The King And The Priest
"God bless and preserve your majesty!" said Gardiner as he entered, to
the king, who just then was sitting with the queen at the chess-board.
With frowning brow and compressed lips he looked over the game, which
stood unfavorable for him, and threatened him with a speedy checkmate.
It was not wise in the queen not to let the king win; for his
superstitious and jealous temper looked upon such a won game of chess as
withal an assault on his own person. And he who ventured to conquer
him at chess was always to Henry a sort of traitor that threatened his
kingdom, and was rash enough to attempt to seize the crown.
The queen very well knew that, but--Gardiner was right--she was too
self-confident. She trusted a little to her power over the king; she
imagined he would make an exception in her favor. And it was so dull to
be obliged ever to be the losing and conquered party at this game; to
permit the king always to appear as the triumphant victor, and to bestow
on his game praise which he did not deserve. Catharine wanted to allow
herself for once the triumph of having beaten her husband. She fought
him man to man; she irritated him by the ever-approaching danger. The
king, who at the beginning had been cheerful, and laughed when Catharine
took up one of his pieces--the king now no longer laughed. It was
no more a game. It was a serious struggle; and he contended with his
consort for the victory with impassioned eagerness. Catharine did not
even see the clouds which were gathering on the king's brow. Her looks
were directed only to the chess-board; and, breathless with expectation
and glowing with eagerness, she considered the move she was about to
But Gardiner was very well aware of the king's secret anger; and he
comprehended that the situation was favorable for him.
With soft, sneaking step he approached the king, and, standing behind
him, looked over the game.
"You are checkmated in four moves, my husband!" said the queen with a
cheerful laugh, as she made her move.
A still darker frown gathered on the king's brow, and his lips were
"It is true, your majesty," said Gardiner. "You will soon have to
succumb. Danger threatens you from the queen."
Henry gave a start, and turned his face to Gardiner with an expression
of inquiry. In his exasperated mood against the queen, the crafty
priest's ambiguous remark struck him with double keenness.
Gardiner was a very skilful hunter; the very first arrow that he
shot had hit. But Catharine, too, had heard it whiz. Gardiner's slow,
ambiguous words had startled her from her artless security; and as she
now looked into the king's glowing, excited face, she comprehended her
want of prudence.
But it was too late to remedy it. The king's checkmate was unavoidable;
and Henry himself had already noticed his defeat.
"It is all right!" said the king, impetuously. "You have won, Catharine,
and, by the holy mother of God! you can boast of the rare good fortune
of having vanquished Henry of England!"
"I will not boast of it, my noble husband!" said she, with a smile. "You
have played with me as the lion does with the puppy, which he does not
crush only because he has compassion on him, and he pities the poor
little creature. Lion, I thank you. You have been magnanimous to-day.
You have let me win."
The king's face brightened a little. Gardiner saw it. He must prevent
Catharine from following up her advantage further.
"Magnanimity is an exalted, but a very dangerous virtue," said
he, gravely; "and kings above all things dare not exercise it; for
magnanimity pardons crimes committed, and kings are not here to pardon,
but to punish."
"Oh, no, indeed," said Catharine; "to be able to be magnanimous is the
noblest prerogative of kings; and since they are God's representatives
on earth, they too must exercise pity and mercy, like God himself."
The king's brow again grew dark, and his sullen looks stared at the
Gardiner shrugged his shoulders, and made no reply. He drew a roll of
papers out of his gown and handed it to the king.
"Sire," said he, "I hope you do not share the queen's views; else it
would be bad for the quiet and peace of the country. Mankind cannot be
governed by mercy, but only through fear. Your majesty holds the sword
in his hands. If you hesitate to let it fall on evil-doers, they will
soon wrest it from your hands, and you will be powerless!"
"Those are very cruel words, your highness!" exclaimed Catharine,
who allowed herself to be carried away by her magnanimous heart, and
suspected that Gardiner had come to move the king to some harsh and
She wanted to anticipate his design; she wanted to move the king to
mildness. But the moment was unpropitious for her.
The king, whom she had just before irritated by her victory over him,
felt his vexation heightened by the opposition which she offered to
the bishop; for this opposition was at the same time directed against
himself. The king was not at all inclined to exercise mercy; it was,
therefore, a very wicked notion of the queen's to praise mercy as the
highest privilege of princes.
With a silent nod of the head, he took the papers from Gardiner's hands,
and opened them.
"Ah," said he, running over the pages, "your highness is right; men do
not deserve to be treated with mercy, for they are always ready to abuse
it. Because we have for a few weeks lighted no fagot-piles and erected
no scaffolds, they imagine that we are asleep; and they begin their
treasonable and mischievous doings with redoubled violence, and raise
their sinful fists against us, in order to mock us. I see here an
accusation against one who has presumed to say that there is no king by
the grace of God; and that the king is a miserable and sinful mortal,
just as well as the lowest beggar. Well, we will concede this man his
point--we will not be to him a king by the grace of God, but a king by
the wrath of God! We will show him that we are not yet quite like the
lowest beggar, for we still possess at least wood enough to build a pile
of fagots for him."
And as the king thus spoke, he broke out into a loud laugh, in which
Gardiner heartily chimed.
"Here I behold the indictment of two others who deny the king's
supremacy," continued Henry, still turning over the leaves of the
papers. "They revile me as a blasphemer, because I dare call myself
God's representative--the visible head of His holy Church; they say that
God alone is Lord of His Church, and that Luther and Calvin are more
exalted representatives of God than the king himself. Verily we must
hold our royalty and our God-granted dignity very cheap, if we should
not punish these transgressors, who blaspheme in our sacred person God
He continued turning over the leaves. Suddenly a deep flush of anger
suffused his countenance, and a fierce curse burst from his lips. He
threw the paper on the table, and struck it with his clenched fist. "Are
all the devils let loose, then?" yelled he, in wrath. "Does sedition
blaze so wildly in my land, that we have no longer the power to subdue
it? Here a fanatical heretic on the public street has warned the people
not to read that holy book which I myself, like a well-intentioned and
provident father and guardian, wrote for my people, and gave it them
that they might be edified and exalted thereby. And this book that felon
has shown to the people, and said to them: 'You call that the king's
book; and you are right; for it is a wicked book, a work of hell, and
the devil is the king's sponsor!' Ah, I see well we must again show our
earnest and angry face to this miserable, traitorous rabble, that it
may again have faith in the king. It is a wretched, disgusting, and
contemptible mob--this people! They are obedient and humble only when
they tremble and feel the lash. Only when they are trampled in the dust,
do they acknowledge that we are their master; and when we have racked
them and burnt, they have respect for our excellency. We must, however,
brand royalty on their bodies so that they may be sensible of it as a
reality. And by the eternal God, we will do that! Give me the pen here
that I may sign and ratify these warrants. But dip the pen well, your
highness, for there are eight warrants, and I must write my name eight
times. Ah, ah, it is a hard and fatiguing occupation to be a king, and
no day passes without trouble and toil!"
"The Lord our God will bless this toil to you!" said Gardiner, solemnly,
as he handed the king the pen.
Henry was preparing to write, as Catharine laid her hand on his, and
"Do not sign them, my husband," said she, in a voice of entreaty. "Oh,
by all that is sacred to you, I conjure you not to let yourself be
carried away by your momentary vexation; let not the injured man be
mightier in you than the righteous king. Let the sun set and rise
on your wrath; and then, when you are perfectly calm, perfectly
composed--then pronounce judgment on these accused. For consider it
well, my husband, these are eight death-warrants that you are here about
to sign; and with these few strokes of the pen, you will tear eight
human beings from life, from family, and from the world; you will take
from the mother, her son; from the wife, her husband; and from the
infant children, their father. Consider it, Henry; it is so weighty a
responsibility that God has placed in your hand, and it is presumptuous
not to meet it in holy earnestness and undisturbed tranquillity of
"Now, by the holy mother!" cried the king, striking vehemently upon the
table, "I believe, forsooth, you dare excuse traitors and blasphemers of
their king! You have not heard then of what they are accused?"
"I have heard it," said Catharine, more and more warmly; "I have heard,
and I say, nevertheless, sign not those death-warrants, my husband. It
is true these poor creatures have grievously erred, but they erred as
human beings. Then let your punishment also be human. It is not wise, O
king, to want to avenge so bitterly a trifling injury to your majesty.
A king must be exalted above reviling and calumny. Like the sun, he must
shine upon the just and the unjust, no one of whom is so mighty that
he can cloud his splendor and dim his glory. Punish evil-doers and
criminals, but be noble and magnanimous toward those who have injured
"The king is no person that can be injured!" said Gardiner. "The king is
a sublime idea, a mighty, world-embracing thought. Whoever injures the
king, has not injured a person, but a divinely instituted royalty--the
universal thought that holds together the whole world!"
"Whoever injures the king has injured God!" yelled the king; "and
whoever seizes our crown and reviles us, shall have his hand struck off,
and his tongue torn out, as is done to atheists and patricides!"
"Well, strike off their hand then, mutilate them; but do not kill them!"
cried Catharine, passionately. "Ascertain at least whether their crime
is so grievous as they want to make you believe, my husband. Oh, it is
so easy now to be accused as a traitor and atheist! All that is needed
for it is an inconsiderate word, a doubt, not as to God, but to his
priests and this Church which you, my king, have established; and of
which the lofty and peculiar structure is to many so new and unusual
that they ask themselves in doubt whether that is a Church of God or a
palace of the king, and that they lose themselves in its labyrinthine
passages, and wander about without being able to find the exit."
"Had they faith," said Gardiner, solemnly, "they would not lose their
way; and were God with them, the entrance would not be closed to them."
"Oh, I well know that YOU are always inexorable!" cried Catharine,
angrily. "But it is not to you either that I intercede for mercy, but
to the king; and I tell you, sir bishop, it would be better for you, and
more worthy of a priest of Christian love, if you united your prayers
with mine, instead of wanting to dispose the king's noble heart to
severity. You are a priest; and you have learned in your own life that
there are many paths that lead to God, and that we, one and all, doubt
and are perplexed which of them is right."
"How!" screamed the king, as he rose from his seat and gazed at
Catharine with angry looks. "You mean, then, that the heretics also may
find themselves on a path that leads to God?"
"I mean," cried she, passionately, "that Jesus Christ, too, was called
an atheist, and executed. I mean that Stephen was stoned by Paul, and
that, nevertheless, both are now honored as saints and prayed to as
such. I mean, that Socrates was not damned because he lived before
Christ, and so could not be acquainted with his religion; and that
Horace and Julius Caesar, Phidias and Plato, must yet be called great
and noble spirits, even though they were heathen. Yes, my lord and
husband, I mean that it behooves us well to exercise gentleness in
matters of religion, and that faith is not to be obtruded on men by main
force as a burden, but is to be bestowed upon them as a benefit through
their own conviction."
"So you do not hold these eight accused to be criminals worthy of
death?" asked Henry with studied calmness, and a composure maintained
"No, my husband! I hold that they are poor, erring mortals, who seek the
right path, and would willingly travel it; and who, therefore, ask in
doubt all along, 'Is this the right way?'"
"It is enough!" said the king, as he beckoned Gardiner to him, and,
leaning on his arm, took a few steps across the room. "We will speak no
more of these matters. They are too grave for us to wish to decide them
in the presence of our gay young queen. The heart of woman is always
inclined to gentleness and forgiveness. You should have borne that in
mind, Gardiner, and not have spoken of these matters in the queen's
"Sire, it was, however, the hour that you appointed for consultation on
"Was it the hour!" exclaimed the king, quickly. "Well, then we did
wrong to devote it to anything else than grave employments; and you
will pardon me, queen, if I beg you to leave me alone with the bishop.
Affairs of state must not be postponed."
He presented Catharine his hand, and with difficulty, and yet with a
smiling countenance, conducted her to the door. As she stopped, and,
looking him in the eye with an expression inquiring and anxious, opened
her lips to speak to him, he made an impatient gesture with his hand,
and a dark frown gathered on his brow.
"It is late," said he, hastily, "and we have business of state."
Catharine did not venture to speak; she bowed in silence and left the
room. The king watched her with sullen brow and angry looks. Then he
turned round to Gardiner.
"Now," asked he, "what do you think of the queen?"
"I think," said Gardiner, so slowly and so deliberately that each word
had time to penetrate the king's sensitive heart like the prick of a
needle--"I think that she does not deem them criminals that call the
holy book which you have written a work of hell; and that she has a
great deal of sympathy for those heretics who will not acknowledge your
"By the holy mother, I believe she herself would speak thus, and avow
herself among my enemies, if she were not my wife!" cried the king, in
whose heart rage began already to seethe like lava in a volcano.
"She does it already, although she is your wife, sire! She imagines
her exalted position renders her unamenable, and protects her from
your righteous wrath; therefore she does what no one else dares do, and
speaks what in the mouth of any other would be the blackest treason."
"What does she? and what says she?" cried the king. "Do not hesitate to
tell me, your highness. It behooves me well to know what my wife does
"Sire, she is not merely the secret patroness of heretics and reformers,
but she is also a professor of their faith. She listens to their false
doctrine with eager mind, and receives the cursed priests of this sect
into her apartments, in order to hear their fanatical discourse and
hellish inspiration. She speaks of these heretics as true believers and
Christians; and denominates Luther the light that God has sent into
the world to illuminate the gloom and falsehood of the Church with the
splendor of truth and love--that Luther, sire, who dared write you such
shameful and insulting letters, and ridiculed in such a brutal manner
your royalty and your wisdom."
"She is a heretic; and when you say that, you say everything!" screamed
the king. The volcano was ripe for an eruption, and the seething lava
must at last have an outlet. "Yes, she is a heretic!" repeated the king;
"and yet we have sworn to exterminate these atheists from our land."
"She very well knows that she is secure from your wrath," said Gardiner,
with a shrug of his shoulders. "She relies on the fact that she is the
queen, and that in the heart of her exalted husband love is mightier
than the faith."
"Nobody shall suppose that he is secure from my wrath, and no one shall
rely on the security afforded him by my love. She is a proud, arrogant,
and audacious woman!" cried the king, whose looks were just then
fixed again on the chess-board, and whose spite was heightened by the
remembrance of the lost game. "She ventures to brave us, and to have a
will other than ours. By the holy mother, we will endeavor to break her
stubbornness, and bend her proud neck beneath our will! Yes, I will
show the world that Henry of England is still the immovable and
incorruptible. I will give the heretics an evidence that I am in reality
the defender and protector of the faith and of religion in my land, and
that nobody stands too high to be struck by my wrath, and to feel the
sword of justice on his neck. She is a heretic; and we have sworn to
destroy heretics with fire and sword. We shall keep our oath."
"And God will bless you with His blessing. He will surround your head
with a halo of fame; and the Church will praise you as her most glorious
pastor, her exalted head."
"Be it so!" said the king, as with youthful alacrity he strode across
the room; and, stepping to his writing-table, with a vigorous and fleet
hand he wrote down a few lines. Gardiner stood in the middle of the room
with his hands folded; and his lips murmured in an undertone a prayer,
while his large flashing eyes were fastened on the king with a curious
and penetrating expression.
"Here, your highness," the king then said, "take this paper--take it
and order everything necessary. It is an arrest-warrant; and before the
night draws on, the queen shall be in the Tower."
"Verily, the Lord is mighty in you!" cried Gardiner, as he took the
paper; "the heavenly hosts sing their hallelujah and look down with
rapture on the hero who subdues his own heart to serve God and the
"Take it and speed you!" said the king, hastily. "In a few hours
everything must be done. Give Earl Douglas the paper, and bid him go
with it to the lord-lieutenant of the Tower, so that he himself may
repair hither with the yeomen of the guard. For this woman is yet a
queen, and even in the criminal I will still recognize the queen. The
lord-lieutenant himself must conduct her to the Tower. Hasten then, say
I! But, hark you, keep all this a secret, and let nobody know anything
of it till the decisive moment arrives. Otherwise her friends might take
a notion to implore my mercy for this sinner; and I abhor this whining
and crying. Silence, then, for I am tired and need rest and sleep. I
have, as you say, just done a work well pleasing to God; perhaps He may
send me, as a reward for it, invigorating and strengthening sleep, which
I have now so long desired in vain."
And the king threw back the curtains of his couch, and, supported by
Gardiner, laid himself on the downy cushion.
Gardiner drew the curtains again, and thrust the fatal paper into his
pocket. Even in his hands it did not seem to him secure enough. What!
might not some curious eye fasten on it, and divine its contents? Might
not some impertinent and shameless friend of the queen snatch this paper
from him, and carry it to her and give her warning? No, no, it was not
secure enough in his hands. He must hide it in the pocket of his gown.
There, no one could find it, no one discover it.
So there he hid it. In the gown with its large folds it was safe; and,
after he had thus concealed the precious paper, he left the room with
rapid strides, in order to acquaint Earl Douglas with the glorious
result of his plans.
Not a single time did he look back. Had he done so, he would have
sprung back into that room as a tiger pounces on his prey. He would have
plunged, as the hawk stoops at the dove, at that piece of white paper
that lay there on the floor, exactly on the spot where Gardiner was
before standing when he placed into his pocket the arrest-warrant
written by the king.
Ah, even the gown of a priest is not always close enough to conceal a
dangerous secret; and even the pocket of a bishop may sometimes have
holes in it.
Gardiner went away with the proud consciousness of having the order
of arrest in his pocket; and that fatal paper lay on the floor in the
middle of the king's chamber.
Who will come to pick it up? Who will become the sharer of this
dangerous secret? To whom will this mute paper proclaim the shocking
news that the queen has fallen into disgrace, and is this very day to be
dragged to the Tower as a prisoner?
All is still and lonely in the king's apartment. Nothing is stirring,
not even the heavy damask curtains of the royal couch.
The king sleeps. Even vexation and anger are a good lullaby; they have
so agitated and prostrated the king, that he has actually fallen asleep
Ah, the king should have been thankful to his wife for his vexation
at the lost game of chess, and his wrath at Catharine's heretical
sentiments. These had fatigued him; these had lulled him to sleep.
The warrant of arrest still lay on the floor. Now, quite softly, quite
cautiously, the door opens. Who is it that dares venture to enter the
king's room unsummoned and unannounced?
There are only three persons who dare venture that: the queen, Princess
Elizabeth, and John Heywood the fool. Which of the three is it?
It is Princess Elizabeth, who comes to salute her royal father. Every
forenoon at this hour she had found the king in his room. Where was
he then to-day? As she looked around the room with an inquiring and
surprised air, her eye fell on that paper which lay there on the floor.
She picked it up, and examined it with childish curiosity. What could
this paper contain? Surely it was no secret--else, it would not lie here
on the floor.
She opened it and read. Her fine countenance expressed horror and
amazement; a low exclamation escaped her lips. But Elizabeth had a
strong and resolute soul; and the unexpected and the surprising did not
dull her clear vision, nor cloud her sharp wit. The queen was in danger.
The queen was to be imprisoned. THAT, this dreadful paper shrieked in
her ear; but she durst not allow herself to be stunned by it. She must
act; she must warn the queen.
She hid the paper in her bosom, and light as a zephyr she floated away
again out of the chamber.
With flashing eyes and cheeks reddened by her rapid race Elizabeth
entered the queen's chamber; with passionate vehemence she clasped her
in her arms and tenderly kissed her.
"Catharine, my queen, and my mother," said she, "we have sworn to stand
by and protect each other when danger threatens us. Fate is gracious to
me, for it has given into my hand the means of making good my oath
this very day. Take that paper and read! It is an order for your
imprisonment, made out by the king himself. When you have read it, then
let us consider what is to be done, and how we can avert the danger from
"An order of imprisonment!" said Catharine, with a shudder, as she read
it. "An order of imprisonment--that is to say, a death-warrant! For when
once the threshold of that frightful Tower is crossed, it denotes that
it is never to be left again; and if a queen is arrested and accused,
then is she also already condemned. Oh, my God, princess, do you
comprehend that--to have to die while life still throbs so fresh and
warm in our veins? To be obliged to go to death, while the future still
allures us with a thousand hopes, a thousand wishes? My God, to have to
descend into the desolate prison and into the gloomy grave, while the
world greets us with alluring voices, and spring-tide has scarcely awoke
in our heart!"
Streams of tears burst from her eyes, and she hid her face in her
"Weep not, queen," whispered Elizabeth, herself trembling and pale as
death. "Weep not; but consider what is to be done. Each minute, and the
danger increases; each minute brings the evil nearer to us."
"You are right," said Catharine, as she again raised her head, and shook
the tears from her eyes. "Yes, you are right; it is not time to weep and
wail. Death is creeping upon me; but I--I will not die. I live still;
and so long as there is a breath in me I will fight against death. God
will assist me; God will help me to overcome this danger also, as I have
already done so many others."
"But what will you do? where can you begin? You know not the accusation.
You know not who accuses you, nor with what you are charged."
"Yet I suspect it!" said the queen, musingly. "When I now recall to mind
the king's angry countenance, and the malicious smile of that malignant
priest, I believe I know the accusation. Yes--everything is now clear to
me. Ah, it is the heretic that they would sentence to death. Well, now,
my lord bishop, I still live; and--we will see which of us two will gain
With proud step and glowing cheeks she hurried to the door. Elizabeth
held her hack. "Whither are you going?" cried she, in astonishment.
"To the king!" said she, with a proud smile. "He has heard the bishop;
now he shall hear me also. The king's disposition is fickle and easily
changed. We will now see which cunning is the stronger--the cunning of
the priest or the cunning of the woman. Elizabeth, pray for me. I go to
the king; and you will either see me free and happy, or never again."
She imprinted a passionate kiss on Elizabeth's lips, and hurriedly left