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Kimbolton Castle

I
can scarcely call Kimbolton picturesque, but it stands at the head of our great fen country, and must have a place here also for its historical interest.

It is the seat of the Duke of Manchester, and the centre of all the legends of Huntingdonshire. It has really a grand feudal air about it, though it is not very ancient, the old castle having been nearly rebuilt by Sir John Vanburgh. We place it next to Ampthill because it was here that poor Queen Katherine was brought from that place, much against her wish; for Kimbolton was thought damp, and damp was especially injurious to her health. She was forcibly taken to Kimbolton Castle in December, 1534. The Duke of Manchester, in the Kimbolton papers, has given the following graphic delineation of the castle:

"It was an ancient pile, built by the Mandevilles, and occupied after them by the Bohuns, Straffords, and Wingfields, with a tower, and gateway and double ditch; a very strong place in a crosscountry valley, guarding the road from Bedford to Huntingdon; a house buried in wood, and open uplands to the east and west, each knoll of which was crowned with either abbey tower or village spire. A green bright country, full of deer and birds and fen water-fowl, open to the March winds, and asking of its dwellers who would keep in health a good deal of exercise on horse or foot. The unhappy queen could neither walk nor ride." She was not allowed to do either, had she been well enough. But great and tender pity followed the forsaken queen even here. A poor man ploughing at Grantham found a huge brass pot, in which was a large helmet of pure gold set with precious stones. He presented it to Queen Katherine; and she had need of gifts, for her income as Princess Dowager, 5,000, was shamefully kept from her, or so ill-paid that Sir Edmund Bedingfeld, her jailer, wrote more than once to say that the household was quite devoid of money and lacking everything. A queen lying ill, her attendants unpaid - what a position for her gentleman jailer! One marvels at the way in which the nobles and knights of the Tudors allowed them. selves to be placed in such a position. The queen was very unhappy while she was at Kimbolton, on account of her former confessor, Father Forrest, whom Henry had imprisoned with Abell. They had been witnesses of Henry's marriage with Katherine, and the king dreaded their testimony to that effect; for he wished it now to appear that only a betrothal had taken place.

The close of the year found the queen on her deathbed. The king first heard of her danger from Eustachio Capucius, the resident Spanish ambassador; and Cromwell wrote to reprove Sir Edmund Bedingfeld for letting foreigners know the state of the queen before he did. Sir Edmund excused himself by saying, "that his fidelity in executing the orders of the king rendered him no favourite with the ladydowager, therefore she concealed everything from him." But he sent for her Spanish physician and questioned him. "Sir," replied the doctor, "she doth continue in pain, and can take but little rest; if the sickness continueth in force, she cannot remain long." She positively refused to see another doctor, as Sir Edmund proposed; she was satisfied, she said, with her own physician, and committed herself to the pleasure of God. When she felt that she was dying, Queen Katherine wrote a most pathetic letter to her husband:-

"MY LORD AND DEAR HUSBAND (she wrote or dictated), -

"I commend me onto you. The hour of my death draweth fast on, and my case being such, the tender love I bear you forceth me, with a few words, to put you in remembrance of the health and safeguard of your soul, which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters and before the care and tendering of your own body, for the which you have cast me into many miseries and yourself into many cares. For my part I do pardon you all I yea, I do wish and devoutly pray God that He will also pardon you.

"For the rest I commend unto you Mary, our daughter, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I heretofore desired. I entreat you also on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants I solicit a year's pay more than their due, lest they should be unprovided for.

"Lastly, I do vow that mine eyes desire you above all things."

Henry received this letter some days before Queen Katherine's death, shed tears over it, and sending for Capucius, entreated him to hasten to Kimbolton to greet Katherine kindly from him.

It was at nightfall about six o'clock on New Year's Day that Lady Willoughby, Katherine's countrywoman and attendant, - she was one of the maids-of-honour who accompanied her from Spain - arrived at Kimbolton Gate, cold and exhausted from a dreary journey on horseback, and hurt by a fall from her steed. At first, Bedingfeld and Chamberlayn demanded her licence to see the queen. She had none; but she besought them so earnestly to let her see the dying "Princess Dowager," promising to show them her letters in the morning, that they were persuaded to admit her, and once in her royal lady's chamber they "never saw her or her letters," says Bedingfeld. She never left Queen Katherine again, and they dared not compel her to do so in the very presence of death.

Capucius, the Emperor's Ambassador, arrived the next day, and after dinner was shown into the dying queen's room. He saw Katherine several times afterwards; but the spies about them could learn nothing from their conversation, because both he and Lady Willoughby spoke her native Castilian to the queen.

Katherine expired with these true friends beside her with great calmness.

Of the Shaksperian castle of Kimbolton this is the chief incident; Queen Katherine has made it her own.

"The room in which she died remains," says Hepworth Dixon. "The chest in which she kept her clothes and jewels, her own cipher on the lid, still lies at the foot of the grand staircase, in the gallery leading to the seat she occupied in the private chapel. Her spirit, the people of the castle say, still haunts the rooms and corridors in the dull gloaming, or at silent midnight. In the library, among a mass of loose notes and anecdotes set down in a handwriting unknown to me, but of the last century, I one day found a story of her in her early happy time, which is, I think, singularly pretty and romantic.... In the bright days of Katherine's wedded love, long before Hal had became troubled in his conscience by

"The gospel light that shone in Bolqu's eyes,'

Montague, the Master of the Horse, fell crazily in love with her. Not daring to breathe in her chaste ear one word, or even hint this passion for her by a glance or sigh, the young gallant stifled

"'The mighty hunger of the heart,'

only permitting himself from time to time the sweet reward of a gentle, as he thought imperceptible, pressure of the queen's hand as she vaulted to her mare for a ride, or descended after her sport with the falcon That tender touch, as light as love, as secret as an unborn hope, sent the warm, soft blood of youth careering through his veins; but the passionate and poetic joy was too pure to last. Katherine felt the fire that burned her fingers; and as the cold Spanish training, which allows no pressure of hands between the sexes, nor indeed any of those exquisite and innocent familiarities by which the approach of love is signalled from heart to heart in more favoured lands, gave her no clue to the strange behaviour of her Gentleman of the Horse, she ran with the thoughtless gaiety of a child to ask counsel of the king.

"'Tell me, sir,' says the queen, 'what a gentleman in this country means when he squeezes a lady's hand.'

"'Ha! ha!' roars the king; 'but you must first tell me, chick, does any gentleman squeeze your hand?'

"'Yes, sweetheart,' says the innocent queen; 'my Gentleman of the Horse.'

"Montague went away to the wars. An attack was about to be made on the enemy's lines, and the desperate young Englishman begged to have the privilege of fighting in

"the front. Gashed with pikes, he was carried to his tent; and in his blood, in which his life was fast oozing away, he wrote these words to the queen, "Madam, I die of your love."

"There are in popular belief two ghosts at the castle and the surrounding park - one of the unhappy queen, one of the stern judge, Sir John Popham, whose fine old portrait hangs in the great hall. Katherine of Arragon is said to haunt the house, to float through and through the galleries, and to people the dark, void spaces with a mysterious awe; Sir John to sit astride the park wall, or lie in wait for rogues and poachers under the great elms. The poetical interest centres in the queen."


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Picturesque England
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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004