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Studies from Court and Cloister: being essays, historical and literary dealing mainly with subjects relating to the XVIth and XVIIth centuries online

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execrable designs."

This is how the "conspiracy" is said to have been discovered: -

"Revealed out of conscience to Andreas ab Habernfeld by an agent sent
from Rome into England by Cardinal Barberini, as an assistant to Conn,
the Pope's late Nuncio, to prosecute this most execrable plot (in which
he persisted a principal actor several years), who discovered it to Sir
William Boswell, his Majesty's agent at the Hague, 6th September 1640.
He, under an oath of secrecy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, among
whose papers it was casually found by Mr. Prynne, May 31, 1643, who
communicated it to the king, as the greatest business that ever was put
to him."

Events had succeeded each other with alarming significance. Nothing was
too wild for the Puritans to invent or to believe, and it had been
found impossible to uphold Conn in the position of papal envoy to the
Queen. After nearly three years' service, he had consequently been
withdrawn, and in August 1639, Count Carlo Rosetti was sent to lead the
forlorn hope of the English Catholics. His first impression of the
state of the country and of the future of Catholicism in England was
hopeful. "I have found," he wrote to Cardinal Barberini, "in all
persons a better disposition and a readiness towards the affairs of
religion in general, and an obedience full of reverence towards the
particular person of his Holiness our Sovereign, and of your Eminence."
Windebank was fairly amenable, but Laud had pinned his faith to the
Church of England, and was no more favourable to the Catholics than to
the Puritans. He opposed Rosetti in every possible way, burned Catholic
books publicly, and threw all his weight and influence in Parliament on
the side that favoured the enforcing of the penal statutes. Meanwhile,
the Queen was not idle, and had pleaded successfully with the King for
her persecuted coreligionists, so that Rosetti was able to report,
"Through the grace of God, all the priests and Catholics are at last
released from prison, to their extreme consolation."

Nevertheless, there was scarcely any further talk of the nation's
return to the bosom of the Church; all that was now hoped for was, that
if the King could be got to act with some degree of firmness and
consistency, the cause of the unhappy Catholics might not yet be
altogether lost. Rosetti drew, as far as it went, a life-like portrait
of Charles in one of his letters:

"The King," he says, "is very high-minded; but having no sincere,
experienced, and capable persons to assist him, he is often either
agitated or changeable, and undecided in the administration of affairs.
He has great parts, and much benevolence, is by nature gentle and
moderate, and with regard to morals, is singular among princes. It is
not possible to exaggerate his love of justice; in the exercise of this
virtue he is little accessible to compassion, but at the same time, he
is no friend of capital punishment. Honesty is one of the strongest
points in his character, but not being surrounded with trustworthy
ministers, it often happens that he neglects the interests of the
State, and gives himself up to hunting, which is his favourite
occupation and amusement."

But the Puritans were fast gaining the upper hand; Parliament haggled
with the King over the supplies, and frightful scenes were enacted in
the churches.

"Last Sunday morning," wrote Rosetti, "many Protestants and Puritans
being assembled at church to celebrate their sacrament, it came to a
great contest between them; some were determined to communicate
sitting, others kneeling. From words they passed to blows, causing much
disturbance."

The other day, a large number of Puritans went into a Protestant
Church, and upset the altars which stood against the wall with rails in
front of them, where people were going to Communion in the Catholic
manner. They took possession of twelve statues representing the twelve
apostles, and carried them with cries and tumult into the Parliament."

On another occasion he wrote: -

"The Archbishop of Canterbury persecutes the Catholics more than ever.
On the vigil of Pentecost, I am told by a trustworthy person, he threw
himself at the King's feet, beseeching him to proceed against the
Catholic religion, at least from political interests, if not from
conscientious motives."

Laud was terrified. All that he had done to imitate Catholicism he now
undid, as far as he was able, in order, if possible, to pacify the
Puritans. The order to bow at the holy Name was revoked, the
communion-tables were replaced in the middle of the churches, and from
being called altars were renamed tables. The altar rails were
abolished, and the people communicated after the Calvinist manner. A
quantity of Catholic books were ostentatiously burned in a public
square, and the state of affairs looked less like reunion with Rome
than ever.

But all that Laud did availed him nothing; the disturbances continued
in the churches, and scarcely a service was held without a quarrel
arising as to the manner of conducting it, some fighting for one
posture, some for another.

Neither did the Archbishop become more popular with the multitude. A
courageous stand against the Puritans might have inspired them with
some respect for their enemy; yielding to them from fear only made them
more formidable. Sometimes the High Church party would still score a
victory here and there. A Puritan holding forth one day in Westminster
Abbey, with the usual flow of epithets, on the difference between the
Catholic religion and that of the Puritans, the Bishop of Lincoln rose,
and declared that his language was unbecoming in a pulpit, put an end
to the sermon, and forced the preacher to come down.

But these triumphs were rare; few of the king's men were as bold as the
Bishop of Lincoln. All seemed to be painfully busy in saving their
skins, while the Parliamentarians complained loudly and efficaciously
that Charles had allowed the primate to foist a new religion upon them.
Through the primate they proceeded to attack the King. Placards began
to appear all over London, with declarations to the effect that the
people were determined to enjoy the liberty with which they were born,
and to maintain the integrity of their religious worship. One of these
placards was discovered one morning nailed to the gate of the royal
palace at Whitehall. On it were these words: "Charles and Maria, doubt
not but that the archbishop must die!"

Charles's authority had disappeared with his dignity, and the parsimony
of successive Parliaments had impoverished the royal family to so great
an extent that the want of money was not the least of their troubles.
At one time they were reduced to such straits that hunger would have
stared them in the face but for the alternative of pawning their
jewels. In these circumstances it is scarcely surprising that Charles
should have turned to the Pope for help.

The following letter from Rosetti to the Cardinal, if somewhat
discursive, is interesting as the record of a kind of sommation
respectueuse which he now made to the King: -

"Oatlands, August 10/25, 1640.

"Your Eminence's letters of the 30th June and the 7th July having
reached me, I did not omit to speak to Mr. Windebank on the subject of
his Majesty's conversion, and of the succour in the shape of men and
money that will be sent to him from Rome in the event of its taking
place. After some talk about the present state of the King's affairs,
Mr. Windebank asked me whether I had received letters from Rome
relating to the proposal he had already made me. I replied that I had,
and that your Eminence was extremely well-disposed towards this
country, sympathising deeply with his Majesty in his troubles, caused
by the disobedience and faithlessness of the Puritans. This led to my
saying that a State could not possibly be either happy or secure unless
united, and that unity was impossible without one uniform religion. I
then put forward the indisputable fact, that a prince whose subjects
profess one faith alone is beyond compare more powerful than a
sovereign whose people are split up into various religions, and that
the many sects in this realm, opposed to every form of political
government, ought to make his Majesty pause, and reflect on the remedy.

"I added that in reality there was no other remedy than for the King,
with all his Protestants, to embrace our holy religion, when forming
one body with the Catholic party, they would be strong enough to keep
the Puritans in check.

"On the other hand, it was, I said, only too evident, that if measures
were not taken to repress them, they would grow so powerful as to
imperil one day the very existence of monarchy in England. Every hour
it became, I held, more apparent how little they were in touch with the
King, and how determined they were never to rest till they had
introduced popular government in some form or other.

"Here I digressed, in order to point out how often King James, his
Majesty's father, had found himself in danger of losing his life by the
machinations of the Puritans, having been menaced by them even before
he saw the light of day. I then went on to point out that King Charles
was placed in the very same danger, and his kingdom reduced to such a
state of discord and weakness, that he must fear daily to find himself
and his crown the prey of his worst enemies.

"The Puritans have always been, and ever will be, intent on upsetting
all kingly authority. Such is the rebellious spirit of their Calvinism,
that it aims at nothing less than the total destruction of the King and
of the Catholic religion.

"I then spoke of the greatness which would accrue to England if the
King's conversion were brought about, dwelling not only on the
advantageous relationships he might form, in disposing of the Prince
and Princess in marriage, but also on the disputes perpetually taking
place between France and Spain, in which his Majesty would be the
recognised arbitrator and peacemaker. Neither country would have the
temerity to offend him, on account of the power he would possess to
harm them, having the supreme Pontiff on his side."

Rosetti here proceeds to define, somewhat lengthily, the exact position
of a Catholic King of England in European politics, and the kind of
prestige he would acquire if he embraced a religion to which he was
already partially inclined. Then, speaking of the King more personally,
he went on: -

"If, having considered all these things, his Majesty comes to a decided
resolution, he should not delay putting it into effect from fear of the
consequences. Henry VIII. risked more in his unholy determination to
destroy the Catholic religion, which had flourished in this country
with such pious results for so many centuries. I insisted that it was
time his Majesty made an end of his ambiguousness and hesitation, and
that he should once for all fix his mind, there being nothing more
injurious than leisurely deliberation when a man has need of prompt
decision and action. I told Mr. Windebank further, that the King's
procrastination was simply putting the sceptre into the hands of the
Puritans, was ruining the State, his children, and himself, and that a
really wise prince not only provides for the safety of his kingdom
during his own life-time, but orders things in such a manner that at
his death he secures his inheritance to his posterity.

"His Majesty, I declared, could take no step more just and more
pleasing to God than by restoring to this country its ancient religion,
professed by his ancestors, and I believed that this King, so good, so
just, and so virtuous in many ways, was appointed by divine Providence
for the great work.

"The King was, I said, already armed; help might confidently be
expected to flow in from Ireland, through the devotion and loyalty of
that people, and his Holiness would moreover assist him with men and
money.

"Finally, I showed the necessity of this union, for the salvation of
souls, a point which I ought to have begun with, it being certain that
none can be saved out of the bosom of the Catholic Church. Of this the
Nicaean Council speaks in the great creed, in unam sanctam Catholicam
Ecclesiam et Apostolicam, in which Protestants believe as we do, and
yet it is not said that there are two or more churches.

"Confessing as they do that ours is the Catholic Church, they
contradict their own belief in the said creed; and not only this, but
the ancient Fathers, and the Holy Scriptures agree that the Church of
God is one.

"Having added many other things to this proposition, I said that if one
examined the reasons which induced Henry VIII. to give up the Church,
one would find that they had no other origin than in sensuality and
spleen - false and unworthy pretexts.

"I ended by declaring that whoever considers a matter so important as
is the salvation of souls, ought to have his eyes well open, and not
consent to the errors of that king, whose actions are condemned and
abhorred by all.

"Mr. Windebank replied that he had listened to me with pleasure, and
had weighed all my reasons, finding them very true; but that for the
accomplishment of an undertaking so momentous, a large heart and a
strong will were indispensable, and these he could not at present
promise me. He told me in confidence that never until now had
negotiations of such importance passed through his hands, to be
followed by so few results. One day the King would have recourse to an
expedient, and the next would stultify it, with the greatest
inconstancy imaginable. Nevertheless, he assured me that he would not
fail to repeat all I had said, to his Majesty at the first opportunity.

". . . The matter is indeed so grave, that one rather hopes in the
sovereign power of God than in any human help. Still, we must be ready,
for His Divine Majesty often makes use of us creatures to bring forth
works which shall redound to His service.

"I observed both with Father Philip and Mr. Windebank all the caution
that such an important undertaking demands. May God who gives and who
takes away realms, who changes and governs them as He pleases,
enlighten the King's mind, that he may know what he should do for the
salvation of his own soul and the souls of all his people."

In 1641 many letters were written and received by Count Rosetti,
relating to the freedom of conscience to be granted to Catholics, in
return for a sum of 600 scudi. But freedom of conscience was still one
of the unfulfilled conditions of the king's marriage settlement, and
the Pope, it was objected, could not treat with an heretical sovereign.

"Only in the event of the King's conversion," wrote Cardinal Barberini,
21st February 1641, "would it be possible for me to entreat His
Holiness to send a considerable sum of money."

On the 19th July of the same year, Rosetti wrote: -

"I told him (Father Philip) that the only way to obtain help from the
Holy See was by His Majesty's return to the Catholic Church. He
answered that such a step would be extremely difficult at present, not
because the King had any dislike to Catholicism, neither did he wish to
prevent Catholics from saving their souls; but that it was evident if
he changed his religion just now, he would run great risk of losing his
crown and his life. But if he were enabled to recover his power and
authority, the Catholic cause would be strengthened by supporting him,
and his conversion might then be confidently looked forward to.

"The Queen Mother told me that in speaking of certain miracles
performed by the saint in whose honour the processions are being made
just now at Antwerp, she observed the King listening attentively,
seeming to have a decided taste for the Catholic religion. She however
admitted, that although he appears to have great natural capacity, and
to understand the critical state of his affairs, he is, as they say,
timid, slow, and irresolute."

Charles I. never went any further than the cultivation of "a decided
taste for the Catholic religion," and what would have happened had he
really thrown himself into the arms of the Pope must remain one of
those curious and unsolvable historical problems with which the world
is full.

Would the Papacy, still a great force in Europe, have been able to save
him from the terrible fate that awaited him?

Obliged to act from definite, logical principles in the place of his
mischievous theory of the royal prerogative, would he have gained in
moral weight as well as in the material advantages held out to him?

It may be answered that the Puritans were as little inclined to
tolerate an infallible Pope whom they hated and feared, as an
infallible king whom they could drive into a corner; and possibly the
King would only have died in another cause.

Under a portrait of Charles I., painted in the fortieth year of his
age, in which he is represented as grave, troubled, and with a scared
and hunted look in his eyes, Prynne wrote these lines: -

"All flesh is grass, the best men vanity,
This, but a shadow, here before thine eye,
Of him whose wondrous changes clearly show
That God, not man, sways all things here below."


PART II

I. THE RUNIC CROSSES OF NORTHUMBRIA

There is at the Victoria and Albert Museum at South Kensington a
remarkable plaster cast, the facsimile of one of the two beautiful
obelisks of Anglo-Saxon workmanship, which like far-reaching voices
speak to us across the gulf of at least nine centuries.

The interest which surrounds these ancient crosses is of a twofold
nature. There is the marvellous art expressed in the sculptured stones
themselves, and there is the mysterious charm of the runes with which
the stones are inscribed. The art is of a very high order, and in the
opinion of archaeologists such as Haigh, Kemble, Professor Stephens,
and others, better than anything of the kind produced in mediaeval
times, before the beginning of the thirteenth century.

The kingdom of Northumbria extended at its most flourishing period as
far north as Edinburgh, so named after the great Northumbrian King,
Edwin, its southern limit being, as its name implied, the river Humber.
Thus, the Ruthwell Cross in Dumfriesshire, and the Bewcastle Cross in
Cumberland, belonged alike to Anglia; for although Dumfries formed part
of the kingdom of Strathclyde, the territory to the east of Nithsdale
was generally reckoned a part of Northumbria, and if we were less
hampered by our modern geographical limits and boundaries, we should
better realise that the land north and south of the Tweed was one and
the same country, without distinction of race or language. And as if in
solemn protest of the political barriers, which were set up in the
course of ages, these two obelisks, the one now in Scotland, the other
in England, continue to point heavenwards, each bearing upon their
faces the same grand old Northumbrian language, which is the
mother-tongue of all English speaking people.

Both crosses have been, down to the present day, the subject of much
diversity of opinion among antiquaries, first with regard to their
respective ages, and secondly as to the authorship of the inscriptions
on the Ruthwell Cross. The celebrated Danish antiquary, Dr. Muller,
considered that the Ruthwell Cross could not be older than the year
1000, and he arrived at this conclusion by a study of the
ornamentation, which he placed as late as the Carlovingian period, the
style having been imported from France into England. Muller, however,
though a good archaeologist, was not a runic scholar, and Professor
George Stephens maintained* that not ornamentation merely, but a
variety of other things must also be taken into consideration, and that
these are often absolute and final, so that sometimes the object itself
must date the ornamentation. Then Dr. Haigh, who had passed his life in
the study of the oldest sculptured and inscribed stones of Great
Britain and Ireland, stepped in and pronounced "this monument (the
Ruthwell Cross) and that of Bewcastle to be of the same age and the
work of the same hand; and the latter must have been erected A.D.
664-5."*

* Old Northern Runic Monuments, Afterwrit, p. 431,


He was led to this conclusion not by the ornamentation, but rather in
spite of it; and in consideration of the runic inscriptions, which he
declared had not only passed out of date on funeral monuments as late
as the year 1000, but as he read the name of Alcfrid on the Bewcastle
Cross, he inferred both that and the Ruthwell Cross to be productions
of the latter half of the seventh century. The inscription, of which we
will treat more particularly later on, is to the effect that the
obelisk was raised to the memory of Alcfrid, son of that King of
Northumbria, who decided to celebrate Easter according to the Roman
precept. Alcfrid died about the year 664, and thus when we consider the
similarity of the ornamentation, and the character of the runes on both
obelisks, there seemed good reason for the above inference.

Dr. Haigh further remarked that the scroll-work on the east side of the
Bewcastle monument, and on the two sides of that at Ruthwell was
identical in design, and differed very much from that which he found on
other Saxon crosses. In fact, he knew of nothing like it, except small
portions on a fragment of a cross in the York museum, on another
fragment preserved in Yarrow Church, and on a cross at Hexham. There
are, however, several other such stones which were unknown to Dr.
Haigh, and engravings of them may be seen in Dr. John Stuart's
magnificent work on The Sculptured Stones of Scotland.

At Carew, in Pembrokeshire, runic crosses of the Saxon period without
figures may be seen, and there is a runic cross at Lancaster with
incised lines and a pattern in relief, supposed to be of the fifth or
sixth century. The sculptured stones of Meigle in Scotland have no
runes. Runes were, as it is well known, the characters used by the
Teutonic tribes of northwest Europe before they received the Latin
alphabet. They are divided into three principal classes, the
Anglo-Saxon, the Germanic, and the Scandinavian, bearing the same
relation to each other as do the different Greek alphabets. Their
likeness to each other is so great that a common origin may be ascribed
to all. They date from the dim twilight of paganism, but were for a
time employed in the service of Christianity, when after being imported
into this country where they were first used in pagan inscriptions cut
into the surface of rocks, or on sticks for casting lots, or for
divination, they were at last made to express Christian ideas on grave
crosses or sacred vessels.

"In times," says Kemble,* "when there was neither pen, ink, nor
parchment the bark of trees and smooth surfaces of wood or soft stone
were the usual depositaries of these symbols or runes - hence the name
run-stafas, mysterious staves answering to the Buchstaben of the
Germans.

* Archaeologia, vol. xxviii. On Anglo-Saxon Runes.


We may observe in passing, that the word Buchstaben, beech-staves, is a
direct descendant of these wooden runes.

As early as 1695 antiquaries were busy with the Ruthwell Cross, but at
the beginning of the nineteenth century profound ignorance still
reigned in regard even to the language which the runes were intended to
convey. Bishop Gibson, in his additions to Camden's Britannia,
described the cross vaguely as "a pillar curiously engraven with some
inscription upon it." In a second edition this reads, "with a Danish
inscription." Later it was thought to be Icelandic, and it was Haigh
who first thought that Caedmon and no other was the author of the runic
verses which he deciphered, considering that there was no one living at
the period to which he assigned the monument, who could have composed
such a poem but the first of all the English nation to express in verse
the beginning of created things.

In 1840, Kemble published his Runes of the Anglo-Saxons, showing that
the Ruthwell Cross was a Christian monument, and that the inscription
was nothing less than twenty lines of a poem in Old Northumbrian or
North English.

Meanwhile, in 1822, a German scholar, Dr. Friedrich Blume, had
discovered in the cathedral library at Vercelli in the Milanese six
Anglo-Saxon poems of the early part of the eleventh century, which
discovery aroused great interest both in Germany and in England. Blume
copied the manuscript, and Mr. Benjamin Thorpe printed and published
it. The learned philologist Grimm again printed the longest of the
poems in 1840, but it was Kemble who identified the fourth poem of the
series The Dream of the Rood with the runic inscription on the Ruthwell


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Online LibraryJ.M. StoneStudies from Court and Cloister: being essays, historical and literary dealing mainly with subjects relating to the XVIth and XVIIth centuries → online text (page 16 of 28)