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Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Concluded). page 15


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Anne's marriage was annulled by Parliament on the 9th of July, and on the 8th of August Catherine Howard appeared at Court as the acknowledged queen. For twelve months all went on well, and the king repeatedly declared that he had never been happy in love or matrimony till now; that the queen was the most perfect of women, and the most affectionate of wives. To gratify his new queen, and to accomplish some objects of importance, Henry this summer made a progress into the north, and took Catherine with him. One object was to judge for himself of the state of the northern counties where the late insurrections, in behalf of the old religion had broken out. He promised himself that his presence would intimidate the disaffected; that he should be able to punish those who remained troublesome, and make all quiet; but still more was he anxious for an interview with his nephew, James Y. of Scotland. The principles of the Reformation had been making rapid progress in that country, and the fires of persecution had been lit up by the clergy. Patrick Hamilton, a young man of noble family, who had imbibed the new doctrines abroad, and Friar Forrest, a zealous preacher of the same, had suffered at the stake. But far more dangerous to the stability of the Catholic Church, there was the fact that the Scottish nobility, poor and ambitious, had learned a significant lesson from what had been going on in England. The seizure of the monastic estates there by the king, and their liberal distribution amongst the nobility, excited their cupidity, and they strongly urged James to follow the example of his royal uncle. In this counsel they found a staunch coadjutor in Henry, who never ceased exciting James to follow his example, and, to make sure of his doing so, invited him to an interview at York, to which he consented.

Henry set forward, with a splendid retinue, in July, and accompanied by the queen. They passed a short time at Grafton, and so travelled through Northampton and Lincolnshire to York. The approach of the ferocious king was beheld with terror by the people. They considered that money was the likeliest thing to appease his wrath, and at every town in Lincolnshire they offered him a heavy sum of money. On entering Yorkshire the royal party was met by 200 gentlemen in coats of velvet, with 4,000 tall yeomen and serving-men, who on their knees offered their humble submission, Sir Robert Bowes being their speaker, who also presented a peace-offering of 900. At Barnesdale, the Archbishop of York appeared also at the head of 300 of the clergy, with their attendants, who made a like submission - for the archbishop himself had been one of the chief leaders of the insurrection, and he offered 600. At York, Newcastle, and Hull, the mayors and corporations made similar submissions, and presented each 100. The young queen enjoyed during this progress all the pomp and pageantry of royalty. At her dower-manor of Shire she held a court, and everywhere Henry, who was in the heyday of his intoxication with his young queen, took care to display her to the people, and showed himself a most doting husband.

Their pleasure received a considerable check at York, for, notwithstanding great preparations had been made, the King of Scots excused his coming. The very first announcement of such a project had struck the clergy of Scotland with consternation. They hastened to point out to James the dangers of innovation - the certain mischief of aggrandising the nobility, already too powerful, with the spoils of the Church - the jeopardy of putting himself into the hands of Henry and the English, and the loss of the friendship of all foreign powers, if he was induced by Henry to attack the Church, which would render him almost wholly dependent on England. They added force to these arguments by presenting him with a gratuity of 50,000; promised him a continuance of their liberality, and pointed out to him a certain source of income of at least 100,000 per annum in the confiscations of heretics. These representations and gifts had the desired effect. James sent an excuse to Henry for not being able to meet him at York; and the disappointed king turned homeward in great disgust. The fascinations of the young queen, however, soon restored his good humour, and they arrived at Windsor, on the 26th of October, in high spirits. So complete was the satisfaction of Henry, that at Hampton Court, on the 30th, in the quaint language of the letter of council, still preserved at the feast of All Saints there, "the king received his Maker" - that is, the sacrament - "and gave Him most hearty thanks for the good life he led, and trusted to lead, with his wife." The pious Henry, kneeling at the altar, raised his eyes to heaven, and exclaimed aloud, "I render thanks to thee, O Lord, that, after so many strange accidents that have befallen my marriages, thou hast been pleased to give me a wife so entirely conformed to my inclinations as her I now have." He then requested Longland, the Bishop of Lincoln, to prepare a public form of thanksgiving to Almighty God for having blessed him with so dutiful and virtuous a queen.

Little did the uxorious monarch dream that he was at this moment standing on a mine, that would blow all his imagined happiness into the air, and send his idolised wife to the block. But at the very time that he and Catherine had been showing themselves as so beautifully conjugal a couple to the good people of the north, the mine had been preparing. It was the misfortune of all the queens of Henry VIII., that they had not only to deal with one of the most vindictive and capricious tyrants that ever existed, but that they were invariably, and necessarily, the objects of the hatred of a powerful and merciless party, which was ready to destroy its antagonist, and, as the first and telling stroke in that progress, to pull down the queen. The Papist and Protestant parties were now nearly balanced in England; and though the heads of each trembled before the sanguinary dictator on the throne, and temporised and concealed their true views and sentiments, they not the less watched every opportunity to damage each other, and to turn, by art or flattery, the thunderbolts of Henry's easily excited wrath against their opponents.

From the moment that Henry endeavoured to remove Catherine of Arragon, and to substitute Anne Boleyn, the contest became not merely a contest betwixt two women for the crown, but betwixt the Roman Church and the Reformers; and every queen was regarded as the head of one party, and became the deadly object of the antagonism, the stratagems, and the murderous intentions of the other. The Reformers had enjoyed a series of temporary triumphs, in the elevation of Anne Boleyn$ Jane Seymour, and still more of Anne of Cleves; and the opposite party had moved heaven and earth, and with fatal effect, for the destruction of the first Anne, and the divorce of the second. Catherine Howard was now the hope of the Romanists. She was the niece of the Duke of Norfolk, the most resolute lay-Papist in the kingdom, and the political head of that party. The public evidences of the growing influence of Catherine with the king on the northern progress, had been attentively marked by these with exultation, and by the Protestants with proportionate alarm. Both Rapin and Burnet assert, that Cranmer felt convinced, from what he saw passing, that unless some means were found to lessen the influence of the queen, and thus dash the hopes of the Catholics, he must soon follow Cromwell to the block. A most ominous circumstance which reached him was, that the royal party took up their quarters for a night at the house of Sir John Gorstwick, who, but in the preceding spring, had denounced Cranmer in open Parliament, as "the root of all heresies," and that at Gorstwick's there had been held a select meeting of the Privy Council, at which Gardiner, the unhesitating leader of the Romanists, presided. It was the signal for the Protestants to bring means of counteraction into play, and such means, unfortunately for the queen, were already stored up and, at hand.

The early life of Catherine Howard had been exposed to the worst and most malevolent influences. She was the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard, the brother of the present Duke of Norfolk, and son of the Conqueror of Flodden. At that battle, though but a young man, Lord Edmund won great distinction, but afterwards fell into pecuniary difficulties and neglect till Anne Boleyn, his niece, became queen, when he was appointed comptroller of Calais and the surrounding marches. Meantime, his wife, the mother of Catherine, was dead, and lie had married again. Catherine at a very early age, therefore, was received into the house of her grandmother, Agnes, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, widow of the hero of Flodden.

In the house of this old lady she was not only compelled to associate with the waiting-women, but to occupy the same common sleeping apartment. In this improper company she was subjected to the most corrupting influences, and had been led, when she had scarcely entered her teens, into degrading engagements with a musician belonging to the household, of the name of Henry Manx; and afterwards with a relative, of the name of Francis Derham. Of these amours there were plenty of witnesses among the women of the household, especially Mary Lassells, and three women of the names of Wilks, Baskerville, and Bulmer; and as soon as Catherine was raised to the throne, these creatures, knowing their power, did not fail to beset her with applications for favours and appointments. Catherine was compelled to concede their demands, and place them about her own person. Joan Bulmer and Catherine Tylney, who were familiar with these secrets, were received as bed-chamber women; the profligate Manx was made one of the royal musicians; and in the journey to York, Derham, who had disappeared some time, and was believed to be leading the life of a pirate, presented himself, and was admitted to the dangerous post of her private secretary. Her cousin, Thomas Culpepper, with whom she had spent a good deal of her girlhood, was already a gentleman of the privy-chamber of Henry VIII.

Surrounded by these acquaintances of a time which she would not fain forget, the queen must have suffered many fears and anxieties, even in her most proud days of elevation and of her husband's favour. Any moment the keen eyes of her enemies, or the indiscretion of these confidants, might precipitate her to destruction. She did not possess sufficient courage to refuse to admit them to her presence, or drive them to a distance from the Court; and her grandmother, the Duchess Dowager, seems to have been a most foolish or malicious old woman, and was continually making indiscreet allusions to the past.

Within three weeks of her marriage with the king, reports were abroad to her discredit. A priest at "Windsor, with some of his associates, was arrested for speaking scandalously of the queen. He was put into the custody of 'Wriothesley, the king's secretary, and his companions confined in the keep of Windsor Castle. Henry was contented - being then in the honeymoon of his fifth marriage - to menace the priest, and let him go; but such a clue could not have been put into the hands of the ruthless Wriothesley, who was attached to the Protestant party, without leaving serious results. From that moment, there is every reason to believe that that party worked unceasingly, till they had sufficient evidence to effect their purpose.

Accordingly, on the day following the king's remarkable public testimony of his joy in so good a wife, and before the form of public thanksgiving could be announced, Cranmer took the opportunity, whilst the king was at mass, and the queen was not present, of putting a paper into his hand, requesting him to peruse it when in entire privacy. This paper contained the story of Catherine's early failings by one John Lassells, the brother of the Mary Lassells already mentioned, from whom he had received it. At first Henry was inclined to believe it a calumny, got up for the ruin of the queen; but on Lassells and his sister being closely interrogated, and standing firm to their story, Henry appeared completely confounded, and burst into a passion of tears. He waited the result of the first examination, and then quitted Hampton Court, without taking any leave of Catherine, retiring to the neighbouring palace of Oatlands, whither the news of further proceedings could soon reach him. Derham, his friend Damport, and Thomas Culpepper, were forthwith arrested.

Derham confessed to the freedom of his intercourse with Catherine when they lived together in the house of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, and pleaded that they were engaged to be married, and were looked upon, and called each other husband and wife. He solemnly protested that no familiarity of any kind had ever passed between them since Catherine's marriage with the king. To this evidence he adhered, in spite of excruciating torture employed to wring more from him. But this was not enough for the king or his ministers; they were now resolved to convict the queen of adultery, so as to bring her to the block. Had she pleaded a pre-contract with Derham, it would suffice to annul the marriage, but Henry would never consent to let his late model of perfection off so lightly. Finding that they could not fix that crime upon her with Derham, they looked about for some other person to accuse; but so circumspect had the conduct of Catherine been, not only since her marriage, but for some years before, that they could only find one person, her cousin, Thomas Culpepper, to whom she had shown the smallest condescension.

To obtain evidence on this point, the queen's female attendants were strictly examined. There is strong suspicion that these women were also subjected to the torture to extract the requisite evidence, for Wriothesley and Rich were the chief agents in this examination, and they were notoriously men without feeling and without principle. We shall find them afterwards flinging off their coats and working the rack themselves, when they could not compel the beautiful and admirable martyr, Anne Askew, to criminate herself and friends. Catherine Tylney and Margaret Morton, attendants of the queen, were closely examined, but related only vague and gossiping facts, which proved nothing at all; though the brutal Wriothesley exults to Sadler on the prospect of "pyking out something that is likely to secure the purpose of our business" - that is, their business of condemning the queen, if possible. They talked of the queen having gone twice by night into Lady Rochford's chamber, and of her sending strange messages to Lady Rochford, and the like; but these were no crimes.

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