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Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Concluded). page 28


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A few days after that event, namely, on the 12th of December, the Duke of Norfolk, and his son, the Earl of Surrey, were arrested on a charge of high treason, unknown to each other, and sent to the Tower, the one by water, and the other by land. Surrey had never forgiven j the Earl of Hertford for having superseded him in command of the army at Boulogne; he had in his irritation spoken with biting contempt of the parvenu Seymour, and declared that after the king's death he would take his revenge. But Henry was soon persuaded that the designs of Surrey went further. His fears, in his morbid and sinking state, were easily excited, and he was made to believe that there was a conspiracy of the Howards to seize the reins of government during his illness, and make themselves masters of the person of the prince. Surrey, with all the rash and lofty spirit of the poet, denied every charge of disloyalty or treason with the utmost vehemence, and offered to fight his accuser in his shirt.

The Duke of Norfolk wrote to the king from the Tower, expressing his astonishment at the sudden arrest, and saying, "Sir, God doth know that in all my life I never thought one untrue thought against you, or your succession: nor can no more judge nor cast in my mind what should be laid to my charge, than the child that was born this night." The only thing which he thought his enemies might bring against him was, for "being quick against such as had been accused for sacramentaries," that is, Protestants. He prayed earnestly to have a fail-hearing before the king or his council, face to face with his accusers. His gifted son, one of the finest poets of the age, and whose fame still makes part of England's glory, was brought to trial first, for he was young and full of talent, and, therefore, more dreaded than his father.

On the 13th of December he was arraigned for treason in Guildhall, before the lord chancellor, the lord mayor, and other commissioners, and a jury of commoners. The chief charge was that of having quartered the arms of Edward the Confessor, which belonged of right to the prince, and, therefore, argued a design upon the throne. To this Surrey, in a speech of great spirit and eloquence, replied that it was notorious that he had quartered those arms on his family shield for years, to the knowledge of the king, without so much as exciting a remark or giving the slightest umbrage. He showed the decision of the heralds which allowed him to do so. There were, however, other charges against him: one, that he had a design upon the Princess Mary, and, therefore, had refused the daughter of the Earl of Hertford and every other proposal of marriage - an absurdity, for Surrey was already married, and his wife expecting her confinement at the time of his arrest. He was accused, also, of having proposed to marry his beautiful sister, the Duchess of Richmond, the widow of the king's natural son, Henry, Duke of Richmond - or, more monstrous still, "to advise his sister to become his harlot, thinking thereby to rule both father and son;" and another charge, that he had said, "If the king die, who should have the rule of the prince but my father and I?"

These latter charges were not brought publicly against him, but were used privately, as appears by a document in the State Papers, in the handwriting of Wriothesley, and with interlineations by the king himself. He was, however, openly accused of keeping certain Italians in his house, who were suspected to be spies; and that he corresponded with Cardinal Pole, who was his relative. All the evidence which could be brought forward in substantiation of these flimsy charges was drawn from the women of the family, who were frightened into accusing their own nearest relatives, and showed themselves only too ready to do it. The exhibition of Howard cowardice, domestic malice, and want of natural affection on this occasion is very melancholy.

The Duchess of Norfolk had long been on the worst terms with her husband, and was living separate from him, whilst the beautiful, heartless Duchess of Richmond bore a deep hatred to her noble brother Surrey, because he had opposed her marriage to Sir Thomas Seymour, the brother of Lord Hertford. Immediately on the arrest of Norfolk and Surrey, Government agents were sent off to the houses of the Howards to scrape up at once all the evidence and the spoil that they could. Gate, Southwell, and Carew hurried off that very night to Kuming Hall, near Thetford. After securing all the accesses to the house, they announced their presence to the Duchess of Richmond and her sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Holland. It was early in the morning, and the ladies were scarcely risen. When they appeared they were in the utmost consternation, having had no intelligence of the arrest. The Duchess of Richmond on her knees declared that she would hide nothing that she knew from the king, and would write anything that she could recollect to the king and council, averring that her brother, the Earl of Surrey, was a rash man.

The commissioners reported a very poor account of money or jewels, but stated that they were making a catalogue, and had sent trusty servants to all the other houses of the duke in Norfolk and Suffolk, as well as that of Elizabeth Holland, which was new, and "thought to be well furnished with stuff." The duke's almoner promised them delivery of all the family plate, but money they could find none, unless the steward had it still in his hands. The greedy quest after property showed how deeply that entered into Henry's calculation in all such impeachments. The Duchess of Norfolk was arrested near London, and the three ladies were brought before the Privy Council and strictly examined. But there was little to draw out of them. They admitted what was well known - that both Norfolk and Surrey had quartered the arms of the Duke of Buckingham, a lineal descendant of Edward III., which they had a full right to do; the duke, who was executed in the early part of the reign, being the father of the Duchess of Norfolk. The Duchess of Richmond added that she had heard her brother Surrey speak bitterly against the Earl of Hertford. Two obscure men also, whom the council brought forward, declared that the Duke of Norfolk had expressed great dissatisfaction at the changes in the Church, had talked of the king's diseases, and spoken contemptuously of the new nobility.

On such paltry charges as these was the gallant Surrey condemned; and so, says Godwin, " The flower of English nobility was, on the 19th of January, beheaded, the king, being then in his extremity, and breathing his last in blood.

If the son was legally murdered on such grounds as these, the father, who had done distinguished service through a long life, both in the cabinet and the field, was arraigned on still less ones. It was difficult indeed to make up a story against him; and, instead of bringing him before his peers to a fair trial, as he repeatedly demanded, they took the more safe and illegal mode of cutting him off by a bill of attainder without trial. It is true that Norfolk had the less right to complain, for he had been only too ready to deal out such treatment to others in his time. After many private examinations, he was induced, by promises held out to him, to write a confession, in which he acknowledged that during his long and difficult services, he had occasionally communicated to others the secrets of the Privy Council, contrary to his oath; that he had concealed the treasonable act of his son in assuming the arms of Edward the Confessor; and that he had treasonably borne on his shield the arms of England, with the difference of a label of silver, which of right only belonged to Prince Edward.

The two last facts were known to everybody, and were, therefore, not in the keeping of the duke, and the whole charge was too ridiculous to be entertained by any impartial tribunal; but the Seymours were impatient, not only for the death of Norfolk, but for the division of his vast property, of which they had got a promise from the king. They had, therefore, made the promises to the duke in order to induce him to make this confession, and they pronounced it sufficient to warrant his death. Seeing himself thus deceived, and knowing that if his property were divided amongst a number of people, there would be far more difficulty of its ever being recovered by his family than if it went to the Crown, he immediately petitioned the king that all his estate, which he represented as "good and stately gear," might be settled on Prince Edward. The idea was well adapted to the avaricious character of Henry, who, therefore, though on the point of having earth and all its possessions wrested by death from his reluctant hands, consented to the request, and promised the disappointed expectants some other equivalent.

This manoeuvre of Norfolk's only rendered the Seymours the more eager for his death. The king was rapidly sinking, there was no time to lose; a bill of attainder was passed through the Peers on the 26th of January, 1547; on the 27th the Royal assent was given in due form, and an order was dispatched to the Tower to execute the duke at an early hour in the morning. Before that morning the soul of the tyrant was called to its dread account, and the life of the old nobleman was saved as by a miracle.

The closing scene of Henry VIII. was in perfect keeping with the latter years of his life. Whilst he was rapidly approaching his last hour no one dared to tell him so unpleasant a truth. He lay like the indomitable tyrant that he was, terrible to the latest moment. His attendants stood at a distance in silent fear. His queen was not present, for she was worn out with constant watching, and perhaps with terror and anxiety, for a contemporary writer asserts that the morose king had revived the idea of putting her to death for her heresy. Be that as it may, she was absent, and no one was found courageous enough to tell him the truth, till Sir Anthony Denny approached his bed, and leaning over it, said to him that "all human aid was now vain, and that it was meete for him to review his past life, and seek for God's mercy through Christ."

Henry, who was giving impatient vent to his pain in loud cries, suddenly stopped, turned a fierce look on the speaker, and asked, "What judge had sent him to pass this sentence upon him?" Denny replied, "Your physicians." The physicians then ventured to approach, and offered him some medicine to relieve his agony; but he repulsed them with these words, "After the judges have once passed sentence on a criminal, they have no more to do with him; therefore, begone." He was then asked whether he would not confer with some of his divines. He replied, "With none but Cranmer, and with him not yet. I will first repose myself a little, and as I find myself, so shall I determine."

Awaking in about an hour from his sleep and feeling himself going, he sent for Cranmer; but the primate, who had attended three successive days in the House of Lords to give his vote for the iniquitous bill of attainder, had retired to his house at Croydon, and when he arrived the king was unable to speak. Cranmer entreated him to give some sign of his hope in the saving mercy of Christ, and Henry, looking steadily at him for a moment, pressed his hand and expired. The vet says that he manifested strong remorse for the murder of Anne Boleyn, and for his other crimes, and the terrors of awakening conscience seem to have peopled his presence with the victims of his injustice. He cast wild looks into a gloomy recess of his chamber, and exclaimed, "Monks! monks!" Another writer says, that, "warned of approaching dissolution, and consumed with the death-thirst, he called for a cup of white-wine, and turning to one of his attendants, cried, 'All is lost!' These were his last words."

For some time before his death he was constantly attended by his confessor, the Bishop of Rochester, heard mass daily in his chamber, and received the communion in one kind.' He seemed anxious by some further benefactions to make amends for the destruction of the funds for religion and education; and about a month before his death, he endowed the magnificent establishment of Trinity College, Cambridge, for a master and sixty fellows and! scholars; reopened the church of the Grey Friars, which, with St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and an ample revenue, he gave to the city of London.

Henry VIII. was fifty-five years and seven months old at his death, and had reigned thirty-seven years, nine months, and six days. His will was dated December 30th, 1546. He was authorised by Act of Parliament to settle the succession by his will, and he now named his son, Prince Edward, as his lawful successor, and, in default of heirs, then the Princess Mary, and her heirs; failing that, the Princess Elizabeth, and her heirs. After Elizabeth, was named the Lady Frances, the eldest daughter of his sister tho Queen of France, and her heirs; and such failing, the Lady Eleanor, the youngest daughter of the late Queen of France. On the failure of all these, then to his heirs-at-law; but no particular mention was made in the succession of his sister Margaret, Queen of Scotland, and of her issue. Yet he left to Margaret 3,000 in plate and jewels, and 1,000 in money, besides her jointure. To each of his daughters he gave 10,000 in plate, jewels, and furniture, as a marriage portion, and an annuity of 3,000 whilst remaining unmarried. Nor did he forget to leave large funds for masses to be said for his soul. He left 600 a year to the church at Windsor, for priests to say mass for his soul every day, and for four abiits a year, and sermons, and distribution of alms at every one of them, and for a maintenance of thirteen poor knights. Thus his will displayed the fact that, though he had renounced the Pope, he had not renounced the Pope's religion.

Of the great political, moral, and religious changes which took place or took root in this reign, we shall speak in our review of the century; we will here only say a few words on the character of this extraordinary monarch.

In his youth, the beauty of his person, the accomplishment of his mind, and the taste for gaiety and magnificence in his Court, prognosticated something very different from the fierce, gloomy, and bloody scene into which it rapidly degenerated. He was in his better days as active and exemplary in the discharge of the duties of his exalted station, as he was joyous, and disposed to pleasure and parade. He attended diligently at the council board/ consulted with his ministers, who were selected for their great talents, read himself and directed despatches, corresponded with his various ambassadors and commanders, and would himself see into everything. He was not only a poet and musician of no mean order, but prided himself on his achievements' 'as an author, and judge of faiths and systems. His regard for literature was evinced by his, liberality to learned men both at home and abroad. But under all this shining surface lay qualities of the most extraordinary and dangerous character. His vanity was of that kind that it made him believe himself the greatest man and wisest king that ever lived. No flattery could overtop the height of his egotism. He drank in adulation as a whale sucks in whole seas, and the intense love of power combined with this egregious self-estimation, and based on an unparalleled strength of fiery passions, made him soon impatient of contradiction, and, like a tornado, ready to crush everything around him that dared to stand in his way. It is remarkable that the same man who commenced by an admiration of learning and literature, put to death the three most celebrated men of letters of his Court - Sir Thomas More, the Viscount Rochford, and Surrey. As he advanced in years, he waded deeper and deeper in the noblest blood of the kingdom, sparing neither learning, genius, age, piety, man nor woman.

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