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Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Concluded). page 24


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At the commencement of the reign the ounce of gold and the pound of silver were each worth forty shillings: by repeated proclamations Henry raised them to forty-four, forty-five, and finally to forty-eight shillings. He then issued a new coinage with a plentiful alloy, and obtained possession of the old coinage by offering a premium for it at the Mint. This succeeded, and he then debased that, and so on, by successive acts in the same process, he went, until, before the end of the war, he had equalised the silver and the alloy in his coinage; and in the following year he brought the alloy to double the quantity of the silver,, To such a despicable condition had he reduced the coinage of the realm, that the shilling fell in value to ninepence, then sixpence; and finally his successors were compelled to withdraw it entirely from circulation. He had, in fact, cheated the nation out of nine-tenths of the whole circulating medium, and had inflicted on the trade of the country the most serious embarrassments.

But whilst he was proceeding in this abandoned course with the coin, the three years for which his supplies had been granted had expired, and he called his most compliant Parliament together in November to grant him fresh aid. The clergy in Convocation voted him fifteen per cent, on their incomes for two years, and Parliament two-tenths and fifteenths. Bat that did not satisfy him, and the Parliament forthwith granted him all the charities, hospitals, and colleges in the kingdom, accompanied by the most fulsome language, averring that they had always acknowledged him, by the word of God, supreme head of the Church, &c. &c. This was the last grant made to this insatiate monarch. Even so early as the twenth-sixth year of his reign, his expenditure had been calculated from the official documents, and it was clearly shown that he had received more from his subjects than all the taxes imposed by all the previous monarchs of England put together amounted to! That sum, however, enormous as it was, must, before his death, by the receipt of all the monastic property, by fresh loans, benevolences, and the debasement of the coin, have been doubled, or even quadrupled. Perhaps no money was so disgracefully employed, as that which went to corrupt the Scottish nobility, and purchase the murder of those who opposed his designs in that country. In a single entry in 1543, we have the following payments: - To the Earl of Angus, 200; the Earl of Glencairn, 200 marks; the Earl of Cassilis, 200 marks; the Master of Maxwell, 100; Sheriff of Ayr, 100 marks; Laird of Drumlanrig, 100 marks; the Earl of Marshall, John Charters, the friends of Lord Gray in the North, 300 marks; Sir George Douglas and his friends in Lothian and Merse, 200.

Henry, having obtained money, lost no time in prosecuting his designs on Scotland. An army of 30,000 men, under the Earl of Hertford, was ordered to be levied in the border counties, and Sadler, who had made himself well acquainted with Scotland during his very questionable mission there, was appointed treasurer to it. Meantime, Henry was advised by his Scottish friends to try first the force of negotiation. Cassilis was employed to conduct this under the control of Sadler. A convention of the nobles was held at Edinburgh on the 17th of April, 1545; but the tone of Henry savoured too much of his wonted arrogance to weigh much with the Scottish Government, mindful of their recent injuries, expecting troops from France, and a fleet of merchantmen from Denmark, laden with provisions, and engaged in friendly relations with the emperor. Still less was the party of the cardinal disposed to listen to the haughty condescensions of Henry, for it was gaining every day in power, and the cardinal had just received the new dignity of legate a latere in Scotland. The result was certain, The Convention declared the treaties of peace and marriage with England were at an end; and the offers of assistance from Franco were cordially accepted.

Cassilis communicated the entire failure of the negotiation to Henry, who, furious to have his proposals thus unceremoniously rejected, ordered instant preparations for war. His malice against Beaton became so rancorous that he encouraged Cassilis to organise a conspiracy for his murder, offering plenty of means of bribery to this diabolical deed. This foul plot, which remained unknown to the historians of the time, both Scotch and English, has, like a host of others equally iniquitous, come to light in our day in the State Paper Office, where the assassins had carefully laid the proofs of their own crimes. The particulars of this transaction are these: -

Cassilis wrote to Sadler offering to have the cardinal taken off, "if his majesty would have it done, and promise, when it was done, a reward." Sadler communicated the offer to the Earl of Hertford and the Council of the North, who dispatched it to the king. It was proposed that one Forster, who had recently been a prisoner of war in Scotland, and who could, it was alleged, easily visit Scotland without suspicion, should be sent to consult with Cassilis and his confederates, Angus, Glencairn, Marshall, and Sir George Douglas, the old clique of hardened traitors. The reply received from the Privy Council in London is well worthy of note, for its easy entertainment of the project, and yet for the clear consciousness of its infamy, and the desire to shield the reputation of the king, "His majesty hath willed us to signify unto your lordship, that his highness reputing the fact not meant to be set forward expressly by his majesty, will not seem to have to do in it, and yet not misliking the offer, thinketh good that Mr. Sadler, to whom that letter was addressed, should write to the earl of the receipt of his letter containing such an offer, which he thinketh not convenient to be communicated to the king's majesty. Marry, to write to him what he thinketh of the matter; he shall say, that if he were in the Earl of Cassilis's place, and were as able to do his majesty good service there, as he knoweth him to be, and thinketh a right good will in him to do it, he would surely do what he could for the execution of it, believing verily to do thereby, not only an acceptable service to the king's majesty, but also a special benefit to the kingdom of Scotland, and would trust verily the king's majesty would consider his service in the same, as ye doubt not of his accustomed goodness to those which serve him but he would do the same to him."

Forster was accordingly sent on this business. He arrived at Dalkeith, and had an interview with Sir George Douglas, where he was to meet Angus and Cassilis. He encountered Angus on the way at Dumfries, hunting, who bade Forster welcome, and on pretence of keeping him to hunt, retained him all night, where they had a secret conference, in which Forster declared the precise object of his coming. Angus had sent for Cassilis, who rode all night to the meeting. As the two assassin earls found that Sadler had sent that evasive message, and had fixed no certain reward, they would not speak of the murder, but confined themselves solely to the projects for the planned invasion. On returning, Cassilis gave Forster a letter, written in cypher, to Sadler; and Douglas, betraying his impatience, said that he willed Forster to tell Sadler, " that if the king would have the cardinal dead, if his grace would promise a good reward for the doing thereof, so that the reward were knowne what it should be, the country being lawless as it is, he thinketh that the adventure would be proved; for, he saith, the common saying is, the cardinal is the only occasion of the war, and is smally beloved in Scotland; and then, if he be dead, by what means that reward should be paid." As the lords would not commit the murder without making sure beforehand of the reward, and as Henry was afraid of committing his reputation, such as it was, though he had no care about his conscience, the matter was deferred till fresh irritations and less scrupulous assassins accomplished the horrible business.

Whilst these dark conferences were proceeding, the Sieur Lorges de Montgomerie arrived off the west coast with a fleet containing 3,000 infantry and 500 horse. To avoid the trick played off on the Sieur de la Brosse by Lennox, at Dumbarton, the commander took the precaution before landing at that port to inquire into the state of parties; and finding all favourable, he landed, bringing with him not only the troops mentioned, but a body-guard of a 100 archers for the governor, the insignia of the Order of St. Michael for Angus, and a good military chest for the war. Elated at this auspicious event, the cardinal procured the summoning of a Convocation at Stirling, where a resolution was speedily passed to maintain the alliance of France and make immediate war on England.

On the 9th of August the Scottish host mustered 30,000 strong at Stirling, and, supported by the French force, it was calculated that something effectual would be achieved. But though all was promising outwardly, all was deceitful within; for the traitor lords were in conspicuous commands, and Angus had the vanguard itself. Treason everywhere paralysed the otherwise vigorous body of the Scottish army. England was invaded, indeed, but to no purpose. The Earl of Hertford had been duly apprised of everything by his Scottish confederates, so that every possible measure had been adopted to defend the borders, whilst every movement of the Scottish army was rendered feeble and abortive by the false councils and traitorous proceedings of the disaffected lords and their followers. The Spanish and Italian troops in the pay of England repelled the Scots at all points; and after managing to capture a few border towns, and burn a few villages, the army returned, after the wonderful campaign of two days, to their own country, according to an old chronicle, "through the deceit of George Douglas and the vanguard."

Three days after this retreat, these traitor lords addressed a letter from Melrose to Henry VIII., boasting of having thus caused the total failure of the invasion, and telling him that now was the time to pour an army into the country. They recommended that Hertford should march, during the harvest, into the land, and proclaim, as a means of winning over the agricultural population, that he came not to injure any one who was ready to assist him in procuring the marriage, and thus establishing peace betwixt the two kingdoms.

This advice was promptly followed. To assist the main invasion from England, a body of 8,000 islesmen and Highlanders were engaged under Donald, Lord of the Isles, and Earl of Boss, who repudiated any allegiance to the Crown of Scotland. 4,000, instead of 8,000, landed at Knockfergus, in Ireland, where they were to join 2,000 kerns and gallowglasses, and put themselves under the command of the Earl of Lennox, as commander-in-chief of the expedition. But the immediate co-operation of these wild forces with the English was suspended, by Hertford summoning Lennox to his camp, and were reserved for later action.

Hertford advanced to Alnwick on the 5th of September, and pushing across Northumberland, he passed the Tweed, and encamped before Kelso. As that town was not fortified, he occupied it with ease, but the abbey was not reduced without bombardment. Meantime, Angus, Glencairn, and the rest, who had advised this invasion,, and had been invited to take part in it, excused themselves on the ground that they were not sufficiently acquainted with Hertford's plans. This conduct so incensed Hertford that he fell upon their estates, and devastated them with merciless fury. Melrose and Dry-burgh abbeys, the glories of their demesnes, were burnt; villages, castles, farms, fell under universal havoc; Jedburgh was given to the flames, with fourteen villages round it. Hertford wrote an exulting letter to Henry, informing him of the signal vengeance which he had taken on these most contemptible men, who were traitors to every party, and not true even to themselves. He assured him, as a piece of news likely to gratify especially his malignant mind, that the border gentlemen declared that so much mischief had not been done in Scotland for the last hundred years. The vengeance was so complete that these border gentlemen were not over-well pleased with it, and to prevent any sparing of the country and people, Hertford appointed 100 Irish as an advanced guard to burn and destroy the villages in the most complete manner.

The party of the governor and the cardinal all this time was rendered inactive by the treason in their camp, and by the absence of Huntly and Argyll, whom the fear of the united army of islesmen and Irish making a descent upon their coasts, kept there for their defence. With difficulty 6,000 men were got together, to make an inroad into England, instead of driving the English out of their own territories; but it proved a failure, through the treacherous counsel of Angus. They entered England near Norham Castle; but, on the appearance of an enemy, immediately dispersed, and got away home.

Hertford was now compelled to think of a retreat - not from any enemy that Scotland brought against him, but from one which he had raised up himself. He had so utterly desolated the country, that there was no subsistence for his army. He therefore turned his face homewards; and, after reconnoitring Hume Castle, and leaving it as too strong for capture under the present circumstances, he proceeded through the Merse, burning and destroying all before him - towns, villages, farms, castles, and keeps; and, where they resisted the fire, razing them to the ground.

Some of the French soldiers, urged by their necessities, and by the miserable failure of their allies, went over to the English. Hertford wrote the king to learn whether he thought they might be received or trusted. Henry replied through his council that it was scarcely safe to put confidence in any men of that nation, with whom he was at war, unless they first proved their sincerity by some signal service. And what was this notable service required? His old design of murdering Cardinal Beaton, to which he now added others. "Advise the Frenchmen," he says, "first to do some notable damage or displeasure to the enemy . . . . . Trapping or killing the cardinal, Lorges, or the governor, or some other man of estimation, whereby it can appear that they bear hearty goodwill to serve; which thing if they have done, your lordship may promise them not only to accept the service, but also to give to them such reward as they shall have good cause to be therewith right well contented."

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