A Prejudiced View by F.A. Mitchel (c. 1904)
This comic short story was published in the Roswell Daily Record (yes, that Roswell) on December 29, 1904. It’s marked as “Original” but since papers weren’t always 100% truthful about recycling content from other source I’ve put it down as circa 1904 just to be cautious. I admit to having difficulty identifying just what book of British history the old farmer is supposed to have read; a lot of it, the yellow dress detail especially, sounds like Agnes Strickland, but she and her sister focused on the queens of England, and their take on Henry VIII was not notably sympathetic. So if you’d like to see out the old year with the same entertainment as the readers of Roswell 111 years ago, read on!
A PREJUDICED VIEW
One night while traveling in the country I stopped at a farmhouse. I could see plainly that the farmer’s wife was not a person to be lived with on amiable terms. After she had gone to bed the farmer and I sat together chatting about the dull winters in the country and the want of means of amusement, especially for the older people. I asked him if he liked to read.
“Waal, stranger,” he said, “I reckon I do like to read ef I kin git the books. For a long time I had nothin’ but Shakespeare and the Bible. But last winter I got a historical book about them kings and queens of England. I was interested in one of ’em, a king called Henry VIII. That king was the only man I ever read or heered about that got ahead of six wimmen, all his wives, and didn’t hev to kill more’n two of ’em neither.”
“He was a monster,” I protested.
“Waal, now, stranger, I hain’t so sartin about that. I don’t know that he was quite excusable in the matter of his first wife, the Spanish woman; but, ye see, a man to git ahead of six wimmen has got to be mighty sharp. If I remember right, Henry hed married his brother’s widder, which is contrary to Scripture, and after livin’ with her twenty years his conscience troubled him. It may be that he hadn’t orter married her in the first place, but it makes a good deal of difference whether a woman’s young and amiable or old and spiteful. No, I think, under the circumstances, Henry was excusable for gittin’ a tender conscience at the right time. Most people’s consciences prick ’em at the wrong time. Henry’s come in remarkable handy.”
“You surely don’t approve of his beheading Anne Boleyn, his second wife?”
“Waal, now, I hain’t so sartin about that neither. Henry’s conscience was a very tender one and, as a I said before, always pricked him at a convenient time. When his first wife died, he wanted to show her every mark of respec’ and ordered his court to put on black. Anne Boleyn showed what kind of a woman she was when she ordered her wimmen to wear yaller. That made Henry mad. It was a convenient time to be mad. He was gittin’ ready for his next wife. I reckon ef he hadn’t been king and wise as a sarpint besides he’d never ‘a done what he did with the hull six on ’em.”
“His third wife,” I remarked. “Jane Seymour was, I believe, the only one of the six who died a natural death while married to him. The next, Anne of Cleves, he divorced.”
“The Cleves woman was the only sensible one o’ the lot, the only one that come any ways near gittin’ even with the king. When he said, “You git,” she was very much pleased to go. This wounded the king sorely. A man don’t like to be taken at his word by a woman, no matter how onruly she is.”
“What do you think of the case of Katherine Howard?”
“Lemme see. What did she do? There’s so many of ’em I forgit.”
“As a mere child she had been led into several indiscretions, including a sort of marriage with a low bred fellow who afterward turned pirate. As soon as she married the king all these who had led her astray –”
“I remember now. They all turned office seekers, and the queen had to give ’em situations or they’d blow on her. Waal, now, I don’t see how Henry could ‘a done any different. He wouldn’t believe nothin’ ag’in her till the hull thing was out. Katherine was one o’ them middle-o’-the’-road wimmin. She might ‘a lived ef she’d only given in. She wouldn’t own up to her first marriage. The king couldn’t git a ‘nulment of his marriage on any other ground, so he had to chop her head off. She done that: Henry didn’t. You see, stranger, there’s a peculiarity about wimmin that it requires jist such a man as Henry to handle. They never give in. Katherine preferred to lose her head, and in doin’ so she showed a woman’s natur’.
“There’s another point in Henry’s favor. He had two gals to leave the crown to and only one boy, an’ he a weakling. Henry had a nateral insight into wimmen’s onfitness to run things, and, having a tender conscience, it grieved him to think o’ leavin’ his people to suffer under ’em. And it turned out he was right. His first darter was `Bloody Mary’, whose name speaks for her. Then comes Elizabeth, who cut off the heads of the men she loved, and loved her cousin, Mary, queen o’Scots, so well that she cut her head off too.
“No, stranger; in summin’ up the married life o’ Henry VIII I consider that he was a remarkable man and a very conscientious one. He done all he could to keep England from bein’ pestered with wimmen rulers, and for that alone he orter be honored by his grateful countrymen. Six of ’em! What would you and I do with such a lot, restricted by law as we air? Henry VIII was a great and good man.”
The farmer’s arguments set me to thinking. Of late years we have had lives of Aaron Burr, setting forth his virtues, and of Benedict Arnold, showing how bad treatment and inexorable fate compelled him to betray his country. I confess the farmer’s logic impressed me as favorably as many lives I have read of the world’s prominent sinners.
The farmer having no more of King Henry’s queens to discuss except the last, who survived her husband, and, as the farmer expressed it, “didn’t count,” he showed me to my room. I overheard a curtain lecture he received from his wife, which somewhat diminished my respect for her opinion of women in general and the unbiased character his excuses for the great British royal Bluebeard.
— F. A. MITCHEL