The Queen And Her Friend

At last this long day of ceremonies and festivities drew near its close,

and Catharine might soon hope to be, for the time, relieved from this

endless presenting and smiling, from this ever-renewed homage.

At her husband's side she had shown herself on the balcony to receive

the greetings of the people, and to bow her thanks. Then in the spacious

audience-chamber her newly appointed court had passed before her in

formal procession, and she had exchanged a few meaningless, friendly

words with each of these lords and ladies. Afterward she had, at her

husband's side, given audience to the deputations from the city and from

Parliament. But it was only with a secret shudder that she had received

from their lips the same congratulations and praises with which the

authorities had already greeted five other wives of the king.

Still she had been able to smile and seem happy, for she well knew that

the king's eye was never off of her, and that all these lords and ladies

who now met her with such deference, and with homage apparently so

sincere, were yet, in truth, all her bitter enemies. For by her marriage

she had destroyed so many hopes, she had pushed aside so many who

believed themselves better fitted to assume the lofty position of queen!

She knew that these victims of disappointment would never forgive her

this; that she, who was but yesterday their equal, had to-day soared

above them as queen and mistress; she knew that all these were watching

with spying eyes her every word and action, in order, it might be, to

forge therefrom an accusation or a death-warrant.

But nevertheless she smiled! She smiled, though she felt that the choler

of the king, so easily kindled and so cruelly vindictive, ever swung

over her head like the sword of Damocles.

She smiled, so that this sword might not fall upon her.

At length all these presentations, this homage and rejoicing were well

over, and they came to the more agreeable and satisfactory part of the


They went to dinner. That was Catharine's first moment of respite,

of rest. For when Henry the Eighth seated himself at table, he was

no longer the haughty monarch and the jealous husband, but merely the

proficient artiste and the impassioned gourmand; and whether the pastry

was well seasoned, and the pheasant of good flavor, was for him then a

far more important question than any concerning the weal of his people,

and the prosperity of his kingdom.

But after dinner came another respite, a new enjoyment, and this time a

more real one, which indeed for a while banished all gloomy forebodings

and melancholy fears from Catharine's heart, and suffused her

countenance with the rosy radiance of cheerfulness and happy smiles.

For King Henry had prepared for his young wife a peculiar and altogether

novel surprise. He had caused to be erected in the palace of Whitehall

a stage, whereon was represented, by the nobles of the court, a comedy

from Plautus. Heretofore there had been no other theatrical exhibitions

than those which the people performed on the high festivals of the

church, the morality and the mystery plays. King Henry the Eighth was

the first who had a stage erected for worldly amusement likewise, and

caused to be represented on it subjects other than mere dramatized

church history. As he freed the church from its spiritual head, the

pope, so he wished to free the stage from the church, and to behold

upon it other more lively spectacles than the roasting of saints and the

massacre of inspired nuns.

And why, too, represent such mock tragedies on the stage, when the king

was daily performing them in reality? The burning of Christian martyrs

and inspired virgins was, under the reign of the Christian king Henry,

such a usual and every-day occurrence, that it could afford a piquant

entertainment neither to the court nor to himself.

But the representation of a Roman comedy, that, however, was a new and

piquant pleasure, a surprise for the young queen. He had the "Curculio"

played before his wife, and if Catharine indeed could listen to the

licentious and shameless jests of the popular Roman poet only with

bashful blushes, Henry was so much the more delighted by it, and

accompanied the obscenest allusions and the most indecent jests with his

uproarious laughter and loud shouts of applause.

At length this festivity was also over with, and Catharine was now

permitted to retire with her attendants to her private apartments.

With a pleasant smile, she dismissed her cavaliers, and bade her women

and her second maid of honor, Anna Askew, go into her boudoir and await

her call. Then she gave her arm to her friend Lady Jane Douglas, and

with her entered her cabinet.

At last she was alone, at last unwatched. The smile disappeared from her

face, and an expression of deep sadness was stamped upon her features.

"Jane," said she, "pray thee shut the doors and draw the window

curtains, so that nobody can see me, nobody hear me, no one except

yourself, my friend, the companion of my happy childhood. Oh, my God, my

God, why was I so foolish as to leave my father's quiet, lonely castle

and go out into the world, which is so full of terror and horror?"

She sighed and groaned deeply; and burying her face in her hands, she

sank upon the ottoman, weeping and trembling.

Lady Jane observed her with a peculiar smile of malicious satisfaction.

"She is queen and she weeps," said she to herself. "My God, how can a

woman possibly feel unhappy, and she a queen?"

She approached Catharine, and, seating herself on the tabouret at her

feet, she impressed a fervent kiss on the queen's drooping hand.

"Your majesty weeping!" said she, in her most insinuating tone. "My God,

you are then unhappy; and I received with a loud cry of joy the news of

my friend's unexpected good fortune. I thought to meet a queen, proud,

happy, and radiant with joy; and I was anxious and fearful lest the

queen might have ceased to be my friend. Wherefore I urged my father,

as soon as your command reached us, to leave Dublin and hasten with me

hither. Oh, my God! I wished to see you in your happiness and in your


Catharine removed her hands from her face, and looked down at her friend

with a sorrowful smile. "Well," said she, "are you not satisfied with

what you have seen? Have I not the whole day displayed to you the

smiling queen, worn a dress embroidered with gold? did not my neck

glitter with diamonds? did not the royal diadem shine in my hair? and

sat not the king by my side? Let that, then, be sufficient for the

present. You have seen the queen all day long. Allow me now for one

brief, happy moment to be again the feeling, sensitive woman, who

can pour into the bosom of her friend all her complaint and her

wretchedness. Ah, Jane, if you knew how I have longed for this hour,

how I have sighed after you as the only balm for my poor smitten heart,

smitten even to death, how I have implored Heaven for this day, for this

one thing--'Give me back my Jane, so that she can weep with me, so that

I may have one being at my side who understands me, and does not allow

herself to be imposed upon by the wretched splendor of this outward


"Poor Catharine!" whispered Lady Jane, "poor queen!"

Catharine started and laid her hand, sparkling with brilliants, on

Jane's lips. "Call me not thus!" said she. "Queen! My God, is not all

the fearful past heard again in that word? Queen! Is it not as much as

to say, condemned to the scaffold and a public criminal trial? Ah, Jane!

a deadly tremor runs through my members. I am Henry the Eighth's

sixth queen; I shall also be executed, or, loaded with disgrace, be


Again she hid her face in her hands, and her whole frame shook; so she

saw not the smile of malicious satisfaction with which Lady Jane again

observed her. She suspected not with what secret delight her friend

heard her lamentations and sighs.

"Oh! I am at least revenged!" thought Jane, while she lovingly stroked

the queen's hair. "Yes, I am revenged! She has robbed me of a crown, but

she is wretched; and in the golden goblet which she presses to her lips

she will find nothing but wormwood! Now, if this sixth queen dies not on

the scaffold, still we may perhaps so work it that she dies of anxiety,

or deems it a pleasure to be able to lay down again her royal crown at

Henry's feet."

Then said she aloud: "But why these fears, Catharine? The king loves

you; the whole court has seen with what tender and ardent looks he has

regarded you to-day, and with what delight he has listened to your every

word. Certainly the king loves you."

Catharine seized her hand impulsively. "The king loves me," whispered

she, "and I, I tremble before him. Yes, more than that, his love fills

me with horror! His hands are dipped in blood, and as I saw him to-day

in his crimson robes I shuddered, and I thought, How soon, and my blood,

too, will dye this crimson!"

Jane smiled. "You are sick, Catharine," said she. "This good fortune has

taken you by surprise, and your overstrained nerves now depict before

you all sorts of frightful forms. That is all."

"No, no, Jane; these thoughts have ever been with me. They have attended

me ever since the king selected me for his wife."

"And why, then, did you not refuse him?" asked Lady Jane. "Why did you

not say 'no' to the king's suit?"

"Why did I not do it, ask you? Ah, Jane, are you such a stranger at

this court as not to know, then, that one must either fulfil the king's

behests or die? My God, they envy me! They call me the greatest and

most potent woman of England. They know not that I am poorer and more

powerless than the beggar of the street, who at least has the power to

refuse whom she will. I could not refuse. I must either die or accept

the royal hand which was extended to me; and I would not die yet, I have

still so many claims on life, and it has hitherto made good so few of

them! Ah, my poor, hapless existence! what has it been, but an endless

chain of renunciations and deprivations, of leafless flowers and

dissolving views? It is true, I have never learned to know what is

usually called misfortune. But is there a greater misfortune than not to

be happy; than to sigh through a life without wish or hope; to wear away

the endless, weary days of an existence without delight, yet surrounded

with luxury and splendor?"

"You were not unfortunate, and yet you are an orphan, fatherless and


"I lost my mother so early that I scarcely knew her. And when my father

died I could hardly consider it other than a blessing, for he had never

shown himself a father, but always only as a harsh, tyrannical master to


"But you were married?"

"Married!" said Catharine, with a melancholy smile. "That is to say,

my father sold me to a gouty old man, on whose couch I spent a few

comfortless, awfully wearisome years, till Lord Neville made me a rich

widow. But what did my independence avail me, when I had bound myself in

new fetters? Hitherto I had been the slave of my father, of my husband;

now I was the slave of my wealth. I ceased to be a sick-nurse to become

steward of my estate. Ah! this was the most tedious period of my life.

And yet I owe to it my only real happiness, for at that period I became

acquainted with you, my Jane, and my heart, which had never yet learned

to know a tenderer feeling, flew to you with all the impetuosity of a

first passion. Believe me, my Jane, when this long-missing nephew of my

husband came and snatched away from me his hereditary estate, and, as

the lord, took possession of it, then the thought that I must leave

you and your father, the neighboring proprietor, was my only grief. Men

commiserated me on account of my lost property. I thanked God that He

had relieved me of this load, and I started for London, that I might at

last live and feel, that I might learn to know real happiness or real


"And what did you find?"

"Misery, Jane, for I am queen."

"Is that your sole unhappiness?"

"My only one, but it is great enough, for it condemns me to eternal

anxiety, to eternal dissimulation. It condemns me to feign a love which

I do not feel, to endure caresses which make me shudder, because they

are an inheritance from five unfortunate women. Jane, Jane, do you

comprehend what it is to be obliged to embrace a man who has murdered

three wives and put away two? to be obliged to kiss this king whose lips

open just as readily to utter vows of love as sentences of death? Ah,

Jane, I speak, I live, and still I suffer all the agonies of death! They

call me a queen, and yet I tremble for my life every hour, and conceal

my anxiety and fear beneath the appearance of happiness! My God, I am

five-and-twenty, and my heart is still the heart of a child; it does not

yet know itself, and now it is doomed never to learn to know itself; for

I am Henry's wife, and to love another is, in other words, to wish to

mount the scaffold. The scaffold! Look, Jane. When the king approached

me and confessed his love and offered me his hand, suddenly there rose

before me a fearful picture. It was no more the king whom I saw before

me, but the hangman; and it seemed to me that I saw three corpses lying

at his feet, and with a loud scream I sank senseless before him. When

I revived, the king was holding me in his arms. The shock of this

unexpected good fortune, he thought, had made me faint. He kissed me

and called me his bride; he thought not for a moment that I could refuse

him. And I--despise me, Jane--I was such a dastard, that I could not

summon up courage for a downright refusal. Yes, I was so craven also, as

to be unwilling to die. Ah, my God, it appeared to me that life at that

moment beckoned to me with thousands of joys, thousands of charms, which

I had never known, and for which my soul thirsted as for the manna in

the wilderness. I would live, live at any cost. I would gain myself a

respite, so that I might once more share happiness, love, and enjoyment.

Look, Jane, men call me ambitious. They say I have given my hand to

Henry because he is king. Ah, they know not how I shuddered at this

royal crown. They know not that in anguish of heart I besought the king

not to bestow his hand upon me, and thereby rouse all the ladies of his

kingdom as foes against me. They know not that I confessed that I loved

him, merely that I might be able to add that I was ready, out of love to

him, to sacrifice my own happiness to his, and so conjured him to choose

a consort worthy of himself, from the hereditary princesses of Europe.

[Footnote: "La vie d'Elizabeth, Reine d'Angleterre, traduite de

l'Italien de Monsieur Gregoire Leti," vol. ii. Amsterdam, 1694] But

Henry rejected my sacrifice. He wished to make a queen, in order to

possess a wife, who may be his own property--whose blood, as her lord

and master, he can shed. So I am queen. I have accepted my lot, and

henceforth my existence will be a ceaseless struggle and wrestling with

death. I will at least sell my life as dearly as possible; and the maxim

which Cranmer has given me shall hereafter be my guide on the thorny

path of life."

"And how runs this maxim?" asked Jane.

"Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves," replied Catharine, with a

languid smile, as she dropped her head upon her breast and surrendered

herself to her painful and foreboding reflections.

Lady Jane stood opposite to her, and gazed with cruel composure upon the

painfully convulsed countenance and at times violently trembling form of

the young queen for whom all England that day kept festival, and who yet

was sitting before her so wretched and full of sorrow.

Suddenly Catharine raised her head. Her countenance had now assumed an

entirely different expression. It was now firm, resolute, and dauntless.

With a slight inclination of the head she extended her hand to Lady

Jane, and drew her friend more closely to her.

"I thank you, Jane," said she, as she imprinted a kiss upon her

forehead--"I thank you! You have done my heart good and relieved it

of its oppressive load of secret anguish. He who can give his grief

utterance, is already half cured of it. I thank you, then, Jane!

Henceforth, you will find me calm and cheerful. The woman has wept

before you, but the queen is aware that she has a task to accomplish

as difficult as it is noble, and I give you my word for it, she will

accomplish it. The new light which has risen on the world shall no more

be dimmed by blood and tears, and no more in this unhappy land shall men

of sense and piety be condemned as insurgents and traitors! This is the

task which God has set me, and I swear that I will accomplish it! Will

you help me in this, too, Jane?"

Lady Jane responded faintly in a few words, which Catharine did not

understand, and as she looked up to her, she noticed, with astonishment,

the corpse-like pallor which had suddenly overspread the countenance of

her maid of honor.

Catharine gave a start, and fixed on her face a surprised and searching


Lady Jane cast down her eyes before that searching and flashing glance.

Her fanaticism had for the moment got the better of her, and much as she

was wont at other times to hide her thoughts and feelings, it had, at

that moment, carried her away and betrayed her to the keen eye of her


"It is now a long while since we saw each other," said Catharine, sadly.

"Three years! It is a long time for a young girl's heart! And you were

those three years with your father in Dublin, at that rigidly popish

court. I did not consider that! But however much your opinions may have

changed, your heart, I know, still remains the same, and you will ever

be the proud, high-minded Jane of former days, who could never stoop to

tell a lie--no, not even if this lie would procure her profit and glory.

I ask you then, Jane, what is your religion? Do you believe in the Pope

of Rome, and the Church of Rome as the only channel of salvation? or do

you follow the new teaching which Luther and Calvin have promulgated?"

Lady Jane smiled. "Would I have risked appearing before you, if I still

reckoned myself of the Roman Catholic Church? Catharine Parr is hailed

by the Protestants of England as the new patroness of the persecuted

doctrine, and already the Romish priests hurl their anathemas against

you, and execrate you and your dangerous presence here. And you ask me,

whether I am an adherent of that church which maligns and damns you?

You ask me whether I believe in the pope, who has laid the king under

an interdict--the king, who is not only my lord and master, but also the

husband of my precious and noble Catharine? Oh, queen, you love me not

when you can address such a question to me."

And as if overcome by painful emotion, Lady Jane sank down at

Catharine's feet, and hid her head in the folds of the queen's robe.

Catharine bent down to raise her and take her to her heart. Suddenly

she started, and a deathly paleness overspread her face. "The king,"

whispered she, "the king is coming!"