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Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 212. KATHERINE PARR



The story of Queen Katharine Parr, late queen, and wife to King Henry the Eighth wherein appeareth in what danger she was for the gospel, by means of Stephen Gardiner and others of his conspiracy; and how graciously she was preserved by her kind and loving husband the king.

            After these stormy stories above recited, the course and order as well of the time as the matter of the story doth require now somewhat to treat, likewise, touching the troubles and afflictions of the virtuous and excellent lady, Queen Katharine Parr, the last wife to King Henry; the story whereof is this.

            About the same time above noted, which was about the year after the king returned from Boulogne, he was informed that Queen Katharine Parr, at that time his wife, was very much given to the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures, and that she, for that purpose, had retained divers well learned and godly persons to instruct her thoroughly in the same; with whom as, at all times convenient, she used to have private conference touching spiritual matters, so also of ordinary; but especially in Lent, every day in the afternoon, for the space of an hour, one of her said chaplains, in her privy chamber, made some collation to her and to her ladies and gentlewomen of her privy chamber, or others that were disposed to hear; in which sermons they ofttimes touched such abuses as in the church then were rife. As these things were not secretly done, so neither were their preachings unknown to the king; whereof, at first, and for a great time, be seemed very well to like. Which made her the more bold (being indeed become very zealous toward the gospel, and the professors thereof) frankly to debate with the king touching religion, and therein flatly to discover herself; oftentimes wishing, exhorting, and persuading the king, that as he had, to the glory of God, and his eternal fame, begun a good and a godly work in banishing that monstrous idol of Rome, so he would thoroughly perfect and finish the same, cleansing and purging his church of England clean from the dregs thereof, wherein as yet remained great superstition.

            And albeit the king grew, towards his latter end, very stern and opinionate, so that of few he could be content to be taught, but worst of all to be contended withal by argument; notwithstanding, towards her he refrained his accustomed manner, (unto others in like case used,) as appeared by great respects, either for the reverence of the cause, whereunto of himself he seemed well inclined, if some others could have ceased from seeking to pervert him, or else, for the singular affection which, until a very small time before his death, he always bare unto her. For never handmaid sought with more careful diligence to please her mistress, than she did, with all painful endeavour, apply herself, by all virtuous means, in all things to please his humour.

            Moreover, besides the virtues of the mind, she was endued with very rare gifts of nature, as singular beauty, favour, and comely personage, being things wherein the king was greatly delighted: and so enjoyed she the king's favour, to the great likelihood of the setting at large of the gospel within this realm at that time, had not the malicious practice of certain enemies professed against the truth, (which at that time also were very great,) prevented the same, to the utter alienating of the king's mind from religion, and almost to the extreme ruin of the queen and certain others with her, if God had not marvellously succoured her in that distress. The conspirers and practisers of her death were Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, Wriothesley, then lord chancellor, and others, as well of the king's privy chamber, as of his privy council. These, seeking (for the furtherance of their ungodly purpose) to revive, stir up, and kindle, evil and pernicious humours in their prince and sovereign lord, to the intent to deprive her of this great favour which then she stood in with the king, (which they not a little feared would turn to the utter ruin of their antichristian sect, it it should continue,) and thereby to stop the passage of the gospel; and consequently, (having taken away her, who was the only patroness of the professors of the truth,) openly, without fear of check or controlment, with fire and sword, after their accustomed manner, to invade the small remainder, as they hoped, of that poor flock, made their wicked entry unto this their mischievous enterprise, after this manner following.

            The king's Majesty, as you have heard, misliked to be contended withal in any kind of argument. This humour of his, although not in smaller matters, yet in causes of religion, as occasion served, the queen would not stick, in reverent terms and humble talk, entering with him into discourse, with sound reasons of Scripture now and then to contrary; the which the king was so well accustomed unto in those matters, that at her hands he took all in good part, or, at least, did never show countenance of offence thereat: which did not a little appal her adversaries to hear and see. During which time, perceiving her so thoroughly grounded in the king's favour, they durst not for their lives once open their lips unto the king in any respect to touch her, either in her presence, or behind her back. And so long she continued this her accustomed usage, not only of hearing private sermons, (as is said,) but also of her free conference with the king in matters of religion, without all peril; until, at the last, by reason of his sore leg, (the anguish whereof began more and more to increase,) he waxed sickly, and therewithal froward, and difficult to be pleased.

            In the time of this his sickness, he had left his accustomed manner of coming, and visiting the queen, and therefore she, according as she understood him, by such assured intelligence as she had about him, to be disposed to have her company, sometime being sent for, at other times of herself, would come to visit him, either after dinner or after supper, as was most fit for her purpose: at which times she would not fail to use all occasions to move him, according to her manner, zealously to proceed in the reformation of the church. The sharpness of the disease had sharpened the king's accustomed patience, so that he began to show some tokens of misliking; and, contrary unto his manner, upon a day breaking off that matter, he took occasion to enter into other talk, which somewhat amazed the queen, to whom, notwithstanding, in her presence he gave neither evil word nor countenance, but knit up all arguments with gentle words and loving countenance; and after other pleasant talk, she, for that time, took her leave of his Majesty; who, after his manner, bidding her "Farewell, sweet heart!" (for that was his usual term to the queen,) licensed her to depart.

            At this visitation chanced the bishop of Winchester aforenamed to be present, as also at the queen's taking her leave, (who very well had printed in his memory the king's sudden interrupting of the queen in her tale, and falling into other matter,) and thought, that if the iron were beaten whilst it was hot, and that the king's humour were holpen, such misliking might follow towards the queen, as might both overthrow her, and all her endeavours; and only awaited some occasion to renew in the king's memory the former misliked argument. His expectation in that behalf did nothing fail him; for the king at that time showed himself no less prompt and ready to receive any information, than the bishop was maliciously bent to stir up the king's indignation against her. The king, immediately upon her departure from him, used these or like words: "A good hearing," quoth he, "it is, when women become such clerks; and a thing much to my comfort, to come in mine old days to be taught by my wife."

            The bishop, hearing this, seemed to mislike that the queen should so much forget herself as to take upon her to stand in any argument with his Majesty, whom he, to his face, extolled for his rare virtues, and especially, for his learned judgment in matters of religion, above not only princes of that and other ages, but also above doctors professed in divinity; and said that it was an unseemly thing for any of his Majesty's subjects to reason and argue with him so malapertly, and grievous to him, for his part, and other of his Majesty's councillors and servants, to hear the same; and that they all, by proof, knew his wisdom to be such, that it was not needful for any to put him in mind of any such matters: inferring, moreover, how dangerous and perilous a matter it is, and ever hath been, for a prince to suffer such insolent words at his subjects' hands; who, as they take boldness to contrary their sovereign in words, so want they no will, but only power and strength, to overthwart them in deeds.

            Besides this, that the religion by the queen so stiffly maintained, did not only disallow and dissolve the policy and politic government of princes, but also taught the people that all things ought to be in common; so that what colour soever they pretended, their opinions were indeed so odious, and for the prince's estate so perilous, that (saving the reverence they bear unto her for his Majesty's sake) they durst be bold to affirm that the greatest subject in this land, speaking those words that she did speak, and defending those arguments that she did defend, had, with indifferent justice, by law deserved death.

            Howbeit, for his part, he would not, nor durst he, without good warrant from his Majesty, speak his knowledge in the queen's case, although very apparent reasons made for him, and such as his dutiful affection towards his Majesty, and the zeal and preservation of his estate, would scarce give him leave to conceal, though the uttering thereof might, through her, and her faction, be the utter destruction of him, and of such as indeed did chiefly tender the prince's safety, without his Majesty would take upon him to be their protector, and as it were their buckler: which, if he would do, (as in respect of his own safety he ought not to refuse,) he, with others of his faithful councillors, could, within short time, disclose such treasons cloaked with this cloak of heresy, that his Majesty should easily perceive how perilous a matter it is, to cherish a serpent within his own bosom: howbeit, he would not, for his part, willingly deal in the matter, both for reverent respect aforesaid, and, also, for fear lest the faction was grown already too great, there, with the prince's safety, to discover the same. And therewithal, with heavy countenance, and whispering together with them of that sect there present, he held his peace.

            These, and such other kinds of Winchester's flattering phrases, marvellously whetted the king both to anger and displeasure towards the queen, and also to be jealous and mistrustful of his own estate; for the assurance whereof, princes use not to be scrupulous to do any thing. Thus then Winchester, with his flattering words, seeking to frame the king's disposition after his own pleasure, so far crept into the king at that time, and, with doubtful fears he, with other his fellows, so filled the king's mistrustful mind, that before they departed the place, the king (to see, belike, what they would do) had given commandment, with warrant to certain of them made for that purpose, to consult together about the drawing of certain articles against the queen, wherein her life might be touched; which the king, by their persuasions, pretended to be fully resolved not to spare, having any rigour or colour of law to countenance the matter. With this commissionthey departed for that time from the king, resolved to put their pernicious practice to as mischievous an execution.

            During the time of deliberation about this matter, they failed not to use all kind of policies and mischievous practices, as well to suborn accusers, as otherwise to betray her, in seeking to understand what books, by law forbidden, she had in her closet. And the better to bring their purpose to pass, because they would not upon the sudden, but by means, deal with her, they thought it best, at first, to begin with some of those ladies, whom they knew to be great with her, and of her blood; the chiefest whereof, as most of estimation, and privy to all her doings, were these: the Lady Herbert, afterwards countess of Pembroke, and sister to the queen, and chief of her privy chamber; the Lady Lane, being of her privy chamber, and also her cousin german; the Lady Tyrwit, of her privy chamber, and, for her virtuous disposition, in very great favour and credit with her.

            It was devised that these three above named should, first of all, have been accused and brought to answer unto the six articles; and, upon their apprehension in the court, their closets and coffers should have been searched, that somewhat might have been found whereby the queen might be charged; which, being found, the queen herself, presently, should have been taken, and likewise, by barge, carried by night unto the Tower. This platform thus devised, but yet in the end coming to no effect; the king, by those aforesaid, was forthwith made privy unto the device by Winchester and Wriothesley, and his consent thereunto demanded; who, (belike to prove the bishop's malice, how far it would presume,) like a wise politic prince, was contented dissemblingly to give his consent, and to allow of every circumstance; knowing, notwithstanding, in the end what he would do. And thus the day, the time, and the place of these apprehensions aforesaid, were appointed; which device yet after was changed.

            The king at that time lay at Whitehall, and used very seldom, being not well at ease, to stir out of his chamber or privy gallery; and few of his council, but by especial commandment, resorted unto him; these only except, who, by reason of this practice, used, oftener than ordinary, to repair unto him. This purpose so finely was handled, that it grew now within few days* of the time appointed for the execution of the matter, and the poor queen neither knew, nor suspected, any thing at all, and therefore used, after her accustomed manner, when she came to visit the king, still to deal with him touching religion, as before she did.

            The king, all this while, gave her leave to utter her mind at the full, without contradiction; not upon any evil mind or misliking (ye must conceive) to bare her speedy despatch, but rather closely dissembling with them, to try out the uttermost of Winchester's fetches. Thus, after her accustomed conference with the king, when she had taken her leave of him, (the time and day of Winchester's final date approaching fast upon,) it chanced that the king, of himself, upon a certain night after her being with him, and her leave taken of him, in misliking her religion, brake the whole practice unto one of his physicians, either Dr. Wendy, or else Owen, but rather Wendy, as is supposed: pretending unto him, as though he intended not any longer to be troubled with such a doctress as she was; and also declaring what trouble was in working against her by certain of her enemies, but yet charging him withal, upon peril of his life, not to utter it to any creature living: and thereupon declared unto him the parties above named, with all circumstances, and when and what the final resolution of the matter should be.

            The queen all this while, compassed about with enemies and persecutors, perceived nothing of all this, nor what was working against her, and what traps were laid for her by Winchester and his fellows; so closely was the matter conveyed. But, see what the Lord God (who from his eternal throne of wisdom seeth and despatcheth all the inventions of Ahithophel, and comprehendeth the wily, beguily, themselves) did for his poor handmaiden, in rescuing her from the pit of ruin, whereinto she was ready to fall unawares.

            For, as the Lord would, so came it to pass, that the bill of articles drawn against the queen, and subscribed with the king's own hand, (although dissemblingly, you must understand,) falling from the bosom of one of the aforesaid councillors, was found and taken up of some godly person, and brought immediately unto the queen; who, reading there articles comprised against her, and perceiving the king's own hand unto the same, for the sudden fear thereof fell incontinent into a great melancholy and agony, bewailing and taking on in such sort as was lamentable to see, as certain of her ladies and gentlewomen, being yet alive, who were then present about her, can testify.

            The king, hearing what perplexity she was in, almost to the peril and danger of her life, sent his physicians unto her; who, travailing about her, and seeing what extremity she was in, did what they could for her recovery;. Then Wendy, who knew the cause better than the others, and perceiving, by her words, what the matter was, according to that the king before had told him, for the comforting ofher heavy mind, began to break with her in secret manner, touching the said articles devised against her, which he himself (he said) knew right well to be true: although he stood in danger of his life, if ever he were known to utter the same to any living creature. Nevertheless, partly for the safety of her life, and partly for the discharge of his own conscience, having remorse to consent to the shedding of innocent blood, he could not but give her warning of that mischief that hanged over her head; beseeching her most instantly to use,all secrecy in that behalf, and exhorting her somewhat to frame and conform herself unto the king's mind, saying, he did not doubt but, if she would so do, and show her humble submission unto him, she should find him gracious and favourable unto her.

            It was not long after this, but the king, hearing of the dangerous state wherein she yet still remained, came unto her himself; unto whom, after that she had uttered her grief, fearing lest his Majesty (she said) had taken displeasure with her, and had utterly forsaken her, he, like a loving husband, with sweet and comfortable words so refreshed and appeased her careful mind, that she, upon the same, began somewhat to recover; and so the king, after he had tarried there about the space of an hour, departed.

            After this the queen, remembering with herself the words that Master Wendy had said unto her, devised how, by some good opportunity, she might repair to the king's presence. And so, first commanding her ladies to convey away their books which were against the law, the next night following, after supper, she (waited upon only by the Lady Herbert her sister, and the Lady Lane, who carried the candle before her) went unto the king's bed-chamber, whom she found sitting and talking with certain gentlemen of his chamber; whom when the king did behold, very courteously he welcomed her, and, breaking off the talk which, before her coming, he had with the gentlemen aforesaid, began of himself, contrary to his manner before accustomed, to enter into talk of religion, seeming as it were desirous to be resolved by the queen, of certain doubts which he propounded.

            The queen, perceiving to what purpose this talk did tend, not being unprovided in what sort to behave herself towards the king, with such answers resolved his questions as the time and opportunity present did require, mildly, and with reverent countenance, answering again after this manner:

            "Your Majesty," quoth she, "doth right-well know, neither I myself am ignorant, what great imperfection and weakness by our first creation is allotted unto us women, to be ordained and appointed as privy chamber and subject unto man as our head; from which head all our direction ought to proceed: and that as God made man to his own shape and likeness, whereby he, being endued with more special gifts of perfection, might rather be stirred to the contemplation of heavenly things, and to the earnest endeavour to obey his commandments, even so, also, made he woman of man, of whom and by whom she is to be governed, commanded, and directed; whose womanly weaknesses and natural imperfection ought to be tolerated, aided, and borne withal, so that, by his wisdom, such things as be lacking in her ought to be supplied.

            "Since, therefore, that God hath appointed such a natural difference between man and woman, and your Majesty being so excellent in gifts and ornaments of wisdom, and I a silly poor woman, so much inferior in all respects of nature unto you, how then cometh it now to pass that your Majesty, in such diffuse causes of religion, will seem to require my judgment? which when I have uttered and said what I can, yet must I, and will I, refer my judgment in this, and in all other cases, to your Majesty's wisdom, as my only anchor, supreme head and governor here in earth, next under God, to lean unto."

            "Not so, by St. Mary," quoth the king; "you are become a doctor, Kate, to instruct us, (as we take it,) and not to be instructed or directed by us."

            "If your Majesty take it so," quoth the queen, "then hath your Majesty very much mistaken me, who have ever been of the opinion, to think it very unseemly, and preposterous, for the woman to take upon her the office of an instructor or teacher to her lord and husband; but rather to learn of her husband, and to be taught by him. And whereas I have, with your Majesty's leave, heretofore been bold to hold talk with your Majesty, wherein sometimes in opinions there hath seemed some difference, I have not done it so much to maintain opinion, as I did it rather to minister talk, not only to the end your Majesty might with less grief pass over this painful time of your infirmity, being attentive to our talk, and hoping that your Majesty should reap some ease thereby; but also that I, hearing your Majesty's learned discourse, might receive to myself some profit thereby: wherein, I assure your Majesty, I have not missed any part of my desire in that behalf, always referring myself, in all such matters, unto your Majesty, as by ordinance of nature it is convenient for me to do."

            "And is it even so, sweet heart!" quoth the king, "and tended your arguments to no worse end? Then, perfect friends we are now again, as ever at any time heretofore." And as he sat in his chair, embracing her in his arms, and kissing her, he added this, saying, that it did him more good at that time to hear those words of her own mouth, than if he had heard present news of a hundred thousand pounds in money fallen unto him. And with great signs and tokens of marvellous joy and liking, with promises and assurances never again in any sort more to mistake her, entering into other very pleasant discourses with the queen and lords, and the gentlemen standing by, in the end (being very far in the night) he gave her leave to depart: whom, in her absence, to the standers-by, he gave as singular and as affectuous commendations, as beforetime, to the bishop and the chancellor, (who then were neither of them present,) he seemed to mislike of her.

            Now then, God be thanked! the king's mind was clean altered, and he detested in his heart (as afterwards he plainly showed) this tragical practice of those cruel Caiaphases; who, nothing understanding of the king's well-reformed mind and good disposition toward the queen, were busily occupied about thinking and providing for their next day's labour, which was the day determined to have carried the queen to the Tower.

            The day and almost the hour appointed being come, the king, being disposed in the afternoon to take the air, (waited upon with two gentlemen only of his bed-chamber,) went into the garden, whither the queen also came, being sent for by the king himself, the three ladies above named alone waiting upon her; with whom the king, at that time, disposed himself to be as pleasant as ever he was in all his life before: when suddenly, in the midst of their mirth, the hour determined being come, in cometh the lord chancellor into the garden with forty of the king's guards at his heels, with purpose indeed to have taken the queen, together with the three ladies aforesaid, whom they had before purposed to apprehend alone, even then unto the Tower. Whom then the king sternly beholding, breaking off with his mirth with the queen, stepping a little aside, called the chancellor unto him; who, upon his knees, spake certain words unto the king, but what they were, (for that they were softly spoken, and the king a pretty good distance from the queen,) it is not well known, but it is most certain that the king's replying unto him, was "Knave!" for his answer; yea, "arrant knave! beast! and fool!" And with that the king commanded him presently to avaunt out of his presence. Which words, although they were uttered somewhat low, yet were they so vehemently whispered out by the king, that the queen did easily, with her ladies aforesaid, overhear them; which had been not a little to her comfort, if she had known at that time the whole cause of his coming, as perfectly as after she knew it. Thus departed the lord chancellor out of the king's presence as he came, with all his train; the whole mould of all his device being utterly broken.

Illustration -- King Henry with Queen Katharine and the Lord Chancellor in the garden

            The king, after his departure, immediately returned to the queen; whom she, perceiving to be very much chafed, (albeit, coming towards her, he enforced himself to put on a merry countenance,) with as sweet words as she could utter, she endeavoured to qualify the king's displeasure, with request unto his Majesty in behalf of the lord chancellor, with whom he seemed to be offended; saying, for his excuse, "that albeit she knew not what just cause his Majesty had at that time to be offended with him, yet she thought that ignorance, not will, was the cause of hie error," and so besought his Majesty, (if the cause were at very heinous,) at her humble suit, to take it.

            "Ah! poor soul," quoth he, "thou little knowest how evil he deserveth this grace at thy hands. Of my word, sweet heart! he hath been towards thee an arrant knave, and so let him go." To this the queen, in charitable manner replying, in few words ended that talk; having also, by God's only blessing, happily, for that time and ever, escaped the dangerous snares of her bloody and cruel enemies for the gospel's sake.


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