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Undeceived

John Heywood

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The Queen's Friend








Earl Douglas, Gardiner, and Wriothesley, had accompanied the king into
his cabinet.

At last the great blow was to be struck, and the plan of the three
enemies of the queen, so long matured and well-considered, was to be at
length put in execution. Therefore, as they followed the king, who with
unwonted activity preceded them, they exchanged with each other one more
look of mutual understanding.

By that look Earl Douglas said, "The hour has come. Be ready!"

And the looks of his friends responded, "We are ready!"

John Heywood, who, hidden behind the hangings, saw and observed
everything, could not forbear a slight shudder at the sight of these
four men, whose dark and hard features seemed incapable of being touched
by any ray of pity or mercy.

There was first the king, that man with the Protean countenance, across
which storm and sunshine, God and the devil traced each minute new
lines; who could be now an inspired enthusiast, and now a bloodthirsty
tyrant; now a sentimental wit, and anon a wanton reveler; the king, on
whose constancy nobody, not even himself, could rely; ever ready, as it
suited his caprice or his interest, to betray his most faithful friend,
and to send to the scaffold to-day those whom but yesterday he had
caressed and assured of his unchanging affection; the king, who
considered himself privileged to indulge with impunity his low
appetites, his revengeful impulses, his bloodthirsty inclinations; who
was devout from vanity, because devotion afforded him an opportunity of
identifying himself with God, and of regarding himself in some sort the
patron of Deity.

There was Earl Douglas, the crafty courtier with ever-smiling face, who
seemed to love everybody, while in fact he hated all; who assumed the
appearance of perfect harmlessness, and seemed to be indifferent to
everything but pleasure, while nevertheless secretly he held in his
hand all the strings of that great net which encompassed alike court
and king--Earl Douglas, whom the king loved for this alone, because
he generally gave him the title of grand and wise high-priest of the
Church, and who was, notwithstanding this, Loyola's vicegerent, and a
true and faithful adherent of that pope who had damned the king as a
degenerate son and given him over to the wrath of God.

Lastly, there were the two men with dark, malignant looks, with
inflexible, stony faces, which u ere never lighted up by a smile, or
a gleam of joy; who always condemned, always punished, and whose
countenances never brightened save when the dying shriek of the
condemned, or the groans of some poor wretch upon the rack, fell upon
their ears; who were the tormentors of humanity, while they called
themselves the ministers and servants of God.

"Sire," said Gardiner, when the king had slowly taken his seat upon the
ottoman--"sire, let us first ask the blessing of the Lord our God on
this hour of conference. May God, who is love, but who is wrath also,
may He enlighten and bless us!"

The king devoutly folded his hands, but it was only a prayer of wrath
that animated his soul.

"Grant, O God, that I may punish Thine enemies, and everywhere dash in
pieces the guilty!"

"Amen!" said Gardiner, as he repeated with solemn earnestness the king's
words.

"Send us the thunderbolt of Thy wrath," prayed Wriothesley, "that we may
teach the world to recognize Thy power and glory!"

Earl Douglas took care not to pray aloud. What he had to request of God
was not allowed to reach the ear of the king.

"Grant, O God," prayed he in his heart, "grant that my work may prosper,
and that this dangerous queen may ascend the scaffold, to make room for
my daughter, who is destined to bring back into the arms of our holy
mother, the Church--guilty and faithless king."

"Now my lords," said the king, fetching a long breath, "now tell me how
stand matters in my kingdom, and at my court?"

"Badly," said Gardiner. "Unbelief again lifts up its head. It is a
hydra. If you strike off one of its heads, two others immediately spring
up in its place. This cursed sect of reformists and atheists multiplies
day by day, and our prisons are no longer sufficient to contain them;
and when we drag them to the stake, their joyful and courageous death
always makes fresh proselytes and fresh apostates."

"Yes, matters are bad," said the Lord Chancellor Wriothesley; "in vain
have we promised pardon and forgiveness to all those who would return
penitent and contrite; they laugh to scorn our offers of pardon, and
prefer a death of torture to the royal clemency. What avails it that we
have burnt to death Miles Coverdale, who had the hardihood to translate
the Bible? His death appears to have been only the tocsin that aroused
other fanatics, and, without our being able to divine or suspect where
all these books come from, they have overflowed and deluged the whole
land; and we now already have more than four translations of the Bible.
The people read them with eagerness; and the corrupt seek of mental
illumination and free-thinking waxes daily more powerful and more
pernicious."

"And now you, Earl Douglas?" asked the king, when the lord chancellor
ceased. "These noble lords have told me how matters stand in my kingdom.
You will advise me what is the aspect of things at my court."

"Sire," said Earl Douglas, slowly and solemnly--for he wished each word
to sink into the king's breast like a poisoned arrow--"sire, the people
but follow the example which the court sets them. How can you require
faith of the people, when under their own eyes the court turns faith to
ridicule, and when infidels find at court aid and protection?"

"You accuse, but give no names," said the king, impatiently. "Who dares
at my court be a protector of heretics?"

"Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury!" said the three men, as with one
mouth. The signal-word was spoken, the standard of a bloody struggle set
up.

"Cranmer?" repeated the king thoughtfully. "He has, however, always
been a faithful servant and an attentive friend to me. It was he who
delivered me from the unholy bond with Catharine of Aragon: it was he
too who warned me of Catharine Howard, and furnished me with proofs of
her guilt. Of what misdemeanor do you accuse him?"

"He denies the six articles," said Gardiner, whose malicious face now
glowed with bitter hatred. "He reprobates auricular confession, and
believes not that the voluntarily taken vows of celibacy are binding."

"If he does that, then he is a traitor!" cried the king, who was fond of
always throwing a reverence for chastity and modesty, as a kind of holy
mantle, over his own profligate and lewd life; and whom nothing more
embittered than to encounter another on that path of vice which he
himself, by virtue of his royal prerogative, and his crown by the grace
of God, could travel in perfect safety.

"If he does that, then he is a traitor! My arm of vengeance will smite

him!" repeated the king again. "It was I who gave my people the six
articles, as a sacred and authoritative declaration of faith; and I
will not suffer this only true and right doctrine to be assailed and
obscured. But you are mistaken, my lords. I am acquainted with Cranmer,
and I know that he is loyal and faithful."

"And yet it is he," said Gardiner, "who confirms these heretics in their
obduracy and stiff-neckedness. He is the cause why these lost wretches
do not, from the fear of divine wrath at least, return to you, their
sovereign and high-priest. For he preaches to them that God is love and
mercy; he teaches them that Christ came into the world in order to bring
to the world love and the forgiveness of sins, and that they alone are
Christ's true disciples and servants who emulate His love. Do you not
see then, sire, that this is a covert and indirect accusation against
yourself, and that while he praises pardoning love, he at the same time
condemns and accuses your righteous and punitory wrath?"

The king did not answer immediately, but sat with his eyes fixed, grave
and pondering. The fanatical priest had gone too far; and, without being
aware of it, it was he himself who was that very instant accusing the
king.

Earl Douglas felt this. He read in the king's face that he was just then
in one of those moments of contrition which sometimes came over him when
his soul held involuntary intercourse with itself. It was necessary to
arouse the sleeping tiger and point out to him some prey, so as to make
him again bloodthirsty.

"It would be proper if Cranmer preached only Christian love," said he.
"Then would he be only a faithful servant of his Lord, and a follower
of his king. But he gives to the world an abominable example of a
disobedient and perfidious servant; he denies the truth of the six
articles, not in words, but in deeds. You have ordered that the priests
of the Church remain single. Now, then, the Archbishop of Canterbury is
married!"

"Married!" cried the king, his visage glowing with rage. "Ah, I will
chastise him, this transgressor of my holy laws! A minister of the
Church, a priest, whose whole life should be naught but an exhibition of
holiness, an endless communion with God, and whose high calling it is
to renounce fleshly lusts and earthly desires! And he is married! I will
make him feel the whole weight of my royal anger! He shall learn from
his own experience that the king's justice is inexorable, and that in
every case he smites the head of the sinner, be he who he may!"

"Your majesty is the embodiment of wisdom and justice," said Douglas,
"and your faithful servants well know, if the royal justice is sometimes
tardy in smiting guilty offenders, this happens not through your will,
but through your servants who venture to stay the arm of justice."

"When and where has this happened?" asked Henry; and his face flushed
with rage and excitement. "Where is the offender whom I have not
punished? Where in my realm lives a being who has sinned against God or
his king, and whom I have not dashed to atoms?"

"Sire," said Gardiner solemnly, "Anne Askew is yet alive."

"She lives to mock at your wisdom and to scoff at your holy creed!"
cried Wriothesley.

"She lives, because Bishop Cranmer wills that she should not die," said
Douglas, shrugging his shoulders. The king broke out into a short, dry
laugh. "Ah, Cranmer wills not that Anne Askew die!" said he, sneering.
"He wills not that this girl, who has so fearfully offended against her
king, and against God, should be punished!"

"Yes, she has offended fearfully, and yet two years have passed away
since her offence," cried Gardiner--"two years which she has spent in
deriding God and mocking the king!"

"Ah," said the king, "we have still hoped to turn this young, misguided
creature from the ways of sin and error to the path of wisdom and
repentance. We wished for once to give our people a shining example of
our willingness to forgive those who repent and renounce their heresy,
and to restore them to a participation of our royal favor. Therefore it
was that we commissioned you, my lord bishop, by virtue of your prayers
and your forcible and convincing words, to pluck this poor child from
the claws of the devil, who has charmed her ear."

"But she is unbending," said Gardiner, grinding his teeth. "In vain have
I depicted to her the pains of hell, which await her if she return not
to the faith; in vain have I subjected her to every variety of torture
and penance; in vain have I sent to her in prison other converts,
and had them pray with her night and day incessantly; she remains
unyielding, hard as stone, and neither the fear of punishment nor the
prospect of freedom and happiness has the power to soften that marble
heart."

"There is one means yet untried," said Wriothesley--"a means, moreover,
which is a more effective preacher of repentance than the most
enthusiastic orators and the most fervent prayers, and which I have to
thank for bringing back to God and the faith many of the most hardened
heretics."

"And this means is--"

"The rack, your majesty."

"Ah, the rack!" replied the king, with an involuntary shudder.

"All means are good that lead to the holy end!" said Gardiner, devoutly
folding his hands.

"The soul must be saved, though the body be pierced with wounds!" cried
Wriothesley.

"The people must be convinced," said Douglas, "that the lofty spirit
of the king spares not even those who are under the protection of
influential and might personages. The people murmur that this time
justice is not permitted to prevail, because Archbishop Cranmer protects
Anne Askew, and the queen is her friend."

"The queen is never the friend of a criminal!" said Henry, vehemently.

"Perchance she does not consider Anne Askew a criminal," responded Karl
Douglas, with a slight smile. "It is known, indeed, that the queen is a
great friend of the Reformation; and the people, who dare not call her a
heretic--the people call her 'the Protestant.'"

"Is it, then, really believed that it is Catharine who protects Anne
Askew, and keeps her from the stake?" inquired the king, thoughtfully.

"It is so thought, your majesty."

"They shall soon see that they are mistaken, and that Henry the Eighth
well deserves to be called the Defender of the Faith and the Head of
his Church!" cried the king, with burning rage. "For when have I shown
myself so long-suffering and weak in punishing, that people believe me
inclined to pardon and deal gently? Have I not sent to the scaffold even
Thomas More and Cromwell, two renowned and in a certain respect noble
and high-minded men, because they dared defy my supremacy and oppose
the doctrine and ordinance which I commanded them to believe? Have I not
sent to the block two of my queens--two beautiful young women, in whom
my heart was well pleased, even when I punished them--because they
had provoked my wrath? Who, after such brilliant examples of our
annihilating justice, who dare accuse us of forbearance?"

"But at that time, sire," said Douglas, in his soft, insinuating voice,
"but at that time no queen as yet stood at your side who called heretics
true believers, and favored traitors with her friendship."

The king frowned, and his wrathful look encountered the friendly and
submissive countenance of the earl. "You know I hate these covert
attacks," said he. "If you can tax the queen with any crime, well now,
do so. If you cannot, hold your peace!"

"The queen is a noble and virtuous lady," said the earl, "only she
sometimes permits herself to be led away by her magnanimous spirit. Or
how, your majesty, can it possibly be with your permission that my lady
the queen maintains a correspondence with Anne Askew?"

"What say you? The queen in correspondence with Anne Askew?" cried the
king in a voice of thunder. "That is a lie, a shameless lie, hatched up
to ruin the queen; for it is very well known that the poor king, who has
been so often deceived, so often imposed upon, believes himself to have
at last found in this woman a being whom he can trust, and in whom he
can put faith. And they grudge him that. They wish to strip him of this
last hope also, that his heart may harden entirely to stone, and no
emotion of pity evermore find access to him. Ah, Douglas, Douglas,
beware of my wrath, if you cannot prove what you say!"

"Sire, I can prove it! For Lady Jane herself, no longer ago than
yesterday, was made to give up a note from Anne Askew to the queen."

The king remained silent for a while, and gazed fixedly on the
ground. His three confidants observed him with breathless, trembling
expectation.

At length the king raised his head again, and turned his gaze, which
was now grave and steady, upon the lord chancellor. "My Lord Chancellor
Wriothesley," said he, "I empower you to conduct Anne Askew to the
torture-room, and try whether the torments which are prepared for the
body are perchance able to bring this erring soul to an acknowledgment
of her faults. My Lord Bishop Gardiner, I promise my word that I will
give attention to your accusation against the Archbishop of Canterbury,
and that, if it be well founded, he shall not escape punishment. My Lord
Douglas, I will give my people and all the world proof that I am
still God's righteous and avenging vice-gerent on earth, and that no
consideration can restrain my wrath, no after-thought stay my arm,
whenever it is ready to fall and smite the head of the guilty. And now,
my lords, let us declare this session at an end. Let us breathe a little
from these exertions, and seek some recreation for one brief hour.

"My Lords Gardiner and Wriothesley, you are now at liberty. You,
Douglas, will accompany me into the small reception-room. I want to see
bright and laughing faces around me. Call John Heywood, and if you meet
any ladies in the palace, of course I beg them to shed on us a little of
that sunshine which you say is peculiarly woman's."

He laughed, and, leaning on the earl's arm, left the cabinet.

Gardiner and Wriothesley stood there in silence, watching the king, who
slowly and heavily traversed the adjacent hall, and whose cheery and
laughing voice came ringing back to them.

"He is a weathercock, turning every moment from side to side," said
Gardiner, with a contemptuous shrug of the shoulders.

"He calls himself God's sword of vengeance, but he is nothing more than
a weak tool, which we bend and use at our will," muttered Wriothesley,
with a hoarse laugh. "Poor, pitiful fool, deeming himself so mighty
and sturdy; imagining himself a free king, ruling by his sovereign
will alone, and yet he is but our servant and drudge! Our great work is
approaching its end, and we shall one day triumph. Anne Askew's death is
the sign of a new covenant, which will deliver England and trample the
heretics like dust beneath our feet. And when at length we shall have
put down Cranmer, and brought Catharine Parr to the scaffold, then
will we give King Henry a queen who will reconcile him with God and the
Church, out of which is no salvation."

"Amen, so be it!" said Gardiner; and arm in arm they both left the
cabinet.

Deep stillness now reigned in that little spot, and nobody saw John
Heywood as he now came from behind the hanging, and, completely worn out
and faint, slipped for a moment into a chair.

"Now I know, so far at least, the plan of these blood-thirsty
tiger-cats," muttered he. "They wish to give Henry a popish queen; and
so Cranmer must be overthrown, that, when they have deprived the queen
of this powerful prop, they may destroy her also and tread her in the
dust. But as God liveth, they shall not succeed in this! God is just,
and He will at last punish these evil-doers. And supposing there is no
God, then will we try a little with the devil himself. No, they shall
not destroy the noble Cranmer and this beautiful, high-minded queen.
I forbid it--I, John Heywood, the king's fool. I will see everything,
observe everything, hear everything. They shall find me everywhere on
their path; and when they poison the king's ear with their diabolical
whisperings, I will heal it again with my merry deviltries. The king's
fool will be the guardian angel of the queen."





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Previous: Le Roi S'ennuit



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