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Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Continued) page 12


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"Nay, then, farewell!
I have touched the highest point of all my greatness;
And from that full meridian of my glory
I haste now to my setting. I shall fall
Like a bright exhalation in the evening,
And no man see me more."

In the contemplation of Wolsey in Ms fallen condition, we are so much affected by his humility, his candour, and his sorrow, that we forget his former haughtiness and his crimes. He never accuses his sovereign of injustice; he breaks out in no passion against him; he acknowledges that he was the creature of his favour; and that all he had, rank and fortune, were his to take away, as he had given them. His tears for so great a reverse, for such a stripping down of fame and honour, are natural; and his tears and sorrow for his faithful servants open up the noblest place in his heart, and go far to make one love and honour him. We cannot help comparing the career of Thomas a Becket and his own. Probably under the same circumstances "Wolsey might have put on the same air of menace and defiance. But here matters were in a different position. Henry VIII. was not Henry II., nor was the Papal power now of the same terrible force in England. Bluff Harry was one that could and would have his will, outrageous and bloody as it might be; and the spirit of the Reformation was already shaking the tiara to the ground in this country.

Of Wolsey, as he appeared at this moment, scathed and stunned by the thunderbolt of the royal wrath, we have a striking picture. The Bishop of Bayonne, the French ambassador, says in a letter: - "I have been to visit the cardinal in his distress, and I have witnessed the most striking change of fortune. He explained to me his hard case in the worst rhetoric that was ever heard. Both his tongue and his heart failed him. He recommended himself to the pity of the king and madame (Francis I. and his mother) with sighs and tears; and at last left me, without having said anything near so moving as his appearance. His face is dwindled to one-half its natural size. In truth, his misery is such that his enemies, Englishmen as they are, cannot help pitying him. Still, they will carry things to extremities. As for his legation, the seals, his authority, &c., he thinks no more of them. He is willing to give up everything, even the shirt from his back, and live in a hermitage, if the king would but desist from his displeasure."

On the 17th of October Henry sent the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk to demand the Great Seal; and they are said to have done that duty with some ungenerous triumph. But Wolsey delivered up his authority without complaint, and only sent in an offer surrendering all his personal estate to his gracious master, on condition that he might retire to his diocese on his church property. But the property of Wolsey had long been riveting the greedy eye of Henry, and, next to Anne Boleyn, that was, probably, the "weight which pulled him down." A message was soon brought him by the same noblemen, that the king expected an entire and unconditional submission, whereupon he granted to the king the yearly profits of his benefices, and threw himself on his mercy. It was then intimated that His Majesty meant to reside a York Place (Whitehall) during the Parliament, and that Wolsey might retire to Esher Place, in Surrey, a house belonging to his bishopric of Winchester. The fallen cardinal prepared to obey, but before leaving his splendid abode of York Place, he delivered a complete inventory of its contents to the king's messenger. These contents are thus described by Cavendish, his own secretary: - "In his gallery were set divers tables, upon which were laid divers and great stores of rich stuffs; as whole pieces of silk of all colours, velvets, satins, muffs, taffetas, grograms, scarlets, and divers rich commodities. Also, there were a thousand pieces of fine hollands, and the hangings of the gallery with cloth of gold and cloth of silver, and rich cloth of bodkin of divers colours, which were hanged in expectation of the king's coming. Also, on one side of the gallery were hanged the rich suits of capes of his own providing, which were made for the colleges of Oxford and Ipswich; they were the richest that ever I saw in all my life. Then had he two chambers adjoining the gallery, the most commonly called the gilt chambers, wherein were set two broad and long- tables, whereupon was set such abundance of plate of all sorts as was almost incredible to be believed, a great part being all of clear gold; and upon every table and cupboard where the plate was set, were books importing every kind of plate, and every piece, with the contents and weight thereof."

Hampton Court Palace Wolsey had given to the king before; and the unavailing sacrifice which he now made amounted to 500,000 crowns, equal to half a million of our money.

Having delivered over his lordly abode, he descended, and entered his barge. He there found the Thames covered with boats full of people of all degrees, who were waiting to see him conveyed to the Tower, for such was the news which had flown from Court all over the city. But they were greatly disappointed to see his barge turn its prow up the river instead of downwards. He ascended to Putney, where he mounted his mule, and was sorrowfully riding up the hill when there came spurring after him Sir Henry Norris, one of the king's chamberlains, bringing him a ring which the king had taken from his own finger, and accompanied it by a comfortable message. Sir Henry delivered it, saying, "Therefore, take patience, for I trust to see you in a better estate than ever." At this unexpected and extraordinary occurrence, the cardinal, wholly overcome by his emotions, dismounted from his mule, fell on his knees in the road, and, pulling off his cap, fervently thanked God for such happy tidings. Then arising, he told Sir Henry that his message was worth half a kingdom; but that he had scarcely anything left but the clothes on his back, yet he found a small gold chain and crucifix, which he presented to him. He next lamented that he had no token of his gratitude to send to his sovereign, but recollecting himself, he said, "Stay, there is my fool that rides beside me. I beseech thee take him to Court, and give him to His Majesty. I assure you, for any nobleman's pleasure, he is worth a thousand pounds." But the poor fool was so attached to his master, that it required six stout yeomen to force him away, and carry him to the king.

On the 3rd of November, after the -long intermission of seven years, a Parliament was called together. The main object of this unusual occurrence was to complete the ruin of Wolsey, and place it beyond the power of the king to restore him to favour - a circumstance of which the courtiers were in constant dread. The committee of the House of Lords presented to the king a string of no less than forty-four articles against the fallen minister, enumerating and exaggerating all his offences, and calling upon the monarch to take such order with him "that he should never have any power, jurisdiction, or authority hereafter, to trouble, vex, and impoverish the Commonwealth of this your realm, as he hath done heretofore, to the great hurt and damage of almost every man, high or low." This address was carried to the Commons for their concurrence; but there Thomas Cromwell, who by the favour of Wolsey had risen from the very lowest condition to be his friend and steward, and was now advanced to the king's service by the particular recommendation of the cardinal, attacked the articles manfully, and caused the Commons to reject them, as the members were persuaded that Cromwell was acting by suggestion of the king; which is very probable, for so far from Henry showing Cromwell any dislike for this proceeding, he continued to promote him, till he became his prime minister, and was created Earl of Essex.

The conduct of the king, moreover, towards the fallen man continued in other respects to keep alive his hopes, and fill his rivals with terror, who felt that if he were returned to power there was no safety for them. Wolsey found the episcopal house at Esher large, but almost destitute of furniture, or of any means of comfort or convenience. He found that neither his accommodation nor his funds would permit him to retain his retinue of attendants, and on the 5th of November he dismissed the greater part of them, amid floods of tears shed both by himself and them; for, with all his pride and injustice out of doors, he had been a kind master at home, and was greatly beloved by his servants. Some of the gentlemen who could support themselves refused to leave him. But when his servants were dismissed, the solitude of Esher Place was no peace. The struggle at Court was going violently on betwixt the king's deep and lingering affection for the cardinal and the resolve of Anne Boleyn and her relatives to make themselves safe against him. This state of things, therefore, produced a constant oscillation of favour and disfavour, gleams of sunshine and then denser gloom, which kept the unhappy man in a murderous alternation of spirit. One day, the 6th of November, the day after he had parted with his servants, and was very low, Sir John Russell came in great secrecy from the king, at Greenwich, bringing a most comfortable assurance that Henry was really not offended with him; and a few days after came Judge Shelley, demanding a formal and perpetual surrender of York Place, which was the property of the See of York, and the alienation of it illegal. In vain he represented that it was a sacrilegious act: he was obliged to comply. "Thus," says Cavendish, "my lord continued at Esher, daily receiving messages from the Court, some good and some bad, but more ill than good."

The design of Wolsey's enemies, we are told, was to drive him to some rash act, by which he should commit himself irrevocably with the king, or to wear him out by anxiety; and in this they nearly succeeded, for at Christmas he fell so dangerously ill that all about him believed him to be dying. This news once more roused all the slumbering regard of Henry for the cardinal. He instantly dispatched Dr. Butts, his own physician, to ascertain his real state; and on Butts reporting that he was dangerously ill, and that if he did not receive some comfort from His Majesty, he would be a dead man in four days, "God forbid," exclaimed the king, "that he should die, for I would not lose him for twenty thousand pounds. Go immediately to him and do your best for him." Nothing, replied the physician, would do him any good if the king did not send him a gracious message. On this, Henry took a ring from his finger, charged with a ruby on which his own picture was engraved, commanding the doctor to deliver it to him, and assure him that he was not offended with him in his heart, adding many kind expressions. At his request, Anne Boleyn also took her tablet of gold that hung at her side and delivered it to the doctor, "with many gentle and loving words." When Butts arrived with these messages, the cardinal rose up in his bed, received the token with every sign of delight, thanked the doctor heartily, and in a few days was out of danger,

Henry having now seized upon all the cardinal's property, the incomes of his bishoprics, abbeys, and other benefices, his colleges at Ipswich and Oxford, with all their furniture and revenues, his pensions, clothes, and even his very tomb, seemed contented to leave him his life. He, therefore, on the 12th of February, 1530, granted him a full pardon for all his real and pretended crimes. He allowed him, moreover, to retain the revenues of York. He gave him also a pension of 1,000 marks a year out of the bishopric of Winchester, and soon after sent him a present of 3,000 in money; and in plate, furniture, &c., the value of 3,374 3s. 7d., and gave him leave to reside at Richmond.

This new flow of Royal favour wonderfully revived the cardinal's hopes, and as vividly excited the fears of the Boleyn party. To have this formidable man residing so near them as Richmond was too perilous to be thought of. Some fine morning the king might suddenly ride over there, and all be undone. Henry was, therefore, besieged with entreaties to remove him further from the Court, and to such a distance as should prevent the possibility of an interview. They prevailed, and Wolsey received an order through his friend Cromwell to go and reside in his archbishopric of York. To the cardinal, who felt a strong persuasion that if he could but obtain an interview with the king all would be set right, this was next to a death-warrant. He entreated Cromwell to obtain leave for him to reside at Winchester, but this was refused, and the Duke of Norfolk, Anne's uncle, sent Wolsey word that if he did not get away immediately into the North, he would come and tear him in pieces with his teeth. "Then," said Wolsey, "it is time for me to be gone."

Cromwell, faithful to the last, obtained a present of 1,000 marks from the king for him, and a most gracious message; and the great fallen man set out, with something of his old state, towards the scene of his true pastoral duties, but of exile to him as a statesman. He went progressing slowly on his way from stage to stage, riding on his mule in a grave sadness, and followed by 160 attendants, a long train of wagons containing his plate and furniture, and paused first at Peterborough, where he spent Easter. Prom the moment that he commenced this journey he seemed a new man - to have left the haughty minister of state behind, and brought only the Christian bishop; and in no part of his life did he appear to so much advantage. He seemed really to have adopted the spirit of the words which Shakespeare puts into his mouth -

"I feel my heart new opened."

Wherever he came, he immediately won the esteem and love of people of all ranks, by his hospitality and pleasant affability. He spent the summer and autumn at his diocesan houses of Scroby and Southwell, and arrived at his castle of Cawood, seven miles from York, only at Michaelmas. Both at Southwall, Scroby, and now at Cawood, he set about at once to put the houses of the diocese into perfect repair. His passion for building was as strong upon him as ever. He had soon 300 labourers and artisans engaged in the restoration of Cawood, As at Scroby, so there, he went to some neighbouring church every Sunday, where he performed mass, and one of his chaplains preached. After service, he invited the clergy and most respectable parishioners to dinner, and distributed alms to the poor. Everywhere on his journey he had shown the same unassuming regard to the people, who flocked to behold him. On a wild moor near Ferrybridge, on the last day of his journey, he had found upwards of 500 children brought together and assembled round a great stone cross, to seek his blessing and confirmation at his hands. He immediately alighted and confirmed them, all, so that it was late that night before he reached Cawood. He treated the clergy of his cathedral in the kindest manner, telling them he was come to live amongst them as a friend and brother.

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