Story of Liberty - Charles Coffin

A Boy Who Objected
to Marrying his Brother's Widow

Nearly one hundred years have passed since the monks dug up the bones of Doctor Wicklif. There are not many followers of the doctor in England, for the bishops have been weeding the Lollards out. So many have been imprisoned in the Tower, in London, that one section of the edifice is called the Lollards' Prison. In one of the chambers the bishops sit in council for the condemnation of heretics, not that they have committed murder or theft, or for any other crime against society, but for reading Doctor Wicklif's translation of the Bible, which is a crime, in their estimation, to be punished by imprisonment or death.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


In Bohemia there has been a terrible war lasting many years. Thousands have been killed, and multitudes have died of starvation; cities have been burned, and the land made desolate; and all because the Emperor Sigismund violated his word, and allowed John Huss to be put to death. Men have little more freedom than they had one hundred years ago. The heretics have been subdued everywhere. Men must think, speak, and act just as they are told. The Pope is superior to the State. The bishops have their own court. A priest may commit murder, and the king cannot touch him. The bishops never put a priest to death, even if he commits murder; but let a man who is not a priest be caught reading the Bible, and they will soon have him roasting in the fire. The Church has a "Sanctuary," a safe place. If a man has committed a crime, and makes his escape to the sanctuary, the sheriff cannot touch him for forty days; and if he wishes to escape to another country, by taking a crucifix in his hand he can go without molestation to the sea-shore, wade into the sea up to his neck, call three times for a ship to come and take him, and then no one can arrest him. Such a privilege enables men to commit crime with impunity. Justice is defeated. But it brings a great deal of money into the bishops' pockets, for when a rich man seeks refuge in the sanctuary they make him pay roundly for the privilege of being there.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Although Doctor Wicklif preached against indulgences, the sale is going on more briskly than ever before. A great scholar from Holland, Doctor Erasmus, makes a visit to England. He goes to Walsingham Abbey, with his friend the Dean of St. Paul's; and the guide shows them the precious relics which are kept in a chest, before which thousands of pilgrims reverently kneel and worship, leaving purses filled with money for the priests.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The guide shows them something white, which looks like powdered chalk.

"What is that?" Doctor Erasmus asks. "Some of the Virgin Mary's milk," says the guide.

They then come to a black trunk.

"I have a precious relic here," says the guide, holding up a dirty rag.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"What is it?"

"It is a fragment of St. Thomas's shirt."

The pilgrims kneel and worship the holy relic. Doctor Erasmus does not follow their example, but turns away disgusted, rather. Supposing it was a part of Thomas's shirt, does that make it holy? Is it of any more value than any other rag? He returns to Holland, and writes a book about fools, which sets people to laughing. Here and there a man sees that the people are fools, and that the priests are making money out of their simplicity.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The king, Henry VII., who would not let the merchants of Bristol fit out the expedition under John and Sebastian Cabot till they had promised to give hint one-fifth of all the money they made, thinks of a way whereby he can extort money from whomsoever the will. He establishes a court, which is called the Court of the Star-chamber, not only because the ceiling of the chamber in which it is held is spangled with stars, but because the Starra—a class of state papers—are deposited there. It is a secret court. He establishes it in the year 1486. A man brought before it cannot have any witnesses to testify in his behalf, nor can he have any counsel to defend him. He cannot make an appeal to any other tribunal. The court is a direct violation of the Magna Charta.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The avaricious king has two London lawyers in his employ—Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley—who, in turn, employ a set of ruffians called "promoters," who promote the king's cause by swearing to any and every thing which the lawyers wish them to.

Many years ago a law was passed forbidding the nobles to keep any retainers or private soldiers in uniform. But the nobles have many house-hold servants. The Earl of Northumberland has a treasurer, a chamberlain, chaplain, constables, and others—one hundred and sixty-six in all. The Earl of Oxford has a great many dependants, who live on his estates. One day the king pays the earl a visit. It is a grand occasion. The earl provides a magnificent banquet, and summons all the people who live on his estates to come and honor the king. He dresses them in uniform. The king notices it.

"Ah, here is a chance to make some money," is the thought that comes to the king.

"These are your menial servants, I suppose?" the says to the earl.

"Most of them are my retainers, who have come to do you honor."

"By my faith, I thank you for your good cheer; but I cannot allow you to break the law. My lawyers must speak to you."

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The lawyers do speak to him, and the earl is compelled to pay an immense sum, or be cast into prison. He feasts the king, and is robbed besides.

Lord Bergavenny has some servants whom the Star-chamber declare are retainers, and he has to pay three hundred and fifty thousand dollars to the king.

Henry is a friend to the Pope. He loves money, but gives liberally to the Church. Out west of London is Westminster Abbey, founded by Edward the Confessor, as long ago as 1060. The place where it stands was once a swamp in the woods; but years before Edward's time, no one knows when, the monks reared a building there, and adopted Peter as their patron saint. There was a clear spring of water near by They could catch fish in the Thames. They were near enough to London to go out with their bread-bags, to beg their living in the town.

On the Sunday night before the day which had been fixed upon by the bishop for the dedication of the monastery, a fisherman by the name of Edric was out on the Thames, when he saw a light and heard an old man calling to him, wanting to know if he could ferry him across the stream. It was Sunday, but Edric was ready to do the stranger a favor, and rowed him across. The venerable man went on to the monastery, when suddenly a host of angels made their appearance. The church was instantly as bright within as if a thousand candles had been lighted, and the stranger and the angels dedicated it with imposing ceremonies.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The fisherman was greatly astonished, but soon the stranger came back.

"Can you give me something to eat?" he asked of the fisherman.

"I have been fishing all night, but have caught nothing"

Then the stranger told who he was.

"I am St. Peter, and have control of the keys of heaven. When the bishop cones to consecrate the church, tell him what you have seen, and as for yourself, go out into the river, and you will catch all the fish yon want. I have granted this on the conditions that you never again fish on Sunday, and that you always give a portion of what you catch to the monks."

The next day the bishop came to dedicate the monastery, but there, at the door, stands the fisherman with a salmon—a present from St. Peter to the bishop, who heard Edric's story, and was satisfied that St. Peter had already dedicated the building, and there was no need that he should do it. So from that time on the fisherman supplied the monks with fish.

Edward the Confessor, King of England, was very religious. He was ever ready to do something for the Church, to secure an entrance into heaven, and selected this little monastery as one which should have his special patronage. He contributed a large sum of money, and set architects and masons to work to rear an abbey. It was the beginning of the most beautiful edifice in England.

One king after another added to Edward's building, till there arose a great pile—almost a city by itself—Westminster Abbey, Chapter-house, St. Margaret's Church, Ball Palace, clock-towers, infirmary, cloisters, abbot's house, prior's horse, sanctuary, granary, and other buildings. The kings spent their money freely, employing architects and masons, who hammered away at the stones, making elaborate adornments, spending such enormous sums of money that the house of Commons protested against expenditures so lavish. That did not stop the work from going on, however, and year by year additions were made, not only to Westminster, but to other abbeys, till, through the exactions of the kings, and the extortions of the priests, monks, and friars, a large part of the earnings of the people was swallowed up by the Church, either in the erection of buildings or the support of the great swarm of prelates.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Of all the abbeys and monasteries in England, Westminster is the most renowned. Gracefully the Gothic arches rise, springing from the massive pillars bending like the interlacing branches of the forest trees. The mellow sunlight streams in through gorgeously painted windows, throwing a flood of golden, purple, and crimson light upon the long drawn aisles, the oaken seats, the elaborately carved work of the choir, where the priests chant the service, robed in white; figures of saints and angels—carved in the enduring stone—entwined with vines and flowers. Beneath the abbey is the crypt, where, in niches, the kings and queens of England are entombed. Along the walls of the abbey are tablets and shrines erected to the memory of men who were mightier than kings—the poets, the men who have reigned in the realm of mind.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Upon the stony pavement of the cloisters the monks of Westminster knelt and said their prayers, for religion in those days consisted mainly in counting beads and saying Pater-nosters—going over the same prayer again and again. It did not much affect the heart. It did not recognize the rights of man. It consisted in fasting, praying, doing penance, and observing all the requirements of the Church.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The kings of England delighted to add to the attractions of Westminster. Quite likely the abbots and priors were ever ready to make suggestions to the kings in regard to the endowments; be that as it may, it is certain that the kings, one after another, made liberal contributions for the support of the abbey, and for the addition of something new and attractive in or about the building. Henry VII. plundered his subjects to obtain money to give to the Church. He decided to build a chapel which should be the most magnificent of any in England. An army of masons were employed to hammer the stone, and the skilful builders to lay them in the walls. But it was the people, and not the king, who paid the bills for quarrying the stone, hammering the blocks, chiseling the beautiful and intricate scroll-work and tracery of vines, leaves, and flowers. Quite likely the idea never occurred to the king that the building, by good rights, belonged to the people, from whom he wrenched the money by taxation and by the tyranny of the Star-chamber; and the monks, the bishops, and prelates of the Church would have lifted their hands in horror had any one suggested such an idea. But the time was approaching when people would begin to entertain the idea that the king's property was in reality their own property; and there was a little boy—Henry's son—then playing around the king's palace at Hampton Court and at Windsor, who would unwittingly help on such an idea. By-and-by we shall see the boy; but for the present we will make the acquaintance of the boy's older brother, Arthur.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


When Arthur is only three years of age, the king looks around to see whom the boy shall marry, and selects the little girl who was playing in the Alhambra on that day when Columbus stood there, making his last earliest plea to Ferdinand and Isabella for aid to enable him to reach the east by sailing west. He is good at driving a bargain, and persuades Ferdinand to give his daughter a handsome dowry. Arthur is three and Katherine five when the betrothal is made.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


On the 2nd of October, 1501, when Katherine is sixteen and Arthur fourteen, Katherine comes to England, and they are married. Ferdinand pays two hundred thousand ducats in gold as a part of her dowry. But in the next April, Arthur suddenly dies. What shall be done now? Henry VII loves money. If Katherine goes back to Spain, he will have to give up the two hundred thousand ducats. There is his younger son, Henry, twelve years old; he will betroth him to Katherine, and so hold on to the money. But the Bible says, in Leviticus, that a man must not marry his brother's widow. The Archbishop of Canterbury says that such a marriage would be wrong; but the Bishop of Winchester says it was a law binding on the Jews, and not on Christians. Henry will see what the head of the Church of Rome says. The Pope is at war with Louis XII, King of France, and would like to have the King of England for an ally, and grants the desired permission. Being the head of the Church, no one can object to his decision; and as he is infallible, the decision is right, no matter what command there may be in Leviticus to the contrary.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The betrothal between Henry and Katherine takes place at the house of the Archbishop of Salisbury, in Fleet Street, June 3rd, 1503. The boy Henry objects to being betrothed—not because Katherine is eight years older than himself, not because she is his sister-in-law, but because he has not been consulted, and because he is under age. Let us not forget it, for we shall see great events come to pass through this objection. Henry does not make the objection because he does not love Katherine, for he does like her, and is willing, notwithstanding his objection, to have the betrothal go on. It is not the boy, but the selfish, money-making, prudent king, who, though he has obtained the Pope's permission for the marriage, thinks it worth while to provide a loop-hole through which he can crawl, if it shall be for his interest so to do by-and-by. Henry will not be of age these six years, and no one knows what may happen in that time. If the boy objects to the betrothal, he can make that an excuse, if need be, for not consummating the marriage when he becomes of age.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The king has a daughter, Margaret, older than Henry, who is married to King James of Scotland. It is a long journey which the young lady has to make on horseback from London to Edinburgh. She does not go alone, however, but is accompanied by a party of high-born ladies and gentlemen.

One night the royal cavalcade stops at a house owned by the Archbishop of York, near the little old town of Scrooby, where the river Idle winds through the meadows, turning and winding as if trying to tie itself in a knot. Myriads of ducks rear their young in the reeds along the river-banks. The archbishop has built a manor-house, in which he can reside, and enjoy himself while hunting, fowling, and fishing. It is an old building, partly of wood, partly of brick, with a great hall, and kitchen with a wide-mouthed fireplace, where the cook gets up grand dinners for the archbishop and his friends. In the old house, Margaret and her maids, the lords and ladies, rest and refresh themselves and spend the night.

The old Scrooby church rears its tower aloft near at hand. Let ns take a good look at the manor-house—at the spacious kitchen, at the dining-hall with its massive table, the stag-horns nailed upon the oaken beams; for we shall come back to the mansion again and again as the, years roll by. We shall see gathered around the hearth-stone some men and women who have done great things for liberty.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Margaret, after a night's entertainment, rides on to become Queen of Scotland, holding her court in Holyrood. We shall see her granddaughter (Mary by name) in that palace, leading a life filled with many vicissitudes, Queen of Scotland, of France, yet meeting with a sad and mournful fate—having her head chopped off by the daughter of this boy who objects to being married to Katherine. It will not be Katherine's daughter, however, who will do the bloody act; but we shall see Katherine's daughter kindling fires all over England, burning heretics, just as Isabella, Katherine's mother, with the aid of Thomas de Torquemada, is roasting them in Spain; all of which are events inseparably connected with the Story of Liberty.

Six years pass. The king, who compelled the merchants of Bristol to promise to give him one fifth of the money they might make, the man who did so much to beautify and adorn Westminster, is dead, and his body, encased in a stone coffin, is laid away beneath the pavement of the abbey; and his son, Henry VIII., is crowned king in the magnificent edifice, seated in the coronation chair. He is eighteen years of age, tall and stout. He has a round face, a fresh countenance. Although he objected to being betrothed to Katherine, he is ready to fulfil his obligations; for Katherine, a true-hearted and loving lady, has been waiting for him through all the years. The marriage ceremony is performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, six years ago, said that such a marriage would be contrary to the Bible, but who now eats his own words, because the Pope has granted permission. In the next chapter we shall make the acquaintance of the man who gave permission for the marriage to take place.

Although Katherine is twenty-six years old, she is a beautiful bride, and does not seem to be much older than Henry as she stands before the archbishop in Westminster, her dark Lair hanging loose and flowing upon her shoulders. She looks lovingly upon the round-faced young mar stands by her side.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Henry has a sister Mary who is only fourteen, and she is in love with her cousin, Charles Brandon; but Henry will not have any such love-match, when the King of France wants her for a wife. The King of France is the same Louis XII. who was divorced from his first wife that he might marry Anne of Bretagne, who is now dead; he is old enough to be Mary's grandfather—weak and feeble, and afflicted with dropsy—and yet the poor girl must give up her true-love and marry him, because Henry wants to make an alliance with France to strengthen his kingdom.

Girls who are born princesses are not often permitted to marry those whom they love. Mary never has seen Louis. She goes on board a ship in the Thames. Henry and Katherine and the noblemen come to bid her farewell. There is a great display of rich dresses and costly jewels. It is a gala-day in London. The shops are closed; the king gives a feast; and everybody is happy, except the young girl who is bidding good-bye to England, good-bye to her lover, to go to France and be the wife of a man just ready to drop into the grave. But she does not bid farewell to her lover, for Charles Brandon goes with her to France, an officer of the court; and, though in love with Mary, he conducts himself discreetly.

Mary does not go alone. It would be cruel to send her away with no one to keep her company. Twelve English maidens accompany her. One is a pretty, sprightly girl, seven years old, Anne Boleyn, who can speak French. Her father is of French descent.

Little does the young king mistrust, as he sees the beautiful girl Anne on the deck of the ship, as to what lies before them both in the unseen future. Little does the light-hearted girl dream of what time will bring to them. If she could but lift the veil that hides the coining years, instead of being so joyful on this gala-day, she would stand pale and wan as a ghost amidst the happy throng. What would she discover? We will wait and see what time will unfold.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The ships sail down the Thames and out upon the sea. The waves are contrary. They dash over the vessels, which dance like cockle-shells before the tempest. Mary and Anne and all the other girls are drenched by the waves. They fear that the ship will go to the bottom, and have a narrow escape from shipwreck. Their trunks are on another ship, which is lost; and though they reach the shore in safety, they have no dry clothes, and are forced to put on such garments as the peasants can lend them. It is a sorry journey for Mary, this going to be the wife of an old man whom she has never seen. What all this had to do with the Story of Liberty we shall see before long.