Old London Bridge, A Romance of the Sixteenth Century
Rodwell, G Herbert
" GOD's blood, man ! what do you fear ? Am I so terrible a monster, that the very sight of me should make you tremble like a love-sick girl as she first confesses her naughty passion, before her frowning priest ? Arise, and speak out boldly what you have to say."
These words were addressed by the giant, Henry the Eighth, King of England, to Master William Hewet, who humbly knelt before his Highness, in the beautiful gardens of Hampton Court. At some little distance behind Master Hewet, was Harry Horton, also kneeling.
At the King's command they both arose, but kept their eyes most modestly fixed upon the earth, as if dreading the refulgent rays that needs must encircle a royal brow, and which might blind them with their dazzling lustre.
"You owe me no thanks," said the King; " take them all to our trusty and well-beloved Cromwell; 'tis he to whom they are justly due, Now, merchant, shew me thy stuffs and wares."
Upon this Horton advanced, for in his charge were all the samples they had brought, and sinking upon one knee he held up the various cases, that Henry might see to what wondrous perfection the looms and handy-works of various nations had been brought.
"For such variety, Master Hewet," said the King, " you must have ransacked half the world hast thou many ships ?"
" Thanks to your Highness for teaching us how to build them, and the royal encouragement ever held out to all who would advance the knowledge of the sea, I have many-and such as would do the King's Highness good service, were a foreign foe to threaten his now thrice happy shores."
"Well spoken, merchant; but we think while bluff King Hal- ha, ha, you blush, do you, for you see I know how the villains of the city profane our royal name-no, no, while bluff King Hal shall reign, we need fear no foreign foe; send thy ships whither thou wilt in peace: to what lands do they mainly sail ?"
Master Hewet was so delighted at the King's affability, and feeling himself addressed upon a subject in which his soul delighted, started off, almost forgetful of the royal presence. " They sail, your Highness, principally to Brazil and Guinea; to Sicily, Candia, and Chio, Cyprus, and Tripoli, and even to Barutti in Syria."
" And carry away all your poor King's gold, I suppose ?"
"Not so, your Highness; we take out woollen cloths and calf skins, and in exchange bring silks and camblets, rhubarb, malmsey, muscadel, and other wines, oils, cotton, wool, rich Turkey carpets, galls, and spices--"
" Tut, tut, tut, man!" exclaimed the King, "we want not the ledger of our Custom-house rehearsed; pay but the duties, and I'll forgive the items." He then again looked over every article, asking innumerable questions; then turning to a page who waited at a distance --made a sign which appeared to be perfectly understood, for the page hurried away towards a gay and noble party, then enjoying the shade of a wide spreading avenue of majestic trees. The whole assemblage was magnificent in the extreme, and seemed to be attending upon one lovely creature, with perfect adulation. This beauty might, with but little stretch of the imagination, have been mistaken for Venus's self, paying a visit to Flora's bower. The instant the page approached, she made a slight, but gracious courtesy to all around, left them, and hastened towards the King.
" Come hither, sweetheart," said Henry as she approached; then taking her hand he placed it within his own arm, and smiling at her, " Now, Jane," said lie, "let me see if thou be a thrifty housewife, or a careless jade, as I have known some to become, when made mistress of their husband's purse, as well as heart. Try thy skill at bating down this unconscionable jew of a merchant, who, did he have his way, would leave our exchequer as bare as the Pope would have done, had I not clipped his nails, or rather, I should say, cut off his hands, and thus made him give up his hold upon our land."
Queen Jane, for it was she, the late Jane Seymour, servant to the Queen just dead, but now herself Queen of England, appeared at once
|to have gained right royal ideas of extravagant magnificence; nothing was too costly, nothing was too splendid; but she had such a meek, and humble way of expressing her desires, that the enraptured King felt himself to be the delinquent, in giving way to such wicked extravagance as they were then pursuing.|
"You are tired, love," said the King, looking anxiously into the blue eyes of his newly-made wife, " we will choose no more to-day; to-morrow, Hewet, we will dismiss you. I hope my people have cared for you while you have been at the court ?" Hewet bowed, as did Horton, who now catching the eye of the King, Henry said-" Stand forth, young Sir; are you my merchant's apprentice, Henry Horton ?" Both Horton and Hewet could not disguise their surprise at such a question coming from the King, who, laughing, added, " You see, friend Hewet, a King has eyes and ears, that extend far beyond the walls of his palace. I know more of you and yours than you dream of; for instance, you have a monstrous pretty wife. Don't be jealous, Jane ! But I must see her, Hewet; I must call and see her-I'm fond of pretty wives !" Hewet and Horton felt that it required no ghost to tell them that; but touching the King's threatened visit to his wife, the merchant thought it was an honour he could very well dispense with.
"Is she musical ?" said the King; " I love music, although I'm but an indifferent musician."
Hewet, who knew human nature well enough,to be quite aware that no one be he King or pedlar, was ever yet offended at being praised, and now, having a legitimate opportunity of offering his humble mite of incense, on the altar of Henry's talents, boldly exclaimed-
"Upon that point, I must venture to tell the King's Highness, that not only I, but all the world, differ from him. The voice of nations has proclaimed those two great works, the masses, composed by your Highness, to be wonderful productions of inspired genius." This assertion of Master Hewet's was not far from the truth; for Henry was not only an excellent performer upon several musical instruments, but the composer of two full masses, besides many other smaller pieces, possessing much merit.
" Hewet, you are a traitor," said the King, evidently pleased with the merchant's well-timed flattery, "you are a traitor, to deny the word of your King; and, God's blood, man! you shall diethe death, unless you can gain favour in this fair lady's eyes to intercede for you: well, well, Jane, let him live. But you have not yet answered my question, my trusty merchant of the bridge. Is your pretty wife fond of music ?" Hewet assured the King that she doated on the sweet science. " Then take good heed, Master Hewet, for see her I will. But whom did she study under ?"
If the King had raised the ponderous battleaxe, or double-handed sword, with which he usually fought at the tournaments, and had let them fall upon poor Hewet's head, he would not have felt more stunned, nor bewildered, than he did upon hearing this simple question.
" Well man, hast thou no tongue " said the King; " is Henry to command twice before he be obeyed ?"
The trembling merchant dropping his eyes upon the earth, said, in a faltering voice, " His name, dread sire, was---Mark Smeaton !"
It was now the King's turn to feel awkward. The Queen was evidently confused; and a dark scowl came over Henry's features as he said-" Indeed ! then as you have a pretty wife, be thankful that I have hanged the worthless dog."
Hewet and Horton remained motionless, nor did they venture to raise their eyes, until they felt that the King and Queen had moved far away.
They now escaped as quickly as possible from the vicinage of the royal party, and walking into the most secluded portion of the grounds, seated themselves upon a bank, and gave way to their uncomfortable reflections: they were silent for at least half an hour, when at last Horton said, almost to himself-" How could the King's Highness have known my name ?" Horton like all human beings, thought of his own affairs first, nor troubled himself much at the awkward plight his master had got into.
"How could the King's Highness," replied the merchant, "have thought of asking me such a question? It seems that pretty wives are always getting their husbands into trouble. I've offended the King, I shall be dismissed with disgrace, be laughed at in the city, and perhaps thrown into a dungeon: was there ever such an unfortunate wretch as I ? What can I do ?-what can I say ?-how shall I act ?"
" Be dumb !" said a voice, close to where they sat; but it was a voice which made them start to their feet, and then fall on their knees-it was that of the King. " Be dumb upon what has happened," he said, advancing, " and fear nothing. You did but obey my commands ; always do that, and I will forgive even a greater offence than the one you have now committed." Then motioning Horton to retire out of hearing, he continued-" If you are to be my city merchant, as Cromwell desires you should be, remember, I do not merely buy your stuffs, but your eyes, your tongue, your ears, nay, your very soul. I require a trusty agent in the city, who is well approved by his neighbours, and I have chosen Master Hewet. The knaves are growing too wealthy, and perhaps I may require you to tell them so; but all such matters will come through Cromwell."
Master Hewet began to understand, that Kings' favours are not always granted for nothing; and he had already a slight misgiving that he should, in one way or the other, have to pay pretty dearly for the honour of being styled the royal merchant; but it was too late to recede; so he kept continually bowing his approval of every design propounded by the King.
This mute, but ready acquiescence to all his wishes, brought Henry once more into boisterous good-humour; and having told the merchant to call " the lad," he surprised them both by saying-" Horton's time of service is nearly expired-is it not ?"
Both master and man here bowed.
"Have you any objection," he said, chuckling at his own intended wit, " to transfer his indentures to one Harry Tudor, a worthy, respectable, hard-working man, in his vocation ? he is a large manufacturer of
|titles, and mends holes in great men's estates, by patching them up with heiresses; he also deals in coronets, and often gets cheated by his customers, who seldom make good their promised payments; he deals in a wholesale way at times, and has vast stores in many ports, as well as in London--know you such a dealer ?"|
Hewet and Horton were too much delighted at finding the King in such good humour not to chime in with his conceit, so put on looks of perfect innocence, as if they found it impossible to guess whom the King could really mean.
" Well then," said Henry, " if you recognise him not by the name of Harry Tudor, I'll warrant ye, ye scurvy city knaves, that you know him well enough if I call him bluff King Hal-he wants an apprentice, and proposes to take Horton off your hands; what say you ?"
The merchant knew not what to say, doubting how much the King meant as a joke, how much for earnest.
Observing Hewet's embarrassment, and perceiving the Queen with her ladies approaching, Henry told them to wait upon Cromwell, who should explain all his wishes. So bowing, and receding backwards as they bowed, they managed to retreat into a friendly avenue, and then turning, pursued their way toward the palace, in high glee at the unexpected happy termination of their second interview with the King.
They had scarcely ended their midday meal, when a page, entering their apartment, delivered the commands of the Queen, that Master Hewet should attend her pleasure in her own chamber; and another message from Thomas Cromwell, that Henry Horton should forthwith repair to his private apartments, and be honoured by an interview with that great favourite of fortune, as he then appeared to be, and learn, through him, the pleasure of the King.
Horton followed the page, and, as he had to remain some time in the anti-room, he could not resist a feeling of disgust, at witnessing the cringing servility of lords and nobles, churchmen, and men high in the law, to all those who assumed the power, for few really possessed it, of opening, or keeping closed to them, the door to the audience chamber of this second most powerful man in the whole realm.
Thomas Cromwell was, as the reader already knows, the son of Walter Cromwell, now a brewer, formerly a blacksmith, at Putney, and had raised himself, by his own talents, to the exalted pitch he had now attained. When a lad, he had run away from home; was afterwards a clerk in an English factory at Antwerp; then entered the army, under Prince Charles, Duke of Bourbon, and, it is said, was at the sacking of Rome, in . After acting as a trooper in the Italian wars, he once more resumed the character of a mercantile man in Venice, then returning to England, took to the study of the law, was appointed solicitor to the great Cardinal Wolsey, after whose fall, he solicited an audience of the King, and proposed such bold steps of defiance towards the Pope, who still refused to sanction the divorce of the King from Catherine, and his union with his then beloved Anne Boleyn, that Henry at once took him into his confidence, made him one of his council, the
|. head of which he very soon became, and next to the King himself, swayed the whole power of the realm.|
Henry, from being one of the richest monarchs in the world, which he was at his accession, had been so prodigal with his wealth, that he now found himself at times very straitened in his means; but here again the boundless resources of Cromwell's mind in discovering expedients once more shone forth. He had been the instrument of severing for ever the power of Rome from this land; he now was busily maturing a scheme which for greatness of conception, and we may add, villany, had perhaps never been equalled, we mean the total suppression of the monasteries and religious houses all over the kingdom. This determination was not yet fully promulgated; the people were not at this early season of the coming Reformation, prepared for such a violelt change from all the old habits of slavish veneration for everything held up as sacred by their pastors.
It was therefore necessary, in the first instance, to undermine the powers these pastors possessed over the minds of their devotees, by proving the vicious lives they led, to lay bare to the world the ingenious machinery by which they worked their miracles, and indeed, to bring into contempt all that had hitherto been most revered.
Fortunately for the success of Cromwell's newly-formed scheme, and unfortunately in an equal degree, for those against whom he was about to wage war, the whole fabric of the church in England, had from ages of corruption, descended to such a depth of degradation, that the difficulty did not lie in finding ample specimens of the rottenness of the system, but, amongst so many weeds of noxious growth, the labour was to discover the virtuous exceptions. Doubtless there were many, and many; but it was impossible to sift the good seeds from the chaff, as when a limb, by mortifying, must suffer amputation, to preserve the rest of the body, a portion of the wholesome flesh invariably dies with it, the exact line of demarcation between the healthy and the diseased portions is impossible to hit.
Had Henry been as rich now as he had found himself upon coming to the throne, this great war against the monasteries had, perhaps, never taken place, at least in his reign; but his necessities made him listen with a greedy ear to any plan which was likely to replenish his exhausted coffers; and what could do this half so effectually as, at once, seizing upon the enormous wealth, in lands, and gold, and jewels, possessed by the overgrown, overbearing, monastic powers ? As an instance of the wealth of Religious houses, it is said that at one time the Templars alone possessed no less than sixteen thousand manors.
To bring about the degradation of the monks, the friars, and general priesthood, Cromwell required agents, who knew no virtue but that ot obedience to his will. It was on this account he had fixed upon Horton as a fitting tool, for he had spies in all directions, to find out who and what men were.
Presently the gentleman in waiting called the name of Master Henry Horton. Horton, who felt that now or never was his chance, arose from the seat on which he had been resting, and from which he had been studying another chapter in the book of human nature; but it was an
|easy chapter, and required as little conning then, as it does at this day. The whole interest of that chapter, might be summed up in one word, SELF! He had learnt it now by heart, so entered the audience- chamber of the great Thomas Cromwell, armed at every point to gain the prize he coveted-advancement.|
The room into which he was ushered was small, and displayed no great magnificence of appointments. Cromwell was seated, writing, he did not condescend to raise his head, nor did he cease from his occupation, but as he wrote, he said-" Your name is Horton, Henry Horton-you knew a man they called the Blear-eyed Bully ?"
Horton, more than once in his life, which was, it must be owned, but yet a short one, had been surprised at what he had heard; but to say that he was now surprised, would be to use a term of unmeaning weakness-he was paralyzed! Could he have commanded the invention of inspiration, to have combined a certain number of words as the most un-- likely salutation that could have met his ear upon the present occasion, it would have been the one now uttered by the King's great favourite. Horton, having hesitated for a moment or two, was about to offer something after the fashion of an excuse for his unfortunate knowledge of such a character; but he was interrupted by Cromwell, saying--" I require no answer; I merely put the question to show Henry Horton that I know him. Possessing, as he now is aware I do, his real character, he has merely to say-will he serve the King's Highness, or will he not?"
Horton, upon whom the few words uttered by Cromwell had all the effect intended, felt that to beat about the bush with such a man was to lose the game altogether, answered boldly-" With heart, and body, and soul!" and then stood, silently awaiting his new patron's pleasure to speak.
Cromwell now, for the first time, raised his eyes towards the youth, and, by the expression of his own countenance, read something in that of the other, which pleased him much. Be seated," said Cromwell; then looking him full in the face, he continued--" You know something of ecclesiastical life, though a mere elothworker's apprentice-do you not ?"
" I do," was Horton's answer; " and more than I should say was holy."
" Who taught you ? the saintly father Brassinjaw, of St. Thomas's chapel, on the Bridge-ay ?"
"He has taught me somewhat of priestly rogueries; but my own observation has taught me more."
"Then you think, young as you are, you could detect a flaw, if there were one, in the lives of either abbot, or monk, or even in that of a pretty nun ?"
" In the last I'm sure I could," he said, smiling.
"You see, young sir, that the whole world has become so wicked, that now there is even an outcry against those to whom we have hitherto always looked for examples of virtue and of piety. Now, to save the King's realms from utter ruin, and the wrath of Heaven, it has become incumbent upon us, who are the humble instruments by which either
|. the weal or woe of this great kingdom is to be brought about, to institute such rigorous investigations, that the guilty shall not escape, nor shall the innocent be made to suffer for others' crimes. A commission is about to be issued, to examine into the lives and habits of every member of the religious houses that now are covering and devouring the land. It is upon that commission you will be employed; your duty is to find out vices; from what I have heard, I imagine you know the meaning of the word, so that there needs no further explanation. You will receive an order upon the King's treasurer for your proper appointments; be vigilant, and remember that it is vice, and only vice, that you are to ferret out wherever you are commanded to appear. Take this dispatch to my house in Throgmorton Street, and there await further instructions. I will make all arrangements with your former master. You are now in the service of Thomas Cromwell."|
Horton took the dispatch, and bowing profoundly, left the presence chamber.
A groom was already in waiting to conduct him to the various offices he had to pass through; and, without having seen master Hewet, he soon found himself mounted on one of the King's horses, hurrying towards London.
Had the whole bagfull of Fortune's chances been sorted out, and had Horton been allowed to choose his own, he could not have fixed upon one more after his inmost heart than the appointment he had thus unexpectedly received. He was quite old enough in iniquity to comprehend the full extent to which he was expected to go, when the commission should once be set in motion. He was to find out errors in the priesthood, and if he could not find them, he was to make them; that he clearly saw, and fully adequate he felt himself to be to carry out the grand intentions of his employers. When he arrived in London, which he did in an incredibly short space of time, for his impatience would not allow him to loiter upon the road, the first person he went to was his late master's tailor, for he thought that would be as likely a way as any to spread the report of his advancement; and, besides, he felt that the blue and white livery of the apprentice was but ill-becoming to one of the King's Highness's commissioners, which he knew he was soon to be. He stopped at a small tailor's shop near Aldgate. Within, upon a workboard, were seated an old man and a lanky, mild-faced boy. The old man had spectacles upon his nose, and was, at the moment Horton stopped, admonishing his son for neglect of duty, by being ever employed in reading, when he should be working. " But I'm not, father," said the boy, " indeed I'm not; I do more work in the day, than any journeyman I know."
" But that only proves," said the old man, " how much more you might do, but for those stupid books. I'm of the same opinion with that good creature, Father Brassinjaw, who says he has little doubt of printing having been the invention of the devil, in order to injure the Pope, and all his loving subjects."
" Talking of the Pope," said the boy, " puts me in mind of the Pope's head on Cornhill. I can't discover anywhere what that house could have been; it must have pertained in olden time, to some great estate,
|or rather to the King of this realm, as may be inferred both from the largeness thereof, and by the arms, to wit, three leopards passant, gardent, which were the whole arms of England, before the reign of Edward the III. that quartered them with the arms of France, three fleur-de-lis-- "|
" Boy, boy, you drive me mad," exclaimed the old tailor; "one can never mention a single word, but it calls forth your nonsense about Some old place in London. There, you've got a book under your legs now."
"I know I have, father; for when I am winding thread, or doing anything that does not require my eyes, I always read between my legs, and I'm sure that can do no harm to any one."
And who was this boy ? It was one who was laying the foundation of an unostentatious immortality; it was the kind-hearted, simple- -minded, industrious John Stow-the beloved of all the later historians of our land, the indefatigable searcher after truth, the " Old," the "Venerable Stow." So accustomed are we to hear one of those epithets pronounced in conjunction with the name of Stow, that it seems to us of the present day next to impossible, that " Old Stow" could ever have been " young Stow;" but after what we have said, we do expect that even antiquarians, and they are not people to be easily drawn from an opinion, will believe, with us, that he was once actually a boy !
"Come here," said Horton, in an authoritative tone, "and hold my horse; do you hear ?"
Young Stow looked up, as did the old man from over his spectacles and both evinced great astonishment at seeing the apprentice, Harry Horton, alighting from a superb horse. Young Stow ran out to hold the bridle, and Horton entered the tailor's dwelling.
" Why, master Harry," said the old man, "what want ye, lad? Doth thy slops still cut thee at the knee ? or does your master require my attendance ?"
"What master ?" enquired Horton, as a sort of leading question, to enable him to touch upon the change in his condition.
"Why, marry, good Master Hewet; what other master wouldst thou have ?"
" Hewet, bah! he may do full well to commune with, for dyers, or weavers, or botchers like thyself, but not for us of the King's service."
"Art thou mad, boy ?" said the tailor, laughing heartily; " what means the lad ?"
" It means, that if you would hold my custom, you must hold a more beseeming tongue; and that you may do so, know that the favourite Cromwell is now my patron. Out with thy measures, and thy pattern book, for I have no time to waste with prick-louse knaves."
" Then hie thee to thy patron's tailor, puffed up frog !" said the man of thread and patches, with wounded pride, for prick-louse knave was the most degrading epithet that could be then applied to any one of his calling; " I want none of your custom; fools are ever fortune's favourites, so thou'lt be rich, depend on't; thou'lt be rich, depend on't! And if that rogue, Cromwell, be thy patron, tell him from me, he'll have none of
|. my garden, either for love or money." Saying which, the old tailor, boiling with rage, returned to his shop-board, and set to work with a vigour, that made him break his thread at every other stitch.|
Horton, with enormous dignity, mounted his horse, and pursued his way towards his patron's dwelling, as young John Stow turned his mind in the same direction, and immediately began to study the History of Throgmorton-street.
The injustice which arose from this interview between Horton and the elder Stow-for we cannot bring our pen to commit the sacrilege of calling any but one, " Old Stow," the " Venerable Stow" afterwards recorded in his Survey of London, and of which, we may by and by, have occasion to speak.