Born: Christopher Smart, poet, 1722, Shepburne in Kent; David Hamilton, architect, 1768, Glasgow; Marshal Lannes, Duke of Montebello, 1769, Lectoure; George Canning, statesman, 1770, London.
Died: Cardinal Beaufort, 1447, Winchester; Gaston de Foix, French warrior, 1512, Ravenna; Pope Gregory XIII, 1585; Stanislaus Poniatowski, last King of Poland, 1798, St. Petersburg; John Galt, novelist and miscellaneous writer, 1839.
Feast Day: St. Leo the Great, Pope, 461. St. Antipas, martyr. St. Maccai, abbot, 5th century (?). St. Aid, abbot in Ireland. St. Guthlac, hermit, patron of the abbey of Croyland, 716.
St. Guthlac, one of the most interesting of the old Saxon anchorets, we have a good biography by a nearly contemporary monk named Felix. From this it appears that the saint was at first devoted to warlike enterprises, but after a time was moved to devote himself wholly to a contemplative religious life in Croyland Isle in the fen countries. Here he performed, as usual, many miracles, was tortured by devils, and had many blessed experiences; at length, on the 11th of April 716, he was favoured with a quiet and easy passage to a higher state of existence, at the age of forty-one.
There is much that is admirable in this biography, and the character it ascribes to St. Guthlac. The account contains no trace of those monstrous aceticisms which so often disgust us. He wore skins instead of linen, and had one daily meal only, of barley-bread and water; but no self-inflictions are recorded, only abstemious habits and incessant devotion. 'The blessed man Guthlac was a chosen man in divine deeds, and a treasure of all wisdom; and he was stedfast in his duties, as also he was earnestly intent on Christ's service, so that never was aught else in his mouth but Christ's praise, nor in his heart but virtue, nor in his mind but peace and love and pity; nor did any man ever see him angry nor slothful to Christ's service: but one might ever perceive in his countenance love and peace; and evermore sweetness was in his temper, and wisdom in his breast, and there was so much cheerfulness in him, that he always appeared alike to acquaintances and to strangers.' We must confess, not a revolting character.
Monk Felix describes the fen wilderness: 'There are immense marshes, now a black pool of water, now foul-running streams, and also many islands, and reeds, and hillocks, and thickets.' Doubtless, a true description. The villages were mostly built on beds of gravel, which afforded comparative security.
Ethelbald founded an abbey in Croyland Isle, St. Guthlac's retreat, which was destroyed by the Danes when they sacked Ely and Peterborough. It was rebuilt, and destroyed by fire; and again rebuilt. The monks in after time got to be somewhat ill-famed for drunkenness, revellings, and such like.
Croyland Isle, like the Isle of Ely, is now no more. Of the four streams which enclosed it, the drainage has removed all trace of three, changing them. to quiet pastures and rich farming land; and the Welland itself now runs wide of the village, in a new channel. The curious old triangular bridge stands high and dry in the centre of the village square, lorn of its three streams; and on it sits a robed figure in stone, with a great stone in its hand, supposed to be, amongst other things, a loaf. The modern church is built out of part of the old abbey, and a beautiful portion of ruin remains, though the restorers, alas! are at it. We ourselves can testify to the beautiful peace of those Croyland fens, even at this day; and they must have been much more beautiful in the saint's time.
Henry of Beaufort, who was a very good example of the political prelates of our papal middle ages, and is well known in the annals of England during the fifteenth century, was the second son of John of Gaunt, by that prince's third wife, the Lady Catherine Swynford, and he was therefore half-brother of King Henry IV. He took his name from the castle of Beaufort, in France, where he was born. His birth occurred before the marriage of his parents, but he was legitimatized in the 20th of Richard II, along with his brothers, the eldest of whom was Marquis of Dorset and Lord High Admiral of England, and the other became distinguished as a warrior, and was created Duke of Exeter by Henry V. From the former the present ducal house of Beaufort claims descent.
Henry of Beaufort was thus allied by blood both with the crown and with the most powerful men of the day. He studied at Aix-la-Chapelle and at Oxford, and appears to have been well versed in the civil and canon laws. In 1397, and therefore immediately after his legitimization, he was intruded by Pope Boniface IX into the bishopric of Lincoln, and the new prelate appears to have been in favour with Richard II, for he accompanied that prince in his last expedition into Ireland, and was with him on his return when he met Beaufort's half-brother, Henry of Lancaster, and became his prisoner.
No doubt Bishop Beaufort stood high in the favour of his brother when the latter ascended the throne. On the death of William of Wickham, in 1405, he was translated from the see of Lincoln to that of Winchester, which he continued to hold during the rest of his life. It is recorded of him, that when Henry V, obliged to obtain large sums for his wars, meditated a heavy taxation of the ecclesiastical body, the Bishop of Winchester did not oppose his nephew's demand, but he bought off the danger by lending the king, out of his own great wealth, the sum of twenty thousand pounds. That his power in England was great, and that he was not unpopular, was proved by the circumstance that on the death of Henry V he was chosen by the Parliament to be, with the Earl of Warwick, guardian of the infant prince, who had now become Henry VI.
He seems to have taken an active part in the government from the first, but he differed in many of his views from the Duke of Gloucester, and the disagreement rose to such a height that the bishop wrote to the Duke of Bedford to call him from France to interfere, and his presence alone effected a reconciliation. Nor was this reconciliation easy, for though the regent Bedford arrived in London on the 10th of January, private negotiations produced so little effect that, after several months' discussion, it was found necessary to submit the matter to a parliament, the members of which were forbidden to appear in arms, lest it might end in a fight.
'The twentieone of February,' says Stow, 'began a great councell at St. Albans, which was afterwarde rejorned to Northampton, but, for that no due conclusion might be made, on the 15th of March was called a parliament at Leicester, the which endured till the 25th day of June. This was called the parliament of battes, because men being forbidden to bring swords or other weapons, brought great battes and staves on their neckes, and when those weapons were inhibited them, they took stones and plomets of lead. During this parliament, the variance betwixt the two lords was debated, insomuch that the Duke of Gloucester put a bill of complaint against the byshop, containing sixe articles, all which articles were by the bishop sufficiently answered; and finally, by the counsel of the lord regent, all the matters of variance betweene the sayde two lords were put to the examination and judgement of certain lords of the parliament.' The bishop, however, seems not to have been fully satisfied, for soon afterwards he resigned his office of Lord Chancellor.
Immediately after this reconciliation, on the 23rd of June 1426, Bishop Beaufort's ambition was gratified by his election at Rome to the dignity of a cardinal (of St. Eusebius), and on the Duke of Bedford's return to France in the February of the following year he accompanied him to Calais to receive there the cardinal's hat. In the autumn of 1429, Cardinal Beaufort was appointed by the Pope the papal legate in the army which he was sending against the Bohemian heretics, who at the same time enjoined him to bring with him out of England a body of soldiers to assist in the expedition, for the raising of which he authorized him to levy a tax of one-tenth on the incomes of the spirituality in England. Cardinal Beaufort raised the money, collected upwards of four thousand English soldiers, and was on his way to the Continent, when he received a message from the Regent Bedford, earnestly requesting him to carry him whatever troops he could to reinforce him in Paris. The cardinal's patriotism overcame his devotion to the Pope, and he proceeded with his soldiers to Paris, where he was gladly received, but, after remaining no long while there, the cardinal continued his journey to Bohemia. He soon, however, returned thence to England, having, as far as is known, per-formed no act worth recording.
Cardinal Beaufort continued to take an active part in political affairs, and he appears to have been generally considered as a friend to reforms. He was popular, because he seems to have steadily supported the French policy of Henry V, and to have been opposed to all concessions to the enemy. The remarkable political poem entitled the Libel of English Policy, written in the year 1436, was dedicated to him. Yet he acted in concert with the Duke of Suffolk in concluding the truce of 1444, and in bringing about the marriage of the young King of England with Margaret of Anjou, which was the fertile source of so many troubles in England. From this time the cardinal's political party became identified with Suffolk's party, that is, with the party of the queen. Beaufort was himself perhaps falling into dotage, for he was now an octogenarian, and he did not long survive this event, for he died in his Episcopal palace of Walvesey, on the 11th of April 1447. He had ruled the see of Winchester during the long period of nearly forty-three years.
Cardinal Beaufort was usually considered to be a selfish, hard, and unfeeling man, yet it must be remembered to his credit that, when Joan d'Arc was brought into the market-place of Rouen for execution, Beaufort, who sat on a scaffold with the prelates of France, rose from his seat in tears, and set the example to the other bishops of leaving the place. He was certainly ambitious, for at the advanced age of eighty he still cherished the hope of securing his election to the papacy.
A fortnight after Easter our forefathers celebrated a popular anniversary, the origin and meaning of which has been the subject of some dispute. It was called Hoke-tide, or Hock-tide, and occupied two days, the Monday and Tuesday following the second Sunday after Easter, though the Tuesday was considered the principal day.
On this day it was the custom for the women to go out into the streets and roads with cords, and stop and bind all those of the other sex they met, holding them till they purchased their release by a small contribution of money. On the Monday, the men had proceeded in the same way towards the women. The meaning of the word hoke, or hock, seems to be totally unknown, and none of the derivations yet proposed seem to be deserving of our consideration. The custom may be traced, by its name at least, as far back as the thirteenth century, and appears to have prevailed in all parts of England, but it became obsolete early in the last century. At Coventry, which was a great place for pageantry, there was a play or pageant attached to the ceremony, which, under the title of The old Coventry play of Hock Tuesday, was performed before Queen Elizabeth during her visit to Kenilworth, in July 1575. It represented a series of combats between the English and Danish forces, in which twice the Danes had the better, but at last, by the arrival of the Saxon women to assist their countrymen, the Danes were overcome, and many of them were led captive in triumph by the women. Queen Elizabeth 'laughed well' at this play, and is said to have been so much pleased with it, that she gave the actors two bucks and five marks in money. The usual performance of this play had been suppressed in Coventry soon after the Reformation, on account of the scenes of riot which it occasioned.
It will be seen that this Coventry play was founded on the statement which had found a place in some of our chroniclers as far back as the fourteenth century, that these games of Hock-tide were intended to commemorate the massacre of the Danes on St. Brice's day, 1002; while others, alleging the fact that St. Brice's day is the 13th of November, suppose it to commemorate the rejoicings which followed the death of Hardicanute, and the accession of Edward the Confessor, when the country was delivered from Danish tyranny.
Others, however, and probably with more reason, think that these are both erroneous explanations; and this opinion is strongly supported by the fact that Hock Tuesday is not a fixed day, but a moveable festival, and dependent on the great Anglo-Saxon pagan festival of Easter, like the similar ceremony of heaving, still practised on the borders of Wales on Easter Monday and Tuesday. Such old pagan ceremonies were preserved among the Anglo-Saxons long after they became Christians, but their real meaning was gradually forgotten, and stories and legends, like this of the Danes, afterwards invented to explain them. It may also be regarded as a confirmation of the belief, that this festival is the representation of some feast connected with the pagan superstitions of our Saxon forefathers, that the money which was collected was given to the church, and was usually applied to the reparation of the church buildings. We can hardly understand why a collection of money should be thus made in commemoration of the over-throw of the Danish influence, but we can easily imagine how, when the festival was continued by the Saxons as Christians, what had been an offering to some one of the pagan gods might be turned into an offering to the church. The entries on this subject in the old churchwardens' registers of many of our parishes, not only shew how generally the custom prevailed, but to what an extent the middle classes of society took part in it. In Reading these entries go back to a rather remote date, and mention collections by men as well as women while they seem to shew that there the women, 'hocked,' as the phrase was, on the Monday, and the men on the Tuesday. In the registers of the parish of St. Laurence, under the year 1499, we have
'Item, received of Hock money gaderyd of women, xxs.
Item, received of Hok money gaderyd of men, iiijs.,
And, in the parish of St. Giles, under the date 1535
'Hoc money gatheryd by the wyves (women), xiijs. ixd.'
And, in St. Mary's parish, under the year 1559-
Hoctyde money, the mens gatheryng, iiijs. The womens, xijs.
Out of this money, it would appear that the wyves,' who always gained most, were in Reading treated with a supper, for we find in the churchwardens' accounts of St. Giles's parish, under the year 1526, this entry
Paid for the wyves supper at Hoctyde, xxiiijd.
In the year 1450, a bishop of Worcester inhibited these 'Hoctyde ' practices, on the ground that they led to all sorts of dissipation and licentiousness. It may be added that it appears, from the entries in the churchwardens' registers of various parishes, that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Hock-tide was called in London Hob-tide.