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Undeceived

John Heywood

The King And The Priest

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Henry Howard was dead; and now one would have thought the king might
be satisfied and quiet, and that sleep would no longer flee from his
eyelids, since Henry Howard, his great rival, had closed his eyes
forever; since Henry Howard was no longer there, to steal away his
crown, to fill the world with the glory of his deeds, to dim the genius
of the king by his own fame as a poet.

But the king was still dissatisfied. Sleep still fled from his couch.

The cause of this was that his work was only just half done. Henry
Howard's father, the Duke of Norfolk, still lived. The cause of this
was, that the king was always obliged to think of this powerful rival;
and these thoughts chased sleep from his eyelids. His soul was sick of
the Howards; therefore his body suffered such terrible pains. If the
Duke of Norfolk would close his eyes in death, then would the king
also be able to close his again in refreshing sleep! But this court of
peers--and only by such a court could the duke be judged--this court of
peers was so slow and deliberate! It worked far less rapidly, and
was not near so serviceable, as the Parliament which had so quickly
condemned Henry Howard. Why must the old Howard bear a ducal title? Why
was he not like his son, only an earl, so that the obedient Parliament
might condemn him?

That was the king's inextinguishable grief, his gnawing pain, which made
him raving with fury and heated his blood, and thereby increased the
pains of his body.

He raved and roared with impatience. Through the halls of his palace
resounded his savage vituperation. It made every one tremble and quake,
for no one was sure that it was not he that was to fall that day
a victim to the king's fury. No one could know whether the king's
ever-increasing thirst for blood would not that day doom him.

With the most jealous strictness the king, from his sick-couch, watched
over his royal dignity; and the least fault against that might arouse
his wrath and bloodthirstiness. Woe to those who wanted still to
maintain that the pope was the head of the Church! Woe to those who
ventured to call God the only Lord of the Church, and honored not the
king as the Church's holy protector! The one, like the other, were
traitors and sinners, and he had Protestants and Roman Catholics alike
executed, however near they stood to his own person, and however closely
he was otherwise bound to them.

Whoever, therefore, could avoid it, kept himself far from the dreaded
person of the king; and whoever was constrained by duty to be near him,
trembled for his life, and commended his soul to God.

There were only four persons who did not fear the king, and who seemed
to be safe from his destroying wrath. There was the queen, who nursed
him with devoted attention, and John Heywood, who with untiring zeal
sustained Catharine in her difficult task, and who still sometimes
succeeded in winning a smile from the king. There were, furthermore,
Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, and Earl Douglas.

Lady Jane Douglas was dead. The king had therefore forgiven her father,
and again shown himself gracious and friendly to the deeply-bowed
earl. Besides, it was such an agreeable and refreshing feeling to the
suffering king to have some one about him who suffered yet more than he
himself! It comforted him to know that there could be agonies yet more
horrible than those pains of the body under which he languished. Earl
Douglas suffered these agonies; and the king saw with a kind of delight
how his hair turned daily more gray, and his features became more
relaxed and feeble. Douglas was younger than the king, and yet how
old and gray his face was beside the king's well-fed and blooming
countenance!

Could the king have seen the bottom of his soul, he would have had less
sympathy with Earl Douglas's sorrow.

He considered him only as a tender father mourning the death of his
only child. He did not suspect that it was less the father that Jane's
painful death had smitten, than the ambitious man, the fanatical Roman
Catholic, the enthusiastic disciple of Loyola, who with dismay saw
all his plans frustrated, and the moment drawing nigh when he would be
divested of that power and consideration which he enjoyed in the secret
league of the disciples of Jesus. With him, therefore, it was less the
daughter, for whom he mourned, than the king's seventh wife. And that
Catharine wore the crown, and not his daughter--not Jane Douglas--his it
was that he could never forgive the queen.

He wanted to take vengeance on the queen for Jane's death; he wanted to
punish Catharine for his frustrated hopes, for his desires that she
had trampled upon. But Earl Douglas durst not himself venture to make
another attempt to prejudice the king's mind against his consort. Henry
had interdicted him from it under the penalty of his wrath. With words
of threatening, he had warned him from such an attempt; and Earl Douglas
very well knew that King Henry was inflexible in his determination,
when the matter under consideration was the execution of a threatened
punishment, Yet what Douglas durst not venture, that Gardiner could
venture--Gardiner, who, thanks to the capriciousness of the sick king,
had for the few days past enjoyed again the royal favor so unreservedly
that the noble Archbishop Cranmer had received orders to leave the court
and retire to his episcopal residence at Lambeth.

Catharine had seen him depart with anxious forebodings; for Cranmer had
ever been her friend and her support. His mild and serene countenance
had ever been to her like a star of peace in the midst of this
tempest-tossed and passion-lashed court life; and his gentle and noble
words had always fallen like a soothing balm on her poor trembling
heart.

She felt that with his departure she lost her noblest support, her
strengthening aid, and that she was now surrounded only by enemies and
opponents. True, she still had John Heywood, the faithful friend, the
indefatigable servant; but since Gardiner had exercised his sinister
influence over the king's mind, John Heywood durst scarcely risk himself
in Henry's presence. True, she had also Thomas Seymour, her lover;
but she knew and felt that she was everywhere surrounded by spies and
eavesdroppers, and that now it required nothing more than an interview
with Thomas Seymour--a few tender words--perchance even only a look full
of mutual understanding and love, in order to send him and her to the
scaffold.

She trembled not for herself, but for her lover. That made her cautious
and thoughtful. That gave her courage never to show Thomas Seymour
other than a cold, serious face; never to meet him otherwise than in the
circle of her court; never to smile on him; never to give him her hand.

She was, however, certain of her future. She knew that a day would come
on which the king's death would deliver her from her burdensome grandeur
and her painful royal crown; when she should be free--free to give her
hand to the man whom alone on earth she loved, and to become his wife.

She waited for that day, as the prisoner does for the hour of his
release; but like him she knew that a premature attempt to escape from
her dungeon would bring her only ruin and death, and not freedom.

She must be patient and wait. She must give up all personal intercourse
with her lover; and even his letters John Heywood could bring her but
very seldom, and only with the greatest caution. How often already had
not John Heywood conjured her to give up this correspondence also! how
often had he not with tears in his eyes besought her to renounce this
love, which might one day be her ruin and her death! Catharine laughed
at his gloomy forebodings, and opposed to his dark prophecies a bravery
reliant on the future, the joyous courage of her love.

She would not die, for happiness and love were awaiting her; she would
not renounce happiness and love, for the sake of which she could endure
this life in other respects--this life of peril, of resignation, of
enmity, and of hatred.

But she wanted to live in order to be happy hereafter. This thought made
her brave and resolute; it gave her courage to defy her enemies with
serene brow and smiling lip; it enabled her to sit with bright eye and
rosy cheeks at the side of her dreaded and severe husband, and, with
cheerful wit and inexhaustible good-humor, jest away the frown from his
brow, and vexation from his soul.

But just because she could do this, she was a dangerous antagonist to
Douglas and Gardiner. Just on that account, it was to be their highest
effort to destroy this beautiful young woman, who durst defy them and
weaken their influence with the king. If they could but succeed in
rendering the king's mind more and more gloomy; if they could but
completely fill him again with fanatical religious zeal; then, and then
only, could they hope to attain their end; which end was this: to bring
back the king as a contrite, penitent, and humble son of the only saving
mother Church, and to make him again, from a proud, vain, and imperious
prince, an obedient and submissive son of the pope.

The king was to renounce this vain and blasphemous arrogance of wishing
to be himself head of his Church. He was to turn away from the spirit of
novelty and heresy, and again become a faithful and devout Catholic.

But in order that they might attain this end, Catharine must be removed
from him; he must no longer behold her rosy and beautiful face, and no
longer allow himself to be diverted by her sensible discourse and her
keen wit.

"We shall not be able to overthrow the queen," said Earl Douglas to
Gardiner, as the two stood in the king's anteroom, and as Catharine's
cheerful chit-chat and the king's merry laugh came pealing to them
from the adjoining room. "No, no, Gardiner, she is too powerful and too
crafty. The king loves her very much; and she is such an agreeable and
refreshing recreation to him."

"Just on that account we must withdraw her from him," said Gardiner,
with a dark frown. "He must turn away his heart from this earthly love;
and after we shall have mortified this love in him, this savage and
arrogant man will return to us and to God, contrite and humble." But we
shall not be able to mortify it, friend. It is so ardent and selfish a
love.

"So much the greater will be the triumph, if our holy admonitions are
successful in touching his heart, Douglas. It is true he will suffer
very much if he is obliged to give up this woman. But he needs precisely
this suffering in order to become contrite and penitent. His mind must
first be entirely darkened, so that we can illuminate it with the light
of faith. He must first be rendered perfectly isolated and comfortless
in order to bring him back to the holy communion of the Church, and to,
find him again accessible to the consolations of that faith which alone
can save."

"Ah," sighed Douglas, "I fear that this will be a useless struggle. The
king is so vain of his self-constituted high-priesthood!"

"But he is such a weak man, and such a great sinner!" said Gardiner,
with a cold smile. "He trembles so much at death and God's judgment,
and our holy mother the Church can give him absolution, and by her
holy sacraments render death easy to him. He is a wicked sinner and has
stings of conscience. This it is that will bring him back again to the
bosom of the Catholic Church."

"But when will that come to pass? The king is sick, and any day may put
an end to his life. Woe to us, if he die before he has given the power
into our hands, and nominated us his executors! Woe to us, if the queen
is appointed regent, and the king selects the Seymours as her ministers!
Oh, my wise and pious father, the work that you wish to do must be done
soon, or it must remain forever unaccomplished."

"It shall be done this very day," said Gardiner, solemnly; and bending
down closer to the earl's ear, he continued: "we have lulled the queen
into assurance and self-confidence, and by this means she shall be
ruined this very day. She relies so strongly on her power over the
king's disposition, that she often summons up courage even to contradict
him, and to set her own will in opposition to his. That shall be her
ruin this very day! For mark well, earl; the king is now again like a
tiger that has been long fasting. He thirsts for blood! The queen has
an aversion to human blood, and she is horrified when she hears of
executions. So we must manage that these opposing inclinations may come
into contact, and contend with each other."

"Oh, I understand now," whispered Douglas; "and I bow in reverence
before the wisdom of your highness. You will let them both contend with
their own weapons."

"I will point out a welcome prey to his appetite for blood, and give her
silly compassion an opportunity to contend with the king for his prey.
Do you not think, earl, that this will be an amusing spectacle, and one
refreshing to the heart, to see how the tiger and dove struggle with
each other? And I tell you the tiger thirsts so much for blood! Blood is
the only balm that he applies to his aching limbs, and by which alone
he imagines that he can restore peace and courage to his tortured
conscience and his dread of death. Ah, ha! we have told him that, with
each new execution of a heretic, one of his great sins would be blotted
out, and that the blood of the Calvinists serves to wash out of his
account-book some of his evil deeds. He would be so glad to be able to
appear pure and guiltless before the tribunal of his God! Therefore
he needs very much heretical blood. But hark--the hour strikes which
summons me to the royal chamber! There has been enough of the queen's
laughing and chit-chat. We will now endeavor to banish the smile forever
from her face. She is a heretic; and it is a pious work, well pleasing
to God, if we plunge her headlong into ruin!"

"May God be with your highness, and assist you by His grace, that you
may accomplish this sublime work!"

"God will be with us, my son, since for Him it is that we labor and
harass ourselves. To His honor and praise we bring these misbelieving
heretics to the stake, and make the air re-echo with the agonizing
shrieks of those who are racked and tortured. That is music well
pleasing to God; and the angels in heaven will triumph and be glad when
the heretical and infidel Queen Catharine also has to strike up this
music of the damned. Now I go to the holy labor of love and godly wrath.
Pray for me, my son, that I may succeed. Remain here in the anteroom,
and await my call; perhaps we shall need you. Pray for us, and with us.
Ah, we still owe this heretical queen a grudge for Anne Askew. To-day
we will pay her. Then she accused us, to-day we will accuse her, and God
and His host of saints and angels are with us."

And the pious and godly priest crossed himself, and with head humbly
bowed and a soft smile about his thin, bloodless lips, strode through
the hall in order to betake himself to the king's chamber.





Next: The King And The Priest

Previous: Undeceived



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