Henry VIII and His Court

Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter X. The King’s Fool.

Two years had passed away since the king’s marriage, and still Catharine Parr had always kept in favor with her husband; still her enemies were foiled in their attempts to ruin her, and raise the seventh queen to the throne.

Catharine had ever been cautious, ever discreet. She had always preserved a cold heart and a cool head. Each morning she had said to herself that this day might be her last; that some incautious word, some inconsiderate act, might deprive her of her crown and her life. For Henry’s savage and cruel disposition seemed, like his corpulency, to increase daily, and it needed only a trifle to inflame him to the highest pitch of rage, rage which, each time, fell with fatal stroke on him who aroused it.

A knowledge and consciousness of this had made the queen cautious. She did not wish to die yet. She still loved life so much. She loved it because it had as yet afforded her so little delight. She loved it because she had so much happiness, so much rapture and enjoyment yet to hope from it. She did not wish to die yet, for she was ever waiting for that life of which she had a foretaste only in her dreams, and which her palpitating and swelling heart told her was ready to awake in her, and, with its sunny, brilliant eyes, arouse her from the winter sleep of her existence.

It was a bright and beautiful spring day. Catharine wanted to avail herself of it, to take a ride and forget for one brief hour that she was a queen. She wanted to enjoy the woods, the sweet May breeze, the song of birds, the green meadows, and to inhale in full draughts the pure air.

She wanted to ride. Nobody suspected how much secret delight and hidden rapture lay in these words. No one suspected that for months she had been looking forward with pleasure to this ride, and scarcely dared to wish for it, just because it would be the fulfilment of her ardent wishes.

She was already dressed in her riding-habit, and the little red velvet hat, with its long, drooping white feather, adorned her beautiful head. Walking up and down the room, she was waiting only for the return of the lord chamberlain, whom she had sent to the king to inquire whether he wished to speak with her before her ride.

Suddenly the door opened, and a strange apparition showed itself on the threshold. It was a small, compact masculine figure, clad in vesture of crimson silk, which was trimmed in a style showy and motley enough, with puffs and bows of all colors, and which, just on account of its motley appearance, contrasted strangely enough with the man’s white hair, and earnest and sombre face.

"Ah, the king’s fool," said Catharine, with a merry laugh. "Well, John, what is it that brings you here? Do you bring me a message from the king, or have you made a bold hit, and wish me to take you again under my protection?"

"No, queen," said John Heywood, seriously, "I have made no bold hit, nor do I bring a message from the king. I bring nothing but myself. Ah, queen, I see you want to laugh, but I pray you forget for a moment that John Heywood is the king’s fool, and that it does not become him to wear a serious face and indulge sad thoughts like other men."

"Oh, I know that you are not merely the king’s fool, but a poet also," said Catharine, with a gracious smile.

"Yes," said he, "I am a poet, and therefore it is altogether proper for me to wear this fool’s cap, for poets are all fools, and it were better for them to be hung on the nearest tree instead of being permitted to run about in their crazy enthusiasm, and babble things on account of which people of sense despise and ridicule them. I am a poet, and therefore, queen, I have put on this fool’s dress, which places me under the king’s protection, and allows me to say to him all sorts of things which nobody else has the courage to speak out. But to-day, queen, I come to you neither as a fool nor as a poet, but I come to you because I wish to cling to your knees and kiss your feet. I come because I wish to tell you that you have made John Heywood forever your slave. He will from this time forth lie like a dog before your threshold and guard you from every enemy and every evil which may press upon you. Night and day he will be ready for your service, and know neither repose nor rest, if it is necessary to fulfil your command or your wish."

As he thus spoke, with trembling voice and eyes dimmed with tears, he knelt down and bowed his head at Catharine’s feet.

"But what have I done to inspire you with such a feeling of thankfulness?" asked Catharine with astonishment. "How have I deserved that you, the powerful and universally dreaded favorite of the king, should dedicate yourself to my service?"

"What have you done?" said he. "My lady, you have saved my son from the stake! They had condemned him—that handsome noble youth— condemned him, because he had spoken respectfully of Thomas More; because he said this great and noble man did right to die, rather than be false to his convictions. Ah, nowadays, it requires such a trifle to condemn a man to death! a couple of thoughtless words are sufficient! And this miserable, lick-spittle Parliament, in its dastardliness and worthlessness, always condemns and sentences, because it knows that the king is always thirsty for blood, and always wants the fires of the stake to keep him warm. So they had condemned my son likewise, and they would have executed him, but for you. But you, whom God has sent as an angel of reconciliation on this regal throne reeking with blood; you who daily risk your life and your crown to save the life of some one of those unfortunates whom fanaticism and thirst for blood have sentenced, and to procure their pardon, you have save my son also."

"How! that young man who was to be burned yesterday, was your son?"

"Yes, he was my son."

"And you did not tell the king so? and you did not intercede for him?"

"Had I done so, he would have been irretrievably lost! For you well know the king is so proud of his impartiality and his virtue! Oh, had he known that Thomas is my son he would have condemned him to death, to show the people that Henry the Eighth everywhere strikes the guilty and punishes the sinner, whatever name he may bear, and whoever may intercede for him. Ah, even your supplication would not have softened him, for the high-priest of the English Church could never have pardoned this young man for not being the legitimate son of his father, for not having the right to bear his name, because his mother was the spouse of another man whom Thomas must call father."

"Poor Heywood! Yes, now I understand. The king would, indeed, never have forgiven this; and had he known it, your son would have inevitably been condemned to the stake."

"You saved him, queen! Do you not believe now that I shall be forever thankful to you?"

"I do believe it," said the queen, with a pleasant smile, as she extended her hand for him to kiss. "I believe you, and I accept your service."

"And you will need it, queen, for a tempest is gathering over your head, and soon the lightning will flash and the thunders roll."

"Oh, I fear not! I have strong nerves!" said Catharine, smiling. "When a storm comes, it is but a refreshing of nature, and I have always seen that after a storm the sun shines again."

"You are a brave soul!" swirl John Heywood, sadly.

"That is, I am conscious of no guilt!"

"But your enemies will invent a crime to charge you with. Ah, as soon as it is the aim to calumniate a neighbor and plunge him in misery, men are all poets!"

"But you just now said that poets are crack-brained, and should be hung to the first tree. We will, therefore, treat these slanderers as poets, that is all."

"No, that is not all!" said John Heywood, energetically. "For slanderers are like earth-worms. You cut them in pieces, but instead of thereby killing them, you multiply each one and give it several heads."

"But what is it, then, that I am accused of?" exclaimed Catharine, impatiently. "Does not my life lie open and clear before you all? Do I ever take pains to have any secrets? Is not my heart like a glass house, into which you can all look, to convince yourselves that it is a soil wholly unfruitful, and that not a single poor little flower grows there?"

"Though this be so, your enemies will sow weeds and make the king believe that it is burning love which has grown up in your heart."

"How! They will accuse me of having a love-affair?" asked Catharine, and her lips slightly trembled.

"I do not know their plans yet; but I will find them out. There is a conspiracy at work. Therefore, queen, be on your guard! Trust nobody, for foes are ever wont to conceal themselves under hypocritical faces and deceiving words."

"If you know my enemies, name them to me!" said Catharine, impatiently. "Name them to me, that I may beware of them."

"I have not come to accuse anybody, but to warn you. I shall, therefore, take good care not to point out your enemies to you; but I will name your friends to you."

"Ah, then, I have friends, too!" whispered Catharine, with a happy smile.

"Yes, you have friends; and, indeed, such as are ready to give their blood and life for you."

"Oh, name them, name them to me!" exclaimed Catharine, all of a tremble with joyful expectation.

"I name first, Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury. He is your true and staunch friend, on whom you can build. He loves you as queen, and he prizes you as the associate whom God has sent him to bring to completion, here at the court of this most Christian and bloody king, the holy work of the Reformation, and to cause the light of knowledge to illuminate this night of superstition and priestly domination. Build strongly on Cranmer, for he is your surest and most invariable supporter, and should he sink, your fall would inevitably follow. Therefore, not only rely on him, but also protect him, and look upon him as your brother; for what you do for him, you do for yourself."

"Yes, you are right," said Catharine, thoughtfully. "Cranmer is a noble and staunch friend; and often enough already he has protected me, in the king’s presence, against those little pin-prickings of my enemies, which do not indeed kill, but which make the whole body sore and faint."

"Protect him, and thus protect yourself."

"Well, and the other friends?"

"I have given Cranmer the precedence; but now, queen, I name myself as the second of your friends. If Cranmer is your staff, I will be your dog; and, believe me, so long as you have such a staff and so faithful a dog, you are safe. Cranmer will warn you of every stone that lies in your way, and I will bite and drive off the enemies, who, hidden behind the thicket, lurk in the way to fall upon you from behind."

"I thank you! Really, I thank you!" said Catharine, heartily. "Well, and what more?"

"More?" inquired Heywood with a sad smile.

"Mention a few more of my friends."

"Queen, it is a great deal, if one in a lifetime has found two friends upon whom he can rely, and whose fidelity is not guided by selfishness. You are perhaps the only crowned head that can boast of such friends."

"I am a woman," said Catharine, thoughtfully, "and many women surround me and daily swear to me unchanging faithfulness and attachment. How! are all these unworthy the title of friends? Is even Lady Jane Douglas unworthy; she, whom I have called my friend these many long years, and whom I trust as a sister? Tell me, John Heywood, you who, as it is said, know everything, and search out everything that takes place at court, tell me, is not Lady Jane Douglas my friend?"

John Heywood suddenly became serious and gloomy, and looked on the ground, absorbed in reflection. Then he swept his large, bright eyes all around the room, in a scrutinizing manner, as if he wished to convince himself that no listener was really concealed there, and stepping close up to the queen, he whispered: "Trust her not; she is a papist, and Gardiner is her friend."

"Ah, I suspected it," whispered Catharine, sadly.

"But listen, queen; give no expression to this suspicion by look, or words, or by the slightest indication. Lull this viper into the belief that you are harmless; lull her to sleep, queen. She is a venomous and dangerous serpent, which must not be roused, lest, before you suspect it, it bite you on the heel. Be always gracious, always confidential, always friendly toward her. Only, queen, do not tell her what you would not confide to Gardiner and Earl Douglas likewise. Oh, believe me, she is like the lion in the doge’s palace at Venice. The secrets that you confide to her will become accusations against you before the tribunal of blood."

Catharine shook her head with a smile. "You are too severe, John Heywood. It is possible that the religion which she secretly professes has estranged her heart from me, but she would never be capable of betraying me, or of leaguing herself with my foes. No, John, you are mistaken. It would be a crime to believe thus. My God, what a wicked and wretched world it must be in which we could not trust even our most faithful and dearest friends!"

"The world is indeed wicked and wretched, and one must despair of it, or consider it a merry jest, with which the devil tickles our noses. For me, it is such a jest, and therefore, queen, I have become the king’s fool, which at least gives me the right of spurting out upon the crawling brood all the venom of the contempt I feel for mankind, and of speaking the truth to those who have only lies, by dripping honey, ever on their lips. The sages and poets are the real fools of our day, and since I did not feel a vocation to be a king, or a priest, a hangman, or a lamb for sacrifice, I became a fool."

"Yes, a fool, that is to say, an epigrammatist, whose biting tongue makes the whole court tremble."

"Since I cannot, like my royal master, have these criminals executed, I give them a few sword-cuts with my tongue. Ah, I tell you, you will much need this ally. Be on your guard, queen: I heard this morning the first growl of the thunder, and in Lady Jane’s eyes I observed the stealthy lightning. Trust her not. Trust no one here but your friends Cranmer and John Heywood."

"And you say, that in all this court, among all these brilliant women, these brave cavaliers, the poor queen has not a single friend, not a soul, whom she may trust, on whom she may lean? Oh, John Heywood, think again, have pity on the poverty of a queen. Think again. Say, only you two? No friend but you?"

And the queen’s eyes filled with tears, which she tried in vain to repress.

John Heywood saw it and sighed deeply. Better than the queen herself perhaps, he had read the depths of her heart, and knew its deep wound. But he also had sympathy with her pain, and wished to mitigate it a little.

"I recollect," said he, gently and mournfully—"yes, I recollect, you have yet a third friend at this court."

"Ah, a third friend!" exclaimed Catharine, and again her voice sounded cheery and joyous. "Name him to me, name him! For you see clearly I am burning with impatience to hear his name."

John Heywood looked into Catharine’s glowing countenance with a strange expression, at once searching and mournful, and for a moment dropped his head upon his breast and sighed.

"Now, John, give me the name of this third friend."

"Do you not know him, queen?" asked Heywood, as he again stared steadily in her face. Do you not know him? It is Thomas Seymour, Earl of Sudley."

There passed as it were a sunbeam over Catharine’s face, and she uttered a low cry.

John Heywood said, sadly: "Queen, the sun strikes directly in your face. Take care that it does not blind your bright eyes. Stand in the shade, your majesty, for, hark! there comes one who might report the sunshine in your face for a conflagration."

Just then the door opened, and Lady Jane appeared on the threshold. She threw a quick, searching glance around the room, and an imperceptible smile passed over her beautiful pale face.

"Your majesty," said she solemnly, "everything is ready. You can begin your ride when it pleases you. The Princess Elizabeth awaits you in the anteroom, and your master of horse already holds the stirrup of your steed."

"And the lord chamberlain?" asked Catharine, blushing, "has he no message from the king to bring me?"

"Ay!" said the Earl of Surrey as he entered. "His majesty bids me tell the queen that she may extend her ride as far as she wishes. The glorious weather is well worth that the Queen of England should enjoy it, and enter into a contest with the sun."

"Oh, the king is the most gallant of cavaliers," said Catharine, with a happy smile. "Now come, Jane, let us ride."

"Pardon me, your majesty," said Lady Jane, stepping back. "I cannot to-day enjoy the privilege of accompanying your majesty. Lady Anne Ettersville is to-day in attendance."

"Another time, then, Jane! And you, Earl Douglas, you ride with us?"

"The king, your majesty, has ordered me to his cabinet."

"Behold now a queen abandoned by all her friends!" said Catharine cheerily, as with light, elastic step she passed through the hall to the courtyard.

"Here is something going on which I must fathom!" muttered John Heywood, who had left the hall with the rest. "A mousetrap is set, for the cats remain at home, and are hungry for their prey."

Lady Jane had remained behind in the hall with her father. Both had stepped to the window, and were silently looking down into the yard, where the brilliant cavalcade of the queen and her suite was moving about in motley confusion.

Catharine had just mounted her palfrey; the noble animal, recognizing his mistress, neighed loudly, and, giving a snort, reared up with his noble burden.

Princess Elizabeth, who was close to the queen, uttered a cry of alarm. "You will fall, queen," said she, "you ride such a wild animal."

"Oh, no, indeed," said Catharine, smiling; "Hector is not wild. It is with him as with me. This charming May air has made us both mettlesome and happy. Away, then, my ladies and lords! our horses must be to-day swift as birds. We ride to Epping Forest."

And through the open gateway dashed the cavalcade. The queen in front; at her right, the Princess Elizabeth; at her left, the master of horse, Thomas Seymour, Earl of Sudley.

When the train had disappeared, father and daughter stepped back from the window, and looked at each other with strange, dark, and disdainful looks.

"Well, Jane?" said Earl Douglas, at length. "She is still queen, and the king becomes daily more unwieldy and ailing. It is time to give him a seventh queen."

"Soon, my father, soon."

"Loves the queen Henry Howard at last?"

"Yes, he loves her!" said Jane, and her pale face was now colorless as a winding-sheet.

"I ask, whether she loves him?"

"She will love him!" murmured Jane, and then suddenly mastering herself, she continued: "but it is not enough to make the queen in love; doubtless it would be still more efficient if some one could instill a new love into the king. Did you see, father, with what ardent looks his majesty yesterday watched me and the Duchess of Richmond?"

"Did I see it? The whole court talked about it."

"Well, now, my father, manage it so that the king may be heartily bored to-day, and then bring him to me. He will find the Duchess of Richmond with me."

"Ah, a glorious thought! You will surely be Henry’s seventh queen."

"I will ruin Catharine Parr, for she is my rival, and I hate her!" said Jane, with glowing cheeks and flashing eyes. "She has been queen long enough, and I have bowed myself before her. Now she shall fall in the dust before me, and I will set my foot upon her head."


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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter X. The King’s Fool.," Henry VIII and His Court, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891 in Henry VIII and His Court (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed February 3, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8EMSK4DIMEE5RIY.

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter X. The King’s Fool." Henry VIII and His Court, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891, in Henry VIII and His Court, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 3 Feb. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8EMSK4DIMEE5RIY.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter X. The King’s Fool.' in Henry VIII and His Court, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, Henry VIII and His Court, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 3 February 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8EMSK4DIMEE5RIY.