Henry VIII And His Court
Part 1 out of 9
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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
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
"Oh! you admit that I shall not be chosen?" cried Gardiner, with a
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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-
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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.
"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,
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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,
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
Catharine, trembling with anxiety and inwardly hurt at the harsh
manner of the king, retired with a sigh to the embrasure of one of
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
"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!" 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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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,
"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
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
"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
"My Lord Bishop of Winchester," said the king, at length, "come
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
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
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