1546 — JANUARY, 1547
WEIGHTY consequences followed the miscarriage of the conspiracy formed against the queen. It had been aimed at the queen and the Reformation; but it turned against Roman Catholicism and its leaders. The proverb was again fulfilled, — whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein. The wind changed; Romanism suffered an eclipse, it was no longer illumined by the sun of royalty. The first to fall into disgrace with Henry VIII. was, as we have seen, Wriothesley. The king displayed his coolness in various ways. The chancellor, disquieted and alarmed for his own pecuniary interests, was annoyed to see preparations for establishing a new Court of Augmentations, by which his privileges and emoluments would be lessened. He earnestly entreated the king that it might not be established in his time. ‘I shall have cause,’ he wrote on October 16, ‘to be sorry in my heart during my life, if the favor of my gracious master shall so fail, that partly in respect of his poor servant he do not somewhat of his clemency temper it. Thus I make an end, praying God long to preserve his Majesty.’ In spite of all his efforts, he lost the royal favor, and the new court which he so much dreaded was erected.
A still heavier blow fell upon Gardiner. After the reconciliation between Henry and Catherine, he was obliged to abstain from making his appearance at the court. On December 2, he wrote to the king: ‘I am so bold to molest your Majesty with these very letters, which be only to desire your Highness, of your accustomed goodness and clemency, to be my good and gracious lord, and to continue such opinion of me as I have ever trusted and, by manifold benefits, certainly known your Majesty to have had of me.…declare mine inward rejoice of your highness’ favor, and that I would not willingly offend your Majesty for no worldly thing.’ This man, at other times so strong, now saw before him nothing but disgrace and became excessively fearful. He might be overtaken by a long series of penalties. Who could tell whether Henry, like Ahasuerus of old, would not inflict upon the accuser the fate which he had designed for the accused?
The bishop, restless, wrote to Paget, secretary of state: ‘I hear no specialty of the king’s majesty’s miscontentment in this matter of lands, but confusedly that my doings should not be well taken.’ f456 No answer to either of these two letters is extant. Towards the end of December, the king excluded Gardiner from the number of his executors and from the council of regency under his successor, Edward; and this involved a heavy loss of honor, money, and influence. Henry felt that for the guardianship of his son and of his realm, he must make his choice between Cranmer and Gardiner. Cranmer was selected. It was in vain that Sir Antony Browne appealed to him, and requested him to reinstate the bishop of Winchester in this office. ‘If he be left among you,’ said the king, ‘he would only sow trouble and division. Don’t speak of it.’ The conspiracy against the queen was not the sole, although it was the determining, cause of Gardiner’s disgrace. f457 This, however, was but the beginning of the storm. The first lord of the realm and his family were about to be attacked. If Henry no longer struck to the right, he struck to the left; but he dealt his blows without intermission; in one thing he was ever consistent, cruelty.
In addition to the suffering caused by his disease, the king was oppressed by anxiety at the thought of the ambition and rebellion which might snatch the crown from his son and create disturbances in the kingdom after his death. The court was at this time divided into two parties. One of these was headed by the duke of Norfolk, who, owing to his position as chief of the ancient family of the Howards, allied even to the blood royal, was next to the king the most influential man in England. He had long been lord treasurer, and had rendered signal services to the crown. Opposed to this party was that of the Seymours, who had not hitherto played any great part, but who now, as uncles to the young prince, found themselves continually advancing in esteem and authority. Norfolk was the chief of the Catholic party; and a great number of evangelical Christians had been burnt while he was at the head of the government. His son, the earl of Surrey, was likewise attached to the doctrines of the Middle Ages, and was even suspected of having associated in Italy with Cardinal Pole. The Seymours, on the other hand, had always shown themselves friendly to the Reformation; and while Norfolk supported Gardiner, they supported Cranmer. It appeared inevitable that, after the king’s death, war would break out between these chiefs, and what would happen then? The more Henry’s strength declined, the more numerous became the partisans of the Seymours. The sun was rising for the uncles of the young prince, and was setting for Norfolk. The duke, perceiving this, made advances to the Seymours. He would have liked his son to marry the daughter of the earl of Hertford, and his daughter, widow of the duke of Richmond, the natural son of the king to marry Sir Thomas Seymour. But neither Surrey nor the duchess were disposed to the match. There was therefore nothing to expect but a vigorous conflict; and the king chose that the victory of the one party and the defeat of the other should be determined in his lifetime and through his intervention. To which of the two parties would the king give the preference? He had always leaned for support upon Norfolk, and the religious views of this old servant were his own. Would he separate from him at this critical moment? After having from the first resisted the Reformation, would he, on the brink of the grave, give it the victory? The past had belonged to Roman Catholicism; should the future belong to the Gospel? Should his death belie his whole life? The infamous conspiracy formed against the queen by the Catholic party would not have been enough to induce the king to adopt so strange a resolution. A circumstance of another kind occurred to determine his course.
At the beginning of December 1546, Sir Richard Southwell, who was afterwards a member of the privy council under Queen Mary, gave the king a warning that the powerful family of the Howards would expose his son to great danger. Before the birth of Edward, Norfolk had been designated as one of the claimants of the crown. His eldest son was a young man of great intelligence, high spirit and indomitable courage, and excelled in military exercises. To these qualifications he added the polish of a courtier, fine taste and an ardent love for the fine arts; his contemporaries were charmed by his poems; and he was looked upon as the flower of the English nobility. These brilliant endowments formed a snare for him. ‘His head,’ people said to the king,’ is filled with ambitious projects.’ He had borne the arms of Edward the Confessor in the first quarter, which the king alone had the right to do; if, it was added, he has refused the hand of the daughter of the earl of Hertford, it is because he aspires to that of the princess Mary; and if he should marry her after the death of the king, prince Edward will lose the crown.
The king ordered his chancellor to investigate the charges against the duke of Norfolk and his son, the earl of Surrey; and Wriothesley ere long presented to him a paper, in the form of questions, in his (Wriothesley’s) own handwriting. The king read it attentively, pen in hand, hardly able to repress his anger, and underlined with a trembling hand those passages which appeared to him the most important. The following sentences are specimens of what he read: — If a man coming of the collateral line to the heir of the crown, who ought not to bear the arms of England but on the second quarter…do presume…. to bear them in the first quarter,…..how this man’s intent is to be judged... ‘If a man compassing with himself to govern the realm do actually go about to rule the king, and should for that purpose advise his daughter or sister to become his harlot, thinking thereby to bring it to pass…..what this importeth. ‘If a man say these words, — If the king die, who should have the rule of the prince but my father or I? what it importeth.’ f458 On Saturday, December 12, the duke and the earl were separately arrested and taken to the Tower, one by land, the other by the river, neither of them being aware that the other was suffering the same fate. The king had often shown himself very hasty in a matter of this kind; but in this case he was more so than usual. He had not long to live, and he desired that these two great lords should go before him to the grave. The same evening the king sent Sir Richard Southwell, Sir John Gate, and Wymound Carew to Kenninghall, in Norfolk, a principal seat of the family, about eighty miles from London. They traveled as swiftly as they could, and arrived at the mansion by daybreak on Tuesday. They had orders to examine the members of the family, and to affix seals to the effects.
The Howard family, unhappily for itself, was deeply divided. The duchess of Norfolk, daughter of the duke of Buckingham, all irritable and passionate woman, had been separated from her husband since 1533, and apparently not without reason. She said of one of the ladies who were in attendance on her, Elizabeth Holland, — ‘This woman is the cause of all my unhappiness.’ There was a certain coolness between the earl of Surrey and his sister, the duchess of Richmond, probably because the latter leaned to the side of the Reformation. Surrey had also had a quarrel with his father, and he was hardly yet reconciled to him. A house divided against itself will not stand. The members of the family, therefore, accused each other; the duchess, it may be believed, did not spare her husband, and the duke called his son a fool. When Sir Richard Southwell and his two companions arrived at Kenninghall on Tuesday morning, they caused all the doors to be securely closed so that no one might escape; and after having taken some evidence of the almoner, they requested to see the duchess of Richmond, the only member of the family then at the mansion, and Mistress Elizabeth Holland, who passed for the duke’s favorite.
These ladies had only just risen from their beds, and were not ready to make their appearance. However, when they heard that the king’s envoys requested to see them, they betook themselves as quickly as possible to the dining-room. Sir John Gate and his friends informed them that the duke and the earl had just been committed to the Tower. The duchess, deeply moved at this startling news, trembled and almost fainted away. She gradually recovered herself, and kneeling down humbled herself as though she were in the king’s presence. She said: ‘Although nature constrains me sore to love my father, whom I have ever thought to be a true and faithful subject, and also to desire the well-doing of his son my natura! brother, whom I note to be a rash man, yet for my part I would nor will hide or conceal anything from his Majesty’s knowledge, specially if it be of weight.’ The king’s agent searched the house of the duchess of Richmond, inspected her cabinets and her coffers, but they found nothing tending to compromise her. They found no jewels, for she had parted with her own to pay her debts. Next, they visited Elizabeth Holland’s room, where they found much gold, many pearls, rings and precious stones; and of these they sent a list to the king. They laid aside the books and manuscripts of the duke; and the next day by their direction the duchess of Richmond and Mistress Holland set out for London, where they were to be examined.
Mistress Holland was examined first. She deposed that the duke had said to her ‘that the king was sickly, and could not long endure; and the realm like to be in an ill case through diversity of opinions.’ The duchess of Richmond deposed ‘that the duke her father would have had her marry Sir Thomas Seymour, brother to the earl of Hertford, which her brother also desired, wishing her withal to endear herself so into the king’s favor, as she might the better rule here as others had done; and that she refused.’ f460 This deposition appears to corroborate one of the charges brought against Norfolk by the chancellor. Nevertheless, the supposition that a father, from ambitious motives, could urge his daughter to consent to incestuous intercourse is so revolting, that one can hardly help asking whether there really was anything more in the case than all exercise of the natural influence of a daughter-in-law over her father-in-law. The duchess corroborated the accusation touching the royal arms borne by Surrey, his hatred of the Seymours, and the ill which he meditated doing them after the king’s death; and she added that he had urged her not to carry too far the reading of the Holy Scriptures.
Various other depositions having been taken, the duke and his son were declared guilty of high treason (January 7). On the 13th, Surrey was tried before a jury at Guildhall. He defended himself with much spirit; but he was condemned to death; and this young nobleman, only thirty years of age, the idol of his countrymen, was executed on Tower Hill, January 21. Public feeling was shocked by this act of cruelty, and everyone extolled the high qualities of the earl. His sister, the duchess of Richmond, took charge of his five children, and admirably fulfilled her duty as their aunt. f462 The king was now dangerously ill, but he showed no signs of tenderness.
People said that he had never hated nor ruined anyone by halves; and he was determined, after the death of the eldest son, to sacrifice the father.
Norfolk was very much surprised to find himself a prisoner in the Tower, to which he had consigned so many prisoners. He wrote to the lords to let him have some books, for he said that unless he could read he fell asleep.
He asked also for a confessor, as he was desirous of receiving his Creator; and for permission to hear mass and to walk outside his apartment in the daytime. At the age of seventy-three, after having taken the lead in the most cruel measures of the reign of Henry VIII., from the death of Anne Boleyn to the death of Anne Askew, he now found that the day of terror was approaching for himself. His heart was agitated, and fear chilled him.
He knew the king too well to have any hope that the great and numerous services which he had rendered to him would avail to arrest the sword already suspended over his head. Meanwhile the prospect of death alarmed him; and in his distress he wrote from his prison in the Tower to his royal master: — ‘Most gracious and merciful sovereign lord, I your most humble subject prostrate at your foot, do most humbly beseech you to be my good and gracious lord.….In all my life I never thought one untrue thought against you or your succession, nor can no more judge or cast in my mind what should be laid to my charge than the child that was born this night.….I know not that I have offended any man…..unless it were such as are angry with me for being quick against such as have been accused for sacramentaries.’ And fancying that he detected the secret motive of his trial, he added: ‘Let me recover your gracious favor, with taking of me all the lands and goods I have, or as much thereof as pleaseth your Highness.’ f463 The charges brought against Norfolk and Surrey were mere pretexts. No notice having been taken of the letter just cited, the old man, who was anxious by any means to save his life, determined to humble himself still further. On January 12, nine days before the death of Surrey, in the hope of satisfying the king, he made, in the presence of the members of the privy council, the following confession: — ‘I, Thomas, duke of Norfolk, do confess and acknowledge myself...to have offended the king’s most excellent majesty, in the disclosing….of his privy and secret counsel….to the great peril of his Highness.….That I have concealed high treason, in keeping secret the false and traitorous act….committed by my son…..against the king’s majesty…..in the putting and using the arms of Edward the Confessor,... in his scutcheon or arms.….Also, that to the peril, slander, and disinherison of the king’s majesty and his noble son, Prince Edward, I have…..borne in the first quarter of my arms…..the arms of England.… Although I be not worthy to have.…..the king’s clemency and mercy to be extended to me,…..yet with a most sorrowful and repentant heart do beseech his Highness to have mercy, pity, and compassion on me.’ f464 All was fruitless; Norfolk must die like the best servants and friends of the king, like Fisher, Sir Thomas More, and Cromwell. But the duke could not be condemned with so little formality as Surrey. The king therefore assembled the parliament; a bill was presented to the House of Lords, and the three readings were hurried through on January 18, 19, 20. The bill, sent down to the Commons, was passed by them, and was sent back on the 24th. Although it was customary to reserve the final step to the close of the session, the king, who was in haste, gave his assent on Thursday the 27th, and the execution of Norfolk was fixed for the morning of the next day. All the preparations for this last act were made during the night; and but a few moments were to intervene before this once powerful man was to be led to the scaffold.
Two victims were now awaiting the remorseless scythe of destiny. Death was approaching at the same time the threshold of the palace and that of the prison. Two men who had filled the world with their renown, who during their lifetime had been closely united, and were the foremost personages of the realm, were about to pass the inexorable gates and to be bound with those bonds which God alone can burst. The only question was which of the two would be the first to receive the final stroke. The general expectation was, no doubt, that Norfolk would be the first, for the executioner was already sharpening the axe which was to smite him.
While the duke, still full of vigorous life, was awaiting in his dungeon the cruel death which he had striven so much to avert, Henry VIII was prostrate on his sick bed at Whitehall. Although everything showed that his last hour was at hand, his physicians did not venture to inform him of it; as it was against the law for anyone to speak of the death of the king.
One might have said that he was determined to have himself declared immortal by act of parliament. At length, however, Sir Antony Denny, who hardly ever left him, took courage and, approaching the bedside of the dying monarch, cautiously told him that all hope, humanly speaking, was lost, and entreated him to prepare for death. The king, conscious of his failing strength, accused himself of various offences, but added that the grace of God could forgive him all his sins. It has been asserted that he did really repent of his errors. ‘Several English gentlemen,’ says Thevet, ‘assured me that he was truly repentant, and among other things, on account of the injury and crime committed against the said queen (Anne Boleyn).’ This is not certain; but we know that Denny, glad to hear him speak of his sins, asked him whether he did not wish to see some ecclesiastic. ‘If I see anyone,’ said Henry, ‘it must be Archbishop Cranmer.’ ‘Shall I send for him?’ said Denny. The king replied: ‘I will first take a little sleep, and then, as I feel myself, I will advise upon the matter.’
An hour or two later the king awoke, and finding that he was now weaker, he asked for Cranmer. The archbishop was at Croydon; and when he arrived the dying man was unable to speak, and was almost unconscious.
However, when he saw the primate, he stretched out his hand, but could not utter a word. The archbishop exhorted him to put all his trust, in Christ and to implore his mercy. ‘Give some token with your eyes or hand,’ he said, ‘that you trust in the Lord.’ The king wrung Cranmer’s hand as hard as he could, and soon after breathed his last. He died at two o’clock in the morning, Friday, January 28, 1547. f466 By Henry’s death Norfolk’s life was saved. The new government declined to begin the new reign by putting to death the foremost peer of England.
Norfolk lived for eight years longer. He spent, indeed, the greater part of it in prison; but for more than a year he was at liberty, and died at last at Kenninghall.
Henry died at the age of fifty-six years. It is no easy task to sketch the character of a prince whose principal feature was inconsistency.
Moreover, as Lord Herbert of Cherbury said, his history is his best portrait. The epoch in which he lived was that of a resurrection of the human mind. Literature and the arts, political liberty, and evangelical faith were now coming forth from the tomb and returning to life. The human mind, since the outburst of bright light which then illumined it, has sometimes given itself up, it must be confessed, to strange errors; but it has never again fallen into its old sleep. There were some kings, such as Henry VIII. and Francis I., who took an interest in the revival of letters; but the greater number were alarmed at the revival of freedom and of faith, and instead of welcoming tried to stifle them. Some authors, and particularly Fox, have asserted that if death had not prevented him, Henry VIII. would have so securely established the Reformation as not to leave a single mass in the kingdom. This is nothing more than a hypothesis, and it appears to us a very doubtful one. The king had made his will two years before his death, when he was setting out for the war with France. In it, his chief object was to regulate the order of succession and the composition of the council of regency; but at the same time it contains positive signs of scholastic Catholicism. In this document the king says: ‘We do instantly desire and require the blessed Virgin Mary his mother, with all the holy company of heaven, continually to pray for us and with us while we live in this world, and in time of passing out of the same.’
Moreover, he ordained that the dean and canons of the chapel royal, Windsor, and their successors for ever, should have two priests to say masses at the altar. The will was rewritten on December 13, 1546; and the members of the Privy Council signed it as witnesses. But the only change which the king introduced was the omission of Gardiner’s name among the members of the council of regency. The passages respecting the Virgin and masses for his soul were retained.
Henry had brought into the world with him remarkable capacities, and these had been improved by education. He has been praised for his application to the business of the State, for his wonderful cleverness, his rare eloquence, his high courage, He has been looked upon as a Maecenas, and pronounced a great prince. His abilities certainly give him a place above the average of kings. He regularly attended the council, corresponded with his ambassadors, and took much pains. In politics he had some clear views; he caused the Bible to be printed; but the moral sentiment is shocked when he is held up as a model. The two most conspicuous features of his character were pride and sensuality; and by these vices he was driven to most blameworthy actions, and even to crimes. Pride led him to make himself head of the church, to claim the right to regulate the faith of his subjects, and to punish cruelly those who had the audacity to hold any other opinions on matters of religion than his own. The Reformation, of which he is assumed to be the author, was hardly a pseudo-reform; we might rather see in it another species of deformation. Claiming autocracy in matters of faith, he naturally claimed the same in matters of state. All the duties of his subjects were summed up by him in the one word obedience; and those who refused to bow the head to his despotic rule Were almost sure to lose it. He was covetous, prodigal, capricious, suspicious; not only was he fickle in his friendships, but on many occasions he did not hesitate to take his victims from amongst his best friends. His treatment of his wives, and especially of Anne Boleyn, condemns him as a man; his bloody persecutions of the evangelicals condemn him as a Christian; the scandalous servility which he endeavored, and not unsuccessfully, to engraft in the nobles, the bishops, the house of commons and the people, condemn him as a king.