A Boy King
T HE queen did all in her power for the little offender, but it was a whole year before she was again allowed to come to court. There was war in France, and the king sailed away in his ship with its sails of cloth of gold, apparently forgetting all about the little daughter whom he had left without a word of farewell. The child dared not write him, but she wrote the queen a grateful little Italian letter. "I feel bound not only to be obedient to you," she said, "but also to look up to you with filial love, and chiefly because I learn that you, most illustrious Highness, never forget me in your letters to his Majesty, the king." Then she begged the queen when writing the king, always to speak of her. "Commend me to him with my continual prayer that he will give me his kind blessing," pleaded the anxious child.
After keeping his anger for a whole year, the king finally deigned to send his blessing to "all" his children. The poor little girl was comforted, and made so happy by this tardy forgiveness that she cast gratefully about her to see what she could do to show her gratitude to the kind stepmother who had done so much to appease his wrath. She knew of a little French book that was a favorite of the queen's, and this she translated into English and sent to her. The cover was embroidered in blue and silver, and there was a quaint little dedication saying that she knew nothing in it "was done as it should have been." It is no wonder that the grateful child became a great favorite with her kind-hearted stepmother.
Henry was successful in France; England had been well governed by the queen during his absence; he was on good terms with all his family; and although there had been a visitation of the plague, his children were safe. It was probably at this happy time that a large picture was painted of Henry, his three children, and the mother of Edward. The king sits on a kind of dais with Jane Seymour beside him. He is gorgeous in scarlet and gold brocade, and his two daughters equally dazzling in their crimson velvet and cloth of gold. The precious little prince stands at his father's right hand, and the king's arm is thrown around the child's neck. Both king and prince wear velvet caps; each with a long white plume. Gold chains and rubies and pearls are everywhere.
Queen Katherine does not appear in the picture, but she had a strong hold on the daily lives of the royal family. She saw to it that so far as lay in her power the neglected elder daughter should have the position that belonged to her. Princess as she was, Mary never had after her mother's divorce an allowance half large enough to do what was expected of her, but now she was helped in many ways by the thoughtful stepmother. The queen would send a handsome gown or a generous gift of money, or she would arrange to pension off some some aged, helpless servant of Mary's, and so lessen the demands upon the girl's slender purse. She was little older than the princess, but she showed a motherly watchfulness of Mary's interests.
No less thoughtful was she of the training of her younger stepchildren. It was the fashion for young people of rank to be highly educated, especially in the languages, and if half the reports of the knowledge acquired by the two children are true, they must have been wonderfully industrious students. One who knew them well declared that they called for their books as soon as it was light. First came the reading of the Scriptures, then breakfast, and after that the study of various languages. When the long hours of work were over, the little prince was allowed to exercise in the open air, while Elizabeth "betook herself to her lute or viol, and when wearied with these, employed her time in needle-work." Four or five modern languages this industrious princess learned to speak and write. She had some knowledge of Greek, and she spoke Latin almost as easily as English. A little book in which she wrote her Italian exercises is still in existence. They are well written, but there are mistakes enough to show that even a princess does not learn a language without hard work.
Both children had a great admiration for Queen Katherine, and whatever she did was right in their eyes. Edward seems to have had as hard a time learning to write as any child of to-day, and he sent a letter to the queen about his troubles. "When I see your beautiful handwriting," says the discouraged little boy, "I am sick of writing. But then I think how kind your nature is, and that whatever proceeds from a good mind and intention will be acceptable, and so I write you this letter."
The gentle boy, not yet nine years old, was soon to be put forward to represent the king. Henry had grown so enormously stout that he could not climb the stairs. After a while he could no longer even walk about his room, and he had to be moved in a rolling chair. Commissioners from the king of France were coming to England to arrange terms of peace. The king ordered his son to take his place.
"Your Majesty," reported the officer in whose charge the child had been, "truly, never was there a prince of such courtesy and amiability. His Grace rode on the charger most gallantly, and led the two thousand knights and nobles with as much of ease and stateliness of demeanor as if he had been forty years of age."
"And did he speak as he was taught?" asked the king.
"Surely, your Majesty, and with such grace and sovereignty in his manner that men were affected even to tears."
"And what said the admiral?"
"I verily believe, your Highness, that he would have caught up the prince's Grace and clasped him to his breast had it not been for the dignity of his Grace's manner and bearing. He put his arm about the neck of his Grace, but it was a kiss of affection and not of state that he gave."
"And after that?"
"After the speech of welcome, my lord prince again took the head of the cavalcade. Never before the time of your Majesty have they been handled by such a leader. He led the French away from the Heath to meet your Highness's gracious welcome at the palace."
The boy was not spoiled by all this honor and praise, but went willingly away from the glories of the court to stay with his beloved sister Elizabeth. Less than a year were they together, and then it was thought best for them to be separated. Edward was but a lonely little child in spite of his stateliness when on the great charger, and he grieved so for his sister that she wrote to him suggesting that they write frequent letters to each other. The boy caught eagerly at the idea. "Nothing can now occur to me more grateful than your letters," he wrote in the prim, stilted fashion of the day, and he added, "It is a comfort to my regret that I hope shortly to see you again if no accident intervenes." He did see her again before many weeks had passed, for there was news to tell which the councilors wished both children to hear.
King Henry had been growing more and more feeble. For some time before his death, it was so difficult for him to sign his name that three men, acting together, were given the right to do it for him. Two made an impression of his signature with a dry stamp, and the third traced the letters with ink. Henry grew no less bitter in his enmity to all who opposed him, and one of his last acts was to order the execution of his aunt's husband.
One winter day two men galloped swiftly over the road to the palace which was then the home of Edward.
"Inform his Highness that the Duke of Somerset and Sir Anthony Brown await his pleasure," was the message brought to the prince. The Duke of Somerset was Edward's mother's brother, and he went eagerly to meet his guests.
"I rejoice that you bring me word of his Majesty," said the boy. "Is it not yet his will that I should come to him?"
"Your Grace," answered the Duke, "his Majesty sent no such message, but he would that you go with us to the home of her Grace, the Lady Elizabeth." The prince did not question a command that was so in accordance with his wishes, and they set off on horseback.
When the children were together, the duke bowed low before the boy of ten years, his own nephew, and said:—
"Your Majesty, graciously permit your faithful servants to kiss your hand and to promise you their humblest obedience both now and ever. A grievous duty is it, indeed, to declare to you that our illustrious king, Henry VIII., no more governs this realm of England. There is comfort for his sorrowing subjects in the thought that he has left us so noble and gracious a prince to rule us in his stead."
Edward had known nothing but kindness from his father, and now that the king was dead, Elizabeth no longer remembered what he had made her suffer. Edward forgot that he was a king, and the children threw themselves into each other's arms and sobbed and cried until those who were about them wept for sympathy.
Now the king had died three days before, but lest there should be some insurrection or an attempt to put Mary on the throne, the Duke of Somerset and others who meant to be the real rulers of the reign of Edward kept the news of his death a secret until they could get the young king safely into their hands and could establish the government in his name. Edward was conducted to the royal apartments in the Tower of London with an honorable escort of troops and nobles. There was great blowing of trumpets and waving of banners, and the boy was proclaimed king of England, France, and Ireland, and supreme head of the church in England and Ireland. A few weeks later the coronation took place, and then there was a rejoicing indeed. The streets through which the young king rode were hung with tapestry and banners. Here and there booths, or stages had been built, and in them all sorts of games and plays were carried on to amuse the people. A rope was stretched from the steeple of St. Paul's church and fastened firmly to a great anchor lying on the ground. An acrobat contrived to creep halfway up this rope, "aided neither by hand nor by foot," the old account says. Then he performed many feats in mid-air, "whereat," as the story puts it, "king and nobles had good pastime."
There was no longer a cruel king on the throne, but a child who is described as a marvel of goodness and learning. He is praised not only for his ability to speak different languages, but for his knowledge of geography. One of the historians of the day said that he could recite all the harbors and creeks in England, France, and Scotland, and could tell what kind of entrance there was in each for ships, and even which tides and winds were most favorable. It was claimed, too, that he knew the names of all the men of authority in his kingdom, where their homes were, and what their religion was.
This matter of religion was dividing the kingdom. Henry had called himself a Catholic, but he would not admit the Pope's authority. Edward and Elizabeth had been brought up in their father's belief. The Duke of Somerset was one of the men chosen to carry out Henry's will, and he was so decided a Protestant that he was almost as determined to make every one accept the Protestant faith as Henry had been to make all his people agree with himself. In spite of all King Henry's declarations that neither Mary nor Elizabeth should ever wear the crown, he had finally willed that it should descend first to Edward, then to Mary and then to Elizabeth. The Catholics were eager to have Mary come to the throne, because she was of their own faith; but the Duke of Somerset had been chosen Protector, that is, he was really to govern the kingdom until Edward was old enough to rule, and he meant to oblige the people to become Protestants.
There was even more scheming going on around the boy king, for his councilors were already planning for his marriage. A little five-year-old girl in Scotland was the one whose hand they meant to secure for their sovereign. Her name was Mary, and she was the Queen of Scots. This plan had been one of King Henry's favorite schemes, but it had never pleased the Scotch. The Protector led an army against them, a most remarkable fashion of winning a bride for the young king, but the Scotch would not yield.
"What greater honor do you expect for the queen?" demanded the English council. "How can Scotland gain more sure protection than that of the king of England?" The Scotch knew very well that if Edward married Mary, it would be for the purpose of gaining a surer control of Scotland, and they refused in spite of the Duke of Somerset and all his army. They betrothed the little queen to the son of the French king, and sent her to France to be educated. "The Scotch are a perverse and wilful people," then said the English.
Besides the difficulty in gaining a wife for the king and the religious persecutions, there was trouble from other causes, especially among the poor. Part of this arose from what was called "enclosing." On every great estate there had always been land that the poor people living on the estate could use as a common pasture for their cows. The rich landowners were beginning to "enclose," or fence in these tracts of land and to use them either for private parks or for sheep pastures. The poor had no longer any way to feed their animals, and they were in great distress. Somerset tried to forbid this enclosing, but the owners of land were too powerful for him, and the enclosing went on in spite of the strictest laws against it. Indeed, the laws caused a new difficulty, for now that the poor people had a decree in their favor, they revolted in several districts and tried to seize the land. A writer who lived in those times says, "The poor people swarmed in the realm."
Of course when there were revolts, Somerset was obliged to suppress them, no matter how much he sympathized with the revolters, and often accused men were punished with little effort to make sure of their guilt. It is said that a miller who had been a revolter suspected that he was in danger, and said to his servant, "I must go away on business. If anyone asks for me say that you are the miller and have owned the mill these three years. The king's officer came as the miller feared. "Are you the miller?" he demanded. "Surely," replied the servant proudly. "The mill has been mine for three full years." You have been a busy rebel," declared the officer, "and now you shall be hanged to the nearest tree." "Indeed, I'm not the miller, but only his man," cried the frightened servant. "The man tells two tales, hang him up," bade the officer. A little later one who knew the miller said, "Truly, he was not the miller, he was but the miller's man." "Then has he proved a good servant," declared the officer contentedly, "for how could he have done his master better service than by hanging for him?"
The nobles were angry at Somerset's attempt to prevent enclosing, and they were indignant that he should have so much power. The result was that he was accused of treason and the Duke of Northumberland became Protector.
Although all these acts were done in the name of Edward, the boy king had really very little freedom. "He is not alone half a quarter of an hour," said one who knew of his life. When he first became king, he wrote to Mary, "I will be to you a dearest brother and overflowing with all kindness;" but he was taught by Somerset and others that it was a danger to the kingdom to allow his sister to remain a Catholic. When he had been on the throne for about three years, she was summoned to court.
"Your Highness," said the chamberlain to Edward, "I have to announce the arrival of her Grace, the Princess Mary."
"Give welcome to her and her train," said the young monarch, "and say that it is my will and that of my councilors to receive her straightway." This visit was not for the pleasure of meeting her brother, though they greeted each other most cordially. The royal council was sitting in another room and there she was summoned.
"Your Grace," said the councilors, "is it true that, contrary to the wishes of his Majesty the king, mass is still said daily in your house?"
"It is true," answered Mary, "that the worship of God is carried on in my house in such wise as I do firmly believe is most pleasing to him."
"There is then no hope of your Grace's amendment shortly?"
"None, my lord."
"It is the will of his Majesty, who is supreme head of the church in England, that the mass should be no longer celebrated in his realm. It becomes the duty of all that owe him allegiance to obey. It is his Majesty's command that you obey as a subject, attempting not to rule as a sovereign."
"I will neither change my faith nor conceal that which is my true opinion," declared the princess, "and in testimony of my belief I am ready to lay my head upon the block for the truth, though I am unworthy to suffer death in so good a cause."
Mary soon left the palace. Letters bidding her give up her religion came from the king, but the elder sister replied:—
"They may be signed with your own name, but they cannot be really your own, for it is not possible that your Highness can at these years be a judge in matters of religion, and by the doings of certain of your councilors I mean not to rule my conscience."
With his councilors telling him how dangerous it was to the peace of the kingdom for Mary to be allowed to practise a form of religion that was contrary to the law, the brother and sister can hardly have been very happy together, and their meetings grew further apart.
Elizabeth was living quietly in her own house, spending most of her time in study. The boy king was hardly more than a toy in the hands of his councilors. Somerset was finally condemned to death, but when he wrote to Elizabeth and begged her to appeal to the king and save his life, Elizabeth was obliged to answer:—
"The king is surrounded by those who take good care to keep me away from him, and I can no more gain access to his Majesty than you can."
The one who was keeping Elizabeth from her brother was the new Protector, the Duke of Northumberland. Edward became ill, and everyone knew that his life would be short. Elizabeth tried to visit him, but was prevented. Then she wrote him a letter, but it is not probable that he ever saw it. Northumberland was in power, and he did not mean that either Mary or Elizabeth should wear the English crown; he had quite another plan in his mind.