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

violently compressed.

"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

bloody decision.

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

checked him.

"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

your person."

"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

with difficulty.

"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

these matters."

"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

and says."

"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

from weariness.

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

trembling hands.

"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

the victory!"

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

the chamber.