ESTIMATES OF THE ENGLISH KINGS.
THE transition in one generation from one of tile most energetic and successful of our Kings to one of the feeblest and most unfortunate,—from one of the most self- reliant to one of the most dependent, and from a Hero-King to a Crowned Monk, is a fact worthy of some attention in any study of the descent and degeneration of character. Unlike as Henry of Monmouth, and his son, Henry of Windsor, appear to be in their developed characters, and although the dissimi- larity became such as to constitute almost a generic difference, there were some features in the character of both which exhibit a family likeness, and a difference of degree rather than of kind. Henry of Windsor was, indeed, an example of the effect of con- stitutional disease on family characteristics. There can be little doubt that he inherited from his grandfathers on both sides a diseased constitution. Henry IV., as we have seen, was a sufferer from leprosy and epilepsy ; Henry V. is said by some not to have been entirely exempt from the former complaint ; while Charles VI. of France was for a considerable part of his life a decided maniac. It was from these debilitating sources that the constitu- tion of the successor to the hero of Agincourt was derived ; and it was under conditions and modifications imposed by these, that whatever there was in his qualities in common with his father was necessarily developed. There might be irritability and occasional violence with a character thus derived—there could scarcely have been strength or vigour. But, in fact, Henry VI. was not violent at any time, and his mind, when it became affected, tottered on the brink of idiotcy, and not of madness. It was rather a general weakening and stagnation of the bodily and mental frame than a derangement of either. In the fits of illness to which he became subject he lost both sense and memory, and the use of his limbs. When addressed by a deputation of the Peers he neither spoke nor moved, nor showed the smallest sign of intelligence. The deputation, in the zealous discharge of their duty, shook the unfortunate man, but they excited neither voice nor attention. They had him moved from one room to another, they pulled him about, but nothing could rouse him from his absolute lethargy. He could breathe and eat, but that was all. Such was the form which his disease assumed during its greatest though very transient intensity, and this was the general tendency of his constitution. At other times, and in the usual course of his life, he was rational enough in the common-sense of the term, capable of considerable intellectual exertion in certain directions, and of a fair amount of intellectual apprehension. He inherited his father's love of books and learning and the learned, but the two men must have been students in a very different spirit. Henry of Monmouth read and listened on such subjects with the keen and active mind of a statesman and, perhaps, a casuist ; his son read in a passive manner, as a recluse might read, and imbibed knowledge with the spirit of a pedagogue and a pious moralist. The tendency to direct others was really a com- mon element in both father and son, but in the fifth Henry it displayed itself in administrative capacity—in the sixth Henry in moral admonitions and a mild moral supervision. But their practical success was very unequal in the two. The elder Henry, as we have seen, gained at an early ago the confidence of all England, as he did, at a later period, of France, by his judicious government ; for with considerable frankness of manner at least, and, on the whole, a fair average amount of actual sincerity and veracity, joined to a strong sense of duty, he was an experienced man of the world. The younger Henry, as a monk who knew him well tells us, was "a man of pure simplicity of mind, without the least deceit or falsehood ; he did nothing by trick, he always spoke truth, and performed every promise he made ; he never knowingly would do an injury to anyone. A bishop who had been his confessor for ten years, declared that he had heard nothing wrong confessed—only venial faults. He dis- liked the sports and business of the world, he thought them frivolous," and in the simplicity of his heart felt impelled to re- form that world of men and manners around him of the real character of which he knew actually nothing. This was his little enthusiasm,—neither vehement nor ambitious. "He was fond of exhorting his friends and visitors, and especially young men, to avoid vice, to pursue virtue, and to attach themselves to piety. He was fond of sending epistles of advice to many of his clergy, full of moral exhortations, to the astonishment of many." When he saw some "young gentlewomen" dancing in dresses which he considered immodest, he turned away to his room, exclaiming, " Fie ! fie ! for
shame! forsooth ye be to blame." Sometimes his reformatory tastes took a more practical and permanent form. It is well known that he was the founder of the great educational establishments of Eton and King's College, Cambridge, and from the proximity of his palace to the former place, he took much pleasure in looking after the school-boys. When the scholars came to Windsor Castle on a visit to some of his attendants, he was fond of going to them, and giving to them moral exhortations to be steadily virtuous. He usually added a present of money, with this short address, Be good lads, meek and docile, and attend to your religion but he did not like to see them at Court, from his dread of seeing them contaminated by the dissolute example of his cour- tiers,"—with whom, alas! it would appear the King was conscious he had not been very successful in his missionary efforts. "lie was very affectionate to his two maternal brothers," Edmund and Jasper Tudor—the former the father of Henry VII.—" and had them carefully brought up under the most honest and virtuous ecclesiastics." But when the lads came to stay with him in the palace, they must have had a rather constrained and dreary time of it, for Henry, with all the pains that the most over-anxious mother could take, exercised a strict surveillance over them, keeping watch from his own windows, lest anything improper should go on in their apartments.
This didactic spirit—which, however modified in form by the mild and gentle disposition of the King, must have been often fussy and foolish in its practical exercise—received its peculiar direction from the religious feelings of Henry, which gave the prevailing tone to his character. There had been a theological taste, if not a devotional tendency, in the House of Lancaster from John of Gaunt downward. The son of Edward III. had been drawn by it to a patronage of the doctrines and person of Wick- life; Henry of Bolingbroke had been led by it to become the zealous friend and champion of the Roman Catholic clergy ; while in Henry of Monmouth the same tone of mind had culminated in something of the spirit of an old Crusader against the Albigenses. The feebler and gentler type of his son's religious zeal was princi- pally shown in the personal devoutness and mild asceticism of a saint or cloistered recluse. With an implicit faith in the Church, he left to its authorized ministers the uncongenial task of persecution, and was satisfied with being himself a sort of lay monk, and with trying to make all others like him, and the world itself one vast religious house for the performance of acts of piety and devotion. As might be supposed, from such a temperament and such an intel- lectual calibre, the formalities of religion had great weight with him, and possessed great interest for his mind. "lie loved," says our monk-panegyrist, "to read the Scriptures and the old chroni- cles. He was assiduous in prayer. His demeanour at church was peculiarly reverential ; he would not sit indifferently down, or walk about during the service, as was then the fashion ; but with an uncovered head, and bent knees, and his eyes constantly on his book, or with his hands raised to heaven, he performed earnestly his devotions, and meditated deeply within as the Scrip- tures were being read. He would not allow swords or spears to be brought into the church, nor contracts to be made nor con- versations to be carried on there. His Sundays were always con- secrated to devotion, and to corresponding reading. His other days were passed in sonic public business, or in reading the Scrip- tures, or history, to which be was greatly attached." In his practical life also, however, he showed that his religion was no mere formal act. "He was very liberal to the poor ; he never oppressed those subject to him with immoderate exactions, as other great men did ; but he was fond of living among them, as a father among his children. His kindness of feeling was so great, that hearing one day that a person of his household had been robbed, he sent him twenty nobles, with an admonition to take more care of his pro- perty, but with a request not to prosecute the thief. Coming one day from St. Alban's to Cripplegate, he saw a quarter of a man impaled on a stake there for treason. He was greatly shocked, and exclaimed, Take it away I I will not have any Christians so cruelly treated on my account.' Having heard that four gentlemen of noble birth were about to suffer for treason to him, he sent his pardon with an earnest expedition to the place of their punishment." He carried his patience and forgiveness to great lengths in matters that concerned himself. In his imprison- ment we are told that a man struck him a violent blow on his neck with a weapon, meaning to have dashed out his brains or to have beheaded him. The King bore it patiently, and only exclaimed, "Forsooth forsooth you do foully to strike so a king anointed." "Forsooth" and "forsooth," the monk tells us, were his only affir- matives, and be frequently rebuked his lords for their violent oaths. Another person, while he was in the Tower, stabbed him in the side, and then, thinking he had killed him, fled away. This was before Henry's short Restoration. During that period the would- be assassin was taken and brought to the King on his throne, who was then convalescent, and who immediately pardoned him. This last attack, from its being mentioned that Henry (when he thus acted) was only just getting well, seems to have occurred not many months before his actual death, to which it may have contributed. "His dress was plain, nor would he wear the appointed horn- like toes then in fashion. He had a great aversion to the vehe- ment knocking on his doors when a great man came."
A nature so simple and good, so gentle and kindly even in its weakness, so unselfish and so tenderly humane, even if we have it here represented with some friendly exaggeration, points to a man who, one might suppose, could not have made an implacable enemy, and must have commanded love, and moral if not intellectual respect, from all classes. His peculiarities might be tiresome and a little irritating, but proceeding from such a man, could provoke, one would think, no deep feeling of resentment. His kindliness was of a far nobler and more sterling character than that of Henry III., just in proportion as he was morally so much better a man. The influence exerted by such a disposition on those around him and on the kingdom at large must, one would have supposed, have been a tranquillizing and beneficent one. Yet we find his reign one continued succession of violence, anarchy, and misgovern- ment. And this was, to a considerable extent, the result of the one great defect in the character of Henry,—his intellectual weakness, fostered, if not produced, by constitutional disease.
This disease was afterwards so marked that it must have existed even in his early years, though he is not responsible for the mis- rule which prevailed during that period. A child of five months at his father's death, in his sixth year he was transferred from the care of a governess to that of Richard de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, a man better fitted to train up another Henry of Monmouth than such a child as Henry of Windsor must have been. Some writers have conjectured that his stern want of sympathy may have cowed and broken the spirit of the boy, and so brought on the feebleness of his subsequent conduct. This hypothesis is chiefly grounded on the character of the Earl, and on the applica- tion he made for increased powers for correcting the child when he arrived at the age of ten. It seems that young Henry had then already shown the besetting and fatal defect of his character,—a pliability in the hands of those who made great pro- fessions of personal devotion to him. Warwick complains that people have access to him who put into his head notions of self- importance, and make him insubordinate to correction. Of course, no one could expect in a child of such an age a power to discrimi- nate between flattery and true friendship ; but unfortunately the want of all power of discriminating character became more palpably and more fatally evident as Henry grew up ; and by this, and his equally unfortunate tendency to yield in everything to those in whom be had for the moment confidence, his virtues became useless, and often even were turned into instruments of evil and injustice. Then he was in the hands, during his early years, of ambitious men, who allowed him no legitimate means of forming his mind by the observation and consideration of State affairs, and who employed the influence they successively obtained over him to the advancement of their own selfish interests, or the overthrow of their personal rivals. Humphrey of Glou- cester may have been a much better man than the Cardinal Beaufort ; York and the Nevilles may have been far better states- men than Suffolk and Somerset, but the King was the victim of the personal policy of all, and, perhaps necessarily from his natural feebleness of mind, a mere puppet and tool in the hands of all. He had no opportunity given him of strengthening his mind, even if he had been capable of so doing. Had he married a wife of good sense and right feeling, something of the evil might have been remedied ; for a good and clever adviser, with the opportunities and identity of interests of a wife, was all-important to such a man. But Margaret of Anjou, though a woman of ability and force of character, was overbearing and vindictive, narrow-minded, preju- diced, and in her way also a tool in the hands of others. It was not without reason that her father warned her, as he did the King, on this latter point. Fond of directing, herself, she became the tool of favourites who flattered her pretensions, just as the King, with his love of giving advice, was always following the bad advice of unworthy people about his person. The testimony of Dr. Gascoigne, Chancellor of Oxford, who died before the deposi- tion of Henry, is suggestive on this point. "If the King ever becomes angry with any of his servants for detected falsehood, he forgets the fault the next day, and praises and obeys the false counsellor as if he had never done wrong." The same writer tells qui that "many persons told Henry VI. that famous preachers, -doctors, by their preaching against the sins habitual in his privy -council, caused animosities among the people against him. Yet the public injuries, and the annual taxes and tithes, and the Alienation of the goods of the Crown, and the want of justice from the judges of the Church and Kingdom were so manifest and so -numerous, that if these preachers wished to have been silent, the very stones, that is, the popular multitude, would have cried out.' The Church, the especial collect of Henry's own devoted attach- ment, was as corrupt as the State administration. Even touching the point on which Henry was himself so earnest in his wishes, "immoral young men" were promoted in the Church, " whom " i(says the aggrieved Chancellor) "I myself knew to be unable to ,pronounce Latin, and who did not even receive their own revenues, but sent their servants to take and spend them." Thus the earnest, saint-like King, partly through absolute intellectual inability, partly through trusting to others what he ought to have seen to himself, lent himself to every kind of ma!- administration, and became unconsciously associated in his acts with falsehood, cruelty, extortion, irreligion, in fact, with every- thing that was the most abhorrent to his own feelings and prin-ciples; and even in his most lucid periods lent his presence and the sanction of his apparently willing assent to acts of such doubt- rful and contradictory character, as at length to destroy all feeling .of regard and sympathy in a people who had long clung to him against the ambitious schemes of the rival House of York. When the Duke of York first put forward his claims to the Crown, the popular ;feeling was still so kindly towards Henry that the temporary corn- ,promise effected became a necessity for the victorious party ; but -when Henry fell at another period into the hands of his enemies, Le could be paraded through the streets of the metropolis, with -his legs tied ignominiously under his horse, without evoking any -expression of popular sympathy or pity. The farce of a good Xing who lent his name and seeming assent to all evil was at last ,played out, and Henry died in the Tower of London, with the .usual circumstances of mystery attending a death in that terrible 'prison, leaving behind him the curious double reputation of a saint at whose tomb miracles were said to be worked, and whom the son of his brother, Edmund Tudor, tried to induce the Pope to -canonize, and of one of the most worthless Sovereigns that has sat -on the English throne,—whose worthlessness is explained by the .simple fact that he was so much occupied with his religious services, :and with giving moral advice, that he himself forgot to reign, and was never really a King at all.