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Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Concluded). page 17

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The day after his immediate blood relations were committed to the Tower, he wrote to the king, telling him that he had learned that " his ungracious mother-in-law, his unhappy brother and wife, and his kind sister of Bridgewater/7 were in the Tower; which, he said, from his long experience of his Majesty's equity and justice, made him certain that it was not done but for false and traitorous proceedings. He expresses his deep grief and shame at " the most abominable deeds done by his two nieces against his highness; " and he went on to say that his Majesty, having so often, and by so many of his kin, been thus falsely and traitorously handled, he feared that his heart would be turned against the whole Howard family, so that he should abhor to hear any member of it spoken of; and he then crawls in the dust before the despot in this language, demonstrating that he had himself been the very means of doing much of the mischief against the queen: "Wherefore, my most gracious sovereign lord, prostrate at your feet, most humbly I beseech your majesty to call to your remembrance that a great part of this matter is come to light by my declaration to your majesty, according to my bounden duty, of the words spoken to me by my mother-in-law, when your highness sent me to Lambeth to search Derham's coffers, without the which, I think, she had not been further examined, nor consequently her ungracious children." It is impossible to read the proceedings of these times without an awful sense of the deplorable degradation of character which the sovereign's tyranny had produced all around him. And still the councils went on endeavouring to find evidence against the queen from the prisoners in tho Tower. It must be understood that there were now two councils - one that sat in London, and one that went with the king wherever he went. We have seen how they wheedled and menaced the sick old duchess-dowager till they discovered her money, and brought her to say that it was very sinful of her not to have told his Majesty before his marriage of the connection of Catherine with Derham. The treatment of Lord William Howard and his fellow-prisoners was equally infamous. They tried him, his wife, Malin Tilney, Elizabeth Tilney, and three other women, his servants, amongst whom was Margaret Burnet, a butter-woman, separately, as they did Bulmer, Ashby, and Damport, men-servants of the duchess, on a charge of misprision of treason, before juries submissive out of terror. In these trials all forms of law were set at defiance, and instead of real witnesses, the master of the rolls, the attorney-general, and solicitor-general, with three of the king's council, presented against them the forced matter they had obtained in the examinations. The result of it was that the prisoners were all condemned to perpetual imprisonment, forfeiture of their goods, and sequestration of their estates during life. All that was proved, or pretended to be proved against them was, that they had been cognisant of the love affairs of Catherine Howard and Derham, previous to her marriage. Of course Lord William and his family were quite overwhelmed by this severe sentence for no real crime whatever, so that the council reported to the king their opinion that, unless they were allowed some liberty within the Tower, and some intercourse with their friends, they could not live long; to which "this royal savage," as he has justly been styled, replied by a letter under the hands of Lord John Russell and Ralph Sadler, that "he thinketh it not meet that they should so hastily put the prisoners to any such comfort, or so soon restore them to any liberty within the Tower, for sundry great respects and considerations."

On the 21st of January, 1542, a bill of attainder of Catherine Howard, late Queen of England, and of Jane, Lady Rochford, for high treason; of Agnes, Duchess of Norfolk, Lord William Howard, the Lady Bridgewater, and four men and five women, including Derham and Culpepper, already executed, was read in the Lords. On the 28th, the Lord Chancellor, impressed with a laudable sense of justice, proposed that a deputation of Lords and Commons should be allowed to wait on the queen to hear what she had to say for herself. He said it was but just that a queen, who was no mean or private person, but a public and illustrious one, should be tried by equal laws like themselves, and thought it would be acceptable to the king himself, if his consort could thus clear herself. But that did not suit Henry: he was resolved to be rid of his lately beloved model queen; and as there was no evidence whatever of any crime on her part against him, he did not mean that she should have any opportunity of being heard in her defence. The bill was, therefore, passed through Parliament, passing the Lords in three, and the Commons in two days. On the 10th of February the queen was conveyed by water to the Tower, and the next day Henry gave his assent to the bill of attainder.

The persons sent to receive the queen's confession were Suffolk, Cranmer, Southampton, Audley, and Thirlby. "How much she confessed to them," Burnet says, "is not very clear, neither by the journal nor the Act of Parliament, which only say she confessed." If she had confessed the crime alleged after marriage, that would have been made fully and officially known. In two days afterwards, February 13th, she was brought to the block.

Thus fell Catherine Howard in the bloom of her youth and beauty, being declared by an eye-witness to be the handsomest woman of her time, paying for youthful indiscretions the forfeit of her life to the king, whom she certainly had not sinned against. So conscious was Henry of this, that he made it high treason, in the Act of Attainder, for any one to conceal any such previous misconduct in a woman that the sovereign was about to marry.

With Catherine fell the odious Lady Rochford, who had long deserved her fate, for her false and murderous evidence against her own husband and Anne Boleyn. On the scaffold conscience forced from her these words: "That she supposed God had permitted her to suffer this shameful doom, as a punishment for having contributed to her husband's death by her false accusation of Queen Anne Boleyn, but that she was guilty of no other crime."

Commenting on these atrocities of Henry VIII., Sir Walter Raleigh says, "If all the patterns of a merciless tyrant had been lost to the world, they might have been found in this prince;" and Miss Strickland adds, that "Henry VIII. was the first king of England who brought ladies to the block, and who caused the tender female form to be distorted with tortures, and committed, a living prey, to the flames. He was the only king who sought consolation for the imagined offences of his wives against his honour, by plundering their relatives of their plate and money. Shame, not humanity, prevented him from staining the scaffold with the blood of the aged Duchess of Norfolk; he released her after long imprisonment."

Having thus destroyed his fifth wife, Henry now turned his attention to the regulation of religious affairs and opinions. "We have seen that he had attempted to set up a standard of orthodoxy by the publication of "The Institution of a Christian Man," or "The Bishops' Book," as it was called, because compiled by the bishops under his direction. After that he published his "Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for any Christian Man," which was called "The King's Book." In this it was observable that, instead of approaching nearer to the Protestant creed, he was going fast back into the strictest principles of Romanism. He had allowed the people to read the Bible, but he now declared that, though the reading of it was necessary to the teachers of religion, it was not so necessary for the learners; and he decreed, by Act of Parliament, that the Bible should not be read in public, or seen in any private families, but such as were of n or gentle birth. It was not to be read privately by any but householders, or by women who were well-born. If any woman of the ordinary class, any artificer, apprentice, journeyman, servant, or labourer dared to read the Bible, he or she was to be imprisoned for one month.

Gardiner and the Papist party were more and more in the ascendant, and the timid Cranmer and the more liberal bishops were compelled not only to wink at these bigoted rules, but to order "the King's Book," containing -all the dogmas which they held to be false and pernicious, to be published in every diocese, and to be the guide of every preacher. By this means it was hoped to quash the numerous new sects which were springing from the reading of the Bible, and the earnest discussions consequent upon it. Such a flood of new light poured suddenly into the human mind, that it was dazzled and intoxicated by it. Opinion becoming in some degree free, ran into strange forms, and there were Anabaptists, who held that every man ought to be guided by the direct inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and that, consequently, there was no need of king, judge, magistrate, or civil law, or war, or capital punishment; there were Antinomians, who contended that all things were free and allowable to the saints without sin; there were Fifth-Monarchy men; members of the Family of Love, or Davidians, from one David George, their leader; Arians, Unitarians, Predestinarians, Libertines, and other denominations, whom we shall find abundant in the time of the Commonwealth. What was strangest of all was, to see King Henry, who would allow no man's opinion to be right but his own, and who burnt men for daring to differ from him, lecturing these contending sects on their animosities in his speech in Parliament, and bidding them "behold what love and charity there was amongst them, when one called another heretic and Anabaptist, and he called him again Papist, hypocrite, and pharisee;" and the royal peacemaker threatened to put an end to their quarrellings by punishing them all. During the four remaining years of his reign, he burnt or hanged twenty-four persons for religion - that is, six annually - fourteen them being Protestants. During these years "the King's Book" was the only authorised standard of English orthodoxy.

It is now necessary to take a brief glance at the proceedings of Henry's government in Ireland and Wales, and towards Scotland. In the Principality of Wales the measures of the king were marked by a far wiser spirit than those which predominated in religion. Being descended from the natives of that country, it was natural that it should claim his particular attention. Wales at this time might be divided into two parts, one of which had been subjected by the English monarchs, and divided into shires, the other which had been conquered by different knights and barons, thence called the lords-marchers. The shires were under the royal will, but the hundred and forty-one small districts or lordships which had been granted to the petty conquerors, excluded the officers and writs of the king altogether. The lords, like so many counts palatine, exercised all sovereign rights within their own districts, had their own courts, appointed their own judges, and punished or pardoned offenders at pleasure. This opened up a source of the grossest confusion and impunity from justice; for criminals perpetrating offences in one district, had only to move into another, and set the law at defiance. Henry, by enacting, in 1536, that the whole of Wales should thenceforth be incorporated with England, should obey the same laws and enjoy the game rights and privileges, did a great work. The Welsh shires, with one borough in each, were empowered to send members to Parliament, the judges were appointed solely by the Crown, and no lord was any longer allowed to pardon any treason, murder, or felony in his lordship, or to protect the perpetrators of such crimes. The same regulations were extended to the county palatine of Chester.

The proceedings of Henry in Ireland were equally energetic, if they were not always as just; and in the end they produced an equally improved condition of things there. Quiet and law came to prevail, though they prevailed with severity. On the accession of Henry to the throne, the portion of the island over which the English authority really extended was very limited indeed. It included merely the chief sea-ports, with the five counties of Louth, Westmeath, Dublin, Kildare, and Wexford. The rest of t-he country was almost independent of England, being in the hands of no less than ninety chieftains -thirty of English origin, and the rest native - who exercised a wild and lawless kind of sway, and made war on each other at will. Wolsey, in the height of his power, determined to reduce this Irish chaos to order. He saw that the main causes of the decay of the English authority lay in the perpetual feuds and jealousies of the families of Fitzgerald and Butler, at the head of which were the Earls of Kildare and of Ormond, or Ossory. The young Earl of Kildare, the chief of the Fitzgeralds, who succeeded his father in 1520, was replaced by the Earl of Surrey, afterwards the Duke of Norfolk, whom we have seen so disgracefully figuring in the affairs of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, his nieces. During the two years that he held the Irish government, he did himself great credit by the vigour of his administration, repressing the turbulence of the chiefs, and winning the esteem of the people by his hospitality and munificence.

Unfortunately for Ireland, Surrey had acquired great renown by his conduct under his father at Flodden, and when Henry, in 1522, declared war against France, he was deemed the only man fitted to take the command of the army. The government of Ireland, on his departure, was placed in the hands of Butler, Earl of Ossory. In the course of ten years it passed successively from Ossory again to Kildare, from Kildare to William Skeffington, and back for the third time to Kildare.

Kildare, relieved from the fear of Wolsey, who had now fallen, gave way to the exercise of such acts of extravagance, that his own friends attributed them to insanity. At the earnest recommendations, there fore, of his hereditary rivals, the Butlers, he was called to London in 1534, and sent to the Tower. Still, he had left his Irish government in the hands of his son, Lord Thomas Fitzgerald - a young man of only one-and-twenty, brave, generous, but with all the impetuosity of Irish blood. Hearing a false report that his father was beheaded in the Tower, the young Fitzgerald flew to arms. He appeared at the head of 140 followers before the council, resigned the sword of state, and demanded war against Henry of England.

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