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Ch. 27 - Henry the Eighth



WE now come to King Henry the Eighth, whom it has been too much the
fashion to call 'Bluff King Hal,' and 'Burly King Harry,' and other
fine names; but whom I shall take the liberty to call, plainly, one
of the most detestable villains that ever drew breath. You will be
able to judge, long before we come to the end of his life, whether
he deserves the character.

He was just eighteen years of age when he came to the throne.
People said he was handsome then; but I don't believe it. He was a
big, burly, noisy, small-eyed, large-faced, double-chinned,
swinish-looking fellow in later life (as we know from the
likenesses of him, painted by the famous HANS HOLBEIN), and it is
not easy to believe that so bad a character can ever have been
veiled under a prepossessing appearance.

He was anxious to make himself popular; and the people, who had
long disliked the late King, were very willing to believe that he
deserved to be so. He was extremely fond of show and display, and
so were they. Therefore there was great rejoicing when he married
the Princess Catherine, and when they were both crowned. And the
King fought at tournaments and always came off victorious - for the
courtiers took care of that - and there was a general outcry that
he was a wonderful man. Empson, Dudley, and their supporters were
accused of a variety of crimes they had never committed, instead of
the offences of which they really had been guilty; and they were
pilloried, and set upon horses with their faces to the tails, and
knocked about and beheaded, to the satisfaction of the people, and
the enrichment of the King.

The Pope, so indefatigable in getting the world into trouble, had
mixed himself up in a war on the continent of Europe, occasioned by
the reigning Princes of little quarrelling states in Italy having
at various times married into other Royal families, and so led to
THEIR claiming a share in those petty Governments. The King, who
discovered that he was very fond of the Pope, sent a herald to the
King of France, to say that he must not make war upon that holy
personage, because he was the father of all Christians. As the
French King did not mind this relationship in the least, and also
refused to admit a claim King Henry made to certain lands in
France, war was declared between the two countries. Not to perplex
this story with an account of the tricks and designs of all the
sovereigns who were engaged in it, it is enough to say that England
made a blundering alliance with Spain, and got stupidly taken in by
that country; which made its own terms with France when it could
and left England in the lurch. SIR EDWARD HOWARD, a bold admiral,
son of the Earl of Surrey, distinguished himself by his bravery
against the French in this business; but, unfortunately, he was
more brave than wise, for, skimming into the French harbour of
Brest with only a few row-boats, he attempted (in revenge for the
defeat and death of SIR THOMAS KNYVETT, another bold English
admiral) to take some strong French ships, well defended with
batteries of cannon. The upshot was, that he was left on board of
one of them (in consequence of its shooting away from his own
boat), with not more than about a dozen men, and was thrown into
the sea and drowned: though not until he had taken from his breast
his gold chain and gold whistle, which were the signs of his
office, and had cast them into the sea to prevent their being made
a boast of by the enemy. After this defeat - which was a great
one, for Sir Edward Howard was a man of valour and fame - the King
took it into his head to invade France in person; first executing
that dangerous Earl of Suffolk whom his father had left in the
Tower, and appointing Queen Catherine to the charge of his kingdom
in his absence. He sailed to Calais, where he was joined by
MAXIMILIAN, Emperor of Germany, who pretended to be his soldier,
and who took pay in his service: with a good deal of nonsense of
that sort, flattering enough to the vanity of a vain blusterer.
The King might be successful enough in sham fights; but his idea of
real battles chiefly consisted in pitching silken tents of bright
colours that were ignominiously blown down by the wind, and in
making a vast display of gaudy flags and golden curtains. Fortune,
however, favoured him better than he deserved; for, after much
waste of time in tent pitching, flag flying, gold curtaining, and
other such masquerading, he gave the French battle at a place
called Guinegate: where they took such an unaccountable panic, and
fled with such swiftness, that it was ever afterwards called by the
English the Battle of Spurs. Instead of following up his
advantage, the King, finding that he had had enough of real
fighting, came home again.

The Scottish King, though nearly related to Henry by marriage, had
taken part against him in this war. The Earl of Surrey, as the
English general, advanced to meet him when he came out of his own
dominions and crossed the river Tweed. The two armies came up with
one another when the Scottish King had also crossed the river Till,
and was encamped upon the last of the Cheviot Hills, called the
Hill of Flodden. Along the plain below it, the English, when the
hour of battle came, advanced. The Scottish army, which had been
drawn up in five great bodies, then came steadily down in perfect
silence. So they, in their turn, advanced to meet the English
army, which came on in one long line; and they attacked it with a
body of spearmen, under LORD HOME. At first they had the best of
it; but the English recovered themselves so bravely, and fought
with such valour, that, when the Scottish King had almost made his
way up to the Royal Standard, he was slain, and the whole Scottish
power routed. Ten thousand Scottish men lay dead that day on
Flodden Field; and among them, numbers of the nobility and gentry.
For a long time afterwards, the Scottish peasantry used to believe
that their King had not been really killed in this battle, because
no Englishman had found an iron belt he wore about his body as a
penance for having been an unnatural and undutiful son. But,
whatever became of his belt, the English had his sword and dagger,
and the ring from his finger, and his body too, covered with
wounds. There is no doubt of it; for it was seen and recognised by
English gentlemen who had known the Scottish King well.

When King Henry was making ready to renew the war in France, the
French King was contemplating peace. His queen, dying at this
time, he proposed, though he was upwards of fifty years old, to
marry King Henry's sister, the Princess Mary, who, besides being
only sixteen, was betrothed to the Duke of Suffolk. As the
inclinations of young Princesses were not much considered in such
matters, the marriage was concluded, and the poor girl was escorted
to France, where she was immediately left as the French King's
bride, with only one of all her English attendants. That one was a
pretty young girl named ANNE BOLEYN, niece of the Earl of Surrey,
who had been made Duke of Norfolk, after the victory of Flodden
Field. Anne Boleyn's is a name to be remembered, as you will
presently find.

And now the French King, who was very proud of his young wife, was
preparing for many years of happiness, and she was looking forward,
I dare say, to many years of misery, when he died within three
months, and left her a young widow. The new French monarch,
FRANCIS THE FIRST, seeing how important it was to his interests
that she should take for her second husband no one but an
Englishman, advised her first lover, the Duke of Suffolk, when King
Henry sent him over to France to fetch her home, to marry her. The
Princess being herself so fond of that Duke, as to tell him that he
must either do so then, or for ever lose her, they were wedded; and
Henry afterwards forgave them. In making interest with the King,
the Duke of Suffolk had addressed his most powerful favourite and
adviser, THOMAS WOLSEY - a name very famous in history for its rise
and downfall.

Wolsey was the son of a respectable butcher at Ipswich, in Suffolk
and received so excellent an education that he became a tutor to
the family of the Marquis of Dorset, who afterwards got him
appointed one of the late King's chaplains. On the accession of
Henry the Eighth, he was promoted and taken into great favour. He
was now Archbishop of York; the Pope had made him a Cardinal
besides; and whoever wanted influence in England or favour with the
King - whether he were a foreign monarch or an English nobleman -
was obliged to make a friend of the great Cardinal Wolsey.

He was a gay man, who could dance and jest, and sing and drink; and
those were the roads to so much, or rather so little, of a heart as
King Henry had. He was wonderfully fond of pomp and glitter, and
so was the King. He knew a good deal of the Church learning of
that time; much of which consisted in finding artful excuses and
pretences for almost any wrong thing, and in arguing that black was
white, or any other colour. This kind of learning pleased the King
too. For many such reasons, the Cardinal was high in estimation
with the King; and, being a man of far greater ability, knew as
well how to manage him, as a clever keeper may know how to manage a
wolf or a tiger, or any other cruel and uncertain beast, that may
turn upon him and tear him any day. Never had there been seen in
England such state as my Lord Cardinal kept. His wealth was
enormous; equal, it was reckoned, to the riches of the Crown. His
palaces were as splendid as the King's, and his retinue was eight
hundred strong. He held his Court, dressed out from top to toe in
flaming scarlet; and his very shoes were golden, set with precious
stones. His followers rode on blood horses; while he, with a
wonderful affectation of humility in the midst of his great
splendour, ambled on a mule with a red velvet saddle and bridle and
golden stirrups.

Through the influence of this stately priest, a grand meeting was
arranged to take place between the French and English Kings in
France; but on ground belonging to England. A prodigious show of
friendship and rejoicing was to be made on the occasion; and
heralds were sent to proclaim with brazen trumpets through all the
principal cities of Europe, that, on a certain day, the Kings of
France and England, as companions and brothers in arms, each
attended by eighteen followers, would hold a tournament against all
knights who might choose to come.

CHARLES, the new Emperor of Germany (the old one being dead),
wanted to prevent too cordial an alliance between these sovereigns,
and came over to England before the King could repair to the place
of meeting; and, besides making an agreeable impression upon him,
secured Wolsey's interest by promising that his influence should
make him Pope when the next vacancy occurred. On the day when the
Emperor left England, the King and all the Court went over to
Calais, and thence to the place of meeting, between Ardres and
Guisnes, commonly called the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Here, all
manner of expense and prodigality was lavished on the decorations
of the show; many of the knights and gentlemen being so superbly
dressed that it was said they carried their whole estates upon
their shoulders.

There were sham castles, temporary chapels, fountains running wine,
great cellars full of wine free as water to all comers, silk tents,
gold lace and foil, gilt lions, and such things without end; and,
in the midst of all, the rich Cardinal out-shone and out-glittered
all the noblemen and gentlemen assembled. After a treaty made
between the two Kings with as much solemnity as if they had
intended to keep it, the lists - nine hundred feet long, and three
hundred and twenty broad - were opened for the tournament; the
Queens of France and England looking on with great array of lords
and ladies. Then, for ten days, the two sovereigns fought five
combats every day, and always beat their polite adversaries; though
they DO write that the King of England, being thrown in a wrestle
one day by the King of France, lost his kingly temper with his
brother-in-arms, and wanted to make a quarrel of it. Then, there
is a great story belonging to this Field of the Cloth of Gold,
showing how the English were distrustful of the French, and the
French of the English, until Francis rode alone one morning to
Henry's tent; and, going in before he was out of bed, told him in
joke that he was his prisoner; and how Henry jumped out of bed and
embraced Francis; and how Francis helped Henry to dress, and warmed
his linen for him; and how Henry gave Francis a splendid jewelled
collar, and how Francis gave Henry, in return, a costly bracelet.
All this and a great deal more was so written about, and sung
about, and talked about at that time (and, indeed, since that time
too), that the world has had good cause to be sick of it, for ever.

Of course, nothing came of all these fine doings but a speedy
renewal of the war between England and France, in which the two
Royal companions and brothers in arms longed very earnestly to
damage one another. But, before it broke out again, the Duke of
Buckingham was shamefully executed on Tower Hill, on the evidence
of a discharged servant - really for nothing, except the folly of
having believed in a friar of the name of HOPKINS, who had
pretended to be a prophet, and who had mumbled and jumbled out some
nonsense about the Duke's son being destined to be very great in
the land. It was believed that the unfortunate Duke had given
offence to the great Cardinal by expressing his mind freely about
the expense and absurdity of the whole business of the Field of the
Cloth of Gold. At any rate, he was beheaded, as I have said, for
nothing. And the people who saw it done were very angry, and cried
out that it was the work of 'the butcher's son!'

The new war was a short one, though the Earl of Surrey invaded
France again, and did some injury to that country. It ended in
another treaty of peace between the two kingdoms, and in the
discovery that the Emperor of Germany was not such a good friend to
England in reality, as he pretended to be. Neither did he keep his
promise to Wolsey to make him Pope, though the King urged him. Two
Popes died in pretty quick succession; but the foreign priests were
too much for the Cardinal, and kept him out of the post. So the
Cardinal and King together found out that the Emperor of Germany
was not a man to keep faith with; broke off a projected marriage
between the King's daughter MARY, Princess of Wales, and that
sovereign; and began to consider whether it might not be well to
marry the young lady, either to Francis himself, or to his eldest

There now arose at Wittemberg, in Germany, the great leader of the
mighty change in England which is called The Reformation, and which
set the people free from their slavery to the priests. This was a
learned Doctor, named MARTIN LUTHER, who knew all about them, for
he had been a priest, and even a monk, himself. The preaching and
writing of Wickliffe had set a number of men thinking on this
subject; and Luther, finding one day to his great surprise, that
there really was a book called the New Testament which the priests
did not allow to be read, and which contained truths that they
suppressed, began to be very vigorous against the whole body, from
the Pope downward. It happened, while he was yet only beginning
his vast work of awakening the nation, that an impudent fellow
named TETZEL, a friar of very bad character, came into his
neighbourhood selling what were called Indulgences, by wholesale,
to raise money for beautifying the great Cathedral of St. Peter's,
at Rome. Whoever bought an Indulgence of the Pope was supposed to
buy himself off from the punishment of Heaven for his offences.
Luther told the people that these Indulgences were worthless bits
of paper, before God, and that Tetzel and his masters were a crew
of impostors in selling them.

The King and the Cardinal were mightily indignant at this
presumption; and the King (with the help of SIR THOMAS MORE, a wise
man, whom he afterwards repaid by striking off his head) even wrote
a book about it, with which the Pope was so well pleased that he
gave the King the title of Defender of the Faith. The King and the
Cardinal also issued flaming warnings to the people not to read
Luther's books, on pain of excommunication. But they did read them
for all that; and the rumour of what was in them spread far and

When this great change was thus going on, the King began to show
himself in his truest and worst colours. Anne Boleyn, the pretty
little girl who had gone abroad to France with his sister, was by
this time grown up to be very beautiful, and was one of the ladies
in attendance on Queen Catherine. Now, Queen Catherine was no
longer young or handsome, and it is likely that she was not
particularly good-tempered; having been always rather melancholy,
and having been made more so by the deaths of four of her children
when they were very young. So, the King fell in love with the fair
Anne Boleyn, and said to himself, 'How can I be best rid of my own
troublesome wife whom I am tired of, and marry Anne?'

You recollect that Queen Catherine had been the wife of Henry's
brother. What does the King do, after thinking it over, but calls
his favourite priests about him, and says, O! his mind is in such a
dreadful state, and he is so frightfully uneasy, because he is
afraid it was not lawful for him to marry the Queen! Not one of
those priests had the courage to hint that it was rather curious he
had never thought of that before, and that his mind seemed to have
been in a tolerably jolly condition during a great many years, in
which he certainly had not fretted himself thin; but, they all
said, Ah! that was very true, and it was a serious business; and
perhaps the best way to make it right, would be for his Majesty to
be divorced! The King replied, Yes, he thought that would be the
best way, certainly; so they all went to work.

If I were to relate to you the intrigues and plots that took place
in the endeavour to get this divorce, you would think the History
of England the most tiresome book in the world. So I shall say no
more, than that after a vast deal of negotiation and evasion, the
Pope issued a commission to Cardinal Wolsey and CARDINAL CAMPEGGIO
(whom he sent over from Italy for the purpose), to try the whole
case in England. It is supposed - and I think with reason - that
Wolsey was the Queen's enemy, because she had reproved him for his
proud and gorgeous manner of life. But, he did not at first know
that the King wanted to marry Anne Boleyn; and when he did know it,
he even went down on his knees, in the endeavour to dissuade him.

The Cardinals opened their court in the Convent of the Black
Friars, near to where the bridge of that name in London now stands;
and the King and Queen, that they might be near it, took up their
lodgings at the adjoining palace of Bridewell, of which nothing now
remains but a bad prison. On the opening of the court, when the
King and Queen were called on to appear, that poor ill-used lady,
with a dignity and firmness and yet with a womanly affection worthy
to be always admired, went and kneeled at the King's feet, and said
that she had come, a stranger, to his dominions; that she had been
a good and true wife to him for twenty years; and that she could
acknowledge no power in those Cardinals to try whether she should
be considered his wife after all that time, or should be put away.
With that, she got up and left the court, and would never
afterwards come back to it.

The King pretended to be very much overcome, and said, O! my lords
and gentlemen, what a good woman she was to be sure, and how
delighted he would be to live with her unto death, but for that
terrible uneasiness in his mind which was quite wearing him away!
So, the case went on, and there was nothing but talk for two
months. Then Cardinal Campeggio, who, on behalf of the Pope,
wanted nothing so much as delay, adjourned it for two more months;
and before that time was elapsed, the Pope himself adjourned it
indefinitely, by requiring the King and Queen to come to Rome and
have it tried there. But by good luck for the King, word was
brought to him by some of his people, that they had happened to
meet at supper, THOMAS CRANMER, a learned Doctor of Cambridge, who
had proposed to urge the Pope on, by referring the case to all the
learned doctors and bishops, here and there and everywhere, and
getting their opinions that the King's marriage was unlawful. The
King, who was now in a hurry to marry Anne Boleyn, thought this
such a good idea, that he sent for Cranmer, post haste, and said to
LORD ROCHFORT, Anne Boleyn's father, 'Take this learned Doctor down
to your country-house, and there let him have a good room for a
study, and no end of books out of which to prove that I may marry
your daughter.' Lord Rochfort, not at all reluctant, made the
learned Doctor as comfortable as he could; and the learned Doctor
went to work to prove his case. All this time, the King and Anne
Boleyn were writing letters to one another almost daily, full of
impatience to have the case settled; and Anne Boleyn was showing
herself (as I think) very worthy of the fate which afterwards befel

It was bad for Cardinal Wolsey that he had left Cranmer to render
this help. It was worse for him that he had tried to dissuade the
King from marrying Anne Boleyn. Such a servant as he, to such a
master as Henry, would probably have fallen in any case; but,
between the hatred of the party of the Queen that was, and the
hatred of the party of the Queen that was to be, he fell suddenly
and heavily. Going down one day to the Court of Chancery, where he
now presided, he was waited upon by the Dukes of Norfolk and
Suffolk, who told him that they brought an order to him to resign
that office, and to withdraw quietly to a house he had at Esher, in
Surrey. The Cardinal refusing, they rode off to the King; and next
day came back with a letter from him, on reading which, the
Cardinal submitted. An inventory was made out of all the riches in
his palace at York Place (now Whitehall), and he went sorrowfully
up the river, in his barge, to Putney. An abject man he was, in
spite of his pride; for being overtaken, riding out of that place
towards Esher, by one of the King's chamberlains who brought him a
kind message and a ring, he alighted from his mule, took off his
cap, and kneeled down in the dirt. His poor Fool, whom in his
prosperous days he had always kept in his palace to entertain him,
cut a far better figure than he; for, when the Cardinal said to the
chamberlain that he had nothing to send to his lord the King as a
present, but that jester who was a most excellent one, it took six
strong yeomen to remove the faithful fool from his master.

The once proud Cardinal was soon further disgraced, and wrote the
most abject letters to his vile sovereign; who humbled him one day
and encouraged him the next, according to his humour, until he was
at last ordered to go and reside in his diocese of York. He said
he was too poor; but I don't know how he made that out, for he took
a hundred and sixty servants with him, and seventy-two cart-loads
of furniture, food, and wine. He remained in that part of the
country for the best part of a year, and showed himself so improved
by his misfortunes, and was so mild and so conciliating, that he
won all hearts. And indeed, even in his proud days, he had done
some magnificent things for learning and education. At last, he
was arrested for high treason; and, coming slowly on his journey
towards London, got as far as Leicester. Arriving at Leicester
Abbey after dark, and very ill, he said - when the monks came out
at the gate with lighted torches to receive him - that he had come
to lay his bones among them. He had indeed; for he was taken to a
bed, from which he never rose again. His last words were, 'Had I
but served God as diligently as I have served the King, He would
not have given me over, in my grey hairs. Howbeit, this is my just
reward for my pains and diligence, not regarding my service to God,
but only my duty to my prince.' The news of his death was quickly
carried to the King, who was amusing himself with archery in the
garden of the magnificent Palace at Hampton Court, which that very
Wolsey had presented to him. The greatest emotion his royal mind
displayed at the loss of a servant so faithful and so ruined, was a
particular desire to lay hold of fifteen hundred pounds which the
Cardinal was reported to have hidden somewhere.

The opinions concerning the divorce, of the learned doctors and
bishops and others, being at last collected, and being generally in
the King's favour, were forwarded to the Pope, with an entreaty
that he would now grant it. The unfortunate Pope, who was a timid
man, was half distracted between his fear of his authority being
set aside in England if he did not do as he was asked, and his
dread of offending the Emperor of Germany, who was Queen
Catherine's nephew. In this state of mind he still evaded and did
nothing. Then, THOMAS CROMWELL, who had been one of Wolsey's
faithful attendants, and had remained so even in his decline,
advised the King to take the matter into his own hands, and make
himself the head of the whole Church. This, the King by various
artful means, began to do; but he recompensed the clergy by
allowing them to burn as many people as they pleased, for holding
Luther's opinions. You must understand that Sir Thomas More, the
wise man who had helped the King with his book, had been made
Chancellor in Wolsey's place. But, as he was truly attached to the
Church as it was even in its abuses, he, in this state of things,

Being now quite resolved to get rid of Queen Catherine, and to
marry Anne Boleyn without more ado, the King made Cranmer
Archbishop of Canterbury, and directed Queen Catherine to leave the
Court. She obeyed; but replied that wherever she went, she was
Queen of England still, and would remain so, to the last. The King
then married Anne Boleyn privately; and the new Archbishop of
Canterbury, within half a year, declared his marriage with Queen
Catherine void, and crowned Anne Boleyn Queen.

She might have known that no good could ever come from such wrong,
and that the corpulent brute who had been so faithless and so cruel
to his first wife, could be more faithless and more cruel to his
second. She might have known that, even when he was in love with
her, he had been a mean and selfish coward, running away, like a
frightened cur, from her society and her house, when a dangerous
sickness broke out in it, and when she might easily have taken it
and died, as several of the household did. But, Anne Boleyn
arrived at all this knowledge too late, and bought it at a dear
price. Her bad marriage with a worse man came to its natural end.
Its natural end was not, as we shall too soon see, a natural death
for her.


THE Pope was thrown into a very angry state of mind when he heard
of the King's marriage, and fumed exceedingly. Many of the English
monks and friars, seeing that their order was in danger, did the
same; some even declaimed against the King in church before his
face, and were not to be stopped until he himself roared out
'Silence!' The King, not much the worse for this, took it pretty
quietly; and was very glad when his Queen gave birth to a daughter,
who was christened ELIZABETH, and declared Princess of Wales as her
sister Mary had already been.

One of the most atrocious features of this reign was that Henry the
Eighth was always trimming between the reformed religion and the
unreformed one; so that the more he quarrelled with the Pope, the
more of his own subjects he roasted alive for not holding the
Pope's opinions. Thus, an unfortunate student named John Frith,
and a poor simple tailor named Andrew Hewet who loved him very
much, and said that whatever John Frith believed HE believed, were
burnt in Smithfield - to show what a capital Christian the King

But, these were speedily followed by two much greater victims, Sir
Thomas More, and John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester. The latter,
who was a good and amiable old man, had committed no greater
offence than believing in Elizabeth Barton, called the Maid of Kent
- another of those ridiculous women who pretended to be inspired,
and to make all sorts of heavenly revelations, though they indeed
uttered nothing but evil nonsense. For this offence - as it was
pretended, but really for denying the King to be the supreme Head
of the Church - he got into trouble, and was put in prison; but,
even then, he might have been suffered to die naturally (short work
having been made of executing the Kentish Maid and her principal
followers), but that the Pope, to spite the King, resolved to make
him a cardinal. Upon that the King made a ferocious joke to the
effect that the Pope might send Fisher a red hat - which is the way
they make a cardinal - but he should have no head on which to wear
it; and he was tried with all unfairness and injustice, and
sentenced to death. He died like a noble and virtuous old man, and
left a worthy name behind him. The King supposed, I dare say, that
Sir Thomas More would be frightened by this example; but, as he was
not to be easily terrified, and, thoroughly believing in the Pope,
had made up his mind that the King was not the rightful Head of the
Church, he positively refused to say that he was. For this crime
he too was tried and sentenced, after having been in prison a whole
year. When he was doomed to death, and came away from his trial
with the edge of the executioner's axe turned towards him - as was
always done in those times when a state prisoner came to that
hopeless pass - he bore it quite serenely, and gave his blessing to
his son, who pressed through the crowd in Westminster Hall and
kneeled down to receive it. But, when he got to the Tower Wharf on
his way back to his prison, and his favourite daughter, MARGARET
ROPER, a very good woman, rushed through the guards again and
again, to kiss him and to weep upon his neck, he was overcome at
last. He soon recovered, and never more showed any feeling but
cheerfulness and courage. When he was going up the steps of the
scaffold to his death, he said jokingly to the Lieutenant of the
Tower, observing that they were weak and shook beneath his tread,
'I pray you, master Lieutenant, see me safe up; and, for my coming
down, I can shift for myself.' Also he said to the executioner,
after he had laid his head upon the block, 'Let me put my beard out
of the way; for that, at least, has never committed any treason.'
Then his head was struck off at a blow. These two executions were
worthy of King Henry the Eighth. Sir Thomas More was one of the
most virtuous men in his dominions, and the Bishop was one of his
oldest and truest friends. But to be a friend of that fellow was
almost as dangerous as to be his wife.

When the news of these two murders got to Rome, the Pope raged
against the murderer more than ever Pope raged since the world
began, and prepared a Bull, ordering his subjects to take arms
against him and dethrone him. The King took all possible
precautions to keep that document out of his dominions, and set to
work in return to suppress a great number of the English
monasteries and abbeys.

This destruction was begun by a body of commissioners, of whom
Cromwell (whom the King had taken into great favour) was the head;
and was carried on through some few years to its entire completion.
There is no doubt that many of these religious establishments were
religious in nothing but in name, and were crammed with lazy,
indolent, and sensual monks. There is no doubt that they imposed
upon the people in every possible way; that they had images moved
by wires, which they pretended were miraculously moved by Heaven;
that they had among them a whole tun measure full of teeth, all
purporting to have come out of the head of one saint, who must
indeed have been a very extraordinary person with that enormous
allowance of grinders; that they had bits of coal which they said
had fried Saint Lawrence, and bits of toe-nails which they said
belonged to other famous saints; penknives, and boots, and girdles,
which they said belonged to others; and that all these bits of
rubbish were called Relics, and adored by the ignorant people.
But, on the other hand, there is no doubt either, that the King's
officers and men punished the good monks with the bad; did great
injustice; demolished many beautiful things and many valuable
libraries; destroyed numbers of paintings, stained glass windows,
fine pavements, and carvings; and that the whole court were
ravenously greedy and rapacious for the division of this great
spoil among them. The King seems to have grown almost mad in the
ardour of this pursuit; for he declared Thomas a Becket a traitor,
though he had been dead so many years, and had his body dug up out
of his grave. He must have been as miraculous as the monks
pretended, if they had told the truth, for he was found with one
head on his shoulders, and they had shown another as his undoubted
and genuine head ever since his death; it had brought them vast
sums of money, too. The gold and jewels on his shrine filled two
great chests, and eight men tottered as they carried them away.
How rich the monasteries were you may infer from the fact that,
when they were all suppressed, one hundred and thirty thousand
pounds a year - in those days an immense sum - came to the Crown.

These things were not done without causing great discontent among
the people. The monks had been good landlords and hospitable
entertainers of all travellers, and had been accustomed to give
away a great deal of corn, and fruit, and meat, and other things.
In those days it was difficult to change goods into money, in
consequence of the roads being very few and very bad, and the
carts, and waggons of the worst description; and they must either
have given away some of the good things they possessed in enormous
quantities, or have suffered them to spoil and moulder. So, many
of the people missed what it was more agreeable to get idly than to
work for; and the monks who were driven out of their homes and
wandered about encouraged their discontent; and there were,
consequently, great risings in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. These
were put down by terrific executions, from which the monks
themselves did not escape, and the King went on grunting and
growling in his own fat way, like a Royal pig.

I have told all this story of the religious houses at one time, to
make it plainer, and to get back to the King's domestic affairs.

The unfortunate Queen Catherine was by this time dead; and the King
was by this time as tired of his second Queen as he had been of his
first. As he had fallen in love with Anne when she was in the
service of Catherine, so he now fell in love with another lady in
the service of Anne. See how wicked deeds are punished, and how
bitterly and self-reproachfully the Queen must now have thought of
her own rise to the throne! The new fancy was a LADY JANE SEYMOUR;
and the King no sooner set his mind on her, than he resolved to
have Anne Boleyn's head. So, he brought a number of charges
against Anne, accusing her of dreadful crimes which she had never
committed, and implicating in them her own brother and certain
gentlemen in her service: among whom one Norris, and Mark Smeaton
a musician, are best remembered. As the lords and councillors were
as afraid of the King and as subservient to him as the meanest
peasant in England was, they brought in Anne Boleyn guilty, and the
other unfortunate persons accused with her, guilty too. Those
gentlemen died like men, with the exception of Smeaton, who had
been tempted by the King into telling lies, which he called
confessions, and who had expected to be pardoned; but who, I am
very glad to say, was not. There was then only the Queen to
dispose of. She had been surrounded in the Tower with women spies;
had been monstrously persecuted and foully slandered; and had
received no justice. But her spirit rose with her afflictions;
and, after having in vain tried to soften the King by writing an
affecting letter to him which still exists, 'from her doleful
prison in the Tower,' she resigned herself to death. She said to
those about her, very cheerfully, that she had heard say the
executioner was a good one, and that she had a little neck (she
laughed and clasped it with her hands as she said that), and would
soon be out of her pain. And she WAS soon out of her pain, poor
creature, on the Green inside the Tower, and her body was flung
into an old box and put away in the ground under the chapel.

There is a story that the King sat in his palace listening very
anxiously for the sound of the cannon which was to announce this
new murder; and that, when he heard it come booming on the air, he
rose up in great spirits and ordered out his dogs to go a-hunting.
He was bad enough to do it; but whether he did it or not, it is
certain that he married Jane Seymour the very next day.

I have not much pleasure in recording that she lived just long
enough to give birth to a son who was christened EDWARD, and then
to die of a fever: for, I cannot but think that any woman who
married such a ruffian, and knew what innocent blood was on his
hands, deserved the axe that would assuredly have fallen on the
neck of Jane Seymour, if she had lived much longer.

Cranmer had done what he could to save some of the Church property
for purposes of religion and education; but, the great families had
been so hungry to get hold of it, that very little could be rescued
for such objects. Even MILES COVERDALE, who did the people the
inestimable service of translating the Bible into English (which
the unreformed religion never permitted to be done), was left in
poverty while the great families clutched the Church lands and
money. The people had been told that when the Crown came into
possession of these funds, it would not be necessary to tax them;
but they were taxed afresh directly afterwards. It was fortunate
for them, indeed, that so many nobles were so greedy for this
wealth; since, if it had remained with the Crown, there might have
been no end to tyranny for hundreds of years. One of the most
active writers on the Church's side against the King was a member
of his own family - a sort of distant cousin, REGINALD POLE by name
- who attacked him in the most violent manner (though he received a
pension from him all the time), and fought for the Church with his
pen, day and night. As he was beyond the King's reach - being in
Italy - the King politely invited him over to discuss the subject;
but he, knowing better than to come, and wisely staying where he
was, the King's rage fell upon his brother Lord Montague, the
Marquis of Exeter, and some other gentlemen: who were tried for
high treason in corresponding with him and aiding him - which they
probably did - and were all executed. The Pope made Reginald Pole
a cardinal; but, so much against his will, that it is thought he
even aspired in his own mind to the vacant throne of England, and
had hopes of marrying the Princess Mary. His being made a high
priest, however, put an end to all that. His mother, the venerable
Countess of Salisbury - who was, unfortunately for herself, within
the tyrant's reach - was the last of his relatives on whom his
wrath fell. When she was told to lay her grey head upon the block,
she answered the executioner, 'No! My head never committed
treason, and if you want it, you shall seize it.' So, she ran
round and round the scaffold with the executioner striking at her,
and her grey hair bedabbled with blood; and even when they held her
down upon the block she moved her head about to the last, resolved
to be no party to her own barbarous murder. All this the people
bore, as they had borne everything else.

Indeed they bore much more; for the slow fires of Smithfield were
continually burning, and people were constantly being roasted to
death - still to show what a good Christian the King was. He
defied the Pope and his Bull, which was now issued, and had come
into England; but he burned innumerable people whose only offence
was that they differed from the Pope's religious opinions. There
was a wretched man named LAMBERT, among others, who was tried for
this before the King, and with whom six bishops argued one after
another. When he was quite exhausted (as well he might be, after
six bishops), he threw himself on the King's mercy; but the King
blustered out that he had no mercy for heretics. So, HE too fed
the fire.

All this the people bore, and more than all this yet. The national
spirit seems to have been banished from the kingdom at this time.
The very people who were executed for treason, the very wives and
friends of the 'bluff' King, spoke of him on the scaffold as a good
prince, and a gentle prince - just as serfs in similar
circumstances have been known to do, under the Sultan and Bashaws
of the East, or under the fierce old tyrants of Russia, who poured
boiling and freezing water on them alternately, until they died.
The Parliament were as bad as the rest, and gave the King whatever
he wanted; among other vile accommodations, they gave him new
powers of murdering, at his will and pleasure, any one whom he
might choose to call a traitor. But the worst measure they passed
was an Act of Six Articles, commonly called at the time 'the whip
with six strings;' which punished offences against the Pope's
opinions, without mercy, and enforced the very worst parts of the
monkish religion. Cranmer would have modified it, if he could;
but, being overborne by the Romish party, had not the power. As
one of the articles declared that priests should not marry, and as
he was married himself, he sent his wife and children into Germany,
and began to tremble at his danger; none the less because he was,
and had long been, the King's friend. This whip of six strings was
made under the King's own eye. It should never be forgotten of him
how cruelly he supported the worst of the Popish doctrines when
there was nothing to be got by opposing them.

This amiable monarch now thought of taking another wife. He
proposed to the French King to have some of the ladies of the
French Court exhibited before him, that he might make his Royal
choice; but the French King answered that he would rather not have
his ladies trotted out to be shown like horses at a fair. He
proposed to the Dowager Duchess of Milan, who replied that she
might have thought of such a match if she had had two heads; but,
that only owning one, she must beg to keep it safe. At last
Cromwell represented that there was a Protestant Princess in
Germany - those who held the reformed religion were called
Protestants, because their leaders had Protested against the abuses
and impositions of the unreformed Church - named ANNE OF CLEVES,
who was beautiful, and would answer the purpose admirably. The
King said was she a large woman, because he must have a fat wife?
'O yes,' said Cromwell; 'she was very large, just the thing.' On
hearing this the King sent over his famous painter, Hans Holbein,
to take her portrait. Hans made her out to be so good-looking that
the King was satisfied, and the marriage was arranged. But,
whether anybody had paid Hans to touch up the picture; or whether
Hans, like one or two other painters, flattered a princess in the
ordinary way of business, I cannot say: all I know is, that when
Anne came over and the King went to Rochester to meet her, and
first saw her without her seeing him, he swore she was 'a great
Flanders mare,' and said he would never marry her. Being obliged
to do it now matters had gone so far, he would not give her the
presents he had prepared, and would never notice her. He never
forgave Cromwell his part in the affair. His downfall dates from
that time.

It was quickened by his enemies, in the interests of the unreformed
religion, putting in the King's way, at a state dinner, a niece of
the Duke of Norfolk, CATHERINE HOWARD, a young lady of fascinating
manners, though small in stature and not particularly beautiful.
Falling in love with her on the spot, the King soon divorced Anne
of Cleves after making her the subject of much brutal talk, on
pretence that she had been previously betrothed to some one else -
which would never do for one of his dignity - and married
Catherine. It is probable that on his wedding day, of all days in
the year, he sent his faithful Cromwell to the scaffold, and had
his head struck off. He further celebrated the occasion by burning
at one time, and causing to be drawn to the fire on the same
hurdles, some Protestant prisoners for denying the Pope's
doctrines, and some Roman Catholic prisoners for denying his own
supremacy. Still the people bore it, and not a gentleman in
England raised his hand.

But, by a just retribution, it soon came out that Catherine Howard,
before her marriage, had been really guilty of such crimes as the
King had falsely attributed to his second wife Anne Boleyn; so,
again the dreadful axe made the King a widower, and this Queen
passed away as so many in that reign had passed away before her.
As an appropriate pursuit under the circumstances, Henry then
applied himself to superintending the composition of a religious
book called 'A necessary doctrine for any Christian Man.' He must
have been a little confused in his mind, I think, at about this
period; for he was so false to himself as to be true to some one:
that some one being Cranmer, whom the Duke of Norfolk and others of
his enemies tried to ruin; but to whom the King was steadfast, and
to whom he one night gave his ring, charging him when he should
find himself, next day, accused of treason, to show it to the
council board. This Cranmer did to the confusion of his enemies.
I suppose the King thought he might want him a little longer.

He married yet once more. Yes, strange to say, he found in England
another woman who would become his wife, and she was CATHERINE
PARR, widow of Lord Latimer. She leaned towards the reformed
religion; and it is some comfort to know, that she tormented the
King considerably by arguing a variety of doctrinal points with him
on all possible occasions. She had very nearly done this to her
own destruction. After one of these conversations the King in a
very black mood actually instructed GARDINER, one of his Bishops
who favoured the Popish opinions, to draw a bill of accusation
against her, which would have inevitably brought her to the
scaffold where her predecessors had died, but that one of her
friends picked up the paper of instructions which had been dropped
in the palace, and gave her timely notice. She fell ill with
terror; but managed the King so well when he came to entrap her
into further statements - by saying that she had only spoken on
such points to divert his mind and to get some information from his
extraordinary wisdom - that he gave her a kiss and called her his
sweetheart. And, when the Chancellor came next day actually to
take her to the Tower, the King sent him about his business, and
honoured him with the epithets of a beast, a knave, and a fool. So
near was Catherine Parr to the block, and so narrow was her escape!

There was war with Scotland in this reign, and a short clumsy war
with France for favouring Scotland; but, the events at home were so
dreadful, and leave such an enduring stain on the country, that I
need say no more of what happened abroad.

A few more horrors, and this reign is over. There was a lady, ANNE
ASKEW, in Lincolnshire, who inclined to the Protestant opinions,
and whose husband being a fierce Catholic, turned her out of his
house. She came to London, and was considered as offending against
the six articles, and was taken to the Tower, and put upon the rack
- probably because it was hoped that she might, in her agony,
criminate some obnoxious persons; if falsely, so much the better.
She was tortured without uttering a cry, until the Lieutenant of
the Tower would suffer his men to torture her no more; and then two
priests who were present actually pulled off their robes, and
turned the wheels of the rack with their own hands, so rending and
twisting and breaking her that she was afterwards carried to the
fire in a chair. She was burned with three others, a gentleman, a
clergyman, and a tailor; and so the world went on.

Either the King became afraid of the power of the Duke of Norfolk,
and his son the Earl of Surrey, or they gave him some offence, but
he resolved to pull THEM down, to follow all the rest who were
gone. The son was tried first - of course for nothing - and
defended himself bravely; but of course he was found guilty, and of
course he was executed. Then his father was laid hold of, and left
for death too.

But the King himself was left for death by a Greater King, and the
earth was to be rid of him at last. He was now a swollen, hideous
spectacle, with a great hole in his leg, and so odious to every
sense that it was dreadful to approach him. When he was found to
be dying, Cranmer was sent for from his palace at Croydon, and came
with all speed, but found him speechless. Happily, in that hour he
perished. He was in the fifty-sixth year of his age, and the
thirty-eighth of his reign.

Henry the Eighth has been favoured by some Protestant writers,
because the Reformation was achieved in his time. But the mighty
merit of it lies with other men and not with him; and it can be
rendered none the worse by this monster's crimes, and none the
better by any defence of them. The plain truth is, that he was a
most intolerable ruffian, a disgrace to human nature, and a blot of
blood and grease upon the History of England.

Charles Dickens