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Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Concluded). page 5

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"You have chosen me from a low estate to be your queen and companion, far beyond my desert or desire; if then you found me worthy of such honour, good your grace, let not any light fancy or bad counsel of my enemies withdraw your princely favour from me; neither let that stain - that unworthy stain - of a disloyal heart towards your good grace ever cast so foul a blot on me, and on the infant princess, your daughter.

"Try me, good king, but let me have a lawful trial, and let not my sworn enemies sit as my accusers and as my judges; yea, let me receive an open trial, for my truth shall fear no open shame. Then shall you see either mine innocency cleared, your suspicions and conscience satisfied, the ignominy and slander of the world stopped, or my guilt openly declared. So that whatever God and you may determine of, your grace may be freed from an open censure; and mine offence being so well proved, your grace may be at liberty, both before God and man, not only to execute worthy punishment on me as an unfaithful wife, but to follow your affection already settled on that party, for whose sake I am now as I am; whose name I could some good while since have pointed unto, - your grace not being ignorant of my suspicion therein. But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my death, but an infamous slander, must bring you the joying of your desired happiness, then I desire God that he will pardon your great sin herein, and likewise my enemies, the instruments thereof; and that he will not call you to a strict account for your un-princely and cruel usage of me at his general judgment-seat, where both you and myself must shortly appear; and in whose judgment, I doubt not (whatsoever the world may think of me), mine innocency shall be openly known and sufficiently cleared.

"My last and only request shall be, that myself may only bear the burden of your grace's displeasure, and that it may not touch the innocent souls of those poor gentlemen who, as I understand, are likewise in strait imprisonment for my sake. If ever I have found favour in your sight - if ever the name of Anne Bolen have been pleasing in your ears - then let me obtain this request; and so I will leave to trouble your grace any further, with mine earnest prayer to the Trinity to have your grace in his good keeping, and to direct you in all your actions.

"From my doleful prison in the Tower, the 6th of May, "ANNE Bolen."

This letter, a copy of which was found amongst the papers of Cromwell, when his turn came to pay the penalty of serving that remorseless tyrant, is the letter of an innocent woman, and forms a strange contrast to the dubious language put into her mouth by those who reported her speech on the scaffold.

On the 10th of May an indictment for high treason was found by the grand jury of Westminster against Anne and the five gentlemen accused; and on the same day the four commoners were put upon their trial in Westminster Hall, for the alleged offences againt the honour and life of their sovereign lord. A true bill was also found against them by the grand juries of Kent and Middlesex, some of the offences being laid in those counties, at Greenwich, Hampton Court, &c. Smeaton, the musician, was the only one who could be brought to confess his guilt; and it is declared by Constantyne, who was in attendance on the trials, and wrote an account of the proceedings, that he "had been grievously racked" to bring him to that confession. According to Graf ton's chronicle, he was beguiled into signing the deposition, which criminated the queen as well as himself, by an offer of pardon like that so repeatedly made to Norris. The weak man fell into the snare; the rest of the accused stood firmly by their innocence, and neither threats nor promises could move them from it. Norris was a great favourite with the king, who still appeared anxious to save his life, and sent to him, offering him again full pardon if he would confess his guilt. But Norris nobly declared that he believed in his conscience that the queen was wholly innocent of the crimes charged upon her; but whether she were so or not, he could not accuse her of anything, and that he would rather die a thousand deaths than falsely accuse the innocent. On this being told to Henry, he exclaimed, "Let him hang then! hang him up then!" All the four were condemned to death.

On the 16th of May, Queen Anne and her brother, Lord Rochford, were brought to trial in the great hall in the Tower, a temporary court being erected within it for the purpose. The Duke of Norfolk, a known and notorious enemy of the accused, was created Lord High Steward for the occasion, and presided - a sufficient proof, if any was wanted, that no justice was intended. His son, the Ear] of Surrey, sat as Deputy Earl-Marshal beneath him. Twenty-six peers, as "lords-triers," constituted the Court and amongst these appeared the Duke of Suffolk, a nobleman still more inveterate in his hatred of the queen than the chief judge himself. The Earl of Northumberland, Anne's old lover, was one of the lords-triers; but he was seized with such a disorder, no doubt resulting from his memory of the past, that he was obliged to quit the court before the arraignment of Lord Rochford, and did not live many months, Henry, by his tyranny, had forcibly rent asunder his engagement with Anne; had embittered his life; and tired of the treasure which would have made Northumberland happy, he now called upon that injured man to assist in destroying one whom he had already lost.

Lord Rochford defended himself with such courage and ability, that even in that packed court there were many who, by their sense of justice, were led to brave the vengeance of the terrible king, and voted for his acquittal. The chief witness against him was his own wife, who had hated Anne Boleyn from the moment that she became the king's favourite; and now, with a most monstrous violation of all nature and decency, strove to destroy her queen and her own husband together. Spite of the impression which the young viscount made on some of his judges, he was condemned, for Henry willed it, and that was enough.

When he was removed, Anne, Queen of England, was summoned into court, and appeared attended by her ladies and Lady Kingston, and was conducted to the bar by the Constable and Lieutenant of the Tower. She stood alone, without counsel or adviser; yet in that trying moment she displayed a dignified composure worthy of her station and of the character of an innocent woman. Crispin, Lord of Milherve, who was present, says that "she presented herself at the bar with the true dignity of a queen, and curtsied to her judges, looking round upon them all without any signs of fear." When the indictment against her, charging her with adultery and incest, had been read, she held up her hand, and pleaded not guilty.

Not only was the confession of Mark Smeaton produced against her, but the alleged dying confession of the Lady Wingfield, who had been in the queen's service, and on her death-bed made a deposition of which no record remains; for the evidence was carefully destroyed, no doubt in the following reign of her daughter, Elizabeth. The crimes charged on the queen were infidelity towards the king with the four persons named, and that she had said to each and every one of those persons that "she loved him better than any person in the world," and that the king never had her heart. The charge against her, as it regarded her own brother, amounted merely to Lady Rochford having seen him leaning on her bed. To these most improbable charges was added the utterly absurd one, that she had at various times conspired against the king's life. "As for the evidence," says Wyatt, "as I never could hear of any, small I believe it was. The accusers must have doubted whether their proofs would not prove their reproofs, when they dared not bring them to the light in an open place."

Anne seems to have shown great ability and address on the occasion. She is said to have spoken with extraordinary force, wit, and eloquence, and so completely scattered all the vile tissue of lies that was brought against her, that the spectators imagined that there was nothing for it but to acquit her. "It was reported without doors," says Wyatt, "that she had cleared herself in a most wise and noble speech." But alas! it was neither wisdom, wit, truth, innocence, eloquence, nor all the powers and virtues which could be assembled in one soul, which could draw an acquittal from that assembly of slaves bound by selfish terror to the yoke of the remorseless despot who now disgraced the throne. "Had the peers given their verdict according to the expectation of the assembly," says Bishop Godwin, "she had been acquitted." But they knew they must give it according to the expectation of their implacable master, and she was condemned.

When the verdict had been pronounced, Anne was required to put off her crown, and lay aside everything denoting her royalty, which she did without opposition. Her uncle, the heartless Duke of Norfolk, then passed sentence upon her, adjudging her to be burnt or beheaded at the king's pleasure. The wretched queen heard this stern sentence uttered by her unnatural kinsman, without any symptom of terror; but as soon as he had ended, she clasped her hands, and raising her eyes to heaven. she exclaimed, "Oh, Father! oh, Creator! Thou, the way, the life, and the truth, knowest whether I have deserved this death!" She then said, "My lords, I will not say that your sentence is unjust, nor presume that my reasons can prevail against your convictions. I am willing to believe that you have sufficient reasons for what you have done; but then they must be other than those which have been produced in this court, for I am clear of all the offences which you there laid to my charge. I have ever been a faithful wife to the king; though I do not say I have always shown him that humility which his goodness to me, and the honour to which he raised me, merited. I confess I have had jealous fancies and suspicions of him, which I had not discretion and wisdom enough to conceal at all times; but God knows, and is my witness, that I never sinned against him any other way. Think not I say this in hope to prolong my life: God hath taught me how to die, and he will strengthen my faith. Think not that I am so bewildered in my mind as not to lay the honour of my chastity to heart now in mine extremity, when I have maintained it all my life long, as much as ever queen did. I know these last words will avail me nothing, but for the justification of my chastity and honour. As for my brother, and those others who are unjustly condemned, I would willingly suffer many deaths to deliver them; but since I see it so pleaseth the king, I shall willingly accompany them in death, with this assurance, that I shall lead an endless life with them in peace." She then arose with a composed air, made an obeisance to the judges, and quitted the court.

Of the few spectators who were present, the universal feeling was that Anne was perfectly innocent, but borne down by a predetermining power. The Lord Mayor, who was one of them, and who was accustomed to try prisoners and decide on evidence, declared that "he could not observe anything in the proceedings against her, but that they were resolved to make an occasion to get lid of her."

And, indeed, Henry lost no time in getting rid of the woman, to obtain whom he had moved heaven and earth for years - threatening the peace of kingdoms, and rending the ancient bonds of the Church. The very day on which she was condemned, he signed her death-warrant, and sent Cranmer to confess her. There is something rather hinted at than proved in this part of these strange proceedings. Anne, when she was conveyed from Greenwich to the Tower, told her enemies proudly that nothing could prevent her dying their queen; and now, when she had seen Cranmer, she was in high spirits, and said to her attendants that she believed she should be spared after all, and that she understood that she was to be sent to Antwerp. The meaning of this the event of the next day sufficiently explained. In the morning, on a summons from the Archbishop Cranmer, she was conveyed privately from the Tower to Lambeth, where she voluntarily submitted to a judgment that her marriage with the king had been invalid, and was, therefore, from the first null and void. Thus she consented to dethrone herself, to unwife herself, and to bastardise her only child. For what? Undoubtedly from the promise of life, and from fear of the horrid death by fire. As she had received the confident idea of escape with life from the visit of Cranmer, there can be no rational doubt that he had been employed by the king to tamper with her fears of death and the stake, to draw this concession from her. Does any one think this impossible or improbable in the great Reformer of the Church - Cranmer? Let him weigh his very next proceeding.

Cranmer had formerly examined the marriage of Henry and Anne carefully by the canon law, and had pronounced it good and valid. He now proceeded to contradict every one of his former arguments and decisions, and pronounced the same marriage null and void. A solemn mockery of everything true, serious, and Divine was now gone through. Henry appointed Dr. Sampson his proctor in the case; Anne had assigned her the Drs. Wotton and Barbour. The objections to the marriage were read over to them in the presence of the queen. The king's proctor could not dispute them; the queen's were, with pretended reluctance, obliged to admit them, and both united in demanding a judgment. Then the great archbishop and Reformer, "having previously invoked the name of Christ, and having God alone before his eyes," pronounced definitively that the marriage formally contracted, solemnised, and consummated betwixt Henry and Anne was from the first illegal and, therefore, no marriage at all; and the poor woman, who had been induced to submit to this deed of shame and of shameful deception, was sent back, not to life - not to exile at Antwerp, but to the block!

Taking these facts as they stand, without reference to persons, parties, or countries, we must say that in no portion of the world's history, in no age however dark and degraded, do we find deeds more stamped with infamy. Here is a king who sets all laws of heaven or earth, of justice and honour, all sentiments of decorum, affection, and humanity, at defiance; who binds and unbinds, contracts the most sacred unions and breaks them; who plays with lives and souls, with all their rights and feelings, as he would with bowls. And here is a primate of England, a man professedly aiming to reform the Church, to restore corrupted religion, to break the power of the Pope, to establish independence of spirit and opinion, who crouches before this monster, this incarnation of cruelty, lust, and libertinism, and seems to lick the very dust of dishonour and dishonesty from beneath his feet. There is not a more revolting spectacle than that of Henry at this period - there is not a more humiliating and melancholy one than that of Cranmer.

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