In the days of King Henry VIII, there lives in the English town of Newbery a young weaver named Jack Winchcomb. As a young man he is something of a prodigal, spending as much as he makes and having a reputation as a merry young fellow; he is known in all the county of Berkshire as Jack of Newbery. After his master dies, however, Jack changes his ways. His mistress, who acquires a fondness for the young man, entrusts to him the entirety of her husband’s business. Jack becomes a careful man, both with his mistress’s affairs and with his own, and he soon loses his reputation for prodigality. In its place, he acquires a reputation as an honest, hard-working, and intelligent businessman.
His mistress thinks so highly of Jack that she even makes him an adviser in affairs of the heart. His advice is of little value to her, however, for she makes up her mind, despite the difference in their years, to marry Jack. She tricks him into agreeing to further her marriage with an unknown suitor. When they arrive at the church, Jack finds that he is to be the bridegroom; thus Jack becomes her husband and the master of her house and business.
The marriage goes none too smoothly at first; despite her love for Jack, the woman does not like to be ordered about by the man who was once her servant. At last, however, they come to an understanding and live happily for several years, after which interval the good woman dies, leaving Jack master of the business and rich in the world’s goods.
Not long after his first wife dies, Jack remarries, this time to a young woman. The wife is a poor choice, although he has the pick of the wealthy women of his class in the county. Not many months pass after the marriage, which was a costly one, before James, the king of Scotland, invades England while King Henry is in France. The justices of the county call upon Jack to furnish six men-at-arms to join the army raised by Queen Catherine. Jack chooses to raise a company of a hundred and fifty foot and horse, which he arms and dresses at his own expense in distinctive liveries. Jack rides at the head of his men. Queen Catherine is greatly pleased and thanks Jack personally for his efforts, although his men are not needed to achieve the English victory at Flodden Field. In reward for his services, Jack receives a chain of gold from the hands of the queen herself.
In the tenth year of his reign, King Henry makes a trip through Berkshire. Jack introduces himself in a witty way to the king as the Prince of the Ants, who is at war with the Butterflies, a sally against Cardinal Wolsey. The king is vastly pleased and betakes himself to Newbery, along with his train, where all are entertained by Jack at a fabulous banquet. After the banquet, the king views the weaving rooms and warehouses Jack owns. Upon his departure, the king wishes to make Jack a knight, but the weaver refuses the honor, saying he would rather be a common man and die, as he...
(The entire section is 1206 words.)