Story of Liberty - Charles Coffin

The Boy-Emperor

Maximilian, Emperor of Germany, is dead, and some one must be chosen in his place. There are three individuals who desire to be elected—Henry of England, Francis of France, and Charles of Spain. Henry is twenty-six years old, Francis twenty-one, and Charles nineteen. It is not long before Henry sees that he has no chance; but Francis and Charles are both confident of success. Francis sends ambassadors to the princes of Germany, who are to elect the emperor, promising to do great things for them; presenting them purses filled with gold. Charles does the same. But the man who patronizes painters and sculptors down in Rome (Pope Leo) has something to say about it. He uses his influence in favor of Charles, who is already King of Spain, Netherlands, and Naples, and who lays claim to a portion of Italy.

The electors meet in the old council-hall in Frankfort, in Germany, and make choice of Charles; and Francis finds that he has spent his money, and been defeated besides. He could put up with the loss of the money; but a wounded spirit, who can bear? It is a bitter disappointment, and Charles knows that Francis will take his revenge.

On a day in May, 1520, the people of Dover, in England, are surprised to see a great fleet of Spanish war-ships sailing into the harbor. What is the meaning of it? There is the flag of the King of Spain, the Boy-emperor of Germany, as they call him, flying at the mast-head of the largest ship. The fleet comes to anchor, and the people soon learn that the young emperor has come to make a visit to his aunt Katherine and uncle Henry. Horsemen ride post-haste to London, and Henry sends his true friend and chief adviser, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, to Dover to offer his congratulations to his nephew, and to say to Charles that he will hasten down, and that together they will ride to Canterbury, to the tomb of Thomas Becket, and cement their friendship at that shrine.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Cardinal Wolsey is very much pleased to go upon such an errand, for he would like to have a little private conversation with Charles before Henry arrives; perhaps he may be able to advance his own fortunes. He is getting on well in the world. When he was a boy, he carried joints of mutton and roasts of beef to the people of Ipswich, where his father was a butcher; later, his father sent him to Oxford, where he graduated, and became a preacher; but he led a fast life, and one day the sheriff arrested him, and he was condemned to sit in the stocks for his misdeeds—a strange spectacle to his parishioners

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Thomas could not be content to live in a little country village where a justice of the peace could interfere with his pleasures, and so went to London. The Archbishop of Canterbury was his friend, and introduced him to the king, Henry VII. The king was pleased with him, and, through the archbishop's influence, made him a dean. Being a dean, he was in a position to push his fortunes, and soon became Bishop of York. He was so influential and able, that when Henry VIII. came to the throne, he selected him to be his prime minister. Louis XII. of France wanted to marry Henry's sister Mary; and he seeing that Wolsey had great influence at court, sent him a purse filled with gold. Then the Boy-cardinal, in Rome, when he became Pope, desiring to secure Henry's friendship, made him a cardinal, and gave him permission to appoint all the bishops, deans, and other prelates of the Church in England. It is a power greater than that held by the king. All the Church officials, from the verger who opens the pew-door up to the Archbishop of Canterbury, will take off their hats to him, and all the lords, earls, and barons will wait upon him.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


No earl of England lives in greater state. He rides a donkey, to show that he is as humble as his Master, who rode into Jerusalem on an ass; but he spreads a luxurious table, and drinks the best wines. He wears a gorgeous dress, with a massive gold necklace studded with diamonds and pearls. His tippet is of the finest sable, and his robe is trimmed with the whitest ermine. His shoes are of silver and gold, inlaid with diamonds. He has eight hundred men in his train—sons of barons, earls, lords, counts—fifteen knights, and forty squires. His servants are in livery. His cook wears a velvet-satin jacket, and a gold chain upon his neck. A lord rides before the cardinal, carrying the red hat which Leo has given him. Another lord carries a golden mace, while two priests bear massive silver crosses. His saddle-cloth is of crimson velvet, his stirrups of solid silver. Men armed with spears and swords, a grand cavalcade of horsemen, with a regiment of servants—more than a thousand in all—make up his retinue.

One of the gentlemen in his train is Thomas Cromwell, who was born in London, 1490. His father was a blacksmith, but this Thomas did not mean to blow the bellows or swing the sledge for a living. He has been a clerk in a store in London and at Antwerp, but has entered Cardinal Wolsey's service, and is on the high-road to fortune. The world will yet hear from this son of a blacksmith. So great a man as Wolsey must have a chaplain, and he has selected Edmund Bonner for that service. This preacher has graduated at Oxford. He is only twenty-five years old, but, now that he is in the cardinal's service, is getting on in the world. We shall see him again.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The cardinal has a great deal of writing to be done, and he has appointed as his chief and confidential secretary Stephen Gardiner. He is an able man, but artful, ambitious, and proud. He was educated at Oxford, and can speak and write several languages. The world will be better or worse for what he will do, as we shall discover farther along.

Cardinal Wolsey rides to Dover to receive the young emperor; but what is he thinking of as he hastens along the dusty road through the hop-fields of Kent? He is thinking of how he shall wind the Boy-emperor round his little finger. He knows what Charles has come for—not merely to make a friendly visit to Katherine and Henry, but to enlist Henry on his side in case Francis begins a war. He has come to persuade Henry to give up a friendly meeting which he is intending to have with Francis, in June over the Channel near Calais, where carpenters and masons are erecting a grand palace for use during the festivities. Cardinal Wolsey is turning the matter over in his mind. How much can Cardinal Wolsey make out of this visit? In what way can he best wind the boy round his finger, and make him pay for the winding besides? Cardinal Wolsey is taking long looks ahead. He is already master of affairs in England. The Pope will not live forever; and when he dies, who in the world is more worthy to occupy the pontifical chair than he who once carried joints of mutton and beef to the people of Ipswich, but who is now as powerful as Henry himself? Plainly, it will be for his interest to make Charles under obligations to him; but if he helps the emperor, the emperor in turn must do great things for him: he must have some pay down, and the promise of a great deal more by-and-by.

The cardinal arrives at Dover, and bows with great deference to the pale young man. They talk by themselves. Charles is ready to do anything for his friend the cardinal, and gives him outright a bishopric in Spain. The cardinal need not ever set foot in the country; but he may have all the revenue, which shall be collected and sent to him—ten thousand ducats per annum; and when Leo dies, the emperor will use his utmost influence to secure the election of the cardinal as his successor. The cardinal, on his part, will see to it that no harm shall come to Charles from the proposed meeting between Francis and Henry. It is better, the cardinal thinks, that the meeting should take place.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Henry and Katherine and the barons and lords hasten to Dover to pay their respects to Charles, and then they ride up to Canterbury to cement their friendship around the tomb of Thomas Becket. Mass is performed in the cathedral—they have a grand banquet, and then the cavalcade takes the road to Dover once more; for Henry and Katherine, and all the nobles and lords and knights, are on their way to the Field of the Cloth of Gold, which we shall see in the next chapter.

Henry is large-framed and strong. He can pitch a quoit or throw an iron bar with the best men in the kingdom. He has blue eyes and rosy cheeks; while Charles is thin, pale, and spare, and has a heavy under-jaw. They ride side by side. Katherine accompanies them, with her little daughter Mary, four years old. So these five persons, who will have much to do with the history of liberty, journey together to Dover—the man who is managing them all riding on a donkey, and his great retinue following.

Henry has a fleet of ships waiting for him and the nobles and knights of England. His largest ship is the Great Harry. He bids the emperor good-bye; and the Spanish ships, amidst the thundering of cannon, spread their sails, and shape their course toward Holland; while Henry's steer straight across the Channel to Calais.