ALSO BY JEAN PLAIDY
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Other Books By This Author
The life-story of Katharine Parr, from the time she became Henry VIII’s sixth Queen until her death, reads, in many respects, more like a tale of fiction than of fact. I feel therefore that I should say to those readers who are not fully acquainted with the events of this time, that although some of the extraordinary happenings related herein may seem incredible, I have founded my story on the basic facts recorded by historians of the period. As an example: Strickland, Tytler, Speed and Fox all record as historical fact the fortuitous dropping of the all-important document and the discovery of this by Katharine’s faithful servant; yet this incident might appar to be manufactured melodrama; and indeed, but for this event, Katharine’s story would undoubtedly have had a different ending, and Henry might have been known as the husband of seven instead of six wives.
Historians, while agreeing in the main as to events, disagree widely in their estimation of character. Froude, for instance, would have us believe that Henry was a hero; yet Tytler says of him: “It may be doubted whether in the wide range of English history, there is to be found any monarch whose moral features, upon minute examination, become more harsh and repulsive than Henry VIII. Vain, capricious, profligate and tyrannical, he seems, even in the generous season of youth, to have exhibited but few indications of a better mind.”
In view of the wide differences of opinion, I feel that my estimation of character is likely to be as near the truth as others.
I wish gratefully to acknowledge the help I have had in writing this book from the following:
The National and Domestic History of England. William Hickman Smith Aubrey.
The Lives of the Queens of England. Agnes Strickland.
Henry VIII. A.F. Pollard, M.A., Litt. D.
The Political History of England (1485–1587). H.A.L. Fisher, M.A.
The Private Character of Henry VIII. Frederick Chamberlain, LL.B., F.R. Hist. S., F.R.G.S., F.R. Ast. S., F.S.A., M.R.I. of Gt. Brit.
The Wives of Henry VIII. Martin Hume.
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Ed. by Dr. A. Clarke, M.A.
British History. John Wade.
A History of Everyday Things in England. Marjorie and C.H.B. Quennell.
Henry the Eighth. Francis Hackett.
England in Tudor Times. L.F. Salzman, M.A., F.S.A.
History of England: Henry VIII. James Anthony Froude.
SPRING HAD COME TO ENGLAND. THERE WERE MARSH marigolds along the banks of the river, and in the royal park the saxifrage showed gold and green on the damp sweet-smelling earth; the buds were bursting open in the hedgerows; and the songs of the thrush and the blackbird filled the air.
In his royal palace of Greenwich, his “Manor of Pleazaunce,” the best-loved of all his palaces because it was his birthplace, the King was aware of the coming of spring. He was melancholy and he knew the reason for his melancholy. It was little more than a year since his fascinating but unfaithful wife had, at his command, lost her head. A whole year! It was a long time to be without a wife.
The small eyes seemed to sink into the puffy face, the mouth grew prim, as he thought of all he had suffered at the hands of his wives. The first and second had deceived him; he had divorced one and beheaded the other; the third had died giving him his son; the fourth he had not loved at all and had lost no time in divorcing her; and the fifth—that faithless wanton, Catharine Howard—whom for the last year he had been unable to banish from his thoughts, had walked out to Tower Green on a February day of last year and laid her head on the block.
This was an unnatural deprivation for a man to suffer; and, he reminded himself, if I am a King, I am also a man.
And the remedy for his melancholy? A wife.
The King must look for a sixth wife.
BLUSTERING MARCH WINDS buffeted the walls of a mansion close to the Charterhouse Priory in the City of London. On one of the window seats, her tapestry in her hands—although she was paying little attention to the design she was working—sat a woman. She was small and her hair, which was fair and abundant, showed beneath her hood of black velvet; her gown of the same material was richly embroidered, but in dark colors; and the skirt was open in the front to display her silk petticoat, which was a somber shade of purple; the long veil flowing from the back of her headdress proclaimed her a widow. Her face was charming, but the charm came from its expression rather than a regularity of features; at the moment it seemed to wear a borrowed beauty; her cheeks were flushed, her eyes bright, and it was as though this beauty had snatched away ten years of her thirty and made her a young woman of twenty again.
She was in love; and the eager glances which she cast down at the courtyard suggested that she was waiting for her lover.
Why should she not have a lover? She had married twice to please her family. Why should she not marry this time to please herself?
Soon he would come riding into the courtyard. He would look up and she would wave her hand, for there was no subterfuge in her nature, and she would not hide her feelings. He was quite sure that she loved him and that he had only to ask her to become Lady Seymour and she would most readily agree.
He was the handsomest man in the King’s court. It was not only her love that told her this. Others said the same; even his enemies— and he had many—granted him that. He was the brother-in-law of the King; and he was a favorite of the King, for all knew that the latter liked to have about him those who were gay, young and handsome. Some thought that Thomas Seymour had become too ambitious since his sister Jane had married the King; others said that favors won through a female relative and not as a reward for a man’s prowess, were built on flimsy foundations. Thomas, they said, lacked the ability of his elder brother, Edward, Lord Hertford. Edward had crafty diplomacy to set against Thomas’s charm. Edward was cautious; Thomas was reckless.
It mattered not, Katharine, the widow, assured herself. He was the most charming, the most delightful of companions. He was the only man she would ever love, and he loved her too. He was going to ask her to marry him and she—widow of a few months though she was—was going to marry him.
Contemplating her third marriage must naturally make her think of the other two. They had been no real marriages. She smiled now, a little tenderly, thinking of the poor frightened child whom they had married to Lord Borough of Gainsborough, an elderly widower, with children who had seemed to Katharine quite old. Her Mother had arranged that match, and she and her sister and brother had always obeyed their mother without question. Katharine could not remember her father, for Sir Thomas Parr had died when she was only four; and in the capable hands of his wife, Maud, he had left the care of his children.
Lady Parr had been a stern mother, continually scheming for the advancement of her children; and when young Katharine had been told she was to marry the rich Lord Borough, it had not occurred to her to protest.
And perhaps, Katharine told herself, as she threaded her needle with crimson silk, she had not been so unfortunate, for my Lord Borough had proved to be a kindly man, gentle and tender, and not so demanding as a young man might have been. She had been sorry when at the age of fifteen she had found herself to be a rich widow.
The first widowhood had been allowed to last only two or three years when another wealthy widower had been found for her. John Neville, Lord Latimer, was an excellent match, so said her family; and recognizing in him the same kindly tolerance which had made her first marriage less frightening than it might so easily have been, and finding friendship with his grownup children, Katharine had allowed herself to be married a second time—indeed, she had had little say in the matter—and had taken up residence in the beautiful mansion of Snape Hall, or sometimes in another of his houses in Worcester, or, when they visited London, here in the mansion near the Charterhouse.
With Lord Latimer she had attended court and had become acquainted with the Princess Mary, who was of an age similar to her own; they had interests in common and had found pleasure in each other’s company.
She had been a good wife to Lord Latimer; she had nursed him in sickness and she had astonished him with her wisdom, since but for her he might have come to a tragic end. He had taken an active part in the “Pilgrimage of Grace,” that insurrection against the reforms of the King and Cromwell, and it was only by great good fortune that he had escaped the King’s wrath; and this was due to his listening to Katharine’s entreaties that he should not join in the second rising.
Katharine could shudder now remembering those times, but they were behind her since she was widowed for the second time. She was still young—only in her thirty-first year—and she was rich, possessing several stately mansions and the fortunes inherited from two husbands. She was also in love.
Sir Thomas Seymour was quite different from either Lord Borough or Lord Latimer. The flashing eyes, the chestnut beard, the curling hair, the great stature, the booming voice, the air of jaunty recklessness, the sailor’s oaths which rose to his lips at the least provocation, set him apart; he was a man in a thousand. Perhaps she was rather foolish, she a widow of thirty, to love the most charming man at court. She would certainly have been had she not been sure that her affection was returned.
As she stitched she thought of their meetings in this mansion. Lord Latimer had been a Catholic, but she even during his lifetime had been attracted by the New Religion. She had friends who were interested in it; and how she had enjoyed their conversations, the books which had to be smuggled to her apartments because they were forbidden reading. She had never talked to Lord Latimer of her feelings for the New Religion. How could she when he was a staunch Catholic and supported Rome with such fervor that he was ready to disobey the King and risk his life to do so? She had been taught that it was a wife’s duty to follow her husband in all things. But when Lord Latimer had died there seemed no longer any reason why she should not admit to herself that she had these Protestant leanings.
She had first become interested through her conversations with a friend named Anne Askew, the daughter of a squire of Lincoln. Anne was fervent in her beliefs and Katharine felt that she herself could never be so pious. Her intentions were noble, but worldly matters came between her and her piety. She smiled as she paused in her work to smooth the folds of her velvet gown; she enjoyed wearing beautiful garments and rich ornaments.
It was at a religious gathering which she had arranged should take place in this house that she had first become aware of Thomas. He had looked incongruous at the gathering; he had not seemed in the least devout; his extravagant clothes and gay manners set him apart. Did he come for religious reasons? She doubted it. He came because the meetings were anti-Catholic and antagonistic to those— such as the Duke of Norfolk, Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester and Sir Thomas Wriothesley—who wished to wrest the King’s favor from himself and his family.
Katharine was not interested in his reasons for coming; she only cared that he came; and from the moment he had selected her for his attention, she had to admit that the religious purpose of the gatherings seemed to lose its importance.
At that moment her woman, Nan, came into the room.
Nan was younger than Katharine by a year or two; darkhaired and pretty, she had been with Katharine since her marriage with Lord Latimer; she was a very loving servant.
There was a cloud in Nan’s eyes today because she knew the reason for her mistress’s elation, and it disturbed her. Nan felt that Katharine judged all men by the two she had married, and innocently thought that Sir Thomas Seymour was a younger, more handsome and more charming version of Lord Latimer.
“Well, Nan,” said Katharine, “how do you think the pattern goes?”
Nan came and surveyed it.
“Very well, my lady.”
“It is cold today. But the spring will soon be here. There are signs of it everywhere.”
“They are saying, my lady, that the King feels the effects of spring.”
“Yes, my lady. And it is rumored that he looks for a new wife.”
“Oh, yes.” Katharine glanced down at her embroidery. Her mood had become solemn. There was not a lady at court who did not become solemn at the thought of the King’s last marriage, which had ended so tragically just over a year ago.
“It seems such a short while ago that we had a Queen,” went on Nan. “We thought the King was happy at last. And then quite suddenly…” She paused and shivered. “She was so pretty,” she went on. “I do not think I ever saw anyone quite so pretty. Queen Anne Boleyn was more striking to look at—more fascinating too, they say—but I do not think I ever saw one so dainty, so sweet to look upon as Queen Catharine Howard.”
“Don’t speak of it, Nan. It is… upsetting.”
But Nan went on: “I remember how she ran screaming down the gallery at Hampton Court when the King was at chapel. I can’t forget the sound of her voice.”
“It is best forgotten, Nan.”
“But I shall never forget. I was there at the end. I should not have gone, but I could not help it. I had to go. And I saw her walk out and lay her pretty head on the block … like a child who had learned her lesson. They say she practiced how she should do it while she was waiting in her cell. And now, my lady, the King looks for a sixth wife.”
“A sixth wife!” said Katharine. “How I pity her… whoever she shall be. But what are we saying? This is no affair of ours. The King grows older—although doubtless it is treason to say so. Let us hope he is putting all thought of another marriage from him. And, if he should marry, now that he is older, there is less likelihood of his fancy’s straying.”
“It did not stray from Catharine Howard, my lady.”
“Let us not speak of it. Do I hear the sound of horses’ hooves in the courtyard?”
She looked out of the window, smiling, for riding into the courtyard was Thomas Seymour.
THE KING WAS becoming more and more occupied with thoughts of a wife. He was no longer young on that March day in the year 1543. Fifty-two. There were times when that seemed a great age for a man to be, particularly when in his teens and his twenties he had been one of the most vigorous of men, over six feet tall, of great girth, delighting in all sports and pastimes—and more than any in the sport of love.
In his thirties he had been a giant among men, unmistakably a king. It had been his delight to go among his subjects feebly disguised and to play a pleasant little game of make-believe which all saw through. “Who is this man?” people were expected to ask. “Why, he has the bearing of a king!” And when they had speculated and marveled, he would throw off his disguise and say: “Cudgel your pates no more, my friends. I am your King!” That was just one of the games he had delighted to play. But a man of fifty is not to be compared with a man of twenty or even thirty, and now he was no longer able to win games with skill, and he would not play except to win. There were days when he could but hobble about his palaces, and then he must have the aid of a stick and the arm of a courtier to lean on. His leg—his accursed leg—grew worse instead of better; he had tried he could not remember how many remedies. He had promised a fortune to the man who could heal it; he had threatened to lop off the heads of those who failed. All to no avail. The leg might seem better for a while; then the ulcer would make itself felt again and the pain could at times be so agonizing that he would cry out with it and hit out at any who irritated him.
Last year had been a trying one for him. He had made fresh claim to the throne of Scotland, had attacked the Scots and given them a trouncing at Solway Moss. But the battle was not decisive. State affairs were pressing and he needed escape from them at times. For, as he often said to his friends, a king is a man for all he is a king. And he had suffered—as a man, as a husband—great sorrow.
Now, with the trees budding and the birds disturbing the royal slumbers in the early morning, so that he would awaken in his lonely bed (or if it was not lonely, it was occupied by one whose presence there disturbed his conscience), he felt that he, like the trees and flowers and grasses, was renewing his strength. As a husband, Fate had treated him cruelly. But did that mean he would never know good fortune in marriage?
The plain fact was (and, thought Henry, I am a plain man to whom facts should be plain) the King was in need of a wife.
So on this March day, when the winds seemed to penetrate the Palace of Greenwich, the King stumped up and down his Privy Chamber, while outside in the audience room several of his courtiers awaited his summons; none dared approach without it. They feared his anger. And he wanted none of them; he wished to be alone with his thoughts. Yet, because he needed a new wife, he could not shut out of his mind memories of his other wives.
Five of them! It was a good tally. François Premier, across the water, had had only two; but his mistresses were legion.
There, thought the King of England, we differ—the King of France and I. His little mouth grew prim; his little eyes were complacent. It was a habit of his to compare himself with the lecher, François. They were of an age; and love was the ruling influence in the life of the French King. Henry liked to think that kingship occupied that place in his. All knew that Madame d’É tampes ruled at the French court as once Madame de Chateaubriand had ruled.
Using his healthy leg, Henry kicked a stool out of his way. The veins stood out on his temples. The very thought of the dark, sardonic face of his enemy infuriated him at all times.
“He has no conscience,” he muttered. “And I…I am all conscience. Oh God, Thou knowest what a man of conscience I am.” The King often addressed God, addressed Him as an equal; for as the King saw himself to be always right, always obeying his conscience, he felt sure, as a man of God, of the constant approval of the Almighty.
Two wives of his had died at his command, young women both of them; and some called them martyrs. Not that any dared say such things in public…if they had any respect for their tongues, for tongues could be cut out for saying such words; and ears could be lopped off for listening to them. Henry insisted (and God must know this too, for Henry continually explained to God) that he had been reluctant to order the death of those two wives of his; but he was a good man, a man of God; he had a conscience which would not allow him to find happiness in an irregular union. It was better that a woman should die than that the King should be forced to illicit pleasure.
God understood that he was right, because the King and God saw through the same eyes. Henry was sure of that. Anne Boleyn haunted his dreams now and then, with her mocking black eyes and her clever tongue; but God had given him a sign that in the case of Anne Boleyn he had acted with wisdom and righteousness. Had not Jane Seymour, Anne’s successor, produced a son? Little Edward was now safely past his fifth year; he was the heir for whom, through the barren years with Spanish Katharine and the fiery ones with Anne Boleyn, he had longed. And Jane had given him that son. Meek little Jane. He had forgotten how quickly he had tired of her; he liked to say now: “Ah, God, if only Jane had lived, how different my life would have been!” Then he would smile and add that God doubtless had had His reasons for taking Jane. The King did not question the Almighty’s reasons, as doubtless the Almighty did not question his.
The King laughed suddenly. He had thought how angry those brothers of Jane’s must have been with her for dying when she did.
Edward Seymour was a clever fellow, taking good advantage of the fact that he was young Edward’s uncle. Full of craft… diplomatic…a good servant. As for Thomas, the King could not help liking the fellow. In Thomas he saw something of the man he himself had been—a pale shadow, of course, a very pale shadow. But that breezy air, the great oaths, and his way with the ladies! Yes, it was big, hearty men like Thomas Seymour that the King liked to have about him.
He had heard rumors of Master Thomas’s ambitions, and that he did not like so well. It was necessary to be watchful of those who were too ambitious. There was that scoundrel Norfolk and his son, Surrey—they had to be watched. They were too near the throne for comfort, and the Tudor tree was not as firmly rooted as Henry would like to see it.
That was why he needed more sons to grow up with his little Edward … sons, sons…Tudor sons to live after him and keep the throne for his house.
Marriage! That was the answer. Marriage was in the air because it was springtime. Young Seymour wanted to marry, so it was said, and he had cast his insolent eyes on the King’s own daughter, on the young Elizabeth—Anne Boleyn’s bastard. For all that she was her mother’s daughter, he could not help having a certain feeling for her. He detected some fire within her, something she had inherited from him. He pretended to doubt that she was really his daughter. He had tried to believe she was like his old friend, poor Norris, who had gone to the block with Anne. He could feel the hot jealousy swelling in his head now when he thought of that May day when Anne had sat beside him in the tiltyard and Norris had ridden there. Although that was seven years ago he could remember it vividly. Seven years since the executioner’s sword, specially procured from Calais, had slashed Anne’s lovely head from her graceful body, yet whenever he saw the girl Elizabeth he remembered. She lacked her mother’s beauty and inimitable charm, but there was something of Anne in Elizabeth—something of Anne and something of himself. And now that rake Seymour had cast his eyes upon her.
The King had learned from his spies that if Thomas could not get the lady Elizabeth he would take the Lady Jane Grey, grand-daughter of Henry’s sister Mary, whom—so long ago now—he had sent to France to marry old Louis, and who, after leading that poor old monarch such a dance that in a few months he died, had secretly married Charles Brandon before returning to England. The fruit of that marriage had been Frances Brandon, who had borne Jane.
“Elizabeth for preference then,” said young Seymour. “But if I can’t get the King’s daughter, I’ll have his kinswoman.”
Henry considered them as he could not help considering all women. Elizabeth would be the more suitable. She was ten years old; Jane was only five.
But did it matter what plans Seymour made, since they would come to nothing unless the King willed otherwise? The important factor was the King’s marriage.
Whom should he choose? Who could be compared with the dainty Catharine Howard? The lady must have all that fair wanton’s charm and none of her wickedness.
He was aware that the ladies of the court were not eager for the honor he would bestow on one of them. That was a little disturbing. He could force the woman of his choice to marry him; but he could not force her delight in doing so. When Catharine Howard had died, he had made it a capital offense for any woman to marry a King of England if she were not a virgin. Surely there were some virtuous women in his court. Yet if any caught his eye upon her, she would seem overcome by embarrassment, and when he looked for her again he would find her absent; should he inquire of her, he would doubtless be told that she had fallen sick and was keeping to her apartments.
He shook his head sadly.
It was said—though he pretended not to know this—that no unmarried woman would care to risk marriage with him because she knew that when he was tired of her he could trump up a charge against her virtue. He preferred not to know of such talk. There was his giant conscience to be appeased. The King must always be right; his motives must always be of the highest. The conscience demanded that it should be so, and the conscience, if necessary, was monster enough to stamp out the truth.
Could they say that Catharine Howard was not a slut, not a wanton? Could they say that he had trumped up charges against her? Surely those charges had been proved.
But Anne Boleyn: only young Smeaton had “confessed” to adultery with her, and that under dire torture.
But he was tormenting himself. The past was done with. Forget it he must, and remember the need of the present. He needed a wife. Yet he could not think of one he would care to honor. He wanted a Queen. He was growing tired of the hunt—both in the forest and the women’s apartments at the palace. He wanted comfort now; he wanted a peaceful old age. He wanted a woman—not too young and frivolous, not the sort who might hanker after younger men. She need not be a beauty if she were comely enough. He called to mind the five he had had: Katharine from Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne from Cleves and Catharine Howard. How unsatisfactory they had all been in their different ways! And yet what he wanted now was a woman who would embody all their virtues and none of their faults: the piety, poise and nobility of the first Katharine; the great fascination of Anne; the meekness of Jane; the good sense of the second Anne (for that woman from Cleves had been sensible and had regarded herself as lucky to get away with a pension and her head on her shoulders to enable her to enjoy it); and the sweet, complacent beauty of little Catharine Howard. Yes, she must have all those qualities and she must be a good and faithful wife, a consort of whom one could be proud, a gentle, serene lady to soothe him when necessary, to enchant him, to make him feel young again, to be a stepmother to the children he had, and a mother to those he might yet have. Edward was sickly (what a perpetual anxiety the health of that boy was!), and there was always the need to get more sons.
That reminded him of the pretensions of his brother-in-law. He shouted to his attendants, and a page came fearfully into his presence.
“Find my brother, Sir Thomas Seymour, and bring him hither,” ordered the King.
The page bowed low, assuring his gracious Majesty that his will should with all speed be done, and set off in search of Sir Thomas.
Seymour was preparing himself for a trip on the river that he might call on Lady Latimer. His short gown, girdled at the waist, reached his knees and was of rich blue satin. His dalmatica was adorned with the widest sleeves; his hose were of white satin and his cap sparkled with sapphires and diamonds.
He was pleased with his appearance; he was pleased with himself. It was good to be young, handsome and full of vigor, to have ambitions which, because he was by nature optimistic, he was certain would very soon be fulfilled.
Sir Thomas Seymour, the great sailor, was not yet the Admiral he intended to become. But that should come about very soon, he promised himself. The young Prince Edward idolized him; Uncle Thomas was his favorite uncle, and such as Uncle Thomas did not forget that one day little Edward would be King of England, and little Edward was not the sort to forget his favorite uncle. What a good thing it had been for the House of Seymour when the King’s roving and most amorous eyes had alighted on his little sister Jane.
Dear Jane! So obedient. She had done just what her brothers had told her to. He was not sure that, in dying when she had, she had not done a good thing too; for the King would soon have tired of her, and who could say what might have happened if Jane had not made a perpetual shrine for herself in the King’s heart by promptly departing after the birth of her son? It was so easy for a sentimental, conscience-stricken King to sigh and tell himself and his courtiers that Jane had been the only wife for whom he had cared, the only woman worthy to have been his wife. So, because accommodating Jane had died at the right moment, she was now safely buried, with her head on her shoulders, and all was set fair for the Seymour brothers.
There was one minor irritation in the life of Thomas Seymour at that moment. The Lady Latimer, in mourning for her husband, was not at court; and he must make the long journey to her house if he would see her.
Katharine. Fair Katharine. And rich Katharine. He was very fond of her. She was perhaps not so beautiful as some other women he knew, but she had other qualities. For one thing, she adored him so obviously. What a refreshing change she must find him after those gouty old widowers of hers. She had never really lived, poor soul. She had been a nurse, not a wife. How different she would find life if she were the wife of Thomas Seymour.
He thought of those mansions which were hers; he thought of her fortune; he also thought of her charming person. He would have proposed marriage to her immediately after my Lord Latimer had died but for one thing.
He was well aware that the Princess Elizabeth was only nine years old. But he could wait… six or seven years. And who knew what was going to happen in the course of seven years. The King had lived for fifty-two years, and those fifty-two years had been somewhat rashly spent. The kingly body was none too healthy. It was said that the hideous leg was the outward sign of inner evils. The King of France suffered from similar abscesses, and all knew of the life he had lived. Fifty-two were not a great many years, but so much depended on how those years had been spent. And then, when Henry died, there was Edward. Poor Edward! Poor, sickly, learned little boy! His uncles would control him, and England would be ruled by her Protectors; and who should they be but the boy’s uncles? And if the boy should die—he certainly had not the appearance of one who would make old bones—and one of those Protectors was married to the King’s daughter…It was not difficult to see the possibilities in that situation. Moreover, that red-headed little girl was not displeasing to him; and he fancied—for there was something of her mother in her—that he was not altogether displeasing to her, young child that she was.
“By God’s precious soul!” he murmured. “I see great days ahead for the Seymours—and in particular for you, my dear Sir Thomas.”
One of his gentlemen came in to tell him that the King’s page had brought a message for him. He was to go at once to the King’s presence, and it seemed from the King’s mood that it would not be wise to delay.
Cursing softly, Seymour went to the King’s apartment, where he knelt in reverence.
“H’m!” snorted the King, noting the rich blue satin and the sparkling sapphires and how they made the sailor’s eyes look bluer and more vivid in his suntanned face. There should be a law, thought the King, forbidding a King’s servant to deck himself in finery rivaling his King’s.
“I had word that Your Majesty desired my presence and I came with all speed.”
“You were wise there, brother,” said the King. “Wiser than you have been in some other matters.”
Seymour opened wide his blue eyes and looked at the King with astonishment. He was ready with his tongue too, the King noted.
“My Gracious Lord, if my unwisdom has offended Your Grace, pray let me know in what cause, that I may hasten to be wise.”
“Methinks,” said Henry, “that when I honor a subject with a small favor, that subject is apt to look for bigger ones.”
“It is such an honor to serve Your Grace, and Your Grace’s smiles are treasured. You must forgive your loving subjects if, having received one of your royal smiles, they crave for more.”
“Smiles! It is not smiles some look for. Some enjoy lands and treasures which not so long ago belonged to others.”
Seymour bowed his head. It was true that, as Jane Seymour’s brother, he had received lands and riches from the despoliation of the monasteries; he had grown from a humble country gentleman into a rich courtier. Was the King planning to take away that which he had given? Seymour thought uneasily of another Thomas— Cardinal Wolsey—who had at one time been the richest man, next to the King, in all England; yet he had lost everything, even his life.
“But it is not of lands that we would speak,” went on Henry. “We have been hearing rumors of your conduct, Seymour, and we do not like what we hear.”
“I am deeply grieved, Your Grace.”
“Then that is well. And, hark ye, we shall look to you to mend your ways. We have heard rumors of your gallantry, Seymour. You know what store I set on virtue….”
Seymour bowed his head even lower. It would not do for his master to see the smile which played about his mouth, and, try as he might, Thomas Seymour could not prevent its appearing there. This model of virtue! he thought. This husband of five wives—this lover of how many women! Yet in his own eyes the King remained a figure of virtue. After all, he had always put away one wife before the official ceremony of taking another, even if it meant cutting off her head.
“I know, Your Grace,” said Seymour craftily; “and if I have offended, I crave your pardon and Your Majesty’s clemency. I would remind Your Majesty that it is not easy for a humble subject to follow the example of his King.”
Henry looked sharply at the man. Insolence? Was that it? He softened in spite of himself. Liking the fellow, he could not help it. Yes, he had a liking for Tom Seymour as he had had for others. Thomas Wyatt, for instance, who was reputed to have been the lover of Anne Boleyn; Thomas Wolsey was another who had had his regard. Dear Thomas Wolsey! A good servant. Henry had long persuaded his conscience that Wolsey’s decline and death lay at the door of Anne Boleyn, as did the execution of that other favorite, Thomas More. There was yet another Thomas who was beloved of the King— Thomas Cranmer. How different was pious Cranmer—rather sly, sensitive Cranmer—from this handsome braggart who now stood before him. Perhaps he liked Cranmer for his very cunning, for his clever way of extricating his King from troubles; and he liked Tom Seymour because he was amusing, because he seemed a pale shadow of a youthful Henry.
“There has been too much gallantry, my lord,” went on Henry. “It extends, we hear, from the lowest to the highest. Take care, brother.”
“I know not what tales have been brought to Your Gracious Majesty, but whoever uttered them …”
“Lied in his throat, I don’t doubt you will tell me. Let us hope that you are right.”
“I can assure Your Gracious Majesty that it is so.”
“And,” went on the King, “that you, my lord, have never raised those handsome eyes to the Princess Elizabeth, our daughter?”
“My Gracious Lord …”
“Ah, you would have need of our gracious leniency if we found you guilty of such folly.”
“I beg Your Grace to listen to my side of the story.”
“We are listening.”
“I would not presume to raise my eyes to one so near Your Grace.”
“That is well. Eyes raised to the sun become dazzled, brother; and dazzled eyes see not clearly the dangers that lie ahead. Do not allow yourself to be blinded. Neither the Princess Elizabeth nor the Lady Jane Grey is for you, brother.”
“Indeed not, Your Majesty. If I seemed to admire these two, it was as charming children and…”
“Then all is well. You may leave us, brother.”
Seymour bowed, retired and went from the palace to his waiting barge.
He was sweating a little under his fine garments, particularly about the neck. Necks were so sensitive. How many times did the gentlemen about the King fancy they felt the touch of the ax there? One day a man was in high favor, his ambitions promising fulfillment; the next day he was being rowed to the Tower and taken through the Traitors’ Gate. It had happened to so many whom he had known.
That interview meant that, at present, he must curb his hopes. The redheaded Princess was not for him…at present. He must forget the little Lady Jane. But there was still the rich widow waiting in her late husband’s mansion; and very rich she was, and comely too. He had developed an insatiable taste for riches since his sister’s elevation. A rich wife today was a more exciting prize than a royal one in seven years’ time. Much could happen in a day, an hour. How much more could happen in seven years!
The King had stumped to his window and watched the progress of the gallant young man as he made his way toward the river.
Whither was he going? wondered Henry. It was to meet a woman, doubtless. Henry smiled slyly. Not the Princess Elizabeth, for certain. He had not been unaware of the fear he had planted in Seymour. The gallant sailor would be a little less gallant in that direction and keep his eyes from straying too high.
The King was so curious that he had one of Sir Thomas’s gentlemen brought to him.
“Whither goes your master this day?” he asked.
“To London, Your Majesty.”
“And why to London?”
“On business, as far as I know, Your Majesty.”
“What business? Out with it, knave. You know his errand and you would be wise to tell it.”
“My Lord King, if it pleases you, he has gone to call on Lady Latimer.”
The King smiled. “You may go. It is our wish that you tell not your master that we were interested in his journey. It will go ill with you if you do.”
Lady Latimer, mused the King, when the man had left. He knew her well. Kate Parr, he called her, for he remembered her as Parr’s girl. He had noticed her when she came to court, and he had liked her. She had been a good wife, first to Borough and then to Latimer. A sedate and virtuous lady. The kind of woman he liked to see about the court. And why was it he had not seen her at court? Ah, mourning Latimer, he supposed.
So Seymour was visiting her. To what end? Wealthy widow. Very wealthy widow. Those Seymours were the most avaricious men in the kingdom.
The King laughed. He believed that Seymour, knowing now that the Princess Elizabeth and the Lady Jane Grey were out of reach, was turning to the more mature charms of the widow.
Seymour could always make the King laugh; perhaps that was why the latter liked him. But even as Henry laughed, he grew solemn. She was a charming woman, this Katharine Parr. A good, virtuous and not uncomely woman, the sort the King liked to see at his court. A good influence on others. She had been friendly with the Princess Mary, and that meant that she was a sober, religious lady, having similar interests to those of his twenty-seven-year-old daughter.
Kate Parr and Tom Seymour. Incongruous!
Later, when he was closeted with his Primate, Thomas Cranmer, discussing State affairs, the King said suddenly: “The morals of the court distress me. I would like to see it influenced by our virtuous matrons. There is one…Katharine Parr…recently widowed. Latimer, was it not? He died a short while ago. She is a good woman and she would be an influence for good with our young maidens. I do not see her at court as often as I should like.”
Cranmer lowered his eyes. He was like a frightened stag, always on the alert for the chase to begin. He had seen Thomas Cromwell fall, and he could not forget it.
Latimer! he thought now. The noble lord had been involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace, as had Katharine Parr’s relatives, the Throckmortons. They were staunch Catholics, and Cranmer must be continually on guard against the influence of Catholic thought on the King. Yet of late Latimer’s widow had been turning toward the new faith, which was dear to Cranmer. A Protestant lady’s influence on the King would make Cranmer happy, while it would certainly discomfit his enemies—Norfolk, Gardiner and Wriothesley.
Cranmer said: “Your Grace, we should command this lady to come to court.”
The King nodded.
“Let it be done,” he said. “Let it be done.”
IN THE OAK-PANELED room of the Latimer mansion, Thomas Seymour was bowing over the hand of Katharine Parr.
“I have waited for this moment for…for…” Seymour lifted his handsome eyes to Katharine’s face. It was a trick of the gallant gentleman, who was rarely lost for words, to feign a nervousness which made him tonguetied. It was a trick which never failed to please the lady he was trying to impress.
“For?” prompted Katharine.
“Since I last saw you.” He smiled and boldly drew her to the window-seat, keeping her hand in his.
“Do you find it pleasant to be in London, fair lady, after the monotony of Yorkshire?”
“I had too much to do in Yorkshire to find life monotonous there.”
“But did you not, when you so nobly nursed your husband, long for court life?”
“No. I was happy. Except…”
“I thought of that time when I knew great fear. Not a day would pass when I would not be startled out of my wits by a knock on a door or a sight of a rider in the courtyard. I would look through a window and say to myself: ‘Can it be a messenger from the King?’”
“And, your lord husband, did he tremble with you?”
“He did not. He seemed insensible to danger. He was a brave man.”
“Too sick, I’ll wager, too concerned with fighting death to fear the King’s anger.”
“And then …” she said, “the King pardoned him.”
“The King’s pardon!” Seymour laughed. “The King’s smiles are like April sunshine, Kate.”
“I hear he is moody and depressed these days.”
“The King! Aye. And looking for a wife.”
“May God preserve the poor, unfortunate lady on whom his choice falls.”
Seymour raised his eyebrows in mock horror. “Treason, Kate!” he said.
“I know I should be careful. I speak too rashly.”
“Rashness? That is a fault I share with you. But ’tis truth you speak. What woman would be eager to share the King’s throne since poor little Howard’s head rolled in the straw?”
“Poor child. So young. So beautiful… and to die thus!”
“Caution!” Seymour took the opportunity to put his face close to hers on a pretext of whispering. “Master Wriothesley hath his spies everywhere, they say. I will tell you something: All through the court people are whispering, asking each other on whom the King’s choice will fall. Age creeps on the royal body. Once he was a raging lion; now he is a sick one. The same desires, the same mighty bulk, but a sick lion who stays at home to lick his poor, wounded limbs when once he would have led the chase. Such a state of affairs has not been beneficial to the royal temper.”
“’ Tis you who are incautious now.”
“I ever was, and ’tis true I am more so now. Do you know why? It is because you are sitting near me. You are as beautiful as the sun on the sea, Kate. Oh, I beg of you keep clear of His Majesty’s roaming eye.”
She laughed. “You are mocking me. I have been a wife twice already.”
“Nay! You have never been a wife. You have been twice a nurse. My lord Latimer was old enough to have been your grandsire.”
“He was good to me.”
“Good to his nurse! Oh, Kate, you know not how fair you are. Again I say, strive not to catch the King’s eye.”
“I am thirty years old.”
“And look but twenty. But why talk of the King and his marriages? The marriages of others might make better talk.”
Katharine looked at him earnestly. It was difficult to believe what she so longed to believe. He was too charming, too handsome; and she, as she had pointed out to him, was thirty years old, and twice widowed. No, it was to some fresh and beautiful young girl that he would turn.
“Which… which marriage had you in mind?” she asked.
He put his arm about her then and kissed her heartily on the mouth. “My own!” he cried.
“Yours?” She made an attempt to struggle, but she could put no heart into it because this was where she longed to be, with him beside her, his arms about her, listening to words which she longed to hear more than any in the world. “Since… when did you contemplate marriage?”
“From the moment I set eyes on you,” was his prompt reply. “That was when I began to think of marriage.”
“You forget I am so lately a widow.”
“Nay, sweet Kate—scarce a widow since you were never a wife. Sicknurse! That was you, Kate.”
“But… should I think of marriage with my husband scarce cold in his grave?”
“Bah! He is lucky to be there, Kate. The King never forgives those who work against him. Better, when one is a sick old man, to die in bed than rot in chains as Constable did. He was a fool, that husband of yours.”
Katharine would not allow even the man she loved to speak against the man she had married. “He did what he believed to be right,” she said warmly. “The cause of Rome was very near his heart and he supported it.”
“A man’s a fool who’ll support the Pope’s cause against the King’s when he lives within reach of the King’s wrath and out of reach of the Pope’s succor.”
“We are not all as ambitious, mayhap, as Sir Thomas Seymour.”
Katharine drew herself away from him and said with a touch of coldness in her voice: “I have heard it whispered that you are very ambitious indeed, and that you have aspired to make an advantageous marriage.”
“’ Tis true,” he said, “that I seek an advantageous marriage. I seek the advantages that a happy marriage could bring me. I seek the advantage of marriage with the woman I love.”
“And who might that be? The Princess Elizabeth?”
“The Princess Elizabeth!” Seymour’s expression was a masterpiece of astonishment. “I…marry a Princess! Come, Kate, you’re dreaming.”
“So the reason you have remained a bachelor so long is not because you wait for one whom you would marry to reach a marriageable age?”
“The reason I have remained a bachelor for so long is that the woman I wish to marry is only now free to marry me.”
“I wish I knew that it was true!” she sighed.
He laughed and held her closer to him.
“Kate! Kate!” he chided. “You are mad to speak thus. Could you be jealous of a child?”
She smiled contentedly. “It is said that those who study the ways of ambition learn patience,” she reminded him.
“Patience! It was never a virtue of mine. That is why I’ll not wait a moment longer before I kiss those lips.”
How pleasant it was there in the room with its windows overlooking the courtyard, and with him beside her promising such joy as she had never known.
They talked of the future which would be theirs.
“But we must wait awhile,” insisted Katharine. “I dare not marry yet. It is too soon.”
Seymour feigned impatience, but he was not sorry that there must be a time of waiting. He could not get the picture of the red-headed Princess out of his mind. She had such a white skin and a coquettish air, he fancied, when she looked his way. Not yet ten years old and a coquette already, and not insensible to the outstanding attractions of a man old enough to be her father.
He was not averse to waiting, for, in this age of surprises, events came thick and fast, and one could never be sure what would happen next.
“I warn you,” said Seymour, “I shall not wait too long.”
“Nor should I wish to, for now I know your mind I could not bear to.”
They talked once more of the life they would share. They would escape into the country as often as possible, for there were great joys, she would show him, to be found in the simple life.
When at length he left her, she stood at her window watching him for as long as was possible. It seemed to her that her happiness was almost too great. Perhaps she felt thus because she had waited so long for it. Yet thirty was not so old. He did not think so.
She tried to work at her embroidery, to read a little from her book of devotions, to write; but it was impossible; she could think of nothing but the happy promise of the future. The marriages which had been arranged for her, and which had brought friendship and riches, were over; and now she could make the romantic marriage which would bring her that perfect contentment of which she had often dreamed.
It was later that day when a messenger arrived from the court. The King missed the company of Lady Latimer, and he had discovered that he desired it. Lady Latimer would therefore present herself at court without delay.
THERE WAS SPECULATION among the courtiers.
Lady Latimer had arrived with a few attendants, and the King had noticeably singled her out for his special attention. On every possible occasion he extolled the piety of those women who, in their kindness and sympathy, nursed their husbands through sickness. The King’s ideal of womanhood was now Lady Latimer. There seemed to be only one person at court who did not grasp the situation, and this was Katharine herself. It was due to modesty, for she could not believe that the King would really regard her as a possible Queen. She was sure that she lacked all the gay, spirited fascination of Anne Boleyn, all the young beauty of Catharine Howard. Even Jane Seymour had had a pale beauty of her own. And I, Katharine told herself, am no more handsome than the Lady of Cleves; and the King would have none of her. It was true that Anne of Cleves had had strange, rough manners and awkward speech and that her skin was pitted from smallpox; but at least she had been the sister of the Duke of Cleves and of importance in European politics. But what had Katharine Parr to offer a man who had always demanded outstanding physical attraction or political assets in his wives?
What she heard concerning this matter must be merely court gossip, and Katharine would not allow herself to be disturbed by it. She was not going to relinquish her dreams as readily as that. She was going to marry Thomas Seymour; she loved him and he loved her.
Nan, who had accompanied her to court, was looking very mournful. Poor Nan! She was a pessimist by nature. Other ladies also threw her compassionate glances. Naturally, the whole court was concerned as to the King’s potential wife, merely because he lacked a wife. They did not realize that when men grew old they thought more often of their comforts than of erotic excitement. Katharine knew. She had had two old husbands.
She therefore persisted in her dreams of marriage with Thomas and refused to admit to herself that he had seemed to grow aloof, that he was often absent from court, and that when the King was present he scarcely looked her way. It was agreed between them that they must wait for marriage; she had been the one who had insisted on that. Naturally, they must wait for a reasonable time to elapse after the death of Lord Latimer; and until they could announce a date for their marriage it was better to keep silent about it and let none guess that they contemplated it.
So Katharine went on blithely dreaming.
Thomas Cranmer watched the progress of events. He was cautious by nature; a man must be cautious in the service of such a master. Lady Latimer was a pleasant woman; she would serve the King well if she could do what most of his wives had failed to do: provide him with sons. Cranmer wished to play the safe game. He would not further the marriage of his master with Katharine Parr; nor would he thwart it. Many men had fallen after taking a hand in the King’s matrimonial affairs. Anne Boleyn had caused the downfall of Wolsey; Anne of Cleves that of Cromwell; and because of the frailty of Catharine Howard, Norfolk and his family were in decline. A statesman must play for safety when the King contemplated marriage.
Cranmer’s thoughts went back to a longago marriage in which he had been bridegroom to Margaret Anne Osiander. Very charming she had been—the daughter of a Reformer with whom he had conferred when he was in Germany on the King’s business. But that marriage had been declared void, for Cranmer had had to choose between the King and Margaret Anne. Often he despised himself— the coward who longed to be brave, the priest devoted to his religion, yet longing for a wife and family… longing to be a martyr to his beliefs, yet fearing the martyr’s flaming crown.
So Cranmer would keep as aloof as possible from the King’s affair with Lady Latimer; but he hoped that the marriage would take place, because the lady leaned toward the Protestant faith, and a Protestant Queen was what Cranmer—a Reformer at heart—would have advocated for his King.
Thus, while keeping aloof, Cranmer prayed for the success of the King with Lady Latimer.
Stephen Gardiner, the celebrated statesman and Bishop of Winchester, saw how matters stood and, as he was unaware of the lady’s religious leanings and remembered the service her late husband, Lord Latimer, had paid to the Catholic cause, he was not against the match. He was an ambitious man, this Gardiner, this statesman and priest. He wished to rule the country, as Secretary of State, through the King; and as a churchman he wished to stamp out those he deemed heretics. There was only one religion for him; and if he accepted the King as head of the Church of England, that was for expediency’s sake; for the rest he wished to support the religion of his youth, which had its roots in Rome.
And Lady Latimer herself? She was a good woman, not likely to cause trouble to the King’s ministers. Could she give the King a son? He doubted it. The King, it seemed, could not have healthy sons. Not one of his Queens, except Anne Boleyn, had been able to give him a really healthy child. Anne’s other pregnancies had come to nothing, just as had those of Katharine of Aragon. Jane Seymour had had at least one miscarriage. His natural son, whom he had created Duke of Richmond, had died in his teens; Edward, the heir to the throne, caused much anxiety on account of his health. Princess Mary was a sickly woman who suffered frequently. Only the young Princess Elizabeth was a healthy child. Therefore it seemed unlikely that the King would achieve in his declining years what he had failed to accomplish in his youth. Then would the old familiar pattern begin to form? Would he, tiring of yet another partner, desire a new wife and look to his ministers—his long-suffering ministers— to find a way of ridding him of a woman who had become an obstruction?
If all the young ladies at court dreaded the King’s attentions for fear of the consequences to themselves when they ceased to amuse him, the King’s ministers, remembering the disasters which had befallen their predecessors, also had their fears.
But the King was ageing; perhaps his sixth marriage would conent him; and as Lord Latimer had been a good Catholic, so, reasoned Gardiner, would his widow be also. If the King wished to marry the lady and if—as surely he must—he no longer expected children, Gardiner would welcome the match.
He said to Wriothesley when he obtained a private interview with that man: “What think you of this matter of the King and Lady Latimer?”
Sir Thomas Wriothesley, as zealous a Catholic as Gardiner himself and longing for promotion to the Chancellorship, was ready to agree with such an influential Catholic as Gardiner.
“The lady’s husband, recently dead, was a good Catholic,” said Wriothesley. “The lady was a dutiful wife to Latimer, and would be so to His Majesty, I doubt not.”
Gardiner came nearer. He liked Wriothesley as well as he liked any man; he liked him a good deal, for his liking depended on a man’s usefulness to himself.
“With a good Catholic Queen,” murmured Gardiner, “there would be one near him to whisper wisdom in the King’s ear.”
“And he needs such whispering,” said Wriothesley, “with the Seymours ever about him, paving the way for themselves with young Edward.”
Gardiner nodded and laid a hand on Wriothesley’s shoulders. “Audley looked sick today; I thought.”
They exchanged nods and smiles of understanding.
Wriothesley knew that if Audley became too sick for the post of Lord Chancellor, it would not be Gardiner’s fault if Sir Thomas Wriothesley did not receive the Great Seal.
Edward Seymour, Thomas’s elder brother, who was now Lord Hertford, being one of the chief Reformers, was aware of Katharine’s leaning toward the Party; so he, also, was not averse to the King’s marriage with Lady Latimer.
There was only one notable gentleman of the court who was against it. That was Sir Thomas Seymour himself. It seemed to him that the more Katharine became out of reach, the more desirable she became.
He thought longingly of her sweet comeliness, of her gentleness, her unspoiled nature—and her considerable possessions.
Sir Thomas Seymour was a very sad man as that blustering March of 1543 gave way to softer April.
THE YOUNG PRINCE EDWARD was entertaining his two sisters in his apartments.
He was not quite five years old, a palefaced, puny child, whose health was a source of great anxiety to all those who were responsible for him. It was their constant fear that he would die and that the King would punish them for his death.
His tutors feared either that he might overtax his brain or that he might not please his father with his learning. Those in charge of his physical training suffered even more acutely. They were apprehensive every time the little boy mounted a pony or played a game of tennis. But these things he must do, for the King wanted Edward to be another such as Bluff King Hal had been. At five, Henry had been a lusty boy, “pink and gold,” they had said of him, taller than his brother Arthur, outshining him in everything he did. He had been a Prince who looked a Prince, and that was the sort of Prince Edward must be.
Little Edward knew what was expected of him, for he was knowledgeable beyond his years. Sports tired him, but book-learning did not, and therefore he loved books. He could write Latin and read it fluently. He already knew that one day he must be the King, and a Tudor King. Wishing fervently to please his father and do all that was expected of him, he rigorously performed all his duties; but his greatest pleasure was in being with the younger members of his family, and in particular with his half-sister Elizabeth and her whom he called his cousin—little Jane Grey. He was sure that he loved Jane best of all. There were several reasons for this; Jane was nearer his age than the others, being barely a year older than he was. His sister Elizabeth, who was nine years old, was clever, but not in quite the same way as Jane was. Jane and he were of a kind; but Jane was beautiful and not made breathless by small exertions, as he was; her legs were fine and firm and could support her with the greatest ease; she had no pains in her head and there were no outbreaks of rashes on her delicate skin.
He was glad this was so. Jane was his dearest.
But he was greatly excited by the presence of his sister Elizabeth—perhaps more excited by her than by anyone else. Her sharp eyes were everywhere; she knew all the court gossip and would tell it, throwing back her mane of red hair and playing the parts of all the people who figured in the stories she told.
She looked for admiration while she talked, and nothing pleased her more than a compliment. Edward never forgot to admire her gown. She had asked him whether he thought Jane prettier than she was, and Edward found it very difficult to give a truthful answer to that, for a reply in the affirmative would have infuriated her; so he told her that as Jane was just a child and merely Lady Jane Grey, and she herself was grown up and a Princess, there could be no comparison.
Then Elizabeth had kissed him in her quick way and burst out laughing. She knew that he deceived her, but she did not mind that. She told him he was a clever little boy.
He was not so pleased to see his sister Mary, for she always saddened him. When she came into a room she seemed to bring sorrow with her. She was often ill, as he feared he was. Mary had been so ill a little while ago that it had been feared she would die. The King had not greatly cared what befell his elder daughter, but when his son was sick there were doctors all about the boy. His father, sparkling with jewels, looking bigger than anyone else in the world, would stump up and down the chamber, haranguing the doctors, threatening them—almost threatening Edward himself—if the Prince should die.
I dare not die! Edward often said to himself. I must not complain of this pain in my head. I must be a King, and a Tudor King. I am my father’s only male heir.
It was a great responsibility for such a small boy and such a frail one. No wonder he liked to sit in an alcove with Jane and talk to her of what he had read or what he had learned.
Yet it was pleasant to gaze at Elizabeth, with the color flaming under her pale skin, the freckles across her nose. Such a diplomatic Prince did not mention the freckles—although they pleased him— for Elizabeth’s women prepared lotions to make them disappear, as the vain creature imagined that they spoiled her lovely skin.
When she kissed him and told him he was her dearest brother, he could not be quite sure whether she was not remembering all the time that one day he would be the King and very important, and that she would need him to be kind to a Princess of uncertain birth.
Today she was excited. She had news.
She came in haughtily, as she did when the mood took her; and he fancied that she played a game of makebelieve in which she was a Queen and he her subject. With her came Mistress Ashley, her governess, whose life the Princess plagued, though the woman adored her.
Elizabeth was dressed in a new gown of which she was very proud, yet she was angry because she lacked jewels. She had told him that she wished for emeralds, because emeralds suited the color of her hair. He wished that he had emeralds that he might give her. When he was a King he would do so; but he hoped that would not be for a long time; he dreaded that day when he would have to be the King.
Now here was his sister, taking his hand and kissing it. “Nan Bullen’s girl,” he had heard her called; that was when people were angry with her. “Who is she?” they said then. “Who but Nan Bullen’s bastard.”
He knew of Nan Bullen, who, some said, had been a witch, a sorceress, and who had died that his father might marry his mother, the one pure Queen whom his father had loved.
Elizabeth, in her haughtiest manner, dismissed all attendants.
“That is what you wish, is it not?” she demanded, almost menacingly of the little boy.
“Yes,” he answered. “That is what I wish.”
Then Elizabeth looked from him to little Jane and back to him, and said: “Have you heard the gossip, brother?”
“The gossip that is all over the court. Our father has chosen his new wife.”
“A new wife!” cried Jane.
“A new stepmother for us!” said the boy with a perplexed look.
“But you like your stepmothers. You liked the last one.”
“Queen Catharine was so pretty,” said Edward wistfully.
“But she died.” Jane’s gentle eyes filled with tears. It was obvious that she knew in what manner Queen Catharine had died.
None of the children ever mentioned the way in which the Queen had died. The beheading of Queens was a sore subject with Elizabeth. If any lightly mentioned her own mother, her face would grow dark with anger. Edward knew that it was because Mistress Ashley had married a kinsman of Queen Anne Boleyn that Elizabeth kept the woman with her, loved her dearly, and would suffer none other to command and scold her as Mistress Ashley did.
“Who…is the new one?” asked Edward.
“Can you not guess?” demanded Elizabeth. “You know her. She has paid you many a visit. You will love her as much as you loved Queen Catharine Howard.”
“Please tell me quickly who it is,” said the small boy imperiously, for he could be imperious when kept in suspense.
“Oh!” The two younger children exchanged smiles. They knew her well. She was a delightful lady. A short while ago when Edward had been recovering from a sickness, and there had been one of those dreaded scenes at his bedside, with the King cajoling and threatening all those in attendance, Lady Latimer had come to see him. He had thought her sweet and gentle, as a mother ought to be.
“You are not then displeased by this news?” said Elizabeth.
“Nay. It delights me. She will be Queen Katharine and our stepmother.”
“I too am pleased,” said the Princess. “I love her well.”
Mistress Ashley came into the apartment to tell them that the Lady Mary was on her way and would be with them in a few moments.
“She has heard the news, I’ll warrant,” said Elizabeth. “It will please her also.”
“She will be always at court,” said Edward, “when she is our stepmother.”
Elizabeth looked momentarily serious. She was old enough to remember a good deal more than Jane and Edward could. She remembered a dark-eyed, very beautiful woman who laughed and cried, who embraced her warmly and called her “Daughter,” and who loved her more than anyone in the world had ever loved her. Then quite suddenly Elizabeth had understood that she no longer had a mother; but it was not until some years after her loss that she knew the reason.
Cruel things had been said about her mother; and what was said about her mother must reflect on Elizabeth. Some had said she was not the King’s daughter at all, but the daughter of a man named Norris, who was supposed to have been the Queen’s lover and had died with her. Some said a thing even more horrible: that she was the daughter of Anne Boleyn’s own brother, Lord Rochford. But the King did not believe this. Indeed, how could he? He had but to look at her to know that she was his own daughter. And although there were times when he seemed to care not whether she had a rag to her back or a crust to eat—while if aught befell the precious body of young Edward all the great doctors of the realm must congregate at his bedside—still Elizabeth felt that the King had as warm a feeling for her as for any of his children.
The Lady Mary came into the room and Elizabeth at once went to her, knelt and kissed her hand.
How sick she looks! thought Elizabeth. She is old—old. The idea of being twenty-six—nearer twenty-seven—and without a husband!
So many great men had been promised to Mary and yet not one of them had married her. No wonder she was sick and sad and bore resentment against the world.
How healthy she is! thought Mary. How full of vitality! She cares nothing that they call her “bastard.” If I had been the daughter of Anne Boleyn, I would have died of shame ere this.
Mary paid homage to the little boy. She never forgot the relative positions of them all. Edward was the prospective King and the most important member of the family. She and her sister had both been called bastards; they had both been made much of by the King and both scorned by him when he had decided to discard their mothers.
Mary would have envied Elizabeth if she had not believed it was a sin to envy anyone and not to accept that lot which a Greater Power had ordained must be borne. She, Mary, had been the petted darling of the court when she had been a little girl. Her mother, who had adored her, had made great plans for her and longed to see her Queen of Spain. There had been a time when Mary had thought she would be Queen of France. And here she was, a Princess whom her father refused to recognize as his legitimate daughter; for if he did so it would mean that he had been wrong to set aside her mother. The King could do no wrong. That was the order of the day. So from great honor Mary had been cast down—not only to obscurity, but to actual danger, for the King had at one time threatened her life.
She, who had been brought up under her mother’s eyes, felt this deeply. She was steeped in tradition. She was the daughter of a Princess, the daughter of a King, and she possessed all that love of solemnity and ritual which came from her Spanish ancestry. There could not be two sisters more unlike than Mary and Elizabeth.
Elizabeth’s manner had changed at the entry of her sister as rapidly as Elizabeth’s moods could change. She had become demure.
“We were speaking of the news, sister,” she said. “You have heard it?”
“You mean that our father thinks to marry again?”
“Yes,” answered Elizabeth, watching her sister.
“It is Lady Latimer,” said Edward. “Jane and I are very fond of Lady Latimer.”
Jane smiled at him. She was awed by the two Princesses. They alarmed her slightly, each in a different way. With Elizabeth she could never be entirely at ease; and Mary seemed so old, dignified and solemn.
“She is a very virtuous lady,” said Mary, “and one who should bring great happiness to our father.”
Elizabeth looked at her slyly. Did she not know then that Lady Latimer was interesting herself in the reformed faith? Apparently she did not, for Mary would never esteem virtuous anyone who was not a good Catholic.
Mary did not know as much of what was going on at court as did Elizabeth. Mary spent so much time on her knees asking for guidance and courage to endure her lot. Elizabeth kept her eyes open, her ears trained, and had developed the trick of worming secrets out of her women. As for her courage, she was not sure of that, but she hoped that her wits would prevent its ever being put to the test.
“Another stepmother,” she said. “I am glad, sister, that the King has chosen one who is such a great friend of yours.”
“It will be a pleasure to welcome her,” said Mary, thinking: Perhaps she will ask our father to have us reinstated at court.
They had been fortunate in their stepmothers; there was not one of them who had been unkind, except perhaps Anne Boleyn, and she had tried to become reconciled to Mary before her death. Mary refused to see that Anne Boleyn had had no alternative but to ignore and debase her, since any honor done to Mary must minimize that paid to her own daughter, Elizabeth. Mary never saw any point of view but that dictated by her own rigorously observed religion. Jane Seymour had been kind to the Princesses; so had Anne of Cleves and Catharine Howard. But Mary, as did Elizabeth and Edward, believed that their new stepmother would be the one whom they would love best of all.
Mary dismissed the subject; her father had not yet announced his decision to marry Lady Latimer and, until he had done so, it was neither wise nor tactful to discuss it. She must curb that vulgar curiosity of Elizabeth’s, inherited from her lowborn mother; she must not allow her to chatter of court gossip to the little Prince.
So Mary looked at his books and talked earnestly with him for a while; and Elizabeth, joining in the conversation, immediately became a prim little maiden of nine years, learned for her age—for she too had been made to work hard under her tutors, and as she was avid for all knowledge she, like her brother, had been a praiseworthy pupil.
The Lady Mary at length left the children together, and as soon as she was gone Elizabeth took charge and the atmosphere changed. It was small wonder that Edward was fascinated by this sister of his. It was not only her rude health which so amazed him, but her ability, it seemed, to change her character that she might interest and attract different people.
This was indeed a happy day for the Prince for on it his Uncle Thomas called upon him.
If he had not been a little boy so determined to do what was right, he would have loved his Uncle Thomas Seymour more than his father. How different were those two men! They were both possessed of dazzling personality; yet the King inspired his son with fear and Thomas Seymour filled him with affection. When Uncle Thomas came into a room he would seem to bring the sea breezes with him. He was a great sailor, Edward delighted to recall, an important man in the kingdom, yet not too important to have time to spare for his small nephew.
On those rare occasions when they were alone together, Uncle Thomas became more exciting than ever. He would lift the boy high above his head and make him squeal with delight; he had actually succeeded in making him forget that he was heir to the throne, a King-to-be, and a Tudor King at that! Uncle Thomas had the rare gift of making himself so young that, in his presence, children felt that they were as grownup as he was.
Edward was not the only one who felt this. As soon as Uncle Thomas appeared, a change took place in the apartment.
Jane grew quieter before that magnificent presence. Elizabeth seemed a more haughty Princess than ever, but a very gay and excited one. As for Edward, he felt that he was a man, as gay and swaggering as Uncle Thomas, discarding all the heavy responsibilities which must rest on the shoulders of a boy of five who was being trained as a King.
“A good day to you all!” cried the gay Sir Thomas, and his bright twinkling eyes surveyed them all. “Your Princely Grace.” He kissed Edward’s hand, but mockingly, so that Edward knew he had no need to receive the greeting ceremoniously. “My dearest Princess.” The Princess’s eyes glittered, for the sailor surely had accentuated the adjective. “And my sweet Lady Jane.” His voice had grown tender as he kissed the hand of the quiet little girl who had risen to receive his greeting. “And how conspiratorial we all look today! What’s afoot?”
They all began to laugh, like small children in a nursery…any children…happy children who need not be constantly on the alert to do what was expected of them.
“Secrets, eh? Secrets! Secrets that should be kept from Uncle Tom?”
“No, indeed, dear Uncle,” said Edward. “There are no secrets we would keep from you.”
“You deceive me.” The blue eyes flashed and Sir Thomas stroked his beard and scowled wickedly from one to the other. He began to growl through his teeth. “Methinks I must make myself aware of this grim secret.”
He considered them. Poor Edward, just for a few moments a little boy! His great head was so packed with learning that his puny body seemed to protest against carrying it. Little Lady Jane, lifting her solemn eyes to his face, divorced from her habitual gravity, was at this moment, like Edward, a child just because the magic youthfulness of Sir Thomas Seymour could cast a spell upon her. And Elizabeth…? Ah, Elizabeth! She was no child. She was standing before him, against the hangings, those which had the greenish pattern upon them that would set off her flaming hair so beautifully. Her eyes were downcast, but her mouth was sly. Elizabeth was refusing to play the child; she wished to play the woman. And … she was enjoying the banter more than any of them.
“By God’s precious soul!” cried Seymour. “I shall discover this plot against me. I shall tear this secret from you. Who shall tell me? You, my lord?”
He had taken Edward in his arms and lifted him high above his head. Edward laughed aloud, as he rarely did.
“Will Your Grace tell this dread secret?”
Edward’s hand which had only just lost the pudginess of babyhood, grasped the beautiful brown locks of Sir Thomas.
“Put me down, Uncle Thomas. Put me down, I say. I will pull your hair if you do not.”
“I tremble. I am in fear. So Your Grace refuses to tell me his secret?”
“There is no secret.”
Sir Thomas lowered the Prince and gave him two hearty kisses; and Edward put his arms about his uncle’s neck. Oh why, thought Edward, are not all men like my Uncle Thomas?
Sir Thomas set him on the floor and went to Lady Jane Grey.
“And you, my lady, will you tell me the secret?”
“There is no secret, Sir Thomas.”
“I would force it from you,” he cried, “were you not so beautiful that I could not bear to hurt you.”
He let his fingers caress the soft golden curls of the beautiful child, contemplatively, sadly; for she was small and so young and it would be long before she was a woman.
“I must prise the secret from one of you, that is certain…and since it cannot be from you, my Prince, or you, my Lady Jane, it must be from the Lady Elizabeth.”
She was waiting for him, seeming cool yet inviting, her light lashes lowered over her eyes which might have betrayed too much. He noted the softness of her delicate skin, the provocative powdering of freckles.
She lacked the beauty of Jane, but, by God, thought Sir Thomas, she is the one for me.
He laid his hands on her shoulders.
Haughtily she glanced first at one hand then at the other. “You will take your hands from me, sir.” She was very proud, very much the daughter of the King.
He took her chin in his hand and jerked her face up to his. Now he could see her eyes; he could see the curve of her lips which betrayed her excitement, her pleasure in this badinage, which he knew and she knew was not the play between a grown person and a child, but an encounter between a man and a woman.
Nine years old, he reflected. Is it possible?
His hand touched her throat. She was as yet too inexperienced to hide her feelings. She was delighted to have his attention. She had known that his tricks with Edward and Jane had been the preliminaries that should lead to this encounter between them.
He brought his face close to hers. “Will the Lady Elizabeth tell me the secret?”
“How would that be possible, sir, when there is no secret?”
“Are you sure that you hide nothing from me?”
“If I wished to hide matters from you, Sir Thomas, I should do so.”
How exciting she was! A nine-year-old girl, a Princess as ambitious as himself. Was her glance telling him now: “Who are you to dare look at me in that way? Do you forget I am the King’s daughter?” And his eyes answered: “I do not forget. It but adds to your charm. And I beg of you, do not forget that the King calls you his bastard daughter, and that I am the uncle of the King-to-be. Anne Boleyn’s daughter and Jane Seymour’s brother—what a delightful partnership! How the ghosts of Anne and Jane must be laughing—if ghosts can laugh!”
“What shall I do?” he asked. “Prize the secret from you?”
“Do not disturb yourself,” she answered. “I think that to which you refer is no secret. My father is to marry again, we have heard. Is that the matter which you call a secret?”
Did she know of his ambitions? He could swear that she mocked him when she continued: “It is on my Lady Latimer that the King’s choice has fallen.”
He dropped his hands then; he could not meet her eye. She must have heard rumors regarding himself and Lady Latimer. The saucy young coquette was reproaching him with that, as though he were indeed her lover.
“We are all well pleased,” said Edward. “For we know her and like her well.”
“She is a good lady,” said Sir Thomas; and he felt depressed suddenly, but only momentarily; he had complete faith in his destiny. But he had been so fond of Kate. He had visualized such a pleasant life with her.
The Prince then demanded that his favorite uncle should sit beside him and tell him a stirring story of the sea, and this Sir Thomas was pleased to do. Very soon all three children were listening to him, under the spell of his charm, and at that moment it seemed that they were all children, even Elizabeth, excited by his stories of adventures at sea. They watched his face as he talked; he was their hero. There was not one of them who could be in his presence and remain untouched by his charm.
Before he left he drew Edward aside and whispered to him: “And what is the state of Your Grace’s purse?”
“Very low, I fear, Uncle.”
“It is a shame to keep you so poor. You know that the purse of your favorite uncle is at your disposal.”
“Uncle Thomas, you are the best man in the world.”
“It is good enough for me that I am your favorite uncle. And would you care to dip your royal hands into my willing purse?”
Edward hesitated. “Well, there are one or two items…”
“I knew! I knew it.”
“I will tell you,” whispered the boy. “I wish to buy green ribands.”
“Green ribands? Why have you need of green ribands, my Prince?”
“For Elizabeth’s hair. She longs for green ribands to adorn it. They become it so. And she, like me, is kept very poor.”
“Poor little Princess! Between us, nephew, we will give her green ribands to adorn her hair.”
It was not the first time that Sir Thomas had given his nephew money. It was money well spent, decided Sir Thomas. Edward was grateful by nature; and when he was King of England he would be very kind to his favorite uncle.
When he took leave of them all, he whispered to Elizabeth: “I would like to see green emeralds adorning that head. But in place of green emeralds, green ribands might serve.”
Now she would know, when she received the ribands, from her brother, who had supplied the money with which to buy them. The sly creature knew of most things that went on at court and would know, of course, that his uncle supplied the Prince with money now and then.
He was thoughtful as he went back to his apartments. He saw himself as the favored of the gods. He had been endowed with all the graces and it was so easy for him to win the love of his nephew. He was indeed fond of children. Ambitious as he was, ready to be unscrupulous, he could yet find great pleasure in the society of the young. He loved them all, Jane, Edward and Elizabeth…Elizabeth most of all. He was in love with Elizabeth. He was in love with Katharine. He was fond of the Prince and Jane. When he spoke honeyed words to Kate he meant them; when his eyes shone with silent admiration of Elizabeth he sincerely felt that admiration. When he curried favor with the boy who would one day be King, he was sharing amusement, delighting himself as well as the boy.
It seemed to him that he was the darling of the gods and that they intended him for greatness. He was certain of ultimate success with the Princess Elizabeth; he felt sure she would one day be Queen of England and he saw no reason why the man who married her should not be the King.
Stranger things had happened. Look how Fate had pointed a finger at his shy sister Jane and made a Queen of her!
Fortune was undoubtedly smiling on the Seymours. If it had denied him the warm and cozy comfort he might have found with Kate, perhaps that was merely because it was saving for him a more exciting life to be shared with the Princess.
While Seymour pondered thus, Elizabeth’s thoughts were of Seymour.
THE KING FELT sleepily content. He had dined well on good roast beef, venison, and pies of various sorts; he had drunk deeply; he had listened to music and felt temporarily at peace.
His leg pained him less on this day and he was ready to believe that the new remedies would prove efficacious, although common sense reminded him that he had been trying new remedies for years without avail. There were times when the pain in his leg was so acute that his face became purple, then gray, and he could not suppress his cries of agony.
But now the bandages seemed less irksome and consequently he was less exhausted. He had hobbled into the musicroom to hear some verses of Surrey’s, and he was determined not to like them even before that arrogant young man had opened his mouth to recite them. He did not care for anything Surrey wrote, for Surrey himself was a source of anxiety to him.
By God, he mused, as he watched him now, a little more of the fellow’s arrogance and I’ll have him clapped into the Tower. What airs! What manners! And some would doubtless say: What beauty! Have I not suffered enough from these Howards? Anne was connected with them; that witch, that sorceress who deceived me into believing she could give me a son—and deceived me with others too! Then…young Catharine…
But he could not bear to think of Catharine. That affair was too recent and he had not had time to grow out of love with her. But nevertheless she also was a Howard. She had belonged to that accursed line.
He must not get overheated. His doctors had told him that. If he did, it would be necessary to apply the leeches again. No! He must think of pleasanter things than the Howards. There was Lady Latimer, looking fair enough, but sitting too far away from him.
He roared: “Bring Lady Latimer’s chair closer to mine. I would talk with her.”
She came slowly behind the men who had carried her chair. She drew it slightly back before she said: “Have I Your Majesty’s permission to sit?”
“You have it,” he answered, reaching for the chair and bringing it closer. “You must not be overawed, Lady Latimer, because we like to talk to you.”
“No, Your Grace.”
“We understand your feelings. We applaud them. We like modesty in our ladies.”
His face was close to hers and he noted the fine texture of her skin, the delicate bloom of health; he decided that none would guess she was thirty.
I like this woman! he told himself. I like her serenity. I like the respect she shows for her King. She’s no giddy girl. She’s no Anne Boleyn; no Catharine Howard. She may lack their beauty, but she’s a good woman; she’s a modest woman. She’s the sort of woman I like to see about my court.
“Believe us, Lady Latimer,” he said. “We feel the utmost kindness toward you.”
“Your Majesty is gracious.”
“We are indeed to those who please us. Now, Surrey, let us hear these verses of which you prate.”
Surrey stepped boldly forward, displaying both grace and nonchalance. He was very elaborately dressed, almost as elaborately as the King himself. His blue velvet cap was ornamented with gold, his doublet striped with blue and white satin, his hose of the same becoming shade of blue, and his person aglitter with diamonds and sapphires. The young poet bore himself like a king; there were some who said that it was Surrey’s boast that his house had more claim to the throne of England than had the Tudors. If his folly could be proved, ruminated the King, that handsome head would not long sprout so gracefully from those arrogant shoulders.
“It is a small poem,” the young nobleman was announcing, “on the means to attain a happy life, an it please Your Grace.”
“Let us hear these words of wisdom. We would fain hear of the means to attain a happy life.” Henry caught Katharine’s eye, and his intimate smile made her shiver. “Methinks you are over-young, my lord Earl, to have gleaned already so much knowledge.”
Gardiner, who was seated near the King, said: “It is the young, Your Majesty, who consider themselves to be wise men. When they grow older wisdom seems less sure.”
Henry grunted and winced with pain as he moved his leg. “Come, come,” he said impatiently. “Let us hear the verses and have done with it.”
Surrey stood elegantly, the scroll in one hand while the other was laid negligently on the jeweled doublet. Arrogant young fool! thought the King; and he hated him for no more reason at that moment than that he was one of the most handsome young men at court. Henry had reason to hate all handsome men on this occasion, for now, with so many about him, he felt his age and infirmity keenly. These were so hard to accept when one had been the handsomest Prince in Christendom and had excelled at all manly pastimes and had been a King—not, he reminded himself scowling at Surrey, a would-be-King.
Surrey had begun to read:
“Martial, the things that do attain
The happy life be these, I Find:
The richesse left, not got with pain;
The fruitful ground, the quiet mind;
“The equal friend; no grudge, no strife;
No charge of rule, nor governance;
Without disease, the healthful life;
The household of continuance;
“The mean diet, no delicate fare;
True wisdom joined with simpleness;
The night dischargèd of all care,
Where wine the wit may not oppress.
“The faithful wife, without debate;
Such sleeps as may beguile the night:
Contented with thine own estate
Ne wish for death, ne fear his might.”
While the poet was reading, the King fidgeted in his chair, and all those present marveled at the rashness of Surrey, for it should have been perfectly clear to the poet that those sentiments must arouse unpleasant memories for the King. That talk of health and sleep and, above all, faithful wives! Surrey was a fool. It was almost as though he teased a dangerous bull, deliberately inviting attack.
There was a short silence. No one spoke before the King expressed an opinion, for it was unwise to differ from His Majesty in the appraisal of verses.
“Bravo!” growled the King eventually. “Your meter’s good, Surrey.”
Surrey bowed low. “My greatest delight in my simple verses must be the pleasure they afford my most Gracious Sovereign.”
“Not so simple!” cried Henry. “Not so simple, eh?” He glared about him. “What did you think, eh, Gardiner? A Bishop should appreciate good verses, And you, Master Wriothesley. You’ve heard enough verses to judge, I’ll swear.”
Gardiner could always be relied upon to say what was expected of him. “We have heard your Grace’s own verses, Sire.”
And Wriothesley, always eager for promotion and knowing the surest way to the King’s heart, added: “When your Gracious Majesty sets such a high standard …”
The Catholic faction must not be allowed to supply all the required compliments. Sir Thomas Seymour interrupted Wriothesley. “The verses seemed to me good enough, but I am a rough sailor, and know little of these matters. I have a fondness for Your Majesty’s own rhymes, it is true…”
Henry interrupted: “We deemed the verses good.” He was impatient with them all, except the woman beside him. He had been too long without a wife. He was wasting time. “Lady Latimer,” he said in a gentler voice, “what thought you of the verses?”
Katharine answered nervously: “I thought them good, Your Majesty. Very good.”
“You did, did you? And are you a judge of verses, Lady Latimer?”
“I fear not, Sire. I am only…”
“Ah!” cried Henry. “You are a lady of much modesty, and ’tis my belief you know more of the value of verses than these men who talk so readily of them. Methinks you should have an opportunity of judging your Sovereign’s.”
“Sire, my judgment would be of little worth.”
Surrey said ironically: “You would doubtless discover, Lady Latimer, that His Grace the King, as well as being the ruler of this land, is also its greatest poet.”
Henry shot a suspicious glance at the insolent youth, but he was too intent on Katharine to be drawn at this moment. He leaned forward and patted Katharine’s arm. “Such praise,” he said, “is to be prized since it comes from Surrey—as good a poet as any to be found in the realm, so some men say.”
“I trust Your Grace has never heard my verses compared with your own,” said Surrey; and if Henry did not recognize the subtle note of mockery in his voice, others fancied they did.
“Nay!” said the King. “Much sweet praise has been poured in our ears, and though we have heard your verses commended, yet never have we heard them set side by side with our own.”
Surrey gave what might have been a sigh of relief. “Your Grace has doubtless heard them compared with Wyatt’s?”
“Aye, that we have! And to Wyatt’s disadvantage.”
“A great poet… poor Thomas Wyatt!” said Surrey.
Henry was suddenly aware that Lady Latimer’s gaze was fixed on Seymour. The blood seemed to rush through his veins as though it would burst them.
“Seymour,” he cried, “you are silent, man.”
“I am out of my depth, Sire.”
Henry snorted. “He should learn the gentle art of rhyming, should he not, my friends? He would find it of use in his gallant adventures.” Everyone tittered, and Seymour smiled charmingly. The King turned away with a gesture of impatience. “Ah yes,” he went on. “Wyatt was a good poet and a handsome fellow.”
Of Surrey’s intentions that afternoon none could be sure. He seemed to be inviting the King’s displeasure. Perhaps he was thinking of those royal arms which had been given to his family five hundred years before; perhaps, as he spoke again, he was thinking that he was more royal than the heavy, diseased man who sat in the ornamented chair.
“I like nothing of Wyatt’s so well as that which ran thus: ‘And wilt thou leave me thus….’ Marry! I forget how it goes. Oh, this was it. Your Grace will remember.
“‘And wilt thou leave me thus!
That hath loved thee so long
In wealth and woe among:
And is thy heart so strong
As for to leave me thus?’ ”
Henry’s face was contorted, whether with rage against Surrey or the pain of his leg none could be sure.
“You liked those verses, did you?” he roared. “Methinks there is a cheapness in the sentiment.”
There was complete silence as the Earl and the King looked at each other. Every member of the gathering was aware that Surrey had quoted the words which Wyatt had written to Anne Boleyn. It seemed to Katharine, sitting fearfully beside the King, longing for the privacy of her home in Yorkshire, that Surrey was like a gorgeous dragonfly determined to tease an already angry bull.
“Cheapness, Your Grace?” said Surrey. “In Wyatt’s appeal to an unkind mistress? Poor Wyatt!”
Henry looked almost defiantly at those about him, as though he was determined to show them that Surrey’s careless words had not reminded him of Anne Boleyn. “I liked that fellow, Wyatt… fool that he ofttimes was. I mourned his death. Marry, it is a year ago! But what subject is this for a lady’s ears? Death? No! We will not speak of it. I would have speech with Lady Latimer… and I would have speech alone.”
Even as he said those words he remembered the old days, when, wishing to play the lover, he had grasped his opportunities. He had not then found it necessary to dismiss his courtiers so pointedly. But he would do what he wished…now and for ever. He was their King and they should remember it.
They were bowing as they left the chamber. It seemed to him that Seymour hesitated, and Seymour had never looked quite so handsome as he did at that moment.
“Why do you linger, brother?” demanded the King.
Seymour said: “I am sorry if I have offended Your Grace.”
“The sight of you offends us when we have dismissed you. Go, I say.”
They were alone. Katharine could hear the heavy hammering of her own heart. She had never really been so frightened in the whole of her life as she was at this moment, and when Henry leaned toward her she had difficulty in suppressing a cry of dismay.
Henry was laughing and his voice was gentle. “What thought you of the verses, eh? Come. The truth.”
“They were well enough, I thought,” stammered Katharine. “But I, being a woman, could give no judgment that would interest Your Majesty.”
“And you, being a woman, must have such soft feeling for the poet’s handsome person that you have little thought to bestow upon his verses, eh?”
“My Lord King, I have been twice widowed. I am not a young girl to harbor such soft thoughts of a poet.”
Henry patted his thigh—that one which was sound and not affected by the ulcers which were creeping up from his leg. “Are you sure of that, Kate?” he asked slyly. “For ’tis hard to believe you have been twice widowed, and did I not know that you had been to bed first with my Lord Borough and afterward with my Lord Latimer, I’d not believe it.”
Katharine smiled nervously. “Your Majesty knows that I am an old woman…well past my thirtieth year.”
“Old, Kate! Nay. Not so. Not so. For if you are old, what of us? Would you call your King an old man? Treason, my Lady Latimer. Treason, Kate!”
“My Lord King,” began Katharine breathlessly, “I assure Your Highness…”
The King gripped her knee. “Rest easy, girl! I feel no anger. ’Twas a joke. Nay, you’re as fresh as a young girl, and if you are thirty years old, well then, thirty is as good an age as any.”
“But it is old, Your Majesty… for a woman. I vow it is.”
“I forbid you to say it,” said Henry playfully. “You are not old, Kate, and your King forbids you to say you are.”
“Your Grace is too kind to me.”
His next words filled her with horror. “Aye!” He squeezed her knee. “And ready to be kinder. Ready to be kinder.”
Katharine now began to understand all those significant glances which had been cast in her direction during the past weeks. Others had been aware of what she had failed to notice. Yet she could not believe the truth even now. Frantically she sought in her mind for some means of escape.
“I am unworthy …” she faltered.
Henry looked momentarily stern. “A King is the best judge of a subject’s worthiness.”
She was really frightened. He who was accustomed to speaking with the ministers of his own government and the ambassadors of others knew how to imbue his words with deep meaning. He was telling her that it was not for her to say whether or not she would have him. He was the best judge, and he it would be who made the choice.
“We have been lenient with you and yours, have we not?” he said on a softer note.
“Your Majesty is a great and good King to all his subjects.”
He nodded, smiling. “That is so. But to some subjects he is known to be overmerciful at times.”
“I am but a foolish woman, Sire.”
“You’re a very pretty one, Kate—which is all your King asks you to be.”
She could only repeat nervously: “Your Grace is too kind to me.”
“And, did I not tell thee, ready to be kinder? Latimer was a traitor to his King.”
“Oh, no, Sire…never that.”
The King lifted his stick and rapped the floor with it. Katharine drew away from him, flinching.
“We like not contradictions,” he growled. “Your husband was a traitor. Why did I not have him in chains? Do you know?” He laughed and she detected the return of that indulgence which disturbed her more than his anger. “No, you do not know, Kate. You’re too modest a woman to know the reason for that. Latimer deserved to go to the block, and I pardoned him. And why, think you?” He slapped his healthy thigh. “Because I liked his wife. That’s the answer. By God, that’s the answer. I said to myself, ‘Latimer’s wife…she’s a good wife to Latimer. Would to God there were more like her in our kingdom!’ That’s what I said, Kate. Here. Come nearer. Look at me. Don’t be afraid of me. Look at your King.”
She obeyed him and looked into his face, noting the cruel little mouth, the pouchy cheeks that had once been ruddy and were now purple; she saw the knotted veins at his temples, and those eyes which suggested shrewdness and a certain refusal to face the truth. She read there, mingling sensuality and primness; she saw the hypocrisy, the refusal to see himself except as he wished to be. There, in his face, were the marks of those characteristics which were at the very root of his nature and which had made him the man he was, the man who had sent thousands to their death, the murderer who saw himself as a saint. And she was terrified because she knew that he was inviting her to take that place from which it was an easy step to the block. Inviting her? If only that were true! He was commanding her.
“There!” he continued. “Now you see we speak sincerely. Don’t be afraid, Kate. Don’t hold back. ‘Would to God,’ I said, ‘that there were more like her in our kingdom. Would to God I was blessed with a wife like Latimer’s.’ Oh, Kate, you were another man’s wife.” His voice had dropped to a whisper; the little mouth seemed to grow smaller, tighter, more prim. “And though I be a King of this realm, to pluck where I will, I said to myself. ‘A man’s wife is his wife.’” His mouth slackened; the shrewd eyes traveled slowly from the neck of her velvet gown to her feet. The sensualist had taken the place of the moralist. “Well, Kate, Latimer’s dead now.”
“Your Grace, he is so lately dead.”
“Long enough for a wench like you to lay aside her mourning. You are too fair to spend your time in mourning. Time won’t wait, Kate. How are you going to give your husband all those fine sons he will ask of you if you spend your nights crying for a husband who is dead and gone?”
Oh God, help me, she prayed silently. Now he talks of sons. Thus must he have talked to the first Queen Katharine, to Anne Boleyn, to Jane Seymour. And then those continuous disasters. Two girls and one sickly boy was all he had in spite of his endeavors. Here was a tragic pattern starting again. A son! A son! I want a son. And if you cannot provide one, there is always the ax or the sword to remove you, to make place for another who will give me sons.
“You are overcome,” she heard the King say gently. “The honor is too great for you. You are too modest, Kate.”
“My Lord … my Lord …” she began desperately. “I understand not….”
“Over-humble, that is what you are, sweetheart. You have been the wife of those two old men—men of some position it is true, but they have made you humble.”
She thought longingly of them now. Kindly Lord Borough; gentle Lord Latimer. They had been old, but they had not looked at her as the King was now looking; they had not disgusted her, nauseated her. She had dreamed of a third marriage—to the man she loved. She dared not think of him now; she was afraid that if she did she would be compelled to cry out: “I love Thomas Seymour.”
He could be so malignant, this man, so cruel. If she spoke those words, not only she, but Thomas, would be sent to the Tower. It was so easy, for a woman whom the King had chosen for his wife, to commit treason.
“Too humble,” he was murmuring, “so that you dare not consider the prize which is held out to you. Do not be affrighted, Kate. Listen to what your lord the King tells you. I am no longer in the first sweet flush of youth. Ah, youth! Do you know, Kate, when I was a young man I would hunt all day, tire out six horses and be as fresh as when I started? Then I had that accursed accident, and my leg broke out in ulcers… and none of the cures in Christendom have been able to take them away. I was a King among men then, Kate. Had God not chosen me to rule this realm, then would men have pointed at me and said, ‘There goes a King!’”
“I doubt it not, my Lord.”
“You doubt it not! You doubt it not! That is good, Kate. Ah, did you but know what your sovereign has suffered, you would long to comfort him.”
“I would not dare presume…”
“We give our permission for the presumption. Think of your King’s poor sick leg, Kate, and weep for him.”
“Weep for Your Majesty, who is both great and glorious!”
“Tush! You think of matters of state. A king is a man as well as a king. You know I married my brother’s widow. Twenty years, Kate— twenty years of marriage that was no marriage. For twenty years I lived in sin… with my own brother’s widow. Unintentional sin, though. I was tricked. I was cheated. And England all but robbed of an heir! You know our story, Kate.”
“I know of Your Majesty’s sorrows.”
Henry nodded. He was passing into that mood of sentimentality and selfpity which contemplation of the past brought with it. He took a lace kerchief and wiped a tear from his eye. He could always weep for the injustices that had come to him through his marriages. “To some men it would have been simple,” he said. “I was happily married. I had one daughter. Suffice it that I had given England a future Queen, though a son had been denied me. Then, Kate, I understood. It was my conscience, my most scrupulous conscience that told me I could no longer risk England’s security by continuing with a marriage that was no marriage. No marriage, Kate! Can you realize what that meant? The King of England was living in sin with his brother’s widow. Small wonder that God did not grant us a son! So I wrestled with myself, and my conscience told me that I must end that marriage. I must take a new wife.”
Henry had stood up; he now seemed unaware of the shrinking woman, who immediately rose, as she must not be seated while the King stood. Katharine realized that it was not to her that he was talking now. He began to shout and his fist was clenched.
“I took to wife a black-browed witch! I was cajoled by sorcery. She would have poisoned my daughter, the lady Mary. My son, Richmond, died soon after she laid her wicked head on the block… died slowly, lingeringly. That was the result of the spells she laid upon him. The devil had made her beautiful. I was entrapped by sorcery. She should have burned at the stake.” He began to speak more softly. “But I was ever merciful to those that pleased me… and she pleased me… once.”
There was silence in the chamber but for the rustling of the silken curtains as they moved in the draft. The King’s face was gray, and his eyes went to the curtains as though he looked for someone there.
He turned suddenly and saw Katharine standing beside him. He seemed startled to find her there.
“Ah, yes,” he sighed. “Kate… Kate… Sit down, Kate.”
“Your Grace,” she said, “was most unhappy in his marriages.”
“Aye!” He spoke softly now, and all the selfpity was back in his voice. “Most unhappy. And then came Jane… poor gentle Jane, Jane whom I loved truly. She gave me my son and then she died. The most cruel blow of all!”
Katharine began to pray again silently and fervently. Oh God, save me. Save me from this man. Save me from the King.
She knew more of him than he realized. In her country house she had heard how he had received the news of Jane Seymour’s death. Bluntly he had told his ministers that the death of his wife meant little to him beside the great joy he had in his newborn son.
“Had Jane but lived!” he was saying. “Ah, had Jane but lived!” He turned to Katharine and she felt the hot hand on her knee, caressing her thigh. She longed to beg him to desist, but she dared not.
“You are cold, Kate,” he said. “You tremble. ’tis all this talk of my miseries. Sometimes I wonder if I have paid for my most glorious reign with my most miserable domestic life. If that be so, Kate, I must be content. A king ofttimes must forget he is a man. A king is the slave of his country as is never the humblest citizen. You know the rest of my sad story?”
“I do, my lord.”
“I am young enough to enjoy a wife, Kate.”
“Your Grace has many happy years before him, I trust and pray.”
“Well spoken. Come nearer, Kate.”
She hesitated, but he had had enough of reluctance.
“Hurry! Now! Here, help me up. This accursed leg gives me much pain.” He stood beside her, towering above her. She felt his hot, sour breath on her cheek. “Do you like me, Kate?”
How to escape him she did not know. She fell on her knees.
“I am the most obedient of your subjects, Sire.”
“Yes, yes, yes,” said Henry testily. “But enough of kneeling. Get up. Be done with maiden modesty. You have been twice a wife. It becomes you not to play the reluctant virgin.”
“I am overwhelmed,” said Katharine, rising.
“Then you need no longer be. I like you, Kate, and you shall be my Queen.”
“No, no, Sire. I am too unworthy. I could not…”
“It is for us to say who is or who is not worthy to share our throne.” He was losing patience. Now was the time for kissing and fondling, for that excitement which should chase away the ghosts he had conjured up.
“I know it, my lord King, but…”
“Know this also, Kate. I choose you for wife. I am tired of the celibate state. I was never meant to bear it. Come, Kate, give me that which I found but once and held so short a while before death intervened. Give me married happiness. Give me your love. Give me sons.”
Katharine cried: “I am too unworthy, Your Majesty. I am no longer in my prime….”
Henry stopped the words with a loud kiss on her mouth. “Speak up!” he cried. “Speak up. What’s all this you are saying?”
Katharine cried in desperation: “If you love me then… then you must needs love me. But ’t would be better to be your mistress than your wife, an it please Your Grace.”
He was overcome with horror. The little mouth was tight with outraged modesty. “It pleases me not!” he shouted. “It pleases me not at all to hear such wanton talk. You are shameless.”
“Yes, Sire, indeed yes, and unworthy to be your wife.”
“You said you would be our mistress and not our wife. Explain yourself. Explain yourself.”
Katharine covered her face with her hands. She thought of two women who had knelt on Tower Green, who had laid their heads on the block at the command of this man. They had been his wives. Already she seemed to sense the executioner beside her, his ax in his hand, the blade turned toward her.
Henry had taken her by the shoulder and was shaking her.
“Speak up, I said. Speak up.” His voice had softened. He was seeing himself now as he wished to see himself—the mighty, omnipotent King, whom no woman could resist, just as they had been unable to resist him in the days of his youth when he had had beauty, wealth, kingship and all that a woman could desire.
“It is on account of mine own unworthiness,” faltered Katharine.
He forced her hands from her face and put an arm about her. He kissed her with violence. Then, releasing her, he began to roar: “Here, page! Here, man! Call Gardiner. Call Wriothesley…Surrey…Seymour… call them all. I have news I wish to impart to their lordships.”
He smiled at Katharine.
“You must not be afraid of this great honor,” he said. “Know you this: I can take you up and lift you to the greatest eminence…and I will do it.”
She was trembling, thinking: Yes, and you can cast me down. You can marry me; and marriage with the King, it is said with truth, may be the first step toward the Tower and the block.
The courtiers came hurrying back to the chamber. The King stood smiling at them.
He looked at them slyly, all those gentlemen who, a short time before, he had dismissed that he might be alone with Katharine.
“Come forward!” he cried. “Come and pay your respects to the new Queen of England.”
KATHARINE WAS IN her own apartments. With dry, tragic eyes she stared before her; she was trying to look into a future which she knew would be filled with danger.
There was no escape; she knew that now.
Nan, her faithful woman, had wept openly when she had heard the news. Katharine’s own sister, Anne Herbert, had come quickly to court. They did not speak of their compassion, but they showed it in their gestures, in the very intonations of their voices. They loved her, those two; they prayed for her and they wept for her; but they did not let her hear their prayers, nor see their tears.
It was the day after the King had announced his intention to marry her that Seymour came secretly to her apartments.
Nan let him in. Nan was terrified. She had been so happy serving Lady Latimer. Life, she realized now, had been so simple in the country mansions of Yorkshire and Worcester. Why had they not returned to the country immediately after the death of Lord Latimer? Why had they stayed that the King’s amorous and fickle eyes might alight on her lady?
There was danger all around, and Sir Thomas made that danger more acute by coming to her apartment. Nan remembered the stories she had heard of another Thomas—Culpepper—who had visited the apartments of another Catharine; and remembering that bitter and tragic story she wondered if the story of Katharine Parr would be marred by similar events. Was she destined for the same bitter end?
“I must see Lady Latimer,” said Sir Thomas. “It is imperative.”
And so he was conducted to her chamber.
He took her hands in his and kissed them fervently.
“Kate… Kate… how could this happen to us?”
“Thomas,” she answered, “I wish that I were dead.”
“Nay, sweetheart. Do not wish that. There is always hope.”
“There is no hope for me.”
He put his arms about her and held her close to him. He whispered: “He cannot live for ever.”
“I cannot endure it, Thomas.”
“You must endure it. We must both endure it. He is the King. Forget not that.”
“I tried,” she said. “I tried…. And, Thomas, if he knew that you were here…”
He nodded, and his eyes sparkled with the knowledge of his danger.
“Thus do I love you,” he told her. “Enough to risk my life for you.”
“I would not have you do that. Oh, Thomas, that will be the most difficult thing that faces me. I shall see you…you whom I love. I must compare you. You…you who are all that I admire… all that I love. He…he is so different.”
“He is the King, my love. I am the subject. And you will not be burdened with my presence. I have my orders.”
“Thomas! No …not… the Tower?”
“Nay! He does not consider me such a serious rival as that. I depart at sunrise for Flanders.”
“So…I am to lose you, then?”
“’ Twere safer for us, sweetheart, not to meet for a while. So thinks the King. That is why he is sending me with Dr. Wotton on an embassy to Flanders.”
“How long will you be away?”
“Methinks the King will find good reason to keep me there… or out of England… for a little while.”
“I cannot bear it. I know I cannot.”
He took her face in his hands. “My heart, like yours, is broken, sweetheart. But we must bear this pain. It will pass. I swear it will pass. And our hearts will mend, for one day we shall be together.”
“Thomas, can you believe that?”
“I believe in my destiny, Kate. You and I shall be together. I know it.”
“Thomas, if the King were to discover that you had been here…”
“Ah, perhaps he would give me this hour, since he is to have you for the rest of his life.”
“For the rest of my life, you mean!” she said bitterly.
“Nay. He is an old man. His fancy will not stray to others as once it did. One year… two years… who knows? Cheer up, my Kate. Today we are broken-hearted, but tomorrow the future is ours.”
“You must not stay here. I feel there are spies, watching my every movement.”
He kissed her and caressed her afresh; and after a time he took his leave, and on the next tide sailed for Flanders.
IN THE QUEEN’S closet at Hampton Court, Gardiner performed the ceremony. This was not hurried and secret as in the case of Anne Boleyn; this was a royal wedding.
The Princesses Mary and Elizabeth stood behind the King and his bride, and with them the King’s niece, the Lady Margaret Douglas. Lady Herbert, the Queen’s sister, and other great ladies and gentlemen were present.
The King was in excellent humor on this his marriage morning. The jewels flashed on his dalmatica; the shrewd eyes sparkled and the royal tongue licked the tight lips, for she was a comely creature, this bride of his, and he was a man who needed a wife. He felt, as he had said that morning to his brother-in-law, Lord Hertford, that this marriage would be the best he had ever made.
The July sun was hot and the bride felt as though she would faint with the oppressive atmosphere in the room and the fear within her.
A nightmare had sprung into life. She was here in Hampton Court being married to the King, here in a palace surrounded by gardens which Henry had planned with Anne Boleyn, on whose walls were the entwined initials, the H. and A. which had had to be changed hastily to H. and J. Along the gallery which led to the chapel, the youthful Catharine Howard had run one day, screaming for mercy. It was said that both Anne and Catharine haunted this place. And here, in the palace of hideous memories, she, Katharine Parr, was now being married to Henry the Eighth.
There was no longer hope of escape. The King was close. His breath scorched her. The nuptial ring was being put on her finger.
No. No longer hope. The King in that tragic moment had made Katharine Parr his sixth wife.
THE KING WAS NOT DISPLEASED WITH HIS NEW WIFE. She had the gentlest hands that had ever wrapped a bandage about his poor suffering leg, and in the first few weeks of his marriage he discovered that he had not only got himself a comely wife, but the best of nurses. Nervous and timid she was during those first weeks, as though feeling herself unworthy to receive the great honors which were being showered upon her.
“Why, bless your modest heart, Kate,” he told her, “you have no need to fear us. We like you. We like your shapely person and your gentle hands. We know that you have been raised to a great position in this land, but let that not disturb you, for you are worthy, Kate. We find you worthy.”
She wore the jewels—those priceless gems—which had been worn by her predecessors.
“Look at these rubies, Kate.” He would lean heavily on her and bite her ear in a moment of playfulness. Why had she thought that elderly men were less interested in fleshly pleasures than the younger ones? She realized that the experience afforded her by Lords Borough and Latimer had taught her little. “You’ll look a Queen in these! And don’t forget you wear them through the King’s grace. Don’t forget that, my Kate.”
And she herself, because she was by nature kindly and gentle and looked for that good in others which was such an integral part of her own character, was more quickly resigned to this marriage than others might have been.
Yet there were nights when she lay awake in the royal bed, that mountain of diseased flesh beside her, thinking of her new life as Queen of England. Of the King she knew a good deal, for the affairs of kings are watched closely by those about them, and this man was a supreme ruler whose slightest action could send reverberations through the kingdom.
What sort of man was he whom she had married? First, because she had been the victim of this quality, she must think of him as the sensualist. Indeed, his sensuality was so great that it colored every characteristic he possessed. But he was far more than a man who delighted in pandering to his senses with fair women, good food and the best of wine; he was a King, and for all his selfindulgence, he was a King determined to rule. When he had been a young man, his delight in his healthy body had proved so great that he had preferred to leave the government of state affairs to his able Wolsey. But he had changed. He was the ruler now. And through that selfishness, that love of indulgence, that terrifying cruelty, there could be seen the strong man, the man who knew how to govern in a turbulent age, a man to whom the greatness of his country was of the utmost importance because he, Henry the Eighth, was synonymous with England. But for his monster conscience and a surprising primness in the sensualist, he would have resembled any lusty man of the times. But he was apart. He must be right in all things; he must placate his conscience; and it was those acts, demanded of him by the conscience, which made him the most cruel tyrant of his age.
What would happen to her in the months to come? wondered Katharine, staring at the ornate tester, although there was not enough light to show her its magnificent workmanship. And what of Thomas Seymour, temporarily banished from his country because he had been known to cast covetous eyes on the woman the King had decided to make his wife! How was he bearing the banishment?
What are this King’s subjects, Katharine asked herself, but figures to be moved about at his pleasure? Some please him for a while, and he lifts them up and keeps them close beside him until he sees others who please him more; then those who delighted him a week before are discarded; and if that prim quality within him suggests that the favorite of yesterday be removed by death, the conscience demands that this should be done. For the King must always be able to answer his conscience, no matter how much blood must be spilled to bring about this state of concord between a self-willed sensualist and his conscience.
So Katharine prayed in the silences of the nights for the courage of which she knew she would have great need. Often she thought of a friend with whom she had been on terms of affection before she came to court. This was the Reformer, Anne Askew, herself the victim of an undesired marriage; she thought of Anne’s courage and determination and she longed to emulate her.
But I am a coward, thought Katharine. I cannot bear to think of the cell, and the sound of tolling bells, bringing to me a message of destruction. I cannot bear to think of leaving that cell for Tower Green and the executioner’s ax.
Her prayer for courage, it seemed, did not go unanswered, for as the days passed her fears diminished and she felt that a new sense was developing within her which would make her aware of encroaching danger and give her the calm she would need to face it.
Some might have loathed the task which was thrust upon them. Each day it was her duty now to bathe the leg, to listen to his cries of rage when he was in pain; but oddly enough, instead of nauseating her, this filled her with pity for him. To see this man—this all-powerful King—such a prey to his hideous infirmity, was a sorry sight. Once when he looked at her he had seen her eyes filled with tears. He had softened immediately.
“Tears, Kate? Tears?”
“You suffer so.”
Then those little eyes, which could be so cruel, also filled with tears, and the fat hand which was heavy with flashing jewels came down to pat her shoulders.
“You’re a good woman, Kate,” he said. “Methinks I made a good choice when I took you to wife.”
She had asked that her sister Anne, Lady Herbert, might be a lady of her bedchamber, and that Margaret Neville, the only daughter of Lord Latimer, be one of her maids of honor.
“Do as you will, Kate,” said the King when she had made the request. “You’re a good woman and a wise one, and you’ll surround yourself with others of your kind.”
Yes, the King was pleased. This marriage had not begun with one of those burning infatuations such as he had felt for Anne Boleyn and Catharine Howard. That was all to the good. This, he assured himself, was a wise choice, a choice made while the judgment was cool and sober.
Then there were the children. He had made it clear to her that he wished her to take a stepmotherly interest in them, and for thisshe was grateful. It had been one of her deepest regrets that she had no children of her own, and that her strong maternal nature had always to be placated with stepchildren. Well, it had been so before, and never had she found anything but joy in mothering the children of those other women.
The royal children were as responsive as had been those of her other marriages. How happy she was to be so obviously welcome in their apartments! Poor children, they had known so many different stepmothers and they were accustomed to such changes.
When, as their stepmother, she paid them her first visit, they were all ceremoniously assembled to greet her.
Little Edward looked so puny that she wanted to take him in her arms and weep over him. Yet while he moved her with pity, he filled her with dread. This was the only male heir, and the King wished for others.
He put his hand in hers and, on sudden impulse, dispensing with that ceremony due to the heir to the throne, she knelt and kissed him, and, following her lead, he put his arms about her neck.
“Welcome, dear Mother,” he said; and in his voice was all the yearning of a little boy who has never known a mother and always longed for one, and whose childish pleasures had been overlaid by the great duties demanded of an heir to the throne.
“We are going to love each other,” she said.
“I am glad you are to be our stepmother,” he answered.
The Lady Mary knelt before her. Poor Mary, who was almost as unhealthy as Edward. She never dispensed with what she considered the right formalities, and this was a solemn occasion for Mary—the greeting of the new Queen of England. Previously it had been Lady Latimer who must kneel to the Lady Mary; now the position was reversed, and although there had been warm friendship between them, Mary never forgot the demands of etiquette.
“Rise, dear Mary,” said Katharine; and she kissed the slightly younger woman.
“Welcome, dear Mother,” said Mary. “I am glad to welcome you.”
And then Elizabeth came forward, dropping a pretty curtsy and lifting her sparkling eyes to her stepmother’s face.
“I, too, am pleased,” she said; and when she had received her stepmother’s kiss, as though on sudden impulse, she followed her brother’s example and, putting her arms about Katharine’s neck, kissed her.
Little Jane Grey, who was waiting with her sister Katharine to welcome the Queen, thought that Elizabeth seemed more pleased than any of them. Little Jane noted a good deal more than people guessed, for she never spoke, even to her beloved Edward, of all that she saw. She did not believe that Elizabeth was really half as pleased as Edward or Mary, although she was not displeased. (Who could be to welcome such a gentle and charming lady as the new Queen?) It was merely that Elizabeth could show great pleasure or great sorrow as she wished, and the more easily than others because she did not feel these emotions deeply and could remain in control of herself.
Now Elizabeth stood back that the Queen might greet the little Greys, and while Jane knelt before the Queen and was kissed by her, she was thinking that Elizabeth was not really so pleased because the King had married a good lady, but because this lady would be easy to persuade; and Elizabeth would know how to persuade her to ask the King to give her what she most needed; and what Elizabeth needed was that position which she considered hers by right. She wished to be received at court, not as the Lady Elizabeth, the bastard, but as a Princess; and she wished to have an income that she might buy beautiful clothes; she wished to have jewels with which to adorn her person. Jane felt sure that that was what Elizabeth was thinking as she greeted Katharine Parr.
And yet, when they had dispensed with ceremony as far as Mary would allow them, and were all gay and happy together, Jane noticed that it was Elizabeth’s gay chatter which most charmed the Queen.
Edward kept close to Jane, and now and then held her hand and looked at her with fresh tenderness. He was thinking that his father must be very happy to have this new stepmother for a wife, and that a wife could be a great help to a King.
Then he felt suddenly happy because of Jane, who was quiet and gentle and very clever—she was not unlike the new stepmother in these things—for Edward knew that Queen Katharine was quiet, gentle and learned.
While Elizabeth was talking to their stepmother, Edward said to Jane: “It is a good thing to have a wife, Jane. If a king loves her dearly and she is good and kind and clever, that is a very good thing. You are kind, Jane, and good and clever. You are beautiful too.”
Then he and Jane smiled at each other, because there was such accord between them that they did not always have to put their thoughts into words, and Jane knew that Edward meant that he wished he might have her for his Queen when he grew up.
The King too visited his son’s apartment on that day, for he wished to see how his wife was faring with his children.
His approach was heralded as he came slowly to those apartments.
“The King comes this way!”
Waiting women and ushers, guards and gentlemen-at-arms were alert, terrified that he might glance their way and find some fault, hoping that he would give them a nod of approval.
And into the room he hobbled, beside him one of his gentlemen on whom he might lean. His doublet was of crimson velvet, striped and slashed with white satin. About his neck was a gold collar from which hung a magnificent and very large pearl. His cloak was of purple velvet; and on his left leg he wore the Garter. He glittered with jewels; they adorned his cap, his doublet and his cloak; they sparkled on the pouch of cloth of gold which hung at his side and which hid from view the dagger with the jeweled hilt. The color of his face almost matched that of his cloak, so purple was it with the exertion of walking; but at the moment its expression was one of beaming kindliness. It pleased him to see his new wife and his children together.
As he entered the room all fell to their knees.
He surveyed them with contentment, until he examined more closely the face of his little son. The boy was wan and there were dark shadows under his eyes. That tutor of his was letting him work too hard; he would have a word with the fellow.
“Rise,” he commanded; and they rose and stood before him in awe and fearful admiration.
He limped to the Prince. The boy tried not to shrink, but found it difficult, for in the presence of his dazzling father he felt himself to be more insignificant than usual. It always seemed to Edward that he shrank to a smaller size under that scrutiny; his headaches seemed worse, and his palpitations returned with violence; he was aware of the new rash which had broken out on his right cheek. The King would notice it and blame someone for it—perhaps dear Mrs. Penn, his beloved nurse. Edward was always terrified that Mrs. Penn might be taken from him.
From the boy the King turned his gaze on Mary. He felt an almost active dislike toward her, for she was a continual reproach to him. She ought to have been married, but what royal Prince wanted a bastard for his wife, even if she was a King’s bastard? And how could he declare her legitimate and still insist that he was right to put her mother away? No wonder the sight of her depressed him.
Then Elizabeth. She grows more like me every day, he was thinking. That hair is as mine was; once I had such a fair and glowing skin. Perhaps you didn’t make a cuckold of me with Norris after all, Anne.
He wanted to dislike Elizabeth, but he found that impossible, since to do so would be tantamount to disliking himself.
“Well… fostering friendship?” he asked.
Katharine spoke. “We were friends already, Your Majesty.”
“It pleases me to hear that.” He smiled, reminding his conscience that he was above all things a benign parent who had chosen a wife, not for carnal pleasures, but because he wished to benefit his children. He gazed at her and was pleased with what he saw. Her bodice of cloth of gold was a pleasant change after her widow’s black. The bodice fitted tightly, showing her neat but womanly figure, and at her throat glowed the great ruby which he had given her.
A comely Queen! he reflected. A good stepmother into the bargain. Not too old to have sons of her own. She was a healthy woman, small but sturdy. She would have sons. And he would be looking to her to provide him with one very soon.
He signed for his chair, and one of the attendants hurried to place it for him. He made his son come to him and he questioned the boy as to his studies. He placed his great hand on the small head.
“You must be healthy,” he said. “When I was your age I was twice your size.”
“I crave Your Majesty’s pardon for my size,” said the boy. “I ride every day, as did Your Majesty at my age, and I jump and run.”
“You’re a good boy,” said Henry. “But I should like to see you grow somewhat faster.”
He would like to hear the boy read to him in French and Latin, he said; and books were brought; but while the Prince stood at his father’s knee and read aloud, the King was watching the others, who stood, without speaking, in his presence.
This boy is all I have, he reflected sorrowfully. Oh Jane, why did you not live to give me more? And healthy ones too. His breathing’s bad, and he’s too thin. I’ll see his cook this very day. He shall be made to eat. He shall be made to grow strong and lusty.
This boy and two girls…a pretty state of affairs! He remembered his son, Richmond, and the delight he had felt when that boy had been born, proclaiming his father’s manhood to the world; for he had feared, before the birth of Richmond, that he could not beget a son. Then Richmond had died that horrible, lingering death.
Henry was afraid that the small child at his knee might go the way of Richmond. Mary had managed to cling to life, but he felt that that had been something like a miracle. Elizabeth alone seemed capable of living to the normal span. He wished there was some magician at his court who could change the sex of the girl. Ha! What an achievement that would be. If Elizabeth could be changed to a boy he would make her heir to the throne, by God he would!
But there was no one who could perform such a miracle, and he felt that it was cruel that it must be Anne’s girl who should claim his attention, whom he should long to make his successor. He had always believed that Anne might have the power to mock him from the grave.
Then he contemplated his Queen again. He had a good wife. She was small and dainty and he would like her better when her body broadened with his child. Well, it was early yet, but perhaps this time next year there would be another Tudor Prince to delight his heart.
“Have done,” he said to Edward. “Have done. Your reading’s good. I’ll compliment your tutor instead of berating him. And how do you like your new mother, eh?”
“Sire, I love her dearly.”
“That is well.” He touched the boy’s cheek with his sparkling forefinger. “More spots, eh?”
“They came only today,” explained the Prince apologetically. “I feel in very good health, Sire.”
“That is well.”
He rose painfully and Katharine came forward to help him. “Good Kate. I rejoice to see you here. Now help me back to my apartment.”
He took her arm and leaned alternately on her and on his stick.
When they were in the royal apartments he said: “The Prince looks poorly. My only son. I would I had a dozen more to follow him.” He pinched her cheek. “We’ll get ourselves a son, eh? We’ll get ourselves a son, Kate, my little pig.”
This, she brooded, is the height of royal favor. The King calls me his “pig” and asks for sons. If I provide them I shall continue to be his pig. If not…?
Why should she not have a child? She longed for a child. Some of the wise women said that those who longed for children most easily conceived them. And yet how those unfortunate Queens must have longed for sons!
She refused to be depressed. She had her friends about her—her dearest sister Anne and her beloved stepdaughter, Margaret Neville. She had her dear Nan with her, and Nan would serve her faithfully as long as they lived. And she had her new stepchildren, who had received her with warmth; and at the moment she was the King’s little pig.
“My lord,” she said, “I have a favor to ask of you.”
He surveyed her benignly. He wished her to know that, being pleased with her, he was in the mood to grant favors.
“Well, Kate, speak up. What is this favor?”
“It concerns your daughters. It is one of my dearest wishes to see them reinstated at court. My lord, I cannot help but feel that it is wrong that they should not be recognized as royal Princesses.”
He narrowed his eyes. “You know what I suffered through their mothers. Mary’s a bastard. You know that. And so is Elizabeth.”
“But were you not married to the Lady Elizabeth’s mother?”
“Nay. You meddle in things you do not understand. I never liked meddling women, Kate.” He caught her cheek between his thumb and finger and pinched it. “Mind you, Kate, I know your motives. You meddle for them and not for your own gain. I like you for it. The form of marriage I went through with Elizabeth’s mother was no true marriage. She was precontracted to Northumberland. That made our marriage void, and her girl a bastard. They’re both bastards, I tell you.”
“Yet they are your daughters. And how like you is the Lady Elizabeth! My lord, could you not have them brought back to the position they enjoyed when you believed yourself to be married to their mothers?”
He pretended to consider, pretended to be faintly displeased. This was one of the games of makebelieve which he so liked to play. He was not considering; he was not displeased. He knew that the people thought it wrong that his daughters should live in penury; providing all agreed that they were bastards—which they must do if his conscience was to be satisfied—he would not be unwilling to give them a position at court. And how pleasant it was to do this thing which he wished to do and still make it a favor to Kate, his new wife, his sweetheart, his little pig.
“Methinks I find it hard to deny you aught, sweetheart, for now you ask this favor I am inclined to grant it.”
“I thank you. I thank you most heartily. Your Majesty is indeed good to me.”
“And you in turn shall be good to me.” She knew what he meant. It seemed to her as though the bells in the chapel had begun to toll. “Sons. Sons,” they seemed to say. “Give me sons.”
“But first,” he said, with the air of one who offered yet another honor to a subject already overloaded with them, “you shall dress my leg. The walking has shifted the bandage and it plagues me.”
THERE WERE TWO men who were not pleased with the King’s felicity. One of these was Thomas Wriothesley and the other Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester.
It was Wriothesley, the sly and cunning, who discovered through his spies that, in the privacy of her chamber, the Queen read forbidden books, and he hastened to his friend Gardiner to acquaint him with the discovery.
The court was at Windsor, and Gardiner, greatly disturbed by the news that he had helped to put on the throne a Queen who leaned toward Protestantism, suggested that Wriothesley and he should walk together in the Great Park to discuss this matter which he would prefer not to mention within castle walls.
When the two men had put some distance between themselves and the castle, Gardiner said: “This is indeed disturbing news, my friend. I would have sworn that the Queen was a good Catholic.”
“A sly woman, my lord Bishop, I fear. While she was Latimer’s wife, she allowed it to be understood that she was as good a Catholic as you or I. As soon as he dies and she marries His Grace, we find her playing the heretic.”
“A foolish woman, friend Wriothesley. Playing the heretic when she was Latimer’s wife would have been a mild matter. Playing the same as the wife of our Sovereign Lord is another affair. But we waste time tattling of the follies of such a woman. We must act.”
Wriothesley nodded. This was what he expected of Gardiner. He would be ready to strike a blow for Catholicism and strike it in the right direction. Gardiner was a strong man; he had served under Wolsey; his tact and enthusiasm in the affair of the King’s first divorce had placed him in high favor. When Wolsey had fallen, Gardiner became Secretary of State. The Archdeaconry of Leicester and the Bishopric of Winchester had speedily fallen to him. And if the King did not care for him as he had cared for some of his ministers, if Gardiner’s origins were obscure, these facts merely meant that his rise to power was the more spectacular, and if he did not win the King’s love, he had his respect.
“Tell me what you have discovered of the Queen,” went on Gardiner.
“She surrounds herself with those who are interested in the new religion. There are her sister Lady Hertford, the stepdaughter Margaret Neville, the Duchess of Suffolk, Lady Hoby and others. They are secret ‘Reformers’ … as they call themselves. Remember, my lord Bishop, she has some charge of the education of the Prince and Princess. Prince Edward and Princess Elizabeth are but children; their minds could be easily perverted. The Lady Mary is a staunch Catholic and safe from any contamination. But not only has the woman charge of the young Prince and Princess, but of the two Grey girls, and they are near enough to the throne for that fact to be disquietening.”
“You have no need to warn me on that score. We cannot have heretics sharing the throne with the King.”
“Could we not take this matter to the King and lay it before him?”
Gardiner smiled ruefully. He let his gaze rest on the two towers of the castle which were approached by the drawbridge. He was standing on a mound and could see the straggling street with its gabled houses, black and white, which formed the town of Windsor. He could see the winding river, silver under the summer sky, cutting its way through meadows gold with buttercups. But Gardiner had not a thought to spare for the beauties of Nature. Instead he thought of other Queens whom ministers had planned to destroy. He knew that any minister would be a fool to approach an amorous King with tales against the woman he had married as recently as two weeks before.
Cranmer had brought Catharine Howard to the block, but that had been some time after the marriage; yet the King had undoubtedly been infatuated with the woman. But what tales Cranmer had had to set before the King—such tales and such proof that poor nervous Cranmer had dared deprive Henry of a wife with whom he had been in love. And what Protestant Cranmer could do to Catharine Howard, Catholic Gardiner could do to Katharine Parr.
But not yet. Timing was all-important in such matters.
“This needs much thought,” he said slowly. “To strike at the Queen now would be to invite disaster. The King is pleased with her. Two weeks of marriage have increased rather than diminished his pleasure in her. I can assure you, Wriothesley, that she delights him more now with her nursing and her gentle ways than she did before the marriage. The time is not yet.”
“I am sure that you are right, my lord Bishop, but might not delay prove dangerous? It is while the King sets such store by her that she will have the best opportunity of whispering her heresies into his ears.”
The Bishop patted Wriothesley’s arm. “Yet we must wait. Later we shall no doubt have Seymour back at court. Then, mayhap, it may be possible to bring a case against those two. Such a case would be sure of success…if proved, and there are usually ways of proving these matters.” The Bishop’s lips formed into a smile, which disappeared as he looked toward the Castle walls. But they were fardistant and there was no one but his companion to hear this dangerous conversation.
“Ah, Seymour!” said Wriothesley. “If we could but prove something against those two! His Majesty would be mad with fury and we should bring down two groups of enemies at the same time. The Queen and her heretic friends… and the Seymours. What could be better?”
“We must remember if Seymour returns that it may not be as simple as you assume. Seymour is a very ambitious man. I doubt that he would allow his feeling for any woman to interfere with his ambitions. The King, moreover, is fond of the fellow.”
“Still, the Queen was enamored of him before her marriage with the King. He wished to marry her. And the King must have felt some uneasiness to have dispatched him to Flanders. It may well be that the King will keep him there. Oh yes, his jealousy is aroused—if only slightly—by the fascinating sailor.”
“That’s so; but his love for the Queen is not the whitehot passion it was in the cases of Anne Boleyn and Catharine Howard. We might attack through Seymour, I do not doubt; but Seymour is not here. That may come later. In the meantime, we might strike, not at the Queen, but at her friends.”
“Her friends? You mean her sister and the ladies?…”
“Nay, nay. You have something to learn, Wriothesley. We strike first at little deer and wait for the head deer. There are Reformers in most towns, and it is my belief that if we looked we might find them here in this town of Windsor. There is a priest I know of, a certain Anthony Pearson. The people flock to hear his sermons, and the good honest Catholic lawyer, Simons of this town, has already conveyed to me his suspicions of this man. Simons declares him to be a Reformer. There are others. A little inquiry into the life of this man Pearson would doubtless disclose their identities and give us what we desire. We could strike at the Queen through them and, while we await the opportunity to implicate Her Majesty, doubtless these men would help add a little fuel to a Smithfield fire.”
“I applaud your wisdom, my lord.”
The Bishop slipped his arm through that of Wriothesley. “Keep close to me. I will have you informed of the progress of this affair. Let us strike at the little deer before we bend our bows to bring down those at the head of the herd. We will return to the Castle, and I will seek an early opportunity of an audience with the King; and when it is over I will let you know how I have progressed. Watch me, my friend, and you will see how I intend to deal with this delicate affair, and I promise you that in a matter of months—though it may be a year or two—you will see Her Majesty following in the footsteps of other foolish Queens.”
“It would be the block.”
Gardiner nodded. “His Majesty has had two divorces. He does not like them. He prefers… the other method.”
“I doubt not,” said Wriothesley, “that it will be the…‘ other method’ … for Katharine Parr.”
IN ST. GEORGE’S HALL the King had seated himself in that chair of state above which was the ornate canopy of Edward the Third. It was at the head of the banqueting table, and on his right hand sat his Queen. The Lady Mary was present in a place of high honor, and as Gardiner said grace he reflected that his task might not be a difficult one, for Queen Katharine Parr must be a foolish woman so to raise such a staunch Catholic as the Princess Mary to work against her.
Before the King knelt one of his gentlemen with a ewer, another with a basin, yet another with a napkin. The great table seemed as though it must collapse under the weight of heavy flasks of wine and the enormous gilded and silver dishes. Venison, chickens, peacocks, cygnets, salmon, mullet and pies of all sorts were laid out. Gardiner watched the King’s eyes gleam as they studied the food. The King’s love of women was, it was said, being surpassed by his interest in food. The Bishop must speak to the King after the meal and he must make sure of doing so before his blood became overheated and his digestive organs complained of the great amount of work their royal master would give them to do.
The minstrels began to play and a humble chorister from the town of Windsor to sing one of the King’s songs. The King’s eyes were glazed with pleasure; next to his love of food, wine and women came his love of music; and there was no music that delighted him as much as his own.
This was a state occasion and the hall was thronged with men at arms, yeomen and halberdiers. Thus, thought Gardiner, must feast Henry the Eighth by the Grace of God King of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith and Sovereign of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.
Defender of the Faith! His ministers, decided the Bishop, must needs keep him to that defense.
When the music was over and before the feasting began, the King sent for John Marbeck to come before him.
The man, deeply conscious of the honor done him, knelt in a reverence which was far from displeasing to Henry. He had always been eager to win the approbation of his humble subjects.
“Your name?” said Henry.
“John Marbeck, Your Most Gracious Majesty.”
“We liked your singing. You shall sing to us again. I said to the Queen that rarely have I heard my song sung so well.”
“I shall treasure the memory of those words for the rest of my life, Your Grace.”
The Queen gave Marbeck one of her smiles, and the man looked at her with a devotion which equaled that he gave to the King, for in those circles in which he moved he had heard of the Queen’s sympathies with that religion which he, Marbeck, was convinced was the true one.
The King gave orders that Marbeck should be given good food and wine, and the banquet began.
“I liked that fellow,” said the King to Katharine. “Methinks I know an honest face when I see it.”
“Your Majesty must have him to sing more of your songs,” said Katharine.
“That I will. And it shall be while we are here at Windsor. I hear he works with Priest Pearson and is a good churchman.”
When the King was heavy with much food and wine, Gardiner craved private audience, saying that he had matters of great importance which he wished to set before His Majesty.
Henry nodded, and before retiring to his bedchamber received the Bishop in his private closet.
“What now, Bishop?” he asked.
“It has come to my ears, Your Grace, that there are a number of heretics in the realm, men who doubt the word of Your Majesty and plan to work against those laws which you have set down.”
“What’s this?” cried Henry.
“Books are being circulated, books which Your Majesty has forbidden his subjects to read. They are being compiled against Your Majesty’s orders. There are men who seek, by sly and secret means, to work against you. They disagree with the Six Articles. They would defy Your Grace and teach a false religion.”
“Oh, these meddlers!” groaned Henry. “They torment and plague me. Why cannot they accept the religion which their King has given them?”
“They are wayward subjects, Your Grace. It is the books which are at the root of the evil. I ask Your Majesty’s permission to make a search of every dwelling in this town. Give me this permission, and I will have the ringleaders in a week.”
Henry was silent and Gardiner went on: “These heretics, Your Grace, they creep into every corner of the court. Even about Your Majesty they gather.”
He stopped, noting his master’s frown. Henry did not wish to be disturbed with these matters now. He had eaten well; he had drunk well; and he wanted his pleasant little Queen to sit beside him. They had been married for two weeks, and the more he saw of her, the more he liked her, so he wished that nothing should interfere with his postmarital courtship.
Clever Gardiner was a good servant, the sort he needed about him, but there were times when the fellow irritated him. He knew whither Gardiner wished to lead him. His Queen had been betraying her thoughts. She was not a foolish, frivolous woman, and she spent much time with her books. Some of these books, Henry guessed, would not have given great pleasure to his Catholic Bishop. Let the Queen read what she would; he wanted no fool for a wife, and as long as she did not imagine herself to be too clever, he was pleased that she should display a certain good sense. Most of the clever people at his court had a desire to examine new ideas; it was natural.
Regarding his wife, Henry was in a benevolent mood. He was happier than he had been since they had brought him the news of Catharine Howard’s infidelities. The fact was he had needed a wife, and now he had one. She was a good little woman who gave him much pleasure. He wished, therefore, to be left alone with his pleasure; and if Master Gardiner had the good sense he imagined himself to have, he should realize this.
“Your permission, Sire, to search the houses of Windsor, and I will bring you proof.”
“Oh…very well, Sir Bishop. Go to your searching.”
“Every room in Windsor, Sire, shall be ransacked in the service of Your Grace.”
The King narrowed his eyes. “You’ll not search the Castle apartments, my lord. You’ll keep your fingers out of them, Sir Bishop.”
Gardiner bowed, well pleased. So the King already knew of the Queen’s sympathies, and he did not wish to be disturbed with the knowledge. This could mean only one thing: the present Queen was in such high favor that her religious opinions were of little moment. They were to be ignored… for the time being.
Certainly the Bishop was not displeased. Once the King had tired of his little pig, he would be only too eager to listen to an account of her heresies. And, cogitated the Bishop, if and when that came about, and Master Thomas Seymour returned to court …the stage would be set.
THE BISHOP’S FIRST action after that interview with the King was to send for a certain Dr. London, whom he knew to be in the town of Windsor.
Gardiner had a special reason for sending for this man. He had watched the career of the Doctor of Divinity and knew him for a man of great resource and cunning. Dr. London had worked under Thomas Cromwell in the dissolution of the monasteries and he had been the perfect tool of his master. Cromwell had said: “Bring me evidence of the infamies which persist in such and such an abbey.” And Dr. London had never failed to bring what was required of him; he was an indefatigable exposer of foulness; he was a reviver of old scandals; and if he could find no scandal foul enough to please his master, well then, he was a man of ready wit and it was not beyond his power to invent them.
Moreover, Dr. London was a man who needed to show the Bishop his loyalty. As he had once been Cromwell’s man, he could not easily become Gardiner’s. In these dangerous times a man must take sides; and Dr. London had shown the Bishop that he wished to establish himself as a good Catholic.
The man had wisdom. He looked into the future. The present King was ailing; his son was weak; and there was Catholic Mary waiting to take the throne. Dr. London—like Gardiner—saw a return to Rome not far distant. He had no wish to feed the flames of Smithfield.
Such a man, the Bishop was sure, would work with zeal.
“Dr. London, I have work for you. You have shown me that you wish for preferment. You have sworn loyalty to me and the true religion. Now is the time to prove it.”
“I am at your service, my lord Bishop.”
“The task to which I am appointing you, good Dr. London, is the smellingout of heretics in Windsor.”
“Ah. They abound in this town, sir. They abound.”
“Alas, ’tis true. I have the King’s order to bring them to justice. Whom do you suspect of heresy?”
“There is a priest, Anthony Pearson. I have made notes of his sermons, your lordship. He has said enough to send him to the stake.”
“Mayhap examination of his house will lead you to others.”
“I doubt it not.”
“Go to it, good Doctor. I doubt not that you will find evidence against these rogues.”
“My lord Bishop, it is said that these people are given aid by some at court.”
The Bishop nodded. “For the time, Doctor, let us keep to the herd. We will shoot at the head deer later.”
The Doctor’s eyes gleamed. He understood. Great things lay ahead of him. This was but a beginning. He would perform the task required of him, and another and greater would come his way. That was what the good Bishop, the mighty Bishop, was telling him.
“How many heretics would my lord Bishop require?”
“Not too many. We might say… four. They should be humble men. The court is to be left alone. Start with this priest Pearson and see whither that leads.”
The Doctor bowed himself out of the Bishop’s presence and at once went to his task.
AS HE LEFT THE Castle of Windsor, John Marbeck was singing softly. It had been a successful evening, a wonderful evening indeed when the King had singled him out to express his pleasure.
John Marbeck was a simple man, a deeply religious man, a man of ideals. His greatest desire was not that he might win fame and fortune at court, but that he might help to give the Bible to the people of England.
He had many friends in Windsor, men with ideals similar to his own; he met them in the course of his duties at church and he sometimes joined gatherings at their homes and, on occasions, they visited his. During these meetings there was one subject which they discussed with passion: religion.
Each of these men wished to do some work which would aid others to reach the great Truth which they believed they had discovered.
Pearson did it by his preaching, as did Henry Filmer, a friar, who, being turned from his monastery, had become interested in the new learning and was now a vicar in Windsor.
Marbeck’s friend Robert Testwood, a fine musician and the head of the choir to which Marbeck belonged, had introduced him to these men; and how happy Marbeck had been to show them the great work which he was doing!
“I shall go on working at my Concordance,” he told them, “until I have made possible a greater understanding of the Bible.”
“Then keep it secret,” Pearson had warned him.
It was strange, thought Marbeck, looking back at the gray walls of the castle, how simple men such as himself and his friends, knowing the risks they ran, should continue to run them.
Robert Testwood had said: “This is more than a religious issue, my friends. We do these things because within us we feel that a man should have freedom to think as he wishes.”
Marbeck was not sure of that. The religious issue, to him, was all-important. And on this night he wished merely to be happy. The King had complimented him on his voice; the Queen had smiled graciously upon him—the Queen, who, some said, was one of them.
He smiled, thinking of the future. Perhaps he would dedicate his Concordance to that gracious lady.
He was singing the song he had sung before the King, as he let himself into his house.
He stood at the door listening. He heard noises within. Strangers were in his house.
His heart was beating fast as he opened the door and went into that room in which he did his work. There stood two men; he noticed that his cupboard had been turned out, as had the drawers of his table. In the hands of one were several sheets of his Concordance. These men had forced the lock; they had discovered his secret.
“What… what do you here?” he stammered.
“John Marbeck,” said one of the men, “we come on the King’s business. You are our prisoner. There will be questions for you to answer.
“Questions… questions? I beg of you, give me those papers…. They are mine….”
“Not so,” said the man. “These papers are our prisoners also. Come, master chorister. There is no time to waste.”
“Whither do you take me?”
“To London. To the Marshalsea.”
Marbeck was trembling, remembering tales he had heard and had bravely not heeded. Now they were close to him and he would have to heed them. He thought of torture and death; and as he left Windsor for London in the company of his captors he thought of the smell of crackling wood and burning flesh; he thought of the martyr’s death.
ANNE, LADY HERBERT, came to the Queen and begged a secret audience with her. Katharine forthwith dismissed all her attendants.
“What ails you, sister?” asked the Queen. “I declare you look as if you have seen a ghost.”
Ah! thought Anne Herbert. Mayhap I have. The ghosts of Anne Boleyn and Catharine Howard warn me.
“Gardiner is moving against you. He, with his friend Wriothesley, has ordered a search of the houses in this town.”
“There have already been arrests.”
“Whom have they arrested?”
“Four men of Windsor. Two priests and two musicians. Pearson is one of them, Marbeck another.”
“God help us!” cried the Queen. “I know why these men have been taken.”
“It is a blow at you, dearest sister. They dare not attack you now because you have the King’s favor. But this is a warning. As soon as they consider they have a chance to work against you, they will do so. Dearest Majesty, you must give up your reading, give up those little gatherings of our friends. It was unsafe when you were Lady Latimer; but now that you are the Queen it is desperately dangerous.”
“Anne, what will happen to these men?”
“I know not. Dr. London is preparing a case against them.”
“Dr. London! That rogue. He was Cromwell’s man. That is he, is it not? He roamed the countryside and turned the monks from their monasteries while he took their treasure.”
“He took those treasures for his master, Kate. He is a man without principles. Then he worked against the Catholic monks; now he works for Catholic Gardiner and the King’s Secretary, Wriothesley. He is wily; he is clever and he is unscrupulous. What is to become of these men, I do not know. They say they have found Marbeck’s notes on the Bible. That will ensure a fiery death for him.”
“But, Anne, the King has a fondness for Marbeck. He complimented him on his singing.”
“Gardiner has no fondness for Marbeck’s religious views.”
“The King is all-powerful.”
“But, Kate, Gardiner will show that Marbeck has disobeyed the King’s orders. I am afraid… desperately afraid. Not only for these men… but for you.”
“We must help them, Anne. We cannot let them die.”
“Let well alone. Listen to me, dearest Kate. Remember those who went before you. You have the King’s favor now. Keep it. Do everything you can to keep it, and stay away from trouble.”
“But I must do everything I can for these men, Anne.”
“You tempt Fate.”
“No, Anne. I must prove my courage in this. I have to acquire courage. Something within me tells me this. If I fail now I should fail later.”
“Later?” said Anne Herbert fearfully.
“Anne, there may come a time when I shall have to be very brave indeed.” Katharine put her arm about her sister. “Speak what is in your mind, dearest. You talk of four men of Windsor, and you think of two Queens. Remember, I have an advantage over them. I know what happened to them; though they, poor souls, had no indications of what they would come to. All will be well, I promise you. The King is fond of me and he grows fonder.”
“Dearest sister,” said Anne, “I would that you were merely my sister and not my Queen.”
IN THE DARKNESS of the royal bedchamber the Queen whispered to the King: “My Lord, you are pleased with me?”
The King’s laugh was a deep, satisfied rumble.
“Your Grace has been good to me.”
“Well, sweetheart, that is what I would wish to be to one who pleases me as you do.”
“In my happiness I think of others less happy.”
“That’s like you, Kate. You’re a kind woman.”
“I trust my ways do not displease you.”
“And what is all this talk of pleasing and displeasing? It seems that women talk in this way when they would ask a favor.”
“You are clever. You follow the workings of my mind.”
“I am well versed, Kate, in the ways of women.”
“It is of those men of Windsor so recently arrested that I think. They have been condemned to the flames.”
The King grunted. This was no time to talk of state matters. He wished Kate would ask for something for herself, some ornament, some fancy velvets to make a gown. Now, first, she must ask that his daughters might be reinstated; then she must ask for money for them. He had given way to her there. Now she was going to plead for these heretics who were condemned to die.
“Poor Marbeck!” she said.
“Aye!” said the King. “Poor Marbeck.” The man had an enchanting voice. A plague on Gardiner for arresting him. Why should he interfere with the King’s pleasure? For Marbeck, with his pleasant singing, had brought pleasure to his King. “It would be well if Marbeck’s accusers spent their time in no worse way than he does,” growled Henry.
Katharine felt exultant. “Your Majesty will pardon this man?”
Henry himself had been thinking of doing that; but he was not going to say that he would immediately. Katharine was going to ask a pardon for all four, and he did not wish to pardon them all. He was not going to allow men to act with impunity against himself; and these men, in acting against laws which he had approved, were acting against him.
Blood must flow, he reasoned. If any lift the mildest voice against the King’s command, blood must flow …or, as in this case, flesh must burn.
He could not therefore pardon all the offenders; but he liked Marbeck. What if he gave Marbeck to Katharine? But the other three would have to go to Gardiner.
“Kate,” he said, “this man has been condemned. Books have been found in his house.”
He felt the Queen’s shiver, and he knew that, had he allowed those men to search her apartments, they would have found similar books there. Well well, let her read her books for the time being; it was pleasant to discourse with a woman of good sense.
“Pardon them, my dearest lord,” pleaded Katharine. “Show your clemency.”
“Only fools show clemency, Kate. If I let those men go free, what would happen, think you? Others would proclaim themselves heretics without more ado.”
“Only those who do so in secret already would do that.”
“When men practice in secret what they fear to do in the open, that is not a good thing, Kate. Perhaps we should find more of these rogues.”
“No, my lord, I beg of you.”
“There, sweetheart. You are a woman and soft. You plead for these men because it is in your nature to be soft with all. You are our Queen—our wellloved Queen. We will do something to show you our regard.”
“Thank you. Thank you, Your Majesty.”
“I give you Marbeck.”
“A thousand thanks, Your Grace. And Pearson… Testwood and Filmer?”
“You’re greedy, Kate. No. Take Marbeck, and be grateful. I cannot interfere further with justice, even for your sake.”
“My lord …”
“The matter is closed, sweetheart.”
She was silent, and the King smiled smugly in the darkness. He felt loving and benign. He had granted his Queen’s request, and he had saved his friend Marbeck, which, after all, he had long made up his mind to do.
GARDINER WAS PLEASED with the Windsor episode. As he explained to Wriothesley, the Queen had Marbeck, but they had kept the other three for the flames which had now consumed them. This was no true victory for the Queen, as the King himself had not wished Marbeck to die and would doubtless have saved him even if the Queen had not asked for his life.
“The woman is soft and a fool,” said Gardiner. “She should have asked for one of the others and left Marbeck to rely on the King’s favor. Well, she is new to her position and I prophesy that she will not long hold it. And this is not an end to the matter. I have set the good Dr. London to pursue his inquiries, and ere long he will have more men and women to bring up for examination. And this time, Master Secretary, I think he might look a little higher. Oh, not so high as I intend him to go, but creeping up, creeping upward.”
“The Queen will protect her friends.”
“She has no chance against us. Remember there is the Act to suppress what is called the New Learning. Has not the King himself said that the ignorant people have contaminated and perverted the Scriptures by their translations, and that these translations are not in accordance with the Catholic Church of which he is head? Tyndale’s translation has been condemned as crafty and false. It is an offense to be in possession of such books. As for those who add to their sins by further translating and writing, they deserve the flames. If these people are allowed to proceed, the Latin tongue will become a dead one. The three men of Windsor have been rightly burned under the Act of the Six Articles. Rest assured that more arrests will follow. And very soon we may be in a position to take our aim at the main target, eh, Wriothesley, my friend?”
Gardiner was smiling as he spoke. Soon he hoped to see Cranmer fall with Katharine Parr, as Wolsey had with Anne Boleyn, Cromwell with Anne of Cleves. And after Cranmer it would be the turn of those men who had become the greatest enemies of all—the Seymour brothers, Lord Hertford and Sir Thomas. As brothers-in-law of the King, they had enjoyed special favor since Henry’s marriage with their sister; but as uncles of Edward they would be more dangerous still. Gardiner believed that Edward would still be a boy at the time of his accession and, if he were, he could easily be the tool of his uncles. Lord Hertford was constantly with the boy, molding him, dominating him. Hertford was not only an ambitious man; he was also a strong one. He would aim to be nominally the Protector of England and in actuality England’s ruler. Sir Thomas Seymour was even more to be suspected, for while the boy Edward feared his elder uncle he doted on the younger. It would, therefore, be a masterstroke to have the two brothers in their graves before the accession of their nephew. And why not? Powerful as they were, they leaned toward Protestantism, and that created a flaw in their armor. Moreover, Thomas had cast his eyes in the Queen’s direction.
These were ambitious schemes, in which Gardiner would need the help of the entire Catholic Party; they were not, however, impossible of achievement, if crafty patience were employed; and employed it should be.
He could visualize a future with the Lady Mary on the throne— Queen Mary, that true and loyal supporter of the Catholic cause. It might well happen in his lifetime, and he doubted not that if it did he would be one of those whom she would raise to a lofty eminence. He must be beside the Queen; he must teach her what should be done with heretics. When he contemplated his good Catholic Queen Mary on the throne he could almost smell the fires of Smithfield.
“Have no fear, my dear Wriothesley,” he said now. “Our good friend Dr. London will smell out our enemies. I think you will be surprised when he has done his work. We can rely on that man’s help.”
IN A WAY GARDINER was right. When Dr. London contemplated the future he saw a similar picture to that conjured up by Gardiner: Queen Mary on the throne and the Catholics triumphant.
He was very anxious to show himself a good Catholic, and how could he do this better than by pleasing the Catholic Bishop of Winchester and the King’s Catholic Secretary?
They had brought down the little game; now they looked higher.
“But not too high, good Doctor.” Those were the very words.
As usual he selected his victims, and his choice fell on the learned Dr. Haines who had been the Dean of Exeter and was now a Prebendary of Windsor. But he would go even higher than that; he would creep a little closer to that one who he knew was the most important on the list. He would go to the Queen’s household and select Sir Philip and Lady Hoby, together with Sir Thomas Carden. He would also take some of the minor gentlemen and ladies. That would suffice.
He outlined his plan to his friend Simons, the lawyer who had been a great help in the affair of the men of Windsor.
“A difficulty presents itself here,” said the wily lawyer. “We need evidence, and we have not the King’s permission to search the royal apartments.”
Dr. London confessed himself to be in a quandary. These people he had selected, he knew, had interested themselves in the New Learning, but how could he prove it?
He was disturbed, but, remembering the methods he and his master Cromwell had used during the dissolution of the monasteries, he decided on a plan of action. After all, had not the Bishop of Winchester something like this in mind when he had selected the experienced Dr. London for this task?
“It would be necessary,” said Simons, “for us to find men who would testify against them. That would not be easy.”
“We have not been given enough power,” said Dr. London. “Did not the three men who have recently been burned at the stake mention the names of these people?”
Simons looked at the Doctor sharply.
“That was not so, Doctor.”
“An oversight. Doubtless had we tried to extract these names from them we should have done so.”
“But we did not.”
“There was written evidence of what these men said during examination, was there not?”
“And where are these documents?”
“In the hands of the clerk of the court.”
“A man named Ockham. I know him well. He should be easy to handle.”
“What do you propose, Doctor?”
“My good man, the evidence is not there because of an oversight. It is always possible to remedy such oversights.”
“Do you mean to… forge evidence…to insert something those men did not say concerning and implicating these men and women?”
“Hush,” said the Doctor. “You speak too freely.”
“But that… would be criminal.”
“My dear lawyer, when the Bishop of Winchester asks for victims, he must have them.”
“You wish me to see…Ockham?”
“I will see the fellow.” The Doctor laid his hand on Simons’ shoulder. “Do not tremble, man. This is the task which has been set us. Success is expected of us; never doubt that we shall achieve it.”
THE QUEEN SAT in her apartment with a few of her ladies. They were working at their tapestry, but the Queen’s thoughts were far away.
On a stool beside her sat little Jane Grey. The child attracted Katharine. She was so small and so beautiful. She was only six years old, but she was wise enough for eleven; she was also clever with her needle, and most happy to be beside the Queen.
Little Jane believed that one day she might be a Queen. Edward had whispered to her that he would ask if she might be his, when he was of an age to ask. They wanted to marry him, he believed, to his cousin, young Mary of Scotland, but he was not sure, because such a matter as the choice of his wife would not be mentioned to him just yet. He had heard too that Mary had been promised to the King of France, and that his father was very angry about that. “But I am not, Jane,” he had said, “and you know why.”
They had smiled and nodded because they understood each other so well.
So Jane, who might one day be a Queen of England, liked to study the ways of the present Queen, and she found that study of great interest to her. She knew when the Queen was frightened as she was today, although she did not know the cause of her fear.
The tapestry was beautiful. In the center was a medallion about which flowers were being worked in gold and scarlet, blue and green silks. At each corner was a dragon with crimson fire coming from its mouth; and it was on one of these dragons that Jane herself was working.
It is a sad thing, I verily believe, to be a Queen, pondered Jane as she stitched at her dragon.
It was also a sad thing to be a King—a little King. It was all very well when you were mighty and all-powerful as was the King himself. It was when you were a little boy who was unsure of himself, as all young people must be, that it was alarming. It was only when they were in the apartments with Mrs. Sybil Penn that they were really unafraid. Mrs. Penn refused to look upon the Prince as the future King; he was her little one, she always said; and she would rock him on her knee and bathe his skin and croon over him; she would mutter threats against his tutors and his riding masters, and tell Jane that they should not long treat her little princeling as they did.
Edward would sit there contentedly in Mrs. Penn’s lap and Jane would sit at her feet.
“Jane,” the young Prince would say, “now let us play at being children.”
Jane intended to look after him when she grew up; that was why, if she were to be his Queen, she wished to know all about queenly duties.
Life was so difficult. It changed so quickly. The Princesses Mary and Elizabeth were now often at court and consequently the children saw less of them. It seemed a long time since Uncle Thomas Seymour had sailed away. Edward complained bitterly of his loss.
“It all changes so quickly, Jane,” he had said, his brow puckered so that Jane knew that he was thinking that soon the greatest change of all might come: the day when Prince Edward would become King Edward.
And now, what was it that was worrying this dearest of Queens? She was preoccupied; she was not paying attention to what her ladies said; every now and then she would glance toward the door as though she expected to see someone enter, someone whose coming would be very important; as though she longed for it and yet she dreaded it.
Jane knew that some of the ladies and gentlemen of the court had disappeared suddenly. Among them were Sir Philip and Lady Hoby and Sir Thomas Carden. People did go away suddenly, and when you asked for news of them, strange looks appeared on people’s faces.
Jane had often traveled along the river from Greenwich to Hampton and she had seen that gloomy fortress of the Tower. She had heard terrible stories of what went on behind those gray stone walls; and she knew also that when people looked as they looked now when the names of Sir Thomas Carden and the Hobys were mentioned, that meant that those of whom one inquired had gone to the Tower.
Katharine, as she stitched at her tapestry, was marveling at her own temerity. Her sister Anne had been against what she had done, had implored her not to interfere.
“Discard these new ideas,” Anne had pleaded. “Shut your mind to them. These people are beginning to look to you as a leader. You know what these arrests mean. They mean that Gardiner and Wriothesley are working against you. They have marked you for their victim.”
Anne was right. Katharine knew these things to be true. She was a meek woman, but she had a mind and she could not shut it to ideas, however dangerous. If she thought they were the right ideas she must accept them; she must read, and be true to herself; and because of some urge within her she must accept Gardiner’s challenge.
She had said to Anne: “How can these men possibly have found evidence against the Hobys and Carden? I know they are in possession of books, but those books remain in their apartments. The King has not given his permission that the castle shall be searched.”
“Someone has informed against them.”
“I do not believe it. Who would have done so? None but our friends here at court knows of their connection with the New Faith. And none of our friends has been questioned. We know that.” It came to her as an inspiration. After all, she was no fool. Had not the Bishop appointed that rogue Dr. London to work for him, and did not Katharine know in what manner London’s evidence against the abbeys had been compiled?
From that inspiration grew another: If he were going to prove that some had spoken against the men and women of the Queen’s household, who could be better informants than dead men who could not speak for themselves? At the house of the clerk of the court would be those documents which had been written at the time of the examination of the three martyrs. If those papers could be seized and they could be proved to contain forgeries, not only would Katharine’s friends be saved, but her enemies would be exposed.
It was bold, but she felt the need to be bold. The right action—if her suspicions were correct—could save not only her friends now, but perhaps herself in the future.
She had not hesitated. This day, while the court was sitting, she had sent men on whom she could rely to the house of the clerk of the court. They would seize those documents on her authority.
If she had made a false step her position would be an unenviable one, but the King was still very kindly disposed toward her; if she were right, then would she be triumphant indeed.
No wonder she was nervous. No wonder she kept glancing toward the door.
She looked down and saw the wondering eyes fixed upon her. Was it sympathy she saw in those lovely eyes? Katharine stooped and kissed the upturned face.
“Jane, my dear,” she said, “you shall come to my chamber. We will find a post for you. Oh, you are overyoung to be a maid of honor, but you shall be there to serve me, because it pleases me to have you with me.”
Jane kissed the hand of her royal benefactress and expressed her thanks in the solemn manner which was habitual to her.
She wished she knew what ailed the Queen.
THE KING WAS FURIOUS. The trial of those members of the Queen’s household had been proved to be full of trickery. The clerk of the court had been arrested; papers had been found at his home which contained forgery, inserted by him to implicate the arrested men and women. Dr. London and Lawyer Simons, together with the clerk, had been concocting evidence.
He sent for Gardiner and berated him severely.
Gardiner swore he had been deceived by Dr. London and the lawyer.
“Then let them feel our wrath!” cried the King.
His eyes narrowed, and they told Gardiner, although the King spoke not a word of this matter, that he understood these accusations, purporting to be directed against members of the household, were meant to involve his Primate Cranmer and the Queen; and that if more such tricks were played it would be Gardiner himself who felt the weight of the King’s displeasure.
Henry reflected: I’d dismiss this fellow now if he, being so sly, were not so useful to me.
As it was he would be content with the punishment of others.
“Let this Dr. London be set in the pillories of Newbury and Reading and Windsor. Let papers be attached to his person, notifying all who can read them that he has committed perjury, so that all may know what the King’s will is toward those who would accuse the innocent.”
The King raged up and down the apartment, calling God to witness that he was a just King. He shook his fist at Gardiner.
“Remember it, Bishop. Remember it.”
Gardiner was trembling when he left the royal presence.
He found Wriothesley and told him that it would be unwise to take further action against the Queen for the time being. They had underrated her. They had thought her weak, and this she most certainly was not.
“It would seem,” said Wriothesley wryly, “that all we have done is to bring to the stake three men of little importance, while much harm has been done to ourselves in the eyes of the King.”
“You are impatient, sir,” said Gardiner testily. “We have lost the first battle, but it is the last one that proclaims the victor. This would not have happened but for the fact that the King’s marriage is as yet young. In a few months…in a year…he will have ceased to love Madame Katharine. His eyes will have fixed themselves on another lady. We have acted too soon, and London was a fool. Many men are exposed in these matters of policy… exposed as fools. There is no place for fools. Let us not accuse each other of folly. We will wait and, ere long, I promise you, Katharine Parr will go the way of the others.”
In her apartments Katharine embraced her friends who had returned unharmed from their imprisonment. They fell on their knees and thanked her; she was their savior and they owed their lives to her courage.
“Do not rejoice too soon,” warned her sister.
But Katharine kissed Anne tenderly. She felt strong now. She had made up her mind as to how she should act in a future crisis; it would be as her integrity demanded.
“Beware of my lord Bishop,” whispered Anne.
And afterward, Katharine often heard those words when the hangings rustled or when the wind howled through the trees.
“Beware…Beware…Beware of my lord Bishop.”
They mingled with those words which seemed to come from the tolling of the bells.
THE FIRST YEAR of Katharine’s life as Henry the Eighth’s sixth Queen was slowly passing.
It was full of alarms as startling and terrifying as those sudden attacks of Gardiner and his Catholics. During the year, Gardiner had seemed to turn his attention from her to Cranmer; and contemplating the manner in which the Catholic Party had plotted for the downfall of the Primate Thomas Cranmer, and noting how on two occasions it was the King himself who had saved Cranmer, Katharine was comforted. The King, it seemed, could feel real affection for some. In the case of Cranmer, the astute monarch, knowing his well-loved Thomas to be in danger, had presented him with a ring which he might show to the Council as a token of the royal regard. None, of course, had dared attack a man who was possessed of such a token. On another occasion when the Catholics had wished to set up a Commission for the examining and discovery of heretics, the King had given his consent to the formation of this Commission but had foiled the purpose of it—which was to ensnare the Archbishop of Canterbury—by setting none other than that Archbishop, Thomas Cranmer, at the head of it.
Yes, the King had his affections and loyalties. But would he feel for Katharine the same regard he had shown to Cranmer?
How often during the passing months had the King demanded of his wife: “No sign of a child?”
Once he had said: “By God, I have, I verily believe, got me another barren wife!”
That had been said after a state banquet when he had been feeling more sprightly than was his habit, for his leg had been in one of its healing phases and he had been listening to the singing of one of the ladies, a very beautiful lady, whose person pleased him as well as her voice had charmed him.
“No sign of a child?” The words were ominous; and the glance which accompanied them had been one of dislike.
But a few days later the leg had started to pain more than ever, and it was Katharine, that gentle nurse, to whom he turned. He was calling her his little pig again; and when the beautiful young lady begged leave to sing His Majesty another song, he said: “Another time. Another time.”
How strange, thought Katharine, with that philosophy which had come to her since she had become the Queen, that the King’s infirmity, which made him so irritable with others, should be her salvation!
Uneasy weeks flowed past her. There were nights when she would wake up after a dream and put her hands about her neck, laughing a little, half mocking herself, saying with a touch of hysteria in her voice: “So, my dear head, you are still on my shoulders?”
She was a little frightened of that hysteria. It was new to her. She had always been so calm, so serene. But how could one remain calm when one was close to death?
But what a fool she was to brood on death. It seemed far away when she sat with the courtiers, and the King would lift his heavily bandaged leg and lay it across her lap. “’ Tis easier there,” he would say. “Why, Kate,” he added once in a rush of grateful affection, “there would appear to be some magic in you, for it seems you impart a cooling to the heat, that soothes my sores.”
“Good Kate, good Kate,” he would say; and sometimes he would caress her cheek or her bare shoulder. “Little pig,” he would call her and give her a ruby or a diamond. “Here, Kate, we like to see you wearing our jewels. They become you…they become you.” They were gifts given in order to soothe his conscience; they indicated that he was planning to replace her by some fresh victim who had caught his eye; then because of infirmity and age he would decide not to make the effort; if his wife could not always charm him, the nurse, when pain returned, had become a necessity.
It was about this time that the King decided he would have a new portrait of himself.
Katharine remembered that occasion for a long time afterward, and remembered it with fear. It seemed to her that this matter of the portrait showed her—and the court—how dangerous was her position. The King, when he tired of a woman, could be the cruelest of men. He believed he himself was always in the right, and that must mean that anyone not quite in agreement with him must be quite wrong.
Katharine’s great sin against the King lay in her barrenness. So, after a year of marriage, the King constantly brooded on the fact that there was no child…no sign of a child. Why, he would say to himself, with the others there were pregnancies. Seven, was it, with the first Katharine? Four with Anne Boleyn, two with Jane and one with Catharine Howard. He remembered wryly that he had given Anne of Cleves no opportunity to become the mother of a child of his. Katharine Parr had had her opportunities and there was not even a sign.
Did this mean that God did not approve of his sixth marriage?
When this King imagined that God did not approve of a wife, it could be assumed that he was looking for another. And he could not more clearly expose to the court his state of mind on this matter than he did over the affair of the portrait.
His health had improved; he had been recently bled and his ulcers were healing, so that he could move about with greater ease than of late. In this false spring he had been struck by the beauty of one of the ladies of the Queen’s bedchamber.
His little eyes grew mean as he considered the manner in which he would have his portrait painted. It had occurred to him that Katharine, his wife, was a little too clever with her tongue. He did not like clever women overmuch. The thought made him mourn afresh for little Catharine Howard. The ambassadors and emissaries from other countries seemed to find pleasure in the conversation of this present Queen, and this appeared to delight her. He fancied she gave herself airs. She would have to learn that they paid homage to her because she was his Queen and not because of her accomplishments. He wished to show her that though he had raised her up, he could put her down.
There was that fellow Holbein. He was paid thirty pounds a year. Let him earn his money.
He sent for the man. He had a weakness for those who excelled in the arts. He often declared that, had he not been burdened with matters of state, he would have devoted himself to the writing of poetry and the composing of music. But Master Holbein had painted some fine pictures since he had been introduced to the court by Sir Thomas More. There were two allegorical and certainly very beautiful paintings by the man, on the walls of a salon at White Hall; and there were in addition many portraits of the royal household and the nobility.
The King, however, was not altogether pleased with Master Holbein. He remembered how the fellow had deceived him with a portrait of his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, representing her as a beautiful woman. Whenever the King saw the painter he would be reminded of the shock he had received when he had gone, with a handsome present of sables, to meet the original of the picture. Ah! The horror, when he had looked into that pockmarked face, so different from the Holbein representation!
Moreover the man revived other memories. It was in More’s Chelsea house that he had first met him; and so the painter reminded the King of More, the great man—the greatest statesman of his age, he had been called—the family man who loved to joke with his sons and daughters and who had sought to evade the glories of office when he could not accept them with honor. The King would never forget how More’s daughter had stolen her father’s head from London Bridge, and how the people had quickly called the man a saint. Saint! thought Henry angrily. People were too ready to apply that word to any who lost his head. Had not More been jubilant at the prospect of burning heretics at Smithfield?
Ah yes, the King liked to remember that. More had not been all softness, not all saintliness. True, he had gone to the block for his beliefs, but one did not forget the Smithfield fires. Every time he smelled the smoke, heard the crackle of flames, he could think of Thomas More… Saint Thomas More.
He was sage enough to know that these thoughts came to him because he was growing old. Being all-powerful here on Earth, he must yet placate the invisible powers; and sometimes, with the pain on him and the hot blood pounding through his veins, he could fancy his end was not far off; then the fears multiplied, the uncertainties returned; and then it was consoling to remember the faults of other men.
“Now, Master Holbein,” he growled, “I pay you well, and I want you to earn your money. We want a picture of ourselves. We want something larger and grander than anything you have done before. Yes, we will have a picture of our family. My son, my daughters, my…Queen. You will start tomorrow.”
Hans Holbein bowed. Nothing, he declared, would give him greater pleasure, and he would be eager to start on the royal portrait the next day.
And during that day the lady of the bedchamber, who had caught the King’s eye, sang a song of his which greatly charmed him. A strong-looking girl, he reflected, with health as well as beauty. A girl molded to bear children.
When he was alone with the Queen that night he said: “It is a marvelous thing that God denies me a son.” And the look which accompanied the words was that which Katharine had begun to dread more than any other.
The next day when Hans Holbein came to the King, Henry’s resentment had increased. His son and daughters stood before him, and he surveyed his daughters with distaste, his son with apprehension.
In health he felt well; his leg scarcely pained him at all. Before leaving his chamber he had examined himself in his mirror; he had seen a magnificent figure in a gown of gold and scarlet drawn in at the waist with a sash of white satin, its short skirts embroidered in gold; about his neck was a collar of pearls and rubies; his dalmatica was lined with sables and decorated with pearls to match those in his collar. More than usual he glittered with jewels, and if he did not look too closely he could imagine he was young again.
“By God!” he had told his reflection. “I feel I have many years of health left to me. Have I once more saddled myself with a woman who cannot give me sons?”
He looked at her now, at her meek eyes and gentle mouth. He did not want gentle meekness; they were all very well for a sick man; but when a man feels himself to be in good health and hopes to be cured of the accursed humors in his leg, he does not wish to waste his time with a barren nurse. He wants fire and fertility.
The Prince looked pale, and the crimson cap of velvet with its feather and jewels merely accentuated his pallor; the red damask garment did not suit him, and no amount of artful padding could hide the fact that he was thin and puny.
The two girls in their crimson velvet gowns, wearing their pearl and ruby crosses, angered him; the elder because she reminded him of his first Queen (and he did not wish to be reminded of his past and the Spanish woman’s reproaches), the younger because she was the most healthy of his children and had failed to be born a boy.
The picture would be of himself, his children and his Queen; but he would not have Katharine in it. This was a family portrait, and had she helped him to add to his family? She had not.
He growled his instructions. “I will sit as though on my throne, and the boy shall stand beside me. Come here, my son. Let my daughters take their stand by the pillars there, and my Queen should be beside me.” He glowered maliciously at Katharine. “Methinks though that there should be another beside me on this day, and that is the Queen who gave me my son.”
There was silence. Hans Holbein looked uncomfortable. Katharine forced herself not to show the fear that came to her whenever the King talked in this way.
Henry had seated himself. His son and daughters took the places he had assigned to them. Only Edward dared to look compassionately at the Queen.
“I have it!” cried Henry. “You shall paint the boy’s mother beside me. Queen Jane must be the Queen in this family group. She is dead, and that fact grieves me sorely, but she was our Queen; she was the mother of our son. I will have you set her beside me, sir painter. You understand?”
“I shall be for ever at Your Gracious Majesty’s command.”
“She will be painted pale and shadowy… almost like a specter…as though she has come from her grave to join our family group. So, madam” (he had thrown a malevolent glance at Katharine), “we shall have no need of your presence here.”
Katharine bowed and retired.
This was the greatest insult she had received since her marriage, and it filled her with a terrible fear. It could mean only one thing: the King regretted his marriage. When Henry the Eighth started to regret a marriage he was already looking for a new wife.
Everyone at court now knew how the picture was being painted; all had heard of the spectral Queen.
Gardiner and Wriothesley congratulated each other. Now was surely the time to strike.
Cranmer and Hertford were watchful of Gardiner and Wriothesley. Katharine’s closest friends were nervous. As for Katharine herself, she thought constantly of her predecessors who had walked out to Tower Green and died there, for she felt her time was near.
The bells rang jubilantly: Sons… sons… sons….
And all through the court there was tension and a sense of waiting.
FATE, IN THE GUISE of War, distracted Henry’s attention.
There had for some months been trouble in Scotland. It was Henry’s dearest wish that his son should marry Mary, the baby Queen of Scots, and so bring Scotland and England under one crown. This the French King wished to oppose with all his might. François planned to remove the child and bring her up at his court as the future wife of his eldest son. He had sent ships and supplies to Scotland, and the Scots thereupon repudiated the promises they had made to Henry and began to negotiate with France.
Henry’s great ideal was a British Empire; he realized that a marriage between Scotland and France would make this impossible. He decided therefore that the only course open to him at this stage was a war on two fronts.
The Emperor Charles had been seeking England as an ally against France, and Henry decided to join forces with the Spaniard. He had sent troops to the north of France under Thomas Seymour and Sir John Wallop; he was sending his brother-in-law the Earl of Hertford to Scotland. Henry decided that he himself would go to France for the attack; he and the Emperor planned to meet triumphantly in Paris when that city fell to them.
Temporarily Henry had ceased to think of a seventh wife.
There must be a Regent in England, and if his wife had ceased to appeal to him as a bedfellow, nevertheless he could trust her to act in his name during his absence. With Cranmer and Hertford to help her, he decided he could safely leave England and cross with his Army to France.
Thus on a July day he set out for Dover and reached Calais in safety.
While deeply aware of the immense responsibility which now rested upon her, and aware also of what reward would be hers if she failed in her duty, Katharine could feel nothing but relief. After all, when one was married to a man who had murdered two wives and terrified and humiliated three others, one must be prepared for alarms; and it was possible, if not to feel contempt for death, to be less unnerved by the contemplation of it.
He had gone; and she was free, if only for a little while. She rejoiced in secret.
He had parted from her with loving assurances of his devotion, but before he had left he had given her a special charge with regard to Prince Edward.
“We cannot get ourselves another son,” he had said reproachfully, “so we must guard well him whom we have.”
When he had kissed her fondly she had known he was thinking: A whole year and no sign of a son! Doubtless, as he crossed the Channel under his sails of cloth of gold, he was telling himself that he was a patient man and that a year was a very long time to wait for the sign of a son.
One day when she was with the children, superintending their studies, word was brought to her that a lady had presented herself at court and, stating that she was a friend of the Queen, asked if an audience might be granted her.
Katharine bade the messenger say that as soon as she was free she would see the lady; and shortly afterward there was brought to her a young woman, tall and slender, a pale primrose of a woman, with golden hair, and deep blue eyes in which seemed to burn an emotion not of this world.
“Your dearest Majesty …” The young woman knelt before the Queen.
“Why, Anne! It is Anne Askew. Though I suppose I should call you Mistress Kyme now that you have married. Rise, my dear Anne. I would hear your news.”
“Pray call me Anne Askew, Your Majesty, as you did in the old days, for that is how I wish to be known from now on,”
Katharine, seeing signs of distress in the face of her friend, dismissed her attendants with the exception of little Jane, whom she sent to her needlework in the far corner of the apartment.
“What has happened?” asked Katharine.
“I have left my husband. Or perhaps it would be truer to say that he has sent me from him.”
“He has turned you out of his house?”
“I fear so, Your Majesty.”
Anne laughed without mirth.
“I am sorry, Anne,” said Katharine.
“Do not look so sorrowful, Your Majesty. It is no great sorrow to me. I was married to Mr. Kyme, as you know, because he is the richest man in Lincolnshire. He was to have had my elder sister, but she died before the marriage contract could be completed; and so, my father gave me to him. I had no wish for the marriage … nor indeed for any marriage.”
“Alas,” said Katharine, “such as we are, we have our marriages made for us. Our wishes are not consulted.”
She thought of her own three marriages, particularly of the present one.
“And now,” she went on, “he has turned you out of his house?”
“Yes, Your Majesty. I was forced to marry him, but I cannot be compelled to abandon my religion.”
“So, Anne, he has discovered where your sympathies lie?”
“How could I deny them?” She stood before the Queen, her eyes a burning blue, her hands clenched. “Your Majesty, there is one true religion and one only. I have studied much in the last few years. I know that there is only one way to the salvation of England, and that is for her to adopt the true religion, the religion of Martin Luther.”
“Hush, Anne! Hush!”
Katharine looked fearfully about her; the little girl in the corner had her head bent low over her needlework.
“There are times when I think I am past caring what becomes of me,” said Anne.
“Heads have rolled in the straw because their owners have dared say words such as you have just said,” the Queen reminded her severely.
“Your Majesty would betray me?”
“Anne! How can you say such a thing! I am your friend. You have my sympathy. I too love the new learning. But I pray you, have a care what you say. Terrible things happen in the torture chambers of the Tower. Have you ever heard the shrieks of agony at Smithfield stakes? So recently three gentlemen of Windsor were burned to death.”
“Such shrieks,” said Anne, “are but the triumphant shouts of martyrs.”
“Martyrs indeed, poor souls!” said Katharine. “And, methinks, there are some of us who are born to wear the martyrs’ crown. But let us not be rash, dear Anne. You have come to me now because you have nowhere else to go, since your husband has turned you out. Is that so?”
“I put myself under Your Grace’s protection.”
“Rest assured, my dear friend, that I shall do everything in my power to help you. You shall stay here; but Anne, have a care. We are surrounded by enemies here. Your movements will be watched. You will be spied on. Oh, Anne, have a care.”
Anne knelt and kissed the Queen’s hands.
Katharine was uneasy. This burning love of the new religion in Anne Askew bordered on fanaticism. She guessed that it had been enhanced by her experiences. Anne should never have been forced into marriage with Mr. Kyme nor with anyone. Anne was not meant for marriage; she was without the desire for physical love.
Katharine longed to help Anne. She decided she would give her a place at court and see that she had leisure for her reading and study. And above all she would try to infuse into Anne the need for caution.
KATHARINE FOUND THAT the very absence of the King brought fresh fears to her.
The heat was intense that summer. From the noisome pits and sloughs of the highways rose the stench of decaying refuse. In the narrow streets flanked by houses with their high gabled roofs and the stories which projected one above another, the atmosphere was stifling although the sunlight was almost shut out. The hovels in which the poor lived were made of wood and clay and, in them, vermin flourished. The rushes on the floors were added to month by month and not removed until they were halfway up the walls; they abounded with lice; the dogs slept in them; bones and gristle lay rotting beneath the top layer; and it was only when the noses of the inhabitants, long accustomed to the smell of decay and sewage, were nauseated beyond endurance that any attempt was made to “sweeten.” The windows were small and not made to open, and the sick lay with the healthy on the malodorous rushes.
And one day a man, walking along the highway which connected the Strand with the village of Charing, collapsed and lay there on the road; when he was discovered it was seen that his face was covered with spots and was of a dark purple color. Some who saw him recognized the symptoms and turned shuddering away. There was nothing to be done for him; he had but a few hours to live.
Later that day one body was discovered by the Church of St. Clement Danes and another in Gray’s Inn Lane; more were found on the causeway leading from Aldgate to Whitechapel Church.
The news spread. The plague had once more come to London.
When Katharine heard the news, her first thoughts were for the young Prince. She was terrified. He was so weak that she felt he might be a ready prey for any fever that stalked the town.
She watched him; he seemed listless; and she could see that his headache was more acute than usual.
Should she shut him into his apartments, order that none should approach him, and hope that the pollution would not reach him? Or should she take the risk of riding through the plagueinfested streets, far away to some spot as yet unvisited by the plague?
She was uncertain. Haunted by visions of the King’s wrath if any harm should come to the all-important heir, she could not help putting her hands about her neck and shivering. She was no martyr. She was no Anne Askew. She wanted to live, even though she must not so much as think of the man she loved, even though she must be on perpetual guard against her enemies.
While the King had been away she had conducted herself with caution. Cranmer and Hertford, without whose advice she would not have dreamed of acting, were pleased with her, admiring her calm judgment. She herself had written regularly to the King, and in a manner which she knew would please him. Hypocritical, some might say those letters were. Always she applauded his greatness, speaking of him as though he were a god rather than a King, stressing her gratitude for the honor he had done her when he raised her to the throne.
What is a woman to do, she asked herself, when any false step might cost her her life? And is it not better to try to believe that I am honored and should be grateful, to make an attempt to see myself as the King sees me, rather than to rail against my fate? It is the presence of Anne Askew that has set me despising myself. Anne would never demean herself with hypocrisy. Anne would tell the truth and nothing but the truth. She would die rather than write or act a lie. But how different we are! Anne cares nothing for life, and I want to live; I want desperately to live.
In her heart she knew why. The King was not a healthy man; he was many years older than she was… older than Sir Thomas Seymour. Thomas had said: “The future is ours.” She could not help it if she longed for the future, if, while she tried to do her duty as the wife of the King and to accept the cruel fate which had been thrust upon her, she tried also to put the best face upon it and to give herself courage by believing that it could not last for ever and that she would outlive it.
She did not want to die, and if it were necessary to write those fulsome letters, to flatter the monster who could cut off her head with a stroke of the pen, then she would be a hypocrite. She would at least fight for her life.
During Henry’s absence the campaign in Scotland had, mercifully, gone well for the English. Hertford had sacked both Leith and Edinburgh; and Katharine had been able to send this joyful news to the King. Henry himself was full of optimism. François was already putting out inquiries for a secret peace, but Henry had for some time cast longing eyes on Boulogne and did not intend to leave the soil of France until he had captured the town.
Henry was satisfied with the way the regency was being conducted, but if anything were to happen to the little Prince, he would certainly blame the consort who had so far failed to provide him with another boy. Moreover, if the heir to the throne died, it would seem imperative that the King find a wife who could supply an heir.
What can I do? Katharine asked herself. Get him out of London to the country, or stay here? Which would be the greater risk?
Lady Jane Grey was watching her. The child was always watching her.
“What is it, Jane?” asked the Queen, laying her hands on the soft curls.
The little girl said: “Your Majesty is uneasy. I would I could do something to help.”
Katharine bent and kissed the pretty head. “You do much to help me with your presence,” she told Jane. “You are like my own child. I wish to God you were.”
“Is that what ails Your Majesty… that you have no children?”
Katharine did not answer. She bent swiftly and kissed the child again.
The wise little creature had struck right at the root of her fears. If she had a child, if she had a son, she would have no need to be continually in fear of losing her life. If Princess Elizabeth had been a boy, it might well have happened that Anne Boleyn would still be alive and on the throne.
Yes, that was the very root of her troubles. It was the old cry of “Sons!”
“Have you seen the Prince today, Jane?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“And how was he?”
“He had the pain in his head and he was tired.”
Then Katharine made up her mind suddenly.
“Go to the Prince, Jane. Tell him we are leaving for the country. We leave this very day. Go, my dear, quickly. I wish to leave as soon as possible.”
KATHARINE WAS PROVED to be right in the action she had taken. The plague had died down with the passing of the hot weather, and the little Prince’s health was no worse than it had been before his father left England.
Katharine had been fortunate during those months of the regency. Might it not be that fortune had decided to favor her? She was full of hope.
The King came home not altogether displeased with the way affairs had gone abroad. He had taken Boulogne; but it was not long before he and Charles had fallen out. They had been uneasy allies. The enemy was a common one, but the motives of the two allies were quite different. Henry wished to force the French to abandon Scotland to the might of England; Charles wished François to give up his claim to Milan and his help to the German Princes. The Emperor, convinced that Henry’s possession of the town of Boulogne would satisfy him, and that having achieved it he would desert his ally, made a secret peace with the French. Henry was furious. The French and the Spaniards were now allies, and England was their enemy. It was necessary for him to return to England, for there was a possibility that the French might attempt an invasion of his island. This he did, leaving Boulogne heavily fortified. Yet, he was not displeased. He had set out to capture Boulogne and he had captured the town; he swore to keep it, no matter at what cost.
There had been great rejoicing at the capture of Boulogne all through the country, and the King returned, a conquering hero.
The journey across the water had not improved his health. The sores on his leg were spreading; the other leg had become infected; and both were so swollen that it was difficult for him to move about his apartments. A chair on wheels was made for him, and this had to be pushed about by his attendants and carried up staircases.
All this did not improve the royal temper; yet again Katharine realized that his infirmity made her more important to him, and her position seemed less precarious than it had before he left the country. She was once more his sweetheart and his little pig; as he told her, none could dress his legs as she could.
“We missed you on our journeyings,” he said. “None but clumsy oafs to bandage me! I said: ‘I’ll not stray far from my Queen again!’ And I meant it, sweetheart. Aye! I meant it.”
Then would come those days when he would feel better and could walk with the aid of a stick. It was the well-remembered routine. There would be feasting and music; and the King would grow mellow and glance with appreciation at the more beautiful of the young ladies. He would reiterate those reproaches. Why had he not another son? Why should some of the noblemen in his realm have sons—great stalwart men—while their King could not get himself another to set beside Prince Edward? God had been unjust to him. He had given him power but denied him sons. And why should God be unjust to one who served him as had Henry the Eighth of England? There was only one answer: The fault could not lie with the King. It lay in his partners. He had exposed those wicked women who had cheated him; then he had known why sons had been denied him. When he meditated thus, he would watch his sixth wife with narrowed eyes and think what a comely wench was that young Duchess, or that Countess—or perhaps that simple daughter of a knight.
Something was wrong. Why, why should sons be denied him?
Then again the leg would be so painful that he could think of nothing else. There was Kate, dear Kate, with the gentle hands, who never for a moment showed that she did not regard it as the greatest honor to wait upon him.
Chapuys, the Spanish Ambassador and spy of his master, wrote home to Spain: “This King has the worst legs in the world.”
But those legs were the Queen’s salvation; and the worse they grew, the safer she became.
But her life was still in danger. There was never a day when she dared not be on the alert. Royal storms could spring up in a moment, and how could she know what the outcome of those storms would be?
Always it seemed that beside her stalked the shadowy figure of the executioner. It seemed that the bells continually warned her: “Sons, sons, sons!”
And then Sir Thomas Seymour returned to the court.
THE QUEEN WAS IN HER APARTMENTS, WORKING ON the great tapestry which she proposed to use as hangings in the Tower. With her were the ladies whom she loved best: Anne Askew, ethereal, remote from them all, her blue eyes seeming a little strained after so much reading; that other Anne, Lady Herbert, Katharine’s sister who had been with her since she had become Queen; Margaret Neville, the stepdaughter whom Katharine loved as though she were her own; Lady Tyrwhit and the Duchess of Suffolk, with young Lady Jane Grey.
Their fingers worked busily while they talked, and their talk was of the New Learning.
Little Jane was interested. When she and Edward were alone they talked of the New Faith. Edward read books she brought to him, which had been given to her, with the Queen’s consent, by Anne Askew.
Jane knew that these ladies, who had her love and her sympathy, believed that she might one day be Edward’s Queen, and it seemed important to them that she be a Protestant Queen, and Edward a Protestant King. Jane had heard frightening stories of what was happening in Spain under the dreaded Inquisition, and how it was the great wish of the Spaniards that the Inquisition should be set up in all countries.
Little Jane could not bear the thought of violence. The stories she heard of the hideous tortures horrified her. There were occasions when the court was at the palace of Hampton, and she had stood in the gallery which led to the chapel and imagined she heard the terrible screams and saw the ghost of Catharine Howard.
How did it feel, wondered Jane, to know that in a short time you would walk out to the block and lay down your head?
As she listened to the impassioned voice of Anne Askew who read aloud from the forbidden books, she knew that Anne was the only one in this apartment who was unafraid of torture and violent death.
The Queen’s sister was apprehensive and uneasy, and chiefly for the sake of the Queen.
It was nearly two years since the King had ordered that a picture be painted of himself and his children with Queen Jane Seymour at his side. Edward had told Jane of it and how unhappy he had been to stand there beside his father, and how he had kept glancing over his shoulder to see if his mother had really returned from the grave.
The Queen had felt that insult deeply, but she had given no sign of what she felt. Jane had seen the King and Queen together, had seen the King lay his foot on the Queen’s lap, had seen him rest his jeweled hand on her knee; she had also seen the black looks on his face and heard the menace in his voice.
How did it feel to be afraid… afraid that one day you would be sent to the Tower, never to emerge again except for that last walk to the scaffold?
Uncle Thomas Seymour was back at court. Jane had noticed how coldly he looked at the Queen, but his looks were not so cold when they rested on the Princess Elizabeth.
The Queen’s thoughts were as busy as her fingers on the tapestry. She was not thinking of the doctrines so ardently preached by Anne Askew. She agreed with Anne; she admired Anne; and she was glad that she had been able to protect her here at court. But Thomas was back, and she could think of nothing else. He had been back many months, and she felt that meeting him every day and having nothing from him but cold looks was more than she could bear.
But she understood. His motive was wise and necessary. She would have him run no risks.
The King had evidently ceased to be jealous of him, for he had made him Lord High Admiral and a gentleman of his Privy Chamber. There were times when he was so cordial toward his brother-in-law and looked at him with such sly speculation, that Katharine wondered whether he was hoping to accuse him with his Queen. All through those months Henry had been alternately doting and menacing, assuring her that she was his dear Kate, his good nurse, and shortly afterward complaining that she was not pregnant.
It was nearly three years since their marriage, and there had not been even one pregnancy. Moreover it was remembered that she had had two husbands and not a child from either of them. Three years of these alarms—three years when she must submit to the King’s caresses and the King’s anger, and accept all with a meek endurance. Three years that seemed like thirty!
She was tired suddenly and wished to go to her bedchamber and rest. She rose and said that she would retire.
“Jane,” she said, “come with me and make me comfortable.”
All the ladies rose, and when the Queen had left the apartment with the little nine-year-old Jane in attendance, they dispersed to their own rooms.
Anne Askew felt in turns triumphant and resigned. She had many friends at court; her gentle nature, her complete lack of worldliness, her goodness and purity, had made people look upon her as a saint. Others regarded her as a fool to have left her rich husband, to have come to court as a sort of missionary for the new faith, to have laid herself open to the enmity of such men as Gardiner and his friend who was now Chancellor Wriothesley.
A few days before, Anne had received a warning. She had found a note under her bolster when she retired one night. “Have a care. It is the Queen they want. But they will strike at her through you.”
And then again there had been another note. “Leave this court. You are in danger.”
Anne would not go. She believed she had a vocation. Since her coming to court many ladies had been reading the books she treasured; there had been many converts to Protestantism and there would be many more. Anne knew that she was placing not only herself in danger, but others also. But to Anne there was nothing to be feared save infidelity to the truth. The religion imposed on the country by the King differed only from the old Roman faith in that, instead of a Pope at its head, it had a King. Anne wanted a complete break with the old faith; she believed the new and simpler religion to be the true one. She wanted all to be able to read the Bible; and how could those humble people, who did not understand the Latin tongue, do so unless they were allowed to read it in English? It was her desire to distribute translations all over the country.
She was fanatical; she was sure that she was in the right; and she believed that no matter what harm came to any who might be involved with her, if they had to die for their faith, they were fortunate indeed, for theirs would be immediate salvation.
The Princess Elizabeth was interested in the new faith, though her interest was more intellectual than devotional. Elizabeth’s religion would, Anne guessed, always be the welfare of Elizabeth. She sought power and she could never forget the days when she had been a poor humiliated daughter of a great King who, when the fancy took him, chose to call her “bastard.” Elizabeth then, favored the new faith but she would never be a strong adherent to it. She would always trim her sails according to the wind that blew.
And the Queen? Ah, the Queen was a good and earnest woman, but was she made of the stuff of which martyrs were made? That would doubtless be proved. Anne prayed for the Queen—not for her safety, but that she might show courage when the time came.
She went to her apartments and as soon as she entered the room she was aware that something had happened to it during her absence.
It was some seconds before she noticed the disorder; and a few more before she saw that in the shadows by the hangings were men-at-arms.
One of them came forward as she entered, and two more took their stand on either side of her.
“Anne Askew,” said he who stood before her, holding a scroll in his hand, “I am ordered to arrest you on a charge of heresy. It would be well for you to come quickly and make no resistance.”
She saw then that they had found her secret store of books and the writing she had done; but instead of fear, she felt an exhilaration. She had expected this for a long time and she found that she could welcome it.
They took her down the river by barge.
Calmly and silently she watched the play of light on the river. She looked at the great houses with their gardens which ran down to the water’s edge, and she wondered, without any great emotion, whether she would ever see them again.
The great gray bastion of the Tower was visible now, strong, invulnerable.
Her eyes were shining as they took her in by way of the Traitors’ Gate. She remembered that through this gate they had taken the martyrs, Fisher and More.
She was helped out of the boat; she stepped on to the slippery bank and followed the jailor into the cold building, up a staircase, through dark passages that stank of blood and sweat and the damp of the river.
The jailor jangled his keys and to many the sound might have been like notes of doom; but to Anne Askew it was but the jingling of the keys which would open the doors of Paradise to the martyr.
THE ELEGANT AND most witty Earl of Surrey was sprawling on a window seat in his apartments at Hampton Court Palace. He was in that reckless mood which was becoming habitual to him. Thirty-one years of age and a poet, he was a member of the greatest and most noble family in the land, and there were times when he felt his ambition to be so strong that he was ready to do the most foolhardy thing to achieve it.
Death! He thought of it often. He had lived so near to it all his life that he felt an intimacy with it. So many of his House had died violently and suddenly. None of them could ever be sure which one of them would be the next to die. His family was guilty of the gravest offense against the King: They had a claim to the throne. The Howards of Norfolk were, some said, more royal than the Tudors. The King could never forget that, and he was constantly on the alert for a sign that the Howards were giving this matter too much consideration.
“Have a care!” said Surrey’s cautious father often enough. But, pondered the young poet, idly playing a few notes on his lute, there comes a time in the life of a man when he no longer wishes to take care, but rather to be reckless, to stake everything…to win, or pay the price of failure with his head.
Wild plans were forming in his mind. This had begun to happen when the King had told him that he had decided to send Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, to Calais as Governor in place of himself.
These accursed Seymours! Who were they? Surrey asked himself rhetorically. An upstart family! And because young Jane had married the King, the Seymour brothers were fast becoming the most important pair in the country.
Surrey called one of his men to him and cried: “Go to the apartments of my sister, the Duchess of Richmond, and tell her I would have speech with her. Tell her it is of the utmost importance.”
The man went while Surrey sat playing with the strings of his lute.
He was thinking of his sister, Mary; she was beautiful with that striking beauty of the Howards, the mingling of dignity with personal charms. Mary had been married some years ago to the King’s illegitimate son, the Duke of Richmond, and she was now a widow, ripe for a second marriage.
The Howard women had always pleased the King, though briefly. Surrey’s father, the old Duke of Norfolk, Lord Treasurer of England, was not in favor with the King just now and had not been since the unhappiness caused Henry by Catharine Howard. Surrey smiled. But the King was old now, and his fancy would not stray so easily, and he, Surrey, did not see why a Howard woman should not retrieve the family’s fortunes.
He was madly impatient. He played with the idea of quartering the arms of Edward the Confessor on his escutcheon. Why not? He was entitled to do this by the grant of Richard the Second, because of his descent from Edward the First. Flaunting those arms would proclaim to the court that Surrey and his family considered that they had more right to the throne than the Tudors.
Imagine the royal ire at such daring! And what then? wondered Surrey. “To the Tower, my lord Earl. Off with his head. He has committed the mortal sin. He is more royal than the King!”
Surrey burst into laughter. His maternal grandfather, the Duke of Buckingham, had lost his head in 1521 because he had a claim to the throne.
I believe I will do it, he thought, for I am tired of living at the command of the King, tired of seeking the royal favor, tired of placating the angry frown. Is this how men become when they live perpetually on the edge of danger?
His father would call him a fool. The old Duke had been a doughty warrior, a cautious man. He had been less cautious in his hot youth when he had fallen in love with his wife’s laundress and raised Bess Holland to the position she enjoyed as mistress of one of the most important men of the time.
Surrey thought of the endless strife Bess had caused between his parents. Was life worth the trouble it brought? he wondered.
He doubted it.
His sister came into the room and, throwing aside his lute, he rose to greet her.
“You have something to say to me, brother?”
“You grow more beautiful every day. Sit beside me, sister, and I will sing you my latest verses which I have set to music.”
Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, looked at him with sly amusement. She knew he had not asked her to visit him merely to hear his verses.
“I have a new poem,” he said. “Even the King has not heard it yet.”
She listened, but she was paying little attention to the words.
She could think of nothing but a certain handsome gentleman who dominated her thoughts and desires. It was long since Richmond had died that lingering death, and she wanted a husband. She had been fond of the young Duke—such a fine, handsome man, and the image of the King—until disease had claimed him. But what was her feeling for the Duke of Richmond compared with this passion which now obsessed her?
Her father had started it. He had said to her: “These Seymours are our enemies. Who are they, these upstart gentlemen? Miserable squires, claiming kinship with the King. Daughter, we cannot fight these mighty rivals, but we could link ourselves with them.”
“By marriage?” she had asked.
And then a great excitement had been hers, for there were only two brothers and the elder was married. It was the younger, the swaggering sailor, whom her father had in mind.
Sir Thomas! The merry twinkling eyes, the jaunty beard, the charm of the man! No sooner had her father spoken those words than she could think of nothing but marriage with Sir Thomas, and he had continued to dominate her thoughts.
Surrey dismissed his attendants.
“Well?” she said. “Your news?”
He smiled at her idly. “Sister, you are very beautiful.”
“So you have already said. There is no need to repeat it, though a compliment from a brother is to be cherished, as there is often plain speaking in families. What do you want of me?”
“I? Nothing. I have had thoughts.”
“And those thoughts?”
“They have taken Anne Askew to the Tower.”
“I know. She is a heretic. What has that to do with me?”
“I saw her… this very afternoon. She was sitting in the barge, her arms folded across her breast. She looked a veritable martyr, which I doubt not she will be ere long. Sister, what does this mean? Have you thought of that?”
“That another heretic is to pay the price of her folly and her treason to the King.”
“She is a great friend of the Queen’s, and yet they have dared to take her. Gardiner and the Chancellor are behind this, depend upon it. They would not dare to take the Queen’s great friend if they did not think her Majesty was out of favor with the King.”
“And what of this? We know what favor she enjoys. If he were his old self he would have had her head off by now, and doubtless that of some other lady who had been unfortunate enough to share his throne after her. But he is sick and she is a good nurse. So he keeps her beside him.”
“He is not always so sick. I have seen his eyes grow misty and his voice gruff with desire when a beautiful woman passes before him.”
“He is too old for such pleasures.”
“He will never believe he is too old. He has indulged in them too freely. There will always be his thoughts, his desires, his belief that his powers are not yet past.”
“And what would you say to me? Have you brought me here to tell me what the court knows already and has always known?”
“Nay. The Queen’s days are numbered. Poor Katharine Parr! I am sorry for her. She will go the way of others.” He smiled. “We should not be saddened. It is the fate that threatens us all. We should look on it stoically, for if it comes not today, then it may come tomorrow. The Queen’s place will be taken by another lady. Why not you, my sister?”
She was hot with anger. “You are asking me to be the seventh? To prepare myself for the ax?”
“Nay. Be not the seventh. Be the honored mistress. Smile on his Grace and do not say, ‘Your mistress I cannot be!’ as poor deluded fools have said before you. Say this: ‘Your mistress I will be.’ Thus you will keep alive his desire. You will rule him and bring our house back to the favor it once enjoyed.”
“How dare you talk to me in this manner! You shame me. You insult me. And the King…my own father-in-law!”
Surrey shrugged his shoulders. “You were the wife of his bastard son. There is no true relationship to him in that. Moreover it will not be necessary to get a dispensation from the Pope, for his Holiness no longer carries weight in this realm. The King would get dispensation from the King, and that should be an easy matter. The royal conscience would no doubt be appeased with the greatest ease, for I doubt not that though the King’s conscience is the master of the King’s desires, the King’s desires are so subtle that they will once more deceive the conscience.”
“Brother, you talk with folly. You are proud and foolish. One of these days your tongue will cut off your head.”
“I doubt it not. I doubt it not. And, Mary, dear sister, there are times when I care not. Do not think to ally yourself with lowborn Seymour. I would stand against uniting our family with that one.”
She cried: “More foolish than ever! To unite ourselves with the King’s brother-in-law would be the best thing that could happen to our family.”
“And to its daughter—who lusteth for the man?” he taunted.
“You go too far, brother.”
“Do I, fair sister? I will tell you this: Seymour looks higher. He looks to the Princess Elizabeth. Who knows—he may get her. Unless the King decides to execute him, for that may be necessary in the process of getting rid of the Queen. Seymour had his eyes on Her Majesty at one time, you remember. Master Thomas Seymour is as near the ax as any of us, even though the King may call him brother. Nay, dear sister, do not long so for one man that you cannot see the advantage of casting your glances at another. Be bold. Be clever. Love Tom Seymour if you must, but do not lose the opportunity of restoring your family to greatness through the grace of His Majesty. I tell you he is ripe… ripe for seduction. And the ladies of our family are most accomplished in that art.”
She rose and swept haughtily from the room.
Surrey watched her, plucked a few notes from his lute, and was still playing when a messenger came and told him that his presence was required in the King’s music room.
THE KING SAT on his ornate chair in that chamber which was reserved for the playing of music.
He was surrounded by his courtiers, and the Queen sat beside him. She looked fair enough, sitting there in her scarlet hood; the pearls, which made a becoming edge to it, suited her complexion. Her skirt was of cloth of gold and cut away to show a crimson velvet petticoat. Crimson suited Kate, thought the King. If she would but give me a son I should not be displeased with her.
But she was meddling with religion; and he liked not meddling women. He was now persecuting Lutherans as heretics, and Papists as traitors. Religious matters in this realm had become complicated; and what annoyed him so, was the fact that this need not be. All he wished men to do was worship in the old way, remembering that their King, instead of the Pope, was head of the Church. It was simple enough.
His most comforting thought at the moment was that François across the water was ageing just as he was. He doubted François had more than a year or two of life left to him; he suffered malignant pain, just as Henry did; and the thought of the French King’s pain helped Henry to bear his.
Matters of State had been equally trying to them both of late. Neither of them had gained much by the war they had been waging against each other.
On Henry’s return to England, the Scottish campaign had gone against him; the French had launched an attack on Boulogne, which, thanks to Hertford, had withstood the attack. But at the same time French ships had entered the Solent and actually landed at Bembridge and tried to force their way into Portsmouth Harbor. But Lisle had caught the foreign fleet and driven it back; and disease aboard the French ships had been a strong ally of the English.
Henry had ridden this storm like the mighty ruler he could be. Ruthless, he did not hesitate. Taxes, “benevolences,” were extorted as they never had been before. His enemies thought that surely his long-suffering people must rise against him. He was a tyrant, a murderer, and many had suffered cruelly at his hands; if there had ever been a moment when he could have been overthrown that was the moment. But the people of England recognized him as their King; he was the strong man; they trusted him to lead them from their trouble. Cheerfully they paid what was asked of them; and during those uneasy months the King had forgotten everything but that he was a King and his country was in danger. He coined his own plate and mortgaged his land; if he did expect his people’s untiring effort, he gave his own contribution also. He had always played for popularity with the people; now he reaped the benefit of that popularity. To those who lived close to him he was a murderous tyrant; to the people he was the dazzling King.
And so, England held fast behind Henry. The French were driven back; a decimated army returned to France. François was as eager as Henry for peace, and they had made a settlement. Henry was to keep Boulogne for eight years, after which time the French might bargain for its return. Trouble continued in Scotland, but there was now a war on one front only.
The King could rest a little from his tribulations and give himself to pleasure.
Now there was Surrey entering the music room, as elegant as ever and as insolent. Why was it that Surrey aroused the King’s anger nowadays? He was a good poet, a fine gentleman, but he was arrogant, and each day his insolence was growing. And with Surrey, there was his sister, Mary—Henry’s own daughter-in-law—a comely girl, with the Howard beauty, and the Howard slyness, the King did not doubt.
She knelt before Henry and, as she lifted her eyes, he looked straight at her. She flushed a little as though she read something in his glance which had not been there. She seemed shy and fluttering, dazzled by the radiance from the royal countenance; and Henry felt that sudden pleasure which that look on a woman’s face had never failed to give him. It was as though they expected to look into the face of a mighty monarch and had seen there instead a desirable man.
The King’s eyes softened and his gaze followed the girl as she stepped back and took her place with the Queen’s ladies. Expertly, in his mind’s eye, he divested her of her velvet and her jewels. “I’ll warrant she’s as comely without as with her adornments,” he told himself; and the room seemed diffused with a more gentle light, and there was a lifting of his spirits that almost smothered the throbbing of his leg.
Gardiner and Wriothesley were in attendance; they looked smug on this day. Something afoot there, I’ll swear, thought the King; and when I’ve heard this music, I’ll have it from them.
There was Seymour, now Lord High Admiral. The King smiled. How that young man reminded him of himself! The ladies liked Seymour and Seymour had once had his eyes on the Queen, the rogue! But he had never let them stray very far from the Princess Elizabeth. She was another on whom the King must keep a watchful eye.
But at the moment he could not keep his eyes from Mary Howard. She outshone all the women, he decided; and he fancied he saw a resemblance in her to little Catharine Howard.
The instrumental piece which the musicians were playing had come to an end. It was charming, and he would reward the fellow who had written it.
“Bravo!” cried the King. “Bravo! There’s naught that soothes the troubled mind as certain as sweet music.”
“I trust,” said the Queen, “that Your Grace’s mind is not overtroubled.”
“A King, wife, must of necessity have much upon his mind.”
Wriothesley, who never lost an opportunity of flattering his royal master, murmured: “It is fortunate for this realm that Your Majesty sits on the throne.”
Henry lifted his heavy lids to glare at his Chancellor. Too ready, was this Wriothesley, with his honeyed words; true though they were, the rogue was too ready. Yet, as ever, flattery was sweeter in the King’s ears than the sweetest music.
“Good Chancellor,” he replied, wincing as he moved painfully in his chair, “it is the kingly lot to bear the troubles of our subjects. For many years we have sat on the throne of England, but we cannot hope to rule this realm for ever.”
His eyes flickered angrily on the Queen who had failed to provide him with sons; then they went to the charming figure of his daughter-in-law.
Watching them, Surrey speculated: So my words have borne fruit. Mary has already given him the glance, the promise. The seed has been sown. Oh, poor Katharine Parr, my heart bleeds for you. But you are as safe as the rest of us, so why should it bleed for you and not for poor Surrey? My head may not remain on my shoulders any longer than yours. I am a poet, and so is the King. I am the greater poet, and in that I offend. I am more royal than His Majesty, and I have written verses. Two of the greatest literary men of our age have already laid their heads on the block—More and Rochford. Tom Wyatt was a fine poet but he was born lucky. The ax did not catch him though he had his miraculous escapes. And the next who dares wield his pen with more dexterity than the King, shall he die? And is his name Surrey?
Katharine had grown a shade paler, and the King went on with a trace of malice: “We’ll not talk of such matters. They disturb our Queen. Do they not, wife?”
“There are topics which please me more, Your Grace,” said Katharine quietly.
“We like not to brood on the days that lie ahead,” mused the King, “days when we shall no longer be here to lead this country. There is overmuch conflict in this land, and we like it not.” He glared at those about him and shouted: “We like it not. We would have peace in our time, and though that be denied us beyond the realm of England, we demand it at home.” Gardiner had moved closer to the King. The Queen looked at the Bishop and their eyes met. Something has happened, thought Katharine. There is some fresh plot against me.
She had noticed the King’s frequent glances at the Duchess of Richmond. Could it be that Gardiner was offering the King the Duchess as his seventh wife? Had it already been suggested that the sixth wife should go the way of the second and the fifth?
“We pray, as Your Majesty does, for peace,” said Gardiner. “And it is in the cause of peace that we will keep our vigilance night and day over those who dare to question your command. Though there are many in this land, my liege, who would see your enemies at large, working for the destruction of all that you, in your great wisdom and understanding, have laid down as our way of life….”
Henry waved his hand, interrupting the Bishop. He was accustomed to Gardiner’s harangues. The Bishop was one of those unfortunate men who could not win his affection. He did not dislike Gardiner as he had disliked Cromwell, but the Bishop did not charm him as Wyatt had and as Seymour did. Gardiner, like Cromwell, seemed to him plebeian. He must tolerate them for their wisdom, for his need of them; but he never liked them, and with Gardiner, as with Cromwell, at the first sign of failure he would show no forbearance.
“The state of kingship is an uneasy one, my lord Bishop,” he said. “None knows the truth of that better than ourselves.”
Wriothesley murmured: “And about Your Grace’s throne there are many enemies.”
His glance rested as if by chance first on the Queen, then on Seymour.
Katharine shivered. Was there some plot to implicate herself and Thomas? Not Thomas! she prayed. Anything but that harm should come to him.
Then insolently and ironically Surrey spoke: “Enemies of each other, my lord Chancellor, or enemies of the King, mean you? Enemies, say…of the Lord High Admiral, or of my lord Bishop?”
Wriothesley’s eyes flashed hatred and his smile was venomous as he said softly: “What enemies could there be, of true and loyal subjects, but enemies of the King?”
“We might well ask,” continued the irrepressible Surrey. “It would seem to me that there are men in this realm who seek first their own advancement, and secondly that of England—and the latter only if both are on the same road to the goal.”
The King glared at the poet. “You make an accusation, my lord Earl. You tell us that there are those about us who would seek their way even though it did not run side by side with that of England’s.”
“Alack, Your Grace, I make the suggestion because I fear it to be true.”
Henry’s eyes had narrowed in that fashion familiar to them all. There was no one present—with the exception of Surrey—whose heart had not begun to beat faster, who wondered whither this mischief of Surrey’s would lead.
“If any man among you,” continued the King, “knows aught against another, it is the sure and bounden duty of that man to lay his knowledge before the members of our council.”
The King tried to rise, but with a sudden angry roar fell back into his chair. Katharine hastened to kneel at his feet.
“Your Grace, the bandage is too tight.”
“By God, it is!” cried the King, the sweat on his brow, his face almost black with pain. “Mercy on us, Kate. There’s none can dress my wounds as thou, for I declare that when others do it, the rags must either be overloose or overtight.”
Katharine was glad to find occupation with the bandages. “Have I Your Grace’s permission to loosen them now?”
“Indeed you have… and quickly… quickly, Kate.”
There was silence while she worked, and the King lay back for a few seconds with his eyes closed. He was clearly too concerned with his pain to think of any enemy other than that.
But at length he opened his eyes and looked at those gathered about him.
Wriothesley said, as soon as he knew that he had the King’s attention: “When the Earl speaks of Your Majesty’s enemies, he must be thinking of the last to be discovered—the woman Kyme.”
“What of the woman Kyme?” said Seymour quickly.
“She lies in the Tower, as should all the enemies of our lord the King.”
The Bishop said very clearly: “So be it.”
Katharine was aware of the frightened eyes of three of her ladies—her sister, her stepdaughter and little Jane Grey. These were the three who loved her best, and they knew that an open attack on Anne Askew signified a covert attack on the Queen.
Surrey said: “What is this of Anne Askew? She wishes to be called Askew in place of Kyme, I believe. A comely girl. Dainty of structure, tall and oversad. Her hair is gold as meadow buttercups, and her skin pale as garden lilies; her eyes are blue as skies in summer time.”
“What’s this?” roared the King, recovering from his pain.
“Anne Askew, Your Grace,” said Surrey.
The King laughed unpleasantly. “Like my lord Earl, I remember her well. Overbold of tongue. I like it not when women presume to teach us our business.” He roared out in sudden pain. “What do you, Kate? Thou art pulling our leg this way and that.”
“A thousand pardons, Your Grace,” said Katharine. “The bandage slipped from my hands.”
“Have a care then.”
Surrey could not resist continuing with the dangerous subject of Anne Askew. “She left her husband’s house, Your Grace.”
Lady Herbert interjected quite heatedly: “It would be more truthful to say that her husband drove her from it, Your Grace.”
“What was that?” asked the King.
“Her husband, Your Grace, drove her from his house.”
“For a good reason,” said Wriothesley, throwing a sly smile at Lady Herbert and the Queen. “He liked not her disobedience to Your Grace’s commands.”
“Then ’t was rightly done,” said the King. “We’ll brook no disobedience in this land from man or woman… comely though they may be.”
“Ah,” said Surrey lightly, “it is not always easy to bend the head to the prevailing wind.”
The King gave the Earl a malevolent glance, and as he turned to do so, his leg was jerked out of Katharine’s hand and Henry cried out in agony.
“It was, I fear, Your Grace’s movement,” said Katharine. “’ Twill be soothed when I have the bandages in place. I have a new ointment which I am assured will ease the pain.”
The King took off his plumed hat and wiped his brow. “I am weary of new ointments,” he said peevishly.
“How I long to find the remedy!” said Katharine.
“Right well would I reward the fellow who found it. By my faith, I cannot sleep o’ nights from the pain in this leg. We’ll try the ointment tonight, Kate. Ah, that’s better.” The King turned to frown at his courtiers. “It is not for women to teach us our business,” he said. “We agree with St. Paul on this matter: ‘Let your women keep silent in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience…’”
Henry paused significantly to glance at the kneeling figure of his wife. He trusted Kate would remember that. She was a good woman and she had the gentlest fingers in the court. For that he loved her. But he did not love women who meddled in matters which should be regulated by the superior intellects of men. Kate was another such as this meddling Anne Askew. The latter had most rightly been lodged in the Tower. He trusted his good nurse Kate would heed a gentle warning.
Gardiner obsequiously finished the quotation: “‘… as also saith the law.’”
Henry nodded and shook a bejeweled finger at the company and then at his kneeling wife. “This woman, Askew—an I mistake not— was found in possession of forbidden books; she has spoken against the Mass. Keep her in the Tower, my lord. Keep her there until such time as she shall learn good sense.”
Gardiner had stepped forward; his head was bowed and his voice had taken on a serious note. “The woman is oversaucy, alack, having friends at court.”
“What friends are these, lord Bishop?”
“That, Your Grace,” said the Bishop, looking for a few seconds at the kneeling Queen, “is what we have yet to discover.”
“My lord Bishop,” said Seymour, “it cannot be of any great consequence to His Majesty that this woman has friends.”
“I understand you not, brother,” said the King.
“She is a foolish woman, Your Grace. Nothing more.”
“Foolish in all conscience,” growled the King.
“Scarce worthy of such notice,” said Seymour.
Katharine, trying to steady her trembling fingers, wanted to implore him to take care. He must not involve himself in this. Did he not see that; that was just what his enemies wished?
“Mayhap she is not,” said the King. “But we would teach a lesson to those who dare oppose us.”
“The female sex,” said Gardiner, “can be as troublesome as the male. I would not excuse her, Seymour, on account of her sex. To my mind, any that work against our lord the King is an enemy to England—be it man or woman.”
“Well spoken,” said the King. He looked at Sir Thomas and chuckled. “I follow our gallant Seymour’s thoughts. She is a woman; therefore to be treated tenderly. Come, brother, confess.”
“Nay, my liege.”
“Oh?” said the King. “We know you well, remember.”
There was a titter of laughter among the courtiers, and Katharine must lift her eyes to look into the face of the man she loved. But he was not looking her way; he was smiling almost complacently. He was so clever, thought Katharine; he was so wise; he was far more restrained and controlled, for all his seeming jauntiness, than she could ever be. It was foolish of her to wish that he could have looked a little hurt at this estimation of his character.
“I would say,” went on the obsequious Wriothesley, “an it please Your Grace, that, like Seymour, I do not think of Anne Askew as a woman. I think of her as a menace, for about her are gathered the enemies of the King.”
“You are overfierce, friend Wriothesley,” said Henry.
“Only in the cause of Your Majesty,” replied the Chancellor, bowing his head in reverence.
“That is well, good Chancellor. And now … enough of this woman. I would be entertained by my friends’ achievements and not made sad because of my enemies. Master Surrey, you skulk over there. You are our great poet, are you not? Entertain us, man. Come… let us hear some of those fine verses on which you pride yourself.”
The Earl rose and bowed before the King. The little bloodshot eyes looked into the handsome brown ones.
“I am ever at Your Grace’s service,” said that most insolent of men. “I will give you my description of the spring.”
“Ah!” said the King, reflecting: I’ll not brook your insolence much longer, my lord. You… with your royalty and your words. I see that sister of yours in your handsome face. She is proud… proud as the rest of you. But I like proud women…now and then.
And for the sake of the young man’s sister, Henry softened toward him.
“We would fain hear your description of the spring. ’T was ever our favorite season.”
“Spring!” said Surrey ecstatically. “It is the most beautiful of all seasons. Wherein each thing renews, save only the lover.”
The King shot a suspicious look at the Earl, but Surrey had already begun to recite:
“The soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings,
With green hath clad the hill and eke the vale:
The nightingale with feathers new she sings;
The turtle to her mate hath told her tale.
Summer is come, for every spray now springs:
The hart hath hung his old head on the pale;
The buck in brake his winter coat he flings…”
Surrey stopped short, for the King had spoken. He was saying to Seymour, who stood near him: “What meant he, brother? ‘Wherein each thing renews save only the lover’! The lover methinks breaks out in love as readily as any flowers in spring. Aye! Nor does he need to wait for springtime.”
Everyone laughed with great heartiness, and when the laughter had subsided, Surrey said: “The flowers, Your Grace, bloom with equal freshness each spring, but the coming of another spring finds the lover more jaded than did the previous one.”
There was a short silence. What had happened to Surrey? Was it that which had been known to break out in men before? They lived under the shadow of the ax for so long that their fear changed into recklessness. Surrey had been showing this attitude for some time.
Katharine looked at the young man and prayed silently for him: “Oh, Lord God, preserve him. Preserve us all.”
She said quickly: “Your Grace, listening to the Earl’s verses has set up a longing within me to hear something of your own.”
Henry’s good humor was miraculously restored. How strange it was, thought Katharine, that this great King, this man whom the French and the Spaniards feared, should be so childish in his vanity. The King’s character contained the oddest mingling of qualities; yet the brutality and the sentimentality, the simplicity and the shrewdness, made him the man he was. She should not regret these contrasts; she could watch for those traits in his character, and, as her knowledge of them grew, she might find some means of saving others from his wrath, as well as herself. She had indeed now saved Surrey from his displeasure.
“Since the Queen commands,” said Henry graciously, “we must obey.”
“Would Your Majesty care to come to my musicroom, that my musicians may first play the new melody set to your verses?”
“Aye. That we will. And we will take with us those who most appreciate the pleasure in store.”
He scanned the assembled company. “Come…you, my Lady Herbert, and you, my Lady of Suffolk….”
The King named those whom he wished to accompany him to the Queen’s music room. Surrey was not among them, and for that Katharine was grateful. Let the young man withdraw to his own apartments and there ponder his recklessness in solitude.
But others noticed that Surrey’s sister was one of those who received the King’s invitation; and that during the musical hour he found a pretext for keeping her close beside him.
THOMAS SEYMOUR, not being among those who had been invited to the Queen’s chamber, strolled out of the palace into the gardens.
He was thinking of Surrey’s words, which had been deliberately calculated to stab the King. What a fool was Surrey! Thomas Seymour had no intention of being such a fool.
He strolled past the gardens which would soon be ablaze with roses—red and white roses which would suggest, to all who saw them, from what the founding of the Tudor dynasty had spared the country. The Wars of the Roses had ended with the coming of Henry the Seventh; now the red roses of Lancaster and the white roses of York mingled peaceably, enclosed by wooden railings of green and white, the livery colors of a Tudor King; the pillars were decorated with the heraldic signs of the Tudors as an additional reminder.
Looking at these gardens, Seymour thought afresh what a fool Surrey was. What was his motive? To undermine the Tudors? That was ridiculous. The Tudors had come to stay.
Seymour leaned on the green-and-white fence and surveyed the rose trees.
Life was good to the Lord High Admiral of England. Ambition would be realized. He was sure of his destiny. But, sure as he was, he knew that he must be constantly on the alert, ready to snatch every advantage; and one of the greatest assets which a kindly fate had thrown into the hands of Sir Thomas Seymour was his personal charm.
Marriage! What could not be achieved by the right marriage!
Now, it seemed, haughty Norfolk was looking his way; and if Seymour was not mistaken, so was his daughter.
Seymour could not suppress the laugh which came to his lips. Her family would have no difficulty in persuading the Duchess of Richmond to become the wife of Sir Thomas Seymour, he fancied.
How far we have come! he mused. The Seymours of Wolf Hall— humble country gentlemen—and now we are related to the King and fit to ally ourselves with the greatest families in the land.
The question was not whether my lady of Richmond would take Sir Thomas Seymour, but whether Sir Thomas would take her.
He liked her. He liked all beautiful women; but a woman must have more than her beauty to offer an ambitious man. “And, my dear Mary Howard,” he murmured, “there are others who have more to offer me than you have.”
The spring air was like a glass of wine; he could smell the scents of the earth. Life was good; and would be better.
There were four women now whom he must consider before he took the final step. A duchess, a Queen, the kinswoman of a King, and a King’s daughter.
There was no doubt on whom his choice would fall, were it possible for him to make the choice. For the Queen he had a great tenderness; he loved Kate and there would be great happiness with such as she was. But she could not be his wife until she was a Dowager Queen; whereas the Princess might one day be a Queen in her own right.
He could love the woman for her sweet nature, but he longed for the redheaded Princess. Ambition and desire could mingle so pleasantly.
He left the rose gardens and strolled toward that new pond garden of his master’s. How beautiful it was! How quiet! What perfect peace there was in such a garden, with its lily pond, its statues and terraces. Already it was gay with spring flowers and the blossoming shrubs.
He looked into the future—a future in which the King would be dead, and he and his brother would rule; but his brother was a man who would wish to take first place, and it seemed to Thomas that since Edward lacked his own superior personal charms, people thought he must be the more astute statesman. Edward was sly; Edward was clever; and he had an ambitious wife. Those two would wish to rule without the help of Thomas.
Marriage was, therefore, of the utmost importance to the Admiral; but it must be the right marriage.
A movement in the gardens caught his eyes, and his lips curved into a smile of deep satisfaction as a small figure rose from the grass, a figure in crimson velvet, her red hair just visible under her pearltrimmed hood.
Seymour lost no time in approaching the Princess Elizabeth.
He bowed and took her hand.
“I was admiring the flowers,” he said; “then I saw that I wasted my admiration on them.”
“It rejoices me that you realized the wastage in good time,” she said, “for I know you are a man who does not care to waste his talents. It grows chilly.”
“Then I must fain give you my cloak. We cannot allow the Lady Elizabeth to be cold.”
“My walk back to the Palace will doubtless warm me.”
“I hoped that you would tarry and talk awhile.”
“Your hopes, Sir Thomas, I doubt not are always high. Perhaps too high.”
“Hopes can never be too high, my lady. If we hope for much, we achieve a little. But to hope for nothing is too achieve nothing. That, you will agree, is folly.”
“You are too clever for me, my lord.”
“Nay. There are times when it saddens me to think that I am not clever enough.”
“You speak in riddles and I must leave you to them. My lord …” She curtsied, and would have walked past him; but he had no intention of letting her go.
“Could we not dispense with ceremony now that we are alone?”
“Alone! Who is ever alone at court? Such as you and I, my lord Admiral, are never alone, for there will always be eyes to watch us when we do not see them, and ears to listen. There will always be those who treasure your simplest utterances—and mine—and mayhap use them against us.”
“Elizabeth… most beauteous Princess….”
She flushed. Clever as she was, she was susceptible to flattery, even as was her royal father; and she lacked his experience in hiding this fact. Important as she knew herself to be in the affairs of state politics since she had been reinstated at court, and much as she enjoyed her new position, she was more pleased at hearing herself called beautiful than she would have been by any reference to her importance in the realm.
Seymour kept his advantage. “Give me this pleasure…give me this pleasure of gazing upon you.”
“I have heard the ladies of the court say that it is not wise to take too seriously the compliments of the Lord High Admiral.”
“The ladies of the court?” He shrugged his shoulders. “They are apart. You are as different from them as the sun from the moon.”
“The moon,” she retorted, “is very beautiful, but it hurts the eyes to look at the sun.”
“When I look at you I feel myself scorched with the passion within me.”
Her laughter rang out clear and loud.
“I hear talk of your marriage, my lord. May I congratulate you?”
“I would welcome congratulations, only if I might announce my coming marriage to one particular lady.”
“And can you not make the announcement? I have heard that there is no man at court more likely to sue successfully for a lady’s favor.”
“She whom I would marry is far above me.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Do I hear aright? Is the Lord High Admiral losing his belief in himself?”
“Elizabeth…my beautiful Elizabeth….”
She eluded him and ran from him; she paused to look back, artful and alluring, urging him on, yet forbidding him to come.
She was aware of the Palace windows. Much as she would have enjoyed a flirtation with this man, who fascinated her more than any person ever had, she did not wish to endanger her new position at court.
If Seymour had his dreams and ambitions, the Lady Elizabeth had hers no less. Indeed, they soared higher even than those of Seymour; and if they were more glorious, they were more dangerous.
He would have followed her, but she had suddenly become haughty.
“I wish to be alone,” she said coldly, and she walked from the garden, forcing herself to conquer her desire to stay with him, to invite his warm glances and perhaps the caresses which he longed to give and she would not have been averse to receiving.
Coquettish as she was, she longed for admiration. Flirtation was an amusing pastime, yet beyond the love of light pleasures was her abiding ambition.
As he watched her, Seymour had no doubt that she was the woman for him.
NAN CREPT SILENTLY out of the Palace of Greenwich. She was covered from head to foot in a dark cloak, under which she wore many thick petticoats which she would not be wearing when, and if, she were fortunate enough to return to the Palace that night.
It was not the first time she had made this journey, carrying food and warm clothing with her, but each time she made it she was filled with fears, for it was a dangerous journey.
Lady Herbert had said to her: “If you should be detained, on no account must it be known who sent you.”
“No, my lady.”
“And Nan…be strong… and brave.”
They both knew that if she were caught she would be recognized as a lady from the Queen’s household. But on no account, Nan assured herself, would she let them know that the Queen had played a part in this mission.
“God help me to be brave” was Nan’s continual prayer.
The faint light of a waning moon shone on the river, and in the shadow cast by the bushes she made out the barge which was waiting for her.
The boatman greeted her in that manner which had been arranged. “Hello, there! Come you from my lady?”
“Yes,” whispered Nan. “From my lady.”
She stepped into the boat which began to slip along only too slowly. Nan listened to the sound of the oars and continued to pray for courage.
The boatman sang softly to himself as he rowed. Not that he felt like singing. He must be almost as nervous as Nan; but he, like her, must wear an air of calm, for it must not be suspected that she came from the Queen, and that she was on her way to visit one who must surely be the most important prisoner in the Tower.
“Are you ready?” whispered the boatman at length.
“I am ready.”
She scrambled out on to the slippery bank; it seemed very cold under the shadow of the gray walls which loomed before her.
A man was waiting for her and she followed him without a word. He unlocked a door; Nan shivered as she stepped inside the great fortress of the Tower of London. This man held his lantern high, and she saw the damp walls and the pits at the bottom of which was the muddy water of the river; rats scuttled under her feet. She did not cry out, great as was the temptation to do so.
“Hurry,” whispered the man with the lantern. “You must be gone before the guard comes this way.”
He unlocked a door, and Nan stepped into the cell.
In spite of the intense cold, the closeness of the atmosphere, the smell of dirt and decay, sickened her. It was some seconds before her eyes grew accustomed to the dimness, for the man with the lantern had shut and locked the door; in a short while he would return; she would hear the key in the lock and he would let her out.
She could vaguely see the shape on the straw.
“Mistress Askew?” she whispered.
“Nan! Is it you?”
“Yes, Mistress. I have brought food and clothes. You are bidden to be of good cheer.”
“You are a good and brave woman to come to me thus,” said Anne. “Have you a message for me?”
“Only that all that can be done for you will be done.”
Nan could see the emaciated face; it looked ghostly in the dimness of the cell.
“Take a message for me,” said Anne. “Tell those who sent you that they should not endanger themselves by sending food and clothing for me. I can face hunger; I can face cold and discomfort.”
“It is our delight to help you, to let you know that although you are a prisoner and others are free, they do not forget you.”
“I thank them,” said Anne, and in spite of her brave words, she fell upon the food which Nan had brought, and ate it ravenously. Nan was taking off the petticoats as she talked, and Anne went on eating as she put them on.
Anne’s hands were icy and her teeth chattered. There was hardly any flesh on her bones to keep her warm.
Ah, thought Nan, it is an easy matter to wish to be a martyr; but how eagerly she eats and how grateful she is for a little warmth!
Already the man was unlocking the door.
“Hasten, Mistress,” he said. “There must be no delay. I have not seen the guard at his usual post. Hasten, I say. If we are followed, remember, I know nothing of you and how you came here.”
“I will remember,” said Nan.
Hastily he locked the door of the cell, and Nan picked her way through the dark passages, trying not to brush against the slimy walls, praying that she might not step on the rats.
She felt exhausted when she lay, at length, in the boat, listening to the sound of the oars as she was carried away from the grim fortress of the Tower of London back to Greenwich.
THE MAN WITH THE lantern reentered the Tower and had scarcely taken three steps inside the building when two men took their stand on either side of him.
“Where go you, sir jailor?” asked one.
“Where go I?” blustered the man, and he felt as though cold water were dripping down his back, although he was sweating with fear. “Where go I? To my post, of course.”
“Who was the fair lady to whom you have just bade farewell?” enquired the other man.
“Fair lady…? I…?”
“You conducted her to a certain cell, did you not?”
“You are mistaken.”
The lantern was suddenly taken from his hand, and he was pinioned.
“This way,” said one of his captors. “We have questions to ask you.”
They pushed him roughly along through the gloomy passages. Terror walked with him. A short while ago the Tower had been to him merely the prison of others; now it was his prison.
“I…I havedone… nothing.”
“Later, later,” said a soft voice in his ear. “You shall speak for yourself later.”
They were taking him into unfamiliar byways. He could hear the fierce chorus of rats as they fought with their human victims; he could hear the piercing screams for help from those miserable prisoners who were chained to the walls and who, when they heard footsteps coming their way, shouted for help without any hope that it would be given to them. They took him past the pits in which men were chained, the dirty water up to their knees; the lantern showed him their faces, wildeyed and unkempt, faces that had lost their human aspect, as they fought the hungry pests which could not wait for them to die.
“Whither… whither are you taking me?”
“Patience, friend, patience!” said the voice in his ear.
Now he was in a chamber, and although he had never seen it before, he knew what it was. He had heard much of this chamber. The dim light from the lamp which hung from the ceiling confirmed his horrible fear.
He smelled blood and vinegar, and he knew them for the mingling odors of the torture chambers; and when his eyes were able to see through the mist of fear, he picked out a man at a table with writing materials before him. Much as he desired to, he could no longer doubt that he was in the torture chamber.
The man at the table had risen; he came forward as though to greet the jailor in friendship. There was a smile on this man’s face, and the jailor guessed from his clothes that he was a personage of some importance. He knew that he himself had been a fool to take a bribe and get himself involved with the kind of people who would be interested in Anne Askew. A jailor was subject to bribery. You took a little here, a little there. But he wished he had never meddled in the case of Anne Askew.
“You know why you are here, my friend,” said the personage.
“Yes…yes, my lord. But I have done nothing.”
“You have nothing to fear. You have only to answer a few questions.”
God in Heaven! thought the sweating jailor. That is what they are all told. “You have merely to answer a few questions!”
“Allow me to show you round the chamber,” said the jailor’s host. “You see here the gauntlets, the thumbscrews, the Spanish collar… the Scavenger’s Daughter. You, who serve the King as one of his jailors, know the uses to which these toys may be put, I doubt not.”
“I do, my lord. But I have done nothing.”
“And here is the rack. The most interesting of them all. My friend, a man is a fool who lets his limbs be stretched on that instrument. There is no need for it. No wise man need let his limbs be broken on the rack. You look pale. Are you going to faint? They deal well with fainting here. The vinegar is a quick restorative…so they tell me.”
“What… what do you want of me?”
The man gripped his arm.
“Answer my questions and go back to your work. That is all I ask of you. Give me truth and I’ll give you freedom.”
“I will tell you anything you want to know.”
“That is well. I knew you were a sensible man. Sit here…here on this stool. Now … have you recovered? Let us be quick; and the quicker the better, say you; for when you have given the simple answers to these questions you will go back to your work and never, I trust, enter this place again.”
“Ask me,” pleaded the jailor. “Ask me now.”
“You are ready?”
“Did you conduct a woman to a prisoner this day?”
“That was not one of your duties, I feel sure.”
“No, no….” The words tumbled out. He could not speak quickly enough. “I took a bribe. It was wrong. I repent of it. I should not have done it.”
“But it was such a big bribe?”
“From a person of quality, doubtless. And the name of the prisoner whose cell was visited? Do not try to deceive me, because then I should have to use these toys to make you tell the truth.”
“I will not. I swear I will not. The prisoner was a Mistress Anne Askew.”
“That is good. You are doing well. I can see we shall not have to play with those toys tonight.”
“Who was the woman you took to Anne Askew?”
“A lady… whose name I know not.”
“Whose name you know not? Have a care.”
“I swear I know not her name. She came with food and clothes for the prisoner. I know whence she came, though I know not her name. It was never told me.”
“So you know whence she came?”
“Yes, I know. She came from the heretic friends of Anne Askew.”
“The names of these friends?”
“They told me no names.”
“You are not being very helpful. I must have names.”
“They are ladies of the court.”
“Cannot you give me names…even of some of them?”
He had signed to two men with evil faces; they came forward.
“Not one name?” said the interrogator.
“I do not know who sent them. I was told by a man who brought her…I know…”
“Yes, my lord. I know the woman who comes is a messenger from the Queen.”
“The Queen! Ah, that is good. You have been useful. Let him go. Let him go back to his work. Not a word, my friend, of tonight’s adventure, or…”
“I swear I’ll say nothing. I swear…”
“You will be watched. Just go on as before. Take your bribe. Let the lady in. Your little journey to our chamber, your inspection of our toys makes no difference. Go, my good man. You have answered well and faithfully.”
The jailor’s response was to fall into a faint on the earthen floor.
Wriothesley watched him with a smile. He liked the man. He had given the answer he most wished to hear.
WHEN NAN REACHED the Palace of Greenwich she went straight to the apartments of Lady Herbert as was her custom. The Queen’s sister had spent the time of her absence alternately on her knees praying for Nan’s safety, and at the window watching for her return.
“Nan,” said Lady Herbert, “how went it?”
“Much as before, my lady.”
“Methinks you are returned a little earlier.”
“Yes, my lady. I had scarcely time to take off all the clothing I had brought when the jailor urged me to leave the cell.”
“Why was that?” demanded Lady Herbert, her face growing pale.
“It was merely, he said, that he had not seen the guard in his usual place.”
Lady Herbert’s fingers played nervously with the jewels at her throat.
“This cannot go on. They suspect something.”
Nan threw herself on to her knees. When she had been in the company of Anne Askew she seemed infected by her fanaticism, her desire for martyrdom.
“My lady, I am ready to die, if need be, in the cause of the Queen and the Queen’s faith.”
Lady Herbert began to walk up and down the apartment.
“Oh, Nan, if only it were as simple as that! If death were swift and painless, how easy it would be! What else, Nan? How was she?”
“As strong as before in spirit, but very frail in body.”
“Nan, you must not go there again.”
“If the Queen commands me, I should go. There are times, my lady, when I almost feel a desire to be caught… though I know I should all but die of fright. There is something about that place, something that wraps itself about one. It is utter desolation, hopeless… and yet there is a kind of welcome.”
Lady Herbert took the young woman by her shoulders and gently shook her.
“Nan, Nan, do not talk so. You speak as one who is ready to embrace death.”
“Willingly would I do so, if the Queen commanded,” said Nan. “If they caught me, none should draw the secret from me. They could put me on the rack…”
“Hush, you foolish woman!” cried Lady Herbert almost angrily. “You know not what you say. Stronger than you have been broken in the torture chambers of the Tower.”
“They would not torture me…a woman. They do not torture women. I should be sent to the stake, and because I am a woman they would strangle me so that I should not feel the scorching of the flesh.”
Lady Herbert recognized the signs of hysteria. The strain was too much for any but a fanatic like Anne Askew. They must give up these dangerous visits. She must make the Queen see that they dared not continue with them.
“Go to your room,” she said. “I will send you a soothing draught. Drink it and draw your bedcurtains; then… sleep… sleep until you awake refreshed.”
Nan curtsied and went to her room.
And when she awoke from the soothing sleep, the lightheadedness had passed. She was herself once more. She could think of her experience with nothing but horror, and instead of seeing death beautified by martyrdom, she saw it evil and horrible, as the cold unhappy Tower had told her it must be.
IN THE QUEEN’S closet Lady Herbert shut the door and leaned against it.
“I am afraid,” she said.
“Why so?” asked the Queen.
“Our father and mother would never have dreamed that you would one day be Queen of England.”
“But the Queen of England must be braver than any lady in the land.”
“She must also be wiser. Oh, Kate, Anne Askew looks for martyrdom, but she is armed with her faith and her courage. You know that she has always been different from the rest of us.”
“Yes, even as a girl she was different. How remote she was from us! Oh, sister, what will they do to her? They have taken her because they wish, through her, to take me, and…we know why.”
“Yes, we know. It is you they wish to have in prison. They will try to make her admit that you too are in possession of the forbidden books, and that you have offended against the King’s laws.”
“And then I know not.”
“Do you not?” Katharine laughed bitterly. “Everything depends on His Majesty. If he wishes to see me condemned as a heretic, then condemned I shall be.” Her laughter grew wild. “It makes me laugh. I cannot help it. Everything depends on his state of health. If he is sick, I am safe for a while. But if he grows well…Oh Anne, is it not comic? I have watched his glances. The Duchess of Richmond is a comely lady. And so is Her Grace of Suffolk. Different types—and he cannot make up his mind which he prefers: the widow of his son, or the widow of Charles Brandon. Both widows, you see! I believe I have given him a taste for widows. And none but a widow would dare return the King’s loving glances. Sister, my life hangs by a thread; and who is holding that thread? His Majesty. And how he jerks it, depends on the Duchesses of Richmond and Suffolk…and the state of his health!”
“You must not laugh like this. It frightens me. You must be calm. You must be serene. Your smallest action is of the utmost importance.”
“Oh, sister, what will they do to poor Anne Askew?”
“They dare do nothing. They cannot torture a woman…a highborn woman. The King would not allow it.”
The Queen looked at her sister and broke into fresh laughter, and the Lady Anne Herbert had great difficulty in soothing her.
THE BISHOP AND THE CHANCELLOR walked once more in the Great Park.
“What news, my lord Chancellor?” asked Gardiner.
“My lord Bishop, good news. I had the jailor taken as soon as he left the court woman. He admitted in the torture room that the clothes and food which the prisoner has been receiving were sent at the Queen’s command.”
Gardiner nodded. “That is good.”
“Well, is it not enough?”
The Bishop shook his head. “It’s that accursed leg. The woman is such a good nurse.”
“You think he is so fond of her still that he seeks no other?”
“While the King breathes he will always be ready to seek another wife—providing the current one has shared his bed for a month or more.”
“My lord Bishop, it was but a week ago that he said to me: ‘Three years of marriage, Wriothesley, and no sign of fruitfulness. I cannot think the fault is mine; therefore must I wonder if my marriage finds favor in the sight of God.’”
“That was good.”
“And have you seen the looks he casts at my lady of Suffolk?”
“Not so good. She, like the Queen, inclines to heresy. I would my lady of Richmond did not worry his conscience. The warmer his feelings grow for her the better. Everything depends on the warmth of his feelings.”
“But…if he should turn to Brandon’s widow?”
“We must see that that does not happen. But first we must rid him of Katharine Parr.” Gardiner looked grave. “We must practice the utmost caution. Remember Dr. London, who has since died of the humiliations inflicted upon him.”
“I do remember him. But the jailor admitted the woman came from the Queen.”
“The word of a lowborn jailor could not be of great account. We must remember this, friend Chancellor: The situation is not a simple one. When Cromwell found evidence against Anne Boleyn, the King was already impatient for marriage with Jane Seymour. Now it is less simple. At one moment the King wishes to be rid of his wife, and at the next he remembers that she is his nurse and necessary to him. To bring the jailor’s evidence before the King when he needs his nurse, might bring down Heaven knows what on our defenseless heads. Nay! We must learn by the mistakes and successes of others. Think of the King’s love for Catharine Howard. Cranmer was fully aware of that. What did he do? He presented the King with undeniable evidence of his Queen’s guilt. That is what we must do. But the word of a lowborn jailor is not enough.”
“You mean the woman herself—this Anne Askew—must speak against the Queen?”
“That is what I mean.”
“But you know her mind. She will say nothing against anyone. ‘Kill me,’ she will say. ‘I’m not afraid of death.’ And, by God, you will have but to look at her to know that she speaks truth.”
“It is easy for a fanatical woman to say these things, and to die quickly is easy. But to die slowly…lingeringly…horribly… that is not so simple. The bravest men cry out for mercy on the rack.”
“But… this is a woman.”
Gardiner’s thin lips smiled faintly. “This, dear Chancellor,” he said, “is our enemy.”
IN HER CELL in the Tower, Anne Askew daily waited for the doom which she felt must certainly be hers.
She had knelt by the barred window and prayed, and praying lost count of the hours. On the stone walls of this cell which had been occupied by others before her were scratched names, messages of hope and words of despair. She prayed not for herself but for those who had suffered before her. She knew that there was some grace within her, some extra strength, which would enable her to meet with courage whatever was coming to her.
It was midnight when she had knelt, and now the dawn was in the sky. It filtered through the bars of her cell; another day was coming and she was still on her knees.
It was some days since Nan had visited her. She had had little to eat, yet she did not feel the need of food. There were times when her mind wandered a little—back to her childhood in her father’s house, back to the days when she and her sister had wandered in the gardens and been happy together.
Anne had always been the serious one, loving books more than play. Her elder sister had laughed at her, and there had been times when Anne had envied her. She was so normal, that elder sister of Anne’s; she liked good things to eat, fine clothes to wear. She had said: “Anne, you are strange. Sometimes I think you are a changeling—not the child of our parents. You are like a fairy child, and in your eyes there burns such fervor that I feel your sire must have been a saint.”
Sometimes Anne imagined that she was back in the days of her sister’s betrothal to Mr. Kyme.
She could hear her sister’s light chatter. “He is very rich, Anne. They say he is the richest man in Lincolnshire, and I like him well enough.”
“How can you go into marriage lightly?” Anne had asked, shuddering. “How I rejoice that it is not for me. I shall go into a nunnery. That is what I long for… quiet… peace…to learn that of which Martin Luther has written.”
Looking back it seemed that she lived again through those tragic days of her sister’s death. Death was ever near. It swooped suddenly, and one could never be sure from what source it came.
“Now that your sister is dead,” her father had said, “you must take her place with Mr. Kyme.”
She could see him clearly—Mr. William Kyme, a young and ardent man in need of a wife. He was very willing to take the younger sister in place of the elder.
In vain she had prayed and pleaded with her father. “A daughter’s first duty is obedience; so said the Scriptures,” she was told.
So said the Scriptures. And she would not fight her destiny.
Now was the most horrible of all her memories: the warm, eager hands of Mr. Kyme, and herself trembling supine in the marriage bed.
He had been kind at first. “My poor sweet child, you do not understand. You are so young…so innocent. You must not be afraid.”
She had lain, shuddering, bearing that torture as later she would bear others.
Resignation came to her at length, but Mr. Kyme did not wish for resignation. There were angry scenes. “Unnatural!” That was the word he had flung at her.
“Leave me alone,” she had begged. “Divorce me…do what you will. But release me from this life which is distasteful to me.”
He had not been, she was sure, more brutal, more unkind than any man would have been. “I will not let you go,” he had stormed at her. “You are my wife and you shall be my wife.”
She would awake even now with those words in her ears, so that she was almost glad to be in this cold cell because it at least meant escape from a life which had been too humiliating and distasteful to be borne.
“I will make a normal woman of you yet,” he had said; but he had changed his mind when he had discovered her books.
“What is this?” he had demanded. “Are you one of these Reformers?”
“I believe in the teachings of Martin Luther.”
“Do you want to make us the King’s prisoners?”
“I would as soon be a prisoner of the King as of your sensuality.”
“You are mad. I will stop this reading and writing.”
He had locked her in her room, destroyed her books.
But she had found him to be vulnerable, and she rejoiced that this was so. The servants were talking of her leanings toward the new faith, and when a man’s wife is implicated, how easy it is to cast suspicion on that man!
Mr. Kyme was such a rich man; and it often happened that rich men were considered most worthy prey by those who wished to bring an accusation which might result in the confiscation of lands and goods. He trembled for his possessions; he was ready to give up his wife rather than place his lands and coffers in jeopardy.
“You will leave this house at once,” he had said. “I’ll dissociate myself from you and your evil teachings.”
And the day she left his house was a happy one for her. Now, kneeling in her cell, she was glad of that experience. It had taught her courage; and she knew she would have great need of courage.
Early that morning she heard footsteps in the passage outside her cell; the door opened and two men came in.
“Prepare yourself for a journey, Mistress Askew,” one said. “You are to go to the Guildhall this day for questioning.”
SHE STOOD BEFORE her judges. The strong, pure air had made her faint; the sunlight had seemed to blind her; and her limbs would scarcely carry her. But she did not care, for though her body was weak, her spirit was strong.
She looked up at the open timberwork roof and down at the pavings of Purbeck stone. It was warm in the great hall, for the early summer sun was streaming through the windows, picking out the carvings of the Whittington escutcheons.
Her trial was considered of some importance; yet she was not afraid. She knew that she was in the right, and it seemed to her that, with God and his company of angels on her side, she need have no fear of the Lord Mayor of London, of Bonner, Gardiner, Wriothesley and all the nobles of the Catholic faction who were there to discountenance her and hasten her to the stake.
She heard the words of the Lord Mayor:
“You are a heretic and condemned by the law if you stand by your opinion.”
Her voice rang out—a strong voice to come from such a frail body. “I am no heretic. Neither do I deserve death by any law of God. But concerning the faith which I have uttered, I will not deny it, because, my lords, I know it to be true.”
Wriothesley said: “Do you deny the sacrament to be Christ’s own body and blood?”
“Yes; I do. That which you call God is but a piece of bread. The son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, is now in Heaven. He cannot be a piece of bread that, if left for a few weeks, will grow moldy and turn to nothing that is good. How can that be God?”
“You are not here to ask us questions, madam,” said Wriothesley. “You are here to answer those which we put to you.”
“I have read,” she answered, “that God made man, but that man can make God I have not read. And if you say that God’s blood and body is in bread because man has consecrated that bread, then you say that man can make God.”
“Do you insist in these heresies?” demanded the Lord Mayor.
“I insist on speaking the truth,” she answered.
“You are condemned of your own mouth,” she was told.
“I will say nothing but that which I believe to be true.”
“Methinks,” said Gardiner, “that we should send a priest that you may confess your faults.”
“I will confess my faults unto God,” she answered proudly. “I am sure He will hear me with favor.”
“You leave us no alternative but to condemn you to the flames.”
“I have never heard that Christ or His Apostles condemned any to the flames.”
Her judges whispered together; they were uncomfortable. It was ever thus with martyrs. They discomfited others while they remained calm themselves. If only she would show some sign of fear. If only it were possible to confound her in argument.
“You are like a parrot!” cried Gardiner angrily. “You repeat… repeat…repeat that which you have learned.”
Wriothesley’s eyes were narrowed. He was thinking: I should like to see fear in those eyes; I should like to hear those proud lips cry for mercy.
She spoke in her rich clear voice. “God is a spirit,” she said. “He will be worshipped in spirit and in truth.”
“Do you plainly deny Christ to be in the sacrament?”
“I do. Jesus said: ‘Take heed that no man shall deceive you. For many shall come in My name saying I am Christ; and shall deceive many.’ The bread of the sacrament is but bread, and when you say it is the body of Christ, you deceive yourselves. Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold and worshipped it. That is what you do. Bread is but bread…”
“Silence!” roared Gardiner. “You have been brought here, woman, to be tried for your life, not to preach heresy.”
The judges conferred together and, finding her guilty, condemned her to death by burning.
They took her back to her dungeon in the Tower.
TO DIE THE martyr’s death!
Had she the courage to do that? She could picture the flames rising from her feet; she could smell the burning faggots, she could hear their crackle. But how could she estimate the agonizing pain? She saw herself, the flames around her, the cross in her hand. Could she bear it with dignity and fortitude?
“Oh God,” she prayed, “give me courage. Help me to bear my hour of pain, remembering how Thy Son, Jesus Christ, did suffer. Help me, God, for Jesus’ sake.”
She was on her knees throughout the night. Scenes from the past seemed to flit before her eyes. She was in her father’s garden, with her sister, feeding the peacocks; she was being married to Mr. Kyme; she was enduring his embraces; she was in the barge which was carrying her to prison; she was facing her judges in the Guildhall.
At last, swooning from exhaustion, she lay on the floor of her cell.
But with the coming of morning she revived. She thought: Previously it was so easy to contemplate death, but that was when I did not know I was to die.
WITHIN THE PALACE they were talking of Anne Askew.
She had deliberately defied her judges. What a fool! What a sublime fool!
“This is but a beginning,” it was whispered.
Those who had read the forbidden books and had dabbled with the new learning, were, in their fear, looking for plausible excuses.
“It was just an intellectual exercise, nothing more.”
“It was not a heresy… not a faith to die for.”
The Queen took to her bed; she was physically sick with horror. Anne—delicate Anne—condemned to the flames! This thing must not be allowed to happen. But how could she prevent it? What power had she?
The King had been irritable with her; he had ignored her when the courtiers were assembled. Once he had made up his mind regarding the Duchesses of Suffolk and Richmond he would find some means of disposing of his present Queen.
Her sister came and knelt by her bed. They did not speak, and Lady Herbert’s eyes were veiled. She wanted to beg her sister to plead for Anne; yet at the same time she was silently begging the Queen to do nothing.
Little Jane Grey went quietly about the apartment. She knew what was happening. They would burn Mistress Anne Askew at the stake, and no one could do anything to save her.
Imaginative as she was, she felt that this terrible thing which was happening to Anne was happening to herself. She pictured herself in that cold and airless cell; she pictured herself facing her judges at the Guildhall.
That night she dreamed that she stood in the square at Smithfield, and that it was about her own feet that the men were piling faggots.
She was with the Prince when Princess Elizabeth came to see him.
Elizabeth was a young lady now of thirteen years. There were secrets in her eyes; she wore clothes to call attention to the color of her hair, and rings to set off the beauty of her hands. She could never look at a man without—so it seemed to Jane—demanding to know whether he admired her. She was even thus with her tutors. And it was clear that Mistress Katharine Ashley, who thought her the most wonderful person in the world, now found her a difficult charge.
Everyone, even Elizabeth, looked sad because of Anne Askew. Elizabeth liked the new learning as much as Jane did—but differently. Elizabeth appreciated it, but would be ready to abandon it. Jane thought: I would not. I would be like Anne Askew.
“Something must be done to save her!” said Jane.
Edward looked expectantly at his sister, for she was the one who was always full of plans. If something could be done, Elizabeth would invariably suggest the means.
But now she shook her head.
“There is nothing to be done. Those with good sense will keep quiet.”
“We cannot let them send her to the stake!” insisted Jane.
“It is no affair of ours. We have no say in the matter.”
“We could plead, could we not?”
“With whom could we plead?”
“With the King.”
“Would you dare? Edward, would you dare?”
“With those near the King perhaps?” suggested Edward.
“With Gardiner?” cried the Princess ironically. “With the Chancellor?”
“Then with Cranmer? Ha! He is too wise. He does not forget how, recently, he himself came near to disaster. He will say nothing. He will allow this affair to pass away and be forgotten—as we all must.”
“But it is Anne—our dearest Mistress Askew!”
“Our foolish Mistress Askew. She dared to stand up and say that the holy bread was not the body of Christ.”
“But that is what we know to be true.”
“We know?” Elizabeth opened her eyes very wide. “We read of these things, but we do not talk of them.”
“But if she believes…”
“I tell you she is a fool. There is no place in this court …nor in this world, I trow, for fools.”
“But you…no less than ourselves….”
“You know not what you say.”
“Then you are against Anne, against our stepmother? You are with Gardiner?”
“I am with none and against none,” answered the Princess. “I am … with myself.”
“Perhaps Uncle Thomas could put a plea before my father,” said Edward. “He is clever with words, and my father is amused by him. Uncle Thomas will know what to do.”
“’ Tis true,” said Elizabeth. “He will know what to do, and he will do what I shall do.”
She smiled and her face flushed suddenly; it was clear to Jane that Elizabeth was thinking, not of wretched Anne Askew, but of jaunty Thomas Seymour.
THE KING WAS in a merry mood. He sat, with a few of his courtiers about him, while a young musician—a beautiful boy— played his lute and sang with such sweetness that the King’s thoughts were carried away from the apartment. The song was of love; so were the King’s thoughts.
It should be my lady of Suffolk, he decided. She would bear him sons. He pictured her white body and her hair, touched with the bright yellow powder which so many used to give that pleasant golden touch. She was a fine, buxom woman.
Her glances had told him that she found him attractive. He liked her the better because she was the widow of Charles Brandon. There had always been friendship between himself and Charles. How readily he had forgiven the fellow when he had so hastily married Henry’s own sister, Mary Tudor, after old Louis’ death. Henry chuckled at the recollection of the old days, and a great longing for them swept over him.
He was not an old man. Fiftyfive. Was that so old? He decided angrily that he felt old because he no longer had a wife who pleased him.
Why is it, he pondered, that she cannot give me sons?
He had the answer to that. God was displeased with her. And why should God be displeased with her? She was no harlot—he would admit that—as the others had been. No. But she was a heretic. She was another such as that friend of hers, this Anne Askew. And that woman had been found guilty and condemned to the flames. Henry licked his lips. Was this wife of his any less guilty than the woman they had condemned to die?
I would not wish her to die such a death, he thought. I am a merciful man. But was it right that one woman should die for her sins while another, equally guilty, should go free?
There was an unpleasant rumor that the Duchess of Suffolk was one of those ladies who had dabbled in heresy. He did not want to examine that now. He refused to believe it. It was the sort of thing her enemies would say against her, knowing his interest. No! There was no need to occupy his thoughts with that matter…at this time.
She was a fascinating creature—aye, and not a little fascinated by her King. Feeling perhaps just a little afraid of such a mighty lover, seeming at times to long to run away? Perhaps. But he knew how she longed to stay!
In the old days she would have been his mistress ere this. But when a man grows older, he mused, he does not slip so easily into lovemaking. There is not the same desire for haste. Lovemaking must now be conducted more sedately, by the dim light of say…one candle?
His Chancellor was at his side. The King smiled. Wriothesley had comported himself well at the trial of the heretic. He had shown no softness merely because she was a woman.
A woman! A new vision of the Duchess’s beauty rose before him. Soon to be tested! he thought with pleasure.
Nay! Anne Askew was scarcely a woman. Lean of body and caring for books rather than the caress of a lover. That was not how a woman should be. No! Anne Askew was no woman.
He caught the phrase and repeated it to his conscience, for he was wily and shrewd and could guess what plans were being formed in the Chancellor’s mind.
No woman! No woman! he repeated to his conscience.
She was not alone in her guilt. There must be others. A little questioning, and she might disclose their names. The name of the Duchess of Suffolk came quickly into his mind. No, no. It was not true. He did not believe it. Moreover he had no fools about him. There was not one of them who would dare present him with the name of an innocent lady.
But why should Anne Askew not be questioned by his servants of the Tower? Because she was a woman? But she was no woman…no true woman.
And if I find heretics in my court, he said to his conscience, they shall not be spared. In the name of the Holy Church of which I am the head, they shall not be spared…no matter who…no matter who….
He could see the fair Duchess staring dreamily ahead, listening to that song of love. Was she thinking of a lover, a most desirable and royal lover?
He spoke to his conscience again: “I am a King, and many matters weigh heavily on my mind. I am the head of a great State, and I have seen that State grow under my hands. I have shown wisdom in my relations with foreign powers. I have allowed nothing to stand in the way of England. I have played off the Emperor Charles against sly François… and I have seen my country grow in importance in the world. I am a King and, because of these state matters, which are ever with me, I have need of the soothing sweetness of love. I have need of a mistress.”
The conscience said: “You have a wife.”
“A wife who is a heretic?”
“Not yet proven.”
The little eyes were prim.
“And if it were proved, I should have no alternative but to put her from me. I cannot tolerate heretics in my kingdom. Whoever they should prove to be, I could not tolerate those who work against God’s truth.”
“Nay! But it would have to be proved.”
“Perhaps it is my duty to prove it. And when I talk of love I think not of my body’s needs. When did I ever think of that? Nay! I need sons. I need them now in my declining years more than I ever did. If I put away one wife and take another, it would be solely with the object of getting myself sons, of making my line safe … for England’s sake.”
“That,” said the conscience primly, “is a very good motive for putting away a barren wife.”
The conscience was subdued. It had been shown that as usual the sensualist and the moralist walked hand in hand.
And now the Chancellor was at his side.
He murmured: “Your Grace’s pardon, but have I Your Grace’s permission to question the condemned woman?”
“You suspect you can get the names of others?”
“I do, Your Majesty; and I propose to question her in the service of Your Grace.”
“If there be those in this realm who disobey their King, I would know of them. Whoever they be, sir Chancellor, they may expect no mercy from me.”
The Chancellor bowed. He was pleased to have won such an easy victory.
THE DOOR OF ANNE’S cell was opening.
Two men had come for her.
“Is it to be so soon?” she asked. “Do you take me to Smithfield?”
“Not yet, mistress. You have another journey to make ere you set out on that last one.”
“What journey is this?”
“You will see soon enough. Are you ready to come with us?”
She walked between the two men.
“Whither are you taking me?” she asked; but she believed she knew.
“Oh God,” she prayed, “help me. Help me now as never before, for I need Your help. I am a woman… and weak… and I have suffered much. I am faint from hunger, sick from cold; but it is not these things which distress me. I mourn because I am afraid.”
She fell against the slimy walls in her sickness; she drew back shuddering as she heard the rats scuttling away, alarmed by the sound of footsteps.
“This way, mistress.”
One of the men pushed her forward, and before her dazed eyes appeared a short, spiral staircase, down which they led her.
Now they were in the gloomy dungeons below the great Tower. Foul odors from the river were stronger here.
“Oh God,” she prayed, “let me die here. Let me die for the Faith. Willingly I will give my life. Let me not bring disgrace on the Faith. Let me be strong.”
Now the sickening stench of stale blood assailed her nostrils. She had no doubt to what place they were taking her. Misery seemed to haunt it. She fancied she heard the screams of men in agony. Did she really hear them, or were they the ghostly echoes of forgotten men?
She was pushed into the chamber—that dread chamber, the sight of which sickened the hearts of the bravest men.
She fell against a stone pillar from which hung the hideous instruments whose uses she could only guess, except that she knew they were made to torture men.
Two men had come toward her—two of the most brutishlooking men she had ever seen. Their eyes betrayed them—their glittering, cold, excited eyes. Those eyes betrayed too a certain lewdness in their thoughts; it was as though they spoke and said: “Ha! Here we have a woman!” These two men were Chancellor Wriothesley and Solicitor-General Rich, whom she had seen at her trial.
She was aware that this was to be one of the most important cross-examinations which had ever taken place in this room, for not only were the Chancellor and the Solicitor-General present, but there also was Sir Anthony Knevet, the Lieutenant of the Tower.
She looked at him appealingly, for he had not the cruel, animal look of the other men, and it seemed to her that there was sympathy in his eyes, as though they meant to convey the message to her: “I am not responsible for this. I but obey orders.”
The Chancellor spoke first. He had seated himself at the table on which were writing materials.
“You wonder why you are brought here, madam?” he said.
“I know why people are brought here. It is to answer questions.”
“You are clever. I can see that we need not waste time with explanations.”
The Solicitor-General had turned to her. “You will answer my questions, madam.”
“Do not weary yourselves with asking me questions,” she said. “I have answered them, and I shall not change those answers. I believe that the body of Christ…”
Rich waved a hand. “No, no. That is settled. You are a heretic. We know that. You have been sentenced, and that case is closed.”
“It is for another reason that you are brought here,” said Wriothesley. “You were not alone in your heresies. You must know the names of many people who support that erroneous belief for which you are going to die.”
“How should I know what goes on in the hearts and minds of others?”
“Madam, you are very clever. You have read too many books… far too many books. But do not waste your cleverness on us. We do not want sly answers. We want names.”
“The names of those who attended your meetings, who read those books with you.”
“I cannot give you names.”
“Why not, madam?”
“If I could say with certainty that such and such a person believes as I do…even so Iwould not give a name.”
“It would be wise not to be saucy. We are less patient here than in the Guildhall.”
“That I understand. Many may hear your words in the Guildhall. Here, you may say what you will.”
“Madam, you are a lady of gentle birth. I do not think you realize the importance of your visit to this chamber.”
“I know, sir, why you have brought me here,” she said. “Here you bring men to suffer torture. I did not know that you brought women. I understand now that it is so.”
“You are insolent, Madam. Have a care.”
Wriothesley signed to the two men, who came forward. They were professional torturers; their faces were blank; they were devoid of all feeling, as all must become who ply such a horrible trade.
They had seized her by the arms, and Wriothesley put his face close to hers.
“I do not think even now that you fully understand what will happen to you if you are obstinate. You have heard of the rack, no doubt, but you have no notion of its action.”
“I can imagine that,” she answered; she hoped that he did not see her lips moving in prayer, forming that one word which made up her desperate plea: Courage.
“Take her to the rack,” said the Solicitor-General. “Mayhap the sight of it will bring her to her senses.”
She was dragged across the room and her eyes perceived that instrument which none could look on without a shudder. It was shaped like a trough, at the ends of which were windlasses; in these, slots had been cut in which oars could be placed in order to turn them, and about them were coiled ropes to which the wrists and ankles of the sufferer could be tied and made taut by winding the windlasses. By means of the oars, in the hands of two strong men, the windlasses could be turned so that the victim’s legs and arms were slowly pulled out of their sockets. Even the dreaded Scavenger’s Daughter was not more feared than the rack.
“You…you would put me on the rack…in the hope that I would betray the innocent?” asked Anne.
“We would put you there that you might betray the guilty.”
She looked at the men about her, and her eyes rested on the anxious face of the Lieutenant of the Tower, but he could not bear to meet her glance. He said: “My lords, I like this not. A lady…to be put on the rack!”
“Those are His Majesty’s orders,” said Wriothesley.
Knevet turned away. “If you are sure, gentlemen, that these are the King’s commands, then we must obey them.” He turned to Anne. “I appeal to you, madam. Give us the names that we ask of you, and save yourself from torture.”
“I cannot give names merely to save myself from pain. How could I?”
“You are brave,” said the Lieutenant. “But be guided by me. Give the names…and have done with this miserable affair.”
“I am sorry,” said Anne steadfastly.
“Then,” said Wriothesley, “we have no alternative. Madam, you will take off your robe.”
She was made to stand before them in her shift, whereupon they placed her on the rack and attached the ropes to her emaciated wrists and ankles.
“Are you sure,” said Wriothesley, “that you wish us to continue?”
“You must do with me as you will.”
The Chancellor and Solicitor-General signed to the two men who had taken their stand at each end of the trough.
Slowly the windlasses began to turn; her poor sagging body became taut, and then… such agony took possession of it that for one terrible moment she must scream aloud for mercy. But almost immediately she was lost in blessed unconsciousness.
They would not allow her to remain in that happy state. They were splashing vinegar on her face. She opened her eyes, but she did not see the men about her; she was aware only of her sagging body held to the ropes by her dislocated limbs.
Wriothesley said: “The pain is terrible, I know. Endure no more of it. Merely whisper those names.”
She tried to turn her face away. Her lips began to move; but as Wriothesley put his ear close to her face, he was disgusted to find that she gave no names; it was but prayers she uttered, prayers for courage and the strength to endure her pains.
Wriothesley cried out in anger: “Again! Again! The woman is a fool. Let her suffer for her folly. That was merely a taste. Now let her have the full fury.”
“No…no…” cried Anne’s lips. “This…is…too…”
She had believed, a few seconds before, that she had learned all she could ever know about pain, that she had suffered it in all its malignancy, its fullest and most venomous powers. She was mistaken. Here was woeful agony, excruciating, exquisite torture, the very peaks of pain. “Oh God, let me die… let me die….” Those words beat on and on in her brain.
But they would not let her die. They would not let her long enjoy the benefit of unconsciousness. They were there, those evil men, bringing her out of the blessed darkness to suffer more pain.
“Names… names… names….” The words beat on her ears.
“Oh, God,” she prayed, “I had not thought of this. I had not thought I could endure so much and live. I had thought of the quick sharp pain. Death by the flames could not bring such agony as this.”
She heard the voice of Wriothesley beating like an iron bar on her shattered nerves:
“I will have those names. I will. I will. Again. Again. Give it to her again. You men are soft. You are too gentle. By God, I’ll have those names.”
Sir Anthony Knevet intervened: “My lords, I protest against this additional racking. The lady has been put to the test. That is enough.”
“And who, sir,” demanded the Chancellor, “are you to say what shall and what shall not be done?”
“I am the Lieutenant of this Tower. I am in sole charge in this Tower. The lady shall not, with my consent, be tortured further.”
“And who has placed you in command of this Tower? You forget to whom you owe your honors. This is rank disobedience to His Majesty’s orders. I will carry reports of this to the King, and we shall see how much longer you remain Lieutenant of the Tower, sir.”
Sir Anthony grew pale. He was afraid of the Chancellor and the Solicitor-General, for the two stood firm against him. But when he looked from them to the halfdead woman on the rack, he boldly said: “I cannot give my consent to the continuation of the racking.” He turned to the torturers. “Hold!” he ordered. “Have done.”
“Then must we do the work ourselves. Come, Rich!” he cried; and he threw off his cloak. “We will work this together. We will show the lady what happens to those who defy us. As for you, sir Lieutenant, you will hear more of this matter. I, personally, shall convey the tale of your disobedience to the King.”
Knevet walked out of the chamber.
Rich hesitated; the two professional torturers, who dared not disobey the Lieutenant’s orders, stood watching. But Wriothesley had pushed them aside, was rolling up his sleeves, and, signing to Rich to do the same, he took an oar.
And venomously and most cruelly did those two go to work.
Anne was past prayers, past thought. There was nothing in the world for her, but the most exquisite agony ever inflicted on man or woman; there was nothing for her but the longing for death.
Sweating with their exertions, Wriothesley and Rich paused.
“She cannot endure more,” said Rich. “She is on the point of death.”
Rich was also thinking: And Knevet will be in his barge at this moment on his way to Greenwich. And what will the King say? His Majesty would not want this woman to die on the rack; he only wanted her to betray, as a heretic, the woman of whom he was so tired that he wished to rid himself of her.
Wriothesley followed his thoughts.
“Remove the ropes,” he said. “She has had enough.”
The professional torturers untied the ropes and laid the broken body of Anne Askew on the floor.
KNEVET SOUGHT AN AUDIENCE WITH THE KING.
“Your Majesty, I come in great haste. I come to lay before you my sincere apologies if I have disobeyed your orders. But I cannot believe Your Most Clement Majesty ever gave such orders.”
“What orders are these?” asked the King, his shrewd eyes glinting. He guessed that the Lieutenant of the Tower had news of Anne Askew.
“Your Grace, I have come straight from the racking of Anne Askew.”
“The racking of Anne Askew!” The King’s voice was noncommittal. He wished Anne Askew to betray the Queen’s guilt, but he did not care to have his name connected with the racking of a woman.
The Lieutenant of the Tower lifted his eyes hopefully to the King’s face.
“It is the woman, Your Grace, who is condemned to the stake.”
“The heretic,” said Henry. “She is condemned with three men, I understand. She has offended against our Holy Church and slandered the Mass. She has been tried and her judges have found her guilty.”
“That is so, Your Majesty. The sentence is just. But… they are racking her to death. Your Chancellor and Solicitor-General are racking her for information.”
“Racking her! Racking a woman!”
Knevet was on his knees, kissing the King’s hand.
“I knew that Your Grace in your great mercy would never have given your consent to such treatment of a frail woman. I could not allow myself to be involved in the matter unless I had written orders from Your Majesty. I trust I did right.”
The King’s lips were prim. To rack a woman! He had never given his consent to that. The rack had not been mentioned in his talk with the Chancellor.
“You did right,” said the King.
“Then I have Your Majesty’s pardon?”
“There is no need of pardon, my friend.” The King laid his hand on Knevet’s shoulder. “Go back to your duties with a good conscience.”
Fervently Knevet continued to kiss the King’s hand.
As he was about to retire, Henry said: “And the woman…did she disclose…er… anything of interest?”
“No, Your Majesty. She is a brave woman, heretic though she be. I left the Chancellor and Solicitor-General working the rack themselves, and with great severity.”
The King frowned. “And…on a frail woman!” he said in shocked tones. “It may be that under dire torture she will betray others who are as guilty as she is.”
“I doubt it, Your Majesty. She was then too weak to know anything but her agony.”
The King turned away as though to hide his distress that such things could happen in his realm. “A woman …” he murmured, his voice half sorrowful, half angry. “A frail woman!”
But when the Lieutenant had gone, his eyes, angry points of light, almost disappeared in his bloated face.
“A curse on all martyrs!” he muttered. “A curse on them all!”
Memories of others came to him in that moment. Norris and Derham; Fisher and More.
And it seemed to him that the ghosts of those martyrs were in the room, mocking him.
IN THAT SQUARE where so many tragedies had been played out, where medieval duels had been fought, where the sixty-two-year-old Edward III had held a seven-day joust for the entertainment of the young woman with whom he was in love, where Wat Tyler had been bettered by the youthful Richard II—in that square of gay triumphs and cruel deeds, men were now piling the faggots around four stakes.
From all over London the people were coming to Smithfield. Today was a show day, and the crowning event of a day’s sightseeing was to be the burning of four martyrs, one of them a woman—the famous Anne Askew. They chattered and laughed and quarreled, and most impatiently they waited for the sight of those who were to suffer.
The hot sun burned down on the walls of the Priory renowned for the fine mulberries that grew in its grounds, picking out the sharp stones and making them glitter. The smell of horses was in the air, although this place was to be used for a purpose other than the marketing of horses on this tragic day.
On a bench outside the Church of St. Bartholomew sat Wriothesley, with important members of his party, among them the old Duke of Norfolk and the Lord Mayor.
Wriothesley was uneasy.
The King had not reproved him in private for the racking of Anne Askew, and he knew that he had done what His Majesty had wished even though he could not be commended for it in public. Still, the torturing had been a failure, for the woman had refused to give the names which were required of her; and it was not wise to forge a false confession, for she was a fearless woman who was quite capable of exposing the fraud when she was at the stake and there would be many to hear her.
Yes, the affair was a failure, for clearly the torturing and burning of a gentlewoman had not in itself been the desire of the King or the Chancellor. The motive had been to implicate the Queen, and that had not been achieved.
On this day a fence had been erected on all sides of the square. It was necessary to keep back the press of people. He was afraid of what they might do, what sympathies they might display toward a woman who had been broken on the rack … whatever her faith. He was afraid of what words Anne Askew might speak while the flames crackled at her feet. Fervently he hoped that if she did speak, the fences would prevent the mass of sightseers from being near enough to hear her. He was, therefore, a most uneasy man.
The victims were now on their way from Newgate, whither Anne had been taken after her torturing, to await the day of her death. Anne came first. She was carried to the stake in her chair, for her limbs were useless. The people shouted when they saw her. The cry of “Heretic! To the stake with the heretics!” was distinctly heard. But so also were the words: “God bless you.” And some pressed forward to touch the garment of one who they considered would shortly be a holy martyr.
Her golden hair lay lusterless about her shoulders, but how fiercely her blue eyes burned. No torture could douse the light which burned within her. She was the fanatical and triumphant martyr. She knew that she had come successfully through the greater ordeal. Death by the flames would offer a welcome release from pain.
With her were three men—three others who had denied the Mass. None of them was considered of any importance; they were humble people. John Lascelles was the most interesting, because he had been the man who had first spread the rumors concerning Catharine Howard and so sent her to her doom.
Wriothesley thought fleetingly that every man was near to death. He who condemned today, was in his turn condemned tomorrow.
He turned to Norfolk. “A woman to die thus! It seems cruel.”
“Aye,” said Norfolk, who had seen two female relatives, wives of the King, lose their heads. “But she is nevertheless a heretic.”
“I have the King’s pardon in my pocket. It is hers if she will recant. I wish to let the people know that pardon awaits her if she will see reason.”
“Have it sent to her before the sermon starts.”
Anne received the message while, about her body, they were fixing the chain which would hold her to the stake.
“I come not hither,” she said, “to deny my Lord and Master.”
She saw that the three men who were to die with her received similar messages.
They were brave, but they lacked her spirit. They turned their agonized eyes to her, and she saw how their apprehensive bodies longed to recant, although their spirits would firmly ignore the frailty of the flesh.
She said: “My friends, we have suffered…I more than any of you. I am happy now. I long for death. I long to feel the flames. To deny your God now, would mean that you would loathe the life offered you on such terms.”
She smiled and looked almost lovingly at the faggots about her maltreated legs.
Then the men smiled with her and tried to emulate her courage.
“They are beginning the sermons,” she said. “There is Dr. Shaxton. He will preach to us, he who a short while ago was one of us. Now he has denied his faith. He has chosen life on Earth in place of the life everlasting. Do not envy him, my friends, for very soon now you and I will be in paradise. We are to die, and we die for truth. We die in the Lord. God bless you, my friends. Have no fear; for I have none.”
She held the cross in her hands. She lifted her eyes to Heaven, seeming to be unaware of the flickering flames. She heard the shrieks of agony about her; but she was smiling as the flames crept up her tortured body.
Soon there was silence, and a pall of smoke hung above Smithfield Square.
THE KING WAS DISSATISFIED.
The execution had availed him nothing. He was a tired man; he was a King in need of relaxation, and my lady of Suffolk seemed to grow more fair as the days passed.
He was overburdened with matters of state. The cost of garrisoning the town of Boulogne and holding it against the French was a considerable drain on his resources, yet he would not give it up. It was an additional foothold in France which he felt was necessary to England. He affectionately called Boulogne “my daughter”; and it was said that he never squandered so much on any child of his as he did on the bricks and soil of that town.
Indeed he needed relaxation. In the days of his youth he had found great pleasure in the hunt; but he could no longer hunt with pleasure. He had enjoyed dancing, jousting, playing games, amusing and distinguishing himself in the tiltyard. But now that he was no longer a young man those avenues to pleasure were closed. There was still love. He needed love; but because he was a virtuous man—and he was continually worried by the thought that his end might not be far off—it must be legalized love; the sort of love which would not distress his conscience while it delighted his body.
All the kings of his age were egoists; but egoism was the very essence of this King’s nature. Everything that happened must be colored by his view of it, garnished and flavored to satisfy his conscience.
After he had fallen from grace, Cardinal Wolsey, who had perhaps known him better than any other person, said of him: “The King is a man of royal courage. He has a princely heart; and rather than he will miss or want part of his appetite he will hazard the loss of onehalf of his kingdom.”
It was true of Henry. He was as Wolsey had seen him. But he was strong and ruthless in an age when strength and ruthlessness were the qualities a growing country looked for in its King; and under this man a little island had become a great power; he, who had seemed to his enemies on the Continent of Europe but of ducal standing when he ascended the throne, had become a mighty King.
But there was more than one Henry. Just as there was the moralist and the sensualist, so there was the strong and ruthless ruler, determined to make his country great, and that other who must at all cost have his pleasure and who was ready to sacrifice half his kingdom for his appetite. But every phase of Henry’s character—the moralist, the sensualist, the great King and the weak King—was dominated by the brutal, callous monster.
Those about him, those sly and subtle ministers, continually watching him, sensed his moods.
They had murdered Anne Askew, but they still had to rid him of his sixth wife and provide him with a seventh. And there came a day shortly after the executions in Smithfield when Gardiner found his opportunity.
Gardiner had been granted an audience with the King when His Majesty was alone with the Queen, and the Bishop sensed at once a certain tension in the atmosphere. The King was irritated and wished to quarrel with the Queen; and the woman would give him no opportunity.
When Gardiner had the King’s signature to the papers which he had set before him, he spoke of the execution of Anne Askew, a subject which never failed to upset the Queen so thoroughly that it set her emotions above her common sense.
The King scowled.
“The trouble, Your Grace,” said Gardiner, “can be traced to these books which are circulating in your realm. They lead astray those who read them.” Gardiner had turned to the Queen, and he added pointedly: “Your Majesty has doubtless seen the books to which I refer?”
“I?” said Katharine, flushing uncomfortably.
“I feel sure that the woman, Anne Askew, must have brought them to Your Grace’s notice.”
Katharine, who had suffered and was still suffering from the tragedy which had robbed her of a woman whom she had loved and respected, said sharply: “The books I see and read could be of little interest to you, my lord Bishop.”
“Not if they were forbidden books, Your Majesty.”
“Forbidden books!” cried the Queen. “I was unaware that I must ask my lord Bishop’s advice as to what I might and might not read.”
Henry, who could never like Gardiner, thought his manner insolent, and growled: “I, too, was unaware of it.”
Gardiner bowed. He was a bold man and he knew that he was but obeying the will of the King in what he was doing.
“In truth,” he said quietly, “it would be presumptuous of me to direct Your Highness’s reading. I would but express an opinion that it might be unwise for the Queen’s Grace to have in her possession books given to her by those who, by order of the King, have been found guilty of heresy and sentenced to death.”
The King’s eyes glistened; they almost disappeared into his face as they did in moments of great pleasure or anger.
“What books are these?” he growled. “Has our Queen become the friend of those who work against us?”
Gardiner caught the note of excitement in the King’s voice. Was this the moment? Could he, by subtle words, trap the Queen, as he and the Chancellor had been unable to do by applying the torture to Anne Askew?
“Indeed not,” said Katharine.
She saw the crafty wickedness in her husband’s eyes, and because of what had happened to those who had shared his throne before her, she read his thoughts.
“Not so?” said the King. “We would be sure of that.”
“Your Majesty will hear me out?” said Katharine.
The King would not look at her. “I am weary of these conflicts,” he said. “I will not have my Queen take part in them…or if she does, she will not long remain my Queen.”
The threat in his words terrified Katharine. “Courage!” she prayed, as Anne Askew had prayed before her. But she knew that she, who loved life so much, could never face death as Anne had. Anne had longed for death, for martyrdom; and Katharine had never ceased to long for life and Thomas Seymour.
“Conflicts…?” she stammered.
“You heard us,” said the King; and the scowl on his brow had deepened. His anger shifted from the Queen to Gardiner. At that moment he disliked them both heartily and he was thinking: I am a King, heavily burdened with matters of state. I need pleasure to soothe me; I need gentle relaxation. Instead I have these two to plague me. Methinks it is time I rid myself of them both. “It would appear,” he continued, keeping his eyes on Gardiner, “that there are some among us who, in place of preaching the Word of God, do nothing but rail against one another.” His eyes shifted unpleasantly from the Bishop to the Queen and back to the Bishop. “If any know that there are those among us who preach perverse doctrines, he should come and declare it before us or some of our council. Have I not said it before?”
Gardiner murmured: “Your Majesty has indeed, and it shall be done….”
The King waved a hand; he was not going to endure one of Gardiner’s speeches. If any should speak now it would be the King.
“We now permit our subjects to read the Holy Scriptures,” he said, “and to have the Word of God in our mother tongue, and I will have it known that it is licensed them so to do only to inform their consciences, their children and their families, and not to dispute and to make scripture a railing and a taunting stock. This I have said to my parliament, and now I say it to you, Bishop, and to you, wife. I am sorry to know how irreverently that precious jewel, the Word of God, is disputed, rhymed, sung and jangled in every alehouse and tavern, contrary to the true meaning and doctrine of the same.”
He paused and raised his eyes devoutly to the ceiling, as though he knew that God was watching and applauding.
“My lord King,” said Katharine, “when Your Most Gracious Majesty says ‘to dispute,’ Your Grace cannot mean that it is not lawful to discuss, one with another, the interpretation of the Gospel?”
“I should have thought that we had stated our meaning clearly,” said the King with weary menace. “What do you, madam? Would you question the decision of our ministers?”
“Never, my lord, but…but…”
“But? But?” cried the King threateningly. “You would then question our decision?”
“I do no such thing, Your Majesty,” said Katharine quickly, “since it would be unseemly on my part. I would only beg Your Grace that you might cease to forbid the use of that translation which you previously licensed.”
The King let loose his anger. He flagellated it to greater vehemence. He wanted to find fault with his wife; he was tired of her. Through the haze of his fury he saw the alluring body of the Duchess of Suffolk.
“By my faith!” he cried. “I’ll have obedience from my subjects; and hark ye! a wife is not less a subject because she is a wife. Madam, when we say it is forbidden to use a translation, it is forbidden.”
“My lord,” said Katharine, trembling before the storm which she had raised, “your word is law indeed, but this translation did so clearly set forth the truth…”
“We would hear no more,” roared the King. “Therefore you have our leave to retire from our presence.”
She knelt before him, but he waved her away.
“Come,” he said, turning to Gardiner, “let us attend to matters of state.”
When Katharine had gone, the purple color flamed anew into his face.
“A good hearing it is,” he snarled, “when women become such clerks; and much to my comfort to be taught in my old age by my wife!”
Gardiner’s eyes were glistening; he wetted his dry lips. “Your Majesty, have I your leave to speak to you on a very serious matter?”
The King’s shrewd eyes appraised his Bishop. He knew the nature of this serious matter; it was a matter, above all others, that he wished to discuss.
“You have my leave,” he said.
“Your Majesty said that if any offended against your laws, no matter what rank that person should hold … it was the bounden duty…”
“Yes…yes…” said the King testily. “I remember my words. There is no need to repeat them.”
“There are secret matters, Your Majesty, which I have long sought an opportunity of bringing to your ears…but since they concern the opinions of the Queen…”
“Well?” cried the King. “Get on, man. Get on.”
“Your Majesty excels the princes of this and any other age as well as all the professed doctors of divinity. It is unseemly for any of Your Majesty’s subjects to argue and discuss with you as malapertly as the Queen hath done. It is grievous for any of your counselors to hear this done.”
“You’re right, Bishop. You’re right there.”
Gardiner lowered his voice. “Your Grace, I could make great discoveries, were I not held back by the Queen’s faction.”
The King looked fiercely at his Bishop, but his pleasure was obvious; and Gardiner knew that the moment for which he had longed was at hand. He would not have been in his eminent position if he had not been a man to seize his opportunities.
NAN WANDERED LISTLESSLY about the gardens of Hampton Court. It was no use pretending that she was unafraid. Every time a messenger came to the apartment she would find herself shivering.
She had heard of the terrible things which had happened to Anne Askew in the Tower. She had been there, at Smithfield Square, and had seen the poor broken creature they had carried out in her chair. She could not look on that gruesome end to Anne’s tragedy; she had knelt on the stones praying while the horrible smoke rose to the sky.
And those wicked men who had destroyed Anne now sought to destroy the Queen.
Nan watched a bee fly past, on the way from the flower garden, laden with pollen. She envied the bee who knew nothing of court intrigues, of fear, and the terrible things which could be done to a good and virtuous woman who had asked nothing but to be allowed to think for herself.
And what next? wondered Nan.
She was in constant dread that she herself would be taken to the Tower. What if they questioned her under torture? It was not the pain that she dreaded so much as the fear that she would not be strong enough to keep silent, and that she might betray the Queen.
What tragedies these gardens must have seen! It seemed to Nan that tension and horror were in the very air of this place. So many had suffered here. So many had walked these gardens waiting for disaster to overtake them.
And now, in the court, people were saying that the days of Katharine Parr were numbered.
The King had turned his eyes elsewhere; and here was the same pattern that had been worked before, with Katharine Parr in place of Anne Boleyn.
I would die for her! thought Nan; for dying would be easy. And oh, how I pray that it may never be my evil lot to betray her.
She must not delay. It was time to attend, with the other ladies, in the Queen’s apartment. The Queen’s apartment…. How long before there would be a new Queen in place of Queen Katharine?
She was about to cross the great courtyard when she saw, hurrying across it, that man who had taken off his mantle that he himself might ferociously work the rack and so inflict greater torture on the suffering body of Anne Askew. Nan drew back and hid herself in an archway.
Sir Thomas Wriothesley, the Lord Chancellor, was smiling, and it occurred to Nan that she had never seen him look so smug.
What could this mean? What fresh evil was he planning?
And as he crossed the courtyard, obviously in great haste, by some chance which could only be called miraculous, a scroll fell from his sleeve and came to rest on the cobbles.
Nan waited for him to pick it up, but he was unaware that it had fallen.
He passed on into the palace.
Quickly, and with madly beating heart, Nan ran out of her hiding place and picked up the documents.
She felt them to be of great importance, but she did not stop to read them; she thrust them into her bodice and ran, as fast as she could, to the Queen’s apartment. Intuitively she knew that the self-satisfied smile on the face of the Chancellor had something to do with these documents.
When she was in a small antechamber she took them from her bodice and examined one of them. She saw the seal and the King’s signature, and with horror, realized what it was.
Benumbed, she stood looking at it, and never in all her life had she felt such misery.
“What shall I do?” she whispered. “What can I do?”
She closed her eyes and said a short prayer asking for help and guidance that she might do the right thing. Then she thrust the documents back into her bodice and went to find the Queen.
IN THE PRIVY CHAMBER the Queen sat alone with her sister. She could not bring herself to work on the embroidery which lay on the windowseat.
She had been aware of the atmosphere of brooding disaster which pervaded the court. She was conscious of the quick glances which the King gave her now and then. All the ladies and gentlemen of the court were aware of it. They waited, with a certain fatalism, for past events to be repeated.
Lady Herbert felt the tension as much as any. Not only did she fear for her sister but for her husband, Lord Herbert, who was involved in the new learning as deeply as she was. It was true that the powerful Seymours were with them, but one felt sure, knowing the mental agility of the Seymours, that if there was trouble they would, with a few twists and turns, extricate themselves and leave their friends to take the blame.
The tragedy of Anne Askew could not be forgotten or misunderstood. It was a grim warning, the shadow cast before approaching disaster.
Katharine spoke of it, for to whom could she speak her thoughts if not to this beloved sister?
“I cannot bear to refer to it,” she said. “And yet I cannot bear not to.”
“Oh, my sister, when the mind is disturbed, it is well to speak of the worry, since it is not dismissed by silence.”
“How brave she was! Oh, Anne, could any of us be as brave?”
“I doubt it. It seems she was born to be a martyr. She longed for martyrdom. She was different from the rest of us. She embraced death eagerly; but dearest Kate… you and I… there is much on Earth that we long for.”
“You speak truth there, sister.”
Anne said: “You think of Seymour still, do you not?”
“Dearest Kate, it is not wise.”
“Love is beyond wisdom.”
“Sometimes I wonder…”
“You wonder whether I am a foolish woman to love him? You see him about the court, seeming not to care for me, casting his eyes on others. But, Anne, what could he do? How could he show his love for me, the King’s wife?”
Anne Herbert sighed and turned away. The tragedy of Anne Askew was a safer subject than the love of Thomas Seymour.
“I have scarcely slept since they took Anne Askew to the Tower,” she said.
“Nor I. I have dreams, Anne…horrible dreams. I dream of her on the rack…so frail…so delicate. And her bearing it so bravely, refusing to name us. I am glad we made her days in prison as comfortable as we could.”
“We acted foolishly in sending Nan with comforts,” said Anne. “But I am glad we did so. I, like you, dream dreams…of discovery. I dream that Nan… little Nan…is caught and tortured.”
The Queen shuddered. “If she had betrayed us they would have sent me to the Tower.”
“Dearest Kate, I think that was what Gardiner wished to do. Face the truth, my sister. It was you whom they wanted…not poor Anne Askew.”
“How I hate that man… and Wriothesley…Wriothesley the brute who tortured Anne with his own hands. How I hate them both!”
“Do not let your hatred grow too hot. You must be cool and calm … as they are.”
“Anne…my dearest sister… what can I do?”
Anne Herbert rose and, going to the Queen, put her hands on her shoulders and, drawing her toward her, held her close.
“Kate, face the truth. When the King’s nuptial ring was put on your finger, your head was placed directly under the ax.”
“I know it, Anne. I would be brave, but I am so frightened. When I think of what happiness might have been mine…”
“Hush! You must not speak of Seymour. You must not think of him.” Anne Herbert’s mouth hardened. “You must play his game. When he looks at you it would seem he has forgotten that he ever thought to make you his wife.”
“He is clever. He thinks of me, but he knows that one careless word would be enough to send us both to the scaffold. Oh, Anne, often I think of those others… Anne Boleyn and Catharine Howard.”
“But you must not! You must not!”
“How can I help it? What happened to them will happen to me.”
“Nay!” Anne was frightened by the signs of hysteria in her sister. “We have the advantage of knowing what happened to them.”
Katharine laughed wildly, and it was laughter which aroused fresh fears in her sister. Was this calm Kate, the practical one? They had made fun of Kate in the old days at home. Dear, sensible little Kate! they had called her. How placidly she had received the news that she was to marry Lord Borough; and how quickly she had adjusted herself to life with her husbands. There had never been any sign of hysteria in Kate during those years. But she had been living at the whim of a royal murderer for the last three years, and the strain was too much. It would break through the deep composure.
“Death is a dreary subject,” said Anne. “And how do any of us know when it will catch up with us? Come. I want you to see this embroidery of mine.”
“It is beautiful,” said the Queen. After a short silence she went on: “I often think of life in Yorkshire. Long summer days and the buzz of the bees in the lavender. I would sit in the garden with my husband and we would talk of… little things; the weeding that would have to be done; the little affairs of those who labored for us. How different life was! I was a Catholic then.”
“Catholic or Protestant, none is safe, Kate.”
“You are right. From the fury of the King none is safe.”
There was a knock on the door.
“Who is there?” cried Katharine, and the color left her face.
Every knock, every sound, is to her like the death knell! thought Anne.
“Please come in,” said the Queen in a breathless voice.
The door was opened and both ladies felt an immense relief, because it was only Nan who stood there.
But what had happened to Nan? Her face was parchment color and her eyes were wild; she held her hands across her bodice as though she feared someone might force from her what was hidden there.
“Your Majesty …” she stammered; and she did not fall on her knees, but stood still, looking wildly from the Queen to the Queen’s sister.
“You are distressed, Nan,” said the Queen. “What ails you?”
“Your Majesty, I know not what I have done. I thought it for the best….”
“Come here, Nan. Tell us what troubles you.”
Nan came forward and, as she did so, took the documents from her bodice.
“It was in the courtyard, Your Majesty. I saw the Chancellor. He was smiling, and he looked…so evil, that I greatly feared what was in his mind. And then … this dropped from his gown. I picked it up, and instead of running after him, something held me back. And…I saw Your Majesty’s name…so I brought it to you. If I have done aught wrong, it was for love of Your Majesty.”
The Queen took the documents. She said: “Nan, you did well to bring this to me. If … if it is aught that should be passed on to a member of the court, I will see to its despatch.”
“I thank Your Majesty.”
Nan had recovered her selfpossession. She had done all that she could.
Katharine said: “You may go, Nan.” And her sister, watching her, was aware of the great effort she was making to keep her control.
“I…I trust I did right, Your Majesty,” said Nan dropping to her knees.
“Yes, Nan. Yes.”
Nan went out, and Lady Herbert said quickly: “What are these papers?”
“They concern me, Anne. They concern me deeply. Read this! You see…”
Anne took the paper, and as she gazed at it, realized that what she had feared above all things had come to pass.
“It is a mandate for my arrest,” said Katharine slowly, and the hysterical laughter was in her voice.
“Oh God!” cried Anne. “It has come. It has come then.” She kept staring at the paper; she longed to tell herself that her eyes had deceived her, that fear and anger had made her see what was not there. But she knew that her eyes were not deceived. She cried out angrily: “Wriothesley has done this. He… and Gardiner. I would it were in my power to kill them!”
“But it is not in your power,” said Katharine wildly. “It is they who have the power. It is they who plan to kill me.”
“Nan saw this mandate for your arrest. She has endangered her life by bringing it to you. There are many who love you, Kate. Remember that. Remember it, dearest sister. Wriothesley was on his way to the King. He would have done his best to persuade His Majesty to sign.”
Katharine’s laughter seemed to fill the apartment. “Did you not see then? Did you not see it, Anne?”
Anne stared at her sister.
“The King!” cried Katharine wildly. “The King has signed. See. Here! The King has signed the mandate for the Queen’s arrest.”
Katharine walked to the window and looked out over the gardens where the red and white roses were lifting their faces to the hot sunshine.
She whispered: “I shall go down to the river. I shall take boat to the Tower. I shall enter by the Traitors’ Gate. That which I have dreaded so long is about to take place. Can aught prevent it? Oh, Thomas…we could have been happy together, you and I. But ’t was not to be so. I might not be your wife, for I must be a Queen. Often I have wondered about those who went before me, who enjoyed royal favor and who suffered royal displeasure. I have no need to wonder now.” She turned to her sister. “Do not weep for me, Anne. The shadow has grown large above me. I have seen it grow. Sweet sister, I am no lighthearted girl to imagine that the way which was so thorny for some would be smooth for me.”
“Katharine…perchance this is not the end.”
The Queen shook her head slowly. “This much I know: You spoke truth when you said that the King put a ring of doom about me when he placed the nuptial ring on my finger. None may share the throne of Henry of England and escape disaster. Mine closes in upon me now.”
Anne Herbert watched the Queen with wide and terrified eyes. That calmness would break, she knew; and then what would happen?
“Save her,” prayed Anne. “Save her. Death should not come to her so soon. She is young; she is sweet and kind and has never willingly harmed any. Oh God, let her live. Let her have a chance of happiness. She is not meant for death… not yet, dear Lord, not yet.”
And the Queen stood long at the window, looking out on the white and red roses of York and Lancaster blooming side by side within the Tudor fence.
THE QUEEN LAY on her bed. Her ladies had drawn the curtains, but the sound of her unrestrained sobbing could be heard even in the adjoining apartments.
A familiar sound within these walls—a Queen’s sobbing! The gallery was haunted by the sound of another Queen’s cries—those of the fifth Queen. How could the sixth Queen hope to evade the fate of the others?
“What means it?” asked the gentlemen of the King’s bedchamber when they heard the sound of the Queen’s distress.
“What has happened? Something of which we have not yet heard?”
They could guess what was about to happen. Had it not happened to others?
How far would this go? Would this mean the end of others besides the Queen? The Seymours seemed strong, but would the downfall of the Queen mean the downfall of their party? Those with Protestant leanings would have to take care, for if the King had decided to rid himself of the Queen, he must show less favor to her party. The King’s physical needs had always in some measure dictated his state policy. He was a ruthless ruler with voracious appetites.
Speculation was rife. And all through the day the Queen’s hysterical sobbing could be heard, and many thought that she was on the point of losing her reason.
Lady Herbert and Nan sat together in the anteschamber. Between those two was a great bond: their devotion to the Queen.
“I fear she will die,” said Anne Herbert.
“A terrible thing has come upon us,” said Nan, the tears streaming down her checks. “It is like a wild storm that sweeps through the forest. It will blow down the little plants with the big trees.”
“I trust not. I trust not, Nan. I will not give up hope.”
“It breaks my heart to hear her,” said Nan.
“I fear for her reason. I cannot believe that this is Kate, my calm sister Kate.”
“It is the nearness of the ax, my lady. It would drive me mad, I fear, to know the ax was so close. Throughout the palace men and women speak in hushed whispers. I dreamed last night that I was walking ’twixt two halberdiers, and one carried an ax whose blade was turned toward me.”
“You should not set such store by dreams, Nan.”
“I awoke with tears on my face. Oh, my lady, I heard the Duchess of Suffolk spoken of with great respect this day. It seems that many do her honor already.”
“I cannot think any envy her, Nan. Would she be the seventh? Would she come to this… this near madness, this closeness to the ax?”
“Some would do anything, my lady, anything for one short hour of fame.”
“Not after this. And if the King will rid himself of the Queen for what he calls heresy, how can he take my lady of Suffolk who could also be accused of the same?”
“The King would do anything that pleased him.”
“You must not speak of the King. Oh God, did you hear that? Poor soul! Poor Kate! What torment!”
“She will be heard in the courtyards. There seems to be a quiet everywhere, as though people wait and listen.”
“Ah, my sweet sister!” cried Lady Herbert, herself beginning to weep. “What did she ever do that was not kind? And what cares that… that lecher… but to satisfy his desires?”
“Hush, hush, my lady. We know not who may listen.”
“Nan… dear good Nan, I will say this: You may be near death, Katharine Parr, but in your goodness you have made many love you.”
“My lady, I have heard it said that if Catharine Howard could have spoken to the King she would have saved herself.”
“But, dear Nan, this is not quite the same. The pattern changes a little. He was deeply enamored of Catharine Howard. There was no lady of Suffolk waiting for him then.”
“Oh my lady, I think I hear someone at the door.”
“Go … go quickly and see. It may be that we have been overheard.”
Even as she spoke there was a loud rapping on the door.
“Let no one in!” whispered Lady Herbert. “Say that the Queen is sick to death and can see no one.”
With terrified eyes, Anne Herbert stared at the door. Nan had opened it and closed it behind her. From the Queen’s bedchamber came the sound of her sobbing.
Nan came back, shut the door and stood against it. Her eyes were wide with terror.
“Who is it, Nan?”
“Sir Thomas Seymour.”
“What does he want?”
“A word with her Grace the Queen.”
“Then he has gone mad.”
“He says it is most important. He is in great haste. He says, for pity’s sake let him in quickly, an you love the Queen.”
“Bring him here, Nan. Quickly.”
Lady Herbert rose and met Thomas at the door.
“My lord,” she cried, “you are mad…to come thus to the Queen’s chamber.”
“None saw me come,” said Seymour, shutting the door quickly. “How fares the Queen?”
“Sick… sick unto death.”
“There is yet a hope. I came to warn her. The King has heard her cries.”
“And what of that?”
“He comes this way. He comes to see the Queen.”
“Then why do you come here? Go at once, my lord, and for the love of God, be quick. Were you found here…”
“He will be some minutes yet. He is himself indisposed. He cannot set foot to ground. He will be wheeled here, and that will take time. Tell the Queen that he comes. Prepare her. Impress upon her that if she will fight with all her might there may be a chance. That chance, which was denied to others may be hers.”
“Go. Go at once. I will prepare her.”
By force of habit he bowed over her hand.
“Please… please,” she begged. “No ceremony. I will go to her. I will go at once.”
He smiled his reckless smile, but there was a touch of anguish in it. Did he then care for Katharine after all? wondered Anne. He must in some measure, for he had come to her apartments at some peril.
She shut the door and ran to the Queen’s chamber.
“Kate… Kate… rouse yourself, my dearest. Gather your thoughts together, sweet sister. All is not lost.”
The Queen sat up, pushing the hair from her hot face. She had changed in the last few days; she was unlike the calm, pleasant-faced woman whom the court knew as Queen Katharine Parr.
“What means this?” she asked listlessly.
“The King comes this way. He has heard of your distress and is coming to see you.”
Katharine laughed wildly.
“No, no,” cried her sister. “Be calm. Be calm. Everything depends on the next few minutes. Let me braid your hair. Let me wipe the tears from your face. The King comes, I tell you. He is being carried here in his chair, for he cannot walk…yet he comes to see you.”
Katharine had roused herself, but the deep depression had not left her face. If it had changed at all, it had changed to resignation. It seemed to Anne that the listlessness indicated that if she had done with tears it was because she no longer cared whether she lived or died.
“Did you see his signature, sister? His signature on the mandate? Bold and clear… signing me to death?”
“The King’s moods are variable as April weather. One day a cloudburst, and within the hour… bright sunshine. Rain, hail, storm and sudden heat. You should know, Kate.”
While she spoke she was combing the Queen’s hair, and in her voice there were trills of laughter. This sudden hope after hopelessness was more than she could bear. She felt that if the King did not soon come she herself would burst into hysterical laughter.
“He was ever a strong man, sister,” Katharine was saying, “a man of purpose. And now that purpose is to rid himself of me.”
“He is a sick man also.”
“She is beautiful, his new love; and he desires her as once he desired Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour and Catharine Howard.”
“This is an ageing man. Deft healing fingers mean more to him in some moods than a pretty face.”
“I only wish that I might die now, before I am required to walk out to the Green and see in the crowd the faces of mine enemies come thither to watch my blood flow.”