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Reign of Henry the Eighth

Auspicious Opening- of Henry's Reign - His Marriage with the Princess Catherine - Punishment of Dudley and Empson - Wolsey appears at Court - State of the Continent - Henry drawn in to meddle in the Affairs of the Continental Princes - Instigated by the Pope and Ferdinand of Spain against France - League of Cambray - -War with France - The English made the Tools of Ferdinand in the Spanish Campaign - Henry's Campaign in-France - Battle of the Spurs-War with Scotland - Flodden Field.
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No prince ever ascended a throne under more auspicious circumstances than Henry VIII. While his father had strengthened the throne, he had made himself extremely unpopular. The longer he lived, the more the selfish meanness and the avarice of his character had become conspicuous, and excited the disgust of his subjects. His insatiable robberies of the wealthy by the instrumentality of Dudley and Empson made him as much hated as he was despised. But at the same time ho had wonderfully consolidated the throne by the union of the houses of York and Lancaster, by cultivating peace, and by hoarding up an immense treasure. He died the meanest and the richest prince in Christendom. Besides the money he had laid up, he had improved the landed revenues of the crown by the attainders and forfeitures of the Yorkist nobility. To his son, Henry VIII., these circumstances at once presented a platform of vast power from which to start on his royal career, and a most advantageous foil to his own character.

Henry was young, handsome, accomplished, and gay. He was in many respects the very opposite of his father, and the people always give to a young prince every virtue under the sun. Accordingly, Henry, who was only eighteen, was regarded as a fine, buxom young fellow; frank, affable, generous, capable of everything, and disposed to the best. The people flattered themselves that they had got another Prince Hal, who, though notoriously addicted to pleasure, had in him all the elements of a great, popular, and glorious king. The jealousy of his father, as in the case of Prince Hal, had kept him back from the exercise of any affairs of state, or of popular influence; he had, therefore, had the more time to devote to his education, and report gave him credit for no ordinary acquirements. The very ardour and vehemence of his disposition, which afterwards developed themselves into such terrible violence and sanguinary brutality of character, were as yet regarded only as the warmth of youth, indicative of generosity and independence, the promises of many princely virtues; and for a time all the measures of the young king corroborated such prognostics of good. His grandmother, the Countess of Richmond and Derby, was highly esteemed for her virtue and prudence, and Henry appeared quite disposed to be guided by her sage experience in the conduct of the national affairs. By her advice he continued in his council the men who had been the counsellors of his father. Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Earl of Shrewsbury, Lord Herbert, Sir Thomas Lovel, Sir Edward Poynings, Sir Henry Marney, Sir Thomas Darcy, and Sir Henry Wyatt, surrounded his council-board, and occupied the chief offices of the State. But still more influential were the Earl of Surrey and Bishop Fox.

Fox was grown old, and under Henry VII. had grown habitually parsimonious. He, therefore, attempted to keep a tight rein on the young monarch, and discouraged all mere schemes of pleasure which necessarily brought expense. But the old proverb, that a miser is sure to be succeeded by a spendthrift, was not likely to be falsified in Henry. He was full of health, youth, vigour, and affluence. He was disposed to enjoy all the gaieties and enjoyments which a brilliant Court, and the resources of a great kingdom, spread around him, and in this tendency he found in the Earl of Surrey a far more facile counsellor than in Fox. He saw at a glance the real character of Henry; that he was full of passion and impetuosity, and that you might just as well attempt to chain the winds, or dam a mountain torrent, as to keep him quiet, sober, and virtuous. As he had fallen in with the sordid, scraping views of the old Henry, he now, as an adroit courtier, as readily encouraged the young man to sow his wild oats. Under his fostering hand, and followed and applauded by a shoal of other courtiers, who hailed with acclamation the opening reign of pleasure, Henry soon launched forth into an ocean of gaieties and courtly festivities which were enough to make his penurious father groan in his grave. Those rows of strong and capacious iron chests in the palace of Richmond, began now to open and shut quickly, and the riches of the first of the Tudors threatened "to make themselves wings and fly away."

One scene of pleasure and pageantry succeeded to another. Henry was charged from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head with ambition. He was burning to distinguish himself a hundred ways. He was proud of his own person, proud of his abilities for all purposes, proud of his learning, proud of his accomplishment in all chivalrous practices, proud of his position as one of the greatest monarchs in the world. He had therefore tilts and tournaments, dances and carousals, masquerades and huntings, in all of which he was determined to take the first place. To joust with the spear at the tournament, to fight with axes at the barriers, to lead the chase, and bring down his stag, all the ladies and the courtiers looking on in real or affected wonder; to figure in the dance or the mummery, to sing and play on musical instruments, to win at tennis or at chess, were so many modes in which his vanity indulged itself. Nor did he stop there. He entered the lists with men of learning, of science, and divinity. He wrote church music, which was sung in his chapel, and songs to popular airs, which were carolled in his halls; he competed in poetry with the brightest spirits of the age, and we have some fragments of his verse which are far from despicable. He discussed the beauties of the literature of Greece and Rome with his most learned men, and he entered eagerly into the religious questions of the age, a circumstance which afterwards led to the most remarkable consequences. He was at peace with all the world, but he believed he had a genius for war, and dreamed ever amid these frolics and carousals of his unripe years, of one day emulating the glories of the greatest Edwards and Henries.

All this made deep inroads into his parental treasures, but it augmented his popularity, and he vastly extended that by bringing to justice the two great extortioners of the last reign. To prepare the way for this, he appointed commissioners to hear the complaints of those who had suffered from the grievous exactions of the late reign; but these complaints were so loud and so universal that he was soon convinced that it would be impossible to make full restitution; and he therefore resolved to appease the injured in some degree by punishing the injurers. A number of the most notorious informers were therefore seized, set on horses, and paraded through the streets of London, on the 6th of June, with their faces to the horses' tails. That done, they were set in the pillory, and left to the vengeance of the people, who so maltreated them that they all died soon after in prison. The fate of the two

main instruments of popular oppression was suspended by the coronation, which took place on the 24th of the same month.

Henry had been married to Catherine of Arragon on the 3rd of the month at Greenwich. Whatever pretences Henry made in after years of his scruples about this marriage - Catherine having been the wife of his elder brother, Prince Arthur - he seems to have felt or expressed none now. Archbishop Warham had protested against it on that ground in Henry VII.'s time; but though the princess was eight years older than himself, there is every reason to believe that Henry was now anxious for the match. Catherine was at this time very agreeable in person, and was distinguished for the excellence of her disposition and the spotless purity and modesty of her life. She was the daughter of one of the most powerful sovereigns of Europe; and the alliance of Spain was held to be essentially desirable to counteract the power of France. Besides this, the princess had a large dower, which must be restored if she were allowed to return home. The majority of his council, therefore, zealously concurred with him in his wish to complete this marriage; and his grandmother, the sagacious Countess of Richmond, was one of its warmest advocates. "There were few women," says Lord Herbert, "who could compete with Queen Catherine when in her prime; and Henry himself, writing to her father a short time after the marriage, sufficiently expresses his satisfaction at the union: - "As regards that sincere love which we have to the most serene queen, our consort, her eminent virtues daily more shine forth, blossom, and increase so much, that if we were still free, her would we yet choose for our wife before all others." The conduct of Henry for many years, indeed, bore out this profession.

The coronation was conducted with great splendour; but the rejoicings for it were interrupted by the death of the Countess of Richmond, which took place on the 29th of June, only five days afterwards. Whilst the people were in high good humour with these galas, the Court proceeded to the trials of Dudley and Empson. If they had been fairly tried and condemned for their long career of villany and extortion, nothing could have been more satisfactory to the public. But these two men were lawyers, and they were no sooner brought into court than they confounded their judges by the force of the plea they set up. To condemn them, they must still more condemn the king's late father; for they were prepared to prove the notorious fact that they had only been his obedient instruments; and that whatever they had done, they had done at his express command, and for his benefit. He was the man who had received the gross amount of the wealth wrested from the groaning people. With the caution of astute men, who knew they were engaged in a hazardous business, they had taken care to preserve all the orders and warrants of the king for their transactions.

Empson, who was as plausible as he was daring and impudent, was no sooner put on his defence before the council than he produced his guarantees and vouchers, and threw the whole burden of the guilt on the late monarch. "The crime," he then said, "for which we are accused, and for which we are to be tried, is of a very extraordinary nature. Others are arraigned for violating

the laws, but we are to be condemned for putting them in execution; though our offices made it imperative upon us, and we were bound by the express commands of the sovereign, to whom the execution of the law is committed by the constitution. If we are to be sacrificed to the clamours of those whom our duty has obliged us to punish, I entreat that the cause of our suffering may be kept a profound secret; for, otherwise, if it become known in foreign countries, it will be concluded that all law and government are at an end in England."

The matter was so palpable, that the council having remanded the prisoners, concluded to shift the ground of accusation, and to try them on a charge of which they were as innocent as they were really guilty on the true ground of accusation. They were now indicted for high treason, and it was alleged that they had in March last, when the late king lay on his death-bed, summoned their friends to be ready in arms to march to London, and to seize the person of the young king, either for the purpose of continuing through that means their unrighteous rule, or of putting him to death. On so flimsy and improbable a ground were these two arch-knaves accused, and witnesses were in readiness to swear all this. Dudley was tried at the Guildhall, in London, on the 16th of July; and Empson at Northampton, on the 1st of October. Both were found guilty and committed to the Tower, where they lay for upwards of ten months, and then were beheaded on the 18th of August, 1510. Though they were not condemned for the crimes they had really done, it was enough for the people that they were punished for them. It was on that account and no other that they died.

To make the satisfaction complete, Henry summoned a Parliament, in which the chief topic was the prevention in future of such abominable exactions, and the obsolete penal statutes on which these men had acted were formally repealed. The whole number of temporal peers who were summoned to this Parliament was only thirty-six - one duke, one marquis, eight earls, and twenty-six barons.

Henry was now at peace with all the world. At home and abroad, so far as he was concerned, all was tranquillity. No English monarch had ever been more popular, powerful, and prosperous. Nothing could show more the advance which England had made of late in strength and importance than the deference paid to Henry by the greatest princes on the Continent, and their anxiety to cultivate his alliance. The balance of power in Europe appeared more widely established than at any former period. England had freed herself of her intestine divisions, and stood compact and vigorous from united political power and the active spirit of commerce. The people were thriving; the crown, owing to the cares of Henry VII., was rich. Spain had united its several provinces into one potent state, which was ruled by the crafty but able Ferdinand. France had done the same work of consolidation under Louis XII., by his marriage with Anne of Brittany, and the incorporation of her duchy. Maximilian, the Emperor of Germany, with his hereditary dominions of Austria, possessed the weight given him by his imperial office over all Germany; and his son Charles, heir at once of Austria, Spain, and the Netherlands, was at this time the ruler of Burgundy and

the Netherlands, under the guardianship of his aunt, Margaret of Savoy, a princess of high character for sense and virtue. Henry had taken the earliest opportunity of renewing the treaties made by his father with all these princes, and with Scotland; and declared that he was resolved to maintain peace with them, and to cultivate the interests of his subjects at home.

How great and glorious a monarch would he have been had he possessed the wisdom to persist in this idea I By holding himself free from any partisanship on the Continent, he was in a position to act as arbiter betwixt his contending neighbours, and might have assumed a more influential and beneficent position than any other prince - a position as illustrious to himself as advantageous to his country. But Henry, though for some years he was leading a life of pleasure and gaiety at home, was charged with every egotistic principle which disturbs the rest of princes and nations. His personal vanity was enormous. In all the endless series of revelries, pageants, balls, and maskings which filled the court for a couple of years, he was the great object of attraction; they were his accomplishments which were to be displayed. The queen and her ladies, the foreign ambassadors and the distinguished nobility, were often called upon to witness his feats of arms, his contests at the barriers with the battle-axe, or the two-handed sword; and he was proclaimed invincible on such occasions - for who would presume to defeat the king? It was soon suggested by his flatterers that the same prowess carried into a more glorious field would speedily renew all the renown of Crecy and Azincourt. The delicious poison of adulation fell sweetly on the proud mind of Henry; and by the acts of those whose interests were to fish in troubled waters, he was soon involved in a long career of wars and Continental entanglements. The life of Henry may indeed be divided into three eras - the first and shortest, that of mere pleasure and vanity; the second, of martial contest; and the third, a dark and ever-deepening descent into tyranny and bloodshed, in which he was busily at work deposing and decapitating queens and ministers. In his youth, like a tiger not yet fully grown, he was sportive but rather dangerous; in his manhood, like the tiger having tasted blood, he was become terrible, for his playfulness had disappeared; and in his age, having long accustomed himself to strike down and devour all that approached him, he was vindictive, ferocious, and sanguinary almost beyond example.

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