Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 3, 1519-1523. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1867.
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Preface, Section 3
In the autumn of 1520 we come upon a paper of instructions (fn. 1) given by the Duke to his chaplain and chancellor Robert Gilbert, afterwards produced as a witness against him, and upon whose evidence, as well as that of his steward Charles Knyvet, the Duke was mainly condemned. (fn. 2) Gilbert enjoyed the Duke's confidence. The names of Gilbert and of Charles Knyvet frequently occur in the Duke's miscellaneous accounts; for, besides acting in the capacity of chaplain, Gilbert seems to have been employed as a confidential agent in many of the Duke's pecuniary transactions (fn. 3) From the paper just referred to it appears that the Duke had already begun to suspect some act of treason in his household. For, among other directions, Gilbert is ordered to proceed to Oxford, and inform Dr. Bentley, the Duke's physician, (fn. 4) of the Cardinal's conduct, and what Margaret Gedding (apparently a waiting-woman of the Duchess) had declared upon oath respecting Charles Knyvet. The name of Margaret Gedding occurs again shortly after, in con- nexion with this mysterious affair; Gilbert is directed to ascertain whether Margaret Gedding has misreported the Duke to the Cardinal, and he is ordered to inquire of the lady Fitzwalter, (fn. 5) the Duke's sister, whether she would advise the Duke to take Margaret again into his service. These notices are followed by one still more remarkable, which might lead us to surmise, if indeed surmise may be safely hazarded on so obscure a subject, that the Duke and the Duchess did not live happily together. (fn. 6) Gilbert, after delivering a letter to the same lady Fitzwalter, is directed by the Duke "to show her the demeanor of my Lady our wife, and also to my lord Fitzwalter. And, therefore, my lady Fitzwalter may do us great pleasure and comfort to purvey us of a sad (steady) woman to be about her (the Duchess); for we think the demeanor of my Lady is such that Margaret Gedding would be loth to be about her; and to know who told her of the things we should do (i.e. "we did) at Southampton." Of this Margaret Gedding we have no other notice than what is furnished by the Duke's private accounts. In 1518 the sum of 15l. was paid to her for the funeral of Elizabeth Knyvet, the Duke's cousin; and she is doubtless the person referred to as "Mrs. G.," that is, Miss Gedding, who receives as a New Year's gift from the Duke the extraordinary sum of 13l. 6s. 8d., and her mother 40s. (fn. 7)
It is not improbable that the Duke's conduct in relation to Elizabeth Knyvet was one of the causes of his surveyor's resentment. Evidence occurs more than once of the Duke's arbitrary conduct to his servants and his inferiors. At p. 512 will be found an information against the Duke for wrongfully witholding the goods of Elizabeth Knyvet, deceased; and in the same place there is a petition to the King from his tenants in Thornbury, complaining of the inclosures made by the late duke of Buckingham. In the survey of his lands by the King's officers after his death, it is stated that he had "enclosed into the park" at Thornbury "divers men's lands, as well of freehold as copyhold, and no recompense as yet is made for the same." (fn. 8) Rents and farms are described as "decayed from inclosures." In the paper already mentioned, Gilbert has orders to see Sir John Coke, lately the Duke's chaplain, arrested for leaving his service contrary to his oath; and the same process is to be put in force against another of the Duke's dependents, named Gamme. In fact, indications crop out, that, however popular the Duke might have been with comparative strangers, for his courtesy and munificence,—virtues which cannot be denied him,—he was not beloved by his retainers, or his immediate neighbors.
Upon Charles Knyvet, the Duke's cousin and surveyor, the imputation has hitherto rested of being the foremost to betray the Duke,—the malice of Wolsey always excepted. So deeply has this conviction been rooted in the minds not only of ordinary readers, but of historians, by the genius of Shakspeare, that it might seem invidious to disturb it. There are reasons, however, for questioning the accuracy of the general impression. The principal culprit was not Knyvet, but Margaret Gedding, or more probably Robert Gilbert, the Duke's chaplain and chancellor. That Knyvet was not the first or the original informer,—that Wolsey was not so hungry for the Duke's destruction, as historians, unsuspiciously following that old libeller and maligner Polydore Vergil, assume too readily,—is clear, I think, from the following unsigned letter addressed to the Cardinal: (fn. 9) —
"Please it your Grace to be remembered; as touching the matter that I showed unto your Grace at More of Charles Knyvet, &c., wherein ye advertised and commanded me that I should handle it further, the best I could, to bring it to light and better knowledge;—so it is that I have communed with him divers times this last term, and persuaded him in the matter as far as I might, in such wise that he should not suspect my meaning therein; and in effect he resteth still in his first mind, affirming the chief cause of his putting away was for disclosing of certain matters to Mr. Lark, to be opened unto your Grace. I answered him I marveled much that he did not resort unto Mr. Lark, and showed him the same, it were the next mean to induce your Grace to be his better good lord. He said that your Grace had partly knowledge thereof already; for this last term ye had sent word to the Duke, by his chancellor, (fn. 10) to have himself in await; and although that he used to rail upon your Grace, yet that he should take heed how that he did use himself towards the King's highness. I showed Charles again, though so it were, yet was that neither thankful to him nor his discharge. Then he answered me how that he labored to be the King's servant, and if he were once sworn and admitted, then durst he speak boldly, and would tell all. And further he said, 'Then will I speak, by Saint Mary, for it toucheth the King in deed.' And so, if it please your Grace, of likelihood some great matter there is, or else is Charles a marvelous simple, insolent body. Very good policy it were to have the truth known.
"The King that dead is, whom God pardon! would handle such a cause circumspectly, and with convenient diligence, for inveigling, and yet not disclose it to the party nor otherwise by a great space after, but keep it to himself, and always grope further, having ever good await and espial to the party. I am sure his Highness knew of the untrue mind and treason compassed against him by Sir William Stanley and divers other great men, two or three years before that he laid it to their charge; and kept it secret, and always gathered upon them more and more. And as unto this matter, if any weight be therein, to bring it to light, under the reformation of your Grace, after my poor mind this were the mean;—that your Grace should send for Charles to come before you, showing unto him that as ye have heard he should be [put] from the Duke, whereof ye much marvel, considering the great service that he hath done him, and how near he is of his blood. And thereupon I think that Charles will be plain, and disclose to your Grace everything. If not, your Grace then may show unto him that ye have heard, by divers servants that the Duke hath lately put from him, how that in his fumes and displeasures he will of times rail and misuse himself in his words, as well against your Grace as against the King's highness; and ye doubt not but that he that hath been so great and secret with him, and in so good trust, that he hath heard and knoweth much more of his inward mind than any other; charging him therefore to be plain, both for his thank, and also for his own discharge in that behalf, according to the duty of his allegiance; and that [if] he fear not to speak truly, the King and your Grace both will be his good lord, so that the Duke shall neither do him hurt nor displeasure; and yet if he color or stick, then your Grace to show yourself more grievous and displeasant unto him. And show him also that great marvel it is that he will conceal unto your Grace that matter which toucheth and concerneth as well you as the King's highness, which he hath opened and disclosed to divers other; reciting him then the effect of my former writing delivered your Grace at More, which at all times I shall be ready to avow and justify, if it so come to pass, as my duty bindeth me, with these premises; albeit loth were I so to do, if the matter might come otherwise to revelation.
"Please it your Grace further, there is a bill of articles come this last term to my hands, amongst other remembrances, touching such covenants as Sir Nicholas Vaux bound himself unto by indenture and other writing[s] and bonds, when the King that dead is appointed him to the office of Guysnes; which writings and indentures I made by the King's commandment. Meseemeth it requisite that your Grace have sight thereof, to the intent ye may examine at your leisure whether he hath and doth perform and observe everything concerning the same. Therefore I do send your Grace the said bill herein enclosed. I think by leisure I shall find the very copies of the indentures, and also much like writings and indentures touching the Lord Mountjoie for the office of Hammes. And thus the Blessed Trinity have your Grace always in His holy tuition."
The original informer, then, and prime mover in this design against the Duke must have been the author of this letter, whoever he was. He must also have been intimate with Knyvet, and well acquainted with his secrets. He avows his willingness, if need be, to come forward and justify the insinuations he had already thrown out against the Duke in a previous letter to the Cardinal, "if it so come to pass as my duty bindeth me with these premises; albeit loth were I so to do, if the matter might come otherwise to revelation."
Now, unless the writer were under some obligation to the Duke, or in danger from his power, it is not easy to surmise upon what grounds he should be loth to avow his knowledge of the Duke's treasonable practices. That the letter must have been written either by some one in the Duke's service, or by one who had been long and intimately acquainted with the Duke's family, is without dispute. Who except Gilbert or Delacourt, the Duke's confessor, could have possessed such an intimate knowledge, as this letter reveals, of what was passing in the Duke's household ? Yet Gilbert, called by Hall "the first accuser of the Duke," must be acquitted of this treachery; for he is mentioned here, in the third person, as the Duke's chancellor;—and Delacourt had no such employment at Court as this letter writer appears to have held. The handwriting is clear, stiff and formal; like that of one who had been accustomed to make "writings and indentures." Who, again, are the discharged servants alluded to ? Who except Gilbert or Delacourt could have been aware that Wolsey had sent a message some time before to Buckingham, secretly warning him that though he might indulge in railing against himself he should take care how he "did use himself towards his Highness" ? Would so important a witness have been permitted to go at large, or not have been produced at the trial ? Yet, with the exception of Knyvet, who is out of the question, and of Nicholas Hopkins, whose handwriting differs from that of the letter, no other witnesses besides Gilbert and De- lacourt were produced against the Duke. Both also were committed to safe custody in the Tower; as much, no doubt, out of regard to their personal security, as to the integrity of their evidence. Gilbert's testimony is aggravated by bitter hatred, and malignant betrayal of details in the Duke's conversation, not unlike the tone of a man who had been false to his master, and sought to cover his falsehood by exaggerated statements. (fn. 11) Can he then have been the author of the letter ? And did he speak of himself in the third person, as the Duke's chancellor, in order to escape detection ?
But be this conjecture probable or not, the letter shows that the popular account of Wolsey's inveterate malice and his supposed designs against the life of the Duke, rest on no certain foundation. The calumny was derived from Polydore Vergil, (fn. 12) and rests on no other authority. Not a word of it is to be found in the pages of Hall, whose sympathy with the Duke is so manifest, and so strong his dislike of the Cardinal, that he would scarcely have suppressed a circumstance so unfavorable as this is to the Cardinal's memory, had there been any truth in it.
The Duke was tried at Westminster by seventeen of his peers, on Monday after Ascension Day, that is, on the 13th of May, the Duke of Norfolk acting as lord high steward. It will be remembered that in Shakspeare's play the Duke is declared guilty by the King at a meeting of the Privy Council, even before his regular trial had taken place;—a process altogether informal. In the Council Chamber in which queen Catharine and Wolsey are present, the King is represented as conducting the examination of the Duke's surveyor, Charles Knyvet, in person. The Duke has no one there to defend him; the witnesses are not subjected to cross-examination, nor is any attempt made to ascertain the accuracy of their charges, or to test their honesty and good faith by the methods now adopted in similar cases. The Duke's guilt is assumed upon their unsupported assertions. In this travestie of justice, the Queen is the only person who appears to retain any sense of what is due to reason and equity; but she is too feeble an advocate, too much bewildered by the sophistry which she feels, but is unable to unravel, to render the accused any effectual help. Besides, when kings sit in council, who shall contradict them ? When their minds are already made up, "God mend all," is the natural and sole reflection which presents itself to the thoughts of inferiors. Strange as this proceeding may appear, it is not due merely to the poet's imagination. It presents us with a general likeness of state prosecutions in the Tudor times. The presumption that men are innocent until they are legally proved to be guilty, the facilities granted to the accused for substantiating his innocence by retaining the ablest advocate, the methods for sifting evidence now in use, had no existence then. In crimes against the sovereign, real or supposed, men were pre- sumed to be guilty until they had proved themselves to be innocent, and that proof was involved in endless difficulties. What advocate or what witness would have ventured to brave the displeasure of a Tudor king, by appearing in defence of a criminal, on whose guilt the King had pronounced already ?
With the exception of making Wolsey present at the examination of the Duke's servants and surveyor, Shakspeare has strictly adhered to facts in this preliminary examination of the Duke's servants. We have indisputable evidence that it was conducted by the King in person, assisted by Ruthal, secretary of state. For on the 16th of April, Pace, then at Greenwich with the King, wrote, in answer to the Cardinal's request for Ruthal to be sent to him, that the King would not suffer him to leave, (fn. 13) but had commanded him to tarry at Greenwich for examination of certain things connected with the duke of Buckingham's servants. He adds that Ruthal was then sending to Wolsey a letter written by the King's command for "such as shall see to the keeping of the said Duke's house during his absence;" that is, whilst he was at London taking his trial; for he was not then in custody. On the back also of a private letter addressed to Pace from Rome by the bishop of Worcester, he has jotted down two or three obscure memoranda relating to this tragic affair, showing that the King had already made up his mind as to the Duke's guilt and condemnation. "The King is convinced," so run these fragmentary notices, "that Buckingham will be found guilty, and be condemned by the Lords; and for this matter, and for the affairs of Ireland, a Parliament will be summoned." "The monk (Hopkins) and Delacourt (the Duke's chaplain) have been sent to the Tower. Arthur Pole (the Duke's cousin) has been expelled the court." Then follows a most tantalizing passage, the meaning of which cannot be clearly made out; and the whole ends with this remark: "As to the countess of Salisbury, nothing has yet been decided, on account of her noble birth and many virtues (bonitalem)." (fn. 14)
From these passages it seems to me unquestionable, that it was the King himself who was most active in the prosecution of the Duke; not active only, but, as Shakspeare describes him, fully convinced beforehand of his guilt, and resolved on his condemnation. Why the countess of Salisbury (fn. 15) (who escaped on this occasion only to fall by the executioner at a later period) was spared "in consequence of her high birth and virtues," I do not pretend to inquire. To some of my readers it may suggest a conclusion I forbear to draw from expressions so brief and so ambiguous.
Whilst his surveyor and his chancellor, unknown to the Duke, were either in the Tower or closeted with the King at Greenwich, concocting evidence for their master's fall, the Duke was idling away his hours at Thornbury, either in listening to the sermons of Stanley, an Oxford friar,—for he was deeply tinctured with religious terrors,—no wonder,—or in making offerings to the holy relics and blood at Hales, and at other consecrated shrines, in which the neighbourhood of Thornbury abounded. (fn. 16) On Monday the 8th (fn. 17) of April a messenger, to whom the Duke ordered a gratuity of a mark, arrived with letters from the King, commanding the Duke to repair instantly to London. He set out wholly unconscious of the purport of the summons. His progress day by day may be traced in the diary of his accounts. At Reading he made an oblation of 6s. 8d. to "the child of grace;" to Our Lady of Eyton near Windsor, on the 14th, 6s. 8d.; and as knight of the garter, he presented to the keeper of the garter robes at Windsor the sum of 20s. Here, for the first time, the real nature of that mission on which he was bound flashed upon the unhappy prisoner. Wherever he turned, armed men, as if watching his movements, seemed to hover in the distance: at every winding of the road, as if to cut off all hope of escape, real or imaginary, they drew more closely upon him. Such conduct at first attracted no attention. It was not unusual for soldiers and archers to be travelling on the road to Windsor and the metropolis, either for the King's service or for other purposes. But as they continued to press upon his rear, and dog his movements,—as some of them had even the audacity to take up their lodgings for the night in the hostelries occupied by the Duke,—his anger was roused at this seeming impertinence. The morning after he had arrived at Windsor, as he was sitting down to breakfast, seeing a royal pursuivant loitering about the place, the Duke somewhat suddenly and sharply demanded of him, what he did there. The messenger replied, that his office lay there, by the King's commandment. Then, for the first time, so well had the secret been observed, the Duke discovered that he was a prisoner. The news fell on him with the abruptness of the headsman's axe. He turned ashy pale,—the untasted morsel dropped from his lips,—death was before him,—escape was impossible.
Evidently he had not expected this. Since the interview between the two Kings in the vale of Arde, he had retired to the country, never making his appearance in London, or taking any part in the political discussions of the times. He had been employed in superintending his garden, (fn. 18) making curious knots and summer bowers, or busying himself with the lying-in of Lady Stafford, his son's wife, at Thornbury. If we may judge from his papers, his employments during his retirement were as far removed from treason or plots against the state, as any employments could well be. Next to making religious offerings at different shrines on every holy day, (fn. 19) for which the Duke seems to have entertained a kind of passion, his chief delight was in training horses or purchasing dogs and falcons. Sometimes these occupations were varied by others of a different character. Poets, harpers, minstrels, players, and tumblers amused his tastes and partook of his bounty. On one occasion he gives to three maidens of Kainsham 8d., in May, for bringing hawthorns to my lord's grace when he was in his orchard;" at another time he pays 6s. 8d. for "a throstle bird." Part of his care is centred on little Francis," (fn. 20) a poor child whom he was bringing up for a scholar at Oxford, on the recommendation of a kind-hearted but crazy enthusiast, Dan Nicholas Hopkyns, a monk of the Charterhouse at Henton, who brought the Duke unintentionally into trouble, and died brokenhearted after his fall. (fn. 21)
It is true that the Duke had done nothing to conciliate the powerful Cardinal, now grown more powerful than ever. He had been at no pains to conceal his dislike and contempt of one, who like a cloud "had darkened his clear "sun." Never, like Norfolk and Suffolk, had he graced by his presence those occasions in which Wolsey shone forth, as another and scarcely second sun, in some religious or state ceremonial. But he had taken more than ordinary pains, and apparently not without success, to regain the favor of the King. In August 1519 he had entertained Henry and his retinue magnificently at Penshurst for several days. (fn. 22) The same year be entered into the questionable amusements and gaieties of the court with an abandonment hazardous to a man of his high spirit and hasty temper. Along with other fashions introduced into this country by the French hostages was a taste for gambling; in which the King and many of his immediate attendants engaged with the rash ardor and unguarded inexperience of novices. On one occasion the Duke lost at dice with "the duke "of Suffolk and the Frenchmen" no less a sum than 76l. 1s. 4d., that is upwards of 1,000l. in modern computation. (fn. 23) At another time, he lost to the lord Montague 65l. 2s. 9d., to the King at tennis 14l., to Suffolk at shooting 31l. 6s. 8d., and again to Suffolk and others, "since coming to the King," 51l. 16s. 8d. He was apparently sobered by these and other heavy sacrifices, for no sums are entered in his subsequent accounts for losses incurred at play. (fn. 24) If we except some hasty and unguarded expressions dropped in the irritation of the moment in the recesses of his family circle—and even these are uncertain—conscious of his blood, his great wealth and popularity, he seems to have been more than usually cautious of provoking the King's displeasure. Until the autumn of 1520, and for the three years previous, he had been in favor at court, and his offences (if any) had been forgotten or forgiven. (fn. 25)
To return. The Duke quailed, but only for a moment,—as what spirit, however brave, would not quail, in the pride of its strength,—at such a sudden prospect of death, and of death in a form so hateful as the doom of a traitor. Ordering his horse immediately, he rode to Tothill Fields, near Westminster. On taking his barge, and landing at the stairs of the Cardinal's palace, his worst apprehensions were confirmed. In reply to his inquiries he was told that the Cardinal was sick, and could not be seen. "Well," said the Duke, not abating a whit of his high spirit at this new demonstration of danger, "I will yet taste of my Lord's wine or (ere) I "pass:" and he was conducted to the cellar by one of the Cardinal's gentlemen with all due courtesy and reverence.
Embarking once more on board his barge he was rowed down the river to London Bridge. As the barge neared the stairs it was suddenly boarded by Sir Henry Marny, captain of the Guard, attended by a hundred yeomen. Attaching the Duke in the King's name, Sir Henry commanded his attendants to retire to the Duke's manor of the Rose, in St. Lawrence Pountney, whilst he carried his prisoner, who had now landed at the Hay Wharf, through Thames Street to the Tower. Here Nicholas Hopkyns, the Carthusian monk, John Delacourt, the Duke's confessor, and Robert Gilbert, his chancellor, were already in custody, pending the Duke's arrival. Shortly after, his son-in-law the lord Abergavenny, and the lord Montague, were apprehended and sent to the same place.
The Duke was committed to the Tower on the 16th of April. The indictment was laid at the Guildhall, before Sir John Brugge, lord mayor, and others, on Wednesday the 8th of May. On the 10th of the same month the duke of Norfolk, acting as lord high steward, issued his warrant for the attendance of the peers at Westminster Hall on Monday the 13th. Among the peers thus summoned for the Duke's trial were the duke of Suffolk, the marquis of Dorset, the earls of Shrewsbury, Kent, Derby, Devonshire and Worcester, the prior of St. John's, with nine other barons, including William Blount lord Mountjoy, the celebrated friend and patron of Erasmus.
The axe was carried before the Duke as he was brought to the bar, between Sir Thomas Lovel, the constable, and Sir Richard Cholmeley, deputy lieutenant of the Tower. The indictment, in the rambling, legal terminology of the times, framed like the Gospel-net to catch all chances of condemnation, good or bad, substantial or otherwise, extended over a period of ten years, from 1511 to 1520. It rested exclusively on the depositions of the Duke's servants, Delacourt, Gilbert and Charles Knyvet. Their evidence related chiefly to a correspondence said to have been held by the Duke with Nicholas Hopkyns, a pretender to the gift of prophecy, and seems almost too absurd or too exaggerated to be credible. Hopkyns—so the evidence ran—first exacting an oath of secrecy from Delacourt, bade him inform the Duke that "he should have all," and encouraged him to win the love of the commons. On being questioned how he knew this, Hopkyns replied, "By the grace of God." At another time the monk assured the Duke that the King should have no male issue;—a safe prophecy enough, so long as Katharine remained Queen. In April 1514, according to the same witness, the Duke went to the priory at Henton, and was assured by Hopkyns he should be king of England; to which assurance the Duke replied, that in such a case he would act like a just prince. In confirmation of this treasonable correspondence, it was alleged that the Duke had given the house to which Hopkins belonged an annuity of 6l. for a tun of wine, and 20l. for a water conduit, of which sum he then and there had traitorously paid 10l.
In Gilbert's evidence the Duke was accused of purchasing cloths of gold and silver, to the amount of 300 marks, for the purpose of distributing them in presents to the King's guards; of endeavoring to obtain a licence from the King for arming certain of his subjects in Wales;—a charge not unlikely to be true, and, considering the disorders of the principality, and the Duke's large possessions there, not necessarily indicative of any felonious intention.
But the most invidious and perilous charge, resting wholly on the evidence of his chancellor, Gilbert, has yet to be mentioned. Gilbert deposed that on the 20th of February 1520, the Duke told him, at Bletchingly in Surrey, that he would wait for a more convenient season to excute his purpose; and that it would be well if the lords would show their minds to each other, but they were afraid to do so. The Duke said also that all that Henry VII. had done was done wrongfully; and as for himself he was so great a sinner that he was certain he had not the grace of God, and therefore if he attempted anything he was sure of being punished.
The evidence of Charles Knyvet, his surveyor, whom the Duke had deprived of his offices, was of a fouler and blacker dye than that of the rest. It will be remembered that in 1519 the King had been grievously offended with Sir William Bulmer for leaving his service, and entering the service of the duke of Buckingham. In reference to this event, Knyvet deposed that the Duke had said, in conversation with him, that he expected nothing less at that time than to have been committed to the Tower; but if that had been done, the principal actors—(meaning the King and the Cardinal)—should have had but little joy; for he would have done what his father intended to do to Richard III. at Salisbury, when he made suit to come into the King's presence; kneeling before the King, he would have started up suddenly, and stabbed him on the spot. In saying this (continued Knyvet) he laid his hand upon his dagger, swearing by the blood of the Lord he would do the best to execute his purpose. Shakspeare has adhered so strictly to the facts connected with the Duke's indictment that I need not continue these remarks.
A summary of the depositions against him will be found at p. 493 of this volume. They contained many particulars which it was not deemed prudent to bring forward at the trial. Some of them are apparently so immaterial that it is difficult to discover their bearing on the case. Thus it is deposed (evidently by his chaplain Delacourt) that on the 26th October 1520, the Duke, in the presence of his council, (fn. 26) had said, "I commanded you to bring your books with you;" and on their affirming they had done so, he thus proceeded: "I intended not to busy you or to trouble myself with any such matter at this time, but to commune with you and show you my mind. Ye see I wear a beard, whereof peradventure ye do marvel. But marvel not of it; for I make a vow unto God that it shall never be shaven unto such time as I have been at Jerusalem. And if I may obtain the King's licence to perform my promise and vow, it were more to my comfort than if his Grace would give me 10,000l.; yea, more glad than if his Grace would give 10,000l. land to me and mine heirs." That there was no great wisdom in these words is apparent enough; but what treason could lurk behind them I confess I am unable to discover. In fact, all the depositions against the Duke show him to have been rather a weak than a wicked man;—not without ambition—not without hopes, perhaps, of succeeding eventually to the crown;—too vacillating to be innocent, too weak to be dangerous,—sinning and repenting,—"letting I dare not wait upon I would." The King might very well have pardoned the Duke, without fear of sparing a dangerous rival and pretender, had that been all.
I subjoin, without abridgment, the deposition of Robert Gilbert, the chancellor, as affording the clearest exemplification of the animus of the chief parties concerned in the prosecution, and of the sort of legal evidence admitted in trials for high treason during the reigns of the Tudors.
CONFESSION and DEPOSITION of the DUKE'S CHANCELLOR. (fn. 27)
"First, he saith he heard the said Duke say that he had a writing sealed with the King's broad seal, confessing the acts of parliament, wherein it was enacted that the duke of Somerset, one of the noble ancestors of our sovereign lord, was made mulier, or legitimate, and that the same Duke said that he was minded to have given the same writing to our sovereign lord the King's father, and he said he would not he had so done for ten thousand pounds.
"Also he saith that he heard the said Duke say at sundry times that my lord Cardinal was an [i]dolator, taking counsel of a spirit how he might contin[ue in th]e King's favor, and that he was the King's bawd, showing him w[hat w]omen were most wholesome, and best of complexion, for his Grace to use; and that the life that they used was so abominable that God would punish it, and that it could not continue; and that my lord Cardin[al] is so sore with noble men, that they would be all in his top if the King's grace were displeased with him, and that he would undo all noble men if he could.
"Also he saith that he heard the said Duke say, that he had done as good services as any man, and was never rewarded; and that the King would give his fees, offices, and rewards rather to boys than to noble men, which was small comfort to them to do his Grace services.
"Also he saith that he heard the said Duke say, that he trusted to see the time that Sir William Compton should be glad to let him have the land again that he had sold him.
"Also he saith that the said Duke hath always done as much as he could to have favor of the King's guard, and hath many times greatly rejoiced in it, that he thought himself sure of them; and now of late he hath much studied to make many particular offices in his lands, to the intent that he might retain as many men by the same offices as he could.
"Also the said Duke would at many times cause to be provided for him in cloth of gold and other silks to the value of three hundred or four hundred marks, and would give it all within a quarter of a year to gentlemen, to get their love.
"Also of late, when the said Duke had given a doublet of cloth of silver to Sir Edward Neyvell, he rejoiced of it, and said to my lord of Burgavenny that he had gotten the good will of his brother Sir Edward Neyvell, and said that he was sure that my lord Burgavenny could not get the good will of Sir Edward Neyvell from him.
"Also he heard the said Duke [gr]udge and be discontented many times that the earl of War[wick was put t]o death, and said that God would punish it, and that [he had pu]nished it in that he would not suffer the King's [grace's] issue to prosper, as it appeareth by the [death o]f his son, and that his daughters prosper not, and that the King's g[race ha]s no issue male, and that it would be further punish[ed; and] further the said Duke said, that he would suffer till that he might see a more convenient time, and that it would do well enough if the noblemen durst break their minds together, but some of them mistrusteth, and feareth to break their minds to other, and that marreth all; so that there is no remedy for us but to suffer till that a convenient time may come, for there be but few of us contented in our minds; we be so sore and so unkindly handled.
"Also he saith that if the said Duke might have had convenient time, and have been strong enough to have made his party good, he would have done as much against the King's grace as he could have done; for he hath said that all that the King's father did was wrong and naught, and he hath at all times grudged against every thing that our sovereign Lord hath done.
"Also the said Duke said, that he had been such a sinner that he was sure that he lacked grace, and therefore he knew well that he should speed the worse when he should begin to do anything against the King; and therefore he said he would suffer till that he might see a more convenient time for it."
The depositions of the witnesses were read at the trial; but, if we may draw any conclusion from the silence of Hall, no opportunity was afforded the Duke of confronting and cross-examining the witnesses in person, or of producing evidence in his own defence. He was allowed no counsel; and no other course was open to him for establishing his innocence, beyond the bare denial of the offences charged against him. "When the indictment was openly read," writes Hall, "the Duke said, 'It is false and untrue, and conspired and forged to bring me to my death; and that will I prove,'—alleging many reasons to falsify the indictment. And against his reasons the King's attorney alleged the examinations, confessions and proofs of witnesses;" that is, the confessions and allegations prepared some weeks before, without the knowledge of the Duke, by the King and his ministers at Greenwich.
"The Duke desired the witnesses to be brought forth. Then was brought before him Sir Gilbert Perke, priest, his chancellor, first accuser of the same Duke; Master John Delacourt, priest, the Duke's confessor; and his own handwriting [was] laid before him, to the accusement of the Duke; Charles Knevet, esquire, cousin to the Duke, and a monk (Nicholas Hopkyns), prior of the Charterhouse (at Henton) besides Bath, which, like a false hypocrite, had induced the Duke to the treason, and had divers times said to the Duke that he should be king of England; but the Duke said that in himself he never consented to it." The depositions were then read, and the witnesses were handed over to the custody of the officers of the Tower. (fn. 28)
"Then spake the duke of Norfolk, and said: 'My lord, the King our sovereign lord hath commanded that you shall have his laws ministered with favor and right to you. Wherefore if you have any other thing to say for yourself, you shall be heard.' Then he was commanded to withdraw him, and so was led into Paradise, a house so named."
As trials for treason were conducted in those days it was little better than a question of personal credibility—assertion against assertion; and very few reasonable men could entertain doubts as to the issue. The King had already pronounced judgment; he had examined the witnesses, encouraged and received their confidence, and expressed his belief of the Duke's guilt. Who was to gainsay it ? Who should be bold enough to assert that the King had arrived at a false conclusion, and that such methods of procedure were fatal to justice ? In a court also, constituted of men who were not lawyers by profession, who had received no training for such nice questions, who understood nothing of the salutary laws of legal evidence, what hope could there be for the accused ? How could he expect that protection which not only innocence but guilt has a right to demand, until the charge be fairly and fully proven ? The only lawyer employed was the attorney general in behalf of the Crown. But in those days attorney generals regarded themselves as the servants of the Crown, who had to earn their wages by establishing the guilt of the prisoner.
So the lords retired, and upon their return into court the sentence of each peer was taken one by one. Then said the duke of Norfolk to the duke of Suffolk, "What say you of Sir Edward, duke of Buckingham, touching these high treasons ?" "I say that he is guilty," answered the Duke, laying his hand upon his breast. Every peer made the same response; and against each of the names entered on the panel,—a little scrap of dirty parchment, still preserved at the Record Office,—there is to be seen to this day, in the handwriting of the duke of Norfolk, Dicit quod est culpabilis.
Then was the Duke brought to the bar to hear his sentence. For a few moments he was overpowered by his emotions. In the extremity of his agony, he chafed and sweat vehemently. Recovering himself, after a while, he made his obeisance to the court. After a short pause,—a deathlike silence: "Sir Edward," said the duke of Norfolk, "you have heard how you be indicted of high treason; you pleaded thereto not guilty, putting yourself to the judgment of your peers, the which have found you guilty." Then bursting into a torrent of tears—(he was an old man, who had faced death unmoved in the field of Flodden)—he faltered out, "Your sentence is, that you be led back to prison; laid on a hurdle, and so drawn to the place of execution; there to be hanged, cut down alive, your members to be cut off and cast into the fire, your bowels burnt before your eyes, your head smitten off, your body quartered and divided at the King's will. And God have mercy on your soul! Amen."
The Duke heard this horrible sentence with unusual dignity and composure. Turning to the duke of Norfolk, he quietly replied, "You have said, my lord, as a traitor should be said unto; but I was never none." Then, addressing himself to the court, he requested that those present would pray for him, assuring them that he forgave them his death, and expressing his determination not to sue for mercy.
In compliance with the customs of the time, the edge of the axe was turned towards him, as he was led out of the hall by the constable and deputy lieutenant of the the Tower. At Westminster stairs he took water, and landing at the Temple was delivered over to Sir Nicholas Vaux and Sir Wm. Sandys, by whom he was conducted through the city to the Tower. This was about four o'clock in the afternoon.
The proceedings for his trial had commenced on Monday, and lasted some days. Between the short interval of his sentence and execution, constant to the resolution he had expressed of not suing to the King for mercy, the Duke protested his innocence and prepared for death. On the following Friday morning, the 17th of May, between eleven and twelve o'clock in the forenoon, at a time when the hills of Surrey were clothed in their freshest verdure, and the then unoccupied banks of the Thames sloped to the water's edge with the tender green and delicate blossom of the white thorn, the Duke's favorite flower, the sombre procession threaded its way through the dark passages of the Tower, and emerged upon the Green. Among the sobs and tears of the spectators, the Duke, led by the two sheriffs, mounted the scaffold with a firm and composed step. Turning himself to the crowd, he requested all men to pray for him, "trusting," he said, "to die the King's true man; whom, through his own negligence and lack of grace, he had offended." With this brief request, he kneeled at the block. There was a sudden glimmer for an instant in the air, then a dull thud, and the head rolled heavily from the body. The headsman wiped his axe; the attendants threw a cloth over the headless trunk, to conceal the blood which streamed in torrents over the scaffold, and dripped through the platform on the grass beneath. In rough frieze, barefooted and bareheaded, six poor Augustinian friars, shouldering a rude coffin, emerged from the shuddering and receding crowd. Gathering up the remains of the once mighty duke of Buckingham,—for the King, satisfied with his condemnation, had commuted the last extremities of the sentence,—they carried the corpse to the church of the Austin Friars. (fn. 29) The Duke in his lifetime had been kind to poor religious men, and this was the last and only office they could render him.
An unwise and unguarded man, the Duke had in him little of that metal of which traitors are generally made. Capricious in temper, careless of tongue, even had he contrived to steer his way in safety to less dangerous times, he would never have grasped political power with a steady hand. Formidable from his wealth, his connexions, his rank and his blood,—formidable from his nearness to the throne and the barrenness of Katharine,—it behoved him to have been either more than usually courteous, or more than usually conciliating. He was too proud to be either. He despised the Cardinal, and was at no pains to conceal it. He despised the King for being guided by the Cardinal, and was easily goaded on by treacherous friends and cunning domestics to speak dishonorably, if not treasonably, of his sovereign. If he had committed anything worthy of death, if he had conspired against the life or dignity of the King,—of which I can find no trace, no probability even, in his private papers,—the proofs tendered of his guilt at his trial can satisfy no one at this day. If they are inconclusive in themselves, they appear more so from the fact that whilst the evidence for the prosecution had been deliberately framed for many weeks, the unhappy prisoner, kept in the dark as to the precise charges to be brought against him, had no time or opportunity to prepare for his defence until the day of his trial;—until then, when the indictment was read and the witnesses produced, he had no knowledge of the crimes he was called upon to answer. But the people, though they pitied his fall, had no very clear notions of the reasons for his condemnation; unaccustomed to question the judgment of their superiors, they accepted the verdict of his peers as conclusive against him. The presumption was stronger than the proof. It was enough for ordinary thinkers that the Duke was a proud man; he was certainly a wealthy man, descended from a stock that was dangerous to royalty, and apt to be overbearing. That he listened readily to prophecies, at a time when prophecies were the oracular expressions of discontent and instruments of mischief, seemed enough to justify the impression of his guilt. So he fell, not without pity,—tears alternating with the sterner conviction that his fate was unavoidable. The happiness of the nation was bound up in its King; and the blood of the noblest was not a sacrifice too costly to expiate the least taint or suspicion of disloyalty.
On the day of the Duke's execution Wolsey was attending on the King as he sate in his chair in his gallery at Greenwich. The King was just then recovering from fever and ague, under which he had been laboring for some days, when the Cardinal took the opportunity of urging that letters of "consolation and credence" should be sent to the widowed Duchess and her son, lord Stafford. (fn. 30) On reminding the King of this request a second time, a few days after, Wolsey added, "If you think them (sc. these letters of condolence) not convenient to pass, I remit that to you."
Of the jury who had concurred in the condemnation of the Duke, two thirds, perhaps, participated in his sentiments. The exclusion of the ancient aristocracy from office, in conformity with the Tudor policy,—their hopelessness, as expressed by the Duke, of obtaining any just recognition of their services, however great, (fn. 31) —their hereditary hatred of an ecclesiastic, of low birth, like Wolsey, who monopolized the King's favor, and excluded them from their due share of influence in the state,—their fixed aversion to a French alliance,—all combined to spread a feeling of discontent among them, which might have found a centre in the Duke, however otherwise unfitted by genius or resolution to be the leader of a great conspiracy. Then, again, from the days of Richard III. the De la Poles had never wholly abandoned their hopes of the crown, between which and themselves there stood so slight, so thin, an obstacle,—hopes nearly realized more than once. Such a conspiracy would have been mortal to the Cardinal;—dangerous at least, if not destructive, to the royal authority. Men who looked not deeply into the character of Henry VIII. might easily flatter themselves that a monarch who appeared to surrender his judgment exclusively to his great minister, and spend so much of his time in hunting, amusements and devotion, would prove no great obstacle to their designs; and the King, surrounded by a compact and narrow band of the greatest nobles, would have been reduced to a cipher.
So the execution of the Duke was a state necessity, in strict accordance with Tudor maxims. It crushed entirely all danger from a suspected quarter. The nobility were more humbled, more scared, than ever. That accomplished, there was no reason why mercy should not take the place of judgment; and the moderation of Wolsey is conspicuous in thus moving the King to write these letters of condolence.
But more remained.
It was not possible that a nobleman, so eminent as the Duke, could be thus taken off without provoking much discussion and many disagreeable suspicions in every court in Europe. It was not politic that the oftrepeated boast of the King's popularity should be considered as devoid of foundation, or that it should be said that the greatest of his nobility were disaffected to his government. In his despatch to the English ambassador at the French court, (fn. 32) the Cardinal enjoins him to thank the French king for the offers he had made to defend the King's person, when he first heard of the Duke's attachment. He was to say that the King had been aware for some time of the Duke's disaffection;—that he had recently been detected in treason against the King's person and succession, especially against the princess Mary, with whose alliance in France he was much displeased; (fn. 33) that these things being proved, and at last admitted by himself, he had been executed according to his demerits. As no trace of this charge is to be found in the Duke's indictment, or in the account of his trial, it must be considered as a political figment invented to suit the atmosphere of the French court, and justify, on motives fully appreciated by the French king, the execution of the Duke. (fn. 34) But though nothing of this appeared on the trial,—and there were excellent reasons why it should not, for the Duke would certainly have been regarded as a political martyr to a measure in the highest degree unpopular,—there are indications that, in common with Suffolk, Abergavenny, and the people in general, Buckingham regarded the French and this marriage alliance with aversion. Fully to understand the feelings of the times, we must take into account the long-standing rivalry between the two nations. The irrepressible jealousy and excessive dislike with which France, its ambition, its habits, its fashions, its activity under all forms, were then regarded by the mass of the English people, are barely intelligible to us now, to whom the conquest of France has ceased to be more than a dim and idle tradition,—stirring no blood, awakening no memories and no regrets. But in those days men still talked over by the fire-side the deeds of their forefathers in the fields of France; they believed as fully in the right and title of their kings to France as we believe in our title to India or Ireland. Henry's only surviving child and heir was the princess Mary. The nation had ceased to expect any other. By her union with the Dauphin a way was opened to the succession of a French prince to the throne of England. Nothing could be more odious to the people than such an anticipation; and there was no policy that Buckingham could have adopted which would have secured his object with greater certainty, had he been really desirous of the Cardinal's overthrow, than to have declared himself an enemy to that measure, of which Wolsey boasted to be the sole author. With a little more cunning and self-control, he might at this critical moment have filled England with discontent from one end to the other. The suspicions of the King and the Cardinal were not wholly devoid of foundation. They watched the actions of the Duke and his friends with considerable apprehension. (fn. 35) Once only had he been in the company of Francis, and had not left a very favorable impression. Sir Thomas Cheyne details a conversation he had with Francis I. respecting the Duke a short time after. (fn. 36) Francis, he says, "fell on devising (talking) of the duke of Buckingham, and said he had no fancy to him, and said he thought he should come to that he is now come to. And he reported him to my Lady his mother, whether he said so or no immediately after his coming from Arde." On another occasion, (fn. 37) Francis, talking on the same subject with Fitzwilliam, inquired what sort of a man the Duke was; Fitzwilliam replied that "he was a high-minded man, and one that would speak sometimes like a man in a rage." Francis said, "he judged him for such a man, and so full of choler that there was nothing could content him." The ambassador rejoined that the King had often given the Duke good lessons; so good that, if he had had any grace, he would never have deserved to be in the Tower; and he added that the Duke had often received warnings as well from Wolsey as from his own servants.
The Emperor,—for the death of the Duke was a subject of discussion in all the courts of Europe,—never very demonstrative, expressed his regret more imperatorum. There had been much talk in his court, he told Wingfield, (fn. 38) of the Duke's attainder, and it was not easy to prevent it; but as for himself, he knew too well the King's great virtue and wisdom to suppose he would have had the Duke executed except upon great and just cause. When Wingfield told him that the charges were proved against the Duke, and confessed by him before his death, the Emperor observed that the King could not have done otherwise than he had done. Nevertheless, he said, he was sorry the Duke should have come to such an end; for he had taken him for a friend, supposing he had been a friend to the King. Such conversations as these must not be accepted for more than they are worth. The ambassador received his cue from the minister; and if he doubted of its truthfulness, it was not his business to give utterance to his doubts, much less in despatches addressed to his own court and its minister.
But far away from the metropolis men canvassed in less bated terms the execution of the Duke. On the 18th of June 1521, an information was laid against John Stede, of Warham, Norfolk, for "heinous words against the King's grace." (fn. 39) On the Monday in Whitsun week, —so runs the deposition of one witness,—John Fuller or Fowler came to John Stede at Sydestern, and was hired into his service in Dovehouse Close. Stede asked the new comer, in whose service he had been; he replied, in the duke of Northumberland's. (fn. 40) Then said Stede, "I am sure my lord and yours is pensive for the duke of Buckingham." To which Fowler answered, he could not tell, for it was not known there upon St. George's day, and he had left the day following. Stede rejoined: "My lord would be pensive if he knew as much as I do; for I heard that upon Monday his judgment was given unto him before my lord of Norfolk and other lords; and then the said Duke sat down upon his knee, and desired the Lords that they should desire the King's grace to be good and gracious unto his wife and to his children; but as for his own life he would not sue. And furthermore he said, 'An he had not offended no more unto God than he had done to the Crown he should die as true man as ever was in the world." On another occasion, Sir John Estcott, the parish priest, and Nicholas Parker, my lord Broke's huntsman, were talking together on 16th May in Monkyn Bucland, about the duke of Buckingham. (fn. 41) Then said Estcott, it was a pity such an honorable man should order himself so against God and his King. And Parker said, "in counsel," that the Duke seven years ago had made lord Broke of counsel in this matter, and invited him to join his household.
But if there were any who really hoped that the execution of Buckingham would occasion discontent, and end in the overthrow of the Cardinal, they were doomed to disappointment. The nation in general silently acquiesced in the Duke's fall; none cared to scrutinise too narrowly the evidence on which he was condemned, or the constitution and procedure of the tribunal before which he had been tried. The King was the fountain of all justice, not in the sense of a dry legal axiom, which as no one disputes, so no one realizes, but in the hearts and intimate convictions of his people. And if that fountain occasionally in turbulent times or distressing emergencies sent forth bitter waters as well as sweet, the nation was not inclined, on that account, to forego their belief in the justice of their sovereigns, or question the benefit of a strong and resolute rule. To those who looked back on the horrors and disorders of the civil wars, the occasional harshness of an arbitrary but regular government seemed a happy exchange for the licentiousness and cruelty of internecine strife.
The big birds of prey swooped down and clamoured round the noble quarry. The Duke had been one of the richest men of his times. His manors, castles, parks, stewardships were scattered over eleven of the best counties in England. (fn. 42) Wolsey excepted, he had a more magnificent taste for building than any of his contemporaries, and had spared no expense in decorating his mansion, park and gardens at Thornbury. At the time of his death he was engaged in erecting a castle "with curious works and stately lodgings." On the east of the castle was "a goodly garden" to walk in, a large orchard with many alleys; and in different parts of the orchard, "on a good height," were "roosting places" or summer houses, embowered with white thorn and hazel. The orchard communicated with a new park, containing 700 deer; and inclosed thirteen fish ponds, fed by a spring. Crossing the road was another park holding 300 deer; and two miles from the castle a third, seven miles in extent, filled with 500 fallow and 50 red deer.
Next in value was his borough of Newport in Wales, with its haven full of shipping, and a proper castle with three towers, close to the water's edge; "the middlest tower having a vault or entry to receive into the said castle a good vessel." Here the Duke exercised the rights of a suzerain, imposing fines and imprisoning offenders.
Next came the lordship of Tunbridge in Kent, with its castle; "as strong a castle as few be in England. The town of Tunbridge is a borough large and well inhabited with people, having plenty of water running through it in divers places." Adjoining it was a park of oaks and beeches, giving pasture to 300 fallow deer, and embracing in its circuit fifty-two islands. There was also his manor place of Bletchingly, "properly and newly builded;" with its hall, chapel, chambers, parlors, closets and oratories newly ceiled, its wainscoted roofs, floors and walls, to the intent they may be used at pleasure without hangings."
Then the town of Brecknock, a very proper walled town, well builded, and as well paved, with many honest inhabitants in the same, enclosed on the west side thereof with the castle, which is a good and a strong hold, with all houses of offices and lodgings builded after the old fashion." The castle had a hall, the roof of which "was newly and costly made with pendants after a goodly fashion, and into the said castle water was conveyed by a conduit." Adjoining it was a forest and a great mere, "in length nigh three miles, and in breadth a mile, well replenished with fish, and specially with breams."
Kimbolton Castle, in IIuntingdonshire, another of his possessions, is described as being "within a moat, well and compendiously trussed together in due and convenient proportion." Within a quarter of a mile of it was Stonely priory, a park and a fox hunt. Then the manor of Writtell, in Essex, partly decayed, but substantially built, "all of gross timber, in a quadrant with a cloister." The commissioners report that this might be made with no great charge a convenient house for the King, "when by any occasion his Grace should be minded to remove from Newhall, or for hunting time in summer."
Maxstock Castle, in Warwickshire, another portion of his estates, is described as "a right proper thing after the old building; standing within a fair and large moat full of fish, being builded four-square, and at every corner is a tower covered with lead, wherein be proper lodgings." Besides its spacious hall, chapel and chambers, the apartments in this castle "had chimneys and draught." "Much of the work," it is added, "was done by my Lady's grace the King's grand-dame, and wanted finishing in sundry wise;" but it would, at an outlay of 100l., make a suitable castle for the King and the Queen in the time of their progress.
The town of Stafford is returned as "a proper and a fair town, which continually aforetime hath been the King's town, albeit the benefices in the same, and lands lying about it, were the late duke of Buckingham's." The castle stood in a park a mile from the town, "upon so goodly an height that all the country might be seen twenty or thirty miles about; and one way a man may see to the King's lordship of Caurs in Wales, thirty miles from thence, and another way to the King's honor of Tutbury." Six of the little chambers in the castle had "draughts and chimneys." As it was only fifteen miles from Tutbury, and thirteen or fourteen from Lichfield, it is suggested that it would be "right pleasant for the King, when making his progress in grease time." (fn. 43)
Other lordships are enumerated and described, but those already mentioned will be enough to give my readers some notion of the wealth and magnificence of the great Duke. The total annual rental derived from his possessions in England and Wales was estimated at 6,045l. 7s. 11/8d., or about twelve times that amount according to our modern computation. (fn. 44)
Here were noble spoils; for, without detracting much from the general value of the confiscation, there were minor estates, manors, offices, stewardships, chapelries to be distributed among those who had boldness enough to ask and favor enough to obtain them. Among the sharers of the spoil we find two of the Duke's judges, the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, (fn. 45) Sir Nicholas Carew, (fn. 46) Sir Wm. Fitzwilliam, (fn. 47) Sir Griffith Don, (fn. 48) Henry Norris (fn. 49) and the two Wingfields. (fn. 50) In this distribution there might be, there probably was, nothing culpable; but we have reason to be thankful that such usages exist no longer.
Meanwhile the relations between Francis and the Emperor were every day becoming less satisfactory. The rebellion of the Emperor's subjects in Spain, his absence at Worms, his incessant occupation with the cares of his new empire, seemed to offer an excellent opportunity to the French king for prosecuting his own designs, and invading the imperial dominions. Charles had given no cause for hostility, and he was well aware that, in case of a rupture, the assistance of England would be required against the aggressor. To furnish the Emperor with no pretext for invoking that assistance,—to secure it, if possible, for himself, by inducing Charles to strike the first blow,—this was the main object of his policy. To avoid a contingency he clearly foresaw must happen sooner or later, Francis hurried on his preparations.
To keep England in good humor, to hide from an ally with whom he professed to be on amicable terms so much of his design as it did not suit his purpose to reveal, required no little tact and dexterity. In the unsatisfactory state of his relations with other European powers, as they were jealous and suspicious of his movements, he could not afford to throw away the amity of England. He was conscious that the Pope hated and feared him, and was straining every nerve to unite Italy and the empire against him. The Emperor's hostility, he was aware, was no less personal than political. Therefore, his safety and his ambition alike demanded that Francis should, if possible, prevent those combinations of his enemies to which they were prompted by their fears, their jealousies or their interests. On the other hand, it was equally the policy of Wolsey and the Pope, though for different reasons, to keep Francis and the Emperor employed by fomenting divisions between them. The Pope could only hope to secure his independence by their mutual antagonism. For it two such champions of the Church and irresponsible dictators of Christendom were once united, they would control the Papacy, and distribute the thunders of the Vatican at their pleasure. Weak enough already, the Pope would then have become a weaker and more submissive vassal;—a mere instrument to do their bidding. Now, if Charles or his ambassadors attempted to coerce his Holiness—as they were not disinclined to do whenever they found him less compliant than they wished,—if they quartered Spanish and Sicilian troops on the Neapolitan frontier, or afforded convenient relief and refuge to the Pope's enemies and evil doers, his Holiness had the means of bringing them to reason by lending a ready ear to the French overtures. If Francis, in his turn, sent troops to the duke of Ferrara, or aided in spoiling the Church's patrimony,—an easy method of making the Pope feel the weight of his resentment, without the least diminution of outward respect,—the Pope, by promoting the designs and interests of the Spaniards, could as easily retaliate, without appearing to violate the decencies of friendship. In fact, had an intimate union and alliance sprung up between Charles and Francis, that consummation for which many Protestants have panted might have taken place three centuries ago. The temporal power as well the spiritual independence of the Pope would have ceased to exist. At the same time there would have been no Protestant living to rejoice over its destruction. For the same combination which triumphed over the Papacy would have stamped out every spark of religious freedom. Liberty of conscience and national independence, weak in their beginnings, cradled so often in the shock and mutual antagonism of the great, would have been successfully coerced, and Luther and his followers have experienced the fate of Huss. (fn. 51) Whether Wolsey's thoughts ever travelled beyond the more narrow and immediate objects of his policy to the general safety and welfare of Christendom, may be questioned, but that both depended on the measures he unremittingly pursued admits of no dispute. To balance the two great continental powers against each other, to prevent their dangerous conjunction, to trim and adjust the scale when the one or the other predominated, was necessary for the security and aggrandizement of England; but it was no less necessary for the general interests of Christendom, and of every individual state of which Christendom was then composed.
If, then, it was the policy of the French king to keep his rivals asunder, it was no less the policy of Wolsey to prevent the union of Charles and Francis;—a union neither distant nor improbable, considering the inability of the former, in his present perplexities, to cope with the French monarch. But the task which Francis now proposed to himself was not easy. Already, with his connivance, Henry d'Albret had seized the opportunity of repossessing himself of Navarre, and found his progress unopposed, in consequence of the dissensions among the Castilians. At the same moment Robert de la Mark, lord of Bouillon, on the frontiers of Luxembourg and Champagne, took the field at the head of a body of adventurers, led by French officers, with the French king's connivance, if not with his positive sanction. In Dauphiné the famous Bayard was busily employed in collecting troops. French dockyards swarmed with carpenters; great galleons and floating batteries towered up in imposing magnitude and number to threaten and annoy the enemy's country. (fn. 52) Yet all the while Francis professed the most pacific intentions, and deprecated the suspicion of any sinister motive in himself or in those who were thus actively engaged. It was impossible for the English court to shut its eyes to these facts or their consequences. Taxed with the expedition of the king of Navarre, Francis replied that D'Albret was only setting out to visit his grandfather; as for Robert de la Mark, he had never "aided him with a penny," and entirely disapproved of his proceedings; whilst his own preparations for Italy were only prompted by the wish he had long entertained "to see his duchy of Milan, and to show himself to his subjects there." Howbeit, he said, he would make no great haste thitherwards for the present.
These specious excuses were accompanied with professions of unalterable respect and affection for England. He listened to Henry's ambassadors "marvellous amiably." If their master wished for another interview, he assured them, though he were in Italy, "he would gladly ride in post" to any place where Henry would appoint a meeting. (fn. 53) His respect for my lord Cardinal was only second to that which he entertained for his master. The French agents at Rome had contrived to possess themselves of a most important secret. Don Manuel, the imperial ambassador, a blustering and pompous Spaniard, had dropped certain hints of a matrimonial alliance between the Emperor and a Portuguese princess; boasting that his master might have secured, if he pleased, the hand of the princess Mary. (fn. 54) A report so derogatory to England, so well calculated to produce a rupture between Henry and Charles, was duly conveyed to the French king. With many emphatic denunciations of the calumny, so insulting to his ally, with many protestations that he did not believe it, Francis transmitted the report to England. It was received by Henry with no small vexation and chagrin; the more so, because it was well-founded. Digesting his vexation with a gracious countenance, Henry thanked his candid ally for his "manifold demonstration of friendly kindness," and assured him of the continuance of their friendship. "Such sinister reports," he added, "as those of Don Manuel were only contrived by their enemies to break their friendship, and sow dissension between them. The King was certainly surprised to hear that the Emperor was suing for a dispensation to marry the daughter of Portugal; but as for the other part of the story, there was no truth in it. True the King of the Romans had made overtures, both at Calais and since, to marry Madam the princess Mary; but the King, in consequence of his engagements with France, had peremptorily declined the offer." (fn. 55)
This assertion, as bold as it was untrue, deceived no one. So far from rejecting the Emperor's proposals, Henry had been negociating with him for many months the terms of a matrimonial alliance, and of this the French king was well aware. But he thought it best to dissemble; and he answered, with great gallantry, that the King needed not have troubled himself with disproving the calumny, as he gave it no credence. (fn. 56) It was, he added, undoubtedly true that the Emperor was seeking a dispensation at Rome to marry the king of Portugal's daughter, but as to the report that he might have had my lady Princess, that, he assured the King, he never could believe; adding, with his usual gallantry, "I had liever have my lady Princess and (even) though the King's grace had ten children, than the king of Portingale's daughter, with all her father's spices."
Such a reply was as provokingly polite as it was unsatisfactory. It left Francis master of the field, and sole depository of his own intentions. Some new method, as Wolsey discerned at once, must be adopted; and he was not slow in acting on his discernment. With a rashness which would have appeared unpardonable in less able politicians, he called home from the French court the old and experienced diplomatists Sir Richard Jerningham and Sir Richard Wingfield, supplying their places with a young man who had never yet been engaged in any public employment—Sir William Fitzwilliam. From the time when Fitzwilliam was not more than ten years of age, he had been brought up with the King, and was perfectly familiar with his personal habits, his likings and dislikings. He shared in the King's love of sportsmanship; was an adept in the craft of venery; knew that and nautical matters better than anything else. With Latin, strange to say, he was wholly unacquainted; and though he spoke French fluently, yet with French spelling and French proper names, as will be seen from his letters, he makes sad havoc. Keen, intrepid, sagacious, he possessed for a courtier the rare and invaluable gift of neither seeing nor talking too much; he was diligent and straightforward in business; had a firmness and presence of mind which never forsook him in the most trying emergencies. Proof against menaces, which in a French court he had not much reason to apprehend, he was equally impenetrable to the more common and insidious approaches of finesse and flattery.
He was cordially welcomed by the French King, who was quite at his ease, and somewhat off his guard, in the presence of an ambassador who, to all appearance, was "neither too deep nor too sufficient." He talked with Fitzwilliam about hunting; (fn. 57) promised he should lodge and hunt with him every day; "opposed (posed) him upon the sight of the view, and also upon all other properties how to know an hart;" discussed with him the propriety of his master having a park for wild swine "half a mile or a quarter in the thickest ground he could find." (fn. 58) It might have been imagined,—it probably was imagined,—by the sharpest and subtlest of the French ministers, that they had to deal with a raw inexperienced youth, who was much better versed in the craft of a sportsman than the affairs of Kings, Popes or Emperors.
Meanwhile, with his keen and vigilant eyes Fitzwilliam took diligent notice of all that was going on. Albany or De la Mark, or his son Fleuranges, could have no interview with the French king without his perceiving it and guessing the drift of it. When the designs of Francis were too ripe or too momentous for his ministers to be communicative, Fitzwilliam in the equalizing usages and momentary unguardedness of the field, managed to pick up useful scraps of intelligence, hermetically sealed from the staid and steady diplomatist in the saloon or the antechamber. "Very glad am I to see the towardness of this young man," writes Wolsey to the King, "which (who), in mine opinion and poor judgment, falleth right well to the matter, and indites his letters to good purpose." (fn. 59) His despatches justify the Cardinal's commendation.
There could be no fitter instrument for Wolsey's purposes. Without appearing to pry into the motives and actions of the French king, without ever travelling beyond the rôle of mere intelligencer, Fitzwilliam disarmed suspicion. He never alarmed the jealousy of Francis, never flinched before the curious searching eyes and more searching tongue of his mother Louise. It was important above all things to keep the French monarch in good humor. The least surmise on his part, of Wolsey's and his master's intentions, would have snapped short all amicable relations between the two courts; and matters with the Emperor were not yet on so satisfactory a footing that England could afford to break with one until she had secured the other. Cold, distant and exacting, the pride and the avarice, or, if that word be too strong, the necessities of Charles, revolted from the conditions attached to the hand of Mary. Who could tell whether, with all his personal antipathy to his brilliant French rival, he would not yet digest his spleen, and content himself with a French bride, if the king of France, like the king of Portugal, would promise a million for a dowry ? At all events, such a contingency was not to be hazarded by a prudent statesman; and therefore Fitzwilliam was instructed to continue his discreet manner, using always the most pleasant words to the French King in declaration of Henry's fraternal love. (fn. 60) He was to assure Francis that his master loved him "above all other princes, most esteeming his amity and constant dealing;" that he could take no rest, "nor be contented in his mind, till he should eftsoons attain the sight of his person by a new, secret, loving and familiar interview." (fn. 61)
How well Fitzwilliam carried out his instructions may be judged by the repeated assurances of Francis that he fully reciprocated these tokens of affection: "A foy day gentelhommes," so Fitzwilliam reports his conversation, "there was no man living he loved better" than his brother of England. "And if," said Francis, "I should not rejoice of this amity that I have with my brother, I know not whereof I should rejoice, for I cannot be allied to [so noble] a man in this world; for there is no king [to be compared] to him; for they be childer or men that be not worthy to be esteemed like him. He is worthy to be a king alonely but for his just dealing and his virtue. Let him but send me word to meet him at Calais, and I assure you, in what place soever I be, I shall come to him in post." No eulogist of Henry could desire more.
But if soberer judgments demand less questionable proofs of the ability of Fitzwilliam and the accommodating disposition of the French king, here is one that cannot be disputed. In the near and almost certain prospect of a continental embroilment, with a powerful enemy across the sea, a cold and hesitating ally in the Emperor, the king of England was naturally reluctant to waste blood and treasure in a war with Scotland. Ireland at the same time was causing him some alarm;—an importunate creditor put off again and again until a more convenient season, but ever more importunate, exacting, and intolerant of delay. Mindful, therefore, of the old adage, "If that you will France win, then with Scotland first begin," Henry was anxious that the "weazel Scot" should for the present fold its claws, and keep peaceably within its lair. But how was this to be accomplished? The armistice with Scotland was fast expiring; Albany was watching for his opportunity to slip over unnoticed from the French court, and aid and countenance the faction incessantly opposed to England. French gentlemen, ostensibly with the most peaceable designs, passed and repassed the sea (fn. 62) between France and Scotland, and an outbreak appeared unavoidable. To punish the temerity of the Scots, to engage in a tedious border war, was a hindrance at best,—might, if not ably and expeditiously concluded, be taken by foreign nations for a proof of weakness. To betray an inclination for peace, still more to sue for it or grant it too readily, would be dishonor worse than weakness. What then was to be done ? Francis was to be persuaded to induce the Scotch, as of himself, to sue for peace; he was to employ his intercession with the king of England to grant that as a favour which Henry was only too anxious to concede. And to this, strange as it may seem, and more than this, though detrimental to his own interests and his influence in Scotland, was Francis induced by the persuasions of Fitzwilliam. He enjoined the Scotch to sue for peace, and send ambassadors to England for that purpose; (fn. 63) and Henry was thanked for his generosity in granting terms to Scotland at the French king's solicitation. "The matters of Scotland," writes Fitzwilliam a few days after to the King, in his quiet and significant manner, "are answered after your own "mind." (fn. 64)
Incessantly employed in crushing a formidable rebellion in Spain, the Emperor had no wish to be embroiled with France, and therefore listened readily to the proposals of Wolsey, that the king of England should act as a mediator, and compose the differences between himself and his rival. (fn. 65) Wolsey found no difficulty in persuading him "to forbear entering on a war, regarding the state of his affairs in Almayn, Flanders, Spain, Navarre and his other countries," or of inducing him "to remit these variances" to the King's hand; (fn. 66) especially as he insinuated that in so doing arrangements might be made for an attack upon France at a more convenient season. But with Francis, on the other hand, in spite of the address of Fitzwilliam, and "the loving communications and pleasant devices" of Jerningham, who was now sent to his assistance, the task was more delicate and more difficult. Immersed in the bustle and excitement of war, his confidence of success was increased by the news (fn. 67) that the young D'Albret had entered Navarre, had taken St. John Pié de Port, and no later than Saturday last (May 18th) received the keys of Pampeluna,—memorable as the place where and the occasion when Ignatius Loyola was wounded. He protested that he could not desist from war, and submit to Henry's arbitration. The Emperor, he said, had oppressed him so long, he could not with honor abandon his enterprize. His army was now ready; to disband it would be a great disadvantage. Fitzwilliam listened with coolness and attention,—allowed him to talk on without interruption,—gave him a long line,—(he knew the arts of a sportsman,)—then suggested that as the Emperor had already offered to submit to the King's arbitration, Francis, out of friendship, might consent to do the same. (fn. 68) The French king replied that he was too well acquainted with the Emperor's dissimulation to sacrifice his present opportunity; the commons of Spain were in rebellion, the electors of Germany had refused aid, and the Swiss had rejected the Emperor's offers. He declined to waste a minute in fruitless negociations; but—if he ever consented to treat—he would put himself in the King's hands sooner than in any other's.
The resolution of some men is in their circumstances, not in themselves; and so it proved now. Fortune, which had hitherto seemed to smile, proved proverbially fickle. The rebellion in Spain was suddenly crushed; the first advantages gained in Navarre were sacrificed by the rashness and incapacity of d'Espares. Nassau, a cool, able and implacable soldier, retaliated tenfold the injuries committed by De la Mark; destroyed his towns, hung up his garrisons, imprisoned his son, and forced him to sue for an ignoble peace. With misfortune Francis learned moderation. After a little more blustering, a little more show of reluctance,—for the cold and quiet observation of Fitzwilliam was not to be deceived,—he consented to treat; for no fear, as he assured Fitzwilliam,—for he had no dread of any man living,—but only for the love he bore to the King his brother, and out of regard for the peace and the quiet of Christendom. (fn. 69)
But the same causes which had induced Francis to listen to pacific counsels encouraged Charles to retract, and breathe nothing but blood and vengeance. He had been informed, on his return from Worms to Mayence, of the invasion of Navarre and the capture of Pampeluna. Fired with indignation, he demanded that England, in conformity with the promise made at the meeting at Canterbury, should assist him in punishing the presumption of France; adding, in a tone half threatening, half reproachful, that, had he been willing to listen to the mediation of others, no variance would have existed between himself and the French king.
At no time is the life of a prime minister a bed of roses; and so Wolsey found. The care and study he had bestowed in manipulating the French king now seemed likely to be wasted by this sudden intractability of the Emperor. At length, after many difficulties,—not to weary the reader with a minute account of these tedious negociations,—both powers consented to accept Henry's mediation. It was arranged that Wolsey should be sent to Calais; nominally with full powers to hear and decide their differences; really for the purpose of concluding a stricter amity with Charles, without exciting the suspicions of Francis. (fn. 70) Before, however, he consented to stir one step in this business, he exacted from both princes a written assurance to accept his mediation; and a promise, at the same time, that, not until his sentence was pronounced, should either of them attempt to be reconciled to the other.
Did both parties consent to this strange convention from conviction of the justice of their cause, or confidence in the impartiality of Wolsey ? Did they submit to the conditions thus imposed because they involved no sacrifice, and depended on their own inclinations to break or observe them ? Or—more likely—were all parties deceiving, and being deceived ? Francis was not unacquainted with the secret understanding between Henry and the Emperor; nor could Charles be ignorant of the true motive which demanded that he should make no approaches for reconciliation with his rival. On the other hand, so keen a politician as Wolsey would hardly repose such implicit belief in the promises of the two sovereigns as to think that they would keep their word when it no longer suited their interests or their inclinations. Strange as it may seem, none are more credulous or more blind than those who impose on the credulity of others; and, harsh as it may be to say so, kings and their ministers, in the 16th century, sate down to the game of political diplomacy with a fixed determination to overreach not only their opponents but their partners. So all parties concerned deliberately resolved on securing their own advantages, without too nicely scrutinizing the means.
Whatever may be thought of this conduct, however contrary it may appear to our present notions of fair and honorable dealing, it was not so considered then. The chivalrous application of the Christian maxim, if it ever had any existence beyond the imagination of poets and romancers, scarcely remained in the times of the Tudors; and certainly not among the Tudor sovereigns Perhaps the selfishness, the cruelty, the suspicion, en- gendered by years of civil strife, still left a root of bitterness behind them. To count on the forbearance of their enemy might be an amiable weakness in the Stuarts; no Tudor would have trusted the generosity of a friend, much less of a foe, or of a friend who might prove a foe. Love of policy for its own sake, strength of will, proneness to suspicion, readiness to forgive, inability to forget, an injury,—these were the characteristics of Henry VII., and ran through the whole line of his descendants. In Henry VII., whose throne, seated on a molehill, was constantly undermined by active and unseen enemies, such taints in the blood were to be expected, and might be excused. Nurtured in distrust, the events of his life had fostered in him the habit of suspicion. It would have been unnatural if none of these defects had descended to his son; especially as men transmit to their posterity their ignoble as frequently as their nobler qualities. Henry VIII. was the son of Henry VII. From the "Field of the Cloth of Gold," where he and his French ally had met as brothers in arms, and to all outward appearance brothers in affection, Henry retired to meet the Emperor at Calais, to betray and sacrifice to a new alliance the monarch whose hospitality he had accepted and returned. He had solemnly disavowed to the French king that he entertained any purpose of espousing Mary to the Emperor. And now one of the chief articles to be discussed and settled at this Calais conference was the secret and final transfer of her hand to his antagonist. For months the King had been urging his mediation on Francis and the Emperor, assuring both that their honor and their interests should be strictly maintained. Yet from the first he had resolved to betray his French ally, and, under pretence of mediation, waited only for a closer union with the Em- peror, and a more convenient season for invading the French dominions. But this the age called policy, and Henry, as we shall see, triumphed in the thought of his superior dexterity.
Whatever may have been Wolsey's part in these intrigues, it is certain that not a single step was taken by him without the full knowledge and hearty concurrence of his master. The following account left us by the imperial ambassadors of their interview with the king of England on this occasion, places this assertion beyond question. (fn. 71)
The ambassadors were carried down to Windsor in the first week of June 1521, by Sir Richard Wingfield, and lodged in the house of the dean of the chapel, within the castle. Here they were joined at supper by Pace, the King's secretary. At a late hour in the evening, when his majesty had returned from the chase, in which he had been engaged all the day, the aforesaid master Secretary came to them with a message that the next morning (Wednesday 5th) the King, after he had risen, would give them a favorable audience.
The said secretary and Master Wingfield came next morning in search of the ambassadors to their lodgings, and between the hours of ten and eleven in the forenoon conducted them to the palace. After tarrying some time in the ante-chamber, for the King was engaged in conversation with the duke of Suffolk and the earl of Worcester, the said secretary came to inform them that his Majesty, after hearing mass, had found himself in such good appetite, consequent upon the exercise he had taken in the chase the day before, that he wished to dine before he gave them audience. Dinner was set before them in the said apartment (en la dite salle) with the duke of Suffolk, the earl of Worcester, and another nobleman, who was called my lord Acant (my lord of Canterbury or the earl of Kent ?).
Dinner ended, the King sent for them. They were ushered into his presence by the said secretary and ambassador, and then, after reverence done and recommendations made, they presented the Emperor's letters, declaring their charge as they had in all things been instructed to do by the Cardinal.
The King received them with great courtesy. He expressed himself extremely well pleased, and lovingly affected to the Emperor and his projects; but he declined to declare himself at present in the way that the Emperor desired; that is to say, he could not, for many reasons, openly announce his determination of supporting the Emperor in his war against France; because, in so doing, he could render him no effectual service, and would bring irreparable injury on himself, considering that his enemies were ready whilst he was wholly unprepared. He said that he was of opinion that the Emperor should by all means remain on the defensive, incur as little risk and expense as possible, until they two had consulted together, and fixed on the time and manner of a combined attack, which might easily be settled at the ensuing conference. He remarked, in conclusion, that he fully coincided in Wolsey's opinion, that the Cardinal should be sent to Calais under pretence of hearing the grievances of Francis and the Emperor, and as soon as he saw that it was impossible to bring the two parties to agreement he should withdraw, and discuss and conclude with the Emperor the matters and propositions aforesaid; which was a thing, he said, he most desired. He added another motive for desiring delay: the pensions due from France for the surrender of Tournay in 1518 had not yet been paid; and too precipitate a declaration of hostility would justify Francis in withholding them. (fn. 72)
To the general line of policy here marked out by the King Wolsey strictly adhered in the celebrated conference at Calais;—a proof, if any were needed, that the King was sincere in the counsel he gave to the ambassadors, and in his professions of friendship for the Emperor. It is not pleasant to see the two great potentates of Christendom descending to artifices which could scarcely be justified against a declared enemy, much less towards a professed ally. Such conduct, however little it accords with the popular conceptions of Henry's character, or with that homeliness of aim and transparency of purpose we have been taught to expect from him, is far more in harmony with his birth and the traditions of his family. It may, perhaps, be urged in palliation, if not excuse, that Henry believed that Francis would have acted with the same dissimulation had the same opportunity been offered him; and in his creed of political ethics, it was justifiable by deceit to anticipate deceit. Perhaps also the very fact that state-craft was king craft, and not popular craft, did something to encourage the notion, that the vulgar honesty of the multitude was not sufficiently intricate and refined for the atmosphere of politics. All these things the people then left wholly to their rulers. Class theology, class literature, class legislation, class politics, can only become strong, hearty, humane and national, when they receive the vigorous infusion of a broad lay element. But that was the slow outgrowth of the Reformation.