I am doing research to determine if the following account is true or fictional. It has been said that at one point during his reign, King Henry VIII pardoned a murderer. The man was set free, but committed another murder.
Someone asked King Henry to pardon him again. He is purported to have said, "No. I will not pardon him again. He killed the first man. But by pardoning him, I killed the second."
Do you have any information on whether or not this is a true story?
Thank you so much. this is definitely not a school assignment! I am 63 years of age.
I'm afraid I have never heard of this person - what was your original source?
I can empathise with how annoying it can be when there is nothing to follow up something you have come across. I found a reference to a Helen Page, alias Clarke, in 'Letters & Papers' of 1541, who was pardoned after Kathryn Howard interceded on her behalf. Saving the woman is mentioned by Lacey Baldwin Smith and others as an example of a good deed done by the Queen, but nobody elaborates as to her crime or what became of her. It is all the more annoying as, according to L&P, she came from a village only a couple of miles from where I live!
Hope you manage to find something about the pardoned murderer.
This story with Henry VIII as the king is presented in the book War and the Christian, by Robert L. Moyer, under the subheading “Does God Ever Authorize Human Governments to Take Life?,” without any source identified. The book was published before 1944 and elucidates the duty of Christians in wartime based on Scripture.
Robert L. Moyer is the “late pastor of the First Baptist Church of Minneapolis, Minnesota” who was “early a drunkard but was saved from a life of sin,” according to his biography. This Henry VIII anecdote also seems to be a feature of Sunday School teaching supplements posted on the Web, again without any attribution.
I think that this anecdote is not an authentic incident of the king's reign, because it would have likely turned up in the exhaustive scholarship on the Tudors.
The earliest I was able to trace this story was to 1583, when Philip Stubbes published The Anatomy of Abuses. It’s a heavily Puritan work that condemns the usual suspects -- sumptuous apparel, face painting, importunate harlots, May Days, bear-baiting, dice, cards, etc.-- but also includes a section on law and justice. Extreme Protestantism, as seen in Tyndale and Calvin, drew upon the Old Testament for its view of righteous behavior and was particularly concerned that temporal authorities properly execute justice -- with due punishment visited upon the wicked. A king may not dispense with God's law. Hence, Stubbes wrote:
"Some are of opinion that the prince, by his power imperiall and prorogative, may pardon and remit the penaltie of any law, either divine or humane, but I am of opinion that if God's lawe condemne him, no prince ought to save him, but to execute iudgement and iustice without respect of persons to all indifferently. But in causes wherein Gods lawe doth not condemne him, the prince may pardon the offender, if there appeere likelyhoode of amendment in him. And yet let the prince be sure of this, to answere at the day of judgement before the tribunall seate of GOD, for all the offences thatthe partie pardoned shall commit any time of his life after.
"To this purpose I remember I have heard a certeine pretie apothegue uttered by a jester to a king. The king had pardoned one of his subjectes that had committed murther, who, being pardoned, committed the like offence againe, and by meanes was pardoned the second time also, and yet filling up the measure of his iniqukie, killed the third, and being brought before the king, the king being very sorie, asked why he had killed three men, to whom his jester standing by replied, saieng : "No (O king) he killed but the first, and thou hast killed the other two: for if thou hadst hanged him up at the first, the other two had not beene killed, therefore thou hast killed them, and shalt answere for their bloud. Which thing being heard, the king hanged him up straightway, as he very well deserved : yet notwithstanding, I grant that a prince by his power regall and prerogative imperial may pardon offenders, but not such as Gods lawes and good conscience doe condemne, as I said before."
Note that the king is not specified.
It might seem that Stubbes, writing in Elizabeth’s reign, is covertly referring to Henry VIII. He is, but I think only peripherally. In July 1536, Parliament passed legislation that specified that no one "shall have any but the King, power or authority to pardon or remit any treasons, murthers, manslaughters, or any kinds of felonies, whatsoever they be; nor any accessories to any treasons, murthers, manslaughters or felonies; or any outlawries for any such offences afore rehearsed, committed, perpetrated, done or divulged, or hereafter to be committed, done or divulged, by or against any person or persons in any part of this realm, Wales, or the marches of the same; but that the King's Highness, his heirs and successors, kings of this realm, shall have the whole and sole power and authority thereof united and knit to the imperial Crown of this realm as of good right and equity it appertained; any grants, usages, prescription, Act or Acts of Parliament, or any other thing to the contrary hereof notwithstanding."
Edward III had gotten into trouble by selling pardons pretty freely, for example pardoning criminals so they could serve in his French wars, and using pardons to raise money. Parliament had restricted the prerogative. Henry VIII, with this law, reasserted the royal pardoning power.
Pardons became routinized and a big business again by the 1580s. I don’t think Stubbes is presenting this anecdote to name or condemn Henry VIII specifically, although "the king" in the story may have brought Henry VIII immediately to mind among contemporary readers; in view of the rest of his book, which bitches about the aforesaid harlotry, cosmetics, wigs, gaming, etc., he’s complaining that people are getting off too easily through a general slackness in the justice system.
Interestingly, Stubbes was allegedly a kinsman of that Stubbs who published a denunciation of the Queen's projected marriage to the Duke of Anjou, and had his hand cut off as punishment. The justice system was not noticeably lax in that case.
In subsequent centuries, the same story has been applied to several monarchs:
-James I is reproved for pardoning the offender by George Buchanan, the grim old Calvinist pedant who is curiously featured as the king's "fool" in a literary afterlife called Witty and Entertaining Exploits of George Buchanan, published in the 18th century. Buchanan here functions as a sort of "Br'er Rabbit" to highlight the system's hypocrisies:
"George, standing by, asked the king what he was going to seal now? To which he answered, It is a remit for a man who had killed three men at sundry times, I gave him two remits before. O ! says George, he has killed but one man ; and who killed the other two? says the king; you did, says George, for if you had given him justice when he had killed the first, he had killed no more. When the king heard these words, he threw down the pen, and declared that such an act, to save a murderer, shall be null ever after by him."
-Louis XI of France is featured in a similar anecdote, in the writings of William Blundell (later published as A Cavalier’s Note-Book), a captain of dragoons for the royalist side in the English Civil War:
"Lewis XI., King of France, had granted a pardon four or five times to one who had killed so many men in duels. He asked his Confessor whether he might lawfully pardon him anymore, the like occasion being then happened. The Confessor replied that the King might do it as well then as he had done it the first time. For the murderer had only killed one single man, the King (who had pardoned that) killed all the rest."
Duels are a curious preoccupation for Louis XI. They were a great concern for Louis XIII and his minister Richelieu, who were contemporaries of Blundell. The paragraph immediately preceding the pardon story describes the execution of de Boutteville, a great French duellist, who disobeyed the royal edict against dueling after having been pardoned once, and was put to death as a result. The king was besieged by demands for pardon, and hesitated, but Richelieu said, "It is a choice of cutting de Boutteville's throat or that of your majesty's edicts," and also recorded, "The tears of [de Boutteville's] wife moved me very deeply ... but the river of your nobility's blood (which could only be stemmed by the shedding of theirs) ..."
The parallel is close, but not exactly matching. I guess, however, that Blundell may have meant Louis XIII in relating the pardoning anecdote, but either he or his editor, the 19th-century Rev. Gibson, transposed "XI."
-Oliver Goldsmith presents the same story in his 1760 Letters from a Citizen of the World to his Friends in the East, not specifying the king and removing the reproaching jester/confessor figure, but adding the particulars that the offender was "of royal blood" and that "the country where [the incident] was transacted regards itself as the politest in Europe!” Joanna Southcott, the self-proclaimed "prophetess" of the late 18th century, includes the tale of the pardon in one of her 1801 "Letters of Prophecy," with the jester restored to his rebuking role.
I think Moyer, author of the War and the Christian picked up the anecdote at some point from his divinity reading and inserted Henry VIII's name, much as Blundell utilized "Lewis XI/Louis XIII" for his account. It might be because Henry is immediately recognizable to his anticipated audience as the king who brought in the Reformation in England, and also as a patriarchal type of the "judge-king" in his own right, in the Old Testament style.
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