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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