The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51
Chapter VI. — Tudor Royalty
"How much of all that human hearts endure,
Kings and their laws can cause, but cannot cure."
To the last of the Plantagenets, Richard III., succeeded the first of the Tudors, Henry VII., the victor of Bosworth Field. He was the grandson of Owen Tudor, an insignificant Welsh squire in the service of the widow of Henry V. Owen married this lady, or she him, and was sent to Newgate for his presumption; yet his descendants came nearer to establish an absolute despotism in England than any of their predecessors on the throne.
The Plantagenets, in their long struggle with the barons, had been reluctantly constrained to concede many popular rights. While the royal and aristocratic thieves were quarrelling, honest Englishmen had succeeded in getting some portion of what was their own, But no sooner had the old nobility met their doom in the Wars of the Roses and the hands of royalty were untied, than a determined and systematic effort was made to uproot every national liberty. The old Norman barons regarded themselves as the peers of the king. They owed their elevation to their swords. The new nobility, on the other hand, were the mere creatures of the king, made by his parchments. Their obsequiousness to his will in the Upper House affected the House of Commons so disastrously that parliament, under the Tudors, became little more than a court for registering royal decrees. Under the Plantagenet régime the kings had to commit their own murders, extortions, and illegalities, and stand to the consequences. The Tudors were more fortunate. They made parliament and the judges of the land sanction all their crimes, and bear the odium. So completely has Mr. Froude, page 42 the leading authority for this period of our history, misunderstood the spirit of the age, that he persistently represents Henry VIII.—a more execrable and capricious tyrant never breathed—as a high-souled Christian gentleman who had the misfortune to suffer from a plethora of wives deserving the halter!
From the time of Henry VII. to the Long Parliament the rack and other dreadful instruments for the torture of political prisoners were in constant use. Torture was introduced by royal warrant in 1468, and went on till 1640 without check, in flagrant defiance of the common law of the land. In countries where the Roman law prevailed torture was in regulated use. In England there was no rule but the caprice of the king. "The rack," says Selden, "is nowhere used as in England. In other countries it is used in judicature when there is semiplena probatio, or half-proof against a man. Then to see if they can make it full, they rack him if he will not confess. But here in England they take a man and rack him—I don't know why nor where—not in time of judicature, but when somebody bids."
The Tudor and Stuart kings rank as torturers with Nabis and Phalaris. So exquisite were the torments they invented that their victims, generally innocent, were wont "to wish and kneel in vain to die." Scores of royal torture warrants of the reigns of Edward VI., Mary, Elizabeth, James I., and Charles I. have happily, or unhappily, come down to us to illustrate the history of the monarchy of which Englishmen are so proud.
For nearly two hundred years there was scarcely a State trial that was not a judicial murder. To be accused of disloyalty was to be condemned. There are two, and perhaps only two, exceptions to this rule, one of them being that of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, in the reign of Queen Mary. But the erring jury in that case got a lesson they were not likely to forget. Four of them repented of their verdict and were discharged, while five, more contumacious, lay in gaol for eight months, and were fined £200 a-piece, say, £2,400 in present currency.
The accused, altogether contrary to law, was seldom or never brought face to face with his accusers. The judges acted more frequently as public, or rather, royal, prosecutors page 43 than as impartial arbiters. Take the case of brave and accomplished Sir Walter Raleigh. Sir Walter, loquitur, "Good my lords, let my accuser come face to face. Were the case but a small copyhold you would have witnesses or good proof to lead the jury to a verdict, and I am here for my life." Popham, Chief Justice: "There must not such a gap be opened for the destruction of the king as would be if we should grant this; you plead hard for yourself, but the laws plead as hard for the king." Even in the time of James II., it was declared from the judicial bench that "the laws were the king's laws, that the king might dispense with his laws in case of necessity, and that the king was the judge of that necessity." When the Duke of Norfolk asked for the aid of counsel, being, as he said, "brought to fight without a weapon," Chief Justice Dyer replied, "All our books forbid allowing counsel in point of treason."
The Tudors and Stuarts not merely set themselves above the law, but they employed armies of spies to incriminate unwary persons who might express disapprobation of their conduct or even be suspiciously silent regarding it. In the reign of James I (1614), Peachman, an aged clergyman, was accused of treason, and the virtuous Lord Bacon was one of the commissioners who examined him "before torture, in torture, between torture, and after torture." The old man, it was alleged, had in his possession a sermon, which he had neither preached nor published, disrespectful to the British Solomon!
Another and still more effectual method of crushing disaffection was to proceed by Bill of Attainder in parliament. Against this weapon it was absolutely useless to contend. Under the Tudors the Commons were no longer the representatives of the people. They were the slaves of the king. The rack had cowed them to such a degree that they behaved more like spaniels than men.
The Crown made new boroughs and revived old ones—an entirely usurped function—and took care so to manipulate the electorates that the return of its own nominees was assured. Edward VI., Mary, and Elizabeth made or revived no fewer than sixty-three boroughs returning one hundred and twenty-three royal nominees, while James I. and Charles I. were hardly less active in divesting parliament of what- page 44 ever representative character it possessed. The key to the entire policy of the Tudors and Stuarts is their fixed determination to reduce the English people to slavery more degrading than that of Turks or Muscovites. When parliament took the life of Charles I., it acted, if not with policy, with unquestionable logic, for Charles most certainly would have taken the life of parliament if he could.
Some historians have professed to see in Henry VII. a ruler of exceptional talent and virtue, but the evidence of such characteristics is singularly defective. If to be morose and suspicious, and passionately addicted to money making and match-making, is to be a statesman then he was a statesman. Parliament voted him a large supply to enable him to conquer France. He landed with a great army; but the French king, knowing Henry's weakness, offered him a large sum and a pension to desist. Henry joyfully agreed to the terms, thus succeeding, as was pungently observed, in making profit out of his subjects for the war, and out of his enemies for the peace.
To increase his hoard he employed two unscrupulous lawyers, Empson and Dudley, to prey on his defenceless people. Their methods of extortion were so successful that the royal treasure soon amounted to £1,800,000, a sum at least twelve times more valuable than now. His annual income was £14,000, or, say, £168,000 current value, but out of that sum he contrived not only to maintain the royal household but to pay his body-guard, and play the host to foreign ambassadors. Is there not here, at all events, a lesson for the hermit of Balmoral and Osborne?
The whole reign was filled with plots, treasons, impostures, and executions. Sir William Stanley, the Lord Chancellor, to whom more than any other man he owed the Crown he caused to be put to death because, in a private conversation, Sir William had said that he would not bear arms against Perkin Warbeck if he were satisfied that Warbeck was really the son of King Edward.
A still more infamous act was the execution of the young Earl of Warwick, the last of the Plantagenets. This prince had been kept in close confinement from his infancy, and had sunk into such a state of fatuity that, according to the chronicler, he "could not discern a goose from a cap on." page 45 He tried to escape from the Tower, and for that presumption his head was forfeited. As an additional reason for the crime, Henry pleaded the unwillingness of Ferdinand of Arragon to give his ill-starred daughter Catherine, in marriage to Prince Arthur of England while a Plantagenet prince remained alive.
His thorough baseness was still more clearly exhibited in his treatment of the Earl of Suffolk, nephew of Edward IV. Suffolk, who had displeased the tyrant, took refuge in the Low Countries. The ruler of that region, the Archduke Philip, being driven into Weymouth by a tempest, was compelled, as the price of his own liberty, to give up Suffolk, whose life it was however stipulated should be spared. Henry kept his word, but enjoined on his successor to put him to death, a congenial task, which, needless to say, Henry VIII. performed with true filial devotion. Henry, who was a very pious man, had evidently in this matter profited by the politic instructions given to Solomon by David with respect to the sons of Zeruiah. He died in the odour of sanctity.
Henry VIII. (1509—1547.)
Henry VII. was succeeded by his son Henry VIII., the offspring of the union between the White and Red Roses. The late Earl of Beaconsfield, it is said, once cynically remarked of Mr. Gladstone that he had not a single redeeming vice. Well, if vice redeems a man, Henry VIII. were certainly one of the most completely redeemed men that ever lived. Assuredly no more detestable tyrant ever breathed. His horrible cruelties proceeded from the profound depravity of his own heart. They were without excuse of any kind. They fell indifferently on friend and foe, noble and ignoble, 'saint and sinner, Catholic and Protestant, wife and child. Lust, gluttony, vanity, pride, rapacity, blood-thirstiness, all strove for mastery in the breast of the first Defender of the Faith. That such a monster of iniquity should have been permitted to die a natural death must ever strike the historian with astonishment.
He is the true Blue Beard of English story. Long before his divorce from Queen Catherine was broached, his amours were notorious. Elizabeth Tailbois and Mary Boleyn, Anne page 46 Boleyn's eldest sister, had both ministered to his passions before he cast his eyes on his second queen. By the former he had a son, Henry Fitzroy, whom he made Earl of Nottingham, Duke of Richmond, Admiral of England, Warden of the Scottish Marches, and Lieutenant of Ireland. He would probably have named Fitzroy his successor, but the youth died before attaining his majority. To gratify his desire for Anne he divorced the faithful Catherine, repudiated the Papacy, doomed Wolsey, the magnificent cardinal, to destruction, and renounced many of the religious tenets for the defence of which in his anti-Lutheran treatise he had been dubbed by the Pope Defender of the Faith.
His charges of infidelity against Queen Anne, for which she and four alleged paramours, her brother being one, suffered shameful deaths, were almost certainly fabrications. On the day of Queen Anne's execution he dressed in white to celebrate an occasion so joyful. On the day following he married Lady Jane Seymour. Anne's daughter, Elizabeth, he was careful to bastardise, just as he had previously bastardised Catherine's daughter, Mary. He subsequently changed his mind, and made it high treason to question the legitimacy of either.
Luckily for Jane Seymour's neck, she died in child-bed, and his minister, Thomas Cromwell Earl of Essex, unfortunately for himself, had the temerity to provide for Henry another wife, Anne of Cleves. From the first he disliked her, called her "a great Flanders mare," and soon contrived to divorce her and behead the unfortunate minister who had so far mistaken the royal appetite.
Then came Catherine Howard's turn. She pleased the tyrant for a time, but ante-nuptial irregularities were discovered, and both she and nine other persons were condemned to death by act of attainder. It was made high treason for any woman to marry the royal libertine with any unacknowledged sins on her conscience. People dared to smile at this absurd and brutal decree, and said the king must henceforth look about for a widow.
His sixth matrimonial venture was, in fact, the widow of Lord Latimer, Catherine Parr. She was a woman of tact, but on one occasion her neck was in the greatest jeopardy. By this time Henry was infallible head of the Church, and to page 47 dispute any doctrine which he chose to entertain was heresy, punishable by death. The queen ventured to express some slight dissent from one of the royal beliefs. The consequence was thither impeachment and arrest were immediately resolved on. But Catherine, meanwhile learning her danger, dexterously managed to convince Henry that when she had presumed to differ from him it was merely to give the infallible head of the Church the pleasure of refuting her. The result was that when the chancellor presented himself to convey her to the Tower he was told to begone for a knave, fool, and beast.
As a Church reformer, Henry suppressed no fewer than 645 monasteries, 90 colleges, 2,374 chantries and free chapels, 110 hospitals, with revenues amounting to nearly two millions per annum. He took care to share the plunder with his courtiers and others, so as to give the strength and cohesion of self-interest to the party of spoliation.
But Henry's most notable achievements were in his novel character of Supreme Pontiff of England, of infallible umpire in the province of faith and morals. The Bloody Statute, very properly so called, ordained that whoever should deny transubstantiation by voice or pen; affirm communion in both kinds; question priestly celibacy, the obligation of vows of chastity or the efficacy of private masses and auricular confession, should be burned alive.
The result of this unprecedented measure was that Protestants and Catholics were dragged to the stake on the same hurdles—the Protestants because they believed less than the king, and the Catholics because they believed more. An acute foreigner then in England observed : "Those who are against the Pope are burned, and those who are for him are hanged." While Bainham and Bilney were burned for Anti-Popery, the illustrious Sir Thomas More and the venerable Bishop Fisher were beheaded for denying the king's supremacy.
And thus the wheat and the tears were skilfully separated by this royal bishop of souls, the reformer of the Church of England! So delighted was Parliament with these and similar proofs of the royal wisdom and moderation, that they voluntarily bestowed on Henry's proclamations the force of law! He thus absorbed in his own person all the functions page 48 of king, pope, and Parliament, after the fashion of the Roman emperors, who figured not merely as imperators, but as consuls, praetors, curule adiles, and masters of the horse, all in one.
Henry varied his ecclesiastical and matrimonial murders by frequent political homicides. Among the more heinous in the last category was the execution of the Countess of Salisbury, because she had the misfortune to be the mother of his enemy Cardinal Pole, and that of the young and accomplished Earl of Surrey, because he had presumed to quarter the arms of Edward the Confessor on his escutcheon.
In his later years this second Herod was so corpulent that he was unable to walk up or down stairs, and machinery had to be employed to move him. He was afflicted with ulcers, which so maddened him that no one approached him without terror. At last the great avenger, death, laid his hand on the monster, and men breathed freely once more. His reign is an everlasting disgrace to the English name.
Edward VI. (1547—1553)
Henry VIII. was succeeded by his only son, Edward VI., a minor nine years of age. He died in his sixteenth year, not without the suspicion of foul play. The Duke of Northumberland had persuaded him to will the crown to Lady Jane Grey, the duke's daughter-in-law. Thereupon, to cure him of an illness, his physicians were dismissed, and an ignorant woman undertook to restore him to health. Her potions killed him in less than no time.
Like nearly all princes who die young, innumerable virtues were ascribed to him. How far he deserved them is another matter. But let him have the benefit of the doubt. "Whom the gods love die young." Especially is this true of kings, who almost necessarily become more depraved the older they become. "It is the hand of little employment that hath the daintier sense," as Hamlet observed of grave-making.
The story that he humanely refused to sign the death-warrant of the heretic Joan of Kent, when Cranmer urged him to do so, like so many other good deeds of kings, is now known to be apocryphal.
To Edward VI. succeeded his sister, Mary the Bloody. Her story is without complexity. She is the sullen, relentless, malignant bigot of English history—the religious persecutor par excellence—the female Torquemada. Almost as a matter of course she put to death Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley, who had aspired to the throne. That was a mere preface to her great undertaking, the extirpation of the Protestant heresy from her dominions.
"God curse her and her legate! Gardiner burns
Already, but to pay them full in kind,
The hottest hold in all the devil's den
Were but a sort of winter! Sir, in Guernsey
I watched a woman burn; and in her agony
The mother came upon her—a child was born—
And, sir, they hurled it back into the fire,
That, being but baptized in fire, the babe
Might be in fire for ever. Ah, good neighbour!
There should be something firier than fire
To yield them their deserts! "
To the Bloody Mary succeeded the "Virgin Queen,', Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn. As a matter of fact, Elizabeth was hardly less bloody than her sister. She was beyond a doubt the most shameless dissimulator and liar of her own or almost any age. The very fact that she laid claim to purity of life is about the best proof that she was as even charitable observers were compelled to believe, a woman of the most abandoned morals. Her Court Warrington describes as a place "where there was no love but that of the lusty god of gallantry, Asmodeus," where, according to Faunt, "all enormities reigned in the highest degree." Dudley, the husband of the hapless Amy Robsart, the most callous libertine of the day, the queen openly fondled before the whole Court, calling him her "sweet Robin." His bedroom was placed next to her own. She indulged habitually in the coarsest jests, and swore like a trooper. Hatton, Raleigh, Oxford, Blunt, Simier, Anjou, were all reputed among the number of her lovers.
Her hatreds, like her loves, were not speculative merely. They took instant shape. She collared Hatton, spat on Sir Mathew Arundel, and boxed the ears of the earl marshal.
Her vanity was unbounded. When she died her wardrobe was found to consist of nearly 3,000 dresses, all in the most approved "girl of the period" style. She was dissatisfied with certain portraits of herself, which she imagined conveyed an inadequate impression of her charms. She accordingly announced that an authorized portrait would be taken, which alone it should be lawful to reproduce. In point of fact, though it was almost high treason not to praise her charms, she was anything but a beauty. Her eyes were small, her lips thin, her teeth black, her nose hooked, and her hair red; yet when Hatton told her that "to see her was heaven, the lack of her was hell," she regarded him as a discriminating person. When she made a progress the people en route were expected to fall down on their knees, and they did so. The genuflexions which she exacted from all were Oriental rather than English. Her train, which was of ridiculous length, was borne by a marchioness.
Her greed was insatiable. While dropping a tear on page 51 "Sweet Robin's" grave she was careful to cause his goods to be sold by auction for the payment of certain debts to herself. The faithful Walsingham, who spent his life and fortune in her service, she allowed to die a beggar.
Secretary Davison, who screened the infamous part she played in the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, she committed to the Tower (where he died), and robbed him of £10,000.
While the nation was in ecstacies over the defeat of the Armada, the Queen was grumbling at the cost of the great deliverance, and making profit out of the spoilt provisions of the fleet.
She was, perhaps, the only soul in England who regarded the Massacre of St. Bartholomew with as much indifference as if it had occurred in the planet Mars. Her sister Mary declared on her death-bed that if her bosom were opened, the word "Calais" would be found written on her heart. If Elizabeth's body had been opened, her heart might have been sought for in vain.
Her cruelties, unlike those of her sister Mary, had not even the poor excuse of religious bigotry. It is doubtful if she had any personal faith. The life she led was Pagan, not Christian. "Her majesty counts much on fortune," wrote Walsingham; "I wish she would trust more in Almighty God." When she persecuted, it was simply to enforce her own supremacy as head of the Church. What the Church taught she cared not. Within twenty years it is calculated that no fewer than two hundred Catholic priests were put to death, while a still greater number perished in the pestilential gaols into which they were cast. Cuthbert Mayne met a traitor's doom chiefly because there was found in his possession a copy of a papal bull or jubilee which he alleged he had bought at a shop out of mere curiosity. Nelson and Sherwood gave unsatisfactory answers, even under the rack, and were, after an interview with the queen, drawn, hanged, and quartered. Campian, the eloquent Jesuit was four times racked, and eventually suffered at Tyburn, along with Shirwin, Briant, and other distinguished Seminarists, it was these shameful severities that at last stirred the sluggish hostility of Spain, and brought the Armada into English waters. Yet the threatened danger was as loyally faced by page 52 Catholics as Protestants—Howard, of Effingham, a Catholic, actually commanding the English fleet.
But it was not Catholics alone that suffered. Two Anabaptists, Peters and Turwert, were committed to the flames, the queen "calling to mind that she was head of the Church, and that it was her duty to extirpate error, and that heretics ought to be cut off from the flock of Christ, that they may not corrupt others." Thacker and Copping, Brownists, perished in like manner, because, by objecting to the Book of Common Prayer, they were held constructively to have questioned the royal supremacy. The gaols swarmed with "recusants." Indeed it is on the whole hard to say why Queen Mary should have a monopoly of the epithet "bloody."
Elizabeth has been credited by most historians with profound political sagacity; but the fact is, she had no settled policy of any kind. Her chief weapons were sickening dissimulation and ceaseless intrigue; and when she died everyone was glad to be rid of her and her crooked ways.
Her last days were terrible to behold. She refused to go to bed by reason of what she enigmatically said she saw there. She kept beside her a drawn sword, which, like Hamlet, she from time to time thrust through the arras. She died as she had lived, a cruel, self-willed, heartless woman, possessed of few, if any, of the good qualities which the lying legends called history have ascribed to her.