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Reign of Edward VI page 15

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It appears from Cole's MS. in the British Museum, that this messenger was her goldsmith; that one of the Throckmortons, who was in the service of the Duke of Northumberland, casually overheard a part of a conversation between that nobleman and Sir John Gates, one of his most resolute cavaliers. The duke was in bed, the subject of conversation was the Princess Mary, and Sir John Gates exclaimed, "What, sir! will you let the Lady Mary escape, and not secure her person?" The answer was too low to be caught, but the young man hastened to inform his family, who consulted on the best means of apprising Mary of her danger. It was thought best to consult Mary's goldsmith, who was accordingly sent for, and, it is supposed, immediately dispatched to stay her progress. He met and arrested her advance at Hoddesdon. On the 6th of July the king expired in the evening, and Sir Nicholas Throckmorton hastened after the goldsmith to inform the princess. Mary was in a state of great perplexity when he arrived, from the previous news brought to her, and from a similar message from the Earl of Arundel. The tidings of Sir Nicholas were speedily confirmed by his father, and by the father of the young man who had given the first alarm. By the advice of the elder Throckmorton, Mary quitted the road to London in all haste, and took her way through Bury St. Edmunds for her seat of Kenninghall, in the county of Norfolk.

The death of Edward had been long expected by the whole nation, and so many prognostics had been published of it, that the Council had dealt severe corporal chastisement, as well as incarceration, to a number of such death-prophets, Hayward, Heylin, and others represent the Eoyal invalid as being, during the latter part of his life, taken out of the hands of his physicians and entrusted to the care of a female quack, whose nostrums hastened his end, and led many to a suspicion that even poison had been resorted to. When his physicians were at last recalled, they declared him past recovery.

Edward was only fifteen years, eight months, and twenty-two days old at his death, and had reigned six years and a half. Much as has been said of the genius and virtues of this young prince, it is still difficult to decide the exact amount of his personal merit, and still more to prognosticate what might have been the character of his reign had he attained to full manhood or to age. That he had a fair share of ability is not to be doubted, and this had been cultivated to the greatest advantage for his years. But we are not warranted in endorsing all the marvellous flatteries of the party in whose hands he was, and who represented him as a prodigy of talent, learning, and virtue. His talent, and indeed his wisdom, would be pre-eminent, did we give him credit for all the grave and well-weighed sentences which were put into his mouth. The boy of fourteen used to sit like an oracle amid his council of learned prelates and practical statesmen, and deliver his opinions and decisions with a grave propriety, which was rather that of a hoary king than of a mere youth. But we learn from Strype that all this was prepared beforehand. He was drilled by Northumberland in the part which he had to act on every occasion. The whole business was laid down plainly before him, and he was supplied with short notes of the affair in hand, which he committed to memory. The whole reduced itself into the mere lesson of the schoolboy; but to the uninitiated spectator it appeared astonishing and precocious. His learning, which has been asserted on the evidence of his letters, which have been preserved by Fuller, Strype, and others, bears marks of the touches of his preceptors, and his virtues are still more difficult of estimation. That he assisted in a great work of reformation in the Church is undoubted, but that work was the work of the party in whose hands he was. If we look for any depth of family affection, we experience considerable disappointment. He suffered both his uncles - who, so far as he was personally concerned, never showed him anything but kindness - to perish in their blood, when a slight exercise of the virtues and wisdom attributed to him might at least have saved their lives. He suffered his sisters to be thrust from the throne, apparently without a pang; and coolly and formally stamped upon them with his own hand the base brand of bastardy, which it required no precocious genius to discern was false, and put forward only for the most sordid interests.

Still, whatever the merits or demerits of Edward VI., we must ever gratefully regard him as an instrument in the hands of Providence for the material and manifest furtherance of those institutions which have tended to build up England into what she is, and to mark her out, by her free and liberal spirit, and by her grand prosperity, from all the nations of the earth. So far as regarded the government of the kingdom at the time, nothing was less successful. The party, whichever it was, which had the king in their hands, were too much engrossed by their eager pursuit of the Church lands and of titles, to maintain the domestic prosperity and the foreign fame of England. Never did a country sink so rapidly in prestige, not even in the miserably imbecile reigns of Richard II. and Edward II. The English forces were driven out of Scotland, after some bloody and wanton successes, and out of France without any success at all. Boulogne, the solitary conquest of Henry VIII., was surrendered on ignominious terms, and amid the most imperious airs of insult from the French ministers. The Queen of Scots, whose hand might have cemented the two countries into an eternal union, was driven into the arms of the French; and foreign nations ceased to respect the once great name of Briton.

At home the land was covered by homeless vagabonds, uncultured fields, insurrection, or sullen discontent. The enclosure of commons, and the rack-rents of land, drove the farmer from his grange, and the cotter from his cot. The beggar and the thief infested the highways; and, if we are to believe the preachers of the time, the corruption of morals kept pace with the rapacity of the statesmen and the degradation of the clergy.

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