ELIZABETH OF TUDOR: THE GIRL OF THE HERTFORD MANOR.
(Afterward Queen Elizabeth of England; the "Good Queen Bess.") A.D. 1548.
The iron-shod hoofs of the big gray courser rang sharply on the frozen ground, as, beneath the creaking boughs of the long-armed oaks, Launcelot Crue, the Lord Protector's fleetest courser-man, galloped across the Hertford fells or hills, and reined up his horse within the great gates of Hatfield manor-house.
"From the Lord Protector," he said; and Master Avery Mitchell, the feodary,(1) who had been closely watching for this same courser-man for several anxious hours, took from his hands a scroll, on which was inscribed:
(1) An old English term for the guardian of "certain wards of the state,"—young persons under guardianship of the government.
"To Avery Mitchell, feodary of the Wards in Herts, at Halfield House. From the Lord Protector, THESE:"
And next, the courser-man, in secrecy, unscrewed one of the bullion buttons on his buff jerkin, and taking from it a scrap of paper, handed this also to the watchful feodary. Then, his mission ended, he repaired to the buttery to satisfy his lusty English appetite with a big dish of pasty, followed by ale and "wardens" (as certain hard pears, used chiefly for cooking, were called in those days), while the cautious Avery Mitchell, unrolling the scrap of paper, read:
"In secrecy, THESE: Under guise of mummers place a half-score good men and true in your Yule-tide maskyng. Well armed and safely conditioned. They will be there who shall command. Look for the green dragon of Wantley. On your allegiance. This from ye wit who."
Scarcely had the feodary read, re-read, and then destroyed this secret and singular missive, when the "Ho! hollo!" of Her Grace the Princess' outriders rang on the crisp December air, and there galloped up to the broad doorway of the manor-house, a gayly costumed train of lords and ladies, with huntsmen and falconers and yeomen following on behind. Central in the group, flushed with her hard gallop through the wintry air, a young girl of fifteen, tall and trim in figure, sat her horse with the easy grace of a practised and confident rider. Her long velvet habit was deeply edged with fur, and both kirtle and head-gear were of a rich purple tinge, while from beneath the latter just peeped a heavy coil of sunny, golden hair. Her face was fresh and fair, as should be that of any young girl of fifteen, but its expression was rather that of high spirits and of heedless and impetuous moods than of simple maidenly beauty.
"Tilly-vally, my lord," she cried, dropping her bridle-rein into the hands of a waiting groom, "'t was my race to-day, was it not? Odds fish, man!" she cried out sharply to the attendant groom; "be ye easier with Roland's bridle there. One beast of his gentle mettle were worth a score of clumsy varlets like to you! Well, said I not right, my Lord Admiral; is not the race fairly mine, I ask?" and, careless in act as in speech, she gave the Lord Admiral's horse, as she spoke, so sharp a cut with her riding whip as to make the big brute rear in sudden surprise, and almost unhorse its rider, while an unchecked laugh came from its fair tormentor.
"Good faith, Mistress," answered Sir Thomas Seymour, the Lord High Admiral, gracefully swallowing his exclamation of surprise, "your ladyship hath fairly won, and, sure, hath no call to punish both myself and my good Selim here by such unwarranted chastisement. Will your grace dismount?"
And, vaulting from his seat, he gallantly extended his hand to help the young girl from her horse; while, on the same instant, another in her train, a handsome young fellow of the girl's own age, knelt on the frozen ground and held her stirrup.
But this independent young maid would have none of their courtesies. Ignoring the outstretched hands of both the man and boy, she sprang lightly from her horse, and, as she did so, with a sly and sudden push of her dainty foot, she sent the kneeling lad sprawling backward, while her merry peal of laughter rang out as an accompaniment to his downfall.
"Without your help, my lords—without your help, so please you both," she cried. "Why, Dudley," she exclaimed, in mock surprise, as she threw a look over her shoulder at the prostrate boy, "are you there? Beshrew me, though, you do look like one, of goodman Roger's Dorking cocks in the poultry yonder, so red and ruffled of feather do you seem. There, see now, I do repent me of my discourtesy. You, Sir Robert, shall squire me to the hall, and Lord Seymour must even content himself with playing the gallant to good Mistress Ashley"; and, leaning on the arm of the now pacified Dudley, the self-willed girl tripped lightly up the entrance-steps.
Self-willed and thoughtless—even rude and hoydenish—we may think her in these days of gentler manners and more guarded speech. But those were less refined and cultured times than these in which we live; and the rough, uncurbed nature of "Kinge Henrye the viii. of Most Famous Memorye," as the old chronicles term the "bluff King Hal," reappeared to a noticeable extent in the person of his second child, the daughter of ill-fated Anne Boleyn—"my ladye's grace" the Princess Elizabeth of England.