The Child Elizabeth
I T was a strange household at Hunsdon, a baby ruler with crowds of attendants to do her honor and obey her slightest whim. Over all was the strong hand of the king, and his imperious will to which every member of the house yielded save the one slender girl who paid no heed to his threats, but stood firmly for her mother's rights and her own.
For more than two years all honor was shown to the baby Elizabeth, but on the king's marriage to Jane Seymour, he commanded his obedient Parliament to decree that Elizabeth should never wear the crown, and that, if Jane had no children, the king might will his kingdom to whom he would. To the little child the change in her position was as yet a small matter, but to the young girl of twenty-one years the future seemed very dark. Her mother had died, praying in vain that the king would grant her but one hour with her beloved daughter. Mary was fond of study and spent much of the time with her books. Visitors were rare, for few ventured to brave the wrath of Henry VIII., but one morning it was announced that Lady Kingston awaited her Grace.
"I give you cordial greeting," said Mary. "You were ever true to me, and in these days it is but seldom that I meet a faithful friend."
"A message comes to your Grace through me that will, I hope, give you some little comfort," said Lady Kingston.
"From my father?" cried Mary eagerly.
"No, but from one whose jealous dislike may have done much to turn the king against you, from her who was Anne Boleyn. The day before her death," continued Lady Kingston, "she whispered to me, 'I have something to say to you alone.' She sent away her attendants and bade me follow her into the presence chamber of the Tower. She locked and bolted the door with her own hand. Then she commanded, 'Sit you down in the royal seat.' I said, 'Your Majesty, in your presence it is my duty to stand, not to sit, much less to sit in the seat of the queen.' She shook her head and said sadly, 'I am no longer the queen. I am but a poor woman condemned to die to-morrow. I pray you be seated.' It seemed a strange wish, but she was so earnest that I obeyed. She fell upon her knees at my feet and said, 'Go you to Mary, my stepdaughter, fall down before her feet as I now fall before yours, and beg her humbly to pardon the wrong that I have done her. This is my message.' "
Mary was silent. Then she said slowly:—
"Save for her, my mother's life and my own would have been full of happiness, but I forgive her as I hope to be forgiven. The child whom she has left to suffer, it may be, much that I have suffered, shall be to me as a sister—and truly, she is a winsome little maiden." Mary's face softened at the thought of the baby Elizabeth.
She kept her word, and it was but a few weeks before Mary, who had once been bidden to look up to the child as her superior, was generously trying to arouse her father's interest in his forsaken little daughter. Henry VIII., cruel as he showed himself, was always eager to have people think well of him, and in his selfish, tyrannical fashion, he was really fond of his children. Mary had been treated most harshly, but she longed to meet him. Her mother was dead, she was alone. If he would permit her to come to him, it might be that he would show her the same kindness and affection as when she was a child. She wrote him submissive letters, and finally he consented to pardon her for daring to oppose his will. Hardly was she assured of his forgiveness before she wrote:—
"My sister Elizabeth is in good health, thanks to our Lord, and such a child as I doubt not but your Highness shall have cause to rejoice of in time coming."
The months went by, and when Elizabeth was about four years old, a message came from the king to say that a son was born to him, and that the two princesses were bidden to come to the palace to attend the christening.
Such a celebration it was! The queen was wrapped in a mantle of crimson velvet edged with ermine. She was laid upon a kind of sofa on which were many cushions of damask with border of gold. Over her was spread a robe of fine scarlet cloth with a lining of ermine. In the procession, the baby son was carried in the arms of a lady of high rank under a canopy borne by four nobles. Then came other nobles, one bearing a great wax candle, some with towels about their necks, and some bringing bowls and cups, all of solid gold, as gifts for the child who was to inherit the throne of England. A long line of servants and attendants followed. The Princess Mary wore a robe of cloth of silver trimmed with pearls. Every motion of hers was watched, for she was to be godmother to the little child. There was another young maiden who won even more attention than the baby prince, and this was the four-year-old Princess Elizabeth. She was dressed in a robe of state with as long a train as any of the ladies of the court. In her hand she carried a golden vase containing the chrism, or anointing oil, and she herself was borne in the arms of the queen's brother. She had been sound asleep when the time came to make ready for the ceremony, for the christening took place late in the evening, and the procession set out with the light of many torches flashing upon the jewels of the nobles and ladies of rank and upon the golden cups and bowls.
Along the wide hall and down the grand staircase went the glittering line. The baby was christened "Edward," and then was proclaimed "the beloved son of our most dread and gracious Lord, Henry VIII." On the return the little Elizabeth walked beside Mary, keeping fast hold of her sister's hand, while the long train was borne by a noble lady of the court. The trumpet sounded all the way back to the royal bedchamber where lay the queen, waiting to greet her son with her blessing. It was midnight, and Elizabeth as well as her baby brother must have been glad to be allowed to rest.
Only a few days later came the death of the mother of the little prince. Greatly as King Henry disliked black, he wore it for four months, even on Christmas day. Elizabeth was probably at Hunsdon, but Mary spent Christmas with her father. She did not forget the little sister, but sent her a box decorated with silver needlework made by her own hand. She gave the baby brother a cap which must have been very elaborate, for it cost enough to pay the wages of a working man for four months. To the baby's nurse she sent a bonnet that cost half as much as the cap. Another gift, which she herself made, was a cushion covered with rich embroidery.
This baby brother was a delight to both the princesses. Mary went often to see him, and looked after him as if he had been her own child, and to Elizabeth he was the most precious thing in all the world. "I pray you, take me to see my brother," she often pleaded. One day the older sister said to her, "Elizabeth, is there aught that I can do to please you greatly?"
"I would gladly go to see my brother," was the child's answer.
"That cannot well be," said Mary. "Is there nothing better that you can wish?"
"But there is surely one thing better. When it is two of the clock, stand you close by the west window of the hall, and what is to come will come."
Clocks were not very common in those days, but there was one in the hall at Hunsdon, and the excited little girl watched the hands move slowly around until they marked the hour of two. What was to come?
A little after two a single rider appeared. "Make way for his Grace, Edward, Prince of Wales!" he cried. Then came the trumpeters and, following them, the nobles. After the nobles came the royal baby for whom all this ceremonial had been arranged. He lay in the arms of his nurse, "Mother Jack," and was borne in a litter. The upright poles were heavily gilded, and the canopy was of the richest white silk edged with a golden fringe. Clusters of white plumes were fixed at each corner. On the shoulders of eight men rested the shafts of the chair. All around it gathered noble lords and ladies, mounted on horses whose trappings were marked with the monogram of many a family of rank and power. Every man wore a sword to defend the heir of England's king, if need should arise, and stalwart guards marched on either side.
"It's my own little brother," cried Elizabeth.
"And he comes to abide with us for a while," said Mary. "Is not that better, my little sister, than going to him to pay a visit of a day?"
"Will Lady Margaret grant me leave to show him my birds and my rabbits? He shall play on my virginals, if he will; and, truly, I'll not mind the sharp prick of the needle, if I may but sew a dress for him. I would fain learn to make letters with the needle, sister Mary, that I might sew one all myself on everything that he will wear. Oh, it will be an 'E,' even as it is on whatever is mine."
It is quite possible that the next few years were the happiest that Elizabeth ever knew. She was four years older than Edward, and she had been so carefully trained by Lady Margaret that King Henry was glad that she should be the playmate of the sweet-tempered little fellow who was his only son and heir. Lady Margaret was troubled because Edward's best coat was "only tinsel" instead of cloth of gold, and because he had "never a good jewel to set on his cap;" but this was nothing to the little prince so long as he had his sister. Lady Margaret wrote to the king that she wished he could have seen the prince, for "the minstrels played, and his Grace danced and played so wantonly that he could not stand still." Elizabeth taught him to speak, and for his sake she even conquered her dislike to the "prick of the needle," for when his second birthday came and the rich nobles of the kingdom sent him jewels and all sorts of beautiful things made of gold and silver, she gave him a tiny cambric shirt, every stitch of which had been made by the little fingers of his six-year-old sister. Mary sent him a cloak of crimson satin. The sleeves were of tinsel. It was heavily embroidered with gold thread and with pansies made of pearls.
It was about this time that King Henry sent an officer of high rank expressly to bestow the royal blessing upon the two princesses. On his return he reported to the king the grateful message that Mary had sent.
"And how found you her Grace, the Lady Elizabeth?" asked King Henry.
"Truly, your Majesty," replied the chancellor, "were the Lady Elizabeth not the offspring of your illustrious Highness, I could in no way account for her charm of manner and of speech. 'I humbly thank his most excellent Majesty,' she said, 'that he has graciously deigned to think upon me, who am verily his loving child and his true and faithful subject.' "
"She is but six years old," mused Henry. "Were those her words?"
"I would gladly have had pen and paper," answered the chancellor, "that no one of them should have been lost, but I give the message as it has remained in my memory. She asked after your Majesty's welfare with as great a gravity as she had been forty years old."
More than one trouble came to the older princess. Soon after the king had sent his blessing to the two sisters, a councilor came to Mary with a message of quite another character.
"It is his Majesty's pleasure," said he, "that your Grace should receive the Duke Philip of Germany as a suitor for your hand." This German duke was a Protestant, and Mary was a firm Roman Catholic, but she dared not refuse to obey the king's bidding.
"I would gladly remain single," said she, "but I am bound to obey his Majesty. I would, too, that the duke were of my own faith, but in so weighty a matter I can do naught save to commit myself to my merciful father and most sovereign lord, knowing that his goodness and wisdom will provide for me far better than I could make protection for myself."
The duke sent her a beautiful diamond cross, but before a year had passed, she was bidden by the King to return the gift. Henry had wedded a German wife, and had treated her so badly that Mary's betrothal was broken.
There were sad times in England in those days. When Henry VIII. wished to marry Anne Boleyn, he asked the Pope to declare that his marriage to the mother of Mary was not lawful. The Pope refused. Henry then asked the opinion of several universities in England, Italy, and France, and it is probable that his question was accompanied by either bribes or threats. The universities declared the first marriage unlawful; but the Pope would not yield. Henry then declared that the English church should be free from the Pope, and that the king himself was properly the supreme head of the church in his own kingdom.
There were tyrants, and most cruel tyrants before the days of Henry VIII., but they were generally satisfied to rule men's deeds. Henry was determined to rule his subjects' most secret thoughts. If he suspected that a man did not believe that his divorce was right, he would pursue the man and force him to express his opinion. If the man was too honest to tell a falsehood, he was imprisoned or executed, for Henry said that it was treason to refuse to acknowledge that the king of England was at the head of the church of England. Many of the noblest, truest men in the land were put to death for this reason. This was not all, for although Henry would not acknowledge the authority of the Pope, he nevertheless declared that he was a Roman Catholic, and that all Protestants were heretics and deserved to be burned to death. The result of this strange reasoning was that if a man was a Protestant, he ran the risk of being burned at the stake, while if he was a Roman Catholic, he was in danger of being hanged.
Mary was often at the court. She must have heard her father's brutal threats against all those who did not love his will. One after another of her childhood's friends was beheaded or burned at the stake; her old teacher, her mother's chaplain, and the beloved countess to whose care her mother had confided her as an infant. Not a word or look of criticism might she venture, for the despot would hardly have hesitated to send his own daughter to the stake if she had dared to resist him in this matter.
The case was quite different with Elizabeth and Edward. They knew little of burnings and executions. Whatever of gentleness and kindness was in King Henry was shown to the children, especially to his son. The little ones played and studied together. "My sweetest and dearest sister" was the little boy's name for Elizabeth. She was a favorite wherever she went. The king married three times after the death of Jane Seymour, and each of these stepmothers was fond of the merry, pleasing little girl.
The first of the three was the German princess. She was rather slow and dull, and Henry took a great dislike to her. When the little Elizabeth, then about seven years old, begged to be allowed to come to court to see the queen, King Henry roared, "Tell her that her own mother was so different from this woman that she ought not to wish to see her." This was the only time that he ever spoke of Anne Boleyn.
Elizabeth met the new stepmother after a short delay, and this lady was so charmed with the little maiden that she begged to see much of her, the only favor that she ever asked of the king. The next wife was a distant relative of Anne Boleyn, and when she dined in public, she gave the place opposite herself to the child. "She is of my own blood," said the queen, "and it is only right that she should be next to me."
At Henry's last marriage Mary and the two children were present, and this new queen became like the others a warm friend of Elizabeth, who was now fully ten years old. Henry must have felt some affection for Anne Boleyn, for he was never displeased to hear the praises of her daughter. He seemed beginning to have a real fondness for the child, and one day he looked at her keenly and said:—
"There's more than one that would be glad to have you. Would you be married, Elizabeth, or would you stay with your books and birds and viols and lutes?"
"I would fain do that which your Majesty bids," answered the child. "I know well that what your Majesty commands is ever the thing which is best."
"She's a child of wisdom," declared Henry with a smile of gratification, "and I'll do more for her than anyone can guess." Then said he to Elizabeth:—
"It shall be brought about that you shall become the bride of some great man. If any German Emperor plays you false, he shall feel the weight of my hand. How would it please your Grace to marry a prince of Portugal?" he asked playfully, for he was in a rarely good humor, "Or perhaps, Philip of Spain? Philip will be a king, and he would make you a great lady. Would it please you to wed one that would make you a queen?"
"Far rather would I wed one that I could make a king," answered the child, drawing herself up to her full height.
"What!" cried the king, his face changing in a moment, and his eyes flashing ominously. The girl seemed looking not at the king, but far away into some distant future. She did not see the warning glance of the queen.
"I would fain be so beautiful and so great," said she, "that whoever came near me should admire me and should beg me to become his wife. I would say no to one and all, but by and by I would choose one for myself. Him I would raise to be as great as I, and I would——" Elizabeth of England, even as a child, rarely forgot herself, but she was absorbed in the picture that she was making, and she stopped only when she felt the silence and saw her father's wrathful gaze fixed upon her. His eyes were fairly blazing with anger, and his face was purple.
"So that is what you plan, is it?" he roared. "And here you stand before me and tell your schemes to become queen and raise some miserable rascal to the throne. Get out of my sight, ingrate that you are."
Quick-witted as Elizabeth was, she did not at once see wherein she was in fault. She was so dazed by this sudden fury that she did not even think to throw herself at the feet of the king and beg to be forgiven, even though she knew not for what. The stepmother pleaded, "Pardon the child, my king. She meant no wrong."
"No wrong," thundered the king. "Is it 'no wrong' to plan what she will do as soon as the breath is out of her father's body? I tell you, girl that you may find another father and another throne, for never shall you sit upon mine. Get to your litter, and do you never come before my eyes again."
The little Edward had slipped up softly behind father and had laid his tiny hand upon the king's purple cheek.
"Your Majesty is naughty," he declared bravely, "You have made my sweetest sister cry. I don't want my sister to cry." Never had the little boy received a harsh word from his father, and he was perhaps the only one in the kingdom who had no fear of the king. "Come," said he, "and tell her not to cry." He caught the king by the hand, but even for his son King Henry's anger could not be suppressed.
"You little know her," he said. "It is you that she would rob. She would seize upon the place that is your own and drive you from it. Tell her to depart from the palace and never enter it," he commanded his chamberlain, and soon the little girl, not yet twelve years old, was sent away from the court in disgrace.
"Hold yourself with patience," whispered the queen to the child. "Trust me, and believe that it shall not be long before you will again be sent for."