Curiosities of Literature, by Isaac Disraeli

Anecdotes of Prince Henry, the Son of James I., when a Child.

Prince Henry, the son of James I., whose premature death was lamented by the people, as well as by poets and historians, unquestionably would have proved an heroic and military character. Had he ascended the throne, the whole face of our history might have been changed; the days of Agincourt and Cressy had been revived, and Henry IX. had rivalled Henry V. It is remarkable that Prince Henry resembled that monarch in his features, as Ben Jonson has truly recorded, though in a complimentary verse, and as we may see by his picture, among the ancient English ones at Dulwich College. Merlin, in a masque by Jonson, addresses Prince Henry,

Yet rests that other thunderbolt of war,

Harry the Fifth; to whom in face you are

So like, as fate would have you so in worth.

A youth who perished in his eighteenth year has furnished the subject of a volume, which even the deficient animation of its writer has not deprived of attraction.1 If the juvenile age of Prince Henry has proved such a theme for our admiration, we may be curious to learn what this extraordinary youth was even at an earlier period. Authentic anecdotes of children are rare; a child has seldom a biographer by his side. We have indeed been recently treated with “Anecdotes of Children,” in the “Practical Education” of the literary family of the Edgeworths; but we may presume that as Mr. Edgeworth delighted in pieces of curious machinery in his house, these automatic infants, poets, and metaphysicians, of whom afterwards we have heard no more, seem to have resembled other automata, moving without any native impulse.

Prince Henry, at a very early age, not exceeding five years, evinced a thoughtfulness of character, extraordinary in a child. Something in the formation of this early character may be attributed to the Countess of Mar. This lady had been the nurse of James I., and to her care the king intrusted the prince. She is described in a manuscript of the times, as “an ancient, virtuous, and severe lady, who was the prince’s governess from his cradle.” At the age of five years the prince was consigned to his tutor, Mr. (afterwards Sir) Adam Newton, a man of learning and capacity, whom the prince at length chose for his secretary. The severity of the old countess, and the strict discipline of his tutor, were not received without affection and reverence; although not at times without a shrewd excuse, or a turn of pleasantry, which latter faculty the princely boy seems to have possessed in a very high degree.

The prince early attracted the attention and excited the hopes of those who were about his person. A manuscript narrative has been preserved, which was written by one who tells us, that he was “an attendant upon the prince’s person since he was under the age of three years, having always diligently observed his disposition, behaviour, and speeches.”2 It was at the earnest desire of Lord and Lady Lumley that the writer of these anecdotes drew up this relation. The manuscript is without date; but as Lord Lumley died in April, 1609, and leaving no heir, his library was then purchased for the prince, Henry could not have reached his fifteenth year; this manuscript was evidently composed earlier: so that the latest anecdotes could not have occurred beyond his thirteenth or fourteenth year — a time of life when few children can furnish a curious miscellany about themselves.

The writer set down every little circumstance he considered worth noticing, as it occurred. I shall attempt a sort of arrangement of the most interesting, to show, by an unity of the facts, the characteristic touches of the mind and dispositions of the princely boy.

Prince Henry in his childhood rarely wept, and endured pain without a groan. When a boy wrestled with him in earnest, and threw him, he was not “seen to whine or weep at the hurt.” His sense of justice was early; for when his playmate the little Earl of Mar ill-treated one of his pages, Henry reproved his puerile friend: “I love you because you are my lord’s son and my cousin; but, if you be not better conditioned, I will love such an one better,” naming the child that had complained of him.

The first time he went to the town of Stirling, to meet the king, observing without the gate of the town a stack of corn, it fancifully struck him with the shape of the top he used to play with, and the child exclaimed, “That’s a good top.” “Why do you not then play with it?” he was answered. “Set you it up for me, and I will play with it.” This is just the fancy which we might expect in a lively child, with a shrewdness in the retort above its years.

His martial character was perpetually discovering itself. When asked what instrument he liked best, he answered, “a trumpet.” We are told that none could dance with more grace, but that he never delighted in dancing; while he performed his heroical exercises with pride and delight, more particularly when before the king, the constable of Castile, and other ambassadors. He was instructed by his master to handle and toss the pike, to march and hold himself in an affected style of stateliness, according to the martinets of those days; but he soon rejected such petty and artificial fashions; yet to show that this dislike arose from no want of skill in a trifling accomplishment, he would sometimes resume it only to laugh at it, and instantly return to his own natural demeanour. On one of these occasions, one of these martinets observing that they could never be good soldiers unless they always kept true order and measure in marching, “What then must they do,” cried Henry, “when they wade through a swift-running water?” In all things freedom of action from his own native impulse he preferred to the settled rules of his teachers; and when his physician told him that he rode too fast, he replied, “Must I ride by rules of physic?” When he was eating a cold capon in cold weather, the physician told him that that was not meat for the weather. “You may see, doctor,” said Henry, “that my cook is no astronomer.” And when the same physician, observing him eat cold and hot meat together, protested against it, “I cannot mind that now,” said the royal boy, facetiously, “though they should have run at tilt together in my belly.”

His national affections were strong. When one reported to Henry that the King of France had said that his bastard, as well as the bastard of Normandy, might conquer England, the princely boy exclaimed, “I’ll to cuffs with him, if he go about any such means.” There was a dish of jelly before the prince, in the form of a crown, with three lilies; and a kind of buffoon, whom the prince used to banter, said to the prince that that dish was worth a crown. “Ay!” exclaimed the future English hero, “I would I had that crown!"—“It would be a great dish,” rejoined the buffoon. “How can that be,” rejoined the prince, “since you value it but a crown?” When James I. asked him whether he loved Englishmen or Frenchmen better, he replied, “Englishmen, because he was of kindred to more noble persons of England than of France;” and when the king inquired whether he loved the English or the Germans better, he replied the English; on which the king observing that his mother was a German, the prince replied, “‘Sir, you have the wyte thereof;’— a northern speech,” adds the writer, “which is as much as to say — you are the cause thereof.”

Born in Scotland, and heir to the crown of England at a time when the mutual jealousies of the two nations were running so high, the boy often had occasion to express the unity of affection which was really in his heart. Being questioned by a nobleman, whether, after his father, he had rather be king of England or Scotland, he asked, “Which of them was best?” Being answered, that it was England; “Then,” said the Scottish-born prince, “would I have both!” And once, in reading this verse in Virgil,

Tros Tyriusve mihi nullo discrimine agetur,

the boy said he would make use of that verse for himself, with a slight alteration, thus,

Anglus Scotusve mihi nullo discrimine agetur.

He was careful to keep alive the same feeling in another part of the British dominions; and the young prince appears to have been regarded with great affection by the Welsh; for when once the prince asked a gentleman at what mark he should shoot, the courtier pointed with levity at a Welshman who was present. “Will you see, then,” said the princely boy, “how I will shoot at Welshmen?” Turning his back from him, the prince shot his arrow in the air. When a Welshman, who had taken a large carouse, in the fulness of his heart and his head, said in the presence of the king, that the prince should have 40,000 Welshmen, to wait upon him against any king in Christendom; the king, not a little jealous, hastily inquired, “To do what?” The little prince turned away the momentary alarm by his facetiousness: “To cut off the heads of 40,000 leeks.”

His bold and martial character was discoverable in minute circumstances like these. Eating in the king’s presence a dish of milk, the king asked him why he ate so much child’s meat. “Sir, it is also man’s meat,” Henry replied; and immediately after having fed heartily on a partridge, the king observed that that meat would make him a coward, according to the prevalent notions of the age respecting diet; to which the young prince replied, “though it be but a cowardly fowl, it shall not make me a coward.” Once taking strawberries with two spoons, when one might have sufficed, our infant Mars gaily exclaimed, “The one I use as a rapier and the other as a dagger!”

Adam Newton appears to have filled his office as preceptor with no servility to the capricious fancies of the princely boy. Desirous, however, of cherishing the generous spirit and playful humour of Henry, his tutor encouraged a freedom of jesting with him, which appears to have been carried at times to a degree of momentary irritability on the side of the tutor, by the keen humour of the boy. While the royal pupil held his master in equal reverence and affection, the gaiety of his temper sometimes twitched the equability or the gravity of the preceptor. When Newton, wishing to set an example to the prince in heroic exercises, one day practised the pike, and tossing it with such little skill as to have failed in the attempt, the young prince telling him of his failure, Newton obviously lost his temper, observing, that “to find fault was an evil humour.” “Master, I take the humour of you.” “It becomes not a prince,” observed Newton. “Then,” retorted the young prince, “doth it worse become a prince’s master!” Some of these harmless bickerings are amusing. When his tutor, playing at shuffle-board with the prince, blamed him for changing so often, and taking up a piece, threw it on the board, and missed his aim, the prince smilingly exclaimed, “Well thrown, master;” on which the tutor, a little vexed, said “he would not strive with a prince at shuffle-board.” Henry observed, “Yet you gownsmen should be best at such exercises, which are not meet for men who are more stirring.” The tutor, a little irritated, said, “I am meet for whipping of boys.” “You vaunt, then,” retorted the prince, “that which a ploughman or cart-driver can do better than you.” “I can do more,” said the tutor, “for I can govern foolish children.” On which the prince, who, in his respect for his tutor, did not care to carry the jest farther, rose from the table, and in a low voice to those near him said, “he had need be a wise man that could do that.” Newton was sometimes severe in his chastisement; for when the prince was playing at goff, and having warned his tutor, who was standing by in conversation, that he was going to strike the ball, and having lifted up the goff-club, some one observing, “Beware, sir, that you hit not Mr. Newton!” the prince drew back the club, but smilingly observed, “Had I done so, I had but paid my debts.” At another time, when he was amusing himself with the sports of a child, his tutor wishing to draw him to more manly exercises, amongst other things, said to him in good humour, “God send you a wise wife!” “That she may govern you and me!” said the prince. The tutor observed, that “he had one of his own;” the prince replied, “But mine, if I have one, would govern your wife, and by that means would govern both you and me!” Henry, at this early age, excelled in a quickness of reply, combined with reflection, which marks the precocity of his intellect. His tutor having laid a wager with the prince that he could not refrain from standing with his back to the fire, and seeing him forget himself once or twice, standing in that posture, the tutor said, “Sir, the wager is won, you have failed twice.” “Master,” replied Henry, “Saint Peter’s cock crew thrice."— A musician having played a voluntary in his presence, was requested to play the same again. “I could not for the kingdom of Spain,” said the musician, “for this were harder than for a preacher to repeat word by word a sermon that he had not learned by rote.” A clergyman standing by, observed that he thought a preacher might do that: “Perhaps,” rejoined the young prince, “for a bishopric!”

The natural facetiousness of his temper appears frequently in the good humour with which the little prince was accustomed to treat his domestics. He had two of opposite characters, who were frequently set by the ears for the sake of the sport; the one, Murray, nicknamed “the tailor,” loved his liquor; and the other was a stout “trencherman.” The king desired the prince to put an end to these broils, and to make the men agree, and that the agreement should be written and subscribed by both. “Then,” said the prince, “must the drunken tailor subscribe it with chalk, for he cannot write his name, and then I will make them agree upon this condition — that the trencherman shall go into the cellar, and drink with Will Murray, and Will Murray shall make a great wallet for the trencherman to carry his victuals in."— One of his servants having cut the prince’s finger, and sucked out the blood with his mouth, that it might heal the more easily, the young prince, who expressed no displeasure at the accident, said to him pleasantly, “If, which God forbid! my father, myself, and the rest of his kindred should fail, you might claim the crown, for you have now in you the blood-royal."— Our little prince once resolved on a hearty game of play, and for this purpose only admitted his young gentlemen, and excluded the men: it happened that an old servant, not aware of the injunction, entered the apartment, on which the prince told him he might play too; and when the prince was asked why he admitted this old man rather than the other men, he rejoined, “Because he had a right to be of their number, for Senex bis puer.

Nor was Henry susceptible of gross flattery, for when once he wore white shoes, and one said that he longed to kiss his foot, the prince said to the fawning courtier, “Sir, I am not the pope;” the other replied that “he would not kiss the pope’s foot, except it were to bite off his great toe.” The prince gravely rejoined: “At Rome you would be glad to kiss his foot and forget the rest.”

It was then the mode, when the king or the prince travelled, to sleep with their suite at the houses of the nobility; and the loyalty and zeal of the host were usually displayed in the reception given to the royal guest. It happened that in one of these excursions the prince’s servants complained that they had been obliged to go to bed supperless, through the pinching parsimony of the house, which the little prince at the time of hearing seemed to take no great notice of. The next morning the lady of the house coming to pay her respects to him, she found him turning over a volume that had many pictures in it; one of which was a painting of a company sitting at a banquet: this he showed her. “I invite you, madam, to a feast.” “To what feast?” she asked. “To this feast,” said the boy. “What! would your highness give me but a painted feast?” Fixing his eye on her, he said, “No better, madam, is found in this house.” There was a delicacy and greatness of spirit in this ingenious reprimand far excelling the wit of a child.

According to this anecdote-writer, it appears that James the First probably did not delight in the martial dispositions of his son, whose habits and opinions were, in all respects, forming themselves opposite to his own tranquil and literary character. The writer says, that “his majesty, with the tokens of love to him, would sometimes interlace sharp speeches, and other demonstrations of fatherly severity.” Henry, who however lived, though he died early, to become a patron of ingenious men, and a lover of genius, was himself at least as much enamoured of the pike as of the pen. The king, to rouse him to study, told him, that if he did not apply more diligently to his book, his brother, duke Charles, who seemed already attached to study, would prove more able for government and for the cabinet, and that himself would be only fit for field exercises and military affairs. To his father, the little prince made no reply; but when his tutor one day reminded him of what his father had said, to stimulate our young prince to literary diligence, Henry asked, whether he thought his brother would prove so good a scholar. His tutor replied that he was likely to prove so. ‘Then,’ rejoined our little prince, ‘will I make Charles Archbishop of Canterbury.’”

Our Henry was devoutly pious, and rigid in never permitting before him any licentious language or manners. It is well known that James the First had a habit of swearing — expletives in conversation, which, in truth, only expressed the warmth of his feelings; but in that age, when Puritanism had already possessed half the nation, an oath was considered as nothing short of blasphemy. Henry once made a keen allusion to this verbal frailty of his father’s; for when he was told that some hawks were to be sent to him, but it was thought that the king would intercept some of them, he replied, “He may do as he pleases, for he shall not be put to the oath for the matter.” The king once asking him what were the best verses he had learned in the first book of Virgil, Henry answered, “These:—

‘Rex erat Æneas nobis, quo justior alter

Nec pietate fuit, nec bello major et armis.’”

Such are a few of the puerile anecdotes of a prince who died in early youth, gleaned from a contemporary manuscript, by an eye and ear witness. They are trifles, but trifles consecrated by his name. They are genuine; and the philosopher knows how to value the indications of a great and heroic character. There are among them some which may occasion an inattentive reader to forget that they are all the speeches and the actions of a child!

1 Dr. Birch’s Life of this Prince.

2 Harleian MS., 6391.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/disraeli/isaac/curiosities/chapter172.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37