Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Concluded). page 27
Around the dreaded tyrant the silence of terror reigned. No voice of truth had penetrated into his presence-chamber for many a long year. Catherine Parr, woman as she was, was the only one who dared to utter a noble sentiment, and it was impossible that she could long do that with impunity.
One day she ventured, in the presence of Gardiner, to expostulate with him on having forbidden the reading of the Scriptures, which he had formerly allowed. Henry showed unmistakable signs of vexation, and perceiving that she had gone too far, she turned the conversation with some pleasant observations, and soon after withdrew. No sooner had she disappeared than the king's wrath burst forth. "A good hearing it is," he said, "when women become such clerks, and much my comfort to come, in mine old age, to be taught by my wife."
The wily Gardiner jumped at the opportunity, and struck whilst the iron of Henry's temper was hot, to accomplish his long-desired ruin of the queen. He related to the king such things regarding the spread of heretical notions in the palace, and through the influence of the queen herself, as he thought would raise the vain man's jealousy. It was a bold stroke, "For," says Fox, "never handmaid sought to please her mistress more than she to please his humour. And she was of singular beauty, favour, and comely personage, wherein the king was greatly delighted. But Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, Lord Chancellor Wriothesley, and others of the king's Privy Chamber, practised her death, that they might the better stop the passage of the Gospel; yet they durst not speak to the king touching her, because they saw he loved her too well."
The daring attempt of Gardiner succeeded for the moment. The vanity of the king being wounded, he was in an instant forgetful of all the gentleness and affectionate attention by which she had so long sought to mitigate his sufferings, and all her kind and motherly cares for his children. Gardiner flattered his enormous self-love to the utmost. He said that it was certainly great presumption in the queen to argue with him as she had done - a prince who, in genius and theological knowledge, surpassed the most famous men of the age, and that it was as dangerous as it was unseemly; for such example would soon produce similar arrogance in others. He added that he could make great discoveries were he not deterred by the queen's powerful faction.
This was enough to raise all the demon in Henry's soul. To imagine that any one in his palace should dare to think contrary to his will and order; that this was fostered by the queen, and was spread all around him, was intolerable to his pampered egotism. He gave Gardiner and Wriothesley commands to draw up articles against the queen, on these heads, touching her very life. The delighted miscreants went joyfully to work. "They first," says Fox, "began with such ladies as she most esteemed, and were privy to all her doings; as the Lady Herbert, afterwards Countess of Pembroke, her sister; the Lady Jane, who was her first cousin; and the Lady Tyrwhitt, all of her Privy Chamber. They accused them of the Six Articles, and searched their closets and coffers, that they might find somewhat to charge the queen; who, if that were the case, should be taken and carried by night in a barge to the Tower, of which advice the king was made privy by Gardiner. This purpose was so finely handled, that it grew within a few days of the time appointed, and the poor queen suspected nothing; but after her accustomed manner visited the king, still to deal with him touching religion as before."
Providence, however, revealed the murderous plot by an accident. Wriothesley, in passing through the gallery at Whitehall, dropped, unperceived, from his bosom the warrant for Catherine's arrest, having just obtained to it the king's signature. Fortunately, it was picked up by one of the queen's attendants, who, on discovering its deadly nature, at once hastened with it to her majesty. Catherine's feelings on perusing that fatal paper may be imagined. It was clear that the king had treacherously given his consent to her destruction: she was to be added to the long list of his victims. No charges could well be advanced against her virtue; but she had brought the king no issue, and she recollected the dread clause in the Act of Settlement, in which he secured the succession, in preference to his daughters, "to the children he might have by any other queen."
On comprehending the whole frightful truth, Catherine fell into violent hysterics; and, as her room adjoined that of the morose monarch, he inquired what was the matter. Dr. Wendy, the queen's physician, informed him that the queen was dangerously ill, and that distress of mind was apparently the cause. On this, Henry, who had been confined two days to his bed, and probably was in great need of his kind nurse's affectionate attentions, ordered his couch to be wheeled into the queen's chamber. On all former occasions he had hurried out of the hearing of his victim queens; but, being now bound to the spot, he was compelled to hear the wild laments of Catherine, and, as Dr. Lingard has hinted, perhaps they might incommode him. Finding that the queen was very ill, and apparently at the point of death, he appeared considerably mortified; and Catherine played her part so humbly, and yet adroitly, telling this terrible husband that the honour of his visit had greatly revived and rejoiced her, regretting her having seen so little of his majesty of late, and fearing that she might by some means have unwittingly offended him. So complete was the effect of her sagacious conduct, that the king privately revealed to the physician the plot against her; and that good man is said not only to have interceded admirably with Henry on the queen's behalf, but to have suggested to her the course which she next adopted with such complete success.
On the following evening, finding herself sufficiently recovered to wait on the king in his bed-chamber, she went, attended by Lady Herbert and the young Lady Jane Gray, who carried the candles before her majesty. Henry received her very well, but was not long in turning the conversation upon the old subject of religious controversy, on which, no doubt, his injured vanity still rested with chagrin. But Catherine mildly parried the dangerous topic, saying that "she was but a woman, accompanied by all the imperfections natural to the sex. Therefore," she continued, "in all matters of doubt and difficulty, I must refer myself to your majesty's better judgment, as to my lord and head; for so God hath appointed you, as the supreme head of us all, and of you, next unto God, will I ever learn." "Not so, by St. Mary!" exclaimed the king. "You are become a doctor, Kate, to instruct us, as oftentime we have seen." "Indeed," replied the queen, "if your majesty have so conceived, my meaning has been mistaken, for I have always held it preposterous for a woman to instruct hoi-lord; and if I have ever presumed to differ with your highness on religion, it was partly to obtain information, for my own comfort, regarding certain nice points on which I stood in doubt, and sometimes because I perceived that in talking you were better able to pass away the pain and weariness of your present infirmity,, which encouraged me to this boldness, in the hope of profiting withal by your majesty's learned discourse." "And is it so, sweetheart?" replied the king. "Then we are perfect friends again, and it doth me more good to hear these words of thine own mouth, than if a hundred thousand pounds had fallen unto me." He kissed her cordially, and allowed her to retire.
The day came for which her arrest was fixed. The king, better of his infirmities, walked in the garden, and sent for the queen to take the air with him. She came, attended, as usual, by her sister (Lady Herbert), Lady Jane Grey, and Lady Tyrwhitt. The king, who liked to keep his thunder to himself till it burst confoundingly on its object, had given the queen's enemies no intimation of his change of sentiment. Wriothesley appeared with forty guards, and approached. Then Henry, turning on him with a tempest of indignation, saluted his astonished ears with "beast! fool! knave!" and bade him avaunt from his presence. Catherine, seeing the chancellor amazed at this fierce reception, interceded for him, saying, " She would become a humble suitor for him, as she deemed his fault was occasioned by mistake." "Ah, poor soul!" said the king; "thou little knowest, Kate, how ill he closerveth this grace at thy hands. On my word, sweetheart, he hath been to thee a very knave."
This was one of the last scenes in which Henry VIII. displayed some redeeming touch of kindness and justice. He never forgave Gardiner for this attempt to deprive him of his true wife and unrivalled nurse. Catherine is said to have treated these her deadly enemies with great magnanimity; but she seems to have become quite aware that Gardiner's was the daring hand that was lifted to ruin her with the king, and it was probably this clear understanding betwixt the king and queen which destroyed Gardiner's influence with Henry for ever. It has been well observed that Gardiner's treason to Catherine was as complete a political blunder as it was a crime. Yet he was rather punished for speaking what he only thought and designed in common with his colleagues, than for being more malignant to the queen than they. He fell through being more officious; they escaped through their more cunning silence only. Henry struck Gardiner's name oat of the list of his council, and on perceiving him one day on the terrace at Windsor, amongst the other courtiers, he turned fiercely on Wriothesley, and said, "Did I not command you that he should come no more amongst you?" "My Lord of Winchester," replied the chancellor, "has come to wait upon your highness with the offer of a benevolence from his clergy." That was a deeply politic stroke of Gardiner's; he knew that if anything could redeem the lost favour of Henry, it was a sacrifice to his avarice next to his vanity. Henry took the money, but turned away from the bishop without a word or a look, and immediately struck his name from amongst his executors, as well as that of Thirlby, Bishop of Westminster, who, he said, was schooled by Gardiner.
A deadly feud had grown up betwixt the house of Seymour and the house of Howard. The house of Howard was old, and proud, not only of its ancient lineage, but of its grand deeds. The glory of Flodden lay like a great splendour on their name. Two queens had been selected from this house during the present reign, and the Princess Elizabeth was a partaker of its blood. The Seymours, on the other hand, were of no great lineage; but the two heads of it, Sir Thomas Seymour, and Edward, who had been created Earl of Hertford, and whom we have seen executing the king's sanguinary pleasure more than once in Scotland - were the uncles to the heir-apparent, Prince Edward. They had been lifted into greatness entirely through the marriage of their sister with Henry and the birth of the prince; they had no natural connection, therefore, amongst the old nobility, and were regarded by them with jealousy as fortunate upstarts. But there was a cause which gave them power besides the alliance with the crown and the heir to it, and this was the Protestant faith which they held, and which, therefore, bound the Protestant party in England to their cause, and in hope, through their nephew, the future king. The Howards, on the other hand, held by the ancient faith, and were amongst its most positive assertors. Thus the feud betwixt these rival houses was not only the feud of the old and new aristocracy, but that of the old and new faith; and the rival factions looked up to them as their natural lords and leaders.
If we analyse the characters of the men themselves, we shall not find in them anything particularly noble- or elevated, if we except the gifted and chivalric son of Norfolk - the poetical Earl of Surrey. The Norfolk family was singularly destitute of unity in itself - of warm natural affection. We have seen the old duke, with the utmost willingness, nay, even eagerness, and a cruel asperity, lending himself to the destruction of his nieces - Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. We shall now find both himself and other branches of his family testifying the same repulsive readiness to abandon or actively sacrifice their nearest blood relations. As for the Seymours, they were the most obsequious tools of Henry's domineering tyranny - greedy of power and wealth, for which they were ever ready to sacrifice others, and though holding the reformed opinions, carefully hiding them from the knowledge of the king.
The contest which was now going on betwixt these two houses was for the ascendency in the approaching reign. The king's health, though ho was resolved not to perceive it, and was ready to slay any one who should whisper such a thing, was evidently failing. Not only was he grown so unwieldy and diseased, as we have described, but his strength was waning. Even the signing of the necessary documents was become too fatiguing for him, and he had now a stamp cut for the affixing his signature. But this duty even of stamping was too much for him, and three commissioners were appointed, two of whom stamped the paper with a dry stamp bearing the letters of his name, and the third drew a pen filled with ink over the blank impression.
The question, therefore, which of these families should become the guardians and ministers of the new king was every day acquiring a more intense interest. The Howards, from their old standing and their great employments under the Crown, naturally regarded themselves as entitled to that distinction, and in this view they were, of course, supported by the whole Papist party most anxiously. But the Seymours, as the uncles of the prince, were equally bent on securing the preference. They had little connection, as we have stated, amongst the aristocracy, but had the whole Protestant party in their interest. They therefore regarded the Howards with the deepest jealousy and alarm, and they lost no time or opportunity in securing their ruin during the present king's life. There were many things which they could so bring before Henry's mind, as to excite his most deadly fear and feelings. The Howards were the determined supporters of the Roman faith. What chance, therefore, under them, of the preservation of the supremacy? What chance that they would leave the young king to his own unbiassed choice in matters of religion, and especially of Church government? But, still more, the Howards had not escaped his secret dislike through the conduct of Catherine Howard, the queen. A little thing could stimulate this dislike into something fearful. Again, the Duke of Norfolk was rich, and never were the riches of a subject overlooked or unlonged for by Henry Tudor. We shall see that all these motives were brought into play, and succeeded. Bishop Gardiner was the man most to be feared in the Howard interest, as it regarded the Church, and that had, unquestionably, much to do with his disgrace and banishment from Court.
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