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Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Concluded). page 9

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Paul III., the great patron of Reginald Pole, though he saw the insurrection of the north thus quelled by Henry, imagined that it had, however, opened up to Henry such a view of the internal discontent of his kingdom with his breach with Rome, that he might now not be indisposed to enter into negotiation for a return to it. For this purpose, the talents and country of Pole seemed to point him out as the proper agent; though the slightest reflection might have shown that he had inflicted such severe wounds on the proud heart of Henry by his writings, that, of all men, he was the most exceptionable. To appoint Cardinal Pole to this office was inevitably to render it abortive. Yet the Pope did appoint him, and Pole was imprudent enough to accept it. Henry watched the proceedings with a sullen scowl of triumph, and Cromwell prepared to verify his promise that he would make the eloquent young Englishman "eat his own heart with vexation."

Pole was made legate beyond the Alps. He was instructed first to call on Charles and Francis to sheathe their swords, and to employ them no longer against each other, but in union against the Turks. He was to inform them that the Pope proposed to summon a general council, and to inform the King of England also of this. He was then to fix his residence in Flanders, to have quick communication with England, unless the way appeared to open for proceeding thither. No sooner did the cardinal enter France, than the English ambassador there, by virtue of a clause in the treaty betwixt the two crowns, demanded that he should be delivered up to him, and sent prisoner to England. Francis rejected the proposition with scorn; but he felt compelled to intimate to the cardinal that he had better pursue his journey to the Netherlands without visiting the French Court. Pole, therefore, went on and reached Cambray, where he found an order from the Court at Brussels, prohibiting his crossing the frontiers, that no offence might be given to England. Pole, thus chased, as it were, from place to place by the ire of the British monarch, went under escort to Liege in June, and solicited his recall to Rome, which was granted him; and in August he retraced his steps, pursued by the wrath of Henry, who proclaimed him a traitor, fixed a price of 50,000 crowns on his head, and offered the emperor an auxiliary force, for his campaign against France, of 4,000 men, for the delivery of his person. The cardinal had been most successfully driven from his mission by Henry and his minister Cromwell, and that was no trivial achievement: for Pole's business was to keep near England, and especially the northern counties, where he might encourage the ancient faith, and furnish its advocates with money, as well as to procure them, as much as possible, the countenance of the neighbouring continental princes. Henry could never forget either the lacerating writings of the English cardinal, nor his attempt to foment insurrection in his kingdom, and he would have made short work with him, had he fallen into his hands. We shall soon see that he did not overlook his relations who were within his power.

On the 12th of October, 1537, Jane Seymour gave birth to the long desired prince, so well known afterwards as King Edward VI. This great event took place at the palace of Hampton Court, and the infant was immediately proclaimed Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, and Earl of Chester. The joy on so greatly desired an occurrence may be imagined, though it was somewhat dashed by the death of the queen, which took place only twelve days afterwards. During the accouchement there was some question whether the life of the mother or the child should be sacrificed, and on the question being put to the king, which should be spared, he replied, most characteristically, "The child by all means, for other wives can be easily found." The queen's death, however, was occasioned by the absurd exposure which the pompous christening necessitated. Henry appeared to be grieved when her death really took place, and put on mourning, which he had never done for his wives before, and never did again. He wore it three months.

Queen Jane was laid in the Royal vault, in the midst of the choir, in St. George's Chapel, where her coffin was observed in 1813, close beside the gigantic skeleton of Henry VIII. which by some accident was exposed to view. Her reign, purchased by the destruction of her mistress, Queen Anne, had extended to less than fifteen months. Little, therefore, is recorded of her character or acts, except that she seemed to have the fear of the executioner - by whose skill she had made her way to the throne - before her eyes, and was most submissive to her awful husband. Lord Herbert declared that "Jane Seymour was the fairest, the discreetest, and the most meritorious of all Henry VIII.'s wives." But Miss Strickland, the historian of our queens, with a woman's true feeling, has boldly called in question this verdict, which had been echoed mechanically by all subsequent historians. "Customs," she says truly, "may vary at various eras, but the laws of moral justice are unalterable: difficult would it be to reconcile them with the first actions known of this discreet lady. It has been shown in the preceding biography, that Jane Seymour's shameless conduct, in receiving the courtship of Henry VIII., was the commencement of the severe calamities that befell her mistress, Anne Boleyn. Scripture points out as an especial odium, the circumstance of a handmaid taking the place of her mistress. Odious enough was the case when Anne Boleyn supplanted the right royal Catherine of Arragon; but a sickening sensation of horror must pervade every right-feeling mind when the proceedings of the discreet Jane Seymour are considered. She received the addresses of her mistress's husband, knowing him to be such; she passively beheld the mental anguish of Anne Boleyn, when that unhappy queen was in a state which peculiarly demanded feminine sympathy; she knew the discovery of Henry's inconstancy had nearly destroyed her, whilst the shock actually destroyed her infant. She saw a series of murderous accusations got up against the queen, which finally brought her to the scaffold; yet she gave her hand to the regal ruffian before his wife's corpse was cold. Yes, four-and-twenty hours had not elapsed since the sword was reddened with the blood of her mistress, when Jane Seymour became the wife of Henry VIII. And let it be remembered that a Royal marriage could not have been celebrated without previous preparation, which must have proceeded simultaneously with the heart-rending events of Anne Boleyn's last agonised hours. The wedding cakes must have been baking, the wedding dinner providing, the wedding clothes preparing, while the life-blood was yet running warm in the veins of the victim, whose place was to be rendered vacant by a violent death. The picture is repulsive enough, but it becomes tenfold more abhorrent when the woman who caused the whole tragedy is loaded with panegyric."

Miss Strickland also points out the fact that the dispensation which Cranmer gave for this foul wedding was dated on the very day of Anne Boleyn's death, and observes that "the abhorrent conduct of Henry, in wedding Jane so soon after the sacrifice of her hapless predecessor, has left its foul traces on a page where truly Christian reformers must have viewed it with grief and disgust;" that is, in the dedication of Coverdale's Bible, which, being printed, but not published, before Anne died, had the letter "J." for Jane, printed over the letters which composed the name of the unfortunate Anne.

By the accession of Queen Jane a new family, greedy and insatiable of advancement, was brought forward, whom we shall soon find figuring on the scene. The queen's brothers, sisters, uncles, and cousins presently filled every great and lucrative office at Court; closely Imitating the unpopular precedent of the relations of Elizabeth Wydville. Her eldest brother, Edward Seymour, was immediately made Lord Beauchamp and Earl of Hertford; and, in the joy of having an heir, Henry created Sir William Paulet Lord St. John, and Sir John Russell Lord Russell. Sir William Fitzwilliam was made Earl of Southampton, and High-Admiral. Russell and Paulet were sworn of the Privy Council; and John Russell, now in high favour with the king, attended the wedding, flattered the bride, and became, in the next reign, Earl of Bedford. Queen Jane received all the rites of the Roman Catholic Church on her deathbed; thus clearly denoting that neither she nor her husband were of the Protestant faith.

Any grief which might have affected Henry for the death of his wife, did not prevent him prosecuting his favourite design of seizing rich monasteries and destroying heretics. The great amount of property which Henry had obtained from the dissolution of monastic houses, only stimulated him and his courtiers to invade the remainder. The insurrections laid the inmates of these houses open to a general charge that they had where fomented, and in many places taken public part in, these attempts to resist Government. Prosecutions fox high treason and menaces of martial law induced many of the more timid abbots and priors to resign their trusts into the hands of the king and his heirs for ever. Others - like the prior of Henton, in Somersetshire - resisted, declaring that it did not become them "to be light and hasty in giving up those things which were not theirs to give, being dedicated to Almighty God, for service to be done unto his honour continually, with many other good deeds of charity which be daily done in their houses to their Christian brethren."

To grapple the more effectually with these sturdy remonstrants, a new visitation was appointed of all the monasteries in England; and, as a pretence only was wanted for their suppression, it was not difficult to find one where so many great men were eager to share in the spoils. But, whilst the destruction of the monasteries found many advocates, there were not wanting those who recommended the retention of such convents for women who had maintained order and a good reputation. It was justly argued that for men it was much better that they should devote themselves to a life of industry, and of active service to the public; but that the case was often very different with women, who, failing of suitable marriages, or having lost their husbands and relatives, especially women of condition, find these retreats both desirable and honourable; being incapable of supporting themselves in the great struggle of the world, or being especially drawn to religious retirement and pious devotion. But the king would hear of nothing but that all should be swept away together; and the better to prepare the public mind for so complete a revolution in social life, every means was employed to represent these establishments as abodes of infamy, and to expose the relics preserved in their shrines to ridicule, as impostures which deluded the ignorant people. There was much witty comment on the parings of St. Edward's toe-nails; of the coals that roasted St. Lawrence; the girdle of the Virgin, shown in eleven different places; two or three heads of St. Ursula; the felt of St. Thomas of Lancaster, an infallible cure for the headache; part of the shirt of St. Thomas of Canterbury, said to possess singular virtues; some relics, powerful to prevent rain, and others equally potent in preventing weeds in corn. That there were plenty of these we are quite satisfied, because they abound in Roman Catholic countries at the present day, and especially such machinery as the following; which may still be witnessed at Naples, in Austria, and in many other places.

At Hales, in the county of Gloucester, was shown what was asserted to be the blood of Christ, brought from Jerusalem, and had been showed there for many generations. What astonished the people most was, that it was invisible to any one still in mortal sin, and only revealed itself to the absolved penitent. This was eagerly shown to the people at the dissolution, and the secret explained. The phial had a thick and opaque side, and a transparent one. Into this, the fresh blood of a duck was introduced every week, and the dark side only shown to rich pilgrims till they had freely expended their money in masses and offerings, when the transparent side, showing the blood, was turned towards them, to their great joy and wonder.

At Boxley, in Kent, a miraculous crucifix had long been the wonder of the people, and was called the Rood of Grace. The lips, eyes, and head of the image moved on the approach of votaries. This image was brought by Hilsey, the Bishop of Rochester, to St. Paul's Cross, and there broken before all the people, and the wheels and springs by which it was moved exposed. A great wooden idol in Wales, called Darvel Gatheren, had been held in great veneration by the populace. There was a legend connected with it, that one day it would fire a whole forest. It was thought very witty, therefore, that Friar Forrest, the confessor of Queen Catherine, being condemned to be burnt for denying the king's supremacy - and still more, as we have already stated, for refusing to betray anything to the injury of his royal mistress - this image should be brought to town, and employed as fuel on the occasion; and the following rude verses were attached in large letters to the stake at which he was consumed: -

"David Darvel Gatheren,
As saith the Welshmen,
Fetched outlaws out of hell:
Now he is come with spear and shield,
In harness to burn in Smithfield,
For in Wales he may not dwell.
And Forrest, the friar,
That obstinate liar,
That wilfully shall be dead,
In his contumacy
The Gospel doth deny,
The king to be supreme head."

A finger of St. Andrew, covered with a thin plate of silver, had been pawned by a convent for a debt of forty pounds; but the king's commissioners refused to pay the debt, and the people were very merry over the pawnbroker and his worthless pledge.

By such means Henry struck a blow at the Catholic religion amongst the people, which soon went further than he intended, for his object was merely to get easy possession of the wealth of monasteries; but these exposures, showing the people that they had been so grossly deluded by their priests, threw them into the arms of the Reformers, and created a momentum in that direction which was soon beyond all Royal power to arrest.

There was one shrine which Henry especially coveted, for its enormous riches - that of Thomas a Becket. Though he had himself, in his youth, made pilgrimages to this saint, he now seemed to conceive a violent antipathy to him, as a shocking example of resistance to kingly power and dignity. He determined, therefore, to execute a signal punishment upon him, though his bones had been crumbling in the tomb for four hundred years. Perhaps no greater farce was ever solemnly acted in the public courts of law in any country, than was performed on this occasion. The tomb of a Becket was broken open by the king's officers, and a regular process was served upon him, summoning him to appear in court, and answer to the charges of rebellion, treason, and contumacy against his sovereign lord the king. Thirty days were allowed him to prepare his defence, and answer to the charges in Westminster Hall. No Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury, appearing in person, Henry might have condemned him for contumacy, and confiscated his property; but, to make the matter more notorious, he granted the defaulter counsel to plead for him, and a regular trial was gone through, which, of course, ended in the sturdy belligerent saint being convicted of the charges, condemned as an arrant traitor and rebel, and the whole of his riches forfeited to the crown.

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