What really happens is this: Lancelot takes counsel with Sir Bors and his other friends, as to how he may save the queen, and it is decided that if on the morrow she is brought to the fire to be burned, Lancelot and all his kinsmen shall rescue her.
Accordingly, Arthur's nephews, Gawayn, Gahers, and Gareth, lead Guinevere forth "without Caerleyell, and there she was despoiled unto her smock, and so then her ghostly father was brought to her to be shriven of her misdeeds." But Lancelot's messenger gives the alarm duly, and Lancelot appears with all his friends. There is much fighting and bloodshed, and Sir Gahers and Sir Gareth are slain.
"Then Sir Lancelot rode straight unto the queen, and made a kirtle and a gown to be cast upon her, and then he made her to be set behind him, and rode with her unto his castle of joyous Garde, and there he kept her as a noble knight should, and many lords and kings send Sir Lancelot many good knights. When it was known openly that King Arthur and Sir Lancelot were at debate, many knights were glad of their debate, and many knights were sorry. But King Arthur sorrowed for pure sorrow, and said, Alas, that ever I bare any crown upon my head."
Gawayn, mourning the death of his brothers, incites the king to besiege Lancelot in Joyous Garde, and at length, reluctantly, Arthur consents to make war.
"Of this war was noise throughout all Christendom. And at last it was noised before the Pope, and he, considering the great goodness of King Arthur and Sir Lancelot, which was called the most noble knight of the world, wherefore the Pope called unto him a noble clerk that at that time there was present the French book saith it was the Bishop of Rochester. And the Pope gave him Bulls under lead, unto King Arthur of England, charging him upon pain of interdiction of all England, that he take his queen, Dame Guinevere, to him again, and accord with Sir Lancelot."
Arthur would have made peace at once, but at first Gawayn prevented him. Then the bishop went to Lancelot and charged him to bring back the queen:—
"And the bishop had of the king his great seal and assurance, as he was a true anointed king, that Sir Lancelot should go safe and come safe, and that the queen should not be reproved of the king nor of none other, for nothing done before time past."
To Lancelot the bishop ended his exhortation in these words:—
"Wit ye well, the Pope must be obeyed."
And Lancelot answered that it was never in his thoughts to withhold the queen from his lord, King Arthur, "but in so much as she should have been dead for my sake, me seemeth it was my part to save her life, and put her from that danger till better recover might come. And now I thank God that the Pope hath made her peace, for God knoweth I would be a thousandfold more gladder to bring her again than I was of her taking away."
So he brought Guinevere to the king, and when they had both knelt before him, he said:—
"My most redoubted lord ye shall understand that, by the Pope's commandment and by yours, I have brought unto you my lady the queen, as right requireth." Then King Arthur and all the other kings kneeled down and gave thankings and louings (praises) to God and to his Blessed Mother.
But Gawayn would not be reconciled to Lancelot, who in vain offered to do penance for the death of Gahers and Gareth. In vain he said:—
"This much shall I offer you if it may please the king's good grace, and you my lord Sir Gawayn. And first I shall begin at Sandwich, and there I shall go in my shirt and barefoot, and at every ten miles' end I will found and cause to make a house of religion, of what order ye will assign me, with a whole convent, to sing and to read day and night, in especial for Sir Gareth's sake and Sir Gahers; and this shall I perform from Sandwich unto Caerleyell. And this, Sir Gawayn, me thinketh, were more fairer and better unto their souls than that my most noble lord Arthur and you should war on me, for thereby ye shall get none avail."
But Gawayn answered him with hard words ending thus:—
"And if it were not for the Pope's commandment I should do battle with my body against thy body, and prove it unto thee that thou hast been false unto mine uncle, King Arthur, and to me both, and that shall I prove upon thy body, when thou art departed from hence, wheresoever I find thee. Then all the knights and ladies that were there wept as they had been mad, and the tears fell upon King Arthur's cheeks. Then Sir Lancelot kissed the queen before them all, took his leave, and departed with all the knights of his kin."
He went to his estates over the sea; but Gawayn gave Arthur no rest till he had made ready an army and crossed the sea to make war on him. Modred, in Arthur's absence, seized the kingdom, and would have wedded the queen by force, had not the Archbishop of Canterbury threatened to curse him with bell, book, and candle. When Modred defied him, the archbishop departed, and "did the curse in the most orgulous wise that might be done."
But Arthur, receiving tidings of Modred's conduct, returned to Dover, where the usurper met him, and "there was much slaughter of gentle knights." Here Sir Gawayn was mortally wounded, and Arthur " made great sorrow and moan." Two hours before his death, Gawayn wrote a letter to Lancelot, telling him of Modred's crime and beseeching him, "the most noblest knight," to come back to the realm:—
"And so at the hour of None, Sir Gawayn betook himself into the hands of our Lord God, after that he had received his Saviour. And then the king let bury him within a chapel within the castle of Dover, and there, yet to this day, all men may see the skull of Sir Gawayn, and the same wound is seen that Sir Lancelot gave him in battle."
In the "Passing of Arthur" Tennyson has kept mainly to the original, though he omits Arthur's command to Sir Bedevere to pray for his soul.
The king, overcome by his enemies, receives his deadly wound, and sails away in the barge, with the three queens, to the island valley of Avilion. But, according to Malory, Sir Bedevere finds him on the morrow, lying dead in a little chapel on a rock:—
"And when Queen Guinevere understood that her lord King Arthur was slain, and all the noble knights, Sir Modred and all the remnant, she stole away, and five ladies with her, and so she went to Almesbury, and there she let make herself a nun, and wore white clothes and black, and great penance she took as ever did sinful lady in this land, and never creature could make her merry, but lived in fastings, prayers, and alms-deeds, that all manner of people marvelled how virtuously she was changed. Now leave we Queen Guinevere in Almesbury, a nun in white clothes and black, and there she was abbess and ruler as reason would, and turn me from her and speak me of Sir Lancelot du Lake."
Meanwhile, Sir Lancelot had returned to England to avenge King Arthur's death:—
"Then the people told him how that he was slain, and Sir Modred and a hundred thousand died on a day, and how Sir Modred gave King Arthur there the first battle at his landing, and there was good Sir Gawayn slain, and on the morn Sir Modred fought with the king upon Barham Down, and there the king put Sir Modred to the worse. Alas, said Sir Lancelot, this is the heaviest tidings that ever came to me. Now fair Sirs, said Sir Lancelot, shew me the tomb of Sir Gawayn. And then certain people of the town brought him into the castle of Dover and showed him the tomb. Then Sir Lancelot kneeled down and wept and prayed heartily for his soul. And that night he made a dole, and all they that would come had as much flesh, fish, wine, and ale as they would, and every man and woman had twelve pence come who would. Thus with his own hand dealt he his money in a mourning gown; and ever he wept, and prayed them to pray for the soul of Sir Gawayn. And on the morn all the priests and clerks that might be gotten in the country were there and sung Mass of Requiem. And there offered first Sir Lancelot, and he offered an hundred pound, and then the seven kings offered forty pound apiece, and also there was a thousand knights, and each of them offered a pound, and the offering dured from morn till night. And Sir Lancelot lay two nights on his tomb in prayers and in weeping. Then on the third day Sir Lancelot called the kings, dukes, earls, barons, and knights, and said thus:—
My fair lords, I thank you all of your coming into this country with me: but we come too late, and that shall repent me while I live, but against death may no man rebel. But sithen it is so, said Sir Lancelot, I will myself ride and seek my lady Queen Guinevere, for as I hear say she hath great pain and much disease, and I heard say that she is fled into the west country, therefore ye all abide me here, and but if I come not again within fifteen days, then take your ships and your fellowship, and depart into your country.
"Then came Sir Bors de Ganis, and said, My lord Sir Lancelot, what think ye for to do, now to ride in this realm? wit thou well ye shall find few friends. Be as it may, said Sir Lancelot, keep you still here, for I will forth on my journey, and no man nor child shall go with me. So it was no boot to strive, but he departed and rode westerly and sought seven or eight days, and at the last he came to a nunnery. And then was Queen Guinevere ware of Sir Lancelot as he walked in the cloister. And when she saw him there she swooned thrice, that all the ladies and gentlewomen had work enough to hold the Queen up. So when she might speak she called the ladies and gentlewomen to her and said, Ye marvel, fair ladies, why I make this cheer. Truly, she said, it is for the sight of yonder knight which yonder standeth, wherefore I pray you all call him to me. And when Sir Lancelot was brought unto her she said, through this knight and me all these wars been wrought, and the death of the most noblest knights of the world. For through our love that we have loved together is my most noble lord slain. Therefore, wit ye well, Sir Lancelot, I am set in such a plight to get my soul health; and yet I trust through God's grace after my death to have a sight of the blessed face of Christ, and at the dreadful day of doom to sit on His right side, for as sinful creatures as ever was I are saints in heaven. Therefore, Sir Lancelot, I require and beseech thee heartily, for all the love that ever was betwixt us, that thou never see me more in the visage. And furthermore I command thee on God's behalf right straightly that thou forsake my company, and to thy kingdom thou turn again, and keep well thy realm from war and wrack. For as well as I have loved thee, mine heart will not serve me to see thee; for both through me and thee is the flower of kings and knights destroyed. Therefore, Sir Lancelot, go to thy realm, and there take thee a wife, and live with her in joy and bliss, and I pray thee heartily pray for me to our Lord, that I may amend my mis-living.
"Now, sweet madam, said Sir Lancelot, would ye that I should return again unto my country, and there to wed a lady? Nay, madam, wit you well, that shall I never do: for I shall never be so false to you of that I have promised, but the same destiny that ye have taken you unto, I will take me unto, for to please God and specially to pray for you.
"If thou wilt do so, said the Queen, hold thy promise. But I may not believe but that thou wilt turn to the world again.
"Ye say well, said he, yet wish ye me never false of my promise, and God defend but that I should forsake the world like as ye have done. For in the quest of the Sancgreall I had forsaken the vanities of the world had not your lord been. And if I had done so at that time, with my heart, will, and thought, I had passed all the knights that were in the Sancgreall, except Sir Galahad, my son. And therefore, lady, sithen ye have taken you to perfection, I must needs take me unto perfection of right. For I take record of God, in you have I had mine earthly joy, and if I had found you so disposed, I had cast me for to have had you into mine own realm. But sithen I find you thus disposed, I ensure you faithfully that I will take me to penance, and pray while my life lasteth, if that I may find any hermit, either grey or white, that will receive me. Wherefore, madam, I pray you kiss me once and never more.
"Nay, said the Queen, that shall I never do, but abstain you from such works. And they departed. But there was never so hard a hearted man but he would have wept to see the dolour that they made. For there was lamentation as though they had been stung with spears, and many times they swooned. And the ladies bare the Queen to her chamber. And Sir Lancelot awoke, and went, and took his horse, and rode all that day and all that night in a forest, weeping. And at the last he was ware of an hermitage, and a chapel stood betwixt two cliffs; and then he heard a little bell ring to Mass, and thither he rode and alighted, and tied his horse to the gate, and heard Mass. So he that sang the Mass was the Bishop of Canterbury. There was also Sir Bedevere, and both the bishop and Sir Bedevere knew Sir Lancelot, and they spoke together after Mass. But when Sir Bedevere had told his tale all whole, Sir Lancelot's heart almost braste for sorrow, and Sir Lancelot threw his arms abroad and said, Alas, who may trust this world! And then he kneeled down on his knees, and prayed the bishop to shrive him and assoil him. And then he besought the bishop that he might be his brother. Then the bishop said, I will gladly, and there he put an habit upon Sir Lancelot, and there he served God day and night with prayers and fastings."
Bedevere followed Lancelot's example, and within half a year seven other knights joined themselves to these two and endured in great penance six year, and then Sir Lancelot took the habit of priesthood, and in twelve months he sang Mass. And there was none of these other knights but they read in books and holp to sing Mass, and rang bells, and did lowly all manner of service. And so their horses went where they would for they took no regard of no worldly riches. For when they saw Sir Lancelot endure such penance, in prayers and fasting, they took no force what pain they endured, for to see the noblest knight of the world take such abstinence that he waxed full lean. And thus upon a night there came a vision to Sir Lancelot, and charged him in remission of his sins, to haste him unto Almesbury—and by then thou come there, thou shalt find Queen Guinevere dead, and therefore take thy fellows with thee, and purvey thee of an horse-bier, and fetch thou the corpse of her, and bury her by her husband, the noble King Arthur. So this vision came to Lancelot thrice in one night.
"Then Sir Lancelot rose upon day and told the hermit. It were well done, said the hermit, that ye make you ready, and that ye disobey not the vision. Then Sir Lancelot took his seven fellows with him, and on foot they went from Glastonbury to Almesbury, the which is little more than thirty miles. And thither they came within two days, for they were weak and feeble to go.
"And when Sir Lancelot was come to Almesbury, within the nunnery, Queen Guinevere died but half an hour before. And the ladies told Sir Lancelot that Queen Guinevere told them all ere she passed, that Sir Lancelot had been priest near a twelvemonth. And hither he cometh as fast as he may to fetch my corpse, and beside my lord King Arthur he shall bury me. Wherefore the Queen said, in hearing of them all, I beseech Almighty God that I may never have power to see Sir Lancelot with my worldly eyes. And this, said all the ladies was ever her prayer these two days till she was dead. Then Sir Lancelot saw her visage, but he wept not greatly, but sighed. And so he did all the observance of the service himself, both the Dirige, and on the morn he sang Mass. And there was ordained an horse-bier, and so with an hundred torches ever burning about the corpse of the Queen, and ever Sir Lancelot with his eight fellows went about the horse-bier singing and reading many an holy orison, and frankincense upon the corpse incensed. Thus Sir Lancelot and his eight fellows went on foot from Almesbury unto Glastonbury, and when they were come to the chapel and the hermitage, there she had a Dirige with great devotion. And on the morn the hermit that was sometime Bishop of Canterbury, sang the Mass of Requiem with great devotion; and Sir Lancelot was the first that offered, and then all his eight fellows. And then she was wrapped in cered cloth of Raines, from the top to the toe in thirty-fold, and after she was put in a web of lead, and then in a coffin of marble. And when she was put in the earth, Sir Lancelot swooned, and lay long still, while the hermit came out, and awaked him and said, Ye be to blame, for ye displease God with such manner of sorrow-making. Truly, said Sir Lancelot, I trust I do not displease God, for He knoweth mine intent, for my sorrow was not, nor is not, for any rejoicing of sin, but my sorrow may never end. For when I remember of her beauty and of her noblesse that was both with her king and with her, so when I saw his corpse and her corpse so lie together, truly mine heart would not serve to sustain my careful body. Also when I remember me, how by my default, mine orgule, my pride, that they were both laid full low that were peerless that ever was living of Christian people, wit you well, said Sir Lancelot, this remembered of their kindness and mine unkindness, sank so to my heart that I might not sustain myself."
Not long after the death of Guinevere, Lancelot "began to wax sick, and for evermore, day and night he prayed; but needfully, as nature required, sometimes he slumbered a broken sleep. And within six weeks he lay in his bed and called the bishop and said, Sir Bishop, I pray you that ye will give me all my rights that belongeth unto a Christian man." Then Malory goes on to say that "when he was houseled and eneled, and had all that a Christian man ought to have, he prayed the bishop that his fellows might bear his body unto joyous Garde."
That night the bishop dreamed he saw Sir Lancelot with two angels, "and he saw the angels heave up Sir Lancelot towards heaven, and the gates of heaven opened against him. And then they went to Sir Lancelot's bed, and there they found him dead, and he lay as he had smiled; and the sweetest savour about him that ever they felt."
III. FOXE'S BOOK OF ERRORS
To take the Acts and Monuments, and as far as it might be possible after upwards of three hundred years, test the accuracy of each circumstance which Foxe proposes for the edification of his readers, would necessitate a work as voluminous as his own immense undertaking. To sift the chaff from the wheat, and to bind up the latter into one acceptable whole would perhaps result in a book not larger than one of his own eight thick octavo and closely printed volumes. All that can be done here is to indicate some of the most flagrant instances of the unfair and uncritical spirit in which he has written, of the carelessness, wilful misrepresentation, and neglect to rectify errors pointed out to him, by which the martyrologist has exposed his book to everlasting reproach. On the death of Foxe's last descendant the greater part of his MSS. were either given to the annalist, Strype, or were allowed to remain in his hands till his death in 1737, when many of them were purchased by Lord Oxford for the Harleian collection now in the British Museum. A few of them found a refuge in the Lansdowne Library, and these also are now in the possession of the nation. They include a mass of heterogeneous documents of the most unequal value and interest—such as the stories, often palpably coloured, of persons who profess to have been eye-witnesses of the scenes depicted, minutes of the examinations of prisoners, apparently taken down on the spot, wild statements written with the obvious purpose of pandering to Puritan intolerance and prejudice, and fantastic tales of the martyrologist's supposed judgments of God upon those who persecuted the followers of the reformed doctrines. They include also several counter-statements sent to Foxe for the express purpose of giving him an opportunity to correct portions of his work, but of which, although he preserved them, he never made any use. Some of these latter have been utilised by Gough in his Narratives of the Days of the Reformation.
In his preface to this book, Gough admits,* as indeed he was obliged to admit that, "as a general history of the Church in its earlier ages, Foxes work has been shown to be partial and prejudiced in spirit, imperfect and inaccurate in execution," and Leach** asserts that, while its compiler had recourse to some early documents, even here he depended largely on printed works, such as Crespin's Actiones et Monuments Martyrum, which was published at Geneva in 1560. He notes, moreover, that Foxes chapter on the Waldenses is nothing but a translation of the untrustworthy Catalogus Testium Veritatis, published at Basle by Illyricus in 1556, although Foxe himself does not acknowledge Illyricus as his authority, but claims to have consulted "parchment documents," which he only knew from the transcriptions in that book. "It has been conclusively shown," says Mr. Sidney Lee in the Dictionary of National Biography, "that his chapter on the Waldenses is directly translated from the Catalogus of Illyricus, although Illyricus is not mentioned by Foxe among the authorities whom he acknowledges to have consulted . . . . This indicates a loose notion of literary morality which justifies some of the harshest judgments passed on Foxe."
* P. 23, edited by the Camden Society.
** Sir George Croke's Reports, edited by Thomas Leach, ii. 91. London, 1790-92.
Matthias Flach-Franconitz, better known as Flacius Illyricus, from the place of his birth (in Istria, a part of Illyria) was a voluminous writer on most of the controverted doctrines in the sixteenth century. Having become a disciple of Luther he was for ever raising fresh disputes on religious subjects, and was noted for the violence and exaggeration he brought into their discussion, so that, according to a German historian, "he seemed to have been created for an ecclesiastical Procurator General." On his death in 1575, Jacques Andreas, one of his friends, admitted that, taken altogether, his Illyricus was the devil's Illyricus, and that, in the opinion of Andreas, he was then "supping with devils."*
* Hoefer, Nouvelle Biogaphie Generale, Art, Flach-Franconitz Matthias.
Such then being Foxe's authority, although unacknowledged, for his Waldensian chapter, we can scarcely expect him to be more conscientious in his evidence concerning matters closely connected with the passions, prejudices, and burning questions of his own day.
Nearly, if not quite all the material for that part of the Acts and Monuments which deals with the reign of Mary was collected by others for Foxe and Grindal during their absence from England. Grindal handed over to Foxe the accounts of the various prosecutions for heresy sent to him by his correspondents at home, taking care, however, at the same time to warn the martyrologist against placing too much confidence in them, he himself suspending his judgment "till more satisfactory evidence came from good hands." He advised him for the present, only to print separately the acts of particular persons of whom they had authentic accounts and to wait for a larger and more complete history until they had trustworthy information concerning the "martyrs."* The letters, which Grindal wrote to Foxe on this subject in 1557, were published by the Parker Society, in Grindal's Remains, and show that the future archbishop believed not too implicitly in the truth of all the stories which he passed on to his friend. He constantly urged him to delay writing in order to gain "more certain intelligence." But the careful investigation which he recommended did not fall in with the particular genius and uncritical methods of Foxe, who, perhaps on account of his necessitous condition, worked away with a will on the unsifted tales and reports as they came to hand, so that the book in its Latin form was completed, almost to the end of the reign of Mary, and was published at Basle, before his return to England in 1559. He afterwards made an English translation of the work, but without seeing fit to revise his material. It bore the title Acts and Monuments, but it was at once popularly styled the Book of Martyrs. When he was attacked by Alan Cope (Nicholas Harpsfield) for his inaccuracy, Foxe replied: "I hear what you will say: I should have taken more leisure and done it better. I grant and confess my fault, such is my vice, I cannot sit all the day (Moister Cope) fining and mincing my letters, and combing my head, and smoothing myself all the day at the glass of Cicero. Yet, notwithstanding, doing what I can, and doing my good will, methinks I should not be reprehended, at least not so much be railed of at M. Copes hand."**
* Strype, Life of Archbishop Grindal, p. 25.
** Acts and Monuments, i. 69 1. Edited 1570.
But it is not for his want of scholarly writing that Foxe has been blamed. Father Robert Persons, in his Three Conversions of England,* begins one of his chapters with "a note of more than a hundred and twenty lies uttered by John Foxe, in less than three leaves of his Acts and Monuments," and he proceeds to point them out, beginning with the misstatement concerning John Merbeck and some others, whom Foxe counts among the martyrs, although they were never burned at all. As, in consequence of Father Persons' remarks concerning John Merbeck, Foxe acknowledged the error in his second edition, we may hold him excused thus far, but his delinquencies in this respect were by no means unfrequent, and gave rise to the saying that "many who were burnt in the reign of Queen Mary, drank sack in the reign of Queen Elizabeth."**
* Quoted in Fuller's Worthies, under "Berkshire," p. 92.
*Part iii., p. 412."
Two similar misstatements, which he was in a position to correct and did not, relate to the supposed death by the vengeance of God, of Henry Morgan, Bishop of St. David's, and of one Grimwood, another "notorious Papist."
Anthony a Wood, the famous antiquary and historian, who wrote his History of the Antiquities of Oxford about a hundred years after Foxe had become celebrated as a martyrologist, and who in his youth spoke with people who remembered the days of persecution under Mary, tells us that:—
"Henry Morgan was esteemed a most admirable civilian and canonist; he was for several years the constant Moderator of all those that performed exercise for their degrees in the civil law in the scholar schools, hall and church pertaining to that faculty, situated also in the same parish . . . . He was elected Bishop of St. David's, upon the deprivation of Robert Ferrar . . . . In that see he sate till after Queen Elizabeth came to the Crown, and then being deprived . . . retired among his friends, and died a devoted son to the Church of Rome, on the 23rd of December following (1559) of whose death, hear I pray what John Foxe saith in this manner: Morgan, bishop of St. David's, who sate upon the condemnation of the blessed Martyr and Bishop Ferrar, and unjustly usurped his room, was not long after stricken by God's hand, but after such a strange sort, that his meat would not go down, but rise and pick up again, sometimes at his mouth, sometimes blown out of his nose, most horrible to behold, and so he continued till his death. Thus Foxe, followed by Thomas Beard in his Theatre of God's Judgments. But where or when his death happened, they tell us not, nor any author hitherto, only when, which Bishop Godwin mentions. Now, therefore, be pleased to know that the said Bishop Morgan, retiring after his deprivation to and near Oxen, where he had several relations and acquaintance living, particularly the Owens of Godstow, in the parish of Wolvercote, near to the said city, did spend the little remainder of his life in great devotion at Godstow, but that he died in the condition which Foxe mentions there is no tradition among the inhabitants of Wolvercote. True it is that I have heard some discourse, many years ago, from some of the ancients of that place, that a certain bishop did live for some time, and exercised his charity and religious counsel among them, and there died; but I could never learn anything of them of the manner of his death, which being very miserable, as John Foxe saith, methinks that they should have a tradition of it, as well as of the man himself; but I say there is now none, nor was there any thirty years ago, among the most aged persons then living at that place, and therefore, whether there be anything of truth in it may justly be doubted."
The evidence of this negative tradition is certainly more convincing, than Foxes unsupported allegation of a circumstance, as unlikely to have occurred, as it was likely to be concocted by a man of his propensity and unscrupulousness. If, however, there should be any doubt of Foxes ability to concoct such a story, it will perhaps be removed by the history of the drastic refutation, which befell the similar story of the end of Grimwood. This, Anthony a Wood proceeds to record in a passage immediately after the one above quoted.
"In the very same chapter and leaf concerning the severe punishment upon persecutors of God's People, he hath committed a most egregious falsity in reporting that one Grimwood, of Higham, in Suffolk, died in a miserable manner, for swearing and bearing false witness against one John Cooper, a carpenter of Watsam in the same county, for which he lost his life. The miserable death of the said Grimwood was, as John Foxe saith thus: That WHEN HE WAS IN HIS LABOUR, STAKING UP A GOSSE OF CORN, HAVING HIS HEALTH, AND FEARING NO PERIL, SUDDENLY HIS BOWELS FELL OUT OF HIS BODY, AND IMMEDIATELY MOST MISERABLY HE DIED. Now it so fell out that in the reign of Elizabeth, one Prit* became parson of the parish where the said Grimwood dwelt, and preaching against perjury, being not acquainted with his parishioners, cited the said story of Foxe, and it happened that Grimwood being alive, and in the said church, he brought an action upon the case, against the parson, but Judge Anderson, who sate at the Assizes in the county of Suffolk, did adjudge it not maintainable, because it was not spoken maliciously."**
* Or Prick.
** Anthony d Wood, Athenae Oxoniensis, vol. i., p. 691.
That the action was not maintainable on the ground of malice, as against the parson, may have been true, but Foxe cannot reasonably be acquitted, for although he went into Suffolk professedly to investigate the matter, he never made any alteration in his story in subsequent editions, and the very latest impression of the Acts and Monuments perpetuates the lie and slander.
Thirty years after the death of Sir Thomas More, Foxe undertook to collect all the traditional gossip afloat concerning the Chancellor's alleged treatment of John Tewkesbury and James Bainham, for heresy. Tewkesbury was a leather-seller of London, and Foxe says that he was sent to Sir Thomas Mores house at Chelsea to be examined, and that "there he lay in the porter's lodge, hand, foot, and head in the stocks, six days without release. Then was he carried to Jesus' Tree in his privy garden, where he was whipped, and also twisted in his brows with a small rope, that the blood started out of his eyes, and yet would not accuse no man. Then was he let loose for a day, and his friends thought to have him at liberty the next day. After this he was sent to be racked in the Tower, till he was almost lame, and there promised to recant.*
* Acts and Monuments, vol. iv., p. 689; Pratt's ed.
The truth of the matter was, however, that as Tewkesbury was examined for the first time on the 8th May 1529, and immediately afterwards recanted, the event occurred several months before Sir Thomas More became Lord Chancellor; and therewith falls to the ground the story of Tewkesbury's being tortured in Mores garden, the punishment of heretics being part of the Lord Chancellor's office.
James Bainham was a lawyer, and Foxe declares that he was whipped at the Tree of Truth in Mores garden, and was then sent to the Tower to be racked, "and so he was, Sir Thomas More being present himself, till in a manner he had lamed him." Bainham, like Tewkesbury, recanted, and both of them bewailed and retracted their recantations, first before their friends in a Protestant gathering in Bow Lane, and afterwards in a Catholic Church, in consequence of which, according to Foxe, both were burned. But a part of what Foxe wrote about Tewkesbury in one edition of the Acts and Monuments he omitted in another, patching it on to Bainham's story, thus stultifying himself as regards both stories,* and affording us another signal illustration of the irresponsible and unscrupulous way in which he could deal with evidence.
* Vol. iv., p. 702; and Appendix, p. 769; Pratt's ed.
He further attributed to More the death of John Frith, who suffered death in 1533, a year after Sir Thomas had laid down his office, although in his Apology, the exchancellor referred to Frith as being then in the Tower, not committed by him but by "the King's Grace and his Council."*
* Apology, p. 887.
Foxe might easily, had he been so inclined, have verified these things by reference to the thirty-sixth chapter of the above-mentioned Apology, in which More answered the lies "neither few nor small that many of the blessed brethren have made and daily yet make by me." He goes on to say:—
"Divers of them have said that of such as were in my house while I was chancellor, I used to examine them with torments, causing them to be bound to a tree in my garden, and there piteously beaten. And this tale had some of those brethren so caused to be blown about, that a right worshipful friend of mine did of late, within less than this fortnight, tell unto another near friend of mine that he had of late heard much speaking thereof. What cannot these brethren say that can be so shameless to say thus? For of very truth, albeit that for a great robbery, or a heinous murder, or sacrilege in a church, with carrying away the pix with the Blessed Sacrament, or villainously casting it out, I caused sometimes such things to be done by some officers of the Marshalsea, or of some other prisons, with which ordering of them, and without any great hurt that afterwards should stick by them, I found out and repressed many such desperate wretches, as else had not failed to have gone farther; yet saving the sure keeping of heretics, I never did cause any such thing to be done to any of them in all my life except only twain."
Of these two instances he first records one relating to a child who was a servant in his house. The boy's father had taught him "his ungracious heresy against the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar," which heresy the boy began to teach another child in Mores house. Thereupon, More caused a servant of his "to stripe him like a child" before the whole household, "for amendment of himself and example of such others." The other case was that of a man who, "after that he had fallen into that frantic heresy, fell soon after into plain open frenzy besides." The man was confined in Bedlam, and when discharged went about disturbing public service in churches, and committing acts of great indecency. Devout, religious folk besought the Chancellor to restrain him, and accordingly, one day when he came wandering by Mores door, he caused him to be taken by the constables, bound to a tree in the street before the whole town, "and there they striped him with rods till he waxed weary, and somewhat longer." More ends by saying, "And verily, God be thanked, I hear none harm of him now. And of all that ever came in my hands for heresy, as help me God, saving [as I said] the sure keeping of them, had never any of them stripe or stroke given them, so much as a fillip on the forehead."
He then goes on to disprove the truth of a story spread about by Tindal, concerning the beating in his garden of a man named Segar. This story Foxe evidently confused with the fable of Tewkesbury, which thus completely crumbles to pieces; for as Sir James Mackintosh in his Life of More says:
"This statement [More's Apology] so minute, so easily contradicted if in any part false, was made public after his fall from power, when he was surrounded by enemies, and could have no friends but the generous. He relates circumstances of public notoriety, or at least so known to all his household, which it would have been rather a proof of insanity than of imprudence to have alleged in his defence if they had not been indisputably and confessedly true . . . Defenceless and obnoxious as More then was, no man was hardy enough to dispute his truth. Foxe was the first, who, thirty years afterwards, ventured to oppose it in a vague statement, which we know to be in some respects inaccurate." *
* Pp. 101, 105.
The story of the death of Robert Packington, mercer, of London, has also provided Foxe with fertile soil for raising his usual crop of calumny. The man was shot dead one very misty morning, in Cheapside, according to most chroniclers in 1556, Foxe says in 1558, as he was crossing the road from his house to a church on the opposite side, where he intended to hear Mass. Many persons were suspected of the murder, but none were found guilty. Hall, Grafton, and Bale all tell the story, but the martyrologist added thereto an accusation against an innocent person, which, although satisfactorily refuted by Holinshed, remains in the pages of the Acts and Monuments to this day. Foxe says:—
"The murtherer so covertly was concealed, till at length by the confession of Doctor Incent, Dean of St. Paul's, in his deathbed it was known, and by him confessed that he was the author thereof, by hiring an Italian for sixty crowns or thereabouts to do the feat. For the testimony whereof, and also of the repentant words of the said Incent, the names, both of them which heard him confess it, and of them which heard the witnesses report it, remains yet in memory to be produced if need required."*
* P. 525, edited 1563.
But Holinshed, a far more credible witness tells us that:—
"At length the murtherer indeed was condemned at Banbury, in Oxfordshire, to die for a felony which he afterwards committed; and when he came to the gallows in which he suffered, he confessed that he did this murther [that of Robert Packington], and till that time he was never had in any suspicion thereof."*
* Chronicle, fol. ed., 1586, p. 944. Answer to Foxes assertion. Also Appendix to Gough's Narratives, pp. 296, 297.
There is another class of anecdote in the Acts and Monuments, the errors of which do not lie so much in the facts of the story as in the oblique vision of Foxe himself, in regarding the dramatis personae, as heroes. Thus, a madman named Collins, who, entering a church during Mass, seized his dog at the Elevation, and held it over his head, showing it to the people in derision, is accounted "as one belonging to the holy company of saints."*
* Acts and Monuments, vol. v., p. 25; Pratt's ed.
Cowbridge, who was burned at Oxford, was one who would in these days be called a criminal lunatic, but Foxe regarded him as a holy martyr. The horrible story of the " martyrdom " of three women of Guernsey rests entirely on Foxes authority. It was immediately contradicted. Foxe replied, and Father Persons refuted his reply. It transpired on investigation that all three women were hanged as thieves, their bodies being afterwards burned; one of them had led an openly immoral life.
Machyn and Wriothesley chronicle an outbreak of fanaticism on Easter Sunday 1555. An ex-monk named Flower rushed into St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, while the priest, Sir John Sleuther, was administering Communion to his parishioners. Foxe tells the tale succinctly:—
"The said Flower, upon Easter Day last past, drew his wood knife, and strake the priest upon the head, hand, and arm, who being wounded therewith, and having a chalice with consecrated hosts therein in his hand, they were sprinkled with the said priest's blood."*
* Ibid. vol. vii., p. 75.
The only mistake which Foxe here makes is in saying that the priest was Sir John Cheltham. The would-be assassin harangued his victim before dealing the blow, and then struck home so forcibly that the priest fell as if dead. A tumult arose, the multitude thinking that the Spaniards were attacking them. Flower was apprehended, tried, and burned for heresy and sedition, on the spot now called the Broad Sanctuary. His claim to swell Foxe's calendar of "martyrs" rests solely on the motive of his murderous assault, namely, outrage of the Blessed Sacrament.
Another martyr of Flower's kidney was William Gardiner, who was living at Lisbon in 1552 as agent of an English mercantile house.
Foxe describes his exploits and the consequences thereof as "The history, no less lamentable than notable, of William Gardiner, an Englishman suffering most constantly in Portugal for the testimony of Gods truth." Gardiner's admiring biographer relates that his hero twice entered a church (probably Lisbon Cathedral) with intent to do some notable thing in the king's sight and presence. The first time was on the occasion of a royal marriage, but the throng was so great that he could not get near the altar. However, on the following Sunday, "the said William was present early in the morning, very cleanly apparelled, even of purpose, that he might stand near the altar without repulse. Within a while cometh the king with all his nobles. Then Gardiner setteth himself as near the altar as he might, having a Testament in his hand, which he diligently read upon and prayed, until the time was come that he had appointed to work his feat." This time was just before the Communion of the priest, who was the Cardinal Archbishop of Lisbon. Gardiner sprang forward, snatched the consecrated Host from his hand, trod it underfoot, and overturned the chalice. The first effect of this outrage was to strike the clergy and congregation dumb with amazement, horror, and consternation. In Foxe's words, "this matter at first made them all abashed." But on recovering their senses, the people gave vent to their indignation in shouts and cries of vengeance. A dagger was drawn, and Gardiner was wounded in the shoulder. The man who struck him was about to deal another blow, when he was prevented by the king himself. Gardiner thereupon, being in the hands of the guards, impudently harangued the people, and told them that "if he had done anything which were displeasant unto them, they ought to impute it unto no man but unto themselves, who so irreverently used the Holy Supper of the Lord unto so great idolatry, not without great ignominy unto the church, violation of the sacrament, and the peril of their own souls, except they repented."
The Portuguese, entirely inexperienced in this kind of fanaticism, thought that Gardiner must be a political agent, with designs on the safety of the realm. As he would confess nothing of this sort, they put him on the rack, in order to extract from him secrets of a seditious nature. At length, as it was clear that heresy and sacrilege were the crimes in which he exulted, they burned him as a heretic, he maintaining, according to Foxe, his "godly mind" to the end, declaring even in the flames that "he had done nothing whereof he did repent him."*
*Acts and Monuments, vi. 277; Cattley's ed.
Foxe incidently bears witness to the edifying manner in which the Portuguese assisted at Mass, the people standing "with great devotion and silence, praying, looking, kneeling, and knocking [beating their breasts in token of compunction], their minds being fully bent and set, as it is the manner, upon the external sacrament."*
The story of Bertrand Le Blas, the silk-weaver of Dornick who signalised himself in the same riotous manner in 1555, is said to have ended in the same way, Le Blas declaring "that if it were a thousand times to be done he would do it; and if he had a thousand lives he would give them all in that quarrel."*
* Acts and Monuments, vi. 393.
But these are all ex pane statements of Foxe. He is thinking of nothing but of pointing his own particular moral and of adorning his own tale. Historically, his evidence is valueless unless supported by more careful witnesses. He professes to chronicle the martyrdom at Newent, on the 25th September 1556, of "John Horne and a woman"; but Deighton, a friendly critic, pointed out that this story was nothing more or less than an amplification of the burning of Edward Horne, which Foxe had already recorded as having taken place on the 25th September 1558, and that no woman suffered at either of these times. Such instances might be pointed out ad infinitum.
The detestation in which most Englishmen hold the names of Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and of Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London, is entirely owing to Foxe's calumnies.
Although Gardiner had been deprived of his see for his belief in Transubstantiation in Edward's reign, and had been sent to the Tower by a court presided over by Cranmer, it is certain that he bore the archbishop no ill-will, but even did his best to save Cranmer's life and that of the other reformers who refused to conform to the old religion which Mary had brought back. It was his duty as chancellor to enforce the law of the land, in the matter of exterminating heresy, as in all else, but he only once sat on a commission, gave Cranmer ample opportunity to escape if he had so minded, furnished Peter Martyr with funds to take him abroad, shielded Thomas Smith, King Edward's secretary, from persecution on account of his heretical opinions, and even allowed him a yearly pension of 100 pounds for his support.* Of Gardiner's kindness to Roger Ascham, the latter said, "Stephen, Bishop of Winchester, High Chancellor of England, treated me with the utmost humanity and favour, so that I cannot easily decide whether Paget was more ready to commend me or Winchester to protect and benefit me; there were not wanting some, who, on the ground of religion, attempted to stop the flow of his benevolence towards me, but to no purpose. I owe very much to the humanity of Winchester, and not only I, but many others also have experienced his kindness."**
* Dictionary of National Biography, article, "Stephen Gardiner."
** Epis. p. 51; Oxford ed., 1703.
One of the "many others" was John Frith, whom Gardiner did his best to save from a painful death;* and even Northumberland would have escaped had Gardiner's voice prevailed in the council. Again, Gardiner's patriotism prompted him to oppose boldly the project of the queen's marriage with Philip of Spain, seeing that it was distasteful to the bulk of the nation; yet, when he recognised that it was inevitable, he did his best to make it more popular.
* Grenville, MS. 11,990; Letters and papers, 6,600.
For some reason known doubtless to himself, but quite unknown to history, the martyrologist represents Gardiner as keenly desirous to hear that the sentence passed on Latimer and Ridley had been carried out. He says:—
"The same day, when Bishop Ridley and Master Latimer suffered at Oxford [being about the 19 day of October], there came into the house of Stephen Gardiner the old Duke of Norfolk, with the foresaid Master Munday, his secretary, above named reporter hereof. The old aged duke, there waiting and tarrying for his dinner, the bishop being not yet disposed to dine, deferred the time to three or four o'clock at afternoon. At length about four of the clock cometh his servant, posting in all possible speed from Oxford, bringing intelligence to the bishop what he had heard and seen; of whom the said bishop, inquiring the truth of the matter, and learning by his man that fire most certainly was set unto them, cometh out rejoicing to the duke. "Now," saith he, "let us go to dinner." Whereupon they being set down, meat immediately was brought, and the bishop began merrily to eat. But what followed? The bloody tyrant had not eaten a few bits, but the sudden stroke of God's terrible hand fell upon him in such sort, as immediately he was taken from the table, and so brought to his bed in such intolerable anguish and torments, that . . . whereby his body being miserably inflamed within (who had inflamed so many good martyrs before) was brought to a miserable end."
Foxe relates this story at third hand, as was his wont, but it fitted in so admirably with his favourite theory in regard to the temporal judgments of God on miscreants—and Gardiner to his way of thinking was certainly a miscreant of the first rank—that he could not afford to be fastidious as to its veracity. For he must surely have known that "the old Duke of Norfolk could not have dined with Gardiner on or about the 19th October 1555, having been in his grave since August 1553; and as for "the sudden stroke of God's terrible hand," by which the Bishop of Winchester was "brought to a miserable end," the following extract from a letter of the Venetian ambassador, resident in England, to the Doge and Senate, written on the 16th September 1555, gives a totally different account of the illness from which Gardiner died on the 12th November:—
"After the chancellor's return from the conference at Calais," writes the Venetian chronicler of current events, "he fell into such a state of appilation [sic] that besides having become [as the physicians say] jaundiced, he by degrees got confirmed dropsy, and had it not been for his robust constitution, a variety of remedies prescribed for him by the English physicians having been of no use, he would by this time be in a bad way, his physiognomy being so changed as to astound all who see him. The Emperor had sent him the remedy he used when first troubled with dropsical symptoms, on his return from the war of Metz, which remedy cured him, and should God grant that it take the same effect on the Bishop of Winchester, it will be very advantageous for England, he being considered one of the most consummate chancellors who have filled the post for many years, and should he die, he would leave few or none so well suited to the charge as himself."*
* Giovanni Michiel to the Doge and Senate, Calendar of State Papers, Venetian, vol. vi., part. i., 215; edited by Rawdon Brown.
On the 21st October, the queen opened Parliament in person, and Gardiner mortally ill, rose from the bed to which he had been for weeks confined, in order to introduce a Bill for the granting of much needed supplies to the Crown. Michiel, the Venetian envoy, continuing his letter says:—
"After the Mass of the Holy Ghost, sung by the Bishop of Ely, and the sermon preached by the Bishop of Lincoln, her Majesty proceeded into the great hall, where, in the presence of all those officially summoned, the Lord Chancellor, having rallied a little, choosing at anyrate to be there, in order not to fail performing his office on this occasion, made the usual proposal, stating the cause for assembling Parliament, which was in short solely for the purpose of obtaining pecuniary supply."
Mary had succeeded to a treasury rich only in debt, and her need of money to carry on the government was urgent. Gardiner made a long and effective speech, the result of which was, that Parliament at once voted a million of gold to be levied in two years from the laity, in four from the clergy. But exhausted by his effort, and so weak that he was unable to return to his own house, the dying chancellor was accommodated at Whitehall where he met his end peacefully three weeks later. He desired during his last days that the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ might be read to him, and when the reader came to the contrition of St. Peter, Gardiner exclaimed, "Negavi cum Petro, exivi cum Petro, sed nondum flevi amare cum Petro!" alluding to his weakness and fall in Henry VIII's reign.*
* Wardword, 43; Lingard, History of Fn,-land, vol. v., p. 243, note, 6th ed.
The view which Foxe presents of Bonner, Bishop of London, in the administration of his office, is as distorted and malicious as his libellous picture of Gardiner. The pages of the Acts and Monuments, which describe Bonner's examination of those brought before him on charges of heresy, teem with such picturesque epithets as "this bloody wolf," the "Bishop was in a marvellous rage" or "in a great fury," but when we read what Bonner really said, we find nothing to justify these exaggerated expressions.
On one occasion, when Bonner was supposed by the martyrologist to be in such "a raging heat" that he appeared "as one clean void of humanity," we read on, expecting to find some brutal and heartless words whereby he crushed the meek spirit of the martyr before him. The scene was Cranmer's degradation at Oxford, with which solemn and painful act Bonner was charged; but the strongest words used by the bishop in answer to Cranmer's continued protests and recriminations were, according to Foxe himself, merely that " for his inordinate contumacy, he denied him to speak any more, saying that he had used himself very disobediently."*
* Acts and Monuments vol v., p 765; Cattley's ed.
By Foxe's own showing, when brought before the bishops, the "marytrs" frequently twitted their judges, gave them homethrusts and "privy nips," and behaved themselves generally in a very provocative and irritating manner. It is surprising, nevertheless, to find how very seldom the examiners lost their tempers, bearing with a considerable amount of insolence in a singularly good-humoured spirit, doing their best to give the accused a chance of escape. Of the six who came under Bonner's examination on the 8th February 1555, Foxe affirms that the Bishop of London sentenced them the day after they were charged, and killed them out of hand without mercy, "such quick speed these men could make in dispatching their business at once"—a terrible indictment if there were a shadow of truth in it. But Bonner not only knew all about the six heretics long before the 8th February, three of them having been in prison for months, where he had again and again reasoned with them; but after sentence had been passed, an interval of five weeks was the shortest respite granted to them for reflection before any one of them was executed. The others suffered consecutively on the 26th, 28th, and 29th March, the last of the six on the 10th June.
With as little regard for truth did Foxe pen the remarkable distich, which well served his purpose of villifying Bonner in the minds of his confiding and credulous readers:—
This cannibal in three years' space three hundred martyrs slew, They were his food, he loved so blood, he spared none he knew."
Lingard estimates that about two hundred persons suffered for their religious opinions during the reign of Mary. The fact is no doubt an appalling one, and horrifies us with a sense of the barbarism that prevailed so recently as three and a half centuries ago in England. But when we consider the outrages of which numbers of them were guilty, the danger which they constituted to the realm, we cannot help agreeing with Cobbett when he says that "the real truth about these martyrs is that they were generally a set of most wicked wretches who sought to destroy the queen and her government, and under the pretence of conscience and superior piety, to obtain the means of again preying upon the people."*
* History of the Reformation, edited by Abbot Gasquet, p. 207.
Moreover, portentous as the numbers appear to us, they are small compared with those which represented Henry's ruthless severity after the Northern Rising, when the whole country was covered with gibbets, and with those of Elizabeth's victims who were hanged, cut down alive, drawn and quartered, for practising the religion that had been taught in England since it was a Christian country. Nor did the persecution of Catholics cease at the death of Elizabeth, and the reigns of the Stuart kings, the Commonwealth, and even the Hanoverian regime testify to the cruel insistance with which Catholic priests were hunted to death, and the Catholic laity imprisoned and impoverished for their loyalty to the oldest faith of Christendom.
Bonner had had nothing whatever to do with the revival of the statute De Heresia, but good or bad, it was the law of the land, and he could no more help sitting on the bench in his own diocese to examine offences against it, than could any other judge refuse to sit in any court over which he had jurisdiction. Of the two hundred who were condemned on this statute during Mary's reign, about one hundred and twenty were sent to Bonner's court for judgment, the city of London being the centre and hot-bed of the new, revolutionary doctrines. Thus, Foxe's assertion that "this cannibal three hundred martyrs slew," must be reduced to nearly onethird of that number. His supposed thirst for blood was also as much a lie as that other figment of the martyrologist's brain which represented both Gardiner and Bonner as having a violent personal grudge against those who were brought before them for examination. Bonner, as well as Gardiner, laboured, and not unsuccessfully in many instances, in causing heretics to recant, upon which they were restored to liberty.
A striking yet dispassionate portrait of Edmund Bonner, from the pen of the late Dr. S. R. Maitland, one of the most scholarly and painstaking historians of the last century, forms a vivid contrast to Foxe's caricature of the Bishop of London.
"Setting aside DECLAMATION, and looking at the DETAILS OF FACTS left by those who may be called, if people please, Bonner's victims and their friends, we find very consistently maintained the character of a man, straightforward and hearty, familiar and humorous, sometimes rough, perhaps coarse, naturally hot-tempered, but obviously [by the testimony of his enemies] placable and easily entreated, capable of bearing most patiently intemperate and violent language, much reviling and low abuse directed against himself personally, against his order, and against those peculiar doctrines and practices of his church, for maintaining which he had himself suffered the loss of all things, and borne long imprisonment. At the same time, not incapable of being provoked into saying harsh and passionate things, but much more frequently meaning nothing by the threatenings and slaughter which he breathed out, than to intimidate those on whose ignorance and simplicity, argument seemed to be thrown away; in short, we can scarcely read with attention any one of the cases detailed by those who were no friends of Bonner, without seeing in him a judge who [even if we grant that he was dispensing bad laws badly] was obviously desirous to save the prisoner's life."*
* Essays on Subjects connected with the Reformation, by S. R. Maitland, D.D., F.R.S., F.S.A., sometime librarian and keeper of the MSS. at Lambeth, p. 423.
We have disposed at some length elsewhere of Foxe's shameless calumny of Sir Henry Bedingfeld, Lieutenant of the Tower of London, and custodian of the Princess Elizabeth at Woodstock when she was suspected of connivance in Wyatt's rebellion. In espousing Elizabeth's cause, and in casting aspersions on one who was responsible for her safe custody, Foxe was but following his general plan of campaign, the not very subtle plan of representing all those of his own party to be saints and martyrs, the enemy deserving every abusive term that came to his facile pen. This simple method attained its object probably beyond the wildest dreams of its author. All along the ages the Protestant world has believed implicitly in the fables invented by Foxe, and even in these days of critical analysis, although innumerable experts have given him the lie, the effect of his calumnies remain in the deeply rooted prejudice of the nation.* Moreover, like every other succes de scandale, the book brought a rich harvest to its author. He was almost penniless when he returned to England in 1559, but the English version of his work, first published in 1563, made his fortune. The Catholics called it derisively Foxe's Golden Legend. In 1570 a second edition was printed in two volumes folio, and Convocation decreed that the book, designated by the canon as Monumenta Martyrum, should be placed in cathedral churches, and in the houses of the great ecclesiastical dignitaries. This decree, although never confirmed by parliament, was so much in accordance with the Puritan tone of the whole Church of England at that time, that even parish churches far and wide were furnished with copies of the work, chained side by side with the Bible. In the vestry minutes of St. Michael's Church, Cornhill, of 11th January 1571-72, it is ordered "that the booke of Martyrs of Mr. Foxe, and the paraphrases [of the gospel] of Erasmus [pace Erasmus] shalbe bowght for the church and tyed with a chain to the Egle bras." A few years ago, mutilated copies of the Acts and Monuments might still be seen chained in the parish churches of Apethorpe (Northamptonshire), Arreton (Isle of Wight), Chelsea, Eustone (Oxfordshire), Kniver (Staffordshire), Lussingham (Norfolk), Stratford-on-Avon, (Warwickshire) Waltham, St. Cuthbert (Wells);** also in that of Lutterworth and many other places. At Cheddar not very long ago was a great black-letter copy of the Acts and Monuments chained to the reading desk, and it is stated in the Life of Lord Macaulay that as a child, the sight of it used to fascinate him as he sat on Sunday afternoons in the family pew, longing to get at the bewitching pages.
* The late Dr. Littledale lecturing at Liverpool on Innovations in 1868 said: "Two mendacious partizans, the infamous Foxe and the not much more respectable Burnet have so overlaid all the history of the Reformation with falsehood, that it has been well-nigh impossible for readers to get at the facts," p. 16. And later on he refers to the Book of Martyrs as "that magazine of lying bigotry," p. 21.
** Dictionary of National Biography, article "John Foxe,"
No more potent means could have been devised for saturating the national mind with the principles of the Reformation than the diffusion of the Book of Martyrs on this gigantic scale. In a few years there was scarcely a parish church in England that did not possess a chained copy of the work. The illiterate might frequently be seen standing in a group round the lectern, while one among them better instructed than the rest read to them aloud its graphic and lying legends. Added to this, in many churches a chapter was read to the assembled congregations every Sunday evening along with the Bible, and the clergy constantly made its dubious martyrdoms the subject of their sermons. No wonder that it assumed an importance equal to that of the Scriptures themselves. One of the indictments against Archbishop Laud at his trial was the fact that he had ordered it to be removed from some churches in his diocese.*
* Dictionary of National Biography, article "John Foxe."
The secret of its charm for Puritan England did not altogether lie in its Anti-Marian character, or in the partisanship of its garbled facts and fictitious heroisms. The simplicity of its vigorous English, the picturesque though minute circumstances which it detailed, the very boldness with which it lied, in league with the primary passions to which it appealed, made it one of the most powerful engines in the revolution that gradually changed the face of the whole country. Its deadly work of destruction has been effectually accomplished, and it is almost useless to attempt to convince a people into whose frame and tissue its stories have been woven, that the Protestant Reformation in which they so implicitly believe is but a fairytale for the invention of which John Foxe is mainly responsible. Gairdner, in his History of the English Church in the Sixteenth Century, a book of the very first importance for any serious study of the period, has again and again expressed his opinion of the worthlessness of the Acts and Monuments as history; and the Rev. John Gerard* has been at the pains of collecting the learned historian's remarks on Foxes compilation. He says:
* In his pamphlet, John Fare and his Book of Martyrs, Catholic Truth Society.
"But more damaging than any other is the criticism which Foxe receives at the hands of Mr. James Gairdner, the fullness of whose knowledge is matched only by the calm judicial manner in which he deals with the martyrologist's stories as he encounters them in his own history. Discussing each case on its merits, and giving full weight to the evidence on either side, Mr. Gairdner finds charges of untruthfulness and dishonesty established at every turn. Foxe, he declares, ignores or misrepresents evidence that tells against him [p. 38]; he manipulates it to suit his purpose ; he counts as martyrs offenders of all kinds [129n]; he 'was above all things credulous' ; he tells stories, the falsehood of which may be gathered from his own relation [ibid]; he suppresses facts furnished by the authorities upon whom he draws ; he insinuates what is utterly false ; he evidently wishes his readers to understand what he does not venture openly to say [220-21]; he prejudices readers by irrelevant gibes ; he has made people believe what is untrue ; he was quite as prejudiced and unfair as the notorious Bishop Bale ; his narrative has been exposed as untrustworthy by reason of its bias, but has not even yet been subjected to complete and thorough criticism . In consequence of all this, says Mr. Gairdner, Foxe has given a false colour to the history of the times, and especially to the sentiments and motives of the persecutors. ' It is quite untrue, as Foxe and his school have made the world believe, that the authorities were savage or ferocious . . . The burning of heretics was a barbarous old-fashioned remedy, but it is not true that either the bishops or the government adopted it without reluctance' [349, 355]. And again, a royal commission, issued on 8th February 1557, is printed by Foxe with the title, 'A bloody commission given forth by K. Philip and Q. Mary to persecute the poor members of Christ.' If we read the preamble, however, we find that it was provoked by the assiduous propagation of a number of slanderous and seditious rumours, along with which the sowing of heresies and heretical opinions was merely a concurrent' ."
Nevertheless, that the influence of Foxe is not by any means extinct in our own day, is proved by the successive republications of his book during the nineteenth century. In 1836 the plea for a new edition was put forward in a letter to the editor of the Record in these astounding terms:—
"When we consider the high character of the work for accuracy of detail; its full exhibition of the Gospel in all its holy and triumphant efficacy; the bulwark it has proved to our Protestant faith; its peculiar seasonableness to meet all the fresh dangers from Popery in the present times; and its intrinsic value, as forming a sound standard of Reformation divinity, we find it an exercise of Christian charity to call the public attention to it. We might further adduce the imprimatur of our own Church, by her act of Convocation appending it to all the ecclesiastical establishments in the land, as giving to Foxe's work, an additional claim of regard."
Between the years 1836-41, therefore, a new edition was published by the Rev. S. R. Cattley, with a Life and Vindication of John Foxe, by Prebendary Townsend of Durham.
The Rev. Josiah Pratt reprinted it in 1846-49; another edition, purporting to be corrected by the Rev. Josiah Pratt, the younger, appearing in 1853. But the Life and Vindication had been so greatly discredited in the attack made upon it by Dr. S. R. Maitland, that when the Religious Tract Society published an edition of the Acts and Monuments in 1877, mainly from the stereotype plates of that of 1853, they thought it prudent to omit that part altogether, Dr. Stoughton, one of the honorary secretaries of the Society, substituting an Introduction, a work which is, however, as much open to criticism as Townsend's.
A cheap edition had already appeared in 1868 with a preface by the Bishop of Carlisle in which his lordship said that:—
"The Convocation of the English clergy did wisely, when in the days of Elizabeth, they enacted that every parish Church [sic] in this land should be furnished with a copy of Foxe's Book of Martyrs."
There is also an illustrated edition published by Messrs Cassell; and the Religious Tract Society still continues to make the Acts and Monuments the subject of a quiet but active propaganda in evangelical interests, offering the book at a reduced price to students, teachers, and public libraries, sometimes even presenting it as a free gift.
IV. THE SPOILS OF THE MONASTERIES
The great, perhaps the sole repositories of the early historical and topographical records of England, Scotland, and Ireland, from the introduction of Christianity until the introduction of printing, were the monasteries. Throughout the middle ages these libraries were the homes, in many instances the birthplaces of treasures which would have been hopelessly lost or destroyed in those rough times but for the shelter thus afforded them. The monks were constantly employed in writing, copying, and ornamenting manuscripts, while State papers and parliamentary rolls were deposited in their archives for safety. Moreover, as they were known to be rich, and to care for such things, books were brought to them from time to time for sale by those in need of money. There was scarcely any religious house but had a library, and many of them were very good ones. Some data have come down to us by which we can form an estimate of their bulk and value.
The books which St. Augustine brought with him from Rome, together with those of Theodore, formed the nucleus of the well-known monastic library at Canterbury. In the library at Peterborough there were no fewer than 1700 MSS. That of the Grey Friars in London was 129 feet long by 31 feet broad, and was well filled with books. That the Abbey of Leicester and the Priory of Dover had no mean libraries appears from the catalogues of their books yet remaining in the Bodleian. Ingulf tells us that when the library at Croyland was burned in 1091, the monks lost 700 books. The great library at Wells had twenty-five windows on each side, a fact which gives us some notion of the space required to contain all the volumes possessed by this monastery.*
* Tanner, Nolitia Monastica, preface, p. xl., edited 1744.
In the English preface to Dugdale's Monasticon mention is made of the "incredible number of books written by the monks," and it would be easy to multiply illustrations of this kind, and to collect notes of the indiscriminate destruction that took place at the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII., when the contents of these libraries were sold as waste paper.
"I know a merchant man," wrote Bale, Bishop of Ossory as quoted by Leland, "which at this time shall be nameless, that bought the contents of two noble libraries for forty shillings apiece. A shame it is to be spoken. This stuff hath he occupied, instead of grey paper, by the space of more than these ten years, and yet he hath store enough for as many years to come. A prodigious example is this, and to be abhorred of all men which love their nation as they should do. Yea, what may bring our realm to more shame and rebuke than to have it noised abroad that we are despisers of learning? I judge this to be true, and utter it with heaviness, that neither the Britons under the Romans, nor yet the English people under the Danes and Normans had ever such damage of their learned monuments as we have seen in our time. Our posterity may well curse this wicked fact of our age, this unreasonable spoil of England's most noble antiquities."
Centuries had been spent in collecting that which a few short months had sufficed to scatter abroad, and Bishop Tanner also mentions with sorrow the loss of a great number of excellent books, to the unspeakable detriment of the learned world.
For a time, this havoc of the monastic libraries went on unchecked, but during the reign of Elizabeth a reaction set in, and there arose a little knot of men who had the good sense to recognise the value of these memorials of the past, and to treasure up what still remained; and the next generation produced such men as Thomas Bodley, and Robert Cotton. These were followed by others of kindred tastes, to whom more golden opportunities of acquiring valuable treasure-trove were afforded.
We shall confine ourselves here to the most illustrious of these collectors, Sir Robert Cotton, whose library now forms the basis of the national collection in the British Museum.
The era of English libraries began with Matthew Parker's gift to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, a collection of books which has preserved from destruction more materials relating to the civil and ecclesiastical history of this country than had ever before been gathered into one library. Fuller styled this munificent bequest "the Sun of English antiquity, before it was eclipsed by that of Sir Robert Cotton."
Sir Thomas Bodley was one of the first men in Europe to conceive the notion of a great public library, and the rich collection of books which he made at Oxford on the ruins of Duke Humphrey's library, and which he bequeathed to the University, is not merely of European, but of world-wide celebrity. Living as he did at Oxford in a learned atmosphere, he naturally turned his chief attention to Latin manuscripts, while Cotton made English history his special study, and was ever on the alert for material to throw fresh light upon its annals. Hence the numerous Anglo-Saxon MSS. in his library, and the splendid collection of State papers, relating to England, Scotland, and France, contained in the dress marked Caligula, and in many other places.
Cotton and Bodley were good friends, and not only shared the same tastes, but sympathised actively with each other's work. In 1595 Bodley wrote to Cotton, asking him whether he held to his "old intention for helping to furnish the Universitie librarie," and in 1601 he acknowledges having received from Cotton a contribution of manuscripts for that purpose. These manuscripts were eleven in number, the titles of which may be seen in Smith's manuscript notes to his catalogue in the Bodleian library.
Bodley on his part was no less generous. A folio volume on vellum, containing the four Gospels, the four Dialogues of St. Gregory, and some other articles, the whole in Saxon, and consisting of 290 leaves, was a part of his contribution to the Cottonian collection.* The contents of this volume, as described by Wanley, show it to have been of exceeding great value, but since his time twenty-five folios have been lost. When Planta compiled his catalogue he affixed a note to the effect that the manuscript was so burnt and contracted as to render the binding of it impracticable, and that it was preserved in a case. Later on it passed through the restoring hands of Sir Frederick Madden.
* Otho, C. i. The notes furnished by Smith also prove the identity of the Cotton MS. Otho, C. ix. with Bodley's gift.
Cotton was neither a great scholar, nor did he produce any original work of special value, but he seems to have possessed the tact and the taste to divine, and also encourage talents superior to his own, thereby deserving no less well of his country than those who served her with higher gifts. His friend Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador, once called him an "engrosser of antiquities." If we add that he did not merely "engross," but that he liberally shared his acquisitions with others, we shall perhaps best describe his special place and work in the world of letters. To judge by his correspondence it would seem that all the learned men in the kingdom applied to him for the loan of some rare manuscript or other, and that hardly a scientific, political, historical, or heraldic work was produced in the early part of the seventeenth century, but owed something to his labours as an antiquary.
Selden asks for a sight of his Peterborough books, his Book of Monies his Historic Jorwallensis. Camden writes for a treatise on Heraldry, and for a ledger of the Abbey of Meaux. George Carew, afterwards Earl of Totness, needs his Chronicle of Peter the Cruel. Crashaw, the poet, sends for volumes treating of the Council of Florence, and of the excommunication of the emperor at the Council of Lyons. Sir John Dodderidge, judge and antiquary, asks leave to keep Cotton's maps (perhaps for his work "Of the Dimensions of the Land of England"). Speed requires a note of all the monasteries in the realm, as well as the Book of Henry IV., and craves help in his Life of Henry V., signing himself "Your loving friend, troublesome and troubled."
All these demands on Cotton's library and Cotton's liberality, together with many more, may be seen in the collection of letters contained in the volume, the press-mark of which is Julius C 3.
The fame of the Cottonian library was great among the learned at the beginning of the seventeenth century; in 1612 it was spoken of with enthusiasm. The following letter from Edmund Bolton, poet and antiquary, is, despite its somewhat florid and inflated style, a proof of the high estimation in which the collection was held.
"Sir,—The world sees that worthy monument of witt and learning* come forth, but with honourable acknowledgements of special' helps from you. But we that are somewhat privie to the truth of things, do also knowe that without your assistance, it is in vain to pretende to weightie works in the antiquities of this kingdom. For your studie, if we respect the glories of saints there carefully preserved in authentic registers, it is a Pantheon and all Hallowes. If the memorials of the honourable deceased, it is a mausolae. If the tables and written instruments of Empire, it is a Capitol. If the whole furniture of Cyclopxdia, it is a mart. If matters marine, it is an arsenal—if martial, a camp and magazine. Briefly it is the Arck, where all noble things which the deluges of impious vastitic and sacriligious furie have not devoured, are kept to bee the seminaries of better plantations."
* Probably a reference to Bacon's History of Great Britain under the Conquests of the Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans, published in 1611.
He goes on to compare Cotton's library with that of Paulus Jovius, the pride and glory of Italy, which, he declares, "will seem perhaps little better than a beauteous charnel-house, filled with skeletons, and the rotten timbers of clay-built tenements dissolved into dust, by the side of this exquisitely instructed studie."
Exaggerated as this praise may seem, the fact remains that the Cottonian collection was unique, and that scholars owed more to it than to any other sources of information. There is no account of any visit of Cotton's to the Continent, although in one of his early pamphlets mention is made of his having visited Italy; but people were busy in different parts of Europe seeking for what was valuable in the shape of parchments and old coins, to add to his treasures.
England was, however, at that time the best hunting-ground for manuscripts, so short a time having elapsed since our great monastic libraries had been scattered to the winds. Chronicles, chartularies, State Papers, treaties, family pedigrees, documents of every kind were floating about the country, often in the possession of strange owners, almost always to be had for gold. To acquire these was Cotton's chief delight from the age of eighteen; and as a natural consequence, this taste surrounded him with learned friends. At his house at Westminster the literati of the day were wont to meet. Josceline, Camden, Noel, Speed, Sir John Davis, and others formed, together with himself, the then Society of Antiquaries, which Matthew Parker had founded.
But James I., although so great an amateur of antiquities, did not regard the society with a favourable eye. He was eminently cautious, and fancied that these meetings might lead to a political association, and he accordingly suppressed them.
In recognition, however, of Cotton's merit the king knighted him at his coronation honours; he called him "cousin," and acknowledged his claim to be descended from the Scottish family of Bruce. From that time Cotton quartered the royal arms of Scotland with his own, and adopted the name of Bruce, "not," says Collins in his Baronetage, "in arrogance and ostentation, but in distinction to those of the name of Cotton of other families . . . and in a grateful sense of the divine favour for that extraction, and to excite an emulation in his issue to follow the virtues of such glorious ancestors." His descent is clearly traced in the history of Connington Castle in Huntingdonshire, which had been the home of his family for centuries. The house had been rebuilt at various times. When it came into Sir Robert Cotton's hands he completely restored it, embellishing the north front with richly moulded arches which he had purchased and brought from Fotheringhay Castle, together with the room in which Queen Mary had been executed.*
* Neale. Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen, vol. ii, for Cotton's pedigree, see Julius F 8, f. 58b.
Cotton's friendship with Camden began at Westminster School, where Cotton was educated—Camden being at that time second master. In the last year of the century, the two friends made an antiquarian journey into the North, where they explored the old Roman wall, built to keep out the marauding Picts, and returned to Connington laden with trophies. These were afterwards presented to Trinity College, Cambridge, where they are still preserved. Camden's Britannia contains more than one allusion to this journey. His History of Queen Elizabeth was long supposed to be their joint work; and it is probable that, although he only acknowledged the loan of autograph letters, the part relating to Mary Queen of Scots was at least inspired by Cotton. It is certain that Camden obtained nearly all his materials from his friend's library. In one of his letters he speaks of Cotton as "the dearest of all my friends"; and in this profession he was constant till his death, directing in his will that Sir Robert should have the first view of his books and manuscripts; "that he may take such as I borrowed of him;" and then he goes on to bequeath to him his entire collection, except his heraldic and ancient seals, which he left to the Herald's College.
About the year 1614 it began to be whispered that Sir Robert Cotton had unlawfully come by some of the State Papers in his library, and the low murmurs soon grew into a loud argument to the effect that the Public Record Office was injured " by his having such things as he hath cunningly scraped together."* The general feeling of jealousy and suspicion is expressed in the following extract from a contemporary letter which was prompted by the fact that Arthur Agard, keeper of the Public Records, had left his private collection to Cotton:
* J. Wilson to Ambrose; Randolph State Papers, Dom. James I., 1615; R.O.
"The late Mr. Agard has left some manuscripts, the labour of most of his life, including a book on the exemption of the Kings of England from the power of the Pope, abstracts of treaties, and other State matters, which Sir Robert Cotton claims, on pretext that they were left to him by will; but he eras at the making of the will. It is important that such things be kept in possession of the King's officers, as otherwise they may be suppressed when most wanted."*
* Dom. James I., vol. lxxxiii., 69; R.O,
After this, charge after charge was brought against Cotton, till the life, that had so usefully been spent in the service of learning, closed in sadness and gloom. James, however, whether he gave credence to the accusations of enemies or not, never quite abandoned him. He made him a member of the " new order of hereditary knights called baronets," which Cotton had himself advised the king to create, as a means of replenishing the State coffers, without burdening his subjects with taxes. (The fee was fixed at 1000 pounds.)
Disraeli, in his Curiosities of Literature, quoting from a Lansdowne MS., says that it appeared, "by the manuscript book of Sir Nicholas Hyde, Chief Justice of the King's Bench, from the second to the third year of Charles I., that Sir Robert Cotton had, in his library, records, evidences, ledger-books, original letters, and other State papers belonging to the King; for the Attorney-General of that time, to prove this, showed a copy of the pardon which Sir Robert had obtained from King James for embezzling records, etc."
James had the greatest regard for Cotton's historical acumen, and in the last year of his reign he ordered that no more copies of the life of his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, should be published till Sir Robert Cotton had enlarged it, and made it more authentic by the aid of two ample histories which had lately come out.* The similarity of their tastes always ensured a certain sympathy between the antiquary who was also in some sense a Scotchman, being descended from the Bruces, and the first Stuart King of England. But James's successor never took him into favour, and henceforth there was little in his worldly prosperity to divert him from his beloved library—a perennial source of joy to him-till his enemies turned it into a weapon for his destruction. He never ceased to add to it while he lived, and casual contributions continued to flow in from various sources.
* Secretary Conway to the Wardens, etc., of the Stationer's Company, 25th June 1624, Dom. James 1.; R.O.
Thus, in 1627, Sir James Ware sent a manuscript register of St. Mary's Abbey, Dublin; and the year after Archbishop Ussher presented a Samaritan Pentateuch (Claudius, B 8). Already in 1625 he had mentioned this book in a letter to Cotton:
"Touching the Samaritan Pentateuch, the copye which I have is (as I guess) about three hundred years old, but the work itself commeth very short of the tyme of Esdras and Malachy. I have compared the testymonyes cited out of it by the ancient Fathers, Eusebius, Jerome, Cyrill, and others, and find them precisely to agree with my booke, which makes me highly to esteeme of it."
In 1628 he writes apologetically for his long silence and his delay in returning books lent to him by Cotton:
"A farre longer time than good manners would well permitt, for which fault yett I hope to make some kinde of expiation by sending you shortlye, together with your own my ancient copye of the Samaritan Pentateuch, which I have long since destinated unto that librarye of yours, to which I have been beholden for so many good things no where else to be found. I shall [God willing] ere long finish my collation of it with the Hebrew text, and then hang it up ut votivam Tabulam at that Sacrarium of yours."
A correspondent, signing his letter Jo Scudamore, gave him a whole edition of Chaucer "in a fair ancient written hand." This manuscript has unfortunately disappeared from the collection.
Nicholas Saunder sent a history by Helinandus, a Cistercian monk, written in the time of William the Conqueror,* and many other donations are recorded.
* Claudius, B 9. The donor of this MS. was not the Nicholas Saunders so well-known in Elizabeth's reign.
Of the constant activity going on in the formation of this wonderful library, and of the great generosity with which the books were lent the following letters are eloquent. Archbishop Ussher writes thus:
"Worthy Sir,—I have received from you the history of the Bishops of Durham, together with your ancient copies of the Psalmes, whereof that which hath the Saxon interlineary translation inserted is the old Romanum Psalterium, the other three are the same with that which is called Gallicum Psalterium. But I have not yet received that which I stand most in need of, to wit the Psalter in 8vo which is distinguished with obeliskes and asteriskes. I pray you, therefore, send it unto me by my servant, this bearer, as also the life of Wilfrid, written in prose by a nameless author that lived about the time of Bede; the other written in verse by Fredegodus I received from Mr. Burnett; together, with William Malmsburiensis de vitis Pontificum Anglia et S. Aldhelmus. Before you leave London I pray you do your best to get master Crashaw's MS. Psalter conveyed unto me. I doubt not but before this time you have dealt with Sir Peter Vanlore for obtaining Erpenius his Hebrew, Syriach, Arabick, and Persian books, and the matrices of the letters of the Oriental languages. If he interpose himself seriously herein, it is not to be doubted, but he will prevayle before any other. But what he doth he must do very speedilye, because the Jesuites of Antwerp are already dealing for the Oriental presse, and others for the Arabick, Syriac, Hebrew, and Persian bookes. It were good you took some order before you went, how Sir Peter may signify unto you, when you are in the countrye, what is done in this businesse. If he send to Mr. Burnett at any time [who dwellith at the signe of the three swannes in Lombard Streets he will finde some means or other to communicate what he pleaseth unto me. I thank you very hartilye for the care which you have taken in causing my Samaritan Bible to be so faire bound. I have given order to Mr. Burnett to content the workman for his paynes, and so with remembrance of my best affections unto yourself and the kinde ladye your wife,* I committ both of you to God's blessed protection, and rest your own most assured,
* Sir Robert Cotton had married Elizabeth, daughter and co-heiress of William Brocas of Thedingworth, Leicestershire, by whom he had several sons, the eldest Thomas, alone surviving him.
Sir Edward Dering writes in 1630:
"Sir; I received your very welcome letter, whereby I find you abundant in courtesies of all natures. I am a great debtor to you, and those obligations likely still to be multiplied. As I confess so much to you, so I hope to witnesse it to posterity. I have sent up two of your bookes which have much pleasured me. I have here the charter of King John, dated at Running Meade.* By the first safe and sure messenger it is yours, so are the Saxon charters, as fast as I can copy them, but in the meantime I will enclose King John in a boxe and send him. I shall much long to see you at this place, where you shall command the heart of your affectionate friend and servant,
"E. Dering." Dover Castle, May 10, 1630.
* There are two original drafts of Magna Charta in the Cottonian Library.
It would be extremely interesting were Cotton's own letters extant, to have some account from his pen of the manner in which he came by many manuscripts, the history of which is a blank to us from the time of the dissolution of the monasteries till they found a safe haven in his library. But his letters are very rare; two only have been preserved in the Record Office. They are addressed to his brother, Thomas, in the years 1623 and 1624, and they begin "Loving David," and end "Thy Jonathon." One is much stained, and difficult to read; both treat of political matters.
In 1629 the origin of a seditious pamphlet, entitled, "How to bridle the impertinency of Parliaments," which was handed about in London, causing some commotion, was traced to the Cottonian library. In spite of all that Cotton could put forward to exculpate himself, an order was issued by the Privy Council for the sequestration of his books, on the ground that they were not of a nature to be exposed for public inspection. And this was not all. Once before he had been deprived of access to them for a time, and now again he was himself debarred from entering his own library, a privation which affected him so seriously, that from the moment of sequestration his health visibly declined, and he declared to his friends that they had broken his heart, who had locked up his books from him.
Disraeli, in his Amenities of Literature, says that, "Tormented by the fate of a collection which had consumed forty years, at every personal sacrifice to form it for 'the use and services of posterity,' he sank at the sudden stroke. In the course of a few weeks he was so worn by injured feelings that, from a ruddy-complexioned man, his face was wholly changed into a grim blackish paleness, near to the resemblance and hue of a dead visage."
Cotton made two separate petitions to have his rights over his own property restored. In the first he signified to the Privy Council that their detaining his books without rendering any reason for the same had been the cause of the mortal malady from which he suffered. In the second, in which his son joined, he merely complained that the documents were perishing for lack of airing, and that no one was allowed to consult them. The Lord Privy Seal was at last sent to him with a tardy message from the king, but too late to avail him anything. Within half an hour of his death the Earl of Dorset came to condole with his son, now Sir Thomas Cotton, bearing the somewhat ambiguous assurance that, "as his Majesty loved his father, so he would continue his love to him." Sir Robert Cotton died on the 6th May 1631, and was buried at Connington. Long afterwards it was discovered that the author of the fatal pamphlet, that had done so much to kill him, was Sir Robert Dudley, who had written it when in exile at Florence.
Before tracing the subsequent history of the Cottonian library we will pause and consider some of the most important manuscripts which it contained at the death of its famous originator.
It has been said that he turned his attention largely towards collecting materials for every period of English history. Those materials are particularly rich as regards the Anglo-Saxon period.
Beginning chronologically we find here (in Vitellius, A 15) the story of Beowulf, the oldest monument of AngloSaxon literature, reaching back into the ages of heathendom. It is a pagan war-song which, in being handed down from minstrel to minstrel, has lost nothing of its wild, exultant beauty, while it has received many Christian inflexions from the bards of a better religion than that in which it was originally conceived, through whose minds it passed before being committed to parchment. When the Saxons had embraced Christianity they carefully weeded out from their national poetry all allusion to personages of pagan mythology, so that, in an antiquarian sense, their literature suffered. But the forcible and picturesque imagery of half-barbaric tribes still remained. The coarseness of the beer-hall is, however, subdued by the gold and silken embroideries with which it is adorned. In a vivid description of a battle, in the midst of lurid flames, of blood and carnage, the enemy is "put to sleep with the sword." When a hero dies in peace, "he goes on his way."