THE FRENCH COURT.
Long die thy happy days before thy death;
And, after many lengthened hours of grief,
Die neither mother, wife nor England's queen!
The voyage of the duke of York was easy and auspicious. He repaired to Paris; and all the exiled Yorkists, to the number of one hundred gentlemen, instantly gathered round him, offering him their services, and forming his court, Charles assigned him magnificent apartments in the Tuileries, and appointed a guard of honour, under the command of the lord of Concressault, who, as was the case with every one who approached him, soon became warmly attached to the princely youth. Having just concluded a peace with Britanny by marrying its young duchess, the king of France found himself in so prosperous a state at home, that he began to look abroad for wars, and resolved to invade Naples, to whose crown he had a claim. Meanwhile, the utmost splendour and gaiety reigned in Paris:—balls, tournaments, and hunting-parties, succeeded one to the other; now to celebrate a marriage—now to grace the entrance of some noble gentleman into the order of knighthood. Charles was an amiable prince—his queen a beautiful and spirited lady—the duke of Orleans an accomplished and adventurous cavalier. They all vied in acts of courtesy and kindness towards their royal visitor. There was an innocence in Richard's vivacity, an ingenuousness in his reliance on their protection, that particularly captivated the chivalrous Orleans and the fair Queen Anne. How changed the scene from the wilds of Ireland and the semi-barbarous halls of the Desmond! The courtly and soft grace of the French, different from the dignity of the Spaniard, was irresistible to the inexperienced youth. It seemed to him that his standard was set up here for ever. No change could sully the fair favour of these illustrious friends. All young as he was, to be treated as rightful king of England by this potent government satisfied for the moment his ambition. He and his English friends welcome everywhere, all honoured—himself beloved—were the ascendant star in Paris. O'Maurice of Desmond! O'Barry, and good, honest-hearted O'Water!—though still he acknowledged your kindness, how did your uncivilized hospitalities fade before the golden splendour of King Charles's court!
York might by the sober be blamed for yielding to the current, for setting his swelling canvas with the favouring wind—exulting. It was a boy's blindness; the unsuspiciousness of inexperience; the fault lay in the falsehood; and that was not his.
On the sixth of October Henry the Seventh landed at Calais; on the nineteenth he sat down before Boulogne, with sixteen hundred men-at-arms, and twenty-five thousand infantry. Charles could not much fear the tardy operations of his foe; but the name of an English invasion, so associated with defeat and disaster, was portentous to the French: besides, Charles was eager to prepare for his Italian wars. Thus disposed, peace was easily brought about. One onlypresented itself. Henry insisted that the newly-arrived duke of York should be delivered up to him; Charles rejected the proposition with disdain: the negotiations were suspended, and the French king grew uneasy: it was no pleasant thing to have thirty or forty thousand of those English in the kingdom, who had disputed it inch by inch, at the expense of so much misery and slaughter, with his grandfather. Their king was averse to war; but the body of the army, the nobles, and leaders, ardently desired it: some intrigue, some accident, might light up a train to be quenched only by seas of blood; and all this for a prince, in whom, except that he was gallant and unfortunate, Charles took no concern.
Richard, basking in the noon-day of regal favour, of a sudden felt a cloud spread athwart his sunshine, and a chill take place of the glowing warmth. The complaints of his followers, principally of Lady Brampton, opened his eyes; for the king and princes, on the eve of betraying him, were in manner kinder than ever. First, Queen Anne asked this lady, if it were not the duke's intention to repair to Flanders, to claim the support of the Lady Margaret. It seemed as if nothing was to be spoken of but Brussels, the Low Countries, Maximilian of Austria, and, above all, the virtues and sagacity of the illustrious widow of Charles the Rash. In youth we are slow to understand the covert language of duplicity. Frion was next put in requisition; he arrived in Paris after ten days' absence, with an invitation to her so-named nephew from the duchess of Burgundy; and when, from the disinclination of the French to an act of glaring inhospitality, and of the English so to pain the confiding spirit of their prince, he was still kept darkling, suddenly one night his friend, the sire de Concressault, visited him. He brought many sugared words from his sovereigns; but the end was, that their ever dear friend, and most honoured guest, the duke of York, would render them special pleasure, if, for some short time, he would visit Brussels. The fiery spirit of youth blazed forth at a dismission, still more when Concressault added, that horses were already prepared, and everything arranged for his immediate departure. To qualify this insult, Concressault could best bring his own warm, affectionate feelings. He loved the English prince, and by the frankness of his explanations, soothed him, while he made the wound deeper, by showing whence it was directed, and that Henry Tudor's was the the master-hand.
This name calmed York by elevating his thoughts above the actual evil. "It is well, my lord: I shall obey," he said; "I had forgotten myself; and your monarch's kindness was an opiate to my unripened purpose. I might have lived his happy truest; reigning over the English hearts around me, forgetful, like Dan Ulysse of old in the Lotus land, of my native isle, and rightful kingdom, I thank my enemy he has not permitted this: his insults rouse me; his injuries place the sword in my hand; on him fall the harm."
The French sovereigns did all they could to salve this ill-favoured wound. The duke of Orleans visited York at the moment of his departure; his English partizans were loaded with presents; he quitted France; and, on the day following, the treaty of peace with England was signed.
Pride, indignation, and heroic resolve sustained the duke under this insult; but violent, angry emotion was foreign to his disposition, and only kept alive in his bosom at the expense of much suffering, How gladly he took refuge from these painful sensations in the gratitude and affection inspired by his noble aunt. Margaret had never seen him; the earl of Lincoln, Lady Brampton, Lovel, Plantagenet, and others were vouchers for his truth; still his first unsupported appearance in Ireland, and his long absence in Spain, engendered doubts, not in her mind, but in Maximilian and other nobles and counsellors around her. She replied to their arguments, but they remained unconvinced; at once, therefore, to justify her acknowledgment of him in their eyes, and to force them to the same credence as herself, she caused his first audience to be a solemn one, nor gave him a kinswoman's reception until he had proved his right to it.
He, who has heard some one falsely traduced and vilely calumniated, and, if not quite believing the detraction, yet impelled by it to some distaste of its object, and when that object appeared, radiant in innocence, attended by the dignity of truth and conscious worth, at once has yielded to the evidence of sense, will have some understanding of what passed in the mind of Margaret of Burgundy. None could resist the frank, blue, unclouded eye of the prince; that voice and manner, replete with simplicity and native honour. He replied to the duchess's questions briefly or otherwise, as appeared most pertinent, but in a way that vanquished the most sceptical person present. The warm-hearted duchess had hardly contained herself from the moment she beheld this youthful image of her dead brother. As the tones of a remembered melody awaken from sweet and bitter association unbidden tears, so did his voice, his gestures, the very waving of his glossy curls, strike the mute chords of many a forgotten memory. As soon as she saw belief and satisfaction in the countenances of those around her, she no longer restrained herself; with tears she embraced him; with a broken voice she presented her nephew to all around. Now to heap favours on him was her dear delight: she loved not the name of the duke of York, because, his pretensions admitted, he was something more; but he objected firmly to the empty title of king, and reiterated his determination to assume that only at Westminster. So she invented other names; the prince of England, and the "White Rose of England, were those he went by; she appointed him a guard of thirty halberdiers in addition to that formed by his English followers. Nor did she rest here; it was her ardent wish to place Lim on the throne of his father. The glad welcome she gave to the Yorkists, as, from far exile in distant lands, or obscure hiding in England, they repaired to her nephew's court, her discourse of succour, armies, plots quickly raised a spirit that spread to the near island; and the rumour of this new White Rose became a watch-word of hope for York, of fear for Lancaster.
The riches and magnificence of the now extinguished house of Burgundy, almost equalled that of Paris; their cavaliers were as noble and as gallant; their tournaments and feasts as gay and pompous. The prince felt his situation much changed for the better. His aunt's warm affection was more worth than Charles's politic and courteous protection. There he was an honoured visitor, here one of the family—his interests apparently bound up with theirs. His long-tried friends exulted in his position; Plantagenet and Lady Brampton congratulated each other. The English exiles, Sir George Neville and Sir John Taylor, the one proud and discontented, the other extravagant and poor, blessed the day which gave them dignity and station, as chief attendants and counsellors of the noble York. One friend he missed: his childhood's companion, his gentle nurse, his beloved Monina.
She had accompanied Lady Brampton to Paris, when intelligence came of Trangmar's treachery, of the falsehood of his pretensions; and, at the same time, letters were covertly conveyed to Lady Brampton from the dowager queen, in which mention was made of this man as a trustworthy agent: the Yorkists desired much to fathom this mystery, and to have some explicit elucidation from the imprisoned Elizabeth. As they canvassed the various modes by which this might be accomplished—the disguises that might be assumed—Monina preferred an earnest prayer, that she might be permitted to undertake the task; a thousand circumstances rendered this desirable—she would be entirely unsuspected, and she was fully acquainted with the circumstances of the case. Three days before Richard landed in France from Ireland, Monina crossed to England—she assumed a pilgrim's garb, and without danger or much difficulty, arrived at London from the seacoast.
The sudden apparition of Richard, first in Ireland, and afterwards in Paris, was a stunning blow to Henry. No Trangmar arrived to explain the riddle; and, in spite of his caution and his cruelty, he had been unable to avert the event he dreaded—nothing could he do now better than to scoff at his rival, and to oppose his statements with counter declarations; spreading around his spies to stop at its very outset any symptom of rebellion in England. He caused stricter watch than ever to be set on the unfortunate Elizabeth Woodville, who had been for six years the melancholy inmate of her convent prison. All necessity of caution there was soon to be at an end; her health had long declined—latterly she had wasted to a mere shadow, so that the continuance of life in her attenuated frame appeared a miracle: a feeling of suffocation prevented her from lying down; she sat propped by pillows: her fleshless hands incapable of any office, her cheeks fallen in; her eyes alone—last retreat of the spirit of life—gleamed brightly amid the human ruin. So long had she been thus, that her death, apparently so near, was hardly feared by those around. Henry almost considered her danger as a new artifice, and absolutely refused her last request, to be permitted to see her daughter and grand-children once again. Her last hour approached; and none were near save the nuns of the convent, who almost revered her as a saint.
There arrived at the monastery a pilgrim, with relics collected in Araby and Spain. She was admitted into the parlour; and one simple sister asked for some wonder-working relic that might give health to the dying. The pilgrim heard of Elizabeth's hopeless state: she begged to be admitted to her presence, that she might try the virtues of a precious balsam given her by the monks of Alcala-la-Real in Spain. Elizabeth was informed of her request: when last she had heard of her son, he was at Alcala—all the strength that had prolonged her life now roused itself; with earnestness she desired that the Spanish maiden might be admitted to her presence. It was Henry's express command that none should see her; but she was dying; his power, so soon to be at end, might well slacken in its rigour at the very verge of its annihilation.
The pilgrim knelt beside the queen's couch—the nuns, commanded to retreat, observed a miracle—the dying appeared again to live; the grim spectre, who had planted his banner in the chamber, retreated for a moment, as Elizabeth listened to Monina's whispered words, "Oh, for one hour more," she cried, "I have so much to say. He comes then, my son comes! Oh, rouse England with the tale—Sir William Stanley, you must visit him—bid him not draw his sword against my Edward's son. Say to the dean of St, Paul's—I feel faint," she continued, "my voice fails me—I must leave all unsaid, save this—His sister must not doubt his truth; Henry must not shed the blood of his wife's brother."
"Madam," said Monina, "let me bear some token to my lady the queen."
"A token—no words can these weak fingers trace. Yet stay; in the missal there is a prayer which each day I addressed to heaven to preserve my son. Bear the missal to my Elizabeth, bid her listen to you, and believe."
With trembling hands the young girl took the small, but splendid volume. The queen then dismissed her with a faintly spoken blessing and a prayer. Before night all was over—the cause of her son moved her no more—her sorrowing heart reposed from every strife—she died. The vase replete with so much anguish was broken—the "silver cord," that bound together a whole life of pain, loosened. Her existence had been woe; her death was the dearest blessing she could receive from heaven.