John Heywood

After so much care and excitement, the king needed an hour of recreation

and amusement. Since the fair young queen was seeking these far away

in the chase, and amid the beauties of Nature, Henry must, no doubt,

be content to seek them for himself, and in a way different from the

queen's. His unwieldiness and his load of flesh prevented him from

pursuing the joys of life beyond his own halls; so the lords and ladies

is court had to bring them hither to him, and station the flitting

goddess of Joy, with her wings fettered, in front of the king's


The gout had that day again overcome that mighty king of earth; and a

heavy, grotesque mass it was which sat there in the elbow-chair.

But the courtiers still called him a fine-looking and fascinating man;

and the ladies still smiled on him and said, by their sighs and by their

looks, that they loved him; that he was ever to them the same handsome

and captivating man that he was twenty years before, when yet young,

fine-looking, and slim. How they smile upon him, and ogle him! How

Lady Jane, the maiden otherwise so haughty and so chaste, does wish to

ensnare him with her bright eyes as with a net! How bewitchingly does

the Duchess of Richmond, that fair and voluptuous woman, laugh at the

king's merry jests and double entendres!

Poor king! whose corpulency forbids him to dance as he once had done

with so much pleasure and so much dexterity! Poor king! whose age

forbids him to sing as once he had done to the delight both of the court

and himself!

But there are yet, however, pleasant, precious, joyous hours, when the

man revives some little in the king; when even youth once more again

awakes within him, and smiles in a few dear, blessed pleasures. The king

still has at least eyes to perceive beauty, and a heart to feel it.

How beautiful Lady Jane is, this white lily with the dark, star-like

eyes! How beautiful Lady Richmond, this full-blown red rose with the

pearl-white teeth!

And they both smile at him; and when the king swears he loves them, they

bashfully cast down their eyes and sigh.

"Do you sigh, Jane, because you love me?"

"Oh, sire, you mock me. It would be a sin for me to love you, for Queen

Catharine is living."

"Yes, she is living!" muttered the king; and his brow darkened; and for

a moment the smile disappeared from his lips.

Lady Jane had committed a mistake. She had reminded the king of his wife

when it was yet too soon to ask for her death.

John Heywood read this in the countenance of his royal master, and

resolved to take advantage of it. He wished to divert the attention of

the king, and to draw it away from the beautiful, captivating women who

were juggling him with their bewitching charms.

"Yes, the queen lives!" said he, joyfully, "and God be praised for it!

For how tedious and dull it would be at this court had we not our fair

queen, who is as wise as Methuselah, and innocent and good as a new-born

babe! Do you not, Lady Jane, say with me, God be praised that Queen

Catharine is living?"

"I say so with you!" said Jane, with ill-concealed vexation.

"And you, King Henry, do you not say it too?"

"Of course, fool!"

"Ah, why am I not King Henry?" sighed John Heywood. "King, I envy you,

not your crown, or your royal mantle; not your attendants or your money.

I envy you only this, that you can say, 'God be praised that my wife is

still alive!' while I never know but one phrase,'God have pity, my

wife is still alive!' Ah, it is very seldom, king, that I have heard a

married man speak otherwise! You are in that too, as in all things else,

an exception, King Henry; and your people have never loved you more

warmly and purely than when you say, 'I thank God that my consort is

alive!' Believe me, you are perhaps the only man at your court who

speaks after this manner, however ready they may be to be your parrots,

and re-echo what the lord high-priest says."

"The only man that loves his wife?" said Lady Richmond. "Behold now

the rude babbler! Do you not believe, then, that we women deserve to be


"I am convinced that you do not."

"And for what do you take us, then?"

"For cats, which God, since He had no more cat-skin, stuck into a smooth


"Take care, John, that we do not show you our claws!" cried the duchess,


"Do it anyhow, my lady! I will then make a cross, and ye will disappear.

For devils, you well know, cannot endure the sight of the holy cross,

and ye are devils."

John Heywood, who was a remarkably fine singer, seized the mandolin,

which lay near him, and began to sing.

It was a song, possible only in those days, and at Henry's voluptuous

and at the same time canting court--a song full of the most wanton

allusions, of the most cutting jests against both monks and women; a

song which made Henry laugh, and the ladies blush; and in which

John Heywood had poured forth in glowing dithyrambics all his secret

indignation against Gardiner, the sneaking hypocrite of a priest, and

against Lady Jane, the queen's false and treacherous friend.

But the ladies laughed not. They darted flashing glances at John

Heywood; and Lady Richmond earnestly and resolutely demanded the

punishment of the perfidious wretch who dared to defame women. The king

laughed still harder. The rage of the ladies was so exceedingly amusing.

"Sire," said the beautiful Richmond, "he has insulted not us, but

the whole sex; and in the name of our sex, I demand revenge for the


"Yes, revenge!" cried Lady Jane, hotly.

"Revenge!" repeated the rest of the ladies.

"See, now, what pious and gentle-hearted doves ye are!" cried John


The king said, laughingly: "Well, now, you shall have your will--you

shall chastise him."

"Yes, yes, scourge me with rods, as they once scourged the Messiah,

because He told the Pharisees the truth. See here! I am already putting

on the crown of thorns."

He took the king's velvet cap with solemn air, and put it on.

"Yes, whip him, whip him!" cried the king, laughing, as he pointed to

the gigantic vases of Chinese porcelain, containing enormous bunches

of roses, on whose long stems arose a real forest of formidable-looking


"Pull the large bouquets to pieces; take the roses in your hand, and

whip him with the stems!" said the king, and his eyes glistened with

inhuman delight, for the scene promised to be quite interesting. The

rose-stems were long and hard, and the thorns on them pointed and sharp

as daggers. How nicely they would pierce the flesh, and how he would

yell and screw his face, the good-natured fool!

"Yes, yes, let him take off his coat, and we will whip him!" cried the

Duchess of Richmond; and the women, all joining in the cry, rushed like

furies upon John Heywood, and forced him to lay aside his silk upper

garment. Then they hurried to the vases, snatched out the bouquets, and

with busy hands picked out the longest and stoutest stems. And loud were

their exclamations of satisfaction, if the thorns were right and sharp,

such as would penetrate the flesh of the offender right deeply. The

king's laughter and shouts of approval animated them more and more,

and made them more excited and furious. Their cheeks glowed, their eyes

glared; they resembled Bacchantes circling the god of riotous joviality

with their shouts of "Evoe! evoe!"

"Not yet! do not strike yet!" cried the king. "You must first strengthen

yourselves for the exertion, and fire your arms for a powerful blow!"

He took the large golden beaker which stood before him and, tasting it,

presented it to Lady Jane.

"Drink, my lady, drink, that your arm may be strong!"

And they all drank, and with animated smiles pressed their lips on

the spot which the king's mouth had touched. And now their eyes had a

brighter flame, and their cheeks a more fiery glow.

A strange and exciting sight it was, to see those beautiful women

burning with malicious joy and thirst for vengeance, who for the moment

had laid aside all their elegant attitudes, their lofty and haughty

airs, to transform themselves into wanton Bacchantes, bent on chastising

the offender, who had so often and so bitterly lashed them all with his


"Ah, I would a painter were here!" said the king. "He should paint us a

picture of the chaste nymphs of Diana pursuing Actaeon. You are Actaeon,


"But they are not the chaste nymphs, king; no, far from it," cried

Heywood; laughing, "and between these fair women and Diana I find no

resemblance, but only a difference."

"And in what consists the difference, John?"

"Herein, sire, that Diana carried her horn at her side; but these fair

ladies make their husbands wear their horns on the forehead!"

A loud peal of laughter from the gentlemen, a yell of rage from the

ladies, was the reply of this new epigram of John Heywood. They arranged

themselves in two rows, and thus formed a lane through which John

Heywood had to pass.

"Come, John Heywood, come and receive your punishment;" and they raised

their thorny rods threateningly, and flourished them with angry gestures

high above their heads.

The scene was becoming to John in all respects very piquant, for these

rods had very sharp thorns, and only a thin linen shirt covered his


With bold step, however, he approached the fatal passage through which

he was to pass.

Already he beheld the rods drawn back; and it seemed to him as if the

thorns were even now piercing his back.

He halted, and turned with a laugh to the king. "Sire, since you have

condemned me to die by the hands of these nymphs, I claim the right of

every condemned criminal--a last favor."

"The which we grant you, John."

"I demand that I may put on these fair women one condition--one

condition on which they may whip me. Does your majesty grant me this?"

"I grant it!"

"And you solemnly pledge me the word of a king that this condition shall

be faithfully kept and fulfilled?"

"My solemn, kingly word for it!"

"Now, then," said John Heywood, as he entered the passage, "now, then,

my ladies, my condition is this: that one of you who has had the most

lovers, and has oftenest decked her husband's head with horns, let her

lay the first stroke on my back." [Footnote: Flogel's "Geschichte der

Hofnarren," p.899]

A deep silence followed. The raised arms of the fair women sank. The

roses fell from their hands and dropped to the ground. Just before so

bloodthirsty and revengeful, they seemed now to have become the softest

and gentlest of beings.

But could their looks have killed, their fire certainly would have

consumed poor John Heywood, who now gazed at them with an insolent

sneer, and advanced into the very midst of their lines.

"Now, my ladies, you strike him not?" asked the king.

"No, your majesty, we despise him too much even to wish to chastise

him," said the Duchess of Richmond.

"Shall your enemy who has injured you go thus unpunished?" asked the

king. "No, no, my ladies; it shall not be said that there is a man in my

kingdom whom I have let escape when so richly deserving punishment. We

will, therefore, impose some other punishment on him. He calls himself

a poet, and has often boasted that he could make his pen fly as fast

as his tongue! Now, then, John, show us in this manner that you are no

liar! I command you to write, for the great court festival which takes

place in a few days, a new interlude; and one indeed, hear you, John,

which is calculated to make the greatest growler merry, and over which

these ladies will be forced to laugh so heartily, that they will forget

all their ire!"

"Oh," said John dolefully, "what an equivocal and lewd poem it must be

to please these ladies and make them laugh! My king, we must, then, to

please these dear ladies, forget a little our chastity, modesty, and

maiden bashfulness, and speak in the spirit of the ladies--that is to

say, as lasciviously as possible."

"You are a wretch!" said Lady Jane; "a vulgar hypocritical fool."

"Earl Douglas, your daughter is speaking to you," said John Heywood,

calmly. "She flatters you much, your tender daughter."

"Now then, John, you have heard my orders, and will you obey them? In

four days will this festival begin; I give you two days more. In six

days, then, you have to write a new interlude. And if he fails to do

it, my ladies, you shall whip him until you bring the blood; and that

without any condition." Just then was heard without a flourish of

trumpets and the clatter of horse-hoofs.

"The queen has returned," said John Heywood, with a countenance beaming

with joy, as he fixed his smiling gaze full of mischievous satisfaction

on Lady Jane.

"Nothing further now remains for you to do, but dutifully to meet your

mistress upon the great staircase, for, as you so wisely said before,

the queen still lives."

Without waiting for an answer, John Heywood ran out and rushed through

the anteroom and down the steps to meet the queen. Lady Jane watched him

with a dark, angry look; and as she turned slowly to the door to go and

meet the queen, she muttered low between her closely-pressed lips: "The

fool must die, for he is the queen's friend!"