Le Roi S'ennuit

King Henry was alone in his study. He had spent a few hours in writing

on a devout and edifying book, which he was preparing for his subjects,

and which, in virtue of his dignity as supreme lord of the Church, he

designed to commend to their reading instead of the Bible.

He now laid down his pen, and, with infinite complacency, looked over

the written sheets, which were to be to his people a new proof of his

/> paternal love and care, and so convince them that Henry the Eighth was

not only the noblest and most virtuous of kings, but also the wisest.

But this reflection failed to make the king more cheerful to-day;

perhaps because he had already indulged in it too frequently. To be

alone, annoyed and disturbed him--there were in his breast so many

secret and hidden voices, whose whispers he dreaded, and which,

therefore, he sought to drown--there were so many recollections of

blood, which ever and again rose before him, however often he tried to

wash them out in fresh blood, and which the king was afraid of, though

he assumed the appearance of never repenting, never feeling disquietude.

With hasty hand he touched the gold bell standing by him, and his face

brightened as he saw the door open immediately, and Earl Douglas make

his appearance on the threshold.

"Oh, at length!" said the lord, who had very well understood the

expression of Henry's features; "at length, the king condescends to be

gracious to his people."

"I gracious?" asked the king, utterly astonished. "Well, how am I so?"

"By your majesty's resting at length from his exertions, and giving a

little thought to his valuable and needful health. When you remember,

sire, that England's weal depends solely and alone on the weal of

her king, and that you must be and remain healthy, that your people,

likewise may be healthy."

The king smiled with satisfaction. It never came into his head to doubt

the earl's words. It seemed to him perfectly natural that the weal of

his people depended on his person; but yet it was always a lofty and

beautiful song, and he loved to have his courtiers repeat it.

The king, as we have said, smiled, but there was something unusual in

that smile, which did not escape the earl.

"He is in the condition of a hungry anaconda," said Earl Douglas to

himself. "He is on the watch for prey, and he will be bright and lively

again just as soon as he has tasted a little human flesh and blood. Ah,

luckily we are well supplied in that way. Therefore, we will render

unto the king what is the king's. But we must be cautious and go to work


He approached the king and imprinted a kiss on his hand.

"I kiss this hand," said he, "which has been to-day the fountain through

which the wisdom of the head has been poured forth on this blessed

paper. I kiss this paper, which will announce and explain to happy

England God's pure and unadulterated word; but yet I say let this

suffice for the present, my king; take rest; remember awhile that you

are not only a sage, but also a man."

"Yes and truly a weak and decrepit one!" sighed the king, as with

difficulty he essayed to rise, and in so doing leaned so heavily and the

earl's arm that he almost broke down under the monstrous load.

"Decrepit!" said Earl Douglas, reproachfully. "Your majesty moves to-day

with as much ease and freedom as a youth, and my arm was by no means

needed to help you up."

"Nevertheless, we are growing old!" said the king, who, from his

weariness, was unusually sentimental and low-spirited to-day.

"Old!" repeated Earl Douglas. "Old, with those eyes darting fire, and

that lofty brow, and that face, in every feature so noble! No, your

majesty, kings have this in common with the gods--they never grow old."

"And therein they resemble parrots to a hair!" said John Heywood, who

just then entered the room. "I own a parrot which my great-grandfather

inherited from his great-grandfather, who was hair-dresser to Henry the

Fourth, and which to-day still sings with the same volubility as he

did a hundred years ago: 'Long live the king! long live this paragon of

virtue, sweetness, beauty, and mercy! Long live the king!' He has cried

this for hundreds of years, and he has repeated it for Henry the Fifth

and Henry the Sixth, for Henry the Seventh and Henry the Eighth! And

wonderful, the kings have changed, but the song of praise has always

been appropriate, and has ever been only the simple truth! Just like

yours, my Lord Douglas! Your majesty may depend upon it, he speaks the

truth, for he is near akin to my parrot, which always calls him 'My

cousin,' and has taught him his immortal song of praise to kings."

The king laughed, while Earl Douglas cast at John Heywood a sharp,

spiteful look.

"He is an impudent imp, is he not, Douglas?" said the king.

"He is a fool!" replied he, with a shrug.

"Exactly, and therefore I just now told you the truth. For you know

children and fools speak the truth. And I became a fool just on this

account, that the king, whom you all deceive by your lies, may have

about him some creature, besides his looking-glass, to tell him the


"Well, and what truth will you serve up for me today?"

"It is already served, your majesty. So lay aside for a little your

regal crown and your high priesthood, and conclude to be for awhile a

carnivorous beast. It is very easy to become a king. For that, nothing

more is necessary than to be born of a queen under a canopy. But it

is very difficult to be a man who has a good digestion. It requires a

healthy stomach and a light conscience. Come, King Henry, and let us

see whether you are not merely a king, but also a man that has a good

stomach." And with a merry laugh he took the king's other arm and led

him with the earl into the dining-room.

The king, who was an extraordinary eater, silently beckoned his suite

to take their places at the table, after he had seated himself in his

gilded chair. With grave and solemn air he then received from the hands

of the master of ceremonies the ivory tablet on which was the bill of

fare for the day. The king's dinner was a solemn and important affair. A

multitude of post-wagons and couriers were ever on the way to bring from

the remotest ends of the earth dainties for the royal table. The bill

of fare, therefore, to-day, as ever, exhibited the choicest and rarest

dishes; and always when the king found one of his favorite ones written

down he made an assenting and approving motion of the head, which always

lighted up the face of the master of ceremonies like a sunbeam. There

were birds' nests brought from the East Indies by a fast-sailing vessel,

built specially for the purpose. There were hens from Calcutta and

truffles from Languedoc, which the poet-king, Francis the First of

France, had the day before sent to his royal brother as a special token

of affection. There was the sparkling wine of Champagne, and the fiery

wine of the Island of Cyprus, which the Republic of Venice had sent to

the king as a mark of respect. There were the heavy wines of the Rhine,

which looked like liquid gold, and diffused the fragrance of a whole

bouquet of flowers, and with which the Protestant princes of Northern

Germany hoped to fuddle the king, whom they would have gladly placed

at the head of their league. There, too, were the monstrous, gigantic

partridge pastries, which the Duke of Burgundy had sent, and the

glorious fruits of the south, from the Spanish coast, with which the

Emperor Charles the Fifth supplied the King of England's table. For it

was well known that, in order to make the King of England propitious,

it was necessary first to satiate him; that his palate must first be

tickled, in order to gain his head or his heart.

But to-day all these things seemed insufficient to give the king the

blissful pleasure which, at other times, was wont to be with him when he

sat at table. He heard John Heywood's jests and biting epigrams with a

melancholy smile, and a cloud was on his brow.

To be in cheerful humor, the king absolutely needed the presence of

ladies. He needed them as the hunter needs the roe to enjoy the pleasure

of the chase--that pleasure which consists in killing the defenceless

and in declaring war against the innocent and peaceful.

The crafty courtier, Earl Douglas, readily divined Henry's

dissatisfaction, and understood the secret meaning of his frowns and

sighs. He hoped much from them, and was firmly resolved to draw some

advantage therefrom, to the benefit of his daughter, and the harm of the


"Your majesty," said he, "I am just on the point of turning traitor, and

accusing my king of an injustice."

The king turned his flashing eyes upon him, and put his hand, sparkling

with jewelled rings, to the golden goblet filled with Rhenish wine.

"Of an injustice--me--your king?" asked he, with stammering tongue.

"Yes, of an injustice, inasmuch as you are for me God's visible

representative on earth. I would blame God if He withdrew from us for

a day the brightness of the sun, the gorgeousness and perfume of His

flowers, for since we children of men are accustomed to enjoy these

glories, we have in a certain measure gained a right to them. So I

accuse you because you have withdrawn from us the embodied flowers and

the incarnate suns; because you have been so cruel, sire, as to send the

queen to Epping Forest."

"Not so; the queen wanted to ride," said Henry, peevishly. "The spring

weather attracted her, and since I, alas! do not possess God's

exalted attribute of ubiquity, I was, no doubt, obliged to come to the

resolution of being deprived of her presence. There is no horse capable

of carrying the King of England."

"There is Pegasus, however, and in masterly manner you know how to

manage him. But how, your majesty! the queen wanted to ride, though she

was deprived of your presence thereby? She wanted to ride, though this

pleasure-ride was at the same time a separation from you? Oh how cold

and selfish are women's hearts! Were I a woman, I would never depart

from your side, I would covert no greater happiness than to be near

you, and to listen to that high and exalted wisdom which pours from your

inspired lips. Were I a woman--"

"Earl, I opine that your wish is perfectly fulfilled," said John Heywood

seriously. "You make in all respects the impression of an old woman!"

All laughed. But the king did not laugh; he remained serious and looked

gloomily before him.

"It is true," muttered he, "she seemed excited with joy about this

excursion, and in her eyes shone a fire I have seldom seen there.

There must be some peculiar circumstance connected with this ride. Who

accompanied the queen?"

"Princess Elizabeth," said John Heywood, who had heard everything, and

saw clearly the arrow that the earl had shot at the queen. "Princess

Elizabeth, her true and dear friend, who never leaves her side. Besides,

her maids of honor, who, like the dragon in the fable, keep watch over

the beautiful princess."

"Who else is in the queen's company?" inquired Henry, sullenly.

"The master of horse, Earl of Sudley," said Douglas, "and--"

"That is an observation in the highest degree superfluous," interrupted

John Heywood; "it is perfectly well understood by itself that the master

of horse accompanies the queen. That is just as much his office as it is

yours to sing the song of your cousin, my parrot."

"He is right," said the king quickly. "Thomas Seymour must accompany

her, and it is my will also. Thomas Seymour is a faithful servant, and

this he has inherited from his sister Jane, my much loved queen, now at

rest with God, that he is devoted to his king in steadfast affection."

"The time has not yet come when one may assail the Seymours," thought

the earl. "The king is yet attached to them; so he will feel hostile

toward the foes of the Seymours. Let us then begin our attack on Henry

Howard--that is to say, on the queen."

"Who accompanied the queen besides?" inquired Henry the Eighth, emptying

the golden beaker at a draught, as though he would thereby cool the

fire which already began to blaze within him. But the fiery Rhenish wine

instead of cooling only heated him yet more; it drove, like a tempest,

the fire kindled in his jealous heart in bright flames to his head, and

made his brain glow like his heart.

"Who else accompanied her beside these?" asked Earl Douglas carelessly.

"Well, I think, the lord chamberlain, Earl of Surrey."

A dark scowl gathered on the king's brow. The lion had scented his prey.

"The lord chamberlain is not in the queen's train!" said John Heywood


"No," exclaimed Earl Douglas. "The poor earl. That will make him very


"And why think you that will make him sad?" asked the king in a voice

very like the roll of distant thunder.

"Because the Earl of Surrey is accustomed to live in the sunshine of

royal favor, sire; because he resembles that flower which always turns

its head to the sun, and receives from it vigor, color, and brilliancy."

"Let him take care that the sun does not scorch him," muttered the king.

"Earl," said John Heywood, "you must put on your spectacles so that you

can see better. This time you have confounded the sun with one of its

satellites. Earl Surrey is far too prudent a man to be so foolish as to

gaze at the sun, and thereby blind his eyes and parch his brain. And

so he is satisfied to worship one of the planets that circle round the


"What does the fool intend to say by that?" asked the earl


"The wise will thereby give you to understand that you have this time

mistaken your daughter for the queen," said John Heywood, emphasizing

sharply every word, "and that it has happened to you, as to many a great

astrologer, you have taken a planet for a sun."

Earl Douglas cast a dark, spiteful look at John Heywood, who answered it

with one equally piercing and furious.

Their eyes were firmly fixed on each other's, and in those eyes they

both read all the hatred and all the bitterness which were working in

the depths of their souls. Both knew that they had from that hour sworn

to each other an enmity burning and full of danger.

The king had noticed nothing of this dumb but significant scene. He was

looking down, brooding over his gloomy thoughts, and the storm-clouds

rolling around his brow gathered darker and darker.

With an impetuous movement he arose from his seat, and this time he

needed no helping hand to stand up. Wrath was the mighty lever that

threw him up.

The courtiers arose from their seats in silence, and nobody besides John

Heywood observed the look of understanding which Earl Douglas exchanged

with Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, and Wriothesley, the lord


"Ah, why is not Cranmer here?" said John Heywood to himself. "I see the

three tiger-cats prowling, so there must be prey to devour somewhere.

Well, I will at any rate keep my ears open wide enough to hear their


"The dinner is over, gentlemen!" said the king hastily; and the

courtiers and gentlemen in waiting silently withdrew to the anteroom.

Only Earl Douglas, Gardiner, and Wriothesley, remained in the hall,

while John Heywood crept softly into the king's cabinet and concealed

himself behind the hanging of gold brocade which covered the door

leading from the king's study to the outer anteroom.

"My lords," said the king, "follow me into my cabinet. As we are dull,

the most advisable thing for us to do is to divert ourselves while we

occupy ourselves with the weal of our beloved subjects, and consult

concerning their happiness and what is conducive to their welfare.

Follow me then, and we will hold a general consultation."

"Earl Douglas, your arm!" and as the king leaned on it and walked slowly

toward the cabinet, at the entrance of which the lord chancellor and the

Bishop of Winchester were waiting for him, he asked in a low voice:

"You say that Henry Howard dares ever intrude himself into the queen's


"Sire, I did not say that; I meant only that he is constantly to be seen

in the queen's presence."

"Oh, you mean that she perhaps authorizes him to do so," said the king,

grinding his teeth.

"Sire, I hold the queen to be a noble and dutiful wife."

"I should be quite inclined to lay your head at your feet if you did

not!" said the king, in whose face the first lightning of the bursting

cloud of wrath began to flash.

"My head belongs to the king!" said Earl Douglas respectfully. "Let him

do with it as he pleases."

"But Howard--you mean, then, that Howard loves the queen?"

"Yes, sire, I dare affirm that."

"Now, by the Mother of God, I will tread the serpent under my feet, as

I did his sister!" exclaimed Henry, fiercely. "The Howards are an

ambitious, dangerous, and hypocritical race."

"A race that never forgets that a daughter of their house has sat on

your throne."

"But they shall forget it," cried the king, "and I must wash these proud

and haughty thoughts out of their brain with their own blood. They

have not then learned, from the example of their sister, how I punish

disloyalty. This insolent race needs another fresh example. Well, they

shall have it. Only put the means in my hand, Douglas, only a little

hook that I can strike into the flesh of these Howards, and I tell you,

with that little hook I will drag them to the scaffold. Give me proof of

the earl's criminal love, and I promise you that for this I will grant

you what you ask."

"Sire, I will give you this proof."


"In four days, sire! At the great contest of the poets, which you have

ordered to take place on the queen's birthday."

"I thank you, Douglas, I thank you," said the king with an expression

almost of joy. "In four days you will have rid me of the troublesome race

of Howards."

"But, sire, if I cannot give the proof you demand without accusing one

other person?"

The king, who was just about to pass the door of his cabinet, stood

still, and looked steadily into the earl's eyes. "Then," said he, in a

tone peculiarly awful, "you mean the queen? Well, if she is guilty, I

will punish her. God has placed the sword in my hand that I may bear it

to His honor and to the terror of mankind. If the queen has sinned, she

will be punished. Furnish me the proof of Howard's guilt, and do not

trouble yourself if we thereby discover the guilt of others. We shall

not timidly shrink back, but let justice take its course."