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Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Concluded). page 4

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It was a great misfortune for Anne that she had never been able to lay aside that levity of manner which she had acquired by spending her juvenile years at the French Court. After her elevation to the throne, she was too apt to forget, with those about her, the sober dignity which belonged to the queen, and to converse with the officers about her more in the familiar manner of the maid-of -honour which she had once been. This freedom and gaiety had been caught at by the Court gossips, and now scandals were whispered abroad, and, as soon as the way was open by the anger and fresh love-affair of the king, carried to him. Such accusations were precisely what he wanted, as a means to rid himself of her. A plot was speedily concocted, in which she was to be charged with criminal conduct towards not only three officers of the Royal household - Brereton, Weston, and Norris - but also with Mark Smeaton, the king's musician, and, still more horrible, with her own brother, the Viscount Rochford. Thus, from a woman caressed and loaded with, honours, and certainly innocent of the crimes now brought against her, Anne Boleyn was suddenly converted into a monster, to gratify the inconstant king. A court of inquiry was at once appointed, in which presided Cromwell, the Lord Chancellor, and the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, Anne's determined enemies. On the 28th of April they began, with Brereton, and committed him to the Tower. On Sunday, the 31st, they examined Smeaton, and sent him also to the same prison. The following day, being the 1st of May, the Court was suspended to celebrate the gaieties usual on that day; and these were used for the purpose of obtaining a public cause of accusation against Sir Henry Norris. There was to be held a tournament at Greenwich that day, in which the Viscount Rochford was to be opposed by Norris as the principal defendant.

Thither it was concerted that Henry should go, and there he appeared in public with the queen, as if nothing were amiss betwixt them. Anne has been supposed to be unaware of the immediate storm which was brewing against her, but this is more than improbable. Isolated as she was at Greenwich from the Court, and left in melancholy desertion by the courtier tribe, she gave evidence of being sensible of the menacing crisis, by holding a long private conference with her chaplain, Matthew Parker, and giving him a solemn charge concerning her infant daughter, Elizabeth.

In the midst of the tournament, Henry, who, no doubt, was watching for some opportunity to entrap his victims, suddenly found one. The queen, leaning over the balcony, witnessing the tournament, accidentally let fall her handkerchief, which Norris took up, and, as it was said, presumptuously wiped his face with it, and then handed it to the queen on his spear. The thing is wholly improbable, the true version most likely being that the courtly Norris kissed the handkerchief on taking it up - an ordinary knightly usage - and that this was seized upon as a pretended charge against him. Henry, however, suddenly frowned, rose abruptly from his seat, and, black as a thunder- cloud, marched out of the gallery, followed by his six attendants. Every one was amazed; the queen appeared terror-stricken, and immediately retired. Norris, and not only Norris but Rochford, who had had nothing whatever to do with the handkerchief (showing, therefore, that the matter was preconcerted), was arrested, at the barriers, on a charge of high treason.

The diabolical treachery of Henry's character, and the utter insecurity in which every one about him stood, is strongly demonstrated by the fact that the whole of the six now accused of the most infamous crimes against him were his partiScular favourites, and so high did Norris stand, that he was the only person whom he had permitted to follow him into his bed-chamber. In a moment he was prepared to sacrifice them, just as he would sweep away so many flies, simply to accomplish a fresh act of his licentious life. On his way back to Whitehall, he took Norris apart, and earnestly entreated him to obtain his pardon by confessing his guilt. But Norris stoutly asserted his own innocence and that of the queen, and on arriving at London was committed to the Tower.

Queen Anne was struck with terror when the arrest of her brother and Norris was communicated to her, but the nature of the charge against them was yet a mystery. She sat down to dinner at the usual hour, but she was still more alarmed at perceiving a portentous silence amongst her attendants. Her ladies stood with downcast looks and tearful eyes, denoting some cause of profound grief, and her consternation was brought to a climax when, immediately on the drawing of the cloth, the Duke of Norfolk, Cromwell, the Lord Chancellor Audley, and other lords of the council, with solemn faces, and attended by Sir William Kingston, the Lieutenant of the Tower, walked in. She then started up in terror, and demanded why they came. They replied, "By command of the king, to conduct you to the Tower, there to abide during his highness's pleasure." Thereupon, she seemed to recover her composure, and replied, "If it be His Majesty's pleasure, I am ready to obey." "And so," says Hey wood, "without change of habit, or anything necessary for her removal, she committed herself to them, and was conducted by them to her barge."

Scarcely were she and her attendants seated in the barge when Norfolk, who was a bigoted Catholic, and hated her for her leaning to the Reformers, with blunt rudeness, if not malice, told her that her "paramours had confessed their guilt." On this, she declared that it was impossible for any paramour of hers to have confessed any guilt with her, for she had none, but was perfectly innocent of any such offence; and passionately implored them to conduct her to the king, that she might plead her own cause to him. To all her protestations of innocence, the Duke of Norfolk replied with the most insulting expressions.

On approaching the gate of the Tower, the terror of her situation came so vividly upon her, that she fell on her knees, as she had already done in the boat, and exclaimed, "O Lord! help me, as I am guiltless of that whereof I am charged!" Then, turning to the Lieutenant of the Tower, she said, "Mr. Kingston, do I go into a dungeon?" Sir William replied, "No, madam, to your own lodging, where you lay at your coronation." On hearing this, the remembrance of that time, and the awful contrast of the present, overcame her; she burst into a passion of tears, exclaiming, "It is too good for me; Jesus have mercy on me!" When the lords had brought her to her chamber, again protesting her innocence, she said: "I entreat you to beseech the king in my behalf, that he will be a good lord unto me." The ministers then took their leave.

On being left alone with Sir William Kingston, she said, "Why am I here, Mr. Kingston? I am the king's true wedded wife - do you know why I am here?" He replied that he did not. Then she asked him when he saw the king, and he said not since he saw him in the tilt-yard. She next asked where Lord Rochford was, and Kingston evasively replied, he saw him last at Whitehall. "I dare say," continued the disconsolate woman, "that I shall be accused with these men, and I can say no more than nay, though you should open my body." "Oh, Norris!" she exclaimed, "hast thou accused me? Thou art in the Tower, and thou and I shall die together. And Mark, thou art here too! Oh, my mother! thou wilt die for sorrow." Then suddenly breaking off, she exclaimed, "Mr. Kingston, I shall die without justice!" "The poorest subject," replied Sir William, "the king hath, has that." At which poor Anne, knowing what sort of justice her Royal husband administered where his will was concerned, burst into a bitter hysterical laugh.

Left alone in her prison, her affliction seemed to actually disturb her intellect. She would sit for hours plunged in a stupor of melancholy, and shedding torrents of tears, and then she would abruptly burst into wild laughter. To her attendants she would say that she should be a saint in heaven; that no rain would fall on the earth till she was delivered from prison; and that the most grievous calamities would oppress the nation in punishment for her death. At other times she became calm and devotional, and requested that a consecrated host might be placed in her closet.

But the unhappy queen was not suffered to enjoy much retirement. It was necessary for Henry to establish a charge against her sufficiently strong to turn the feeling of the nation against her, and from him; and for this purpose, no means were neglected which tyranny and harshness of the intensest kind could suggest. Whilst the accused gentlemen were interrogated, threatened, cajoled, and even put to the torture in their cells, to force a confession of guilt from them, two women were set over Anne to watch her every word, look, and act, to draw from her in her unguarded conversation everything they could to implicate her, and, no doubt, to invent and colour where the facts did not sufficiently answer the purpose required. These were Lady Boleyn, the wife of Anne's uncle, Sir Edward Boleyn, a determined enemy of hers, and Mrs. Cosyns, the wife of Anne's master of the horse, a creature of the most unprincipled character.

These women never left her, day or night. They had a pallet laid at the foot of her bed, and they carefully hoarded up every word, every exclamation which fell from her, and repeated it to the king, no doubt giving their own colour to the communication. Their business was to entrap and villify, and for this purpose they put all sorts of ensnaring questions to her, and led her on to talk, whilst, on the other hand, they would tell her nothing comfortable of any of her friends or relations outside the walls. She was very apprehensive that her father might have fallen into disgrace or trouble on her account, but to all her inquiries of these women there was no reply. She implored that she might be attended by certain ladies of the privy chamber, but this, of course, was not allowed. Gossip absurd, but most fatal, like the following, was reported as her conversation.

Mrs. Cosyns asked her why Norris had told his almoner on the preceding Saturday "that he could swear the queen was a good woman?" "Marry," replied Anne, "I bade him do so, for I asked him why he did not go on with his marriage, and he made answer that he would tarry awhile. 'Then,' said I, 'you look for dead men's shoes. If aught but good should come to the king (who was then afflicted with a dangerous ulcer), you would look to have me.' He denied it, and I told him I could undo him if I would." Again, the queen expressed some apprehension of what Weston might say in his examination, for he had told her on Whit Monday last that Norris came more into her chamber for her sake than for Madge, one of her maids of honour. Of Weston, that she told him he did love her kinswoman, Mrs. Skelton, and that he loved not his wife; and he answered again that he loved one in his house better than them both. She asked him who, and he said, "yourself," on which she defied him.

Such was the stuff which Kingston gathered at the hands of these wretched spies, to be used against the queen, who was to be got rid of. To suppose that Anne talked in that manner to these women, who she knew were placed there to malign and betray her, is to suppose that she had lost her senses, or was a far more foolish woman than she was ever supposed to be. It is more than improbable that Anne should talk thus imprudently when we find her saying, "The king wist what he did when he put such women as Mrs. Cosyns and my Lady Boleyn about her." Her mind, indeed, seems to have been really affected by the intensity of her anguish and anxiety at times. "One hour," says Kingston, "she is determined to die, and the next hour much contrary to that. Yesterday I sent for my wife, and also for Mrs. Cosyns, to know how she had done that day; and they said that she had been very merry, and made a great dinner, and yet soon after called for her supper, having marvelled where I was all day. 'Where have you been all day?' she asked when I went in. I replied, 'I have been with the prisoners.' 'So,' she said, 'I thought I heard Mr, Treasurer' (this was her father). I assured her that he was not there. Then she began to talk, and said, 'I was cruelly handled at Greenwich by the king's council, with my Lord of Norfolk, who said, "Tut, tut, tut!" shaking his head three or four times.' As for my Lord Treasurer, he was in Windsor Forest all the time." At other times the situation into which she had fallen appeared so unaccountable, that she could not believe the king meant her any harm, and would say, "I think the king does it to try me;" and then she would burst into her strange laughter, and appear very merry.

She applied to have her almoner sent to her, but the king appointed Cranmer to that office; and when Anne implored him, as he knew her innocence, to intercede with the king, Cranmer wrote a letter to Henry in that creeping and courtier-like style which betrayed more fear of offending the impetuous monarch on his own account, than influencing his mind towards the queen, whom the time-serving reformer had represented as being the very bulwark of the Reformation in England. Never through his whole life did Cranmer show to less advantage than in this matter.

Anne exhorted Kingston to convey a letter from her to Cromwell, but he declined such a responsibility; she contrived, however, by some means, on the fourth day of her imprisonment, to forward the following letter, which bears a very different impress from the conversation reported by her female spies, through Cromwell to the king: -


"Sir, - Your grace's displeasure and my imprisonment are things so strange unto me, that what to write, or what to excuse, I am altogether ignorant. Whereas you sent to me (willing to confess a truth and so obtain your favour) by such a one, whom you knew to be mine ancient professed enemy, I no sooner received this message by him, than I rightly conceived your meaning; and if, as you say, confessing a truth, indeed, may procure my safety, I shall, with all willingness and duty, perform your command. But let not your grace ever imagine that your poor wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a fault, where not so much as a thought ever proceeded. And to speak the truth, never had prince a wife more loyal in all duty, and in all true affection, than you have ever found in Anne Bolen - with which name and place I could have willingly contented myself, if God and your grace's pleasure had been so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forget myself in my exaltation or received queenship but that I always looked for such alteration as I now find; for the ground of my preferment being on no surer foundation than your grace's fancy, the least alteration was fit and sufficient (I knew) to draw that fancy to some other object.

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