« ZurückWeiter »
the kind bright smiles of the open face under the square cap, that the great painter Holbein has sent down to us as a familiar sight.
But these glad days were not to last for ever. The trying times of the reign of Henry VIII. were beginning, and the question had been stirred whether the king's marriage with Katharine of Arragon had been a lawful one. When Sir Thomas More found that the king was determined to take his own course, and to divorce himself without permission from the Pope, it was against his conscience to remain in office when acts were being done which he could not think right or lawful. He therefore resigned his office as Lord Chancellor, and, feeling himself free from the load and temptation, his gay spirits rose higher than ever. His manner of communicating the change to his wife, who had been very proud of his state and dignity, was thus. At church, when the service was over, it had always been the custom for one of his attendants to sum·mon Lady More by coming to her closet door, and saying “Madam, my lord is gone.” On the day after his resignation, he himself stepped up, and with a low bow said, “ Madam, my lord is gone,” for in good sooth he was no longer Chancellor, but only plain Sir Thomas.
He thoroughly enjoyed his leisure, but he was not long left in tranquillity. When Anne Boleyn was crowned, he was invited to be present, and twenty pounds were offered him to buy a suitably splendid dress for the occasion ; but his conscience would not allow him to accept the invitation, though he well knew the terrible peril he ran by offending the king and queen. Thenceforth there was a determination to ruin him. First, he was accused of taking bribes when administering justice. It was said that a gilt cup had been given to him as a new-year's gift, by one lady, and a pair of gloves filled with gold coins by another : but it turned out, on examination, that he had drunk the wine out of the cup, and accepted the gloves, because it was ill manners to refuse a lady's gift, yet he had in both cases given back the gold.
Next, a charge was brought that he had been leaguing with a half-crazy woman called the Nun of Kent, who had said violent things about the king. He was sent for to be examined by Henry and his Council, and this he well knew was the interview on which his safety would turn, since the accusation was a mere pretext, and the real purpose of the king was to see whether he would go along with him in breaking away from Rome, –a proceeding that Sir Thomas, both as churchman and as lawyer, could not think legal. Whether we agree or not in his views, it must always be remembered that he ran into danger by speaking the truth, and doing what he thought right. He really loved his master, and he knew the humor of Henry VIII., and the temptation was sore; but when he came down from his conference with the king in the tower, and was rowed down the river to Chelsea, he was so merry that William Roper, who had been waiting for him in the boat, thought he must be safe, and said, as they landed and walked up the garden,
“ I trust, sir, all is well, since you are so merry ?” “ It is so, indeed, son, thank God ! “ Are you then, sir, put out of the bill ?”
“Wouldest thou know, son, why I am so joyful ? In good faith I rejoice that I have given the devil a foul fall; because I have with those lords gone so far that without great shame I can never go back ? ” he answered, meaning that he had been enabled to hold so firmly to his opinions, and speak them out so boldly, that henceforth the temptation to dissemble them and please the king would be much lessened. That he had held his purpose in spite of the weakness of mortal nature, was true joy to him. though he was so well aware of the consequences that when his daughter Margaret came to him the next day with the glad tidings that the charge against him had been given up, he calmly answered her : “In faith, Meg, what is put off is not given up.
One day, when he had asked Margaret how the world went with the new queen, and she replied, “In faith, father, never better ; there is nothing else in the court but dancing and sporting," he replied, with sad foresight, “ Never better. Alas, Meg ! it pitieth me to remember unto what misery, poor soul, she will shortly come. These dances of hers will prove such dances that she will spurn off our heads like footballs, but it will not be long ere her head will take the same dance."
So entirely did he expect to be summoned by a pursuivant that he thought it would lessen the fright of his family if a sham summons were brought. So he caused a great knocking to be made while all were at dinner, and the sham pursuivant went through all the forms of citing him, and the whole household were in much alarm, till he explained the jest ; but the earnest came only a few days afterwards. On the 13th of April, 1534, arrived the real pursuivant to summon him to Lambeth, there to take the oath of supremacy, declaring that the king was the head of the Church of England, and that the Pope had no authority there. He knew what the refusal would bring on him. He went first to church, and then, not trusting himself to be unmanned by his love for his children and grandchildren, instead of letting them, as usual, come down to the water side, with tender kisses and merry farewells, he shut the wicket-gate of the garden upon them all, and only allowed his son-in-law Roper to accompany him, whispering into his ear, “I thank our Lord, the field is won.”
Conscience had triumphed over affection, and he was thankful, though for the last time he looked on the trees he had planted and the happy home he had loved. Before the Council, he undertook to swear to some clauses in the oath which were connected with the safety of the realm ; but he refused to take that part of the oath which related to the king's power over the Church.
It is said that the king would thus have been satisfied, but that the queen urged him further. At any rate, after being four days under the charge of the Abbot of Westminster, Sir Thomas was sent to the Tower of London. There his wife — a plain, dull woman, utterly unable to understand the point of conscience - came and scolded him for being so foolish as to lie there in a close, filthy prison, and be shut up with rats and mice, instead of enjoying the favor of the king. He heard all she had to say, and answered, “ I pray thee, good Mrs. Alice, tell me one thing, — is not this house as near heaven as my own ?” To which she had no better answer than “ Tilly vally, tilly vally.” But in spite of her folly, she loved him faithfully ; and when all his property was seized, she sold even her clothes to obtain necessaries for him in prison.
His chief comfort was, however, in visits and letters from his daughter Margaret, who was fully able to enter into the spirit that preferred death to transgression. He was tried in Westminster Hall, on the ist of July, and, as he had fully expected, sentenced to death. He was taken back along the river to the Tower. On the wharf his loving Margaret was waiting for her last look. She broke through the guard of soldiers with bills and halberds, threw her arms round his neck, and kissed him, unable to say any word but “O, my father ! — O, my father !” He blessed her, and told her that whatsoever she might suffer, it was not without the will of God, and she must therefore be patient. After having once parted with him, she suddenly turned back again, ran to him, and, clinging round his neck, kissed him over and over again, a sight at which the guards themselves wept. She never saw him again ; but the night before his execution he wrote to her a letter with a piece of charcoal, with tender remembrances to all the family, and saying to her, “I never liked your manner better than when you kissed me last; for I am most pleased when daughterly love and dear charity have no leisure to look to worldly courtesy." He likewise made it his especial request that she might be permitted to be present at his burial.
His hope was sure and steadfast, and his heart so firm that he did not even cease from humorous sayings. When he mounted the crazy ladder of the scaffold he said, “ Master Lieutenant, I pray you see me safe up; and for my coming down let me shift for myself.” And he desired the executioner to give him time to put his beard out of the way of the stroke, “since that had never offended his High
His body was given to his family, and laid in the tomb he had already prepared in Chelsea church; but the head was set up on a pole on London Bridge. The calm, sweet features were little changed, and the loving daughter gathered courage as she looked up at them. How she contrived the deed, is not known; but, before many days had past, the head was no longer there, and Mrs. Roper was said to have taken it away. She was sent for to the Council, and accused of the stealing of her father's head. She shrank not from avowing that thus it had been, and that the head was in her own possession. One story says that, as she was passing under the bridge in a boat, she looked up, and said, “ That head has often lain in my lap: I would that it would now fall into it.” And at that moment it actually fell, and