The King's Secret Matter (10 page)

BOOK: The King's Secret Matter
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In the King's private chamber, Henry was laughing.

‘ 'Twas a merry sight, Thomas, to see you there with the water drenching your robes.'

‘I am delighted to have provided Your Grace with some amusement,' murmured Wolsey.

‘I have rarely seen you so astonished. As for Buckingham, he was in a rage.'

‘And in your presence!'

Henry clapped a hand on Wolsey's shoulder. ‘I know Buckingham. He was never one to hold in his temper. And when you . . . Thomas Wolsey . . . not a member of the nobility, dipped your hands into the bowl . . .'

‘As Your Grace's Chancellor . . .'

‘Buckingham pays more respects to a man's family tree than to his attainments, Thomas.'

‘Well I know it, for the man's a fool, and I thank the saints nightly that this realm has been blessed with a ruler who is of such wisdom.'

The King smiled almost roguishly. ‘As for me, Thomas, I care not whether men come from butchers' shops or country
mansions. I am the King, and all my subjects are born beneath me. I look down on one and all.'

‘Even on Buckingham!'

‘Why do you say that, Thomas?'

‘Because the Duke has strange notions about his birth. He fancies himself to be as royal as Your Grace.'

The roguishness disappeared and a look of cruelty played about the tight little mouth. ‘You said Buckingham was a fool, Thomas. We are once again in agreement.'

Now it was Thomas's turn to smile.

He believed the time had come to make an end of his enemy.

The Cardinal allowed a few weeks to pass; then one day he came to the King in pretended consternation.

‘What ails you, Thomas?' asked Henry.

‘I have made discoveries, Your Grace, which I hesitate to lay before you, of such a shocking nature are they.'

‘Come, come,' said the King testily; he was in a white silk shirt and purple satin breeches, puffed and slashed, ready for a game of tennis.

‘They concern my Lord Buckingham. I must regretfully advise your Grace that I believe him to be guilty of treason.'

‘Treason!'

‘Of a most heinous nature.'

‘How so?'

‘He lays claim to the throne and declares he will have it one day.'

‘What!' roared the King, tennis forgotten. There was one subject which filled him, as a Tudor, with alarm. That was the suggestion that anyone in the realm had a greater right to the
throne than he had. His father had had to fight for the crown; he had won it and brought prosperity to England, uniting the houses of York and Lancaster by his marriage; but the hideous Wars of the Roses were not so far behind that they could be forgotten; and the very mention of a pretender to the throne was enough to rouse Henry to fury.

‘I have long suspected him,' the Cardinal soothed. ‘Hence his hatred of me and the enmity between us. This I should feel towards any who sought to harm Your Grace. I have made it my duty to test his servants, and I now have the results of these labours to lay before Your Grace.'

‘What are these results?'

‘In the first place Buckingham feels himself to be as royal as your Grace.'

‘The rogue!' cried Henry.

‘He has said that there is no bar sinister on his escutcheon.'

Wolsey had the pleasure of seeing the red colour flame into the plump cheeks. ‘He has told his confessor, Delacourt, that if you were to die and the Princess Mary were to die, he would have the throne.'

‘By God!' cried the King. ‘He shall lose his head – for it is his just deserts.'

‘That is not all,' went on the Cardinal. ‘I have learned that he consults a soothsayer, and that he has been told that one day he will mount the throne.'

‘And how can he do this? Tell me that. Does he think to go to war . . . with
me
!'

‘He's a fool, Your Grace, but not such a fool as that. He knows the people love you and that you have your friends. Soothsayers often practise another trade. I have heard they are often well versed in the art of poison.'

Henry was speechless for a few seconds. Then he burst out: ‘We'll have him in the Tower. We'll have him on the rack. We'll have the truth from him. By God, his head shall be forfeit for what he has done.'

‘Your Grace,' murmured the Cardinal, ‘we must build up a case against him. This I believe we can do.'

‘You mean we can send him to the scaffold?'

‘Why should we not, if we can prove him guilty of treason?'

‘He would have to be tried before his peers. Forget not, Thomas, that this is Buckingham; 'tis true that there is royal blood in his veins. You think his peers would judge him worthy of the traitors' death?'

‘If the case were strong enough against him.'

‘Norfolk would be one of his judges. You know the bonds between them. He and his fellows would be loth to condemn one of such nobility. Had he raised an army against the Crown, that would be another matter. But it would seem that he has done nothing but prate.'

‘Against Your Grace!'

‘Thomas, I understand you well. You serve me with all your heart. I brought you up, and you have had little but insults from these men. But they are the nobility; they make a shield around the throne. They have certain privileges.'

‘Your Grace, I concern myself only with the safety of my master.' The Cardinal snapped his fingers. ‘I care not that for this shield. Your Grace, I crave pardon but I say this: You know not your strength. All men about the throne should tremble at your displeasure . . . be they scullions or noble dukes. This could be so. This must be so. You are our lord and our King.'

For a few seconds the two men regarded each other. The
Cardinal knew that this was one of the most significant moments of his career.

He was showing the young lion that the golden walls of his cage were only silken strands to be pushed aside whenever he wished. Yet looking at this man of turbulent passions, even then the Cardinal wondered what he had done. But he was vindictive by nature; and from the moment he had seen the greasy water splash his satin robes he had determined at all costs to have his revenge.

The news spread round the Court.

‘This cannot be,' it was whispered. ‘What has he done, but talk? Who can prove that this and that was said? Who are the witnesses against him? A pack of disgruntled servants! This trial is a warning. Do not forget this is the noble Duke of Buckingham. He will be freed with a pardon and a warning.'

But the King's anger against Buckingham was intense when he examined the evidence which his Chancellor had put before him.

His face was scarlet as he read the report of Buckingham's carelessly spoken words. It was infuriating that anyone should dare
think
such thoughts, let alone express them. And in the hearing of servants, so that those words could be repeated in the streets, in taverns, wherever men congregated! This was treason.

And what care I, thought Henry, if this be a noble duke! Am I not the King?

For the first time he had realised the extent of his power. He was going to show all those about him that none could speak treason against the King with impunity. He was greedy for
blood – the blood of any man who dared oppose him. He could shed that blood when and where he wished; he was the supreme ruler.

Norfolk came to him in some distress. Henry had never felt any great affection for Norfolk. The Duke seemed so ancient, being almost fifty years older than the King; his ideas were set in the past, and Henry thought that the old man would have liked to censure him if he dared. He had been young and daring in the days of Henry's maternal grandfather, Edward IV, but those days of glory were far behind him.

‘Well, well?' Henry greeted him testily.

‘Your Grace, I am deeply disturbed by the imprisonment of my kinsman, Buckingham.'

‘We have all been deeply disturbed by the treason he has sought to spread,' growled the King.

‘Your Grace, he has been foolish. He has been careless.'

‘Methinks that he has too often repeated his treason to offer the excuse that he spoke in an unguarded moment. This is a plot . . . a scheme to overthrow the Crown, and there is one word for such conduct; that is treason. And I tell you this, my lord Duke, there is but one sentence which right-minded judges can pronounce on such a man.'

Norfolk was startled. He knew the King was subject to sudden anger, but he had not believed that he could be so vehemently determined on the destruction of one who had been in his intimate circle and known as his friend. And for what reason? Merely a carelessly spoken word repeated by a dissatisfied servant!

Norfolk had never been noted for his tact; he went on: ‘Your Grace, Buckingham is of the high nobility.'

‘I care not how high he be. He shall have justice.'

‘Your Grace, he has erred and will learn his lesson. I'll warrant that after the trial he will be a wiser man.'

‘It is a pity that there will be so little time left to him to practise his new-found wisdom,' said the King venomously.

Then Norfolk knew. Henry was determined on the death of Buckingham.

But even so, he could not let the matter end there. He and Buckingham were not only friends but connected by the marriage of his son and Buckingham's daughter. He thought of the grief in his family if Buckingham should die; moreover he must stand by the rights of the nobility. This was not rebellion against the King; Buckingham had not set out to overthrow the Crown. The King must be made to understand that, powerful as he was, he was not entitled to send the nobility to death because of a careless word.

‘Your Grace cannot mean that you demand his
life
!'

The King's eyes narrowed. ‘My lord Norfolk,' he said significantly, ‘do you also seek to rule this realm?' Norfolk flinched and Henry began to shout: ‘Get from here . . . lest you find yourself sharing the fate of your kinsman. By God and all His saints, I will show you, who believe yourselves to be royal, that there is only one King of this country; and when treason stalks, blood shall flow.'

Norfolk bowed low and was glad to escape from the King's presence. He felt sick at heart. He had received his orders. Buckingham was to be judged guilty by his peers; he was to pay the supreme penalty.

The pleasure-loving boy King was no more; he had been replaced by the vengeful man.

He stood at the bar, the reckless Buckingham, facing the seventeen peers, headed by Norfolk, who were his judges. His arms folded, his head held high, he was ready to throw away his life rather than beg for mercy.

Old Norfolk could not restrain his tears. He wanted to shout: This is madness. Are we going to condemn one of ourselves to the scaffold on the evidence of his servants?

But Norfolk had received his orders; he had looked into those little blue eyes and had seen the blood-lust there. Insults to the King, though carelessly uttered, must be paid for in blood; for the King was all-powerful and the old nobility must realise that.

Calmly Buckingham heard the charges brought against him. He had listened to prophecies of the King's death and his own ascension to the throne; he had said that he would kill the King; he had many times mentioned the fact that only the King and the Princess Mary stood between him and the throne.

BOOK: The King's Secret Matter
11.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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