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Vol. V. Part I.
The Negotiations of Woolsey, the great Cardinall of England.
Containing his life and death, viz. 1. The originall of his promotion. 2. The continuance in his magnificence. 3. His fate, death, and buriall. Composed by one of his owne servants, being his Gentleman-Usher, [G. Cavendish.] London, printed
for William Sheares, 1641. Cavendish's Life of Wolsey, in Wordsworth's Ecclesiastical Bio
graphy. Printed from a MS. in the Lambeth Library.
The fate of this most interesting piece of biography has been singularly unfortunate.—Until very lately, it has only been known in editions of the work, the earliest of which was printed nearly a hundred years after its composition, and then so garbled, abridged, and altered, by the caprice of a tasteless editor in order to serve a temporary purpose, as almost to destroy the identity of the work. Numerous MSS.(no less than ten in different public libraries) of it, have, however, very fortunately come down to our time; and to them, alone, must we recur for the elegant and simple language, the minute and accurate narrative, the instructive and extraordinary facts, of the biographer. Moreover, it was but a short time ago, that the real author was properly ascertained, and the popular error, which attributed the credit of the work to Sir William Cavendish, the founder of the house of Devonshire, completely refuted. The author of that excellent pamphlet,“ Who wrote Cavendish's Life of Wolsey ?”
VOL. V. PART 1.
has set the matter at rest, by proving, that our gratitude should be paid to George Cavendish the elder, the poor and neglected brother of Sir William ; and thus, by consequence, shewing the fallacy of the tradition, that the wealth of that distinguished house had its foundation in certain advantages which Sir William was supposed to have enjoyed in the course of his service upon Cardinal Wolsey. To George Cavendish, of Glemsford (as it is rightly stated by Lord Herbert), the faithful follower of the great Cardinal, a zealous Catholic and loyal subject of Queen Mary, do we owe this remarkable account of his master's high estate and precipitate fall.' Of the ten MSS. which still exist of this ancient work, one has lately been edited by Dr. Wordsworth, in his Ecclesiastical Biography, from a MS. in the Lambeth Library; and it is this, rather than the imperfect earlier editions, which we shall use for our extracts, not only because it is illustrated and amended with great judgement and taste, in that excellent and valuable work, but because the book from which it is copied appears to have the best claims to originality of any of the others, whether print or manuscript, which have met our view.
There have been few more remarkable and eventful lives than that of Wolsey, which has even become a proverb in the mouths of all those who would exemplify the instability of human grandeur, and the uncertainty of the favour of princes. Cavendish appears to have been a constant attendant upon the person of the Cardinal for the last few years of that prelate's life, and to have enjoyed perpetual opportunities of close observation. The latter years of his own life, after the death of Wolsey, he probably employed in recording the facts which had come under his own view, and in recollecting and committing to writing those which his master, in his hours of familiar confidence, had related to him.
It is seldom that we can get so near a view of a life so remarkable and eventful as that of this great courtier; and the rarity of such works increases in proportion to the remoteness of the period. But what adds to the value of this production, is, that there is no where a more vivid and striking representation of the manners of that distant age, than in the pages we are about to review.
When Cavendish lived, literature was neither a very common nor a very necessary accomplishment, nor is it at all usual to find the gentlemen of that age sitting down to record the memorable events of their lives for the instruction or amusement of posterity. Our author, however, was too much struck by the splendour and grandeur of the Cardinal, too much affected by the awful change in the fortunes of his patron, and what is still more amiable, too indignant at the spreading slan
ders against the character of his deceased master, to suffer the glory of his magnificence to pass away without an effort to transmit to future ages some testimony of its radiance. So that it became the pious care of this steady adherent of the "mighty fallen," to dwell with fondness on the scenes in which he had seen his master perform his stately part, to watch over again in thought the progress of his doubtful fate, and collect the few faint rays which played about the last hour of the brokenhearted statesman. Both Wolsey and ourselves may be said to be fortunate in his biographer. In spite of the attachment which the writer must be supposed to have felt to his subject, his work bears evidence of a most exemplary impartiality, by which the Cardinal loses nothing, and we gain much. The pen of Cavendish is a lively and a ready one, and all that came under his own observation he describes with fidelity and accuracy. His style has the unstudied graces of a man writing in earnest; and when it rises, as it frequently does, in denouncing the blind caprices of chance, the degeneracy of the times, or the neglect of obscure worth, it often possesses a dignity and impressive eloquence, which mark a lofty and intellectual spirit.
In the management of the work, he has adhered to the order of time, and commences with what he understood to have been the history of Wolsey's early life and rise to greatness. In this part, he interweaves some events as he had heard them described from the mouth of the Cardinal himself; after which he proceeds to a description of his sumptuous establishment and magnificent mode of life, such, probably, as he himself found it on entering the minister's service. He then proceeds to relate what passed under his own observation-the extent of which period not reaching much farther than from the Cardinal's embassy into France to his death, does not embrace any long interval, but is filled with scenes of pomp and splendour, and gorgeous ceremony, which cast into the shade the simplicity of modern manners; and likewise pourtrays the most interesting period of the life of Wolsey, as well as of his master, the “hard-ruled king." The trial and divorce of Katherine-the King's passion for Anne Boleyn—the cruel separation of that lady and the lord Percy-the Cardinal's embassy into France, his fate, the last scenes of his life, and his death in the abbey of Leicester—are all here, with many other events and anecdotes of inferior importance, related by an eye-witness, with a fidelity and a liveliness which place them before our eyes.
It is well known that the fortunes of Wolsey took their rise in the reign of Henry VII. and that had not the death of that king interposed, it is probable that his ability and dexterity would have secured his advancement to the highest station by the favour of that wary monarch. The circumstance which
first brought him into notice is mentioned in all the histories, but is here related, at length, from Wolsey's own mouth, and is too characteristic to be omitted :
“ It chaunced at a certain season that the king had an urgent occasion to send an ambassador unto the emperor Maximilian, who lay at that present in the Lowe Countrey of Flaunders, not far from Calaise. The bishop of Winchester and sir Thomas Lovell, whom the kinge most esteemed, as chiefe of his counseile, (the king one day counselling and debating with them upon this embassage,) saw they had nowe a convenient occasion to prefer the kinge's chapleene, whose excellent witt, eloquence, and learning, they highly comended to the kinge. The kinge giving eare unto them, and being a prince of an excellent judgement and modesty, comanded them to bring his chapleine, whom they so much comended, before his Grace's presence. And to prove the wit of his chapleine he fell in communication with him in great matters : and, perceiving his wit to be very fine, thought him sufficient to be put in trust with this embassage ; commanding him thereupon to prepare himself to his journey, and for his depeche, to repaire to his Grace and his counsell, of whom he should receive his commission and instructions. By means whereof he had then a due occasion to repaire from time to time into the kinge's presence, who perceived him more and more to be a very wise man, and of a good intendment. And having his depeche, he tooke his leave of the kinge at Richmond about none, and so came to London about foure of the clocke, where the barge of Gravesend was ready to launch forthe, both with a prosperous tide and winde. Without any further aboade he entered the barge, and so passed forthe. His happie speede was such that he arrived at Gravesend within little more than three hours; where he tarried no longer than his post horses were provided ; and travelled so speedily with post horses, that he came to Dover the next morning, whereas the passengers were ready under saile to saile to Calaise. Into the which passengers without tarrying he entered, and sailed forth with them, so that long before noone, he arrived at Calaise; and having post horses in a readiness departed from thence, without tarrying. And he made such hasty speede, that he was that night with the emperor. And he having understanding of the coming of the kinge of England's ambassador, would in no wise delay the time, but sent for him incontinent (for his affection to kinge Henry the seventh was such, that he was glad when he had any occasion to shewe him pleasure.) The embassador disclosed the whole summe of his embassage unto the emperor, of whom he required spedy expedition, the which was graunted him, by the emperor; so that the next day he was clearly dispatched, with all the kinges requests fully accomplished and graunted. At which time he made no farther delay or tariaunce, but tooke post horses that night, and rode incontinent towarde Calais againe, conducted thither with such persons as the emperor had appointed. And at the opening of the gates of Calaise, he came thither, where the passengers were as ready to retourne into Englande as they were before at his journey forewarde; insomuch that