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The Reign of James I page 12

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A new oath of allegiance was framed recognising absolute renunciation of the right of the pope to interfere in the temporal affairs of the kingdom. The catholics who submitted to take this oath were to be liable only to the penalties now enumerated; but they who refused were to be imprisoned for life, and to suffer forfeiture of their personal property and the rents of their lands.

The publication of these terrible enactments carried astonishment and dismay through the nation; many protestants as well as catholics condemned them. The French minister Villeroy declared that they were characteristic of barbarians rather than of Christians. Many catholics made haste to quit their native country, and the rest prepared to sacrifice both property and personal liberty. The pope Paul V. despatched a secret emissary to James, imploring him to relax the rigour of the new laws, but without success; and the pontiff, resenting the repulse, then published a breve, denouncing the oath of allegiance as unlawful, "because contrary to faith and salvation." The publication of this imprudent breve only made matters worse. The catholic clergy were before its arrival divided in their opinions as to the lawfulness of taking it; the archpriest Blackwall himself, with many of his brethren, were prepared to take it. The authority of the pope extinguished theirs, and decided the majority; yet Blackwall took the oath himself, and advised the catholics, by a circular letter, to take it.

But no submission on the part of a portion of the catholics could mitigate the wrath of James at the conduct of the pope. He ordered the bishops in their several dioceses to tender the oath, and to enforce the penalties on all recusants. Three missionaries lying under sentence of death for the exercise of their priestly functions, were called upon to take it; they refused. Two of them were saved by the earnest intercession of the prince de Joinville and the French ambassador. The third, named Drury, was hanged, drawn, and quartered. Blackwall, the archpriest, himself was thrown into prison, though he had both taken the oath and advised the rest of the catholics to take it; and though James greatly pitied him, he could do nothing more in his behalf than prevent his being brought to trial and capitally condemned. The case of Blackball was extremely hard, for, or the other hand, he had excited the resentment of the pope by his concession. He was called on by letters from cardinals Bellarmine and Arrigoni, and the Jesuits Persons and Holtby to retract; but as he would not, he was superseded by Birket. He was then in his seventieth year, and remained in prison till his death, in 1613.

A second breve from the pope roused the spirit of James; he determined to try whether he could not silence the clamour of the papal party by his pen. He abandoned even the pleasures of the chase, refused to listen to his ministers, and calling his favourite divines around him, he shut himself up with them, and produced a tract called "An Apologie for the Oath of Allegiance," which was immediately translated into French and Latin. But as the royal brochure did not convince the catholics, six priests were condemned for refusing the oath, and three of them were executed, one at York and two at Tyburn. Moreau, Bellarmine, and Persons, published replies to the royal treatise; and again James closeted himself with his divines, revised his publication, and prefaced it with a ''Premonition to all Christian Princes." It was in vain that the kings of Denmark and France counselled him to desist from a contest so unworthy of a great monarch, in vain that the queen urged the same advice. He condescended to declare that the fittest answer to Persons would be a rope; and as for Bellarmine, who had written under a feigned name, he dubbed him "a most obscure author, a very desperate fellow in beginning his apprentisage, not only to refute, but to rail at a king." The flatterers of the king applauded his "immortal labours," as they were pleased to call them; and James continued to toil at them, revise, and remodel his arguments till 1609. The catholic peers, with the exception of lord Teynham, all took the oath on different occasions in the upper house.

To dismiss for the present the religious controversies which kept the kingdom in a ferment of bitterness, we have a little overstepped the progress of general events. In the spring of 1606 James called together parliament, for he was in much distress for money. As usual, the commons had their list of grievances to set off against his demands, and as James showed no eagerness to redress no less than sixteen subjects of complaint, the commons made no haste with the supplies. At length, in the month of May, whilst the question of the subsidy was dragging its slow length along, and Cecil was endeavouring in vain to quicken the motion of the house, by making promises which meant nothing beyond inducing the members to vote, a sudden rumour ran through the court that the king was assassinated at Oaking, in Berkshire, where he was hunting along with his favourites, the earl of Montgomery, Sir John Ramsay, and Sir James Hay. The mode of his death was variously reported. One version was that he had been stabbed with a poisoned knife, and another that he had been shot with a pistol, and a third that he was smothered in his bed. The murderers were differently represented to be the Jesuits, Scotchmen in women's clothes, Frenchmen, and Spaniards. There was a great consternation both in the city and the parliament. The lords displayed the greatest loyalty; and the commons suddenly closed their money debate by voting three subsidies and six fifteenths. In the midst of the panic James arrived safe and sound in London, and was received with proportionate enthusiasm. As the sensation went off, many began to suspect that Cecil, and perhaps the king himself, could have explained the origin of the ruse; that it was but a spur to the tardy liberality of the commons. At all events, James, having obtained his supplies, prorogued parliament to the 18th of November.

The subsidies were voted all in good time, for in July of this year, Christian IV., king of Denmark, the brother of queen Anne, paid his royal brother-in-law a visit. The queen had been recently confined of a daughter, which only lived to be christened, so that Anne was necessarily unable to be present at the rejoicings and court fetes given on the occasion. And perhaps it was owing to the absence of the restraint of her presence that the festivities of the two kings and the whole court degenerated into a grossness and drunken excess which scandalised the whole nation. The maskings, banquetings, balls, tiltings, and all manner of rude sports, wrestling, bull and bear baitings, kept both court and city in a continual riot. But the excess reached its height at an entertainment given by Cecil to the kings and courtiers at his magnificent seat of Theobalds. "There,'' says Sir John Harrington, in "Nugae Antiquae," "those whom I never could get to taste good liquor, now follow the fashion and wallow in beastly delights. The ladies abandon sobriety, and roll about in intoxication. After dinner, the representation of Solomon, his temple, and the coming of the queen of Sheba was made. The lady who did play the queen's part did carry most precious gifts to both their majesties, but forgetting the steps arising to the canopy, over set her caskets into his Danish majesty's lap, and fell at his feet, though I rather think it was his face. Much was the hurry and confusion: cloths and napkins were at hand to make all clean."

The end of the entertainment was that his Danish majesty, attempting to dance with the queen of Sheba, fell down, and was obliged to be carried to bed, and the majesty of England was at the same time carried to his in the same state of drunken prostration. King Christian remained barely a month, and during the time was as lavish of his gifts as of his jollity. He presented to his sister his portrait richly set with jewels; to the king a rapier and hanger worth seven thousand pounds; to the prince of Wales a man of war, valued at eight thousand pounds; and distributed amongst the English courtiers gold chains and jewels amounting to fifteen thousand pounds. But with all his munificence, Christian did not avoid making enemies in the English court in his drunken freedoms: his expressions to the countess of Nottingham were never forgiven by her, and the offence is recorded in a very indignant letter addressed by her to one of the king of Denmark's suite, Sir Andrew St. Clair.

We may here devote a few words to the character of James's court at this period. So strong did party run in those times, that we have the most opposite descriptions of Doth James and his queen, personally, morally, and intellectually. With few of any party, however, had James managed to make himself popular. He was not without a certain degree of shrewdness which often took by surprise those who were disposed to think him shallow: he had a considerable amount of learning, but so accompanied by authorly vanity, rather than regal pride, that he lost all respect by his inordinate desire to show it. He had no manly dignity even on public state occasions, and amongst his chosen associates he condescended to such displays of homely familiarity and of drunken debauchery as were more in character with a groom than a great king. The description which we have already given of his person is by no means attractive, yet cardinal Bentivoglio, whilst expressing his resentment at his persecution of the catholics, represents him in a much more agreeable light than many other contemporaries. He says, "The king of England is above the middle height, of a fair and florid complexion, and very noble features, though in his demeanour and carriage he manifests no kind of grace or kingly dignity."

The cardinal was equally flattering in his opinion of the queen, praising her beauty and elegance of manner, and her fluency in the Italian language. On the other hand, Molino draws a very different picture of her. "She has an ordinary appearance," he says, "and lives remote from public affairs. She is very fond of dancing and entertainments; very gracious to those who know how to promote her wishes; but to those whom she does not like, she is proud, disdainful, not to say insupportable."

Anne of Denmark, we may believe, was a princess of a handsome person, and possessing a love of elegance and pleasure. She had a high, sensitive spirit, and much taste. She was fond of court pageants, and of those domestic sports and relaxations in which the German and Scandinavian people still delight, but which, to our grave fancy, often approach the puerile. Whilst James and his lords were absent at the hunt, she and her maids amused themselves in the long autumnal evenings with a variety of such games as may yet be seen in her native country at social parties. They played at "Rise pig, and go." "One penny, follow me." "Fire," and "I pray, my lord, give me a course in your park." Anne was passionately fond of dancing, and the marquis of Westminster gave some grand fetes and balls at Basing House for her entertainment. But as she was fond of poetry and the fine arts, she made her court celebrated for the performance of masques, of which Ben Jonson was the chief artificer. On the installation of prince Charles as duke of York in 1605, she had performed Jonson's Masque of Blackness, and appeared in it herself as one of the twelve daughters of the Nile, with her maids of honour, all with their faces, arms, and hands blackened. In this sable disguise she danced with the Spanish ambassador.

With her taste for amusement, however, Anne was a woman of spotless honour, and displayed much affection for her children, and good sense in their management; and had James been a man to estimate her better qualities and to cherish them, she might have displayed a still higher tone of womanly superiority. But the king was too vain, and too much addicted to rude and degrading indulgences to sympathise sufficiently with her in her tastes and fancies, and the consequence was that she despised him, and was not at sufficient pains often to disguise her feelings. Her son Henry is said to have caught this sentiment from her, and James was so much aware of it, that he was often constrained and embarrassed in her presence. After Anne arrived in England, however, and had the society of her children, she never meddled in political affairs, except it was to intercede in behalf of some meritorious man in trouble, as in the case of Sir Walter Raleigh. She contented herself with her domestic life, and with enlivening her court with gay masques and ballets, with the assistance of the first poets and artists of the age; sometimes appearing herself as a goddess, a Turkish sultana, or an Indian queen. To enable her to appear fitly as the queen of England in this her gay court, she not only retained her Scotch dower, but had a jointure of six thousand three hundred and seventy-six pounds a year, besides Somerset House, Hatfield Manor, and the royal palaces of Nonsuch and Pontefract; the king-charging himself with all the expenses of her household and stable, her own funds being reserved for her costs in wages, her wardrobe, and gratuities. Twelve councillors were appointed to assist her in regulating her expenditure, and she devoted much money to the improvement and embellishment of her town residence, Somerset House, which then, in honour of her, was called Denmark House.

The severity of James did not prevent his wife being suspected of a leaning towards popery and the Spanish interest; but this probably arose from the favour which the Spanish ambassador enjoyed amongst all the ladies at court, not excepting the queen herself, being a very gay and fascinating fellow, who devoted himself greatly to their amusement, and distributed amongst them Spanish gloves. Perhaps, too, the popery notion was strengthened by Anne refusing at her coronation to receive the sacrament in the English fashion. She had already been required in Scotland to abandon her Lutheran faith for the Calvinistic one, and thought it rather too unreasonable to be called on to relinquish that for the modes of the church of England. She was only the more deserving of respect for objecting to put off her religion as she would a dress on every new occasion; and it seems that the prelates of the Anglican church were some of them liberal enough to admit that; for the bishop of Winchester declared that she "was of a religious stock, professing the gospel of Christ with him; a mirror of true modesty, a queen of beauty, beloved by the people." It is much to the credit of Anne that she always expressed her unmitigated disgust at the injustice and rapacity which she found rife at the English court, and did not hesitate to counsel any of those about her to resist it, and to guard themselves against it.

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