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 com
encement 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


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


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


"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


"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.