Giving Away a Kingdom
E DWARD was not fifteen when the Duke of Northumberland became Protector. At eighteen the boy king was to be really king and to govern his kingdom as he chose, but until then, although everything was done in his name, it was the Protector who would rule. Northumberland thought that in those three years he could gain so great an influence over the young sovereign that even when the time came to give up the high office, he would still retain much of his power.
Edward had never been strong, and before many months had passed, it was clear that he would not live to be eighteen. Northumberland had no mind to lose his power. What could he do?
One morning in June he went to the chamber of the king. Edward lay by the window looking out into the bright sunshine.
"My humble greeting to your gracious Majesty," said Northumberland. "I have brought news that cannot fail to give to your Highness an increase of health and strength."
"I think that nothing can do that," said Edward, "but good news will at least make the day less weary. What is it that you have to tell?"
"That two of those followers of the Pope who have most strongly opposed your Majesty's efforts for the good of the land have at last accepted godly counsel."
"I rejoice," said the king. "Would that the Princess Mary were one of them. Is it true, my lord, that no word of submission to him who is rightly the supreme head of the church in England has come from her Grace?"
"It is true, your Highness."
"Then when I die—no, my lord, do not deny it. I know well that few days are left to me—my sister will be on the throne. She will bring back the falseness of the old religion. Not the sovereign but the Pope will rule in the land, and I can do nothing to prevent it. How little power a king has!" Northumberland's heart beat fast. Now was his opportunity.
"Has your Majesty considered that the rightful heirs of king as well as of subject are those whom he himself shall name?"
"Do you mean, my lord, that it is my right to name her who shall follow me? that I could leave the crown to her Grace, the Princess Elizabeth, if I would?"
"Our glorious ruler, Henry VIII., bequeathed his crown as he would have it to descend. Surely, it would be in your Majesty's power to leave it to the Princess Elizabeth's Grace or to whomever of the descendants of the illustrious sovereign, King Henry VIII., your Majesty might choose."
"The Princess Elizabeth was taught the principles of the truth even as I myself was," mused the king.
"True, your Majesty," agreed the duke, "but she is only twenty years of age. It might easily come to pass that she would wed a foreign prince of the false faith, and that the land, now so favored with the light of truth, would be again plunged into darkness. If she were already wed, it would be safer, though many in the realm believe that neither of the daughters of King Henry can rightfully inherit the crown. An heir upon whom all must unite would save strife and it may be bloodshed."
"That might well be," said the king thoughtfully. Then Northumberland suggested boldly, though with some inward fear:—
"The sisters of your Majesty's illustrious father, could you—" the duke hesitated.
"The granddaughter of Margaret Tudor is the Queen of Scots, the little maiden who refused my hand," said the king with a faint smile, "but she is of the false faith. The granddaughter of Mary Tudor is my old playmate, the lady Jane Grey, or is she not now Lady Dudley, my lord? Was it not a few days ago that she became the wife of your son? She is well-principled in the truth."
"Do not fancy, I beg your Highness, that a thought of what your Majesty had in mind moved me to look with favor upon the mutual affection of the young couple."
"No," said the young king a little wearily. "Arrange it in any way that you will to have the kingdom fall into the hands of her who will lead it more fully into the light, and bear it further from the idolatrous worship of the earlier days."
Northumberland had obtained his wish, but there must be lawyers to write a deed of gift of the crown. He went to three judges of the realm and gave them the king's command.
"Gladly would we see the faith of his Majesty more fully established," they said, "but, my lord duke, in the time of King Henry Parliament decreed that whoever did aught to change the order of succession to the crown should suffer death as a traitor."
Northumberland persuaded and threatened, but the judges had no mind to run the risk of losing their heads for the sake of setting his daughter-in-law upon the throne of England.
"If you had the written pardon of the king, would you do it?" demanded Northumberland, and after much discussion the judges hesitatingly agreed. Edward was now as eager as the Protector to have it made sure that Lady Jane would ascend the throne, and he willingly signed a pardon to free them from all punishment, if they were ever accused of breaking the law of the land. The pardon was signed, then the deed of gift, bequeathing the crown to Lady Jane, was signed. The dying king rejoiced, but the bold schemer trembled.
There were very good reasons why each of the four women had a right to feel honestly that she alone ought to be queen of England. These four were Mary, Elizabeth, Mary, the child Queen of Scots, who was descended from Margaret, sister of Henry VIII., and last, Lady Jane, who was descended from his youngest sister Mary. According to King Henry's will, which Parliament had confirmed, the crown was to go to Lady Jane, if Henry's three children died without heirs. It seemed quite possible that she might some day be the ruler of England, and her parents set to work to prepare her to become a queen.
Now when less than a century ago a lady in England found that her little daughter Victoria would probably be the sovereign of her country, she said, "I want you to be a good woman, and then I shall be sure that you will be a good queen." Lady Jane's parents thought more of training her to do everything according to the etiquette of the court, and they were so anxious that she should walk and talk and sit and eat and dance precisely as they thought a queen ought to perform those acts, that they were exceedingly severe with her. She was a gentle, loving girl, and she did her best to satisfy them, but she was upbraided and pinched and struck whenever she was in their presence. The one great pleasure in her life was the time that she spent with her teacher, whom she called "Master Aylmer," for he was so kind to her and so gentle in all his ways that she was happy when the hour of study had arrived.
Everyone knew that Northumberland was the most powerful man in the kingdom, and when he said to Lady Jane's father, the Marquis of Dorset, "If you will give your daughter to my son Guilford to wife, I will persuade the king to make you a duke," the marquis was delighted. Lady Jane was but sixteen and Lord Guilford Dudley was only one year older. They were married at once with the most brilliant festivities.
Not many days after the wedding, King Edward became very ill. "Hold yourself in readiness for what may be demanded of you," said Northumberland to Lady Jane. "Should the king fail to recover, you are made by his Majesty heir of his realm."
The girl of sixteen had never thought of such a thing as becoming queen of England until many years should have passed, and probably not even then, and she was greatly troubled. She dared not disobey Northumberland, and when a few days later he sent his daughter to bring her to the royal council, she did not venture to refuse. When the duke and the other members of the council entered the room, they fell on their knees before her and kissed her hand.
"We make our humble submission to your Majesty as our sovereign lady and rightful ruler of this realm of England," said they.
Lady Jane was much abashed, and she said:—
"My lords, I can but thank you for the grace that you show to one who is so unworthy of such honor; but if I understand your words aright, you greet me as your sovereign lady and ruler. My lords, there is surely some grievous error. His Majesty, King Edward, is, happily, still on the throne, and even if it had pleased God to remove his Grace from earth to heaven, no claim have I so long as the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth live. Will your lordships grant me permission to withdraw?"
Then spoke the Duke of Northumberland:—
"Your Majesty and members of the royal council, it is a painful duty that falls to my lot to announce the death of our beloved and illustrious king, Edward VI. Much reason have we to rejoice not only in his praiseworthy life and his countless acts of goodness and clemency, but especially in that he, being at the close of his days, thought most earnestly upon the welfare of his realm. In his last hour on earth he prayed that his kingdom might be defended from the popish faith, and he left it in the hands of her who he believed would be faithful to the trust, and would guard the land from falsehood and from error."
All her life Lady Jane had known and loved the young king. Tears came to her eyes. She looked pitifully about the room. Several noble ladies had been brought into the council chamber, but not one had even a glance of sympathy for the young girl. The Duchess of Northumberland frowned at her, and her own mother whispered sternly, "Demean yourself as is fitting for a queen."
"His Majesty gave command to his council," said the duke, "and they have no choice save to obey him. Thus declares the will of the king, signed and sealed, and drawn up by three capable judges of the realm. It names as his heir and successor on the throne of England her gracious Highness, Lady Jane, descendant of Mary, who was the youngest and most beloved sister of his Majesty, King Henry VIII."
Then all the lords of the council knelt at the feet of Lady Jane. "We render to your Majesty only the honor that is due," said they, "for you are of true and direct lineage heir to the crown. With deliberate mind we have promised to his Highness, King Edward VI., that in your Grace's cause we will spare neither goods nor lands nor the shedding of our blood."
Lady Jane stood before them, white and trembling. Then grief and pain overcame her, and with a sudden burst of tears she fell to the ground. When she was a little recovered, she said to them:—
"My lords, I can but grieve from my heart for the death of so noble a prince and one that was so dear to me. I am weak and feeble. I have little power to govern the land as he in his greatness of mind and of heart would have done, but if that which you say has been given me is rightfully and lawfully mine own, then will I turn to God in my insufficiency and humbly beseech his grace and spirit that I may rule the land to its advantage and to his glory and service."
In the afternoon of the same day Lady Jane went in state to the Tower of London, for it was an old custom that sovereigns should go forth from the Tower on the day of their coronation. Her relatives knelt before her and humbly promised to be obedient to her commands; and her own mother walked meekly behind her, bearing the daughter's train. In the evening she was proclaimed in London ruler of the kingdom. There was little rejoicing. The people as a whole were sullen and silent, for most of them understood that the affair was but a scheme of Northumberland's to gain power for himself.
The duke knew that if Mary and Elizabeth were free after Edward's death was known, a party would be formed in favor of one or the other, and therefore he had planned to get them both into his hands. He sent messengers to them to say that the king was very ill and begged that they would give him the happiness and comfort of their presence.
Elizabeth paid no heed to the message. Either she was really ill, as she said, or she was wise enough to suspect that there was some trickery about this sudden demand for her society, when for so long a time she had not been allowed to see her brother. At any rate, she remained in her own house.
Mary returned word by a swift rider that she was made very happy by the thought that she could help to bring cheer and consolation to her brother, and she set out at once to go to him. When she was only a few miles from London, a man who had been her goldsmith came riding in hot haste.
"Your Grace," he said, "I beg that you will go no farther. The king is not ill, he is dead. Northumberland plans to set Lady Jane upon the throne. Flee, I do pray you." Mary hesitated. Was the word of the goldsmith true? Whom could she trust? Should she go on to London and perhaps be thrown into the prison of the Tower by Northumberland? Should she flee to Norfolk and refuse, it might be, her brother's last tender wishes? Was it a trap to make her declare herself queen and then behead her for treason? While she questioned, another rider came, a nobleman whom she trusted, and he told her that the king was indeed dead.
Mary turned toward Norfolk. Night came on. The princess herself and many of her retinue were exhausted. They asked for shelter at a country-seat. It was given them, but the Protestants in the neighborhood had heard that Edward was dead and that the Catholic princess was among them. A mob set out in the morning to destroy the house that had sheltered her. Mary had been warned of the danger and had ridden away. She glanced back from the top of a hill and saw the house in flames. "Let it go," she cried. "I will build him a better one."
As soon as she reached her own castle in Norfolk, she sent a letter to the royal council saying:—
"We are greatly surprised that we have had from you no knowledge of the death of our brother, but we trust your love and your loyalty. Whatever may have been said to us of any disloyal intentions on your part we do put far from us, and do agree to grant you pardon and receive you graciously into our service as true and faithful subjects."
Even though the councilors had failed to secure Mary, they still believed that their side would win, and they sent her a rather arrogant letter. It said:—
"Lady Jane is our queen, but if you will show yourself quiet and obedient as you ought, you will find us all ready to do you any service that we with duty may."
Mary then rode to Framlingham, a strongly fortified castle some twenty miles away. It was so near the sea that she could escape to the continent if flight should become necessary, but she could hardly have been in a safer place. The walls of the stronghold were eight feet thick; town and fortress were surrounded by three deep moats. Here she flung out her banner and called upon all loyal subjects to come to the assistance of their rightful queen. So many thousands gathered that she ventured to set out for London, and as she drew near the city, she met such a welcome that she disbanded her army.
Now at Edward's death when Northumberland saw that his plan to capture Elizabeth had failed, he sent a messenger to promise her land and money if she would but resign all title to the crown. With rare wisdom for so young a woman, she replied:—
"That is not for me to say. Lady Mary is by my father's will and by decree passed in open Parliament the rightful queen of the realm. Whatever my claim may be, I can make no challenge so long as my sister doth live." Elizabeth then set out to meet Mary, and, they entered London together, followed by a long train of ladies and noblemen, and escorted by the city guard.
Northumberland too, had collected an army, but his men deserted by hundreds. In less than two months after he had triumphantly set his daughter-in-law upon the throne, he was executed, together with two of those who had most strongly supported him. Lady Jane and her husband were imprisoned. Mary's advisers declared that there was no safety for her so long as Lady Jane lived, but Mary refused to put her to death.
As the day for the coronation drew near, there were great rejoicings. Many of those that did not wish to have a Catholic ruler were so glad to be free from Northumberland's schemes and to feel that she who was lawfully their queen was now on the throne that they were ready to unite in the joy of the others. In the procession to the Tower, Queen Mary rode in a litter, or chariot, drawn by six horses, glittering in their trappings of cloth of silver. She was robed in the richest of blue velvet, made even richer by bands of ermine. She wore a sort of head-dress, so heavy with gold and pearls and jewels that she often had to hold up her head with her hands. In a litter almost as splendid as her own rode Elizabeth and her first stepmother, Anne of Cleves. Noble ladies rode on horseback in all the splendors of crimson velvet. Companies of guards followed in white and green, the royal colors.
The next morning after all this magnificence, there was such a brilliant display as made the gorgeousness of the ride through the city seem simple and modest, for the queen was to be crowned in Westminster Abbey.
When she was on the platform in full view of the people, the Bishop of Winchester demanded of them whether it was their will that the crown should be placed on the head of the most excellent princess, Mary, eldest daughter of King Henry VIII. The people shouted, "Yea, yea! Queen Mary, Queen Mary!" Mary made a solemn promise to govern England aright and faithfully preserve the liberties of the people. Then followed all kinds of ceremonies, changing of robes, and sounding of trumpets. She was girded with a sword, a ring was put upon her finger, and at last the crown was solemnly placed upon her head. This was by no means the end of it all, for many nobles came to kneel before her and promise to be true to her. Each one of them kissed her cheek.
In all this ceremonial as well as in the feasting and the entertainments that followed it, the Princess Elizabeth was in every way ranked next to the queen. Elizabeth wore the coronet of a princess. "It is very heavy," she whispered to the French ambassador. "Be patient," murmured he, "it will be parent to a better one."
Parliament was soon in session, and one of the important questions to be decided was what should be done with Lady Jane.
"She attempted to seize the crown from Mary, who is our rightful sovereign," declared one, "and she should be put to death as a traitor."
"What she did was done at the bidding of the Duke of Northumberland," said another. "She was but a tool in his hands, and she should be freed."
"That cannot well be," objected a third. "Whoever commits a crime is guilty of that crime and must bear the punishment."
"Yes," agreed the first, "and moreover, some who would question Elizabeth's right to the throne would perchance unite under the banner of Jane. There will be neither rest nor safety in the kingdom so long as she is spared to lead any rebellious faction that may need a head."
Parliament decided that Lady Jane was guilty of treason, and she was sentenced to be either burned or beheaded as the queen should choose. Everyone was sorry for her. Even those that condemned her could hardly look upon the young girl without tears, and when she was taken back to her prison in the Tower, crowds of weeping people followed her.
"She is to be put to death 'at the queen's pleasure,' " said one royal attendant to another. "Do you believe it will be soon?"
"He who dwells in a palace should see but not speak," answered the other. "To you, however, I may venture to whisper that the death of Lady Jane will never be 'the queen's pleasure.' "