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The Childhood Of A Princess

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1533-1536

Greenwich.--The hospital.--Its inmates.--Greenwich
Observatory.--Manner of taking time.--Henry the Eighth.--His
character.--His six wives.--Anne Boleyn.--Catharine of Aragon.--Henry
discards her.--Origin of the English Church.--Henry marries Anne
Boleyn.--Birth of Elizabeth.--Ceremony of christening.--Baptism of
Elizabeth.--Grand procession.--Train-bearers.--The church.--The silver
font.--The presents.--Name of the infant princess.--Elizabeth made
Princess of Wales.--Matrimonial schemes.--Jane Seymour.--The
tournament.--The king's suspicions.--Queen Anne arrested.--She is
sent to the Tower.--Sufferings of the queen.--Her mental
distress.--Examination of Anne.--Her letter to the king.--Anne's
fellow-prisoners.--They are executed.--Anne tried and condemned.--She
protests her innocence.--Anne's execution.--Disposition of the
body.--The king's brutality.--Elizabeth's forlorn condition.


Travelers, in ascending the Thames by the steamboat from Rotterdam, on
their return from an excursion to the Rhine, have often their attention
strongly attracted by what appears to be a splendid palace on the banks
of the river at Greenwich. The edifice is not a palace, however, but a
hospital, or, rather, a retreat where the worn out, maimed, and crippled
veterans of the English navy spend the remnant of their days in comfort
and peace, on pensions allowed them by the government in whose service
they have spent their strength or lost their limbs. The magnificent
buildings of the hospital stand on level land near the river. Behind
them there is a beautiful park, which extends over the undulating and
rising ground in the rear; and on the summit of one of the eminences
there is the famous Greenwich Observatory, on the precision of whose
quadrants and micrometers depend those calculations by which the
navigation of the world is guided. The most unconcerned and careless
spectator is interested in the manner in which the ships which throng
the river all the way from Greenwich to London, "take their time" from
this observatory before setting sail for distant seas. From the top of a
cupola surmounting the edifice, a slender pole ascends, with a black
ball upon it, so constructed as to slide up and down for a few feet upon
the pole. When the hour of 12 M. approaches, the ball slowly rises to
within a few inches of the top, warning the ship-masters in the river to
be ready with their chronometers, to observe and note the precise
instant of its fall. When a few seconds only remain of the time, the
ball ascends the remainder of the distance by a very deliberate motion,
and then drops suddenly when the instant arrives. The ships depart on
their several destinations, and for months afterward when thousands of
miles away they depend for their safety in dark and stormy nights, and
among dangerous reefs and rocky shores, on the nice approximation to
correctness in the note of time which this descending ball had given
them.



This is Greenwich, as it exists at the present day. At the time when the
events occurred which are to be related in this narrative, it was most
known on account of a royal palace which was situated there. This palace
was the residence of the then queen consort of England. The king
reigning at that time was Henry the Eighth. He was an unprincipled and
cruel tyrant, and the chief business of his life seemed to be selecting
and marrying new queens, making room for each succeeding one by
discarding, divorcing, or beheading her predecessor. There were six of
them in all, and, with one exception, the history of each one is a
distinct and separate, but dreadful tragedy. As there were so many of
them, and they figured as queens each for so short a period, they are
commonly designated in history by their personal family names, and even
in these names there is a great similarity. There were three Catharines,
two Annes, and a Jane. The only one who lived and died in peace,
respected and beloved to the end, was the Jane.



Queen Elizabeth, the subject of this narrative, was the daughter of the
second wife in this strange succession, and her mother was one of the
Annes. Her name in full was Anne Boleyn. She was young and very
beautiful, and Henry, to prepare the way for making her his wife,
divorced his first queen, or rather declared his marriage with her null
and void, because she had been, before he married her, the wife of his
brother. Her name was Catharine of Aragon. She was, while connected with
him, a faithful, true, and affectionate wife. She was a Catholic. The
Catholic rules are very strict in respect to the marriage of relatives,
and a special dispensation from the pope was necessary to authorize
marriage in such a case as that of Henry and Catharine. This
dispensation had, however, been obtained, and Catharine had, in reliance
upon it, consented to become Henry's wife. When, however, she was no
longer young and beautiful, and Henry had become enamored of Anne
Boleyn, who was so, he discarded Catharine, and espoused the beautiful
girl in her stead. He wished the pope to annul his dispensation, which
would, of course, annul the marriage; and because the pontiff refused,
and all the efforts of Henry's government were unavailing to move him,
he abandoned the Catholic faith, and established an independent
Protestant church in England, whose supreme authority would annul the
marriage. Thus, in a great measure, came the Reformation in England.
The Catholics reproach us, and, it must be confessed, with some justice,
with the ignominiousness of its origin.

The course which things thus took created a great deal of delay in the
formal annulling of the marriage with Catharine, which Henry was too
impatient and imperious to bear. He would not wait for the decree of
divorce, but took Anne Boleyn for his wife before his previous
connection was made void. He said he was privately married to her. This
he had, as he maintained, a right to do, for he considered his first
marriage as void, absolutely and of itself, without any decree. When, at
length, the decree was finally passed, he brought Anne Boleyn forward as
his queen, and introduced her as such to England and to the world by a
genuine marriage and a most magnificent coronation. The people of
England pitied poor Catharine, but they joined very cordially,
notwithstanding, in welcoming the youthful and beautiful lady who was to
take her place. All London gave itself up to festivities and rejoicings
on the occasion of these nuptials. Immediately after this the young
queen retired to her palace in Greenwich, and in two or three months
afterward little Elizabeth was born. Her birth-day was the 7th of
September, 1533.

The mother may have loved the babe, but Henry himself was sadly
disappointed that his child was not a son. Notwithstanding her sex,
however, she was a personage of great distinction from her very birth,
as all the realm looked upon her as heir to the crown. Henry was
himself, at this time, very fond of Anne Boleyn, though his feelings
afterward were entirely changed. He determined on giving to the infant a
very splendid christening. The usage in the Church of England is to make
the christening of a child not merely a solemn religious ceremony, but a
great festive occasion of congratulations and rejoicing. The unconscious
subject of the ceremony is taken to the church. Certain near and
distinguished friends, gentlemen and ladies, appear as godfathers and
godmothers, as they are termed, to the child. They, in the ceremony, are
considered as presenting the infant for consecration to Christ, and as
becoming responsible for its future initiation into the Christian faith.
They are hence sometimes called sponsors. These sponsors are supposed to
take, from the time of the baptism forward, a strong interest in all
that pertains to the welfare of their little charge, and they usually
manifest this interest by presents on the day of the christening. These
things are all conducted with considerable ceremony and parade in
ordinary cases, occurring in private life; and when a princess is to be
baptized, all, even the most minute details of the ceremony, assume a
great importance, and the whole scene becomes one of great pomp and
splendor.

The babe, in this case, was conveyed to the church in a grand
procession. The mayor and other civic authorities in London came down to
Greenwich in barges, tastefully ornamented, to join in the ceremony. The
lords and ladies of King Henry's court were also there, in attendance at
the palace. When all were assembled, and every thing was ready, the
procession moved from the palace to the church with great pomp. The
road, all the way, was carpeted with green rushes, spread upon the
ground. Over this road the little infant was borne by one of her
godmothers. She was wrapped in a mantle of purple velvet, with a long
train appended to it, which was trimmed with ermine, a very costly kind
of fur, used in England as a badge of authority. This train was borne by
lords and ladies of high rank, who were appointed for the purpose by
the king, and who deemed their office a very distinguished honor.
Besides these train-bearers, there were four lords, who walked two on
each side of the child, and who held over her a magnificent canopy.
Other personages of high rank and station followed, bearing various
insignia and emblems, such as by the ancient customs of England are
employed on these occasions, and all dressed sumptuously in gorgeous
robes, and wearing the badges and decorations pertaining to their rank
or the offices they held. Vast crowds of spectators lined the way, and
gazed upon the scene.



On arriving at the church, they found the interior splendidly decorated
for the occasion. Its walls were lined throughout with tapestry, and in
the center was a crimson canopy, under which was placed a large silver
font, containing the water with which the child was to be baptized. The
ceremony was performed by Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury, which
is the office of the highest dignitary of the English Church. After it
was performed, the procession returned as it came, only now there was an
addition of four persons of high rank, who followed the child with the
presents intended for her by the godfathers and godmothers. These
presents consisted of cups and bowls, of beautiful workmanship, some
of silver gilt, and some of solid gold. They were very costly, though
not prized much yet by the unconscious infant for whom they were
intended. She went and came, in the midst of this gay and joyous
procession, little imagining into what a restless and unsatisfying life
all this pageantry and splendor were ushering her.

They named the child Elizabeth, from her grandmother. There have been
many queens of that name, but Queen Elizabeth of England became so much
more distinguished than any other, that that name alone has become her
usual designation. Her family name was Tudor. As she was never
married--for, though her life was one perpetual scene of matrimonial
schemes and negotiations, she lived and died a maiden lady--she has been
sometimes called the Virgin Queen, and one of the states of this Union,
Virginia, receives its name from this designation of Elizabeth. She is
also often familiarly called Queen Bess.

Making little Elizabeth presents of gold and silver plate, and arranging
splendid pageants for her, were not the only plans for her
aggrandizement which were formed during the period of her infantile
unconsciousness. The king, her father, first had an act of Parliament
passed, solemnly recognizing and confirming her claim as heir to the
crown, and the title of Princess of Wales was formally conferred upon
her. When these things were done, Henry began to consider how he could
best promote his own political schemes by forming an engagement of
marriage for her, and, when she was only about two years of age, he
offered her to the King of France as the future wife of one of his sons,
on certain conditions of political service which he wished him to
perform. But the King of France would not accede to the terms, and so
this plan was abandoned. Elizabeth was, however, notwithstanding this
failure, an object of universal interest and attention, as the daughter
of a very powerful monarch, and the heir to his crown. Her life opened
with very bright and serene prospects of future greatness; but all these
prospects were soon apparently cut off by a very heavy cloud which arose
to darken her sky. This cloud was the sudden and dreadful fall and ruin
of her mother.

Queen Anne Boleyn was originally a maid of honor to Queen Catharine, and
became acquainted with King Henry and gained his affections while she
was acting in that capacity. When she became queen herself, she had, of
course, her own maids of honor, and among them was one named Jane
Seymour. Jane was a beautiful and accomplished lady, and in the end she
supplanted her mistress and queen in Henry's affections, just as Anne
herself had supplanted Catharine. The king had removed Catharine to make
way for Anne, by annulling his marriage with her on account of their
relationship: what way could he contrive now to remove Anne, so as to
make way for Jane?

He began to entertain, or to pretend to entertain, feelings of jealousy
and suspicion that Anne was unfaithful to him. One day, at a sort of
tournament in the park of the royal palace at Greenwich, when a great
crowd of gayly-dressed ladies and gentlemen were assembled to witness
the spectacle, the queen dropped her handkerchief. A gentleman whom the
king had suspected of being one of her favorites picked it up. He did
not immediately restore it to her. There was, besides, something in the
air and manner of the gentleman, and in the attendant circumstances of
the case, which the king's mind seized upon as evidence of criminal
gallantry between the parties. He was, or at least pretended to be, in
a great rage. He left the field immediately and went to London. The
tournament was broken up in confusion, the queen was seized by the
king's orders, conveyed to her palace in Greenwich, and shut up in her
chamber, with a lady who had always been her rival and enemy to guard
her. She was in great consternation and sorrow, but she declared most
solemnly that she was innocent of any crime, and had always been true
and faithful to the king.



The next day she was taken from her palace at Greenwich up the river,
probably in a barge well guarded by armed men, to the Tower of London.
The Tower is an ancient and very extensive castle, consisting of a great
number of buildings inclosed within a high wall. It is in the lower part
of London, on the bank of the Thames, with a flight of stairs leading
down to the river from a great postern gate. The unhappy queen was
landed at these stairs and conveyed into the castle, and shut up in a
gloomy apartment, with walls of stone and windows barricaded with strong
bars of iron. There were four or five gentlemen, attendants upon the
queen in her palace at Greenwich, whom the king suspected, or pretended
to suspect, of being her accomplices in crime, that were arrested at
the same time with her and closely confined.

When the poor queen was introduced into her dungeon, she fell on her
knees, and, in an agony of terror and despair, she implored God to help
her in this hour of her extremity, and most solemnly called him to
witness that she was innocent of the crime imputed to her charge.
Seeking thus a refuge in God calmed and composed her in some small
degree; but when, again, thoughts of the imperious and implacable temper
of her husband came over her, of the impetuousness of his passions, of
the certainty that he wished her removed out of the way in order that
room might be made for her rival, and then, when her distracted mind
turned to the forlorn and helpless condition of her little daughter
Elizabeth, now scarcely three years old, her fortitude and
self-possession forsook her entirely; she sank half insane upon her bed,
in long and uncontrollable paroxysms of sobs and tears, alternating with
still more uncontrollable and frightful bursts of hysterical laughter.

The king sent a commission to take her examination. At the same time, he
urged her, by the persons whom he sent, to confess her guilt, promising
her that, if she did so, her life should be spared. She, however,
protested her innocence with the utmost firmness and constancy. She
begged earnestly to be allowed to see the king, and, when this was
refused, she wrote a letter to him, which still remains, and which
expresses very strongly the acuteness of her mental sufferings.

In this letter, she said that she was so distressed and bewildered by
the king's displeasure and her imprisonment, that she hardly knew what
to think or to say. She assured him that she had always been faithful
and true to him, and begged that he would not cast an indelible stain
upon her own fair fame and that of her innocent and helpless child by
such unjust and groundless imputations. She begged him to let her have a
fair trial by impartial persons, who would weigh the evidence against
her in a just and equitable manner. She was sure that by this course her
innocence would be established, and he himself, and all mankind would
see that she had been most unjustly accused.

But if, on the other hand, she added, the king had determined on her
destruction, in order to remove an obstacle in the way of his
possession of a new object of love, she prayed that God would forgive
him and all her enemies for so great a sin, and not call him to account
for it at the last day. She urged him, at all events, to spare the lives
of the four gentlemen who had been accused, as she assured him they were
wholly innocent of the crime laid to their charge, begging him, if he
had ever loved the name of Anne Boleyn, to grant this her last request.
She signed her letter his "most loyal and ever faithful wife," and dated
it from her "doleful prison in the Tower."

The four gentlemen were promised that their lives should be spared if
they would confess their guilt. One of them did, accordingly, admit his
guilt, and the others persisted to the end in firmly denying it. They
who think Anne Boleyn was innocent, suppose that the one who confessed
did it as the most likely mode of averting destruction, as men have
often been known, under the influence of fear, to confess crimes of
which it was afterward proved they could not have been guilty. If this
was his motive, it was of no avail. The four persons accused, after a
very informal trial, in which nothing was really proved against them,
were condemned, apparently to please the king, and were executed
together.

Three days after this the queen herself was brought to trial before the
peers. The number of peers of the realm in England at this time was
fifty-three. Only twenty-six were present at the trial. The king is
charged with making such arrangements as to prevent the attendance of
those who would be unwilling to pass sentence of condemnation. At any
rate, those who did attend professed to be satisfied of the guilt of the
accused, and they sentenced her to be burned, or to be beheaded, at the
pleasure of the king. He decided that she should be beheaded.

The execution was to take place in a little green area within the Tower.
The platform was erected here, and the block placed upon it, the whole
being covered with a black cloth, as usual on such occasions. On the
morning of the fatal day, Anne sent for the constable of the Tower to
come in and receive her dying protestations that she was innocent of the
crimes alleged against her. She told him that she understood that she
was not to die until 12 o'clock, and that she was sorry for it, for she
wished to have it over. The constable told her the pain would be very
slight and momentary. "Yes," she rejoined, "I am told that a very
skillful executioner is provided, and my neck is very slender."

At the appointed hour she was led out into the court-yard where the
execution was to take place. There were about twenty persons present,
all officers of state or of the city of London. The bodily suffering
attendant upon the execution was very soon over, for the slender neck
was severed at a single blow, and probably all sensibility to pain
immediately ceased. Still, the lips and the eyes were observed to move
and quiver for a few seconds after the separation of the head from the
body. It was a relief, however, to the spectators when this strange and
unnatural prolongation of the mysterious functions of life came to an
end.

No coffin had been provided. They found, however, an old wooden chest,
made to contain arrows, lying in one of the apartments of the tower,
which they used instead. They first laid the decapitated trunk within
it, and then adjusted the dissevered head to its place, as if vainly
attempting to repair the irretrievable injury they had done. They
hurried the body, thus enshrined, to its burial in a chapel, which was
also within the tower, doing all with such dispatch that the whole was
finished before the clock struck twelve; and the next day the unfeeling
monster who was the author of this dreadful deed was publicly married to
his new favorite, Jane Seymour.

The king had not merely procured Anne's personal condemnation; he had
also obtained a decree annulling his marriage with her, on the ground of
her having been, as he attempted to prove, previously affianced to
another man. This was, obviously, a mere pretense. The object was to cut
off Elizabeth's rights to inherit the crown, by making his marriage with
her mother void. Thus was the little princess left motherless and
friendless when only three years old.





Next: The Childhood Of A Princess




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