Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Character of Henry VII.
By John Fisher (c. 14691535)
From the Funeral Sermon on Henry VII.
FORASMUCH as this honourable audience now is here assembled to prosecute the funeral observances and ceremonies about this most noble prince late our king and sovereign, king Henry the seventh. And all be it I know well mine unworthiness and inabilities to this so great a matter, yet for my most bounden duty, and for his gracious favour and singular benefits exhibit unto me in this life, I would now after his death right affectuously some thing say, whereby your charities the rather might have his soul recommended. And to that purpose I will entreat the first psalm of the dirige, which psalm was written of the holy king and prophet king David, comforting him after his great falls and trespasses against Almighty God and read in the church in the funeral obsequies of every Christian person when that he dieth. And specially it may be read in the person of this most noble prince, for in it is comprised all that is to be said in this matter. And in the same order that the secular orators have in their funeral orations most diligently observed, which resteth in three points. First in the commendation of him that dead is. Second in a stirring of the hearers to have compassion upon him. And third in a comforting of them again. Which three be done by order in this same psalm, as by the grace of our Lord it may here after appear. First, as touching his laud and commendation, let no man think that mine intent is for to praise him for any vain transitory things of this life, which by the example of him all kings and princes may learn how sliding, how slippery, how failing they be. All be it he had as much of them as was possible in manner for any king to have, his politic wisdom in governance it was singular, his wit alway quick and ready, his reason pithy and substantial, his memory fresh and holding, his experience notable, his counsels fortunate and taken by wise deliberation, his speech gracious in divers languages, his person goodly and amiable, his natural complexion of the purest mixture, his issue fair and in good number, leagues and confederies he had with all Christian princes, his mighty power was dread every where, not only within his realm but without also, his people were to him in as humble subjection as ever they were to king, his land many a day in peace and tranquillity, his prosperity in battle against his enemies was marvellous, his dealing in time of perils and dangers was cold and sober with great hardiness. If any treason were conspired against him it came out wonderfully, his treasure and richesse incomparable, his buildings most goodly and after the newest cast all of pleasure. But what is all this now as unto him, all be but fumus et umbra. A smoke that soon vanisheth, and a shadow soon passing away. Shall I praise him then for them? Nay, forsooth. The great wise man Solon, when that the king Crsus had shewed unto him all his glorious state and condition that he was in as touching the things above rehearsed, he would not affirm that he was blessed for all that, but said Expectandus est finis. The end is to be abiden and looked upon, wherein he said full truth, all be it peradventure not as he intended, but verily a truth it is, in the end is all together, a good end and a gracious conclusion of the life maketh all, and therefore Seneca in his epistles saith, Bonam vitæ clausulam impone. In any wise make a good conclusion of thy life, which thing I may confirm by holy letters. In the prophet Ezekiel it is written and spoken by the mouth of God in this manner, Justitia justi non liberabit eum in quacunque die peccaverit et impietas impii non nocebit ei in quacunque die conversus fuerit ab impietate sua. That is to say, if the righteous man have lived never so virtuously, and in the end of his life commit one deadly sin and so depart, all his righteous dealing before shall not defend him from everlasting damnation, and in contrary wise, if the sinful man have lived never so wretchedly in times past, yet in the end of his life if he return from his wickedness unto God, all his wickedness before shall not let him to be saved. Let no sinner presume of this to do amiss or to continue the longer in his sin, for of such presumers scant one among a thousand cometh unto this grace, but the death taketh them or they beware. Let no man also murmur against this, for this is the great treasure of the mercy of Almighty God, and against such murmurs is sufficiently answered in the same place, for what should become of any of us were not this great mercy? Quis potest dicere mundum est cor meum, innocens ego sum a peccato. Who may say (saith Ecclesiasticus) mine heart is clean, I am innocent and guiltless of sin. As who saith, no man may speak this word. When then all men have in their life trespassed against Almighty God, I may well say that he is gracious that maketh a blessed end. And to that purpose Saint John in the Apocalypse saith, Beati mortui qui in domino moriuntur. Blessed are those which have made virtuous end and conclusion of their life in our Lord, which verily I suppose this most noble prince hath done, the proof whereof shall stand in four points. The first is a true turning of his soul from this wretched world unto the love of Almighty God. Second is a fast hope and confidence that he had in prayer. Third a steadfast belief of God and of the sacraments of the church. Fourth in a diligent asking of mercy in the time of mercy, which four points by order be expressed in the first part of this psalm. As to the first, at the beginning of Lent last passed, he called unto him his confessor, a man of singular wisdom, learning, and virtue, by whose assured instruction I speak this that I shall say. This noble prince, after his confession made with all diligence and great repentance, he promised three things, that is to say, a true reformation of all them that were officers and ministers of his laws to the intent that justice, from henceforward, truly and indifferently might be executed in all causes. Another, that the promotions of the church that were of his disposition should, from henceforth, be disposed to able men such as were virtuous and well learned. Third, that as touching the dangers and jeopardies of his laws for things done in times past, he would grant a pardon generally unto all his people, which three things he let not openly to speak to divers as did resort unto him. And many a time unto his secret servants he said that if it pleased God to send him life, they should see him a new changed man. Furthermore, with all humbleness he recognised the singular and many benefits that he had received of Almighty God, and with great repentance and marvellous sorrow accused himself of his unkindness towards Him, specially that he no more fervently had procured the honour of God, and that he had no more diligently performed the will and pleasure of Him, wherein he promised, by the grace of God, an assured amendment. Who may suppose but that this man had verily set his heart and love upon God, or who may think that in his person may not be said, Dilexi, that is to say, I have set my love on my lord God.