THE HISTORICAL NIGHTS ENTERTAINMENT - SECOND SERIES
THE HISTORICAL NIGHTS ENTERTAINMENT - SECOND SERIES
London June 1919.
The kindly reception accorded to the first volume of the
Historical Nights Entertainment issued in December of 1917 has
encouraged me to prepare the second series here assembled.
As in the case of the narratives that made up the first volume
I set out again with the same ambitious aim of adhering
scrupulously in every instance to actual recorded facts; and
once again I find it desirable at the outset to reveal how far
the achievement may have fallen short of the admitted aim.
On the whole I have to confess to having allowed myself perhaps
a wider latitude and to having taken greater liberties than was
the case with the essays constituting the previous collection.
This however applies where applicable to the parts rather
than to the whole.
The only entirely apocryphal narrative here included is the
first--"The Absolution." This is one of those stories which if
resting upon no sufficient authority to compel its acceptance
will nevertheless resist all attempts at final refutation
having its roots at least in the soil of fact. It is given in the
rather discredited Portuguese chronicles of Acenheiro and finds
place more or less as related here in Duarte Galvao's
"Chronicle of Affonso Henriques" whence it was taken by the
Portuguese historical writer Alexandre Herculano to be included
in his "Lendas e Narrativas." If it is to be relegated to the
Limbo of the ben trovato at least I esteem it to afford us a
precious glimpse of the naive spirit of the age in which it is
set and find in that my justification for including it.
The next to require apology is "His Insolence of Buckingham" but
only in so far as the incident of the diamond studs is concerned.
The remainder of the narrative the character of Buckingham the
details of his embassy to Paris and the particulars of his
audacious courtship of Anne of Austria rest upon unassailable
evidence. I would have omitted the very apocryphal incident of
the studs but that I considered it of peculiar interest as
revealing the source of the main theme of one of the most famous
historical romances ever written--"The Three Musketeers." I give
the story as related by La Rochefoucauld in his "Memoirs" whence
Alexandre Dumas culled it that he might turn it to such excellent
romantic account. In La Rochefoucauld's narrative it is the
painter Gerbier who in a far less heroic manner plays the part
assigned by Dumas to d'Artagnan and it is the Countess of
Carlisle who carries out the political theft which Dumas
attributes to Milady. For the rest I do not invite you to attach
undue credit to it which is not however to say that I account
it wholly false.
In the case of "The _Hermosa Fembra_" I confess to having
blended together into one single narrative two historical
episodes closely connected in time and place. Susan's daughter
was in fact herself the betrayer of her father and it was in
penitence for that unnatural act that she desired her skull to be
exhibited as I describe. Into the story of Susan's daughter I
have woven that of another New-Christian girl who like the
Hermosa Fembra her taken a Castilian lover--in this case a youth
of the house of Guzman. This youth was driven into concealment in
circumstances more or less as I describe them. He overheard the
judaizing of several New-Christians there assembled and bore
word of it at once to Ojeda. The two episodes were separated in
fact by an interval of three years and the first afforded Ojeda
a strong argument for the institution of the Holy Office in
Seville. Between the two there are many points of contact and
each supplies what the other lacks to make an interesting
narrative having for background the introduction of the
Inquisition to Castile. The denouement I supply is entirely
fictitious and the introduction of Torquemada is quite
arbitrary. Ojeda was the inquisitor who dealt with both cases.
But if there I stray into fiction at least I claim to have
sketched a faithful portrait of the Grand Inquisitor as I know
him from fairly exhaustive researches into his life and times.
The story of the False Demetrius is here related from the point
of view of my adopted solution of what is generally regarded as a
historical mystery. The mystery lies of course in the man's
identity. He has been held by some to have been the unfrocked
monk Grishka Otropiev by others to have been a son of Stephen
Bathory King of Poland. I am not aware that the theory that he
was both at one and the same time has ever been put forward and
whilst admitting that it is speculative yet I claim that no
other would appear so aptly to fit all the known facts of his
career or to shed light upon its mysteries.
Undoubtedly I have allowed myself a good deal of licence and
speculation in treating certain unwitnessed scenes in "The
Barren Wooing." But the theory that I develop in it to account
for the miscarriage of the matrimonial plans of Queen Elizabeth
and Robert Dudley seems to me to be not only very fully warranted
by de Quadra's correspondence but the only theory that will
convincingly explain the events. Elizabeth as I show was widely
believed to be an accessory to the murder of Amy Robsart. But in
carefully following her words and actions at that critical time
as reported by de Quadra my reading of the transaction is as
given here. The most damning fact against Elizabeth was held to
be her own statement to de Quadra on the eve of Lady Robert
Dudley's murder to the effect that Lady Robert was "already dead
or very nearly so." This foreknowledge of the fate of that
unfortunate lady has been accepted as positive evidence that the
Queen was a party to the crime at Cumnor which was to set her
lover free to marry again. Far from that however I account it
positive proof of Elizabeth's innocence of any such part in the
deed. Elizabeth was far too crafty and clear-sighted not to
realize how her words must incriminate her afterwards if she knew
that the murder of Lady Robert was projected. She must have been
merely repeating what Dudley himself had told her; and what he
must have told her--and she believed--was that his wife was at
the point of a natural death. Similarly Dudley would not have
told her this unless his aim had been to procure his wife's
removal by means which would admit of a natural interpretation.
Difficulties encountered much as I relate them--and for which
there is abundant evidence--drove his too-zealous agents to
rather desperate lengths and thus brought suspicion not only
upon the guilty Dudley but also upon the innocent Queen. The
manner of Amy's murder is pure conjecture; but it should not be
far from what actually took place. The possibility of an
accident--extraordinarily and suspiciously opportune for Dudley
as it would have been--could not be altogether ruled out but for
the further circumstance that Lady Robert had removed everybody
from Cumnor on that day. To what can this point--unless we accept
an altogether incredible chain of coincidence--but to some such
plotting as I here suggest?
In the remaining six essays in this volume the liberties taken
with the absolute facts are so slight as to require no apology or
London June 1919.
I. THE ABSOLUTION
Affonso Henriques First King of Portugal
II. THE FALSE DEMETRIUS
Boris Godunov and the Pretended Son of Ivan the Terrible
III. THE HERMOSA FEMBRA
An Episode of the Inquisition in Seville
IV. THE PASTRY-COOK OF MADRIGAL
The Story of the False Sebastian of Portugal
V. THE END OF THE VERT GALANT
The Assassination of Henry IV
VI. THE BARREN WOOING
The Murder of Amy Robsart
VII. SIR JUDAS
The Betrayal of Sir Walter Ralegh
VIII. HIS INSOLENCE OF BUCKINGHAM
George Villiers' Courtship of Anne of Austria
IX. THE PATH OF EXILE
The Fall of Lord Clarendon
X. THE TRAGEDY OF HERRENHAUSEN
Count Philip Koenigsmark and the Princess Sophia Dorothea
XI. THE TYRANNICIDE
Charlotte Corday and Jean Paul Marat
I. THE ABSOLUTION
Aftonso Henriques first King of Portugal
In 1093 the Moors of the Almoravide dynasty under the Caliph
Yusuf swept irresistibly upwards into the Iberian Peninsula
recapturing Lisbon and Santarem in the west and pushing their
conquest as far as the river Mondego.
To meet this revival of Mohammedan power Alfonso VI. Of Castile
summoned the chivalry of Christendom to his aid. Among the
knights who answered the call was Count Henry of Burgundy
(grandson of Robert first Duke of Burgundy) to whom Alfonso gave
his natural daughter Theresa in marriage together with the
Counties of Oporto and Coimbra with the title of Count of
That is the first chapter of the history of Portugal.
Count Henry fought hard to defend his southern frontiers from the
incursion of the Moors until his death in 1114. Thereafter his
widow Theresa became Regent of Portugal during the minority of
their son Affonso Henriques. A woman of great energy resource
and ambition she successfully waged war against the Moors and
in other ways laid the foundations upon which her son was to
build the Kingdom of Portugal. But her passionate infatuation for
one of her knights--Don Fernando Peres de Trava--and the
excessive honours she bestowed upon him made enemies for her in
the new state and estranged her from her son.
In 1127 Alfonso VII. of Castile invaded Portugal compelling
Theresa to recognize him as her suzerain. But Affonso Henriques
now aged seventeen--and declared by the citizens of the capital
to be of age and competent to reign--incontinently refused to
recognize the submission made by his mother and in the following
year assembled an army for the purpose of expelling her and her
lover from the country. The warlike Theresa resisted until
defeated in the battle of San Mamede and taken prisoner.
* * * * * *
He was little more than a boy although four years were sped
already since as a mere lad of fourteen he had kept vigil
throughout the night over his arms in the Cathedral of Zamora
preparatory to receiving the honour of knighthood at the hands of
his cousin Alfonso VII. of Castile. Yet already he was looked
upon as the very pattern of what a Christian knight should be
worthy son of the father who had devoted his life to doing battle
against the Infidel wheresoever he might be found. He was
well-grown and tall and of a bodily strength that is almost a
byword to this day in that Portugal of which he was the real
founder and first king. He was skilled beyond the common wont in
all knightly exercises of arms and horsemanship and equipped
with far more learning--though much of it was ill-digested as
this story will serve to show--than the twelfth century
considered useful or even proper in a knight. And he was at least
true to his time in that he combined a fervid piety with a
weakness of the flesh and an impetuous arrogance that was to
bring him under the ban of greater excommunication at the very
outset of his reign.
It happened that his imprisonment of his mother was not at all
pleasing in the sight of Rome. Dona Theresa had powerful friends
who so used their influence at the Vatican on her behalf that the
Holy Father--conveniently ignoring the provocation she had given
and the scandalous unmotherly conduct of which she had been
guilty--came to consider the behaviour of the Infante of Portugal
as reprehensibly unfilial and commanded him to deliver Dona
Theresa at once from duress.
This Papal order backed by a threat of excommunication in the
event of disobedience was brought to the young prince by the
Bishop of Coimbra whom he counted among his friends.
Affonso Henriques ever impetuous and quick to anger flushed
scarlet when he heard that uncompromising message. His dark eyes
smouldered as they considered the aged prelate.
"You come here to bid me let loose again upon this land of
Portugal that author of strife to deliver over the people once
more to the oppression of the Lord of Trava?" he asked. "And you
tell me that unless by obeying this command I am false to the
duty I owe this country you will launch the curse of Rome
against me? You tell me this?"
The bishop deeply stirred torn between his duty to the Holy See
and his affection for his prince bowed his head and wrung his
hands. "What choice have I?" he asked on a quavering note.
"I raised you from the dust." Thunder was rumbling in the
prince's voice. "Myself I placed the episcopal ring upon your
"My lord my lord! Could I forget? All that I have I owe to you--
save only my soul which I owe to God; my faith which I owe to
Christ; and my obedience which I owe to our Holy Father the
The prince considered him in silence mastering his passionate
impetuous nature. "Go" he growled at last.
The prelate bowed his head his eyes not daring to meet his
"God keep you lord" he almost sobbed and so went out.
But though stirred by his affection for the prince to whom he
owed so much though knowing in his inmost heart that Affonso
Henriques was in the right the Bishop of Coimbra did not swerve
from his duty to Rome which was as plain as it was unpalatable.
Betimes next morning word was brought to Affonso Henriques in the
Alcazar of Coimbra that a parchment was nailed to the door of the
Cathedral setting forth his excommunication and that the
Bishop--either out of fear or out of sorrow--had left the city
journeying northward towards Oporto.
Affonso Henriques passed swiftly from incredulity to anger; then
almost as swiftly came to a resolve which was as mad and
harebrained as could have been expected from a lad in his
eighteenth year who held the reins of power. Yet by its very
directness and its superb ignoring of all obstacles legal and
canonical it was invested with a certain wild sanity.
In full armour a white cloak simply embroidered in gold at the
edge and knotted at the shoulder he rode to the Cathedral
attended by his half-brother Pedro Affonso and two of his
knights Emigio Moniz and Sancho Nunes. There on the great
iron-studded doors he found as he had been warned the Roman
parchment pronouncing him accursed its sonorous Latin periods
set forth in a fine round clerkly hand.
He swung down from his great horse and clanked up the Cathedral
steps his attendants following. He had for witnesses no more
than a few loiterers who had paused at sight of their prince.
The interdict had so far attracted no attention for in the
twelfth century the art of letters was a mystery to which there
were few initiates.
Affonso Henriques tore the sheepskin from its nails and crumpled
it in his hand; then he passed into the Cathedral and thence
came out presently into the cloisters. Overhead a bell was
clanging by his orders summoning the chapter.
To the Infante waiting there in the sun-drenched close came
presently the canons austere aloof majestic in their unhurried
progress through the fretted cloisters with flowing garments and
hands tucked into their wide sleeves before them. In a semi-
circle they arrayed themselves before him and waited impassively
to learn his will. Overhead the bell had ceased.
Affonso Henriques wasted no words.
"I have summoned you" he announced "to command that you proceed
to the election of a bishop."
A rustle stirred through the priestly throng. The canons looked
askance at the prince and at one another. Then one of them spoke.
"Habemus episcopum" he said gravely and several instantly made
chorus: "We have a bishop."
The eyes of the young sovereign kindled. "You are wrong" he told
them. "You had a bishop but he is here no longer. He has
deserted his see after publishing this shameful thing" And he
held aloft the crumpled interdict. "As I am a God-fearing
Christian knight I will not live under this ban. Since the
bishop who excommunicated me is gone you will at once elect
another in his place who shall absolve me."
They stood before him silent and impassive in their priestly
dignity and in their assurance that the law was on their side.
"Well?" the boy growled at them.
"Habemus episcopum" droned a voice again.
"Amen" boomed in chorus through the cloisters.
"I tell you that your bishop is gone" he insisted his voice
quivering now with anger "and I tell you that he shall not
return that he shall never set foot again within my city of
Coimbra. Proceed you therefore at once to the election of his
"Lord" he was answered coldly by one of them "no such election
is possible or lawful."
"Do you dare stand before my face and tell me this?" he roared
infuriated by their cold resistance. He flung out an arm in a
gesture of terrible dismissal. "Out of my sight you proud and
evil men! Back to your cells to await my pleasure. Since in your
arrogant stiff-necked pride you refuse to do my will you shall
receive the bishop I shall myself select."
He was so terrific in his rage that they dared not tell him that
he had no power prince though he might be to make such an
election bowed to him ever impassively and with their hands
still folded unhurried as they had come they now turned and
filed past him in departure.
He watched them with scowling brows and tightened lips Moniz and
Nunes silent behind him. Suddenly those dark watchful eyes of
his were held by the last figure of all in that austere
procession--a tall gaunt young man whose copper-coloured skin
and hawk-featured face proclaimed his Moorish blood. Instantly
maliciously it flashed through the prince's boyish mind how he
might make of this man an instrument to humble the pride of that
insolent clergy. He raised his hand and beckoned the cleric to
"What is your name?" he asked him.
"I am called Zuleyman lord" he was answered and the name
confirmed--where indeed no confirmation was necessary--the
fellow's Moorish origin.
Affonso Henriques laughed. It would be an excellent jest to
thrust upon these arrogant priests who refused to appoint a
bishop of their choice a bishop who was little better than a
"Don Zuleyman" said the prince "I name you Bishop of Coimbra in
the room of the rebel who has fled. You will prepare to celebrate
High Mass this morning and to pronounce my absolution."
The Christianized Moor fell back a step his face paling under
its copper skin to a sickly grey. In the background the hindmost
members of the retreating clerical procession turned and stood at
gaze angered and scandalized by what they heard which was
indeed a thing beyond belief.
"Ah no my lord! Ah no!" Don Zuleyman was faltering. "Not that!"
The prospect terrified him and in his agitation he had recourse
to Latin. "Domine non sum dignus" he cried and beat his
But the uncompromising Affonso Henriques gave him back Latin for
"Dixi--I have spoken!" he answered sternly. "Do not fail me in
obedience on your life." And on that he clanked out again with
his attendants well-pleased with his morning's work.
As he had disposed with boyish almost irresponsible rashness
and in flagrant contravention of all canon law so it fell out.