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- Studies from Court and Cloister - 10/61 -
is the greatest joy and comfort that could happen to her, she informs her brother of it as the person who has most cause to rejoice thereat, and requires him to let her sometimes hear of his health, as friendly as if she had not been called to this honour."
Wriothesley, in forwarding this letter from the queen, Lord Parr's "gracious lady and kind sister," doubts not but that he will thank God, and frame himself to be more and more an ornament to Her Majesty.
The marriage was in every way satisfactory. Katharine was twenty-six, about one year younger than the Lady Mary, and was by universal fame reported "a prudent, beautiful, and virtuous lady." The royal family had reason to be grateful for her influence over the king, whom she persuaded to restore both Mary and Elizabeth to their rank. To Edward she was a second mother, and Henry seems to have looked upon her with something akin to respect, appointing her regent when he crossed the Channel to invade France in 1544.
She offended him, however, on one occasion, by venturing to express a difference of opinion on a religious question, and it was said that articles of heresy were drawn up against her. "A good hearing it is," exclaimed Henry, "when women become such clerks; and a thing much to my comfort to come in mine old days to be taught by my wife! Her prudence and tact saved her life, if it was ever seriously in danger."
Henry's sordid tragedy was played out on the 28th January 1547, when the tyrant breathed his last, and left his two wives and two daughters to unravel the skein which he had so persistently entangled for them. Katharine Parr took her fate immediately into her own hands, and thirty-five days after Henry's death, secretly married her former admirer, Sir Thomas, now Lord Seymour, who was described by Hayward as "fierce in courage, courtly in fashion, in personage stately, in voice magnificent, but somewhat empty in matter." The union was not a happy one, owing mainly to Seymour's intrigues with the Princess Elizabeth, a circumstance that was thought to have shortened Katharine's life. The ci-devant queen died at Sudeley Castle, after having given birth to a daughter, in August 1548, aged thirty-six.
After the one tragic episode in her life, the course of Anne of Cleves ran smoothly enough. Mary befriended her always, and made her quondam stepmother a prominent figure at her coronation. She frequently paid her visits, and treated her with all the respect imaginable. Anne never left England after her ill-starred arrival, ending her days peacefully in 1557.
III. A NOTABLE ENGLISHMAN
While Edward's Council thought that they had effectually closed every issue through which news of the king's death might transpire, before their seditious plans were completed, the Princess Mary was already on her way into Norfolk, calling all loyal men and true to rally round her standard. Two Norfolk gentlemen were mainly instrumental in placing her on the throne. These were Sir Henry Jerningham and the subject of this memoir, Sir Henry Bedingfeld of Oxburgh, who came in to her assistance at Framlingham, with 140 well-armed men.
Bedingfeld proclaimed the queen at Norwich, and was afterwards rewarded for his loyalty with an annual pension of 100 pounds out of the forfeited estates of Sir Thomas Wyatt. Mary made him a Privy Councillor and Knight Marshal of her army, and subsequently Lieutenant of the Tower of London; and Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard, vice Sir Henry Jerningham. She appointed him custodian of Elizabeth, when that princess was confined in the Tower and at Woodstock, on suspicion of being concerned in Wyatt's rebellion; and so little did Elizabeth resent his severity during the time of her imprisonment, that after her accession, she addressed him as her "trusty and well-beloved," employed him in her service, and granted to him the manor of Caldecot in Norfolk, which still forms part of the Oxburgh estate at the present day.
He was undoubtedly one of the foremost Englishmen of his day, respected by two sovereigns, and occupying prominent and honourable positions, his loyalty being unimpeachable; yet Foxe, the martyrologist, with his wonted dishonesty, has without the slightest foundation, and so effectually, blackened his fame, that almost every subsequent writer on this period has reproduced the calumnies set forth with malice prepense in the Acts and Monuments.
Strype was the first unquestioning copyist of Foxe; Burnet was the second; and Sir Reginald Hennell is the most recent.*
* In his volume "The History of the King's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard."
Tennyson, in his dramatic poem Queen Mary, also went to Foxe for his historical data, with the result that, while discarding the more malicious interpretation of Bedingfeld's character, he has, nevertheless, passed on to posterity a coarse and grotesque caricature as though it were a portrait.
A fire broke out at Woodstock in May 1554, and Tennyson choosing to suppose that Elizabeth suspected foul play, invented the following absurd dialogue:--
LADY. I woke Sir Henry--and he's true to you- I read his honest horror in his eyes.
ELIZABETH. Or true to you?
LADY. Sir Henry Bedingfeld! I will have no man true to me, your Grace, But one that pares his nails; to me? the clown! For like his cloak, his manners want the nap And gloss of court; but of this fire he says, Nay swears, it was no wicked wilfulness, Only a natural chance.
ELIZABETH. A chance-perchance One of those wicked wilfuls that men make, Nor shame to call it nature.
At the end of a long speech Elizabeth cries
God save the Queen. My jailor--
BEDINGFELD. One, whose bolts, That jail you from free life, bar you from death. There haunt some Papist ruffians hereabout Would murder you.
ELIZABETH. I thank you heartily, sir, But I am royal, tho' your prisoner, And God hath blest or cursed me with a nose-- Your boots are from the horses.
This libel did not, however, pass unchallenged, and the father of the present baronet wrote to the Poet Laureate the following protest:--
"Sir,--As a great admirer of your genius, I eagerly read your drama Queen Mary, but was so surprised and pained at the ignoble part which is allotted to Sir Henry Bedingfeld, that I cannot refrain from addressing you on the subject. I feel justified in doing so, as I am the direct descendant of Sir Henry, and date from the house which was his home.
"The millions who will read Mary Tudor, or witness the play on the stage, will carry away the impression that my ancestor was a vulgar yeoman, in some way connected with the stables, whereas he was a man of ancient lineage, a trusted friend and servant of the queen, who confided to him in time of danger the Lieutenancy of the Tower, and the custody of the Princess Elizabeth. This princess so respected Sir Henry, that although she complained of his severity during her captivity, she visited him at Oxburgh after her accession to the throne, and treated him with the greatest consideration. Numerous documents in my possession, including letters from the Sovereign, from the Privy Council, arid from the most eminent men of the time, would prove, were such proof required, the high position held by Sir Henry.
"I trust, therefore, to your feeling of justice that you will, if possible, either strike out Sir Henry's name from future editions, or allot to him a more dignified part on the stage, and one which will convey a more correct view of his character and position.--I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Tennyson's answer to the above, dated from the Isle of Wight, six months later, though courteous, left the matter almost where it was, so far as historical accuracy was secured:--
"Sir,--Your letter arrived when I was abroad, else would have been answered at once; and therefore I waited till the play should be announced for acting. I had made your ancestor an honest gentleman though a rough one, as I found him reported to be, whether true or no; and I regret that you should have been pained by my representation of him. Now, in deference to your wishes, his name is not once mentioned on the stage, and he is called in the play-bill merely 'Governor of Woodstock.' Moreover, I have inserted a line in Elizabeth's part: 'But, girl, you wrong a noble gentleman.'--I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant,
In spite, however, of the best intention on the part of the author, the American edition of the play, priding itself on being "the only unmutilated version," preserves the exact wording of the poem.* Thus has history ever been medicated to suit the prejudices of the uncritical and the ignorant.
* De Witt's acting plays, No. 181, Queen Mary; a drama. Edited by John M. Kingdom.
Sir Henry Bedingfeld, who was born in the year 1509, was the grandson of Sir Edmund Bedingfeld, the favourite of three successive kings, Edward IV., Richard III., and Henry VII. This same Sir Edmund had served in the Wars of the Roses, and Edward IV., by letters patent of the twenty-second year of his reign, granted to him, "for his faithful service, licence to build towers, walls, and such other fortifications as he pleased in his manors of Oxburgh, together with a market there weekly, and a court of pye-powder." He also bestowed on him his own
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