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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

The King was embroiled in a great number of ways

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Now the mission on which I had been instructed by the Cardinal Secretary was in one sense a very light one, and in another a very difficult one; for its express duties were of the smallest.

Affairs in England at this time were in a very strange condition. First, the Duke of York, who was heir to the throne, was a declared Catholic; and then the King himself was next door to one, in heart at anyrate. Certainly he had never been reconciled to the Church, though the report among some was that he had been, during his life in Paris: but in heart, as I have said, he was one, and waited only for a favourable occasion to declare himself. For he had been so bold seventeen years before, as to send to Rome a scheme by which the Church of England was to be reunited to Rome under certain conditions, as that the mass, or parts of it, should be read in English, that the Protestant clergy who would submit to ordination should be allowed to keep their wives, and other matters of that kind. His answer from Rome, sent by word of mouth only, was that no scheme could be nearer to the heart of His Holiness; but that he must not be too precipitate. Let him first show that his subjects were with him in his laudable desires; and then perhaps the terms of the matter might be spoken of again. For the King himself, and indeed even the Duke too at this time (though later he amended his life), Catholic

in spirit, were scarce Christian in life. The ladies of the Court then must not be overlooked, for they as much as any statesman, and some think, more, controlled the king and his brother very greatly at this time.

But this was not all. Next, the King was embroiled in a great number of ways. The more extreme of his Protestant subjects feared and hated the Catholic Church as much as good Catholics hate and fear the Devil; and although for the present our people had great liberty both at Court and elsewhere, no man could tell when that liberty might be curtailed. And, indeed, it had been to a great part already curtailed five years before by the Test Act, forbidding the Catholics to hold any high place at the Court or elsewhere, though this was largely evaded. There was even a movement among some of them, and among the most important of them too, in the House of Lords and elsewhere, to exclude the Duke of York from the succession; and they advanced amongst themselves in support of this the fear that a French army might be brought in to subdue England to the Church. And, worst of all, as I had learned privately in Rome, there was some substance in their fear, though few else knew it; since the King was in private treaty with Louis for this very purpose. Again, a further embroilment lay in the propositions that had been made privately to the King that he should rid himself of his Queen--Catherine--on the pretext that she had borne no child to him, and could not, and marry instead some Protestant princess. Lastly, and most important of all, so greatly was Charles turned towards the Church, that he had begged more than once, and again lately, that a priest might be sent to him to be always at hand, in the event of his sudden sickness, whom none else knew to be a priest; and it was this last matter, I think, that had determined the Holy Father to let me go, as I had wished, though I was no priest, to see how the King would bear himself to me; and then, perhaps afterwards, a priest might be sent as he desired.

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