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HENRY VIII AND HIS COURT

A HISTORICAL NOVEL

By Louise Muhlbach


Translated From German, by H. N. Pierce




CHAPTER I. CHOOSING A CONFESSOR.


It was in the year 1543. King Henry the Eighth of England that day
once more pronounced himself the happiest and most enviable man in his
kingdom, for to-day he was once more a bridegroom, and Catharine Parr,
the youthful widow of Baron Latimer, had the perilous happiness of being
selected as the king's sixth consort.

Merrily chimed the bells of all the steeples of London, announcing to
the people the commencement of that holy ceremony which sacredly bound
Catharine Parr to the king as his sixth wife. The people, ever fond of
novelty and show, crowded through the streets toward the royal palace to
catch a sight of Catharine, when she appeared at her husband's side upon
the balcony, to show herself to the English people as their queen, and
to receive their homage in return.

Surely it was a proud and lofty success for the widow of a petty baron
to become the lawful wife of the King of England, and to wear upon her
brow a royal crown! But yet Catharine Parr's heart was moved with a
strange fear, her cheeks were pale and cold, and before the altar her
closely compressed lips scarcely had the power to part, and pronounce
the binding "I will."

At last the sacred ceremony was completed. The two spiritual
dignitaries, Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, and Cranmer, archbishop
of Canterbury, then, in accordance with court etiquette, led the young
bride into her apartments, in order to bless them, and once more to pray
with her, before the worldly festivities should begin.

Catharine, however, pale and agitated, had yet sustained her part in the
various ceremonies of the day with a true queenly bearing and dignity;
and, as now with head proudly erect and firm step, she walked with a
bishop at either side through the splendid apartments, no one suspected
how heavy a burden weighed upon her heart, and what baleful voices were
whispering in her breast.

Followed by her new court, she had traversed with her companions the
state apartments, and now reached the inner rooms. Here, according to
the etiquette of the time, she must dismiss her court, and only the two
bishops and her ladies of honor were permitted to accompany the queen
into the drawing-room. But farther than this chamber even the bishops
themselves might not follow her. The king himself had written down
the order for the day, and he who swerved from this order in the most
insignificant point would have been proclaimed guilty of high treason,
and perhaps have been led out to death.

Catharine, therefore, turned with a languid smile to the two high
ecclesiastics, and requested them to await here her summons. Then
beckoning to her ladies of honor, she withdrew into her boudoir.

The two bishops remained by themselves in the drawing-room. The
circumstance of their being alone seemed to impress them both alike and
unpleasantly; for a dark scowl gathered on the brows of both, and they
withdrew, as if at a concerted signal, to the opposite sides of the
spacious apartment.

A long pause ensued. Nothing was heard save the regular ticking of a
large clock of rare workmanship which stood over the fireplace, and from
the street afar off, the rejoicing of the people, who surged toward the
palace like a roaring sea.

Gardiner had stepped to the window, and was looking up with his peculiar
dark smile at the clouds which, driven by the tempest, were sweeping
across the heavens.

Cranmer stood by the wall on the opposite side, and sunk in sad
thoughts, was contemplating a large portrait of Henry the Eighth,
the masterly production of Holbein. As he gazed on that countenance,
indicative at once of so much dignity and so much ferocity; as he
contemplated those eyes which shone with such gloomy severity, those
lips on which was a smile at once voluptuous and fierce, there came over
him a feeling of deep sympathy with the young woman whom he had that
day devoted to such splendid misery. He reflected that he had, in like
manner, already conducted two wives of the king to the marriage altar,
and had blessed their union. But he reflected, too, that he had also,
afterward, attended both these queens when they ascended the scaffold.

How easily might this pitiable young wife of the king fall a victim to
the same dark fate! How easily might Catharine Parr, like Anne Boleyn
and Catharine Howard, purchase her short-lived glory with an ignominious
death! At any time an inconsiderate word, a look, a smile, might be her
ruin. For the king's choler and jealousy were incalculable, and, to his
cruelty, no punishment seemed too severe for those by whom he fancied
himself injured.

Such were the thoughts which occupied Bishop Cranmer. They softened him,
and caused the dark wrinkles to disappear from his brow.

He now smiled to himself at the ill-humor which he had felt shortly
before, and upbraided himself for having been so little mindful of his
holy calling, and for having exhibited so little readiness to meet his
enemy in a conciliating spirit.

For Gardiner was his enemy; that Cranmer very well knew. Gardiner had
often enough showed him this by his deeds, as he had also taken pains by
his words to assure him of his friendship.

But even if Gardiner hated him, it did not therefore follow that Cranmer
was obliged to return that hatred; that he should denominate him his
enemy, whom he, in virtue of their mutual high calling, was bound to
honor and love as his brother.

The noble Cranmer was, therefore, ashamed of his momentary ill-humor.
A gentle smile lighted up his peaceful countenance. With an air at once
dignified and friendly, he crossed the room and approached the Bishop of
Winchester.

Lord Gardiner turned toward him with morose looks, and, without
advancing from the embrasure of the window in which he was standing,
waited for Cranmer to advance to him. As he looked into that noble,
smiling countenance, he had a feeling as if he must raise his fist and
dash it into the face of this man, who had the boldness to wish to be
his equal, and to contend with him for fame and honor.

But he reflected in good time that Cranmer was still the king's
favorite, and therefore he must proceed to work against him with great
caution.

So he forced these fierce thoughts back into his heart, and let his face
again assume its wonted grave and impenetrable expression.

Cranmer now stood close before him, and his bright, beaming eye was
fixed upon Gardiner's sullen countenance.

"I come to your highness," said Cranmer, in his gentle, pleasant voice,
"to say to you that I wish with my whole heart the queen may choose you
for her confessor and spiritual director, and to assure you that, should
this be the case, there will not be in my soul, on that account, the
least rancor, or the slightest dissatisfaction. I shall fully comprehend
it, if her majesty chooses the distinguished and eminent Bishop of
Winchester as her confessor, and the esteem and admiration which I
entertain for you can only be enhanced thereby. In confirmation of this,
permit me to offer you my hand." He presented his hand to Gardiner, who,
however, took it reluctantly and but for a moment.

"Your highness is very noble, and at the same time a very subtle
diplomatist, for you only wish in an adroit and ingenious way to give
me to understand how I am to act should the queen choose you for her
spiritual director. But that she will do so, you know as well as I. It
is, therefore, for me only a humiliation which etiquette imposes when
she compels me to stand here and wait to see whether I shall be chosen,
or contemptuously thrust aside."

"Why will you look at matters in so unfriendly a light?" said Cranmer,
gently. "Wherefore will you consider it a mark of contempt, if you are
not chosen to an office to which, indeed, neither merit nor worthiness
can call us, but only the personal confidence of a young woman?"

"Oh! you admit that I shall not be chosen?" cried Gardiner, with a
malicious smile.

"I have already told you that I am wholly uninformed as to the queen's
wish, and I think it is known that the Bishop of Canterbury is wont to
speak the truth."

"Certainly that is known, but it is known also that Catharine Parr was
a warm admirer of the Bishop of Canterbury; and now that she has
gained her end and become queen, she will make it her duty to show her
gratitude to him."

"You would by that insinuate that I have made her queen. But I assure
your highness, that here also, as in so many other matters which relate
to myself, you are falsely informed."

"Possibly!" said Gardiner, coldly. "At any rate, it is certain that the
young queen is an ardent advocate of the abominable new doctrine which,
like the plague, has spread itself from Germany over all Europe and
scattered mischief and ruin through all Christendom. Yes, Catharine
Parr, the present queen, leans to that heretic against whom the Holy
Father at Rome has hurled his crushing anathema. She is an adherent of
the Reformation."

"You forget," said Cranmer, with an arch smile, "that this anathema was
hurled against the head of our king also, and that it has shown itself
equally ineffectual against Henry the Eighth as against Luther. Besides,
I might remind you that we no longer call the Pope of Rome, 'Holy
Father,' and that you yourself have recognized the king as the head of
our church."

Gardiner turned away his face in order to conceal the vexation and rage
which distorted his features. He felt that he had gone too far, that he
had betrayed too much of the secret thoughts of his soul. But he could
not always control his violent and passionate nature; and however much
a man of the world and diplomatist he might be, still there were moments
when the fanatical priest got the better of the man of the world, and
the diplomat was forced to give way to the minister of the church.

Cranmer pitied Gardiner's confusion, and, following the native goodness
of his heart, he said pleasantly: "Let us not strive here about dogmas,
nor attempt to determine whether Luther or the pope is most in the
wrong. We stand here in the chamber of the young queen. Let us,
therefore, occupy ourselves a little with the destiny of this young
woman whom God has chosen for so brilliant a lot."

"Brilliant?" said Gardiner, shrugging his shoulders. "Let us first wait
for the termination of her career, and then decide whether it has been
brilliant. Many a queen before this has fancied that she was resting on
a couch of myrtles and roses, and has suddenly become conscious that she
was lying on a red-hot gridiron, which consumed her."

"It is true," murmured Cranmer, with a slight shudder, "it is a
dangerous lot to be the king's consort. But just on that account let us
not make the perils of her position still greater, by adding to them our
own enmity and hate. Just on that account I beg you (and on my part I
pledge you my word for it) that, let the choice of the queen be as it
may, there may be no feeling of anger, and no desire for revenge
in consequence. My God, the poor women are such odd beings, so
unaccountable in their wishes and in their inclinations!"

"Ah! it seems you know the women very intimately," cried Gardiner, with
a malicious laugh. "Verily, were you not Archbishop of Canterbury, and
had not the king prohibited the marriage of ecclesiastics as a very
grave crime, one might suppose that you had a wife yourself, and had
gained from her a thorough knowledge of female character."

Cranmer, somewhat embarrassed, turned away, and seemed to evade
Gardiner's piercing look. "We are not speaking of myself," said he at
length, "but of the young queen, and I entreat for her your good wishes.
I have seen her to-day almost for the first time, and have never spoken
with her, but her countenance has touchingly impressed me, and it
appeared to me, her looks besought us to remain at her side, ready to
help her on this difficult pathway, which five wives have already trod
before her, and in which they found only misery and tears, disgrace, and
blood."

"Let Catharine beware then that she does not forsake the right way,
as her five predecessors have done!" exclaimed Gardiner. "May she be
prudent and cautious, and may she be enlightened by God, that she may
hold the true faith, and have true wisdom, and not allow herself to be
seduced into the crooked path of the godless and heretical, but remain
faithful and steadfast with those of the true faith!"

"Who can say who are of the true faith?" murmured Cranmer, sadly. "There
are so many paths leading to heaven, who knows which is the right one?"

"That which we tread!" cried Gardiner, with all the overweening pride
of a minister of the church. "Woe to the queen should she take any other
road! Woe to her if she lends her ear to the false doctrines which
come ringing over here from Germany and Switzerland, and in the worldly
prudence of her heart imagines that she can rest secure! I will be her
most faithful and zealous servant, if she is with me; I will be her most
implacable enemy if she is against me."

"And will you call it being against you, if the queen does not choose
you for her confessor?"

"Will you ask me to call it, being for me?"

"Now God grant that she may choose you!" exclaimed Cranmer, fervently,
as he clasped his hands and raised his eyes to heaven. "Poor,
unfortunate queen! The first proof of thy husband's love may be thy
first misfortune! Why gave he thee the liberty of choosing thine own
spiritual director? Why did he not choose for thee?"

And Cranmer dropped his head upon his breast, and sighed deeply.

At this instant the door of the royal chamber opened, and Lady Jane,
daughter of Earl Douglas, and first maid of honor to the queen, made
her appearance on the threshold. Both bishops regarded her in breathless
silence. It was a serious, a solemn moment, the deep importance of which
was very well comprehended by all three.

"Her majesty the queen," said Lady Jane, in an agitated voice, "her
majesty requests the presence of Lord Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury,
in her cabinet, in order that she may perform her devotions with him."

"Poor queen!" murmured Cranmer, as he crossed the room to go to
Catharine - "poor queen! she has just made an implacable enemy."

Lady Jane waited till Cranmer had disappeared through the door, then
hastened with eager steps to the bishop of Winchester, and dropping on
her knee, humbly said, "Grace, your highness, grace! My words were in
vain, and were not able to shake her resolution."

Gardiner raised up the kneeling maiden, and forced a smile. "It is
well," said he, "I doubt not of your zeal. You are a true handmaid of
the church, and she will love and reward you for it as a mother! It is
then decided. The queen is - "

"Is a heretic," whispered Lady Jane. "Woe to her!"

"And will you be true, and will you faithfully adhere to us?"

"True, in every thought of my being, and every drop of my heart's
blood."

"So shall we overcome Catharine Parr, as we overcame Catharine Howard.
To the block with the heretic! We found means of bringing Catharine
Howard to the scaffold; you, Lady Jane, must find the means of leading
Catharine Parr the same way."

"I will find them," said Lady Jane, quietly. "She loves and trusts me. I
will betray her friendship in order to remain true to my religion."

"Catharine Parr then is lost," said Gardiner, aloud.

"Yes, she is lost," responded Earl Douglas, who had just entered, and
caught the last words of the bishop. "Yes, she is lost, for we are
her inexorable and ever-vigilant enemies. But I deem it not altogether
prudent to utter words like these in the queen's drawing-room. Let us
therefore choose a more favorable hour. Besides, your highness, you must
betake yourself to the grand reception-hall, where the whole court
is already assembled, and now only awaits the king to go in formal
procession for the young queen, and conduct her to the balcony. Let us
go, then."

Gardiner nodded in silence, and betook himself to the reception-hall.

Earl Douglas with his daughter followed him. "Catharine Parr is lost,"
whispered he in Lady Jane's ear. "Catharine Parr is lost, and you shall
be the king's seventh wife."

Whilst this was passing in the drawing-room, the young queen was on her
knees before Cranmer, and with him sending up to God fervent prayers for
prosperity and peace. Tears filled her eyes, and her heart trembled as
if before some approaching calamity.




CHAPTER II. THE QUEEN AND HER FRIEND


At last this long day of ceremonies and festivities drew near its close,
and Catharine might soon hope to be, for the time, relieved from this
endless presenting and smiling, from this ever-renewed homage.

At her husband's side she had shown herself on the balcony to receive
the greetings of the people, and to bow her thanks. Then in the spacious
audience-chamber her newly appointed court had passed before her in
formal procession, and she had exchanged a few meaningless, friendly
words with each of these lords and ladies. Afterward she had, at her
husband's side, given audience to the deputations from the city and from
Parliament. But it was only with a secret shudder that she had received
from their lips the same congratulations and praises with which the
authorities had already greeted five other wives of the king.

Still she had been able to smile and seem happy, for she well knew that
the king's eye was never off of her, and that all these lords and ladies
who now met her with such deference, and with homage apparently so
sincere, were yet, in truth, all her bitter enemies. For by her marriage
she had destroyed so many hopes, she had pushed aside so many who
believed themselves better fitted to assume the lofty position of queen!
She knew that these victims of disappointment would never forgive her
this; that she, who was but yesterday their equal, had to-day soared
above them as queen and mistress; she knew that all these were watching
with spying eyes her every word and action, in order, it might be, to
forge therefrom an accusation or a death-warrant.

But nevertheless she smiled! She smiled, though she felt that the choler
of the king, so easily kindled and so cruelly vindictive, ever swung
over her head like the sword of Damocles.

She smiled, so that this sword might not fall upon her.

At length all these presentations, this homage and rejoicing were well
over, and they came to the more agreeable and satisfactory part of the
feast.

They went to dinner. That was Catharine's first moment of respite,
of rest. For when Henry the Eighth seated himself at table, he was
no longer the haughty monarch and the jealous husband, but merely the
proficient artiste and the impassioned gourmand; and whether the pastry
was well seasoned, and the pheasant of good flavor, was for him then a
far more important question than any concerning the weal of his people,
and the prosperity of his kingdom.

But after dinner came another respite, a new enjoyment, and this time a
more real one, which indeed for a while banished all gloomy forebodings
and melancholy fears from Catharine's heart, and suffused her
countenance with the rosy radiance of cheerfulness and happy smiles.
For King Henry had prepared for his young wife a peculiar and altogether
novel surprise. He had caused to be erected in the palace of Whitehall
a stage, whereon was represented, by the nobles of the court, a comedy
from Plautus. Heretofore there had been no other theatrical exhibitions
than those which the people performed on the high festivals of the
church, the morality and the mystery plays. King Henry the Eighth was
the first who had a stage erected for worldly amusement likewise, and
caused to be represented on it subjects other than mere dramatized
church history. As he freed the church from its spiritual head, the
pope, so he wished to free the stage from the church, and to behold
upon it other more lively spectacles than the roasting of saints and the
massacre of inspired nuns.

And why, too, represent such mock tragedies on the stage, when the king
was daily performing them in reality? The burning of Christian martyrs
and inspired virgins was, under the reign of the Christian king Henry,
such a usual and every-day occurrence, that it could afford a piquant
entertainment neither to the court nor to himself.

But the representation of a Roman comedy, that, however, was a new and
piquant pleasure, a surprise for the young queen. He had the "Curculio"
played before his wife, and if Catharine indeed could listen to the
licentious and shameless jests of the popular Roman poet only with
bashful blushes, Henry was so much the more delighted by it, and
accompanied the obscenest allusions and the most indecent jests with his
uproarious laughter and loud shouts of applause.

At length this festivity was also over with, and Catharine was now
permitted to retire with her attendants to her private apartments.

With a pleasant smile, she dismissed her cavaliers, and bade her women
and her second maid of honor, Anna Askew, go into her boudoir and await
her call. Then she gave her arm to her friend Lady Jane Douglas, and
with her entered her cabinet.

At last she was alone, at last unwatched. The smile disappeared from her
face, and an expression of deep sadness was stamped upon her features.

"Jane," said she, "pray thee shut the doors and draw the window
curtains, so that nobody can see me, nobody hear me, no one except
yourself, my friend, the companion of my happy childhood. Oh, my God, my
God, why was I so foolish as to leave my father's quiet, lonely castle
and go out into the world, which is so full of terror and horror?"

She sighed and groaned deeply; and burying her face in her hands, she
sank upon the ottoman, weeping and trembling.

Lady Jane observed her with a peculiar smile of malicious satisfaction.

"She is queen and she weeps," said she to herself. "My God, how can a
woman possibly feel unhappy, and she a queen?"

She approached Catharine, and, seating herself on the tabouret at her
feet, she impressed a fervent kiss on the queen's drooping hand.

"Your majesty weeping!" said she, in her most insinuating tone. "My God,
you are then unhappy; and I received with a loud cry of joy the news of
my friend's unexpected good fortune. I thought to meet a queen, proud,
happy, and radiant with joy; and I was anxious and fearful lest the
queen might have ceased to be my friend. Wherefore I urged my father,
as soon as your command reached us, to leave Dublin and hasten with me
hither. Oh, my God! I wished to see you in your happiness and in your
greatness."

Catharine removed her hands from her face, and looked down at her friend
with a sorrowful smile. "Well," said she, "are you not satisfied with
what you have seen? Have I not the whole day displayed to you the
smiling queen, worn a dress embroidered with gold? did not my neck
glitter with diamonds? did not the royal diadem shine in my hair? and
sat not the king by my side? Let that, then, be sufficient for the
present. You have seen the queen all day long. Allow me now for one
brief, happy moment to be again the feeling, sensitive woman, who
can pour into the bosom of her friend all her complaint and her
wretchedness. Ah, Jane, if you knew how I have longed for this hour,
how I have sighed after you as the only balm for my poor smitten heart,
smitten even to death, how I have implored Heaven for this day, for this
one thing - 'Give me back my Jane, so that she can weep with me, so that
I may have one being at my side who understands me, and does not allow
herself to be imposed upon by the wretched splendor of this outward
display!'"

"Poor Catharine!" whispered Lady Jane, "poor queen!"

Catharine started and laid her hand, sparkling with brilliants, on
Jane's lips. "Call me not thus!" said she. "Queen! My God, is not all
the fearful past heard again in that word? Queen! Is it not as much as
to say, condemned to the scaffold and a public criminal trial? Ah, Jane!
a deadly tremor runs through my members. I am Henry the Eighth's
sixth queen; I shall also be executed, or, loaded with disgrace, be
repudiated."

Again she hid her face in her hands, and her whole frame shook; so she
saw not the smile of malicious satisfaction with which Lady Jane again
observed her. She suspected not with what secret delight her friend



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