the most abject and imploring letters to Henry, crying "Mercy, mercy!"

His experience might have assured him that, when once Henry seized his victim, he never relented; and there was no one except Cranmer who dared to raise a voice in his favour, and Cranmer's interference was so much in his own timid style, that it availed nothing. His papers were seized, his servants interrogated, and out of their statements, whatever they were - for they were never produced in any court - the accusations were framed against him. These consist in the charges of his having, as minister, received bribes, encroached on the royal authority by issuing commissions, discharging prisoners, pardoning convicts, and granting licences for the exportation of prohibited merchandise. As vicar-general, he was charged with having not only held heretical opinions himself, but also with protecting heretical preachers, and promoting the circulation of heretical books. Lastly, there was added one of those absurd, gratuitous assertions, which Henry always threw in to make the charge amount to high treason, namely, that Cromwell had expressed his resolve to fight against the I king himself, if necessary, in support of his religious j opinions; and Mount was instructed to inform the German princes that Cromwell had threatened to strike a I dagger into the heart of the man who should oppose the Reformation, which, he said, meant the king. He demanded a public trial, but was refused, being only allowed to face his accusers before the commissioners. Government then proceeded against him by bill of attainder, and thus, on the principle that he had himself established, he was condemned without trial, even Cranmer voting in favour of the attainder. His fate was delayed for more than a month, during which time he continued to protest his innocence, with a violence which stood in strong contrast to his callousness to the protestations of others, wishing that God might confound him, that the vengeance of God might light upon him, that all the devils in hell might confront him, if he were guilty. He drew the most lamentable picture of his forlorn and miserable condition, and offered to make any disclosures demanded of him; but though nothing would have saved him, unluckily for him, Henry discovered amongst his papers his, secret correspondence with the princes of Germany. He gave the royal assent to the bill of attainder, and in five days, being the 28th of July, he was led to the scaffold, where he confessed that he had been in error, but had now returned to the truth, and died a good Catholic. He fell detested by every man of his own party, exulted over by the Papist section of the community, and unregretted by the people, who were just then smarting under the enormous subsidy he had imposed. As if to render his execution the more degrading, Lord Hungerford, a nobleman charged with revolting crimes, was beheaded with him.

Two days after Cromwell's execution, a most singular proof was given of the way in which Henry exercised his dearly beloved prerogative of the supremacy of the Church, in the execution of six individuals, three Roman Catholics and three Reformers. The former were hanged as traitors, because, though they held all the doctrines of Henry himself, they denied that he was head of the Church; and the latter, because they denied his Six Articles. With him, to admit the Papal supremacy was treason; to deny the Papal creed was heresy. Henry was as bigoted a Papist as any that ever existed, except in one little particular - he thought himself the only man who ought to possess power. The six victims of his arbitrary will were drawn to the scaffold on the same hurdles, a Romanist and a Protestant bound together. Barnes and his companions, Garret and Jerome, were the three sent to the flames; Powell, Abel, and Feather-stone were the deniers of the supremacy, and were hanged and quartered. A Frenchman witnessing this monstrous sight, exclaimed, "How do people manage to live here! where Papists are hanged, and anti-Papists are burnt!"

The death of Cromwell was quickly followed by the divorce of Anne of Cleves. The queen was ordered to retire to Richmond, on pretence that the plague was in London. Marillac, the French ambassador, writing to Francis I., said that the reason assigned was not the true one, for if there had been the slightest rumour of the plague, nothing would have induced Henry to remain; "for the king is the most timid person in the world in such cases." It was the preliminary step to the divorce, and as soon as she was gone, Henry put in motion all his established machinery for getting rid of wives. The lord chancellor, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Duke of Norfolk, and others of the king's ministers, procured a petition to be got up and presented to His Majesty, stating that the House had doubts of the validity of the king's marriage, and consequently were uneasy as to the succession, and prayed the king to submit the question to Convocation. Of course, Henry could refuse nothing to his faithful peers, and Convocation, accordingly, took the matter into consideration.

There the old stock arguments were again introduced, and the settlement of the question was referred by Convocation to a committee of the two archbishops, four bishops, and eight divines. It is clear that all the topics were prepared for them; for in the short space of two days they had decided the whole question on these grounds: - That there was no proof that the pre-contract between Anne and the Duke of Lorraine had been legally revoked: consequently, the marriage with Henry was null; that Henry, before marriage, had demanded the removal of this difficulty - not being removed, that was another evidence that the subsequent marriage was void; that the king had been deceived by exaggerated representations of Anne's beauty, and, consequently, had only consented to the marriage from reasons of state; therefore, as his inward mind did not go with it, it was no legal marriage.

These were reasons which would not be listened to for a moment in any other court of sane men - except a court of the slaves of a despot. As to all the arguments about the pre-contract, the ambassadors of Cleves had offered to remain as hostages till the proofs of the abrogation of that contract were brought; but Henry did not avail himself of the offer, and therefore had no right to plead the non-production of such proofs now that Anne had solemnly sworn, as well as the ambassadors, that the contract was annulled; and as to the nonsense of his inward mind not going with it, and therefore its being no marriage, once admit that precious logic, and it would annul no trivial amount of marriages in general. "But the Convocation," says Lingard, "like the Lords and Commons, were the obsequious slaves of their master." The marriage was declared - like his two former ones with Catherine and Anne Boleyn - to be utterly null and void; and the same judgment of high treason was pronounced on any one who should say or write to the contrary. The queen being a stranger to the English laws and customs, was not called upon to appear personally, or even by her advocates, before Convocation.

All this being settled, the Duke of Suffolk, the Earl of Southampton, and Wriothesley proceeded to Richmond, to announce the decision to the queen. On the sight of these ministers, and on hearing their communication, that the marriage was annulled by Parliament, the poor woman, supposing that she was going to be treated like Anne Boleyn, fainted, and fell on the floor. On her return to consciousness, the messengers hastened to assure her that there was no cause of alarm; that the king had the kindest and best intentions towards her; that, if she would consent to resign the title of queen, he proposed to give her the title of his sister; to give her precedence of every lady, except the future queen and his daughters, and to endow her with estates to the value of 3,000 per annum.

On hearing all this, Anne's terrors vanished, and she consented with the utmost alacrity to all that the king wished; nay, such was her evident pleasure in it, that the vain king was astonished, and a good deal piqued at it. The tenacity with which Catherine had held him fast - the only woman who had ever really loved him - had impressed his egotistic mind with such a notion of the supreme preciousness of his person, that he expected a great struggle now with Anne in giving him up; and when he found that, so far from this, Anne surrendered him, not only freely, but with unmistakable satisfaction, he could scarcely believe his own ears.

He did not, however, neglect to take some revenge upon her, by compelling her to sign a declaration that the marriage had never been consummated, and to write a letter to her brother, expressing her entire consent to and satisfaction with the arrangement; and, moreover, in writing to the members of his privy council, who managed these matters betwixt himself and Anne, of her womanish-ness, and being a mere woman, and the like language, which he was very fond of applying to ladies. He had talked of Anne Boleyn being "only a woman;" and he now stated to these commissioners from the council that Anne's letter to her brother must be made stronger than she had first written it; for, unless this was the case, "all shall remain uncertain upon a woman's promise;" and care must be taken "that she will be no woman, - the accomplishment whereof on her behalf is as difficult in the refraining of a woman's will, upon occasion, as in changing her womanish nature, which is impossible."

All this was but to soothe his own mortified vanity, for Anne showed them that she was only too glad to escape from him without the loss of her head. On a present of 500 being sent to her, she not only signed a paper promising all this, but drew off her wedding-ring, and sent it back to him, with a complaisant letter in German, the substance of which the commissioners explained to him. Cranmer was then called upon to pronounce the divorce - the third which he had to pronounce in less than seven years, so that well might the French ambassador write to Francis, "The king is a marvellous man, and hath marvellous people about him." All this being done, the commissioners proceeded to Richmond, on the 17th of July, with the king's warrant, to break up Anne's household as queen, and to introduce the establishment prepared for her as the Lady Anne of Cleves, and the king's adopted sister.

Anne went through the whole with the best possible grace. She took a kind leave of her old servants, and pleasantly welcomed the new ones. She repeated her great obligations to the king, and, as if to give him back his phrases about "womanishness," she bade the commissioners assure him that "she would be found no woman by inconstancy and mutability, though all the world should move her to the contrary, neither her mother, brother, nor any other person living." There was, in fact, no fear of Anne changing, for she must have despised and loathed Henry's character as much as he could dislike her person, and her whole life after showed how entirely satisfied she was with the change.

Anne's brother, however, the Duke of Cleves, was excessively incensed at the divorce, and seemed resolved to create for Henry trouble about it; but Anne wrote to induce him to take the matter calmly, saying she "was merry, and honourably treated, and had written him her mind in all things." But at the end of her letter, as if fearing that her brother might do something to raise the terrible ire of her amiable adopted brother, she added, "Only this I require of you, that you so conduct yourself as, for your untowardness in this matter, I fare not the worse, whereunto I trust you will have regard." That care was necessary she had at once a striking example, for, within a fortnight of her divorce, she saw both Cromwell and Dr. Barnes, who had been the principal agents in her marriage, sent, one to the block, and the other to the flames. Her brother, though he kept quiet, never would admit the invalidity of the marriage.

Anne received some of the spoils of the fallen Cromwell in different estates which were made over to her for life, including Denham Hall, in Essex. She resided principally at her palace of Richmond, and at Ham House; but we find her living at different times at Bletchingley, Hever Castle, Penshurst, and Dartford. Though she was queen only about six months, she continued to live in England for seventeen years - seeing two queens after her, and Edward YI. and Queen Mary on the throne - greatly honoured by all who knew her, and much beloved by both the princesses Mary and Elizabeth. Not in seventeen years, but in sixteen months, she saw the fall and tragedy of the queen who supplanted her, so that one of her maids of honour, Elizabeth Bassett, could not help exclaiming at the news, "What a man the king is! How many wives will he have?" For which very natural expression the poor girl was very near getting into trouble. As for Anne herself, she appeared quite a new woman when she had got clear of her terrible and coarse-minded tyrant, so that the French ambassador, Marillac, wrote to his master that "Madame of Cleves has a more joyous countenance than ever. She wears a great variety of dresses, and passes all her time in sports and recreations." No sooner was she divorced than Henry paid her a visit, and was so delighted by her pleasant and respectful reception of him, that he supped with her merrily, and not only went often again to see her, but invited her to Hampton, whither she went, not at all troubling herself that another was acting the queen.

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