When Knighthood Was in Flower
or, the Love Story of Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor the King’s Sister,
and Happening in the Reign of His August Majesty King Henry the Eighth
Rewritten and Rendered into Modern English from
Sir Edwin Caskoden’s Memoir by Edwin Caskoden [Charles Major]
Copyright 1898 and 1901 by the Bowen-Merril Company, Indianapolis, U.S.A.
Prologue: The Caskodens
We Caskodens take great pride in our ancestry. Some persons, I know, hold all that to be totally un-Solomonlike and the height of vanity, but they, usually, have no ancestors of whom to be proud. The man who does not know who his great-grandfather was, naturally enough would not care what he was. The Caskodens have pride of ancestry because they know both who and what.
Even admitting that it is vanity at all, it is an impersonal sort of failing, which, like the excessive love of country, leans virtueward; for the man who fears to disgrace his ancestors is certainly less likely to disgrace himself. Of course there are a great many excellent persons who can go no farther back than father and mother, who, doubtless, eat and drink and sleep as well, and love as happily, as if they could trace an unbroken lineage clear back to Adam or Noah, or somebody of that sort. Nevertheless, we Caskodens are proud of our ancestry, and expect to remain so to the end of the chapter, regardless of whom it pleases or displeases.
We have a right to be proud, for there is an unbroken male line from William the Conqueror down to the present time. In this lineal list are fourteen Barons—the title lapsed when Charles I fell—twelve Knights of the Garter and forty-seven Knights of the Bath and other orders. A Caskoden distinguished himself by gallant service under the Great Norman and was given rich English lands and a fair Saxon bride, albeit an unwilling one, as his reward. With this fair, unwilling Saxon bride and her long plait of yellow hair goes a very pretty, pathetic story, which I may tell you at some future time if you take kindly to this. A Caskoden was seneschal to William Rufus, and sat at the rich, half barbaric banquets in the first Great Hall. Still another was one of the doughty barons who wrested from John the Great Charter, England’s declaration of independence; another was high in the councils of Henry V. I have omitted one whom I should not fail to mention: Adjodika Caskoden, who was a member of the Dunce Parliament of Henry IV, so called because there were no lawyers in it.
It is true that in the time of Edward IV a Caskoden did stoop to trade, but it was trade of the most dignified, honorable sort; he was a goldsmith, and his guild, as you know, were the bankers and international clearance house for people, king and nobles. Besides, it is stated on good authority that there was a great scandal wherein the goldsmith’s wife was mixed up in an intrigue with the noble King Edward; so we learn that even in trade the Caskodens were of honorable position and basked in the smile of their prince. As for myself, I am not one of those who object so much to trade; and I think it contemptible in a man to screw his nose all out of place sneering at it, while enjoying every luxury of life from its profits.
This goldsmith was shrewd enough to turn what some persons might call his ill fortune, in one way, into gain in another. He was one of those happily constituted, thrifty philosophers who hold that even misfortune should not be wasted, and that no evil is so great but the alchemy of common sense can transmute some part of it into good. So he coined the smiles which the king shed upon his wife—he being powerless to prevent, for Edward smiled where he listed, and listed nearly everywhere—into nobles, crowns and pounds sterling, and left a glorious fortune to his son and to his son’s son, unto about the fourth generation, which was a ripe old age for a fortune, I think. How few of them live beyond the second, and fewer still beyond the third! It was during the third generation of this fortune that the events of the following history occurred.
Now, it has been the custom of the Caskodens for centuries to keep a record of events, as they have happened, both private and public. Some are in the form of diaries and journals like those of Pepys and Evelyn; others in letters like the Pastons’; others again in verse and song like Chaucer’s and the Water Poet’s; and still others in the more pretentious form of memoir and chronicle. These records we always have kept jealously within our family, thinking it vulgar, like the Pastons, to submit our private affairs to public gaze.
There can, however, be no reason why those parts treating solely of outside matters should be so carefully guarded, and I have determined to choose for publication such portions as do not divulge family secrets nor skeletons, and which really redound to family honor.
For this occasion I have selected from the memoir of my worthy ancestor and namesake, Sir Edwin Caskoden—grandson of the goldsmith, and Master of the Dance to Henry VIII—the story of Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor, sister to the king.
This story is so well known to the student of English history that I fear its repetition will lack that zest which attends the development of an unforeseen denouement. But it is of so great interest, and is so full, in its sweet, fierce manifestation, of the one thing insoluble by time, Love, that I will nevertheless rewrite it from old Sir Edwin’s memoir. Not so much as an historical narrative, although I fear a little history will creep in, despite me, but simply as a picture of that olden long ago, which, try as we will to put aside the hazy, many-folded curtain of time, still retains its shadowy lack of sharp detail, toning down and mellowing the hard aspect of real life—harder and more unromantic even than our own—into the blending softness of an exquisite mirage.
I might give you the exact words in which Sir Edwin wrote, and shall now and then quote from contemporaneous chronicles in the language of his time, but should I so write at all, I fear the pleasure of perusal would but poorly pay for the trouble, as the English of the Bluff King is almost a foreign tongue to us. I shall, therefore, with a few exceptions, give Sir Edwin’s memoir in words, spelling and idiom which his rollicking little old shade will probably repudiate as none of his whatsoever. So, if you happen to find sixteenth century thought hob-nobbing in the same sentence with nineteenth century English, be not disturbed; I did it. If the little old fellow grows grandiloquent or garrulous at times—he did that. If you find him growing super-sentimental, remember that sentimentalism was the life-breath of chivalry, just then approaching its absurdest climax in the bombastic conscientiousness of Bayard and the whole mental atmosphere laden with its pompous nonsense.
[From Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/17498]