J.M. Stone.

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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three godly men in one day. For in July he married the widow of a
nobleman named Latimer, and he is always wont to celebrate his nuptials
by some wickedness of this kind."

But Katharine herself was glad exceedingly, and told Lord Parr that "it
having pleased God to incline the king to take her as his wife, which
is the greatest joy and comfort that could happen to her, she informs
her brother of it as the person who has most cause to rejoice thereat,
and requires him to let her sometimes hear of his health, as friendly
as if she had not been called to this honour."

Wriothesley, in forwarding this letter from the queen, Lord Parr's
"gracious lady and kind sister," doubts not but that he will thank God,
and frame himself to be more and more an ornament to Her Majesty.

The marriage was in every way satisfactory. Katharine was twenty-six,
about one year younger than the Lady Mary, and was by universal fame
reported "a prudent, beautiful, and virtuous lady." The royal family
had reason to be grateful for her influence over the king, whom she
persuaded to restore both Mary and Elizabeth to their rank. To Edward
she was a second mother, and Henry seems to have looked upon her with
something akin to respect, appointing her regent when he crossed the
Channel to invade France in 1544.

She offended him, however, on one occasion, by venturing to express a
difference of opinion on a religious question, and it was said that
articles of heresy were drawn up against her. "A good hearing it is,"
exclaimed Henry, "when women become such clerks; and a thing much to my
comfort to come in mine old days to be taught by my wife! Her prudence
and tact saved her life, if it was ever seriously in danger."

Henry's sordid tragedy was played out on the 28th January 1547, when
the tyrant breathed his last, and left his two wives and two daughters
to unravel the skein which he had so persistently entangled for them.
Katharine Parr took her fate immediately into her own hands, and
thirty-five days after Henry's death, secretly married her former
admirer, Sir Thomas, now Lord Seymour, who was described by Hayward as
"fierce in courage, courtly in fashion, in personage stately, in voice
magnificent, but somewhat empty in matter." The union was not a happy
one, owing mainly to Seymour's intrigues with the Princess Elizabeth, a
circumstance that was thought to have shortened Katharine's life. The
ci-devant queen died at Sudeley Castle, after having given birth to a
daughter, in August 1548, aged thirty-six.

After the one tragic episode in her life, the course of Anne of Cleves
ran smoothly enough. Mary befriended her always, and made her quondam
stepmother a prominent figure at her coronation. She frequently paid
her visits, and treated her with all the respect imaginable. Anne never
left England after her ill-starred arrival, ending her days peacefully
in 1557.


While Edward's Council thought that they had effectually closed every
issue through which news of the king's death might transpire, before
their seditious plans were completed, the Princess Mary was already on
her way into Norfolk, calling all loyal men and true to rally round her
standard. Two Norfolk gentlemen were mainly instrumental in placing her
on the throne. These were Sir Henry Jerningham and the subject of this
memoir, Sir Henry Bedingfeld of Oxburgh, who came in to her assistance
at Framlingham, with 140 well-armed men.

Bedingfeld proclaimed the queen at Norwich, and was afterwards rewarded
for his loyalty with an annual pension of 100 pounds out of the
forfeited estates of Sir Thomas Wyatt. Mary made him a Privy Councillor
and Knight Marshal of her army, and subsequently Lieutenant of the
Tower of London; and Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard, vice Sir Henry
Jerningham. She appointed him custodian of Elizabeth, when that
princess was confined in the Tower and at Woodstock, on suspicion of
being concerned in Wyatt's rebellion; and so little did Elizabeth
resent his severity during the time of her imprisonment, that after her
accession, she addressed him as her "trusty and well-beloved," employed
him in her service, and granted to him the manor of Caldecot in
Norfolk, which still forms part of the Oxburgh estate at the present

He was undoubtedly one of the foremost Englishmen of his day, respected
by two sovereigns, and occupying prominent and honourable positions,
his loyalty being unimpeachable; yet Foxe, the martyrologist, with his
wonted dishonesty, has without the slightest foundation, and so
effectually, blackened his fame, that almost every subsequent writer on
this period has reproduced the calumnies set forth with malice prepense
in the Acts and Monuments.

Strype was the first unquestioning copyist of Foxe; Burnet was the
second; and Sir Reginald Hennell is the most recent.*

* In his volume "The History of the King's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of
the Guard."

Tennyson, in his dramatic poem Queen Mary, also went to Foxe for his
historical data, with the result that, while discarding the more
malicious interpretation of Bedingfeld's character, he has,
nevertheless, passed on to posterity a coarse and grotesque caricature
as though it were a portrait.

A fire broke out at Woodstock in May 1554, and Tennyson choosing to
suppose that Elizabeth suspected foul play, invented the following
absurd dialogue: -

I woke Sir Henry - and he's true to you-
I read his honest horror in his eyes.

Or true to you?

Sir Henry Bedingfeld!
I will have no man true to me, your Grace,
But one that pares his nails; to me? the clown!
For like his cloak, his manners want the nap
And gloss of court; but of this fire he says,
Nay swears, it was no wicked wilfulness,
Only a natural chance.

A chance-perchance
One of those wicked wilfuls that men make,
Nor shame to call it nature.

At the end of a long speech Elizabeth cries

God save the Queen. My jailor -

One, whose bolts,
That jail you from free life, bar you from death.
There haunt some Papist ruffians hereabout
Would murder you.

I thank you heartily, sir,
But I am royal, tho' your prisoner,
And God hath blest or cursed me with a nose -
Your boots are from the horses.

This libel did not, however, pass unchallenged, and the father of the
present baronet wrote to the Poet Laureate the following protest: -

"Sir, - As a great admirer of your genius, I eagerly read your drama
Queen Mary, but was so surprised and pained at the ignoble part which
is allotted to Sir Henry Bedingfeld, that I cannot refrain from
addressing you on the subject. I feel justified in doing so, as I am
the direct descendant of Sir Henry, and date from the house which was
his home.

"The millions who will read Mary Tudor, or witness the play on the
stage, will carry away the impression that my ancestor was a vulgar
yeoman, in some way connected with the stables, whereas he was a man of
ancient lineage, a trusted friend and servant of the queen, who
confided to him in time of danger the Lieutenancy of the Tower, and the
custody of the Princess Elizabeth. This princess so respected Sir
Henry, that although she complained of his severity during her
captivity, she visited him at Oxburgh after her accession to the
throne, and treated him with the greatest consideration. Numerous
documents in my possession, including letters from the Sovereign, from
the Privy Council, arid from the most eminent men of the time, would
prove, were such proof required, the high position held by Sir Henry.

"I trust, therefore, to your feeling of justice that you will, if
possible, either strike out Sir Henry's name from future editions, or
allot to him a more dignified part on the stage, and one which will
convey a more correct view of his character and position. - I am, Sir,
your obedient servant,

"Henry Bedingfeld."

Tennyson's answer to the above, dated from the Isle of Wight, six
months later, though courteous, left the matter almost where it was, so
far as historical accuracy was secured: -

"Sir, - Your letter arrived when I was abroad, else would have been
answered at once; and therefore I waited till the play should be
announced for acting. I had made your ancestor an honest gentleman
though a rough one, as I found him reported to be, whether true or no;
and I regret that you should have been pained by my representation of
him. Now, in deference to your wishes, his name is not once mentioned
on the stage, and he is called in the play-bill merely 'Governor of
Woodstock.' Moreover, I have inserted a line in Elizabeth's part: 'But,
girl, you wrong a noble gentleman.' - I have the honour to be, Sir, your
obedient servant,

"A. Tennyson."

In spite, however, of the best intention on the part of the author, the
American edition of the play, priding itself on being "the only
unmutilated version," preserves the exact wording of the poem.* Thus
has history ever been medicated to suit the prejudices of the
uncritical and the ignorant.

* De Witt's acting plays, No. 181, Queen Mary; a drama. Edited by John
M. Kingdom.

Sir Henry Bedingfeld, who was born in the year 1509, was the grandson
of Sir Edmund Bedingfeld, the favourite of three successive kings,
Edward IV., Richard III., and Henry VII. This same Sir Edmund had
served in the Wars of the Roses, and Edward IV., by letters patent of
the twenty-second year of his reign, granted to him, "for his faithful
service, licence to build towers, walls, and such other fortifications
as he pleased in his manors of Oxburgh, together with a market there
weekly, and a court of pye-powder." He also bestowed on him his own
royal badge the Falcon and Fetterlock. Richard III. made him a Knight
of the Bath, and Henry VII. visited him at Oxburgh. In the third year
of his reign this king granted three manors in Yorkshire, Wold, Newton,
and Gaynton to him and his heirs male for ever, in return for his help
in crushing the rebellion in the north, which patent was renewed and
confirmed by Henry VIII. Sir Edmund died in 1496, and was succeeded by
his only son, another Edmund, who attended Henry VIII. in his foreign
wars, and was knighted for valour by Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk,
on the battle-field, after the taking of Montdidier in 1523. The king
appointed him steward to Katharine of Arragon at Kimbolton. He married
Grace, daughter of Henry, Lord Marny, and by her had four sons, Henry,
Edmund, Anthony, and Humphrey. Henry, who succeeded him in 1533, was
the famous Lieutenant of the Tower, and the "jailor" of the Princess
Elizabeth. Henry's wife was Katharine, daughter of Sir Roger Townshend,
one of the judges of the Court of Common Pleas, and ancestor of the
present Marquis Townshend. Sir Henry Bedingfeld kept up some state at
Oxburgh, having twenty servants in livery, besides those employed in
husbandry. When he was away on the queen's business, the management of
his estate devolved on Dame Katharine, and a letter from this lady
addressed "To the right worshipful, my very good husband," and dated
Oxburgh, October 1554, is a compte rendu of all she had done for his
property during his absence. This document which has had a chequered
career, has lately, with some others, found its way back to the Oxburgh
archives. Another, the draft of which has lately been discovered among
the muniments of this venerable old house, strikes a more pathetic
note, and testifies, to the affectionate dependence with which Lady
Bedingfeld leaned on her lord.

"Lady Bedingfeld to the lords of the Council, praying to have her
husband with her during her confinement: -

My Lords, - Being very near the time of my being brought to bed, and Sir
Henry Bedingfeld in the country, who is very tender in giving any
offence to the Queen's Majesty, this is humbly to beg your Lordships
will be pleased to confirm the order as he may have leave to be with me
till the time of my approaching danger be over, and I shall acknowledge
it as a very great favour done to your Lordships' most humble servant."

On the reverse side of this draft is a recipe for "Lime drinks against
the King's Evil, or any sharp humours."

Although a man does not necessarily write himself down angel or devil,
it is true of most people that their correspondence is a fair
indication of their character, tastes, and habits. The letters written
by and addressed to Sir Henry Bedingfeld reveal him as of the usual
type of country gentlemen of the period, interested in sport and
agriculture, but having also some experience of soldiering. He could be
counted on to raise a troop of horse or foot in an emergency, provided
it were in the service of the lawful sovereign. He made it his business
to become acquainted with the condition of Marshland, in order to
account to the queen for the fealty of those around him; and Elizabeth,
no less than Mary, knew that she could rely on him to uphold her
authority in the eastern Counties, His letters to Mary show that
notwithstanding his frankness, and his freedom from diplomatic
subtlety, his manners did not lack the polish of the courtier. In the
fulfilment of his charge he was ever prudent, cautious, and almost
timid in the matter of accepting responsibility; in no sense covetous
of office, he was yet so scrupulous in the discharge of duty, that he
scarcely ever acted on his own judgment if he could possibly wring
instructions from the Privy Council. His loyalty, uprightness,
courtesy, and modesty, stood him in lieu of more brilliant parts, and
his severity was at all times tempered by that quality of mercy which
"is not strained." To all this must be added his fidelity to his
religion in difficult and dangerous times.

His life after Mary's accession, to which he had materially
contributed, falls naturally into three parts: 1. The period during
which he had the care of the Princess Elizabeth. 2. His term of office
as Lieutenant of the Tower. 3. The twenty-five years after Mary's
death, which he spent for the most part in retirement in Norfolk.

On the 18th March 1554, this portentous missive was delivered to him: -

"My duty remembered, these shall be to advise you that on Friday my
lady Elizabeth was sent to the Tower at 10 of the clock. The Parliament
shall be holden at Westminster on the day aforesaid; and the Queen is
in good health, thanks be to God, who preserve you in much worship.
This Good Friday riding by the way. - Your servant to command,

"Thomas Waters.

"To the right worshipful Sir Henry Bedyngfeld give these, written in

The causes of Elizabeth's arrest were far-reaching. Circumstantial
evidence of her connection with Wyatt's rebellion was not wanting, and
if Mary had been willing to have her sister convicted on that evidence
alone, her head would undoubtedly have fallen on the block. Elizabeth
herself in numerous instances caused blood to flow on far less certain
grounds. But her guilt could not otherwise be brought home, and in her
first Parliament Mary had restored the ancient, constitutional law of
England, by which overt or spoken acts of treason must be proved,
before any English person could be convicted as a traitor.

The case against Elizabeth was this. The French Ambassador, de
Noailles, whose instructions were that he should play upon the popular
discontent in regard to the queen's proposed marriage to Philip of
Spain, in the interest of France, encouraged Elizabeth to associate
herself with the factious, and to become, as it were, the
stalking-horse of the disaffected. She was far too clever to commit
herself to any direct act of rebellion, but de Noailles was prodigal of
her name in all the intrigues that he fostered, and the plot organised
by means of Sir Peter Carew, in Devonshire and Cornwall, had for its
declared object the marriage of Elizabeth to Courtenay, Earl of Devon,
and the placing of these two on the throne. Sir Thomas Wyatt had
meanwhile raised the standard of revolt in the home counties, but
before leaving London for that purpose, he had written a letter to
Elizabeth, urging her for greater safety to retire to her castle of
Donnington. This letter fell into the hands of the Council, as did also
three letters from de Noailles to the French king, directly implicating
Elizabeth in the insurrection, and a copy of the letter which she had
written to Mary, refusing on the plea of illness to obey the queen's
summons to the Court. Lord Russell confessed to having carried
communications between the princess and Wyatt, and that traitor, being
brought to trial, owned that the object of his rising was to secure the
crown for Elizabeth and Courtenay. He subsequently repeated the
statement, adding that the French king had promised them men and money,
and was to attack Calais and Guisnes the moment the rebels were in
possession of London. Whether he really withdrew this accusation of
Elizabeth on the scaffold must always remain doubtful, the testimony of
the sheriffs being in direct contradiction to that of Lord Chandos, who
was also present. It was not until Wyatt had formerly declared
Elizabeth to be conspiring with Henry II. of France, that Mary was at
length convinced of the necessity of securing her person. She repeated
her summons, but not, as Foxe would have us believe, with inconsiderate
cruelty and rough haste. Elizabeth's uncle, Admiral Lord William
Howard, Sir Edward Hastings, and Sir Thomas Cornwallis, were sent to
escort her from Ashridge to Westminster, with two physicians who were
to decide whether she were well enough to travel. She was treated with
uniform courtesy and consideration, and the journey of thirty-three
miles, originally intended to occupy five days, was actually made to
cover a whole week. The imperial ambassador thus describes her
arrival*: -

* State Papers (Domestic), 1554, vol. xxi.; R.O.

"The lady Elizabeth arrived here yesterday, clad completely in white,
surrounded by a great assemblage of servants of the Queen, besides her
own people. Her countenance was pale, her look proud, lofty, and
superbly disdainful, an expression which she assumed to disguise the
mortification she felt. The Queen declined seeing her, and caused her
to be accommodated in a quarter of her palace from which neither she
nor her servants could go out without passing through the guards. Of
her suite, only two gentlemen, six ladies, and four servants are
permitted to wait on her, the rest of her train being lodged in the
city of London. The queen is advised to send her to the Tower, since
she is accused by Wyatt, named in the letters of the French ambassador,
suspected by her own councillors, and it is certain that the enterprise
was undertaken in her favour."*

* Record Office Transcripts (Belgian Archives), printed by Tytler in
his England under the reins of Edward VI. and Mary.

When charged with complicity in the plot, Elizabeth replied that she
knew nothing of it. The members of the Council were divided concerning
her, some maintaining that the legal proof against her was insufficient
to justify her being sent to the Tower, while others were for giving
her short shrift. Mary availed herself of this loophole, and caused
each lord of the Council in succession to be asked to undertake the
custody of the princess in his own house. Not one was willing to accept
the perilous office, and a warrant was therefore made out for her
committal. There was a very general impression at the time, that her
life would have been in danger, but for Mary's determination that the
law should not be infringed at her trial. Nothing could be adduced that
was not already known, and in spite of the emperor's reiterated demands
for her execution, Mary would not have her convicted on the only
evidence obtainable.

It was for Elizabeth's greater safety that the queen appointed Sir
Henry Bedingfeld to be her custodian, and Foxe's absurd description of
Bedingfeld's arrival with his hundred soldiers in blue-coats, and
Elizabeth's terror at the sight, is manifestly a fabrication of the
martyrologist's brain. We have already had a glimpse of Sir Henry's
antecedent history. He had materially contributed to Mary's triumph
over her enemies, and may be said to have been one of the train
instruments in placing the Queen on the throne; he was a distinguished
member of her Privy Council, therefore a public personage, and it is
inconceivable that Elizabeth should have asked who he was, as being "a
man unknown to her Grace," or that her attendants and friends should
have answered that "they were ignorant what manner of man he was." Foxe
himself had betaken himself to foreign parts on Mary's accession, and
may perhaps be pardoned for not knowing, although we find it hard to
forgive him for the baseless fabrication by which he sought to
discredit the queen and all those who served her faithfully.

"About that time," romances Foxe, "it was spread abroad that her Grace
should be carried from thence by this new jolly Captain and his
soldiers; but whither it could not be learned, which was unto her a
great grief, especially for that such a company was appointed to her
guard, requesting rather to continue there still, than to be led thence
with such a sort of rascals. At last plain answer was made by the Lord
Chandos, that there was no remedy but from thence she must needs depart
to the manor of Woodstock."

He goes on to say that on 19th May she was removed from the Tower,
"where Sir Henry Benifield [being appointed her jailor] did receive her
with a company of rake-hells to guard her, besides the Lord Derby's
band, wafting in the country about for moonshine in the water. Unto
whom at length came my Lord of Thame, joined in commission with the
said Sir Henry for the safeguarding of her to prison, and they together
conveyed her Grace to Woodstock, as hereafter followeth. The first day
they conducted her to Richmond, where she continued all night, being
restrained of her own men which were laid in out-chambers, and Sir
Henry Benifield's soldiers appointed in their rooms to give attendance
on her person. Whereat she being marvellously dismayed, thinking verily
some secret mischief to be a-working towards her, called her
gentleman-usher, and desired him with the rest of his company to pray
for her. 'For this night,' quoth she, 'I think to die.' Wherewith, he
being stricken to the heart, said, 'God forbid that any such wickedness
should be pretended against your Grace.' So comforting her as well as
he could, at last he burst out into tears, and went from her down into
the court, where were talking the Lord Thame and Sir Henry Benifield."

We may now dismiss Foxe and his egregious insinuations of foul play,
together with his monstrous inventions of boorishness on the part of
Elizabeth's custodian. In spite of his calumnies, it remains perfectly
clear that Elizabeth had every reason to be thankful that her "jailor"
was faithful to his trust, and that firmness and caution, rather than
weak indulgence, characterised all his conduct towards her. As for his
alleged want of courtesy towards her, there is not a shadow of evidence
to support it; he frequently knelt to address her, and even in speaking
or writing of her, maintained the same deferential mode of expression
as that which he used in her presence.

Each incident of the journey from the Tower to Woodstock is detailed in
Sir Henry's report to the Privy Council. Elizabeth apparently seized
every opportunity of making his difficult task yet more difficult; but
wayward and imperious as her temper often was, nothing in his demeanour
towards her ever approached to disrespect or even impatience. Even she
herself brought no other complaint against her custodian than that of
"scrupulousness" in the discharge of his duty, a charge which is in
itself a magnificent vindication, for the Elizabeth of history was not
one to forgive a man who had failed in the smallest degree to pay her
the homage due to her rank. Moreover, in regard to Sir Henry's
soldiers, no single instance is recorded on either side of misbehaviour
or want of decorum on their part.

In his first letter to the queen after their arrival at Woodstock, Sir
Henry says: -

"My lady Elizabeth's Grace did use [? peruse] the letter which your
Highness sent her, wherein she was right weary, to my judgment, the
occasion rising of the stark style of the same letter, being warpen and
cast. This present day she hath not been very well at ease, as your
Highness's women did declare unto me, and yet at the afternoon she
required to walk, and see another lodging in the house. In the which,
and other her like requests, I am marvellously perplexed to grant her

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 5 of 28)