IT might be asked how it came to pass that the queen did not put a stop to these cruel executions. The answer is easy — she was herself in danger.
The enemies of the Reformation, perceiving her influence over the king, bethought themselves that the execution of Anne Askew and of her companions did not advance their cause; that to make it triumphant the death of the queen was necessary; and that if Catherine were ruined, the Reformation would fall with her. Shortly after the king’s return from France, these men approached him and cautiously insinuated that the queen had made large use of her liberty during his absence; that she diligently read and studied the Holy Scriptures; that she chose to have about her only women who shared her opinions; that she had engaged certain would-be wise and pious persons to assist her in attaining a thorough knowledge of the sacred writings; that she held private conferences with them on spiritual subjects all the year round, and that in Lent every day in the afternoon, for the space of an hour, one of her said chaplains, in her privy chamber,’ expounded the Word of God to the queen, to the ladies of her court and of her bedchamber and others who were disposed to hear these expositions; that the minister frequently attacked what he called the abuses of the existing church; that the queen read heretical books proscribed by royal ordinances; further, that she, the queen of England, employed her leisure hours in translating religious works, and in composing books of devotion; and that she had turned some of the psalms into verse, and had made a collection entitled Prayers or Meditations. The king had always ignored these meetings, determined not to see, what was nevertheless clear, that the queen was an evangelical Christian like Anne Askew, who had lately been burnt.
Catherine was encouraged by this consideration on the part of the king.
She professed her faith in the Gospel unreservedly, and boldly took up the cause of the evangelicals. Her one desire was to make known the truth to the king, and to bring him to the feet of Jesus Christ to find forgiveness for the errors of his life. Without regard to consequences she allowed her overflowing zeal to have free and unrestricted course. She longed to transform not the king alone, but England also. She often exhorted the king ‘that as he had, to the glory of God and his eternal fame, begun a good and a godly work in banishing that monstrous idol of Rome, so he would thoroughly perfect and finish the same, cleansing and purging his church of England clean from the dregs thereof, wherein as yet remained great superstition.’ f439 Was the passionate Henry going to act rigorously towards this queen as he had towards the others? Catherine’s blameless conduct, the affection which she testified for him, her respectful bearing, her unwearied endeavor to please him, the attentions which she lavished on him, had so much endeared her to him that he allowed her the privilege of being freespoken; and had it not been for the active opposition of its enemies, she might have propagated the Gospel throughout the kingdom. As these determined enemies of the Reformation were beginning to fear the total ruin of their party, they strove to rekindle the evil inclinations of Henry VIII., and to excite his anger against Catherine. In their view it seemed that the boldness of her opinions must inevitably involve her ruin.
But the matter was more difficult than they thought. The king not only loved his wife, but he also liked discussion, especially on theological subjects; and he had too much confidence in his own cleverness and knowledge to dread the arguments of the queen. The latter therefore continued her petty warfare, and in respectful terms advanced good scriptural proofs in support of her faith. Henry used to smile and take it all in good part, or at least never appeared to be offended. Gardiner, Wriothesley and others who heard these discourses were alarmed at them.
They were almost ready to give up all for lost; and trembling for themselves, they renounced their project. Not one of them ventured to breathe a word against the queen either before the king or in his absence.
At length, they found an unexpected auxiliary.
An ulcer burst in the king’s leg, and gave him acute pain which constantly increased. Henry had led a sensual life, and had now become so corpulent, that it was exceedingly difficult to move him from one room to another, He insisted that no one should take notice of his failing powers; and those about him hardly dared to speak of the fact in a whisper. His condition made him peevish; he was restless, and thought that his end was not far off. The least thing irritated him; gloomy and passionate, he had frequent fits of rage. To approach and attend to him had become a difficult task; but Catherine, far from avoiding it, was all the more zealous. Since his illness Henry had given up coming into the queen’s apartments, but he invited her to come to see him; and she frequently went of her own accord, after dinner, or after supper, or at any other favorable opportunity. The thought that Henry was gradually drawing near to the grave filled her heart with the deepest emotion; and she availed herself of every opportunity of bringing him to a decision in favor of evangelical truth. Her endeavors for this end may sometimes have been made with too much urgency. One evening when Wriothesley and Gardiner, the two leaders of the Catholic party, were with the king, Catherine, who ought to have been on her guard, carried away by the ardor of her faith, endeavored to prevail upon Henry to undertake the reformation of the church. The king was hurt. His notion that the queen was lecturing him as a pupil in the presence of the lord chancellor and the bishop of Winchester, increased his vexation. He roughly ‘brake off that matter and took occasion to enter into other talk.’ This he had never before done; and Catherine was surprised and perplexed. Henry, however, did not reproach her, but spoke affectionately, which was certainly on his part the mark of real love. The queen having risen to retire, he said to her as usual, ‘Farewell! sweet heart.’ Catherine meanwhile was disquieted, and felt that keen distress of mind which seizes upon a refined and susceptible woman when she has acted imprudently.
The chancellor and the bishop remained with the king. Gardiner had observed the king’s breaking off the conversation; and he thought, says a contemporary, ‘that he must strike while the iron was hot;’ that he must take advantage of Henry’s ill humor, and by a skilful effort get rid of Catherine and put an end to her proselytism. It was a beaten track; the king had already in one way or another rid himself of four of his queens, and it would be an easy matter to do as much with a fifth.
Henry furnished them with the wished-for opportunity. Annoyed at having been humiliated in the presence of the two lords, he said to them in an ironical tone: ‘A good hearing it is when women become such clerks; and a thing much to my comfort, to come in mine old days to be taught by my wife.’ The bishop adroitly availed himself of this opening, and put forth all his powers and all his malice to increase the anger of the king. He urged that it was lamentable that the queen ‘should so much forget herself as to take upon her to stand in any argument with his Majesty;’ he praised the king to his face ‘for his rare virtues, and especially for his learned judgment in matters of religion, above not only princes of that and other ages, but also above doctors professed in theology.’ He said ‘that it was an unseemly thing for any of his majesty’s subjects to reason and argue with him so malapertly,’ and that it was ‘grievous to him (Gardiner) for his part, and other of his majesty’s counselors and servants to hear the same.’
He added ‘that they all by proof knew his wisdom to be such, that it was not needful for any to put him in mind of any such matters; inferring, moreover, how dangerous and perilous a matter it is…..for prince to suffer such insolent words at his subjects’ hands, who, as they take boldness to contrary their sovereign in words, so want they no will, but only power and strength, to overthwart him in deeds. Besides this, that the religion by the queen so stiffly maintained did not only disallow and dissolve the policy and politic government of princes, but also taught the people that all things ought to be in common.’ The bishop went on to assert that ‘whosoever (saving the reverence due to her for his majesty’s sake) should defend the principles maintained by the queen, deserved death.’ He did not, however, dare, he said, to speak of the queen, unless he were sure that his majesty would be his buckler. But with his majesty’s consent his faithful counselors would soon tear off the hypocritical mask of heresy and would disclose treasons so horrible that his majesty would no longer cherish a serpent in his own bosom.
The lord chancellor spoke in his turn; and the two conspirators did everything they could to stir up the anger of the king against the queen.
They filled his head with a thousand tales, both about herself and about some of her lady-attendants; they told him that they had been favorable to Anne Askew; that they had in their possession heretical books; and that they were guilty of treason as well as of heresy. Suspicion and distrust, to which the king’s disposition was too naturally inclined, took possession of him, and he required his two councilors to ascertain whether any articles of law could be brought forward against the queen, even at the risk of her life. They quitted the king’s presence, promising to make very good use of the commission entrusted to them.
The bishop and the chancellor set to work immediately. They resorted to means of every kind — tricks, intrigues, secret correspondence — for the purpose of making out an appearance of guilt on the part of the queen. By bribing some of her domestics they were enabled to get a catalogue of the books which she had in her cabinet. Taking counsel with some of their accomplices, it occurred to them that if they began by attacking the queen, this step would excite almost universal reprobation. They determined, therefore, to prepare men’s minds by making a beginning with the ladies who enjoyed her confidence, and particularly with those of her own kindred — Lady Herbert, afterwards countess of Pembroke, the queen’s sister, and first lady of her court; Lady Lane, her cousin-german; and Lady Tyrwit, who by her virtues had gained her entire confidence. Their plan was to examine these three ladies on the Six Articles; to institute a rigorous search in their houses with a view to find some ground of accusation against Queen Catherine; and, in case they should succeed, to arrest the queen herself and carry her off by night, in a bark, to the Tower. The further they proceeded with their work of darkness, the more they encouraged and cheered each other on; they considered themselves quite strong enough to strike at once the great blow, and they resolved to make the first attack on the queen. They therefore drew up against her a bill of indictment, which purported especially that she had contravened the Six Articles, had violated the royal proclamation by reading prohibited books, and, in short, had openly maintained heretical doctrine. Nothing was wanting but to get the king’s signature to the bill; for if, without the sanction of this signature, they should cast suspicions on the queen, they would expose themselves to a charge of high treason. f446 Henry VIII. was now at Whitehall; and in consequence of the state of his health he very seldom left his private apartments. But few of his councilors, and these only by special order, were allowed to see him.
Gardiner and Wriothesley alone came to the palace more frequently than usual to confer with him on the mission which he had entrusted to them.
Taking with them their hateful indictment, they went to the palace; were admitted to the king’s presence, and after a suitable introduction they laid before him the fatal document, requesting him to sign it. Henry read it, and took careful note of its contents; then asked for writing materials, and notwithstanding his feebleness he signed it. This was a great victory for the bishop, the chancellor and the Catholic party; and it was a great defeat for the Reformation, apparently the signal for its ruin. Nothing was now wanting but a writ of arrest, and the chancellor of England would send the queen to the Tower. Once there, her situation would be hopeless.
So cleverly had the plot been managed, that during the whole time the queen had neither known nor suspected anything; she paid her usual visits to the king, and had gradually allowed herself to speak to him on religion as she used to do. The king permitted this without gainsaying her; he did not choose to enter into explanations with her. He was, however, ill at ease. The burden was oppressive; and one evening, just after the queen left him, he opened his mind to one of his physicians, in whom he placed full confidence, and said: ‘I do not like the queen’s religion, and I do not intend to be much longer worried by the discourses of this doctoress.’ He likewise revealed to the physician the project formed by some of his councilors, but forbade him, upon pain of death, to say a word about it to any living soul. Apparently forgetting the wives whom he had already sacrificed, Henry was thus coolly preparing, at the very time when he was himself about to go down to the grave, to add another victim to the hecatomb.
The queen, although encompassed with deadly enemies who were contriving her ruin, was in a state of perfect calmness, when suddenly there burst upon her one of those heavy squalls which in the twinkling of an eye dash the most powerful vessels against the rocks. The chancellor, contented with his triumph, but at the same time agitated, snatched up the paper which, now bearing the king’s signature, ensured the death of the queen. Vehement passions sometimes distract men and produce absence of mind. In this case it appears that Wriothesley carelessly thrust the paper into his bosom, and dropped it while crossing one of the apartments of the palace. A pious woman of the court, happening to pass that way shortly afterwards, saw the paper and picked it up. Perceiving at the first glance its importance she took it immediately to the queen. Catherine opened it, read the articles with fear and trembling, and as soon as she saw Henry’s signature, was struck as by a thunderbolt, and fell into a frightful agony. Her features were completely changed: she uttered loud cries, and seemed to be in her death-struggle. She too, then, was to lay down her life on the scaffold. All her attentions, all her devotion to the king, had availed nothing; she must undergo the common lot of the wives of Henry VIII. She bewailed her fate, and struggled against it. At other times she had glimpses of her own faults and uttered reproaches against herself, and then her distress and her lamentations increased. Those of her ladies who were present could hardly bear the sight of so woeful a state; and, trembling themselves, and supposing that the queen was about to be put to death, they were unable to offer her consolation. The remembrance of this harrowing scene was never effaced from their minds. f448 Some one brought word to the king that the queen was in terrible distress, and that her life seemed to be in danger. A feeling of compassion was awakened in him, and he sent to her immediately the physicians who were with him. They, finding Catherine in this extremity, endeavored to bring her to herself, and gradually she recovered her senses. The physician to whom Henry had revealed Gardiner’s project, discovering from some words uttered by the queen that the conspiracy was the cause of her anxiety, requested leave to speak to her in private. He told her that he was risking his life by thus speaking to her, but that his conscience would not allow him to take part in the shedding of innocent blood. He therefore confirmed the foreboding of danger which was impending over her; but added that if she henceforward endeavored to behave with humble submission to his majesty, she would regain, he did not doubt, his pardon and his favor.
These words were not enough to deliver Catherine from her disquietude.
Her danger was not concealed from the king; and, unable to endure the thought that she might die of grief, he had himself carried into her room. At the sight of the king Catherine rallied sufficiently to explain to him the despair into which she was thrown by the belief that he had totally, abandoned her. Henry then spoke to her as an affectionate husband, and comforted her with gentle words; and this poor heart, till then agitated like a stormy sea, gradually became calm again. The king could now forget the faults of the queen; but the queen herself did not forget them. She understood that she had habitually assumed a higher position than belonged to a wife, and that the king was entitled to an assurance that this state of things should be changed. After supper the next evening, therefore, Catherine rose and, taking with her only her sister, Lady Herbert, on whom she leaned, and Lady Jane, who carried a light before her, went to the king’s bedchamber. When the three ladies were introduced, Henry was seated and speaking with several gentlemen who stood round him. He received the queen very courteously, and of his own accord, contrary to his usual practice, began to talk with her about religion, as if there was one point on which he wished for further information from the queen. She replied discreetly and as the circumstances required. She then added meekly and in a serious and respectful tone, — ‘Your Majesty doth right well know, neither I myself am ignorant, what great imperfection and weakness by our first creation is allotted unto us women, to be ordained and appointed as inferior and subject unto man as our head; from which head all our direction ought to proceed. And that as God made man in his own shape and likeness, whereby he being endued with more special gifts of perfection, might rather be stirred to the contemplation of heavenly things and to the earnest endeavor to obey his commandments, even so also made he woman of man, of whom and by whom she is to be governed, commanded and directed.….Your majesty being so excellent in gifts and ornaments of wisdom, and I a silly poor woman, so much inferior in all respects of nature unto you, how then cometh it now to pass that your majesty in such diffuse causes of religion will seem to require my judgment? Which when I have uttered and said what I can, yet must I, will I, refer my judgment…..to your majesty’s wisdom, as my only anchor, supreme head and governor here in earth, next under God, to lean unto.’ ‘Not so by St. Mary,’ said the king; ‘you are become a doctor, Kate, to instruct (as we take it), and not to be instructed or directed by us.’ ‘If your majesty take it so,’ replied the queen,’ then hath your majesty very much mistaken me, who have been of the opinion, to think it very unseemly and preposterous for the woman to take upon her the office of an instructor or teacher to her lord and husband, but rather to learn of her husband and be taught by him. And whereas I have, with your majesty’s leave, heretofore been bold to hold talk with your majesty, wherein sometimes in opinions there hath seemed some difference, I have not done it so much to maintain opinion, as I did it rather to minister talk, not only to the end your majesty might with less grief pass over this painful time of your infirmity, being attentive to our talk, and hoping that your majesty should reap some ease thereby; but also that I, hearing your majesty’s learned discourse, might receive to myself some profit thereby; wherein I assure your majesty, I have not missed any part of my desire in that behalf, always referring myself in all such matters unto your majesty, as by ordinance of nature it is convenient for me to do.’ ‘And is it even so?’ answered the king; ‘and tended your arguments to no worse end?
Then perfect friends we are now again, as ever at any time heretofore.’
Then, as if to seal this promise, Henry, who was sitting in his chair, embraced the queen and kissed her. He added: ‘ It does me more good at this time to hear the words of your mouth, than if I had heard present news of a hundred thousand pounds in money had fallen unto me.’
Lavishing on Catherine tokens of his affection and his happiness, he promised her that such misapprehensions with regard to her should never arise again. Then, resuming general conversation, he talked on various interesting subjects with the queen and with the lords who were present, until the night was advanced; when he gave the signal for their departure.
There may possibly have been somewhat of exaggeration in Catherine’s words. She had not been altogether so submissive a learner as she said; but she felt the imperative necessity of entirely dispersing the clouds which the ill will of her enemies had gathered over the king’s mind, and it is not to be doubted that in saying what she did she uttered her inmost thought.
Meanwhile, the queen’s enemies, who had no suspicion of the turn things were taking, gave their orders and made their preparations for the great work of the morrow, which was to confine Catherine in the Tower. The day was fine, and the king wishing to take an airing, went in the afternoon into the park, accompanied only by two of the gentlemen of his bedchamber. He sent an invitation to the queen to bear him company; and Catherine immediately arrived, attended by her three favorite ladies in waiting. Conversation began, but they did not talk of theology. Never had the king appeared more amiable; and his good humor inspired the rest with cheerfulness. In his conversation there was all the liveliness of a frank communicative disposition, and the mirth, it seems, was even noisy. f452 Suddenly, forty halberds were seen gleaming through the park trees. The lord chancellor was at the head of the men, and forty bodyguards followed him. He was coming to arrest the queen and her three ladies and to conduct them to the Tower. The king, breaking off the conversation which entertained him so pleasantly, glanced sternly at the chancellor, and stepping a little aside called him to him. The chancellor knelt down and addressed to the king, in a low voice, some words which Catherine could not understand. She heard only that Henry replied to him in insulting terms, ‘Fool, madman, arrant knave!’ At the same time he commanded the chancellor to be gone. Wriothesley and his followers disappeared. Such was the end of the conspiracy formed against the king’s Protestant wife by Wriothesley, Gardiner, and their friends. Henry then rejoined the queen. His features still reflected his excitement and anger; but as he approached her he tried to assume an air of serenity. She had not clearly understood what was the subject of conversation between the king and the chancellor; but the king’s words had startled her. She received him gracefully and sought to excuse Wriothesley, saying: ‘Albeit I know not what just cause your majesty has at this time to be offended with him, yet I think that ignorance, not will, was the cause of his error; and so I beseech your majesty (if the cause be not very heinous), at my humble suit to take it.’ ‘Ah, poor soul!’ said the king, ‘thou little knowest how evil he deserveth this grace at thy hands.’ f453