Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Continued) page 4
But the situation of the imperial troops very soon became extremely hazardous there. The place was strongly fortified; it contained a garrison of 3,200 men, and these were zealously supported by 9,000 of the inhabitants, who, detesting the Spaniards, took up arms and fought most gallantly. Bourbon and Pescara spent forty days in mining and bombarding the place, when they became aware of a tempest gathering which boded their utter destruction. This was Francis marching from Avignon at the head of 40,000 men. Neither Henry nor the emperor had made those diversions in Languedoc and Picardy which they had promised, and thus the whole weight of the army of Francis was at liberty to descend upon them.
Bourbon and Pescara precipitately abandoned the siege, and made for the Alps, in order to regain Italy. If Francis had been contented with this success, he would have stood at the close of the year 1524 on most advantageous ground: spite of the threatened combination of attacks upon him, he would have stood victorious over them all within the boundaries of France. But it was not his nature to rest satisfied with such a position. His ardent temperament spurred him on to secure yet more signal benefits, to pursue and complete the blow upon his adversaries. He therefore resolved to pursue the imperialists into Italy, and he flattered himself that he should speedily wrest from them all that they had won from him. He hastened along the beaten road over Mount Cenis, whilst his imperial foes were working their arduous way through the intricate rocks and ravines of the Riviera del Mare. It became a regular race for the first arrival. Francis hoped to descend upon the plains of Piedmont and Lombardy, and reach Milan before Bourbon and Pescara; but, apprised of his intentions, they put out all their energies, and by the time Francis had arrived at Vercelli, they had reached Alva. They pushed by forced marches to Milan, but there they found a pestilence raging; and, throwing a garrison into the castle, they hastened out at the Porta Romana, as the troops of Francis entered the Porta Ticina.
At this moment Francis committed a military error, which probably deprived him of the triumph of thoroughly routing his enemies. To have continued the pursuit was almost certainly to have destroyed the imperialist force, for it was worn down by its severe marches, and the road to Lodi by which Pescara retreated was actually strewn with his exhausted horses. The army of Pescara was the sole imperial force now in Italy, and its defeat would have been the immediate recovery of the Milanese territory. But Francis was beguiled into the delay of besieging Pavia, in which Pescara had left a strong garrison under Antonio da Leyva. Pavia was a well-fortified city, situated on the deep and rapid Ticino, in a peculiarly strong position, and had repeatedly defied armies for a long time together, particularly those of the Lombards and of Charlemagne. The moment Pescara heard of Francis sitting down before it, he exclaimed that he was saved! Every exertion was made by the imperialists to profit by the time thus given them. The Duke of Bourbon hastened over the Alps to Germany to raise 12,000 men, for which purpose he had pawned his jewels. Lannoy, the viceroy of Naples, pledged the regular revenues of that kingdom for ready cash for the hiring of troops, and great activity was displayed in raising an army and posting it betwixt the Adda and Ticino.
For three months Francis continued lying before Pavia, and committed the further error of weakening his forces, by detaching 6,000 of them, under Albany, the late regent of Scotland, to menace the kingdom of Naples. There Francis contrived to lie during the winter, whilst his enemies were inciting the King of England to aid their efforts to crush him in the spring. This mission to England would appear to have been hastened by some mysterious coquetting which was discovered to be carrying on betwixt the Court of England and Louise, the mother of Francis, in his absence. An Italian, named Giovanni Joacchino, appeared in England under the character of a merchant. It was soon known that this pretended merchant was the emissary of Louise, and De Praet, the ambassador of the emperor, became alarmed at his presence. Wolsey did not conceal the real character of the man, but promised to disclose to De Praet whatever overtures he should make from the Court of France. But for eight months Joacchino stayed at London, and was in such close intercourse with the cardinal that De Praet grew more and more suspicious. He wrote these suspicions to the emperor, and to Margaret of Savoy, the governess of the Netherlands, and had the mortification to find one of his messengers intercepted on the way, his despatches seized, and carried to the English council. It is patent that the tide of Wolsey's hopes and feelings was on the turn; that the repeated neglect of Charles V. to keep his promise of securing the popedom, had converted him already from an open friend to a secret enemy, and this was the more marked by the circumstance of Henry now demanding payment from the emperor of the sums he had borrowed when in England, and the greater sums due from Francis, for which Charles had made himself responsible.
These disclosures, however, and the remonstrances of Clement VII., by the Archbishop of Capua, aroused Henry to a display of affected zeal for the imperial cause. He ordered Sir John Russell to pay over to the Duke of Bourbon 50,000 crowns, with a power to add five or ten thousand more, if he thought it advisable, and instructions were sent to Dr. Pace to urge the Venetians to secure the Alpine passes, so as to cut off: the reinforcements of the French; and Sir Gregory da Casale was instructed to concert with Lannoy, the Viceroy of Naples, for the protection of that kingdom from the attacks of Albany, and to drive the French wholly out of Italy.
In the beginning of February, 1525, the imperialist generals thought themselves strong enough to attack the French in their entrenchments. These entrenchments were very formidable. The rear-guard was posted in the beautiful castle of Mirabello, in the midst of an extensive park, enclosed by high and solid walls. But the garrison in the city, under Leyva, found means to communicate with the imperial generals outside, and he sent them word that they must either relieve him or that he must attempt to cut his way out, for famine was urgent amongst his troops. The generals themselves were suffering from want of provisions and pay for their troops. In the French camp the wisest commanders counselled Francis to raise the siege and retire to Milan, confident that the enemy must soon disband from want of pay. But Bonivet treated this counsel as mean and dastardly; and, unfortunately, that was the tone most likely to captivate the chivalrous mind of the French king. He resolved to stand his ground.
On the 24th of February, Bourbon, Pescara, and Lannoy, having distracted the attention of the French for several days previously by false attacks, at midnight led out their troops silently to the park. A body of pioneers commenced operations on the wall, and before daylight they had effected a breach of a hundred paces in length, and at dawn they carried the castle by surprise. Francis drew his troops out of their entrenchments, and made a push across the Ticino, but he found the bridge demolished, and a strong body of the Spaniards closely drawn up on the banks. Attacked fiercely by the garrison in the rear, and hemmed in by the imperial army in front, the battle became desperate. Francis had his horse killed under him; the Swiss, contrary to their wont, turned and fled at the first charge; and the Germans, who fought with singular valour, were annihilated to a man. The Spanish musketeers then broke the French ranks; and the king, being already wounded twice in the face, and once in the hand, refused to surrender to the Spaniards who environed him. Fortunately, Pomperant, a French gentleman in the service of the Duke of Bourbon, recognised him, and called Lannoy, to whom the king resigned his sword. Lannoy kneeling, kissed the king's hand, took the sword, and gave him his own in return, saying it did not "become a monarch to appear unarmed in the presence of a subject. The king was relieved of his helmet by James D'Avila; and the Spanish soldiers, who admired his valour, came crowding around him, and snatched the feathers from it, and, when they were all gone, even cut pieces from his clothes, to keep as memorials that they had fought hand to hand with him. Francis was soon left standing in his jerkin and hose, and, spite of his misfortune, could not help laughing at his situation, and at the eagerness of the soldiers for something belonging to him.
Presently Bourbon presented himself with his sword in his hand, dripping with the blood of his own countrymen. At that sight the king was seized with the deadly paleness of indignation. Bourbon fell on his knees, and requested permission to kiss his sovereign's hand, but Francis turned from him with contempt. "Ah, sire!" exclaimed the constable, bursting into tears, "had you followed my advice in some things, you would not be now in this condition, nor would the plains of Italy be soaked with the best blood of France." There was too much truth in the statement; for Francis had been misled by the arts of a vengeful woman, and Bourbon had been driven by crying injustice into rebellion. But Francis, mounting a horse which was brought him, rode away with Pescara and Lannoy, without deigning another look at the duke, He was conveyed to the fortress of Pizzighitone, where he was strictly guarded, but with all honour, till the pleasure of the emperor should be ascertained. Francis wrote to his mother by Pennalosa, to whom he also gave a passport to pass through France, and convey the news to the emperor. Louise was at Lyons when the messenger arrived there, and delivered the royal letter. It contained simply the words, " Madame, all is lost, except our honour!"
Admiral Bonivet, Marshal de Chabannes, and Richard de la Pole, a pretender to the crown of England, with more than 8,000 of the French army, fell in this action. The titular King of Navarre, the bastard of Savoy, and many distinguished officers, were taken with the king. All the artillery, arms, ammunition, military chest, and baggage of the vanquished army fell into the hands of the allies, who were astounded at the greatness of their victory.
The amazement and consternation which fell on France at the news of this terrible disaster are scarcely to be imagined. Nothing, indeed, could bo more melancholy than the situation of that kingdom. Her king was captive, her most distinguished generals and the flower of the army were taken or slain, powerful and triumphant enemies on all sides were ready to seize her as a spoil, and she was equally destitute of allies, of money, of troops, or wise counsel. Scarcely less was the terror of the princes and the states of Italy, for their only safety - the balance of power - was destroyed, and there appeared no defence against the predominant power of the emperor.
Charles himself assumed an air of singular composure and moderation on the receipt of this brilliant news. He had been daily expecting to hear of the defeat of his army, when, on the 10th of March, came the tidings of this great victory. We may imagine, therefore, his real joy. But such was his command of his feelings, that nothing of this appeared in his manner. He perused the despatches with the most perfect composure, affected even to commiserate the fall of his rival, and moralised sagely on the uncertainty of all human greatness. A little time, however, was sufficient to show that all this was dissimulation, and his conduct to Francis was ample proof that he had neither pity nor generosity.
Henry of England, on the contrary, gave freedom to his expressions of joy. Though ho was actually on his way to coalesce with Francis against Charles, he saw at once the immense advantages this defeat and capture offered for aggressions on his kingdom, and he therefore ordered the most public rejoicings in London and all his other cities, and rode himself in state to St. Paul's, where the cardinal performed mass, assisted by eleven bishops, in presence of the Court and all the foreign ambassadors; and afterwards "Te Deum" was sung. Henry then posted off Tunstal, Bishop of London, and Sir Richard Wing-field, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, into Spain to congratulate the emperor on his splendid triumph, and modestly to propose that they should divide France between them. Nay, Henry had the assurance to claim, by the treaty betwixt these two exemplary monarchs, that he should be crowned King of France at Paris, and that Charles should satisfy himself with certain northern and southern provinces, By another article of this treaty it was stipulated that any prince taken prisoner during the war should be delivered over to that sovereign whose territories he had invaded. Henry, therefore, instructed his ambassadors to claim the surrender of Francis to him, on the plea that he had not only invaded Normandy and Guienne, but France itself, which he contended was rightfully his inheritance. These extravagant and absurd demands, which could have risen in the mind of no man who was not puffed up by the most insane vanity, were not very likely to be received with any degree of attention by Charles in the very hour of his triumph, and conscious of the immensely augmented power of his position. To induce Charles to consent to this improbable arrangement, Henry proposed at once to put the Princess Mary, who was betrothed to Charles, into his hands - in fact, to make the exchange of her person for that of Francis. Henry was the more buoyed up in these wild notions by the fact that the ambassador of Charles had just been applying for the delivery of the princess.
So confident was Henry of the cession of his claims by the emperor, that he instantly took measures to raise the money necessary for the invasion of Franco. As he had resolved to rule without the interference of parliaments, he sent out commissioners to every part of the country to levy the sixth part of the goods of the laity and a fourth of those of the clergy. The scheme was entirely unconstitutional, the commissioners performed their part in a harsh and over-bearing manner, trusting thus to intimidate the people into compliance, and the consequence was a universal resentment and resistance. Clergy and laity, rich and poor, all alike denounced the arbitrary and illegal impost. "How the great men took it," says Hall, "was marvel: the poor cursed, the rich repugned, the lighter sort railed, and, in conclusion, all men execrated the cardinal as the subverter of the laws and liberties of England. For, said they, if men should give their goods by a commission, then were it worse than the taxes of France, and so England would be bond and not free." This was the more just because the cardinal in person acted as commissioner in London, and lent all the weight of his office and position to sanction the oppression. He used all iris arts to prevail on the citizens to comply, but neither threats nor blandishments moved them. The resistance was obstinate and universal.
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