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Henry VIII And His Court
A Historical Novel
by Louise Muhlbach
TRANSLATED FROM GERMAN, BY
Rev. H. N. PIERCE, D. D.
I. Choosing a Confessor
II. The Queen and her Friend
III. King Henry the Eighth
IV. King by the Wrath of God
V. The Rivals
VI. The Intercession
VII. Henry the Eighth and his Wives VIII. Father and Daughter
X. The King’s Fool
XI. The Ride
XII. The Declaration
XIII. “Le Roi s’ennuit”
XIV. The Queen’s Friend
XV. John Heywood
XVI. The Confidant
XVII. Gammer Gurton’s Needle
XVIII. Lady Jane
XIX. Loyola’s General
XX. The Prisoner
XXI. Princess Elizabeth
XXII. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey XXIII. Brother and Sister
XIV. The Queen’s Toilet
CHOOSING A CONFESSOR.
It was in the year 1543. King Henry the Eighth of England that day once more pronounced himself the happiest and most enviable man in his kingdom, for to-day he was once more a bridegroom, and Catharine Parr, the youthful widow of Baron Latimer, had the perilous happiness of being selected as the king’s sixth consort.
Merrily chimed the bells of all the steeples of London, announcing to the people the commencement of that holy ceremony which sacredly bound Catharine Parr to the king as his sixth wife. The people, ever fond of novelty and show, crowded through the streets toward the royal palace to catch a sight of Catharine, when she appeared at her husband’s side upon the balcony, to show herself to the English people as their queen, and to receive their homage in return.
Surely it was a proud and lofty success for the widow of a petty baron to become the lawful wife of the King of England, and to wear upon her brow a royal crown! But yet Catharine Parr’s heart was moved with a strange fear, her cheeks were pale and cold, and before the altar her closely compressed lips scarcely had the power to part, and pronounce the binding “I will.”
At last the sacred ceremony was completed. The two spiritual dignitaries, Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, and Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, then, in accordance with court etiquette, led the young bride into her apartments, in order to bless them, and once more to pray with her, before the worldly festivities should begin.
Catharine, however, pale and agitated, had yet sustained her part in the various ceremonies of the day with a true queenly bearing and dignity; and, as now with head proudly erect and firm step, she walked with a bishop at either side through the splendid apartments, no one suspected how heavy a burden weighed upon her heart, and what baleful voices were whispering in her breast.
Followed by her new court, she had traversed with her companions the state apartments, and now reached the inner rooms. Here, according to the etiquette of the time, she must dismiss her court, and only the two bishops and her ladies of honor were permitted to accompany the queen into the drawing-room. But farther than this chamber even the bishops themselves might not follow her. The king himself had written down the order for the day, and he who swerved from this order in the most insignificant point would have been proclaimed guilty of high treason, and perhaps have been led out to death.
Catharine, therefore, turned with a languid smile to the two high ecclesiastics, and requested them to await here her summons. Then beckoning to her ladies of honor, she withdrew into her boudoir.
The two bishops remained by themselves in the drawing-room. The circumstance of their being alone seemed to impress them both alike and unpleasantly; for a dark scowl gathered on the brows of both, and they withdrew, as if at a concerted signal, to the opposite sides of the spacious apartment.
A long pause ensued. Nothing was heard save the regular ticking of a large clock of rare workmanship which stood over the fireplace, and from the street afar off, the rejoicing of the people, who surged toward the palace like a roaring sea.
Gardiner had stepped to the window, and was looking up with his peculiar dark smile at the clouds which, driven by the tempest, were sweeping across the heavens.
Cranmer stood by the wall on the opposite side, and sunk in sad thoughts, was contemplating a large portrait of Henry the Eighth, the masterly production of Holbein. As he gazed on that countenance, indicative at once of so much dignity and so much ferocity; as he contemplated those eyes which shone with such gloomy severity, those lips on which was a smile at once voluptuous and fierce, there came over him a feeling of deep sympathy with the young woman whom he had that day devoted to such splendid misery. He reflected that he had, in like manner, already conducted two wives of the king to the marriage altar, and had blessed their union. But he reflected, too, that he had also, afterward, attended both these queens when they ascended the scaffold.
How easily might this pitiable young wife of the king fall a victim to the same dark fate! How easily might Catharine Parr, like Anne Boleyn and Catharine Howard, purchase her short-lived glory with an ignominious death! At any time an inconsiderate word, a look, a smile, might be her ruin. For the king’s choler and jealousy were incalculable, and, to his cruelty, no punishment seemed too severe for those by whom he fancied himself injured.
Such were the thoughts which occupied Bishop Cranmer. They softened him, and caused the dark wrinkles to disappear from his brow.
He now smiled to himself at the ill-humor which he had felt shortly before, and upbraided himself for having been so little mindful of his holy calling, and for having exhibited so little readiness to meet his enemy in a conciliating spirit.
For Gardiner was his enemy; that Cranmer very well knew. Gardiner had often enough showed him this by his deeds, as he had also taken pains by his words to assure him of his friendship.
But even if Gardiner hated him, it did not therefore follow that Cranmer was obliged to return that hatred; that he should denominate him his enemy, whom he, in virtue of their mutual high calling, was bound to honor and love as his brother.
The noble Cranmer was, therefore, ashamed of his momentary ill- humor. A gentle smile lighted up his peaceful countenance. With an air at once dignified and friendly, he crossed the room and approached the Bishop of Winchester.
Lord Gardiner turned toward him with morose looks, and, without advancing from the embrasure of the window in which he was standing, waited for Cranmer to advance to him. As he looked into that noble, smiling countenance, he had a feeling as if he must raise his fist and dash it into the face of this man, who had the boldness to wish to be his equal, and to contend with him for fame and honor.
But he reflected in good time that Cranmer was still the king’s favorite, and therefore he must proceed to work against him with great caution.
So he forced these fierce thoughts back into his heart, and let his face again assume its wonted grave and impenetrable expression.
Cranmer now stood close before him, and his bright, beaming eye was fixed upon Gardiner’s sullen countenance.
“I come to your highness,” said Cranmer, in his gentle, pleasant voice, “to say to you that I wish with my whole heart the queen may choose you for her confessor and spiritual director, and to assure you that, should this be the case, there will not be in my soul, on that account, the least rancor, or the slightest dissatisfaction. I shall fully comprehend it, if her majesty chooses the distinguished and eminent Bishop of Winchester as her confessor, and the esteem and admiration which I entertain for you can only be enhanced thereby. In confirmation of this, permit me to offer you my hand.” He presented his hand to Gardiner, who, however, took it reluctantly and but for a moment.
“Your highness is very noble, and at the same time a very subtle diplomatist, for you only wish in an adroit and ingenious way to give me to understand how I am to act should the queen choose you for her spiritual director. But that she will do so, you know as well as I. It is, therefore, for me only a humiliation which etiquette imposes when she compels me to stand here and wait to see whether I shall be chosen, or contemptuously thrust aside.”
“Why will you look at matters in so unfriendly a light?” said Cranmer, gently. “Wherefore will you consider it a mark of contempt, if you are not chosen to an office to which, indeed, neither merit nor worthiness can call us, but only the personal confidence of a young woman?”
“Oh! you admit that I shall not be chosen?” cried Gardiner, with a malicious smile.
“I have already told you that I am wholly uninformed as to the queen’s wish, and I think it is known that the Bishop of Canterbury is wont to speak the truth.”
“Certainly that is known, but it is known also that Catharine Parr was a warm admirer of the Bishop of Canterbury; and now that she has gained her end and become queen, she will make it her duty to show her gratitude to him.”
“You would by that insinuate that I have made her queen. But I assure your highness, that here also, as in so many other matters which relate to myself, you are falsely informed.”
“Possibly!” said Gardiner, coldly. “At any rate, it is certain that the young queen is an ardent advocate of the abominable new doctrine which, like the plague, has spread itself from Germany over all Europe and scattered mischief and ruin through all Christendom. Yes, Catharine Parr, the present queen, leans to that heretic against whom the Holy Father at Rome has hurled his crushing anathema. She is an adherent of the Reformation.”
“You forget,” said Cranmer, with an arch smile, “that this anathema was hurled against the head of our king also, and that it has shown itself equally ineffectual against Henry the Eighth as against Luther. Besides, I might remind you that we no longer call the Pope of Rome, ‘Holy Father,’ and that you yourself have recognized the king as the head of our church.”
Gardiner turned away his face in order to conceal the vexation and rage which distorted his features. He felt that he had gone too far, that he had betrayed too much of the secret thoughts of his soul. But he could not always control his violent and passionate nature; and however much a man of the world and diplomatist he might be, still there were moments when the fanatical priest got the better of the man of the world, and the diplomat was forced to give way to the minister of the church.
Cranmer pitied Gardiner’s confusion, and, following the native goodness of his heart, he said pleasantly: “Let us not strive here about dogmas, nor attempt to determine whether Luther or the pope is most in the wrong. We stand here in the chamber of the young queen. Let us, therefore, occupy ourselves a little with the destiny of this young woman whom God has chosen for so brilliant a lot.”
“Brilliant?” said Gardiner, shrugging his shoulders. “Let us first wait for the termination of her career, and then decide whether it has been brilliant. Many a queen before this has fancied that she was resting on a couch of myrtles and roses, and has suddenly become conscious that she was lying on a red-hot gridiron, which consumed her.”
“It is true,” murmured Cranmer, with a slight shudder, “it is a dangerous lot to be the king’s consort. But just on that account let us not make the perils of her position still greater, by adding to them our own enmity and hate. Just on that account I beg you (and on my part I pledge you my word for it) that, let the choice of the queen be as it may, there may be no feeling of anger, and no desire for revenge in consequence. My God, the poor women are such odd beings, so unaccountable in their wishes and in their inclinations!”
“Ah! it seems you know the women very intimately,” cried Gardiner, with a malicious laugh. “Verily, were you not Archbishop of Canterbury, and had not the king prohibited the marriage of ecclesiastics as a very grave crime, one might suppose that you had a wife yourself, and had gained from her a thorough knowledge of female character.”
Cranmer, somewhat embarrassed, turned away, and seemed to evade Gardiner’s piercing look. “We are not speaking of myself,” said he at length, “but of the young queen, and I entreat for her your good wishes. I have seen her to-day almost for the first time, and have never spoken with her, but her countenance has touchingly impressed me, and it appeared to me, her looks besought us to remain at her side, ready to help her on this difficult pathway, which five wives have already trod before her, and in which they found only misery and tears, disgrace, and blood.”
“Let Catharine beware then that she does not forsake the right way, as her five predecessors have done!” exclaimed Gardiner. “May she be prudent and cautious, and may she be enlightened by God, that she may hold the true faith, and have true wisdom, and not allow herself to be seduced into the crooked path of the godless and heretical, but remain faithful and steadfast with those of the true faith!”
“Who can say who are of the true faith?” murmured Cranmer, sadly. “There are so many paths leading to heaven, who knows which is the right one?”
“That which we tread!” cried Gardiner, with all the overweening pride of a minister of the church. “Woe to the queen should she take any other road! Woe to her if she lends her ear to the false doctrines which come ringing over here from Germany and Switzerland, and in the worldly prudence of her heart imagines that she can rest secure! I will he her most faithful and zealous servant, if she is with me; I will be her most implacable enemy if she is against me.”
“And will you call it being against you, if the queen does not choose you for her confessor?”
“Will you ask me to call it, being for me?”
“Now God grant that she may choose you!” exclaimed Cranmer, fervently, as he clasped his hands and raised his eyes to heaven. “Poor, unfortunate queen! The first proof of thy husband’s love may be thy first misfortune! Why gave he thee the liberty of choosing thine own spiritual director? Why did he not choose for thee?”
And Cranmer dropped his head upon his breast, and sighed deeply.
At this instant the door of the royal chamber opened, and Lady Jane, daughter of Earl Douglas, and first maid of honor to the queen, made her appearance on the threshold. Both bishops regarded her in breathless silence. It was a serious, a solemn moment, the deep importance of which was very well comprehended by all three.
“Her majesty the queen,” said Lady Jane, in an agitated voice, “her majesty requests the presence of Lord Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, in her cabinet, in order that she may perform her devotions with him.”
“Poor queen!” murmured Cranmer, as he crossed the room to go to Catharine–“poor queen! she has just made an implacable enemy.”
Lady Jane waited till Cranmer had disappeared through the door, then hastened with eager steps to the bishop of Winchester, and dropping on her knee, humbly said, “Grace, your highness, grace! My words were in vain, and were not able to shake her resolution.”
Gardiner raised up the kneeling maiden, and forced a smile. “It is well,” said he, “I doubt not of your zeal. You are a true handmaid of the church, and she will love and reward you for it as a mother! It is then decided. The queen is–“
“Is a heretic,” whispered Lady Jane. “Woe to her!”
“And will you be true, and will you faithfully adhere to us?”
“True, in every thought of my being, and every drop of my heart’s blood.”
“So shall we overcome Catharine Parr, as we overcame Catharine Howard. To the block with the heretic! We found means of bringing Catharine Howard to the scaffold; you, Lady Jane, must find the means of leading Catharine Parr the same way.”
“I will find them,” said Lady Jane, quietly. “She loves and trusts me. I will betray her friendship in order to remain true to my religion.”
“Catharine Parr then is lost,” said Gardiner, aloud.
“Yes, she is lost,” responded Earl Douglas, who had just entered, and caught the last words of the bishop. “Yes, she is lost, for we are her inexorable and ever-vigilant enemies. But I deem it not altogether prudent to utter words like these in the queen’s drawing- room. Let us therefore choose a more favorable hour. Besides, your highness, you must betake yourself to the grand reception-hall, where the whole court is already assembled, and now only awaits the king to go in formal procession for the young queen, and conduct her to the balcony. Let us go, then.”
Gardiner nodded in silence, and betook himself to the reception- hall.
Earl Douglas with his daughter followed him. “Catharine Parr is lost,” whispered he in Lady Jane’s ear. “Catharine Parr is lost, and you shall be the king’s seventh wife.”
Whilst this was passing in the drawing-room, the young queen was on her knees before Cranmer, and with him sending up to God fervent prayers for prosperity and peace. Tears filled her eyes, and her heart trembled as if before some approaching calamity.
THE QUEEN AND HER FRIEND
At last this long day of ceremonies and festivities drew near its close, and Catharine might soon hope to be, for the time, relieved from this endless presenting and smiling, from this ever-renewed homage.
At her husband’s side she had shown herself on the balcony to receive the greetings of the people, and to bow her thanks. Then in the spacious audience-chamber her newly appointed court had passed before her in formal procession, and she had exchanged a few meaningless, friendly words with each of these lords and ladies. Afterward she had, at her husband’s side, given audience to the deputations from the city and from Parliament. But it was only with a secret shudder that she had received from their lips the same congratulations and praises with which the authorities had already greeted five other wives of the king.
Still she had been able to smile and seem happy, for she well knew that the king’s eye was never off of her, and that all these lords and ladies who now met her with such deference, and with homage apparently so sincere, were yet, in truth, all her bitter enemies. For by her marriage she had destroyed so many hopes, she had pushed aside so many who believed themselves better fitted to assume the lofty position of queen! She knew that these victims of disappointment would never forgive her this; that she, who was but yesterday their equal, had to-day soared above them as queen and mistress; she knew that all these were watching with spying eyes her every word and action, in order, it might be, to forge therefrom an accusation or a death-warrant.
But nevertheless she smiled! She smiled, though she felt that the choler of the king, so easily kindled and so cruelly vindictive, ever swung over her head like the sword of Damocles.
She smiled, so that this sword might not fall upon her.
At length all these presentations, this homage and rejoicing were well over, and they came to the more agreeable and satisfactory part of the feast.
They went to dinner. That was Catharine’s first moment of respite, of rest. For when Henry the Eighth seated himself at table, he was no longer the haughty monarch and the jealous husband, but merely the proficient artiste and the impassioned gourmand; and whether the pastry was well seasoned, and the pheasant of good flavor, was for him then a far more important question than any concerning the weal of his people, and the prosperity of his kingdom.
But after dinner came another respite, a new enjoyment, and this time a more real one, which indeed for a while banished all gloomy forebodings and melancholy fears from Catharine’s heart, and suffused her countenance with the rosy radiance of cheerfulness and happy smiles. For King Henry had prepared for his young wife a peculiar and altogether novel surprise. He had caused to be erected in the palace of Whitehall a stage, whereon was represented, by the nobles of the court, a comedy from Plautus. Heretofore there had been no other theatrical exhibitions than those which the people performed on the high festivals of the church, the morality and the mystery plays. King Henry the Eighth was the first who had a stage erected for worldly amusement likewise, and caused to be represented on it subjects other than mere dramatized church history. As he freed the church from its spiritual head, the pope, so he wished to free the stage from the church, and to behold upon it other more lively spectacles than the roasting of saints and the massacre of inspired nuns.
And why, too, represent such mock tragedies on the stage, when the king was daily performing them in reality? The burning of Christian martyrs and inspired virgins was, under the reign of the Christian king Henry, such a usual and every-day occurrence, that it could afford a piquant entertainment neither to the court nor to himself.
But the representation of a Roman comedy, that, however, was a new and piquant pleasure, a surprise for the young queen. He had the “Curculio” played before his wife, and if Catharine indeed could listen to the licentious and shameless jests of the popular Roman poet only with bashful blushes, Henry was so much the more delighted by it, and accompanied the obscenest allusions and the most indecent jests with his uproarious laughter and loud shouts of applause.
At length this festivity was also over with, and Catharine was now permitted to retire with her attendants to her private apartments.
With a pleasant smile, she dismissed her cavaliers, and bade her women and her second maid of honor, Anna Askew, go into her boudoir and await her call. Then she gave her arm to her friend Lady Jane Douglas, and with her entered her cabinet.
At last she was alone, at last unwatched. The smile disappeared from her face, and an expression of deep sadness was stamped upon her features.
“Jane,” said she, “pray thee shut the doors and draw the window curtains, so that nobody can see me, nobody hear me, no one except yourself, my friend, the companion of my happy childhood. Oh, my God, my God, why was I so foolish as to leave my father’s quiet, lonely castle and go out into the world, which is so full of terror and horror?”
She sighed and groaned deeply; and burying her face in her hands, she sank upon the ottoman, weeping and trembling.
Lady Jane observed her with a peculiar smile of malicious satisfaction.
“She is queen and she weeps,” said she to herself. “My God, how can a woman possibly feel unhappy, and she a queen?”
She approached Catharine, and, seating herself on the tabouret at her feet, she impressed a fervent kiss on the queen’s drooping hand.
“Your majesty weeping!” said she, in her most insinuating tone. “My God, you are then unhappy; and I received with a loud cry of joy the news of my friend’s unexpected good fortune. I thought to meet a queen, proud, happy, and radiant with joy; and I was anxious and fearful lest the queen might have ceased to be my friend. Wherefore I urged my father, as soon as your command reached us, to leave Dublin and hasten with me hither. Oh, my God! I wished to see you in your happiness and in your greatness.”
Catharine removed her hands from her face, and looked down at her friend with a sorrowful smile. “Well,” said she, “are you not satisfied with what you have seen? Have I not the whole day displayed to you the smiling queen, worn a dress embroidered with gold? did not my neck glitter with diamonds? did not the royal diadem shine in my hair? and sat not the king by my side? Let that, then, be sufficient for the present. You have seen the queen all day long. Allow me now for one brief, happy moment to be again the feeling, sensitive woman, who can pour into the bosom of her friend all her complaint and her wretchedness. Ah, Jane, if you knew how I have longed for this hour, how I have sighed after you as the only balm for my poor smitten heart, smitten even to death, how I have implored Heaven for this day, for this one thing–‘Give me back my Jane, so that she can weep with me, so that I may have one being at my side who understands me, and does not allow herself to be imposed upon by the wretched splendor of this outward display!'”
“Poor Catharine!” whispered Lady Jane, “poor queen!”
Catharine started and laid her hand, sparkling with brilliants, on Jane’s lips. “Call me not thus!” said she. “Queen! My God, is not all the fearful past heard again in that word? Queen! Is it not as much as to say, condemned to the scaffold and a public criminal trial? Ah, Jane! a deadly tremor runs through my members. I am Henry the Eighth’s sixth queen; I shall also be executed, or, loaded with disgrace, be repudiated.”
Again she hid her face in her hands, and her whole frame shook; so she saw not the smile of malicious satisfaction with which Lady Jane again observed her. She suspected not with what secret delight her friend heard her lamentations and sighs.
“Oh! I am at least revenged!” thought Jane, while she lovingly stroked the queen’s hair. “Yes, I am revenged! She has robbed me of a crown, but she is wretched; and in the golden goblet which she presses to her lips she will find nothing but wormwood! Now, if this sixth queen dies not on the scaffold, still we may perhaps so work it that she dies of anxiety, or deems it a pleasure to be able to lay down again her royal crown at Henry’s feet.”
Then said she aloud: “But why these fears, Catharine? The king loves you; the whole court has seen with what tender and ardent looks he has regarded you to-day, and with what delight he has listened to your every word. Certainly the king loves you.”
Catharine seized her hand impulsively. “The king loves me,” whispered she, “and I, I tremble before him. Yes, more than that, his love fills me with horror! His hands are dipped in blood, and as I saw him to-day in his crimson robes I shuddered, and I thought, How soon, and my blood, too, will dye this crimson!”
Jane smiled. “You are sick, Catharine,” said she. “This good fortune has taken you by surprise, and your overstrained nerves now depict before you all sorts of frightful forms. That is all.”
“No, no, Jane; these thoughts have ever been with me. They have attended me ever since the king selected me for his wife.”
“And why, then, did you not refuse him?” asked Lady Jane. “Why did you not say ‘no’ to the king’s suit?”
“Why did I not do it, ask you? Ah, Jane, are you such a stranger at this court as not to know, then, that one must either fulfil the king’s behests or die? My God, they envy me! They call me the greatest and most potent woman of England. They know not that I am poorer and more powerless than the beggar of the street, who at least has the power to refuse whom she will. I could not refuse. I must either die or accept the royal hand which was extended to me; and I would not die yet, I have still so many claims on life, and it has hitherto made good so few of them! Ah, my poor, hapless existence! what has it been, but an endless chain of renunciations and deprivations, of leafless flowers and dissolving views? It is true, I have never learned to know what is usually called misfortune. But is there a greater misfortune than not to be happy; than to sigh through a life without wish or hope; to wear away the endless, weary days of an existence without delight, yet surrounded with luxury and splendor?”
“You were not unfortunate, and yet you are an orphan, fatherless and motherless?”
“I lost my mother so early that I scarcely knew her. And when my father died I could hardly consider it other than a blessing, for he had never shown himself a father, but always only as a harsh, tyrannical master to me.”
“But you were married?”
“Married!” said Catharine, with a melancholy smile. “That is to say, my father sold me to a gouty old man, on whose couch I spent a few comfortless, awfully wearisome years, till Lord Neville made me a rich widow. But what did my independence avail me, when I had bound myself in new fetters? Hitherto I had been the slave of my father, of my husband; now I was the slave of my wealth. I ceased to be a sick-nurse to become steward of my estate. Ah! this was the most tedious period of my life. And yet I owe to it my only real happiness, for at that period I became acquainted with you, my Jane, and my heart, which had never yet learned to know a tenderer feeling, flew to you with all the impetuosity of a first passion. Believe me, my Jane, when this long-missing nephew of my husband came and snatched away from me his hereditary estate, and, as the lord, took possession of it, then the thought that I must leave you and your father, the neighboring proprietor, was my only grief. Men commiserated me on account of my lost property. I thanked God that He had relieved me of this load, and I started for London, that I might at last live and feel, that I might learn to know real happiness or real misery.”
“And what did you find?”
“Misery, Jane, for I am queen.”
“Is that your sole unhappiness?”
“My only one, but it is great enough, for it condemns me to eternal anxiety, to eternal dissimulation. It condemns me to feign a love which I do not feel, to endure caresses which make me shudder, because they are an inheritance from five unfortunate women. Jane, Jane, do you comprehend what it is to be obliged to embrace a man who has murdered three wives and put away two? to be obliged to kiss this king whose lips open just as readily to utter vows of love as sentences of death? Ah, Jane, I speak, I live, and still I suffer all the agonies of death! They call me a queen, and yet I tremble for my life every hour, and conceal my anxiety and fear beneath the appearance of happiness! My God, I am five-and-twenty, and my heart is still the heart of a child; it does not yet know itself, and now it is doomed never to learn to know itself; for I am Henry’s wife, and to love another is, in other words, to wish to mount the scaffold. The scaffold! Look, Jane. When the king approached me and confessed his love and offered me his hand, suddenly there rose before me a fearful picture. It was no more the king whom I saw before me, but the hangman; and it seemed to me that I saw three corpses lying at his feet, and with a loud scream I sank senseless before him. When I revived, the king was holding me in his arms. The shock of this unexpected good fortune, he thought, had made me faint. He kissed me and called me his bride; he thought not for a moment that I could refuse him. And I–despise me, Jane–I was such a dastard, that I could not summon up courage for a downright refusal. Yes, I was so craven also, as to be unwilling to die. Ah, my God, it appeared to me that life at that moment beckoned to me with thousands of joys, thousands of charms, which I had never known, and for which my soul thirsted as for the manna in the wilderness. I would live, live at any cost. I would gain myself a respite, so that I might once more share happiness, love, and enjoyment. Look, Jane, men call me ambitious. They say I have given my hand to Henry because he is king. Ah, they know not how I shuddered at this royal crown. They know not that in anguish of heart I besought the king not to bestow his hand upon me, and thereby rouse all the ladies of his kingdom as foes against me. They know not that I confessed that I loved him, merely that I might be able to add that I was ready, out of love to him, to sacrifice my own happiness to his, and so conjured him to choose a consort worthy of himself, from the hereditary princesses of Europe. [Footnote: “La vie d’Elizabeth, Reine d’Angleterre, traduite de l’Italien de Monsieur Gregoire Leti,” vol. ii. Amsterdam, 1694] But Henry rejected my sacrifice. He wished to make a queen, in order to possess a wife, who may be his own property–whose blood, as her lord and master, he can shed. So I am queen. I have accepted my lot, and henceforth my existence will be a ceaseless struggle and wrestling with death. I will at least sell my life as dearly as possible; and the maxim which Cranmer has given me shall hereafter be my guide on the thorny path of life.”
“And how runs this maxim?” asked Jane.
“Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves,” replied Catharine, with a languid smile, as she dropped her head upon her breast and surrendered herself to her painful and foreboding reflections.
Lady Jane stood opposite to her, and gazed with cruel composure upon the painfully convulsed countenance and at times violently trembling form of the young queen for whom all England that day kept festival, and who yet was sitting before her so wretched and full of sorrow.
Suddenly Catharine raised her head. Her countenance had now assumed an entirely different expression. It was now firm, resolute, and dauntless. With a slight inclination of the head she extended her hand to Lady Jane, and drew her friend more closely to her.
“I thank you, Jane,” said she, as she imprinted a kiss upon her forehead–“I thank you! You have done my heart good and relieved it of its oppressive load of secret anguish. He who can give his grief utterance, is already half cured of it. I thank you, then, Jane! Henceforth, you will find me calm and cheerful. The woman has wept before you, but the queen is aware that she has a task to accomplish as difficult as it is noble, and I give you my word for it, she will accomplish it. The new light which has risen on the world shall no more be dimmed by blood and tears, and no more in this unhappy land shall men of sense and piety be condemned as insurgents and traitors! This is the task which God has set me, and I swear that I will accomplish it! Will you help me in this, too, Jane?”
Lady Jane responded faintly in a few words, which Catharine did not understand, and as she looked up to her, she noticed, with astonishment, the corpse-like pallor which had suddenly overspread the countenance of her maid of honor.
Catharine gave a start, and fixed on her face a surprised and searching look.
Lady Jane cast down her eyes before that searching and flashing glance. Her fanaticism had for the moment got the better of her, and much as she was wont at other times to hide her thoughts and feelings, it had, at that moment, carried her away and betrayed her to the keen eye of her friend.
“It is now a long while since we saw each other,” said Catharine, sadly. “Three years! It is a long time for a young girl’s heart! And you were those three years with your father in Dublin, at that rigidly popish court. I did not consider that! But however much your opinions may have changed, your heart, I know, still remains the same, and you will ever be the proud, high-minded Jane of former days, who could never stoop to tell a lie–no, not even if this lie would procure her profit and glory. I ask you then, Jane, what is your religion? Do you believe in the Pope of Rome, and the Church of Rome as the only channel of salvation? or do you follow the new teaching which Luther and Calvin have promulgated?”
Lady Jane smiled. “Would I have risked appearing before you, if I still reckoned myself of the Roman Catholic Church? Catharine Parr is hailed by the Protestants of England as the new patroness of the persecuted doctrine, and already the Romish priests hurl their anathemas against you, and execrate you and your dangerous presence here. And you ask me, whether I am an adherent of that church which maligns and damns you? You ask me whether I believe in the pope, who has laid the king under an interdict–the king, who is not only my lord and master, but also the husband of my precious and noble Catharine? Oh, queen, you love me not when you can address such a question to me.”
And as if overcome by painful emotion, Lady Jane sank down at Catharine’s feet, and hid her head in the folds of the queen’s robe.
Catharine bent down to raise her and take her to her heart. Suddenly she started, and a deathly paleness overspread her face. “The king,” whispered she, “the king is coming!”
KING HENRY THE EIGHTH.
Catharine was not deceived. The doors were opened, and on the threshold appeared the lord marshal, with his golden mace.
“His majesty the king!” whispered he, in his grave, solemn manner, which filled Catharine with secret dread, as though he were pronouncing the sentence of death over her.
But she forced a smile and advanced to the door to receive the king. Now was heard a thunder-like rumble, and over the smoothly carpeted floor of the anteroom came rolling on the king’s house equipage. This house equipage consisted of a large chair, resting on castors, which was moved by men in the place of horses, and to which they had, with artful flattery, given the form of a triumphal car of the old victorious Roman Caesars, in order to afford the king, as he rolled through the halls, the pleasant illusion that he was holding a triumphal procession, and that it was not the burden of his heavy limbs which fastened him to his imperial car. King Henry gave ready credence to the flattery of his truckle-chair and his courtiers, and as he rolled along in it through the saloons glittering with gold, and through halls adorned with Venetian mirrors, which reflected his form a thousandfold, he liked to lull himself into the dream of being a triumphing hero, and wholly forgot that it was not his deeds, but his fat, that had helped him to his triumphal car.
For that monstrous mass which filled up the colossal chair, that mountain of purple-clad flesh, that clumsy, almost shapeless mass, that was Henry the Eighth, king of merry England. But thae mass had a head–a head full of dark and wrathful thoughts, a heart full of bloodthirsty and cruel lusts. The colossal body was indeed, by its physical weight, fastened to the chair. Yet his mind never rested, but he hovered, with the talons and flashing eye of the bird of prey, over his people, ever ready to pounce upon some innocent dove, to drink her blood, and tear out her heart, that he might lay it, all palpitating, as an offering on the altar of his sanguinary god.
The king’s sedan now stopped, and Catharine hastened forward with smiling face, to assist her royal husband in alighting.
Henry greeted her with a gracious nod, and rejected the proffered aid of the attendant pages.
“Away,” said he, “away! My Catharine alone shall extend me her hand, and give me a welcome to the bridal chamber. Go, we feel to-day as young and strong as in our best and happiest days, and the young queen shall see that it is no decrepit graybeard, tottering with age, who woos her, but a strong man rejuvenated by love. Think not, Kate, that I use my car because of weakness. No, it was only my longing for you which made me wish to be with you the sooner.”
He kissed her with a smile, and, lightly leaning on her arm, alighted from his car.
“Away with the equipage, and with all of you!” said he. “We wish to be alone with this beautiful young wife, whom the lord bishops have to-day made our own.”
At a signal from his hand, the brilliant cortege withdrew, and Catharine was alone with the king.
Her heart beat so wildly that it made her lips tremble, and her bosom swell high.
Henry saw it, and smiled; but it was a cold, cruel smile, and Catharine grew pale before it.
“He has only the smile of a tyrant,” said she to herself. “With this same smile, by which he would now give expression to his love, he yesterday, perhaps, signed a death-warrant, or will, to-morrow, witness an execution.”
“Do you love me, Kate?” suddenly said the king, who had till now observed her in silence and thoughtfulness. “Say, Kate, do you love me?”
He looked steadily into her eyes, as though he would read her soul to the very bottom.
Catharine sustained his look, and did not drop her eyes. She felt that this was the decisive moment which determined her whole future; and this conviction restored to her all her self-possession and energy.
She was now no longer the shy, timid girl, but the resolute, proud woman, who was ready to wrestle with fate for greatness and glory.
“Do you love me, Kate?” repeated the king; and his brow already began to darken.
“I know not,” said Catharine, with a smile, which enchanted the king, for there was quite as much graceful coquetry as bashfulness on her charming face.
“You know not?” replied Henry, astonished. “Now, by the Mother of God, it is the first time in my life that a woman has ever been bold enough to return me such an answer! You are a bold woman, Kate, to hazard it, and I praise you for it. I love bravery, because it is something I so rarely see. They all tremble before me, Kate–all! They know that I am not intimidated by blood, and in the might of my royalty I subscribe a death-warrant with the same calmness of soul as a love-letter.”
“Oh, you are a great king,” murmured Catharine. Henry did not notice her. He was wholly buried in one of those self-contemplations to which he so willingly surrendered himself, and which generally had for their subject his own greatness and superbility.
“Yes,” continued he, and his eyes, which, in spite of his corpulency and his extremely fleshy face, were yet large and wide open, shone more brightly. “Yes, they all tremble before me, for they know that I am a righteous and powerful king, who spares not his own blood, if it is necessary to punish and expiate crime, and with inexorable hand punishes the sinner, though he were the nearest to the throne. Take heed to yourself, therefore, Kate, take heed to yourself. You behold in me the avenger of God, and the judge of men. The king wears the crimson, not because it is beautiful and glossy, but because it is red like blood, and because it is the king’s highest prerogative to shed the blood of his delinquent subjects, and thereby expiate human crime. Thus only do I conceive of royalty, and thus only will I carry it out till the end of my days. Not the right to pardon, but the right to punish, is that whereby the ruler manifests himself before the lower classes of mankind. God’s thunder should be on his lips, and the king’s wrath should descend like lightning on the head of the guilty.”
“But God is not only wrathful, but also merciful and forgiving,” said Catharine, as she lightly and shyly leaned her head on the king’s shoulder.
“Just that is the prerogative of God above kings; that He can, as it pleases Him, show mercy and grace, where we can only condemn and punish. There must be something in which God is superior to kings, and greater than they. But how, Kate, you tremble, and the lovely smile has vanished from your countenance! Be not afraid of me, Kate! Be always frank with me, and without deceit; then I shall always love you, and iniquity will then have no power over you. And now, Kate, tell me, and explain to me. You do not know that you love me?”
“No, I do not know, your majesty. And how should I be able to recognize, and know, and designate by name what is strange to me, and what I have never before felt?”
“How, you have never loved, Kate?” asked the king with a joyful expression.
“Never. My father maltreated me, so that I could feel for him nothing but dread and terror.”
“And your husband, child? That man who was my predecessor in the possession of you. Did you not love your husband either?”
“My husband?” asked she abstractedly. “It is true, my father sold me to Lord Neville, and as the priest had joined our hands, men called him my husband. But he very well knew that I did not love him, nor did he require my love. He needed a nurse, not a wife. He had given me his name as a father gives his to a daughter; and I was his daughter, a true, faithful, and obedient daughter, who joyfully fulfilled her duty and tended him till his death.”
“And after his death, child? Years have elapsed since then, Kate. Tell me, and I conjure you, tell me the truth, the simple, plain truth! After the death of your husband, then even, did you never love?”
He gazed with visible anxiety, with breathless expectation, deep into her eyes; but she did not drop them.
“Sire,” said she, with a charming smile, “till a few weeks past, I have often mourned over myself; and it seemed to me that I must, in the desperation of my singular and cold nature, lay open my breast, in order to search there for the heart, which, senseless and cold, had never betrayed its existence by its stronger beating. Oh, sire, I was full of trouble about myself; and in my foolish rashness, I accused Heaven of having robbed me of the noblest feeling and the fairest privilege of any woman–the capacity of loving.”
“Till the past few weeks, did you say, Kate?” asked the king, breathless with emotion.
“Yes, sire, until the day on which you, for the first time, graciously afforded me the happiness of speaking with me.”
The king uttered a low cry, and drew Catharine, with impetuous vehemence, into his arms.
“And since, tell me now, you dear little dove, since then, does your heart throb?”
“Yes, sire, it throbs, oh, it often throbs to bursting! When I hear your voice, when I behold your countenance, it is as if a cold tremor rilled through my whole being, and drove all my blood to the heart. It is as though my heart anticipated your approach before my eyes discern you. For even before you draw near me, I feel a peculiar trembling of the heart, and the breath is stifled in my bosom; then I always know that you are coming, and that your presence will relieve this peculiar tension of my being. When you are not by me I think of you, and when I sleep I dream of you. Tell me, sire, you who know every thing, tell me, know you now whether I love you?”
“Yes, yes, you love me,” cried Henry, to whom this strange and joyous surprise had imparted youthful vivacity and warmth. “Yes, Kate, you love me; and if I may trust your dear confession, I am your first love. Repeat it yet again; you were nothing but a daughter to Lord Neville?”
“Nothing more, sire!”
“And after him have you had no love?”
“And can it be that so happy a marvel has come to pass? and that I have made, not a widow, but a young maiden, my queen?”
As he now gazed at her with warm, passionate, tender looks, Catharine cast down her eyes, and a deep blush covered her sweet face.
“Ah, a woman’s bashful blushes, what an exquisite sight!” cried the king, and while he wildly pressed Catharine to his bosom, he continued: “Oh, are we not foolish and short-sighted men, all of us, yes, even we kings? In order that I might not be, perhaps, forced to send my sixth wife also to the scaffold, I chose, in trembling dread of the deceitfulness of your sex, a widow for my queen, and this widow with a blessed confession, mocks at the new law of the wise Parliament, and makes good to me what she never promised.” [Footnote: After Catharine Howard’s infidelity and incontinency had been proved, and she had atoned for them by her death, Parliament enacted a law “that if the king or his successors should intend to marry any woman whom they took to be a clean and pure maid–if she, not being so, did not declare the same to the king, it should be high treason: and all who knew it; and did not reveal it, were guilty of misprision of treason.”–“Burnet’s History of the Reformation of the Church of England.” London, 1681 (vol. i, p. 313)]
“Come, Kate, give me a kiss. You have opened before me to-day a happy, blissful future, and prepared for me a great and unexpected pleasure. I thank you for it, Kate, and the Mother of God be my witness, I will never forget it.”
And drawing a rich diamond ring from his own finger, and putting it upon Catharine’s, he continued: “Be this ring a remembrancer of this hour, and when you hereafter present it to me, with a request, I will grant that request, Kate!”
He kissed her forehead, and was about to press her more closely in his arms, when suddenly from without was heard the dull roll of drums, and the ringing of bells.
The king started a moment and released Catharine from his arms. He listened; the roll of drums continued, and now and then was heard in the distance, that peculiar thundering and yet sullen sound, which so much resembles the roar and rush of the sea, and which can be produced only by a large and excited mob.
The king, with a fierce curse, pushed open the glass door leading to the balcony, and walked out.
Catharine gazed after him with a strange, half-timid, half-scornful look. “I have not at least told him that I love him,” muttered she. “He has construed my words as it suited his vanity. No matter. I will not die on the scaffold!”
With a resolute step, and firm, energetic air, she followed the king to the balcony. The roll of drums was kept up, and from all the steeples the bells were pealing. The night was dark and calm. All London seemed to slumber, and the dark houses around about stood up out of the universal darkness like huge coffins.
Suddenly the horizon began to grow bright, and on the sky appeared a streak of fiery red, which, blazing up higher and higher, soon illuminated the entire horizon with a crimson glow, and even shed its glaring fiery beams over the balcony on which stood the royal pair. Still the bells clanged and clamored; and blended with their peals was heard now and then, in the distance, a piercing shriek and a clamor as of thousands and thousands of confusedly mingled voices.
Suddenly the king turned to Catharine, and his countenance, which was just then overspread by the fire-light as with a blood-red veil, had now assumed an expression of savage, demoniacal delight.
“Ah,” said he, “I know what it is. You had wholly bewildered me, and stolen away my attention, you little enchantress. I had for a moment ceased to be a king, because I wished to be entirely your lover. But now I bethink me again of my avenging sovereignty! It is the fagot- piles about the stake which flame so merrily yonder. And that yelling and clamor indicate that my merry people are enjoying with all their soul the comedy which I have had played before them to- day, for the honor of God, and my unimpeachable royal dignity.”
“The stake!” cried Catharine, trembling. “Your majesty does not mean thereby to say that right yonder, men are to die a cruel, painful death–that the same hour in which their king pronounces himself happy and content, some of his subjects are to be condemned to dreadful torture, to a horrible destruction! Oh, no! my king will not overcloud his queen’s wedding-day with so dark a veil of death. He will not wish to dim my happiness so cruelly.”
The king laughed. “No, I will not darken it, but light it up with bright names,” said he; and as, with outstretched arm, he pointed over to the glaring heavens, he continued: “There are our wedding- torches, my Kate, and the most sacred and beautiful which I could find, for they burn to the honor of God and of the king. [Footnote: “Life of King Henry the Eighth, founded on Authentic and Original Documents.” By Patrick Fraser Tytler. (Edinburgh, 1887, p. 440.)] And the heavenward flaring flames which carries up the souls of the heretics will give to my God joyous intelligence of His most faithful and obedient son, who, even on the day of his happiness, forgets not his kingly duty, but ever remains the avenging and destroying minister of his God.”
He looked frightful as he thus spoke. His countenance, lit up by the fire, had a fierce, threatening expression; his eyes blazed; and a cold, cruel smile played about his thin, firmly-pressed lips.
“Oh, he knows no pity!” murmured Catharine to herself, as in a paroxysm of anguish she stared at the king, who, in fanatical enthusiasm, was looking over toward the fire, into which, at his command, they were perhaps hurling to a cruel, torturing death, some poor wretch, to the honor of God and the king. “No, he knows no pity and no mercy.”
Now Henry turned to her, and laying his extended hand softly on the back of her slender neck, he spanned it with his fingers, and whispered in her ear tender words and vows of love.
Catharine trembled. This caress of the king, however harmless in itself, had in it for her something dismal and dreadful. It was the involuntary, instinctive touch of the headsman, who examines the neck of his victim, and searches on it for the place where he will make the stroke. Thus had Anne Boleyn once put her tender white hands about her slender neck, and said to the headsman, brought over from Calais specially for her execution: “I pray you strike me well and surely! I have, indeed, but a slim little neck.” [Footnote: Tytler, p. 382] Thus had the king clutched his hand about the neck of Catharine Howard, his fifth wife when certain of her infidelity, he had thrust her from himself with fierce execrations, when she would have clung to him. The dark marks of that grip were still visible upon her neck when she laid it on the block. [Footnote: Leti, vol. i, p. 193]
And this dreadful twining of his fingers Catharine must now endure as a caress; at which she must smile, which she must receive with all the appearance of delight.
While he spanned her neck, he whispered in her ear words of tenderness, and bent his face close to her cheeks.
But Catharine heeded not his passionate whispers. She saw nothing save the blood-red handwriting of fire upon the sky. She heard nothing save the shrieks of the wretched victims.
“Mercy, mercy!” faltered she. “Oh, let this day be a day of festivity for all your subjects! Be merciful, and if you would have me really believe that you love me, grant this first request which I make of you. Grant me the lives of these wretched ones. Mercy, sire, mercy!”
And as if the queen’s supplication had found an echo, suddenly was heard from the chamber a wailing, despairing voice, repeating loudly and in tones of anguish: “Mercy, your majesty, mercy!” The king turned round impetuously, and his face assumed a dark, wrathful expression. He fastened his searching eyes on Catharine, as though he would read in her looks whether she knew who had dared to interrupt their conversation.
But Catharine’s countenance expressed unconcealed astonishment. “Mercy, mercy!” repeated the voice from the interior of the chamber.
The king uttered an angry exclamation, and hastily withdrew from the balcony.
KING BY THE WRATH OF GOD.
“Who dares interrupt us?” cried the king, as with headlong step he returned to the chamber–“who dares speak of mercy?”
“I dare!” said a young lady, who, pale, with distorted features, in frightful agitation, now hastened to the king and prostrated herself before him. “Anne Askew!” cried Catharine, amazed. “Anne, what want you here?”
“I want mercy, mercy for those wretched ones, who are suffering yonder,” cried the young maiden, pointing with an expression of horror to the reddened sky. “I want mercy for the king himself, who is so cruel as to send the noblest and the best of his subjects to the slaughter like miserable brutes!”
“Oh, sire, have compassion on this poor child!” besought Catharine, turning to Henry, “compassion on her impassioned excitement and her youthful ardor! She is as yet unaccustomed to these frightful scenes–she knows not yet that it is the sad duty of kings to be constrained to punish, where they might prefer to pardon!”
Henry smiled; but the look which he cast on the kneeling girl made Catharine tremble. There was a death-warrant in that look!
“Anne Askew, if I mistake not, is your second maid of honor?” asked the king; “and it was at your express wish that she received that place?”
“You knew her, then?”
“No, sire! I saw her a few days ago for the first time. But she had already won my heart at our first meeting, and I feel that I shall love her. Exercise forbearance, then, your majesty!”
But the king was still thoughtful, and Catharine’s answers did not yet satisfy him.
“Why, then, do you interest yourself for this young lady, if you did not know her?”
“She has been so warmly recommended to me.”
Catharine hesitated a moment; she felt that she had, perhaps, in her zeal, gone too far, and that it was imprudent to tell the king the truth. But the king’s keen, penetrating look was resting on her, and she recollected that he had, the first thing that evening, so urgently and solemnly conjured her to always tell him the truth. Besides, it was no secret at court who the protector of this young maiden was, and who had been the means of her obtaining the place of maid of honor to the queen, a place which so many wealthy and distinguished families had solicited for their daughters.
“Who recommended this lady to you?” repeated the king, and already his ill-humor began to redden his face, and make his voice tremble.
“Archbishop Cranmer did so, sire,” said Catharine as she raised her eyes to the king, and looked at him with a smile surpassingly charming.
At that moment was heard without, more loudly, the roll of drums, which nevertheless was partially drowned by piercing shrieks and horrible cries of distress. The blaze of the fire shot up higher, and now was seen the bright flame, which with murderous rage licked the sky above.
Anne Askew, who had kept respectful silence during the conversation of the royal pair, now felt herself completely overcome by this horrible sight, and bereft of the last remnant of self-possession.
“My God, my God!” said she, quivering from the internal tremor, and stretching her hands beseechingly toward the king, “do you not hear that frightful wail of the wretched? Sire, by the thought of your own dying hour, I conjure you have compassion on these miserable beings! Let them not, at least, be thrown alive into the flames. Spare them this last frightful torture.”
King Henry cast a wrathful look on the kneeling girl; then strode past her to the door, which led into the adjoining hall, in which the courtiers were waiting for their king.
He beckoned to the two bishops, Cranmer and Gardiner, to come nearer, and ordered the servants to throw the hall doors wide open.
The scene now afforded an animated and singular spectacle, and this chamber, just before so quiet, was suddenly changed to the theatre of a great drama, which was perhaps to end tragically. In the queen’s bedchamber, a small room, but furnished with the utmost luxury and splendor, the principal characters of this scene were congregated. In the middle of the space stood the king in his robes, embroidered with gold and sparkling with jewels, which were irradiated by the bright light of the chandelier. Near him was seen the young queen, whose beautiful and lovely face was turned in anxious expectation toward the king, in whose stern and rigid features she sought to read the development of this scene.
Not far from her still knelt the young maiden, hiding in her hands her face drenched in tears; while farther away, in the background, were the two bishops observing with grave, cool tranquillity the group before them. Through the open hall doors were descried the expectant and curious countenances of the courtiers standing with their heads crowded close together in the space before the doors; and opposite to them, through the open door leading to the balcony, was seen the fiery, blazing sky, and heard the clanging of the bells and the rolling of the drama, the piercing shrieks and the yells of the people.
A deep silence ensued, and when the king spoke, the tone of his voice was so hard and cold, that an involuntary shudder ran through all present.
“My Lord Bishops of Winchester and Canterbury,” said the king. “we have called you that you may, by the might of your prayers and the wisdom of your words, rid this young girl here from the devil, who, without doubt, has the mastery over her, since she dares charge her king and master with cruelty and injustice.”
The two bishops drew nearer to the kneeling girl; each laid a hand upon her shoulder, and bent over her, but the one with an expression of countenance wholly different from that of the other.
Cranmer’s look was gentle and serious, and at the same time a compassionate and encouraging smile played about his thin lips.
Gardiner’s features on the contrary bore the expression of cruel, cold-hearted irony; and the smile which rested on his thick, protruding lips was the joyful and merciless smile of a priest ready to sacrifice a victim to his idol.
“Courage, my daughter, courage and prudence!” whispered Cranmer.
“God, who blesses the righteous and punishes and destroys sinners, be with thee and with us all!” said Gardiner.
But Anne Askew recoiled with a shudder from the touch of his hand, and with an impetuous movement pushed it away from her shoulder.
“Touch me not; you are the hangman of those poor people whom they are putting to death down yonder,” said she impetuously; and as she turned to the king and extended her hands imploringly toward him, she cried:
“Mercy, King Henry, mercy!”
“Mercy!” repeated the king, “mercy, and for whom? Who are they that they are putting to death down there? Tell me, forsooth, my lord bishops, who are they that are led to the stake to-day? Who are the condemned?”
“They are heretics, who devote themselves to this new false doctrine which has come over to us from Germany, and who dare refuse to recognize the spiritual supremacy of our lord and king,” said Bishop Gardiner.
“They are Roman Catholics, who regard the Pope of Rome as the chief shepherd of the Church of Christ, and will regard nobody but him as their lord,” said Bishop Cranmer.
“Ah, behold this young maiden accuses us of injustice,” cried the king; “and yet, you say that not heretics alone are executed down there, but also Romanists. It appears to me then that we have justly and impartially, as always, punished only criminals and given over the guilty to justice.”
“Oh, had you seen what I have seen,” said Anne Askew, shuddering,” then would you collect all your vital energies for a single cry, for a single word–mercy! and that word would you shout out loud enough to reach yon frightful place of torture and horror.”
“What saw you, then?” asked the king, smiling. Anne Askew had stood up, and her tall, slender form now lifted itself, like a lily, between the sombre forms of the bishops. Her eye was fixed and glaring; her noble and delicate features bore the expression of horror and dread.
“I saw,” said she, “a woman whom they were leading to execution. Not a criminal, but a noble lady, whose proud and lofty heart never harbored a thought of treason or disloyalty, but who, true to her faith and her convictions, would not forswear the God whom she served. As she passed through the crowd, it seemed as if a halo encompassed her head, and covered her white hair with silvery rays; all bowed before her, and the hardest natures wept over the unfortunate woman who had lived more than seventy years, and yet was not allowed to die in her bed, but was to be slaughtered to the glory of God and of the king. But she smiled, and graciously saluting the weeping and sobbing multitude, she advanced to the scaffold as if she were ascending a throne to receive the homage of her people. Two years of imprisonment had blanched her cheek, but had not been able to destroy the fire of her eye, or the strength of her mind, and seventy years had not bowed her neck or broken her spirit. Proud and firm, she mounted the steps of the scaffold, and once more saluted the people and cried aloud, ‘I will pray to God for you.’ But as the headsman approached and demanded that she should allow her hands to be bound, and that she should kneel in order to lay her head upon the block, she refused, and angrily pushed him away. ‘Only traitors and criminals lay their head on the block!’ exclaimed she, with a loud, thundering voice. ‘There is no occasion for me to do so, and I will not submit to your bloody laws as long as there is a breath in me. Take, then, my life, if you can.’
“And now began a scene which filled the hearts of the lookers-on with fear and horror. The countess flew like a hunted beast round and round the scaffold. Her white hair streamed in the wind; her black grave-clothes rustled around her like a dark cloud, and behind her, with uplifted axe, came the headsman, in his fiery red dress; he, ever endeavoring to strike her with the falling axe, but she, ever trying, by moving her head to and fro, to evade the descending stroke. But at length her resistance became weaker; the blows of the axe reached her, and stained her white hair, hanging loose about her shoulders, with crimson streaks. With a heart-rending cry, she fell fainting. Near her, exhausted also, sank down the headsman, bathed in sweat. This horrible wild chase had lamed his arm and broken his strength. Panting and breathless, he was not able to drag this fainting, bleeding woman to the block, or to lift up the axe to separate her noble head from the body. [Footnote: Tytler, p. 430] The crowd shrieked with distress and horror, imploring and begging for mercy, and even the lord chief justice could not refrain from tears, and he ordered the cruel work to be suspended until the countess and the headsman should have regained strength; for a living, not a dying person was to be executed: thus said the law. They made a pallet for the countess on the scaffold and endeavored to restore her; invigorating wine was supplied to the headsman, to renew his strength for the work of death; and the crowd turned to the stakes which were prepared on both sides of the scaffold, and at which four other martyrs were to be burnt. But I flew here like a hunted doe, and now, king, I lie at your feet. There is still time. Pardon, king, pardon for the Countess of Somerset, the last of the Plantagenets.”
“Pardon, sire, pardon!” repeated Catharine Parr, weeping and trembling, as she clung to her husband’s side. “Pardon!” repeated Archbishop Cranmer; and a few of the courtiers re-echoed it in a timid and anxious whisper.
The king’s large, brilliant eyes glanced around the whole assembly, with a quick, penetrating look. “And you, my Lord Bishop Gardiner,” asked he, in a cold, sarcastic tone, “will you also ask for mercy, like all these weak-hearted souls here?”
“The Lord our God is a jealous God,” said Gardiner, solemnly, “and it is written that God will punish the sinner unto the third and fourth generation.”
“And what is written shall stand true!” exclaimed the king, in a voice of thunder. “No mercy for evil-doers, no pity for criminals. The axe must fall upon the head of the guilty, the flames shall consume the bodies of criminals.”
“Sire, think of your high vocation!” exclaimed Anne Askew, in a tone of enthusiasm. “Reflect what a glorious name you have assumed to yourself in this land. You call yourself the head of the Church, and you want to rule and govern upon earth in God’s stead. Exercise mercy, then, for you entitle yourself king by the grace of God.”
“No, I do not call myself king by God’s grace; I call myself king by God’s wrath!” exclaimed Henry, as he raised his arm menacingly. “It is my duty to send sinners to God; may He have mercy on them there above, if He will! I am the punishing judge, and I judge mercilessly, according to the law, without compassion. Let those whom I have condemned appeal to God, and may He have mercy upon them. I cannot do it, nor will I. Kings are here to punish, and they are like to God, not in His love, but in His avenging wrath.”
“Woe, then, woe to you and to all of us!” exclaimed Anne Askew. “Woe to you, King Henry, if what you now say is the truth! Then are they right, those men who are bound to yonder stakes, when they brand you with the name of tyrant; then is the Bishop of Rome right when he upbraids you as an apostate and degenerate son, and hurls his anathemas against you! Then you know not God, who is love and mercy; then you are no disciple of the Saviour, who has said, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you.’ Woe to you, King Henry, if matters are really so bad with you; if–“
“Silence, unhappy woman, silence!” exclaimed Catharine; and as she vehemently pushed away the furious girl she grasped the king’s hand, and pressed it to her lips. “Sire,” whispered she, with intense earnestness, “Sire, you told me just now that you loved me. Prove it by pardoning this maiden, and having consideration for her impassioned excitement. Prove it by allowing me to lead Anne Askew to her room and enjoin silence upon her.”
But at this moment the king was wholly inaccessible to any other feelings than those of anger and delight in blood.
He indignantly repelled Catharine, and without moving his sharp, penetrating look from the young maiden, he said in a quick, hollow tone: “Let her alone; let her speak; let no one dare to interrupt her!”
Catharine, trembling with anxiety and inwardly hurt at the harsh manner of the king, retired with a sigh to the embrasure of one of the windows.
Anne Askew had not noticed what was going on about her. She remained in that state of exaltation which cares for no consequences and which trembles before no danger. She would at this moment have gone to the stake with cheerful alacrity, and she almost longed for this blessed martyrdom.
“Speak, Anne Askew, speak!” commanded the king. “Tell me, do you know what the countess, for whose pardon you are beseeching me, has done? Know you why those four men were sent to the stake?”
“I do know, King Henry, by the wrath of God,” said the maiden, with burning passionateness. “I know why you have sent the noble countess to the slaughter-house, and why you will exercise no mercy toward her. She is of noble, of royal blood, and Cardinal Pole is her son. You would punish the son through the mother, and because you cannot throttle the cardinal, you murder his mother.”
“Oh, you are a very knowing child!” cried the king, with an inhuman, ironical laugh. “You know my most secret thoughts and my most hidden feelings. Without doubt you are a good papist, since the death of the popish countess fills you with such heart-rending grief. Then you must confess, at the least, that it is right to burn the four heretics!”
“Heretics!” exclaimed Anne, enthusiastically, “call you heretics those noble men who go gladly and boldly to death for their convictions and their faith? King Henry! King Henry! Woe to you if these men are condemned as heretics! They alone are the faithful, they are the true servants of God. They have freed themselves from human supremacy, and as you would not recognize the pope, so they will not recognize you as head of the Church! God alone, they say, is Lord of the Church and Master of their consciences, and who can be presumptuous enough to call them criminals?”
“I!” exclaimed Henry the Eighth, in a powerful tone. “I dare do it. I say that they are heretics, and that I will destroy them, will tread them all beneath my feet, all of them, all who think as they do! I say that I will shed the blood of these criminals, and prepare for them torments at which human nature will shudder and quake. God will manifest Himself by me in fire and blood! He has put the sword into my hand, and I will wield it for His glory. Like St. George, I will tread the dragon of heresy beneath my feet!”
And haughtily raising his crimsoned face and rolling his great bloodshot eyes wildly around the circle, he continued: “Hear this all of you who are here assembled; no mercy for heretics, no pardon for papists. It is I, I alone, whom the Lord our God has chosen and blessed as His hangman and executioner! I am the high-priest of His Church, and he who dares deny me, denies God; and he who is so presumptuous as to do reverence to any other head of the Church, is a priest of Baal and kneels to an idolatrous image. Kneel down all of you before me, and reverence in me God, whose earthly representative I am, and who reveals Himself through me in His fearful and exalted majesty. Kneel down, for I am sole head of the Church and high-priest of our God!”
And as if at one blow all knees bent; all those haughty cavaliers, those ladies sparkling with jewels and gold, even the two bishops and the queen fell upon the ground.
The king gazed for a moment on this sight, and, with radiant looks and a smile of triumph, his eyes ran over this assembly, consisting of the noblest of his kingdom, humbled before him.
Suddenly they were fastened on Anne Askew.
She alone had not bent her knee, but stood in the midst of the kneelers, proud and upright as the king himself. A dark cloud passed over the king’s countenance.
“You obey not my command?” asked he.
She shook her curly head and fixed on him a steady, piercing look. “No,” said she, “like those over yonder whose last death-groan we even now hear, like them, I say: To God alone is honor due, and He alone is Lord of His Church! If you wish me to bend my knee before you as my king, I will do it, but I bow not to you as the head of the holy Church!
A murmur of surprise flew through the assembly, and every eye was turned with fear and amazement on this bold young girl, who confronted the king with a countenance smiling and glowing with enthusiasm.
At a sign from Henry the kneelers arose and awaited in breathless silence the terrible scene that was coming.
A pause ensued. King Henry himself was struggling for breath, and needed a moment to collect himself.
Not as though wrath and passion had deprived him of speech. He was neither wrathful nor passionate, and it was only joy that obstructed his breathing–the joy of having again found a victim with which he might satisfy his desire for blood, on whose agony he might feast his eyes, whose dying sigh he might greedily inhale.
The king was never more cheerful than when he had signed a death- warrant. For then he was in full enjoyment of his greatness as lord over the lives and deaths of millions of other men, and this feeling made him proud and happy, and fully conscious of his exalted position.
Hence, as he now turned to Anne Askew, his countenance was calm and serene, and his voice friendly, almost tender.
“Anne Askew,” said he, “do you know that the words vou have now spoken make you guilty of high treason?”
“I know it, sire.”
“And you know what punishment awaits traitors?”
“Death, I know it.”
“Death by fire!” said the king with perfect calmness and composure. A hollow murmur ran through the assembly. Only one voice dared give utterance to the word mercy.
It was Catharine, the king’s consort, who spoke this one word. She stepped forward, and was about to rush to the king and once more implore his mercy and pity. But she felt herself gently held back. Archbishop Cranmer stood near her, regarding her with a serious and beseeching look.
“Compose yourself, compose yourself,” murmured he. “You cannot save her; she is lost. Think of yourself, and of the pure and holy religion whose protectress you are. Preserve yourself for your Church and your companions in the faith!”
“And must she die?” asked Catharine, whose eyes filled with tears as she looked toward the poor young child, who was confronting the king with such a beautiful and innocent smile.
“Perhaps we may still save her, but this is not the moment for it. Any opposition now would only irritate the king the more, and he might cause the girl to be instantly thrown into the flames of the fires still burning yonder! So let us be silent.”
“Yes, silence,” murmured Catharine, with a shudder, as she withdrew again to the embrasure of the window.
“Death by fire awaits you, Anne Askew!” repeated the king. “No mercy for the traitress who vilifies and scoffs at her king!”
At the very moment when the king was pronouncing, in a voice almost exultant, Anne Askew’s sentence of death, one of the king’s cavaliers appeared on the threshold of the royal chamber and advanced toward the king.
He was a young man of noble and imposing appearance, whose lofty bearing contrasted strangely with the humble and submissive attitude of the rest of the courtiers. His tall, slim form was clad in a coat of mail glittering with gold; over his shoulders hung a velvet mantle decorated with a princely crown; and his head, covered with dark ringlets, was adorned with a cap embroidered with gold, from which a long white ostrich-feather drooped to his shoulder. His oval face presented the full type of aristocratic beauty; his cheeks were of a clear, transparent paleness; about his slightly pouting mouth played a smile, half contemptuous and half languid; the high, arched brow and delicately chiselled aquiline nose gave to his face an expression at once bold and thoughtful. The eyes alone were not in harmony with his face; they were neither languid like the mouth, nor pensive like the brow. All the fire and all the bold and wanton passion of youth shot from those dark, flashing eyes. When he looked down, he might have been taken for a completely worn-out, misanthropic aristocrat; but when he raised those ever-flashing and sparkling eyes, then was seen the young man full of dashing courage and ambitious desires, of passionate warmth and measureless pride.
He approached the king, as already stated, and as he bent his knee before him, he said in a full, pleasant voice:
“Mercy, sire, mercy!”
The king stepped back in astonishment, and turned upon the bold speaker a look almost of amazement.
“Thomas Seymour!” said he. “Thomas, you have returned, then, and your first act is again an indiscretion and a piece of foolhardy rashness?”
The young man smiled. “I have returned,” said he, “that is to say, I have had a sea-fight with the Scots and taken from them four men-of- war. With these I hastened hither to present them to you, my king and lord, as a wedding-gift, and just as I entered the anteroom I heard your voice pronouncing a sentence of death. Was it not natural, then, that I, who bring you tidings of a victory, should have the heart to utter a prayer for mercy, for which, as it seems, none of these noble and proud cavaliers could summon up courage?”
“Ah!” said the king, evidently relieved and fetching a deep breath, “then you knew not at all for whom and for what you were imploring pardon?”
“Yet!” said the young man, and his bold glance ran with an expression of contempt over the whole assembly–“yet, I saw at once who the condemned must be, for I saw this young maiden forsaken by all as if stricken by the plague, standing alone in the midst of this exalted and brave company. And you well know, my noble king, that at court one recognizes the condemned and those fallen into disgrace by this, that every one flies from them, and nobody has the courage to touch such a leper even with the tip of his finger!”
King Henry smiled. “Thomas Seymour, Earl of Sudley, you are now, as ever, imprudent and hasty,” said he. “You beg for mercy without once knowing whether she for whom you beg it is worthy of mercy.”
“But I see that she is a woman,” said the intrepid young earl. “And a woman is always worthy of mercy, and it becomes every knight to come forward as her defender, were it but to pay homage to her sex, so fair and so frail, and yet so noble and mighty. Therefore I beg mercy for this young maiden!”
Catharine had listened to the young earl with throbbing heart and flushed cheeks. It was the first time that she had seen him, and yet she felt for him a warm sympathy, an almost tender anxiety.
“He will plunge himself into ruin,” murmured she; “he will not save Anne, but will make himself unhappy. My God, my God, have a little compassion and pity on my anguish!”
She now fixed her anxious gaze on the king, firmly resolved to rush to the help of the earl, who had so nobly and magnanimously interested himself in an innocent woman, should the wrath of her husband threaten him also. But, to her surprise, Henry’s face was perfectly serene and contented.
Like the wild beast, that, following its instinct, seeks its bloody prey only so long as it is hungry, so King Henry felt satiated for the day. Yonder glared the fires about the stake, at which four heretics were burned; there stood the scaffold on which the Countess of Somerset had just been executed; and now, within this hour, he had already found another new victim for death. Moreover, Thomas Seymour had always been his favorite. His audacity, his liveliness, his energy, had always inspired the king with respect; and then, again, he so much resembled his sister, the beautiful Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife.
“I cannot grant you this favor, Thomas,” said the king. “Justice must not be hindered in her course, and where she has passed sentence, mercy must not give her the lie; and it was the justice of your king which pronounced sentence at that moment. You were guilty, therefore, of a double wrong, for you not only besought mercy, but you also brought an accusation against my cavaliers. Do you really believe that, were this maiden’s cause a just one, no knight would have been found for her?”
“Yes, I really believe it,” cried the earl, with a laugh. “The sun of your favor had turned away from this poor girl, and in such a case your courtiers no longer see the figure wrapped in darkness.”
“You are mistaken, my lord; I have seen it,” suddenly said another voice, and a second cavalier advanced from the anteroom into the chamber. He approached the king, and, as he bent his knee before him, he said, in a loud, steady voice: “Sire, I also beg mercy for Anne Askew!”
At this moment was heard from that side of the room where the ladies stood, a low cry, and the pale, affrighted face of Lady Jane Douglas was for a moment raised above the heads of the other ladies. No one noticed it. All eyes were directed toward the group in the middle of the room: all looked with eager attention upon the king and these two young men, who dared protect one whom he had sentenced.
“Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey!” exclaimed the king; and now an expression of wrath passed over his countenance. “How! you, too, dare intercede for this girl? You, then, grudge Thomas Seymour the pre-eminence of being the most discreet man at my court?”
“I will not allow him, sire, to think that he is the bravest,” replied the young man, as he fixed on Thomas Seymour a look of haughty defiance, which the other answered by a cold, disdainful smile.
“Oh,” said he, with a shrug of his shoulders, “I willingly allow you, my dear Earl of Surrey, to tread behind me, at your convenience, the path, the safety of which I first tested at the peril of my life. You saw that I had not, as yet, lost either my head or my life in this reckless under taking, and that has given you courage to follow my example. That is a new proof of your prudent valor, my Honorable Earl of Surrey, and I must praise you for it.”
A hot flush suffused the noble face of the earl, his eyes shot lightning, and, trembling with rage, he laid his hand on his sword. “Praise from Thomas Seymour is–“
“Silence!” interposed the king, imperatively. “It must not be said that two of the noblest cavaliers of my court have turned the day, which should be one of festivity to all of you, into a day of contention. I command you, therefore, to be reconciled. Shake hands, my lords, and let your reconciliation be sincere. I, the king command it!”
The young men gazed at each other with looks of hatred and smothered rage, and their eyes spoke the insulting and defiant words which their lips durst no longer utter. The king had ordered, and, however great and powerful they might be, the king was to be obeyed. They, therefore, extended their hands to each other, and muttered a few low, unintelligible words, which might be, perhaps, a mutual apology, but which neither of them understood.
“And now, sire,” said the Earl of Surrey, “now I venture to reiterate my prayer. Mercy, your majesty, mercy for Anne Askew!”
“And you, Thomas Seymour, do you also renew your petition?”
“No, I withdraw it. Earl Surrey protects her; I, therefore, retire, for without doubt she is a criminal; your majesty says so, and, therefore, it is so. It would ill become a Seymour to protect a person who sinned against the king.”
This new indirect attack on Earl Surrey seemed to make on all present a deep but very varied impression. Here, faces were seen to turn pale, and there, to light up with a malicious smile; here, compressed lips muttered words of threatening, there, a mouth opened to express approbation and agreement.
The king’s brow was clouded and troubled; the arrow which Earl Sudley had shot with so skilful a hand had hit. The king, ever suspicious and distrustful, felt so much the more disquieted as he saw that the greater part of his cavaliers evidently reckoned themselves friends of Henry Howard, and that the number of Seymour’s adherents was but trifling.
“These Howards are dangerous, and I will watch them carefully,” said the king to himself; and for the first time his eye rested with a dark and hostile look on Henry Howard’s noble countenance.
But Thomas Seymour, who wished only to make a thrust at his old enemy, had at the same time decided the fate of poor Anne Askew. It was now almost an impossibility to speak in her behalf, and to implore pardon for her was to become a partaker of her crime. Thomas Seymour had abandoned her, because, as traitress to her king, she had rendered herself unworthy of his protection. Who now would be so presumptuous as to still protect the traitress?
Henry Howard did it; he reiterated his supplication for Anne Askew’s pardon. But the king’s countenance grew darker and darker, and the courtiers watched with dread the coming of the moment when his wrath would dash in pieces the poor Earl of Surrey.
In the row of ladies also, here and there, a pale face was visible, and many a beautiful and beaming eye was dimmed with tears at the sight of this gallant and handsome cavalier, who was hazarding even his life for a woman.
“He is lost!” murmured Lady Jane Douglas; and, completely crushed and lifeless, she leaned for a moment against the wall. But she soon recovered herself, and her eye beamed with bold resolution. “I will try and save him!” she said to herself; and, with firm step, she advanced from the ladies’ ranks, and approached the king.
A murmur of applause ran through the company, and all fares brightened and all eyes were bent approvingly on Lady Jane. They knew that she was the queen’s friend, and an adherent of the new doctrine; it was, therefore, very marked and significant when she supported the Earl of Surrey in his magnanimous effort.
Lady Jane bowed her beautiful and haughty head before the king, and said, in her clear, silvery voice: “Sire, in the name of all the women, I also beseech you to pardon Anne Askew, because she is a woman. Lord Surrey has done so because a true knight can never be false to himself and his ever high and sacred obligation: to be the protector of those who are helpless and in peril is enough for him. A real gentleman asks not whether a woman is worthy of his protection; he grants it to her, simply because she is a woman, and needs his help. And while I, therefore, in the name of all the women, thank the Earl of Surrey for the assistance that he has been desirous to render to a woman, I unite my prayer with his, because it shall not be said that we women are always cowardly and timid, and never venture to hasten to the help of the distressed. I, therefore, ask mercy, sire, mercy for Anne Askew!”
“And I,” said the queen, as she again approached the king, “I add my prayers to hers, sire. To-day is the feast of love, my festival, sire! To-day, then, let love and mercy prevail.”
She looked at the king with so charming a smile, her eyes had an expression so radiant and happy, that the king could not withstand her.
He was, therefore, in the depths of his heart, ready to let the royal clemency prevail for this time; but he wanted a pretext for this, some way of bringing it about. He had solemnly vowed to pardon no heretic, and he might not break his word merely because the queen prayed for mercy.
“Well, then,” said he, after a pause, “I will comply with your request. I will pardon Anne Askew, provided she will retract, and solemnly abjure all that she has said. Are you satisfied with that, Catharine?”
“I am satisfied,” said she, sadly.
“And you, Lady Jane Douglas, and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey?”
“We are satisfied.”
All eyes were now turned again upon Anne Askew, who, although every one was occupied by her concerns, had been entirely overlooked and left unnoticed.
Nor had she taken any more notice of the company than they of her. She had scarcely observed what was going on about her. She stood leaning against the open door leading to the balcony, and gazed at the flaming horizon. Her soul was with those pious martyrs, for whom she was sending up her heart-felt prayers to God, and whom she, in her feverish exaltation, envied their death of torture. Entirely borne away from the present, she had heard neither the petitions of those who protected her, nor the king’s reply.
A hand laid upon her shoulder roused her from her reverie.
It was Catharine, the young queen, who stood near her.
“Anne Askew,” said she, in a hurried whisper, “if your life is dear to you, comply with the king’s demand.”
She seized the young girl’s hand, and led her to the king.
“Sire,” said she, in a full voice, “forgive the exalted and impassioned agony of a poor girl, who has now, for the first time, been witness of an execution, and whose mind has been so much impressed by it that she is scarcely conscious of the mad and criminal words that she has uttered before you! Pardon her, then, your majesty, for she is prepared cheerfully to retract.”
A cry of amazement burst from Anne’s lips, and her eyes flashed with anger, as she dashed the queen’s hand away from her.
“I retract!” exclaimed she, with a contemptuous smile. “Never, my lady, never! No! as sure as I hope for God to be gracious to me in my last hour, I retract not! It is true, it was agony and horror that made me speak; but what I have spoken is yet, nevertheless, the truth. Horror caused me to speak, and forced me to show my soul undisguised. No, I retract not! I tell you, they who have been executed over yonder are holy martyrs, who have ascended to God, there to enter an accusation against their royal hangman. Ay, they are holy, for eternal truth had illumined their souls, and it beamed about their faces bright as the flames of the fagots into which the murderous hand of an unrighteous judge had cast them. Ah, I must retract! I, forsooth, am to do as did Shaxton, the miserable and unfaithful servant of his God, who, from fear of earthly death, denied the eternal truth, and in blaspheming pusillanimity perjured himself concerning the holy doctrine. [Footnote: Burnet, vol. i, p. 341] King Henry, I say unto you, beware of dissemblers and perjurers; beware of your own haughty and arrogant thoughts. The blood of martyrs cries to Heaven against you, and the time will come when God will be as merciless to you as you have been to the noblest of your subjects! You deliver them over to the murderous flames, because they will not believe what the priests of Baal preach; because they will not believe in the real transubstantiation of the chalice; because they deny that the natural body of Christ is, after the sacrament, contained in the sacrament, no matter whether the priest be a good or a bad man. [Footnote: Ibid.] You give them over to the executioner, because they serve the truth, and are faithful followers of the Lord their God!”
“And you share the views of these people whom you call martyrs?” asked the king, as Anne Askew now paused for a moment and struggled for breath.
“Yes, I share them!”
“You deny, then, the truth of the six articles?”
“I deny them!”
“You do not see in me the head of the Church?”
“God only is Head and Lord of the Church!”
A pause followed–a fearful, awful pause.
Every one felt that for this poor young girl there was no hope, no possible escape; that her doom was irrevocably sealed.
There was a smile on the king’s countenance.
The courtiers knew that smile, and feared it yet more than the king’s raging wrath.
When the king thus smiled, he had taken his resolve. Then there was with him no possible vacillation or hesitation, but the sentence of death was resolved on, and his bloodthirsty soul rejoiced over a new victim.
“My Lord Bishop of Winchester,” said the king, at length, “come hither.”
Gardiner drew near and placed himself by Anne Askew, who gazed at him with angry, contemptuous looks.
“In the name of the law I command you to arrest this heretic, and hand her over to the spiritual court,” continued the king. “She is damned and lost. She shall be punished as she deserves!”
Gardiner laid his hand on Anne Askew’s shoulder. “In the name of the law of God, I arrest you!” said he, solemnly.
Not a word more was spoken. The lord chief justice had silently followed a sign from Gardiner, and touching Anne Askew with his staff, ordered the soldiers to conduct her thence.
With a smile, Anne Askew offered them her hand, and surrounded by the soldiers and followed by the Bishop of Winchester and the lord chief justice, walked erect and proudly out of the room.
The courtiers had divided and opened a passage for Anne and her attendants. Now their ranks closed again, as the sea closes and flows calmly on when it has just received a corpse. To them all Anne Askew was already a corpse, as one buried. The waves had swept over her and all was again serene and bright.
The king extended his hand to his young wife, and, bending down, whispered in her ear a few words, which nobody understood, but which made the young queen tremble and blush.
The king, who observed this, laughed and impressed a kiss on her forehead. Then he turned to his court; “Now, good-night, my lords and gentlemen,” said he, with a gracious inclination of the head. “The feast is at an end, and we need rest.”
“Forget not the Princess Elizabeth,” whispered Archbishop Cranmer, as he took leave of Catharine, and pressed to his lips her proffered hand.
I will not forget her,” murmured Catharine, and, with throbbing heart and trembling with inward dread, she saw them all retire, and leave her alone with the king.
“And now, Kate,” said the king, when all had withdrawn, and he was again alone with her, “now let us forget everything, save that we love each other.”
He embraced her and with ardor pressed her to his breast. Wearied to death, she bowed her head on his shoulder and lay there like a shattered rose, completely broken, completely passive.
“You give me no kiss, Kate?” said Henry, with a smile. “Are you then yet angry with me that I did not comply with your first request? But what would you have me do, child? How, indeed, shall I keep the crimson of my royal mantle always fresh and bright, unless I continually dye it anew in the blood of criminals? Only he who punishes and destroys is truly a king, and trembling mankind will acknowledge him as such. The tender-hearted and gracious king it