“My Lords, I have one humble request to make to your Lordships, and that is, my Lords, that the little short time I have to live a prisoner, I may not be a close prisoner as I have been of late; but that Mr. Lieutenant may have an order that my wife and children and friends may come at me. I do humbly beg this favour of your Lordships, which I hope you will be pleased to give me.”
His voice grew very low as he ended; and I saw his lips shake a little.
The Lord High Steward answered him with great feeling.
“My Lord Stafford,” he said—(and that was an unusual thing to say, for he had said before that since he was to be attainted he could not be called My Lord again)—“I believe I may, with my Lords’ leave, tell you one thing further; that my Lords, as they proceed with rigour of justice, so they proceed with all the mercy and compassion that may be; and therefore my Lords will be humble suitors to the King, that he will remit all the punishment but the taking off of your head.”
And at that my Lord Stafford broke down altogether, and sobbed upon the rail; and it is a terrible thing to see an old man weep like that. When he could command his voice, he said:
“My Lords, your justice does not make me cry, but your goodness.”
Then my Lord Nottingham stood up, and taking the staff of office that lay across his desk, he broke it in two halves. When I looked again, the prisoner was going out between his guards, and the axe before, with its edge turned towards him in token of death.
* * * * *
I was at Mr. Chiffinch’s again that night to hear the news; but he was not there. When he came in at last, he appeared very excited. Then he told me the news.
“They are at His Majesty already,” he said, “that he cannot remit the penalty of High Treason. But the King swears that he will, law or no law, judges or no judges. I have never seen him so determined. He does not believe one word of the evidence.”
“Yet he will sign the warrant for the beheading?” I asked.
“Why,” said Mr. Chiffinch, “His Majesty does not wish to go upon his travels again.”
The night before I went down to Hare Street,—for I went on Christmas Eve—I was present for the first time at the high supper in Whitehall, which His Majesty gave to the Spanish Ambassador. I had never been at such a ceremony before; and went out of curiosity only, being given admission to one of the stands by the door, whence I might see it all. It would have appeared very strange to me that the King could be so merry, as he was that night, when so much innocent blood had been shed upon his own warrant, and when such a man, as my Lord Stafford was, lay in the Tower, expecting his death six days later;—had I not known the nature of His Majesty pretty well by now. For, beneath all the merriment, I think he was not very happy, though he never shewed a sign of it.