The Children of Westminster Abbey Part 9

[65] A pun on _manger_ and _penser_, to eat and to think.

[66] Green's Princesses. Vol. 5. p. 172.

[67] Birch. p. 68.

[68] Birch. p. 385.

[69] Amba.s.sades de la Boderie. Birch. p. 70.

[70] Birch. p. 75. Amba.s.sades de la Boderie. Vol. I, p. 400.



All English and American children have heard of the Fifth of November.

It was a day of mingled terror and delight in our childhood. Just at dusk a band of men and boys used to tramp down the road, and gather close under the windows. They were armed with guns, and bore on poles a chair upon which was seated a hideous life-size effigy of a man, dressed in an old tattered coat and battered tall hat. Then they began in sepulchral voices to repeat the following words, very fast, with no stops, and in broad Hampshire dialect:

Remember, remember the fifth of November Gunpowder trayson and plot.

I know no rayson why gunpowder trayson Ever should be forgot.

Old Guy Fox and his companions, With fifty-two barrels of gunpowder To blow old England up.

Look into your pocket, there's a little c.h.i.n.k, Pray pull it up and give us some drink; All we wants is a little more money To kindle up our old Bonfire.

If you won't give us one bavven[71] we'll take two, The better for we and the wuss for you.

Holler, boys, holler, boys, G.o.d save the King!

Holler, boys, holler, boys, make the house ring.

Hip! Hip! hip! Hoorah![72]

And "holler" they did. While the children, knowing what was coming, cowered shuddering inside the window curtains, frightened to death, and yet so fascinated with horror they were obliged to look, "Bang, bang, bang," went all the guns, fired up into the air round old Guy, with tremendous shouts. But that was not all. In the evening the huge bonfire twenty feet high down on the Common, for which all the men and boys had been begging "bavins" or cutting furze for days, was lighted. And round it every one in the parish a.s.sembled.

Ah! the delights of Bonfire Night! the thrill of excitement as the match was applied to a heap of well-dried sticks and straw in a sheltered hole on the leeward side. The yells of joy as the furze caught and crackled as only furze can crackle, and the flames ran up the sides of the stack and lit up Guy Fawkes, whose effigy, after going the rounds of the parish, was at length deposited on the top of the bonfire; the cloud of sparks that streamed out from the cracking, snapping pile; the squibs and crackers that every body threw at every body else; and then the climax, when the fire reached old Guy himself, and with a mighty heave the old fellow sank into his fiery grave in the centre of the bonfire, the squibs in his hat exploding like a round of musketry, and a roar rose from the good Hampshire throats as the whole burning ma.s.s collapsed while the flames rushed up fiercely with one last effort high into the foggy air. Then the good-nights, and the walk home, our hair and clothes smelling of smoke, and our eyes so dazzled that we stumbled and staggered along across the Common, while the shouts of the boys, dancing about the embers of the great fire, gradually died away in the distance.

What can all this have to do with Prince Henry you may ask?

A great deal, we answer. For these bonfires all over England on the Fifth of November, commemorate an event in James the First's reign which had a great effect on our young hero's mind.

Certain persons in England, who hated King James for his hard treatment of the Roman Catholic party, resolved to take the law into their own hands. They thought that if the king, Prince Henry, and the Parliament could be destroyed at one blow, they might take possession of Prince Charles and Princess Elizabeth, bring about a revolution and put the government into the hands of the Roman Catholics who would be helped by Spain. Robert Catesby was the chief of the conspirators; and for eighteen months he and a small band of desperate men worked in the utmost secrecy at their hideous scheme. The day chosen for its accomplishment was the fifth of November, 1605, the day on which Parliament met at Westminster. Everything was in readiness. Thirty-six barrels of gunpowder (not fifty-two as the Hampshire rhyme has it) were stored beneath the Parliament House. And Guido Fawkes, a daring adventurer, was in waiting in the cellar to set a light to them, and blow up King, Prince, and Parliament. But at the last moment, in spite of all their well-laid plans, in spite of all their wonderful secrecy, the plot leaked out. Lord Monteagle, a Roman Catholic Peer, received a mysterious warning from Tresham, one of the conspirators, whose courage failed him. Monteagle instantly told the Earl of Salisbury and the king.

At midnight on the eve of the fifth, the cellars under the Parliament House were searched. There was Guido Fawkes, with touchwood and matches upon him, only waiting for the signal which was to be given him in a few hours. He was seized, dragged before the king and consigned to the Tower. The great heap of wood and coals in the cellar was torn down, and the barrels of gunpowder found beneath it. The conspirators fled. All Protestant England was roused to a frenzy of horror and dread at the discovery of such a fearful crime. The guilty men were chased from county to county, till at last all of them were either killed fighting, or captured and brought next year to the block. And thus ended the Gunpowder Plot. But its memory is still kept alive in England by the yearly bonfires and fireworks and Guy Fawkes processions of the Fifth of November.

This escape from a sudden and dreadful death, affected Prince Henry deeply. He was a boy of strong religious feelings. And from this time he never suffered any business to keep him from hearing a sermon every Tuesday, which was the day of the week on which the Gunpowder Plot was to have been carried out. But hearing of sermons was not the only sign of Prince Henry's piety. He was diligent in his own private prayers, generally going apart three times a day to pray quietly by himself. He was most careful too of the good behavior of his household. And above all things he had a horror of profane swearing. At his three palaces, St. James's in London, Richmond, and Nonsuch, he ordered boxes to be kept for the fines he exacted from all those who used bad words; and this money was given to the poor.

There is a story told by, the historian, how that the prince was once hunting a stag. The stag was spent, and crossing a road fell in with a butcher and his dog. The dog killed the stag; and when the hunting party came up and found their sport was over they were enraged, and tried to incense the prince against the butcher. But Henry answered quietly: "What if the butcher's dog killed the stag? Could the butcher help it?" The rest replied that if the king had been so served "he would have sworn so as no man could have endured it." "_Away_," rejoined the prince; "_all the pleasure in the world is not worth an oath_."[73]


The prince was keenly interested in all foreign countries, and kept himself well informed upon their politics and customs by the large correspondence he now carried on with distinguished persons both at home and abroad. When he was just thirteen his curiosity caused no little amus.e.m.e.nt at the French Court. Prince Henry had long wished for an opportunity of learning something about the fortifications of Calais.

And when the Prince de Joinville, who had been on a visit to England, returned to Paris, Henry sent an engineer of his own in the French prince's train, who made a careful examination of Calais and of the Rix-bank. This came to the ears of the French amba.s.sador, who wrote in hot haste to the Court at Fontainebleau and to the Governor of Calais.

But Henri Quatre was only entertained at the boyish inquisitiveness of his young cousin, and sent back word that he did not consider the occurrence betokened any dangerous designs upon the kingdom of France.

A far more important report was sent in to the prince in the same year by his gunner, Mr. Robert Tindal. This gunner was employed by the Virginia Company established in 1606, to make a voyage to America. He set out on December 19, 1606, with Captain Christopher Newport, in a fleet of three ships, and arrived at Chesapeake Bay about the beginning of May, 1607. A letter which he wrote to the prince on his arrival is in the Harleian collection of MSS., together with his journal of the voyage and a map of the James River. In his letter, dated Jamestown in Virginia, the twenty-second of June, 1607, he says:

that this river was discovered by his fellow-adventurers, and that no Christian had ever been there before; and that they were safely arrived and settled in that country, which they found to be in itself most fruitful, and of which they had taken _a real and public possession in the name and to the use of_ the King his Highness's father.[74]

It seems to bring our young prince nearer to American children, to know that his youthful imagination was fired by accounts of the wonderful unexplored Western land--to think of him poring over the map of Richmond and the beautiful James River. What would he have thought, could he have foreseen a t.i.the of the wonders which have come to pa.s.s on those Transatlantic marvels of modern civilization; the railroads stretching away into the wilderness of which Robert Tindal only saw the outskirts; the telegraph lines that bind together Europe and America; and, above all, the great nation that has grown out of the first bands of hardy adventurers who went out to Virginia with the prince's gunner, or who fled from King James's stern rule a few years later to the bleak New England coast.

The account of these distant voyages must have been especially interesting to Prince Henry; for of all matters pertaining to the welfare of his country that which occupied his attention most was the British Navy. Sir Walter Raleigh was the young prince's close friend.

From his childhood the boy attached himself to the last of the Elizabethan heroes, visiting him in his prison in the Tower, and taking council with him as he grew older on all matters of war and seamanship.

He made many efforts to obtain Raleigh's release, and is reported to have said that "_no king but his father would have kept such a bird in a cage_." But it was in vain; and the prince was happily spared the shame of seeing his glorious friend die on the scaffold, a sacrifice to Spain--the very power from which Raleigh had fought and toiled to save his country in Elizabeth's days. When Henry was ten years old, the Lord High Admiral Howard ordered a little ship to be built for the prince's instruction and amus.e.m.e.nt, by Phineas Pett, one of the Royal shipwrights at Chatham. This ship was twenty-eight feet long by twelve wide, "adorned with painting and carving, both within board and without." Can you imagine a more delightful possession for a boy of ten than this beautiful little ship, gay with ensigns and pennants? No wonder that he "shewed great delight in viewing" her, when she was brought to anchor outside the Tower where he and the king were then lodging. And his delight must have increased when he went on board her at Whitehall a few days later, accompanied by the Lord Admiral, Lord Worcester, and various other n.o.blemen.

They immediately weighed, and fell down as far as Paul's Wharf, under both topsails and foresail, and there coming to anchor, his Highness, in the usual form, baptized the ship with a great bowl of wine, giving her the name of _Disdain_.[75]

Mr. Pett, the builder, was on board; and the prince took him at once into his service, and formed a warm friendship with him.

From this time the boy's interest in the navy grew keen; and we find constant mention made of visits to the Royal Dockyard at Woolwich, where, under Mr. Pett's guidance the prince was thoroughly instructed in questions of ships and shipping. He closely watched the building of a splendid vessel which the king gave him for his own. She was launched in 1610; and was the largest ship that had then been built in England. "The keel was an hundred and fourteen feet long, and the cross-beam forty-four feet. It was able to carry sixty-four pieces of great ordnance, and the burthen was fourteen hundred tons."[76] On September 24, the King, the Queen, the Duke of York,[77] Princess Elizabeth, and a large company, went with Prince Henry to see his great ship launched.

But owing to the narrowness of the dock, the launch failed. So the prince had to return next morning; and in the midst of a terrific thunderstorm he stood on her deck as she floated out into the river, giving her the name, _Prince Royal_. Next year Henry determined to examine personally into the condition of the navy. He therefore made a private journey to Chatham, and spent three days closely inspecting all the shipping and storehouses there, and at Queenborough, Stroud, and Gravesend, making careful notes of the state of each ship in his own notebook from Mr. Pett's and Sir Robert Mansel's information, "no other persons being suffered to come near."

In January, 1610, Prince Henry gave a great banquet to his father at St. James's Palace, where he now kept his separate Court and gathered round him the most promising young men in the kingdom. The banquet was preceded by a tourney at Whitehall, in which the prince took part, in the presence of the king and queen, the foreign amba.s.sadors and all the greatest personages of the realm. Princess Elizabeth helped her brother to do the honors of the banquet, and distributed the prizes won at the tilting match, which were trinkets garnished with diamonds, the king handing them to her. The banquet was not over till ten at night; by which time King James, who was easily bored, especially with anything done by his son, had gone away. But Henry and Elizabeth, full of the enjoyment of young hosts, went off to a comedy which lasted two hours, and then returned to the gallery, where a fresh supper had been set. It was a most gorgeous affair. The crystal dishes were filled with sweetmeats of all shapes--fountains of rosewater, windmills, dryads, soldiers on horseback, pleasure gardens, the planetary system, etc.

Prince Henry led his sister twice round the table to see all these marvels, and they then departed, leaving the company to their own devices. A most crazy company it must have been. For, no sooner had the prince and princess gone, than "the guests scrambled for the plunder, broke down the table and carried off, not only the supper, but all it was served in, to the very water bottles."[78]

In this same year Henry was created Prince of Wales. This was the occasion for further display, such as King James delighted in. There were processions of barges on the river, banquets, splendid dresses, tilting matches in the Tiltyard, and a solemn and magnificent ceremony "within the great white chamber in the palace of Westminster," when, in the presence of both Houses of Parliament and an immense company, the prince was declared Prince of Great Britain and Wales. Robed in purple velvet he knelt before the king, who gave him with his own hands the crown, the sword, the ring, and the gold rod of the princ.i.p.ality over which Llewellyn once ruled. A very gallant young figure must our prince have been. He was sixteen years old; a tall, well-made lad, with somewhat broad shoulders and a small waist. His hair was auburn; his face long, with a broad forehead; "a piercing eye; a most gracious smile, with a terrible frown."

Henry had some years before been created Duke of Cornwall. And although these t.i.tles and dignities sound very grand and imposing for a boy of sixteen, yet his father's warning was fulfilled in his case. The augmentation of honours that fell to him, was "but in cares and heavy burthens." He was not merely a ruler in name. He managed his estates well and wisely. Not only were his tenants more contented and happy, and better off than they had ever been before; but by his good management he so improved the value of his lands, that they brought him in an immensely increased revenue.

Besides the three palaces we have mentioned, Prince Henry purchased with his own money, in 1612, beautiful Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, from the widow of the famous Earl of Leicester. And in the same year King James gave his son another house connected closely with the story of Leicester and Amy Robsart--Woodstock Manor in Oxfordshire. But the prince's days were numbered, and as far as we know he never visited his new purchase of Kenilworth. His health was not in a satisfactory state in this year of 1612, and he was careless about it. While he was staying at his palace of Richmond in June, he took great delight in swimming in the Thames after supper on the warm summer evenings; a most dangerous practice for any one. His attendants besought him to give it up. But he, like most of the Stuarts, was fond of his own way. He was deaf to all entreaties, and went on with his swimming. He also took much pleasure in walking beside the Thames in the moonlight, "to hear the sound and echo of the trumpets," regardless of the evening dews which rose cold and damp along the river. Then in exceedingly hot weather, he made a desperate journey on horseback, of ninety-six miles in two days, from Richmond to Belvoir Castle, to meet the king who was on a great progress--riding sixty miles the first day in nine hours. The progress ended at Woodstock, where the prince entertained his father and mother and Princess Elizabeth, after making several hasty and fatiguing journeys thither to see that all was in order in his new manor. He then returned to Richmond and busied himself with preparations for the coming of the young Elector Palatine, on whose marriage with Princess Elizabeth all Henry's hopes were fixed.


The Elector arrived. But already Prince Henry was seriously ill. However his "pluck," as we should say now, carried him on for a time. He removed with his court to St. James's to receive the young Elector, for whom he conceived a great friendship. He even played a tennis match with his future brother-in-law on the twenty-fourth of October. But the next day he was much worse, and could with difficulty manage to go to church (it was a Sunday), and dine afterwards with the king. This was the last time he went out; for in the afternoon he was seized with sudden faintness and sickness and had to take his leave. That night he was in a burning fever. The ignorant physicians of those days mismanaged him hopelessly.

Some of their remedies to lower the fever sound almost too absurd to be treated seriously--such as a c.o.c.k, newly-killed, split down the back and applied all reeking hot to the soles of his feet. Raleigh from his prison sent him a cordial, which the old hero's enemies of course pretended was poison. However after it had been duly tested, the prince was allowed to take it, and it gave him temporary relief. But nothing availed. He grew worse and worse. His faithful friend, Archbishop Abbot, came to him and prayed with him. The fever increased in violence. And on the fifth of November, the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, the archbishop told the prince of his extreme danger, and asked him if he should die, "whether or no he was well pleased to submit himself to the will of G.o.d?" To which the prince replied, "with all his heart."

A few hours later the end was near. Henry was past speaking; and the archbishop, leaning over him, called upon him to believe, to hope and trust only in Christ. He then spoke louder:

Sir, hear you me? hear you me? hear you me? If you hear me, in certain sign of your faith and hope in the blessed resurrection, give us, for our comfort, a sign by lifting up your hands. This the prince did, lifting up both his hands together.

And the archbishop with bitter tears, poured out by his Highness's bedside, a most pathetic prayer. At a quarter before eight that evening the hopes of the country were gone. Henry, Prince of Wales, was dead, who, had he lived, might have changed the whole course of events in English history during the seventeenth century. And the heir to the crown was Charles, Duke of York, destined within forty years to die upon the scaffold.

While our gallant young prince lay dying, the king showed himself as selfish and indifferent as we might expect. He came once to visit his son: but fearing that the fever might be contagious, he went away without seeing him, and retired to Theobalds, Lord Salisbury's estate.

The Princess Elizabeth was kept away from the prince for the same reason. But she tried her best to see him, coming disguised in the evening to St. James's and endeavoring to gain access, but in vain, to her dearly-loved brother, who asked for her constantly during his illness--almost his last intelligible words being, "Where is my dear sister?"

But if his father showed want of feeling, the whole English nation mourned their young prince. He was buried at Westminster Abbey on the seventh of December, with all possible pomp. Prince Charles and the Elector Palatine were the chief mourners, attended by a train of two thousand mourners. Through the streets, thronged with weeping people, wound the great procession, with banners carried by n.o.bles, led horses draped in black bearing the scutcheons of the prince's different t.i.tles and estates, all the notables of England and Scotland, clergy and peers, privy councillors and amba.s.sadors. Then came the funeral car bearing the coffin, on which lay a beautiful effigy of the prince, dressed in his state robes; and the sight of it "caused a fearful outcry among the people, as if they felt their own ruin in that loss."[79]

Henry, Prince of Wales, was laid to rest in the south aisle of Henry the Seventh's Chapel, in the vault which had just been made to receive his grandmother, the unhappy Mary, Queen of Scots, whose body had been removed there a month before. Over Mary's grave King James erected a monument even more magnificent than Queen Elizabeth's in the north aisle. Yet not a thought did the selfish father give to the grave of his son.

Receive SMS and Send Text Online for free >>

« Previous My Bookmarks Chapters Next»

Novel »
Next  »