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Reign of Henry VII. - (continued) page 10


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But nothing shows more curiously how such long-practised criminals juggle with their own souls than his behaviour regarding Dudley and Empson, the instruments of his perpetual robberies of the people. When the sickness was strong upon him he ordered them to cease their villanies; as he got worse he commanded them even to make restitution to those they had pillaged and imprisoned; but as he grew better again, he instructed them that it was only necessary to recompense such as had not been dealt with according to the regular forms of law - so that, as these vultures generally tore their victims in a legal fashion, and as they themselves were made the judges of the necessary restitution, very little was done. The terrors of death, however, drew nearer; and the struggles of the wretched man clinging to the earth and to his useless gold, and recoiling from the pains of purgatory, if not of something worse, appear in a vivid manner in his will.

This singular document was signed at Richmond on the last day of March, 1509, just three weeks before his death. In this he directs his executors to cause 2,000 masses to be said for his soul within a month after his decease, at the rate of sixpence a piece. He orders them, also, to distribute 2,000 to prisoners and poor people, on condition that they also pray for his soul by name - for even in death Henry Tudor must have his quid pro quo. "And in this partie," ho says, "we hertily desire our

executores to thinke and considere how necessarie, behoofful, and how profitable it is to dede folks to be praied for." He had some time before made formal contracts with the clergy of all the cathedrals, conventual and collegiate churches in the kingdom, to say a certain number of masses and prayers, for certain sums of money, and he now granted them by his will fresh sums to engage them to say their masses with increased fervency, and their prayers with greater zeal. Such are the confessions which Death, the great master, forces even from the bosoms of kings, which have been wrapt in the splendour of gold and the softness of ermine, and have looked to the simple spectator so noble and so serene.

Henry VII. died at his palace of Richmond on the 21 st of April, 1509, in the fifty-fourth year of his age and the twenty-fourth of his reign. With all the vices of his character he was fortunate as a monarch, and by his very mean and parsimonious nature benefited the nation. In passing judgment upon him it is necessary to separate our estimate of the monarch from that of the man. As a man he was essentially a mean one; as a monarch he had nothing great and magnanimous about him; but he appeared in times when repose was essentially necessary to the nation, and he gave it that, because he could not find it in his heart to spend his money in war. Thus his sordid nature, which was otherwise contemptible, became almost virtuous, as it secured the realm from foreign expenses, which would further have exhausted it. He plundered his subjects by his commissioners, but they were not dragged so often to the battle-field, nor had their harvests trodden down and their houses burnt by contending parties. The peace which he gave them was salutary, though it might be ignominious; and Henry had this virtue for a monarch - he was a man of business. He attended to his own affairs; and while he locked his motives and his plans inviolably in his own breast, he set his ministers and subordinates their work, and he saw that it was done. Though he was not wide in his mental horizon, and was utterly incapable of a truly great design, he pondered well what he meant to do, and did it so completely, that that grovelling cunning of his was lauded by his contemporaries as profound wisdom, and they called him the Solomon of the age. But then it was an age unexampled in a race of unprincipled and perfidious princes. Louis of France, Ferdinand of Spain, the Pope Alexander VI., his detestable son, Caesar Borgia, and our Henry, have been well said "to have acted in blood and treachery all that Machiavelli afterwards wrote."

There is one measure for which Henry has received a degree of admiration which is not his due; that is, for putting down the power of the great barons, who disturbed and endangered both the throne and the nation. That was not Henry's work, it was their own. They were extinguished by a process which might be called the suicide of almost an entire class - they exterminated each other in the civil wars. But Henry having them down, had the just merit of keeping them there. He had not the fatal vanity of surrounding his throne with a fresh creation of the dangerous caste, and though he seemed thereby to unduly strengthen the crown, he eventually strengthened the people, for, unharassed by the perpetual squabbles and demands of the feudal barons, the people from this period made rapid progress, so that in little more than another century they began to speak wonderful things to their governors. At the accession of Henry there were only left twenty-seven temporal peers in England.

In estimating the man we cannot do it more justly than in the words of the historian Henry: - "The great defects of the character of this prince proceeded not from the weakness of his head, but the hardness of his heart, which was exceedingly selfish and unfeeling; little susceptible of the impressions of love, friendship, pity, or any generous benevolent affection. He was an unkind husband to an amiable consort; never had a friend, and seldom forgave an enemy. As a son, he treated his venerable mother with formal respect, but allowed her no influence; as a father, he was careful, but not affectionate; as a master, he was far from being generous. An inordinate love of money, and an unrelenting hatred to the house of York, were his ruling passions, and the chief source of all his vices and troubles."

By his want of enterprise and his dread of expense, he missed the glory of sending Columbus on his grand voyage of discovery, which revealed the New World. Worn out by his neglect and repulse at the Court of Spain, Columbus sent his brother Bartholomew to London, to explain to Henry his views, and to pray his co-operation. But while Henry hesitated, though he was greatly excited by the proposal, Ferdinand and Isabella took up the cause, and Spain won the fame of that incalculably eventful enterprise. Roused, however, by Columbus's success, Henry sent out Sebastian Cabot in 1498, who discovered the mainland of America and the island of Newfoundland. As Henry, therefore, departed from the world, it was widening its horizon beyond all former experience. Discovery was on the eve of giving it new and immense regions, the progress of inquiry was preparing a new birth in religion, and commerce, art, science, government, literature, and civilisation were beginning a new career, which, marvellous as it has already proved, appears yet more marvellous in its promise of the boundless future.

Amongst the merits of Henry should not be forgotten that, unenterprising as he was by nature, he yet promoted the enterprise of discovery, and expended 14,000, at that time a great sum, in building a ship called the Great Harry, which may properly be termed the first ship of a distinctive English navy, for before, our monarchs generally borrowed vessels from the merchants.

Henry left three children, his son and successor Henry, and two daughters - Margaret, married to James IV. of Scotland, and Mary, afterwards married to Louis XII. of France.

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