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- Studies from Court and Cloister - 2/61 -


legitimately be hoodwinked to the limits of their gullibility; but it was reserved for Lord Chesterfield, two centuries later, to show how a man's passions must be studied with microscopic intensity in order to discover his prevailing passion, and how, that passion once discovered, he should never be trusted where it was concerned. The study of men's characters and motives as we understand it, formed no part of the policy of sixteenth-century statecraft, or Wolsey would not have been disgraced, or Thomas Cromwell's head have fallen on the block. Wolsey and Cromwell were the subtlest statesmen of their age; indeed, in them statecraft may be said to have had its dawn; yet Henry VIII., by the sheer force of his tyranny and despotic will, baffled them both. While Cromwell, the greatest genius in Europe, thought he held all the threads of intrigue in his own hands, his royal master by the dogged pursuit of one end overthrew the minister's entire scheme. Saturated though he was with Machiavellian theories, a man of one book, and that book The Prince, Cromwell lost all by his inability to read the bent of Henry's mind and purpose.

Henry VIII. and his elder sister, Margaret, were strikingly alike in character. Both proved themselves to be cruel, vindictive, unscrupulous, sensual, and vain. Both were extraordinarily clever, but Henry being far better educated than his sister, contrived to cut a much more imposing, if not a more dignified, figure. In the matter of intrigue, there was nothing to choose between them. That Henry succeeded where Margaret failed, was owing to the fact that circumstances were in his favour and not in hers. Given two such characters, the only parts that were possible to them were dominating ones. Henry was master of the situation all through the piece; Margaret was not, but she could play no other part. Had she been differently constituted, had she been barely honest, true, constant, and pure, there is no limit to the love and loyalty she would certainly have inspired.

But, for want of insight into Margaret Tudor's disposition, the Scottish people were repeatedly betrayed by one whose interests they fondly hoped had become, by marriage with their king, identical with their own. She had come among them at an age when new impressions are quickly taken and experiences of every kind have necessarily been very limited, but to the end of her days she remained an alien in their midst.

From the moment that she set foot in Scotland, as a bride of thirteen, she began to sow discord; but although it was soon apparent that she would seize every occasion to turn public events to her own profit, James IV. had so mistaken a belief in her one day becoming a good Scotswoman, that when he went to his death on Flodden Field, he left the whole welfare of his country in her hands. Not only did he confide the treasure of the realm to her custody, but by his will he appointed her to the Regency, with the sole guardianship of his infant son.

Such a thing was unprecedented in Scotland, and it needed all the fidelity of the Scottish lords to their chivalrous sovereign, as well as their enthusiasm for his young and beautiful widow, to induce them to tolerate an arrangement so distasteful to them all. Had Margaret cared to fit herself for the duties that lay before her, her lot might have been a brilliant one. Instead of the wretched wars which made a perpetual wilderness of the Borders, keeping the nation in a constant state of ferment, an advantageous treaty would have secured prosperity to both England and Scotland, while the various disturbing factions, which rendered Scotland so difficult to govern by main force, would gradually have subsided under the gentle influence of a queen who united all parties through the loyalty she inspired. Fierce and rebellious as were so many of the elements which went to make up the Scottish people at that time, Margaret had a far easier task than her grand-daughter, Mary Stuart, for at least fanatical religious differences did not enter into the difficulties she had to encounter. But such a queen of Scotland as would have claimed the respect and won the lasting love of her subjects was by no means the Margaret Tudor of history, as she stands revealed in her correspondence.

While James IV. lived she had comparatively few opportunities of betraying State secrets, but from the disaster of Flodden to her death, her history is one long series of intrigues, the outcome of her ruling passions--vanity and greed. Her first short-sighted act of treachery after the death of James was to appropriate to her own use the treasure which he had entrusted to her for his successors, the queen thereby incurring life-long retribution in her ineffectual attempts to wring her jointure from an exchequer which she had herself wantonly impoverished. Hence the tiresome and ridiculous wrangling in connection with her "conjunct feoffment," neither Margaret nor Henry being conscious, in the complete absence of all sense of humour on their part, that the situation was occasionally grotesque. Stolidly unmindful of the effect they produced on the minds of others in the pursuit of their own selfish ends, they pursued the tenor of their way with bucolic doggedness. The doggedness ended in the defeat of all Henry's enemies; in Margaret's case it ended in her own.

The eleven months which elapsed between the 9th September 1513 to the 4th August 1514, were the most eventful of her whole life. The catastrophe of Flodden left her, perhaps not without cause, the least mournful woman in Scotland, for James IV., with all the heroism that attaches to his name, had little claim to be called a faithful husband. Unhindered, therefore, by any excess of grief, she was the better able to attend to the affairs of State, and to hasten the coronation of her little son, a baby of one year and five months. In December she convened the Parliament of Scotland to meet at Stirling Castle, and formally took up the dignity of regent with the consent of the assembled nobility of the realm. At this sitting the greatest unanimity prevailed. In the Acts of the Privy Council of Scotland, under date 12th January 1514, occurs the following entry: "To advise of the setting up of the Queen's household, and what persons and officers are necessary thereto, and to advise of the expenses for the supportation of the same, and by what ways it shall be gotten." All was peace for a short time, and the most friendly relations existed between the queen and her Council, till the first high-handed attempt of Henry VIII. to interfere through his sister in the government of Scotland, resulted in her temporary banishment, and the removal of the infant king from his mother's care.*

* P. Martyr, Ep. 535. For a detailed account of the state of Scotland for the first nine years after the disastrous defeat at Flodden, see vol. xiv. Of the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, edited by George Burnett, LL.D., Lyon King-of-Arms, and A. Y. G. Mackay, M.A. (Oxon.), LL.D. (Edin.), etc., His Majesty's General Register House, Edinburgh.

On the 30th April Margaret gave birth to a posthumous son, who received the title of Duke of Rothesay; and scarcely had she reappeared in public after the birth of this child, when an envoy from the Emperor Maximilian brought overtures of marriage. About the same time, she received a like proposal from Louis XII. of France, who afterwards married her younger sister Mary. Dismissing both aspirants to her hand, before the first year of her widowhood had run its course, she married Archibald, Earl of Angus, Margaret being in her twenty-fifth, he in his nineteenth year. The union was equally unfortunate for the queen herself and for her wretched husband, who, when the first charm of novelty had passed, was disdainfully flung aside, and never restored to favour.

There was an ancient custom of the realm, which placed the executive power and the person of the king, should he be a minor at the death of the preceding sovereign, in the hands of the next male heir, and the appointment of James's widow to the regency and the guardianship of his son was made in distinct disregard of all recognised precedent. The consent of the Scottish lords to the innovation had been given entirely from a sense of loyalty to their beloved and unfortunate monarch James IV. But a proviso had been made in his will, that in the event of the queen's remarriage, the regency, as well as the guardianship of the king, should pass to John, Duke of Albany, the next heir to the throne.

But Margaret, who had not scrupled to make away with the royal treasure, was scarcely likely to be very conscientious in regard to the duty of laying down a sceptre, the pleasantness of which she had only just begun to taste. She was already at variance with her Council, who, in despair of any order being established, had invited Albany, then in France, to come over and take up the reins of government. As early as April 1514, a Bill for his recall had been read in Parliament, and it was formally enacted that all the fortresses in Scotland should be given up, a blow aimed primarily at Stirling, the queen's chief stronghold.* Here she and Angus had shut themselves up, on hearing that Beaton, Archbishop of Glasgow, was marching on Edinburgh. They were captured, but escaped and returned to Stirling, where they were besieged by John Hepburn, Prior of St. Andrews.

* Brewer--Preface to Cal. 2, part i. (note).

Margaret, assuming a tone of injured innocence, wrote to Henry VIII., telling him that she and her party are in great trouble till they know what help he will give them; that her enemies continue to usurp the king's authority in Parliament, holding her and her friends to be rebels; and she entreats him to hasten his army against Scotland by sea and by land.* This was clearly as much an act of treason as if she had deliberately invited any other foreign enemy to come and take possession of the realm; for although her object was merely to regain the powers she had lost by her own acts, she could estimate the ruin which would have resulted to Scotland, if Henry had really been in a position to invade the country. His answer to her appeal was to send the most urgent instructions to his sister to prevent Albany's landing by every means at her disposal. In the meanwhile she waited impatiently, but in vain, for both troops and money from Henry, who did not think it necessary to inform her that the French king had agreed to detain Albany in France, on condition that his dear cousin should send his sister no help, but leave the various parties in Scotland to fight out their quarrels alone.

* Queen Margaret to Henry VI II., 23rd November 1514; MS. Cott., Calig. B 1, 164; Brit. Mus.

As a result of this policy, Margaret at last began to find her position intolerable, and she, no less than her enemies looked forward to the duke's arrival as a means of extricating herself from a labyrinth of difficulties. This was perhaps what Francis I. had foreseen; notwithstanding his promise to Henry, he had no intention of permanently preventing Albany, who was more than half a Frenchman, from assuming a dignity that would result in a strong bond of union between Scotland and France. Albany was therefore quietly allowed to escape at a given moment; and when, after running the gauntlet of Henry's ships, which were watching for him, he landed in Scotland, Margaret resolved, for once wisely, to be friends with him.*

* Seb. Giustinian to the Doge, London, 5th August 1515; Venetian Archives.

But Henry instructed Lord Dacre, the formidable chief of the Marches, to stir up all the strife possible between his sister, the new regent, and the Scottish lords, and accordingly, whenever there was a sign of a better understanding between the three parties, Dacre was always


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