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CHAPTER III.

ELIZABETH OF YORK.


Small joy have I have being England's queen.

Shakspeare.


Henry the Seventh was a man of strong sense and sound understanding. He was prudent, resolute, and valiant; on the other hand, he was totally devoid of generosity, and was actuated all his life by base and bad passions. At first the ruling feeling of his heart was hatred of the House of York—nor did he wholly give himself up to the avarice that blotted his latter years, till the extinction of that unhappy family satisfied his revenge, so that for want of fuel the flame died away. Most of his relatives and friends had perished in the field or on the scaffold by the hands of the Yorkists—his own existence had been in jeopardy during their exaltation; and the continuance of his reign, and even of his life, depended on their utter overthrow. Henry had a mind commensurate to the execution of his plans: he had a talent for seizing, as if instinctively, on all the bearings of a question before him; and a ready perception of the means by which he might obviate difficulties and multiply facilities, was the most prominent part of his character. He never aimed at too much, and felt instantaneously when he had arrived at the enough. More of cruelty would have roused England against him; less would have given greater hopes to the partizans of his secreted rival. He had that exact portion of callousness of heart which enabled him to extricate himself in the admirable manner he did from all his embarrassments.

It is impossible to say what his exact views were, when he landed in England, an I made head against Richard the Third. His right of succession, even through the House of Lancaster, was ill-founded, and probably he would scarcely have dared to decorate his brows with the royal circlet but for the happy boldness of Stanley, and the enthusiasm felt by his soldiers in the hour of victory, which had bestowed it on him. Once a king, as it was impossible, without risk of life, to sink to a private station, he did not hesitate, but bent every energy of his mind to the contriving the means to seat himself firmly on his newly-acquired throne.

The illegitimacy of Edward the Fourth's children had removed them from the succession. But though no doubt was entertained as to the fact of Edward having married Lady Eleanor Butler, yet Henry had the taint of illegitimacy on his own race; and, moreover, Elizabeth Woodville having so long filled the station of queen of England, the public voice went in her favour, and the majority of the English people looked upon the tale which deprived her children of their rights, as a contrivance of their usurping uncle. What then was to become of them? Edward the Fifth was dead: of this fact there was no doubt. It had been rumoured that the duke of York had not long survived his brother. To ascertain the truth of this report, Henry dispatched one of his most staunch adherents to the Tower. The boy was not there; but a mystery hung over his fate which did not quite assure the new king of his death. Henry feared that he was in the hands of the Yorkists, and this dread gave fresh vigour to his distrust and abhorrence of the partizans of the White Rose. He formed a scheme to defeat their projects; he caused it to be disseminated that both the princes had been found dead—murdered—in the Tower.

The competitors for the crown, whose claims ranked next, were the daughters of Edward the Fourth. Henry immediately saw the necessity of agreeing to the treaty entered into by the countess of Richmond, for his marriage with the eldest of these princesses. He hated to owe his title to the crown to any part of the House of York; he resolved, if possible, to delay and break the marriage; but his own friends were urgent with him to comply, and prudence dictated the measure; he therefore promised to adopt it—thus effectually to silence the murmurs of the party of the White Rose.

But if the young duke of York reappeared meanwhile, it would be necessary not to repeal the Act of Parliament that cast a stigma on his birth. If the children of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward the Fourth were debarred from the crown, the earl of Warwick was the next heir. He was confined, by Richard the Third, at Sheriff Hutton, in Yorkshire. He was the especial object of Henry's fear, and now he commanded him to be brought from his northern prison to the Tower of London, to be kept a close prisoner in that melancholy and ill-fated place. There was one other rival, the earl of Lincoln, named by Richard to succeed him; but his pretensions came so far behind the others, and he enjoyed so high a reputation for sagacity and virtue, that Henry believed it best to let him alone for the present, only surrounding him with spies; and resolved, on the first note of danger, to destroy him.

Fortune smiled on the new sovereign. The disappearance of the two children from the Tower caused the Yorkists to settle their affections on the young Elizabeth. She was at Sheriff Hutton, waiting impatiently for her union with her uncle; now she received commands to proceed to London, as the affianced bride of that uncle's conqueror. Already the common talk ran on the entwining of the two Roses; and all the adherents of her family, who could gain access, recommended their cause to her, and entreated her, in the first days of power, not to forget her father's friends, but to incline the heart of her husband to an impartial love for the long rival houses of Lancaster and York.

Two parties arrived on the same day at Sheriff Hutton, on the different missions of conducting the Lady Elizabeth and the earl of Warwick to London. On the morning of their departure they met in the garden of their abode to take leave of each other. Elizabeth was nineteen years old, Warwick was the exact age of her brother, Edward the Fifth; he was now sixteen.

"We are about to travel the same road with far different expectations," said Warwick. "I go to be a prisoner; you, fair cousin, to ascend a throne."

There was a despondency in the youth's manner that deeply affected this princess. "Dear Edward," she replied, clasping his hand; "we have been fellow-prisoners long, and sympathy has lightened the burthen of our chains. Can I forget our walks in this beauteous park, and the love and confidence we have felt for each other? My dearest boy, when I am queen, Esther will claim a boon from Ahasuerus, and Warwick shall be the chief noble in my train."

She looked at him with a brilliant smile; her heart glowed with sisterly affection. She might well entertain high anticipations of future power; she was in the pride of youth and beauty; the light spirit of expected triumph lighted up her lovely face. She was about to become the bride of a conqueror, yet one whose laurels would droop without her propping; she was to be queen of her native land, the pearly clasp to unite the silken bond with which peace now bound long discordant England. She was unable to communicate this spirit of hope to her desponding friend; he gazed on her beauty with admiration and deep grief, asking, with tearful eyes, "Shall we ever meet again?"

"Yes! in London, in the court of Henry, we shall again be companions—friends."

"I go to the Tower, not to the court," replied Warwick, "and when those gloomy gates close on me, I shall pray that ray head may soon repose on the cold stone that pillows my cousin Edward. I shall sleep uneasily till then."

"Fie, cousin!" said Elizabeth; "such thoughts ill beseem the nearest kinsman of the future queen of England. You will remain but a short time in the Tower; but if you nurse thoughts like these, you will pine there as you did before I shared your prison here, and the roses with which my care has painted your cheeks, will again fade."

"Wan and colourless will my cheek be ere your bright eyes look on it again. Is it not sufficient grief that I part from you, beloved friend!"

A gush at once of sorrow, of affection, of long suppressed love, overpowered the youth. "I shall think of you," he added, "in my prison-house; and while I know that you regret my fate, I cannot be wholly a wretch. Do you not love me? And will you not, as a proof, give me one of these golden hairs, to soothe poor Warwick's misery? One only," he said, taking from braided locks the small gift he demanded, "I will not diminish the rich beauty of your tresses, yet they will not look lovelier, pressed by the jewelled diadem of England, than under the green chaplet I crowned you with a few months past, my Queen of May!"

And thus, the eyes of each glistening with tears, they parted. For a moment Warwick looked as if he wished to press his cousin to his heart; and she, who loved him as a sister, would have yielded to his embrace: but before his arms enfolded her, he started back, bent one knee, pressed her hand to his lips, his eyes, his brow, and bending his head for an instant towards the ground, sprang up, and rushed down the avenue towards the gate at which his guard awaited him. Elizabeth stood motionless, watching him till out of sight. The sun sparkled brightly on a tuft of wild flowers at her feet. The glittering light caught her eye. "It is noon," she thought; "the morning dew is dry; it is Warwick's tears that gem these leaves." She gathered the flowers, and, first kissing them, placed them in her bosom; with slow steps, and a sorrowing heart, she re-entered the castle.

The progress of the Lady Elizabeth from Sheriff Hutton to London was attended by every circumstance that could sustain her hopes. She was received with acclamation and enthusiasm in every town through which she passed. She indeed looked forward with girlish vanity to the prospect of sharing the throne with Henry. She had long been taught the royal lesson, that with princes, the inclinations are not to bear any part in a disposal of the hand. Her imagination fed on the good she would do for others, when raised to the regal dignity; the hope of liberating Warwick, and of fulfilling her mother's wishes in conferring benefits on various partizans of the White Rose, filled her bosom with the purest joy; youth, beauty, and the expectation of happiness, caused the measure of her content to overflow. With a fluttering heart she entered London: small preparation had been made to receive her, and she was immediately conducted to her mother's abode at the Tower Royal, in the parish of Walbrook. The first check her hopes received arose from the clouded brow of the queen, as she embraced her daughter, and welcomed her arrival. Many fears in truth occupied the thoughts of the illustrious widow. She could not forget her sons; and the mystery that hung over the fate of the younger pressed heavily upon her. It was now the eighteenth of October, and the preparations for the coronation of Henry were in great forwardness; Parliament had recognized his title without any allusion to the union with the heiress of the House of York. She had endeavoured to fathom his purposes, and to understand his character. She knew that he entertained a settled hatred for the White Rose, and that his chief pride lay in establishing himself on the throne, independent of the claim he might acquire by his marriage with the Lady Elizabeth. The common people murmured, the Yorkists were discontented,—the neighbour stage before they should break out into open rebellion. Thus dark clouds interposed before the sun of peace, which had been said to have risen on the event of the battle of Bosworth Field.

Henry the Seventh was crowned on the thirtieth of October. The queen looked on this ceremony as the downfall of her hopes. Housed by this fear, she entered into a sea of intrigue, in which, after all, she had no certain aim, except that of re-animating the zeal of the Yorkists, and of exciting such discontent in the public mind, on the postponement of her daughter's marriage, as to force Henry to consent to an immediate union. The gentle Elizabeth had meanwhile submitted patiently to her destiny. She dismissed regality from her thoughts, and devoted herself to her mother; recreating herself in the society of her sisters, and now and then contemplating the faded leaves she had brought from Sheriff Hutton, and lamenting the fate of Warwick. She had learned to fear and almost to hate Henry; and, but for the sake of her suffering party, to rejoice that he had apparently relinquished his intention of marrying her.

The dissatisfaction manifested by the English people forced Henry to comply with the universal wish entertained of seeing the daughter of Edward the Fourth on the throne; yet it was not until the beginning of January that the princess received intimation to prepare for her nuptials. This prospect, which had before elated, now visited her coldly; for, without the hope of influencing her husband, the state of a queen appeared mere bondage. In her heart she wished to reject her uncourteous bridegroom; and once she had ventured to express this desire to her mother, who, filled with affright, laid aside her intrigues, devoting herself to cultivate a more rational disposition in her daughter. Henry paid the doomed girl one visit, and saw little in her except a bashful child; while his keener observation was directed towards the dowager queen. She, with smooth brow and winning smiles, did the honours of reception to her future son-in-law—to her bitter foe. The cold courtesy of Henry chilled her; and a strong desire lurked under her glossy mien, to reproach the usurper with his weak title, to set up her daughter's claim in opposition to his, and to defy him to the field. As soon as Henry departed, her suppressed emotions found vent in tears. Elizabeth was astonished: she knelt before her, caressed her, and asked if all were not well now, since the plighted troth had passed between her and the king.

"Has it passed?" murmured the queen; "and is your hapless fate decided? Why did I not join you at Sheriff Hutton? Why did I not place your hand in that of your noble cousin? Ah, Warwick! could I even now inspire you with my energy, you would be free in arms; and England to a man would rise in the cause of Edward the Sixth, and my sweet Elizabeth!"

The colour in the princess's cheeks varied during the utterance of this speech; first they flushed deep red, but the pale hue of resolution succeeded quickly to the agitation of doubt. "Mother," she said, "I was your child; plastic clay in your hands; had you said these words two hours ago, Warwick might have been liberated—I perhaps happy. But you have given me away; this ring is the symbol of my servitude; I belong to Henry. Say no word, I beseech you, that can interfere with my duty to him. Permit me to retire."

On the eighteenth of January her nuptials were celebrated.

The forbidding manners of Henry threw a chill over the marriage festival. He considered that he had been driven to this step by his enemies; and that the chief among these, influenced by her mother, was Elizabeth herself. The poor girl never raised her eyes from the moment she had encountered at the altar the stern and unkind glance of the king. Her steps were unassured, her voice faltering; the name of wife was to her synonymous with that of slave, while her sense of duty prevented every outward demonstration of the despair that occupied her heart.

Her mother's indignation was deeper, although not less veiled. She could silence, but not quell, the rage that arose in her breast from her disappointment; and there were many present who shared her sentiments. As far as he had been able, Henry had visited the Yorkists with the heaviest penalties. An act of attainder had been passed against the duke of Norfolk, Lord Lovel, the Staffords, and all indeed of note who had appeared against him. Those with whom he could not proceed to extremities, he wholly discountenanced. The Red Rose flourished bright and free—one single white blossom, doomed to untimely blight, being entwined with the gaudier flowers.