The King's Secret Matter (4 page)

BOOK: The King's Secret Matter
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As the courtiers left the King and Queen together, many an understanding glance was exchanged. It was common knowledge that all was not well between the royal pair. Who could blame the King, said the gay young men, married to a woman five years older than himself – a woman who was over-pious and a solemn Spaniard – when he was surrounded by gay young English girls all eager for a frolic! It would have been different of course had there been a son.

There was one among the company whose smile was complacent. This did not go unnoticed. Edward Stafford, third Duke of Buckingham, had good reason to be delighted by this lack of royal fertility. Secretly Buckingham believed himself to be more royal than the Tudors, and there were many who, had they dared to express such an opinion, would have agreed with him.

Buckingham was a proud man; he could not forget that through his father he was descended from Thomas of Woodstock, son of Edward III, and that his mother had been Catherine Woodville, sister of Elizabeth Woodville who had married Edward IV. And who were the Tudors but a bastard sprig from the royal tree!

Never could Buckingham look on the King without this thought crossing his mind: There but for the chances of fate might stand Edward Stafford.

Such thoughts were only safe when locked in the secret places of the mind; and it was unwise to betray, even by a look, that they existed. Buckingham was a rash man and therefore, since he lived under Henry VIII, an unwise one.

The old Duke of Norfolk who was at his side, guessing his thoughts, whispered: ‘Caution, Edward.'

As Buckingham turned to look at his friend a faint frown of exasperation appeared on his brow. Further resentment flared up in his mind against the King. Why should he have to be cautious lest the stupid young King should realise that he fancied himself in his place? If Henry had a spark of imagination, he would guess this was so.

Norfolk and Buckingham were intimate friends and there was a connection between the families because Buckingham's daughter had married Norfolk's son.

Buckingham smiled wryly. The old man would want no trouble to befall his friend and connection by marriage, and would be thinking that such trouble often embraced the whole of a family.

‘Your looks betray your thoughts,' whispered Norfolk. ‘There are those who are ready to carry tales. Let us go to your apartments where we shall be able to talk in peace.'

Buckingham nodded and they disengaged themselves from the crowd.

‘You should be watchful,' murmured Norfolk as they mounted the staircase on their way to Buckingham's apartment.

Buckingham shrugged elegant shoulders. ‘Oh come,' he said, ‘Henry knows that I'm as royal as he is. He doesn't need my careless looks to remind him.'

‘All the more reason for caution. I should have thought you would have been warned by the case of Bulmer.'

Buckingham smiled reminiscently. It had been worth it, he decided; even though at the time he had suffered some uneasy moments.

But he was glad that he had shown his daring to the Court; there was no doubt of that when he had approached Sir William
Bulmer, who was in the service of the King, and bribed him with an offer of better service in his own retinue. He had done this out of bravado, out of that ever persistent desire to show the King that he was of equal standing. Buckingham had never forgotten how Henry had sought to seduce his, Buckingham's, sister, as though she were some serving girl at the Court. Perhaps Henry also had not forgotten Buckingham's action in having the girl whirled out of his orbit by her enraged husband just at that moment when successful seduction seemed imminent. Buckingham had scored then. It was a glorious victory for a Duke to win over a King. And he had tried again with Bulmer. Not so successfully, for the King, no longer an uncertain boy, had summoned Bulmer to the Star Chamber and accused him of having deserted the royal service. Bulmer had cowered before the onslaught of the King's anger and had been kept on his knees until he despaired of ever being allowed to rise.

But at length Henry had relented, forgiven Bulmer and taken him back into his service. The affair, however, was meant to be a warning – chiefly to an arrogant Duke. Yet the Duke still thought his dangerous thoughts; and it was possible to read them in almost every gesture that he made.

‘Ah, Bulmer,' he mused now. ‘That man was a coward. He should have returned to me.'

‘It might have cost him his head,' suggested Norfolk.

‘I would rather lose my head than be known as a coward.'

‘Take care that you are not called upon to prove those words, Edward.'

‘Henry does not possess a surfeit of bravery,' retorted Buckingham. ‘Look how he let my sister go.'

‘It would be a different state of affairs if that had happened today. Henry was a boy when he decided on your sister. I do
believe that up to that time he had never been unfaithful to the Queen. Those days are over.'

‘He realised that we Staffords would not accept the insult.'

‘You deceive yourself. If he fancied your wife or mine he'd care not a jot for our families. The King is no longer a boy to be led. He is a man who will have what he wants and thrust aside all those who stand in his way.'

‘If he respects royalty he must include those who are as royal as he is.'

‘Henry sees only one point of view, his own. He is the King. The rest of us, be we Dukes or lords, are so far beneath him that he would have our heads, ay, and feel it was but his due, should the fancy take him. That is why I bid you to be cautious. Ha, here comes Wolsey, on his way to the royal apartments, I'll swear.'

‘The butcher's dog is for ever sniffing at the heels of his master,' said Buckingham, without taking the precaution of lowering his voice.

Thomas Wolsey was making his way towards them, an impressive figure in his scarlet Cardinal's robes. He was a man of about forty-five, his expression alert, his face mildly disfigured by smallpox, and the lid of one eye hanging lower than the other, which gave an added expression of wisdom to his clever face.

Buckingham did not pause as he approached; his gaze became cold and he looked beyond the Cardinal as though he could not see the red-clad figure.

‘A merry good day to you, gentlemen,' said the Cardinal.

‘Good day to you,' answered Norfolk.

‘I trust, my lords, you enjoyed good sport and that His Grace is happy because of it.'

‘The sport was fair enough,' murmured Norfolk; but Buckingham, who had not spoken, was walking on.

Wolsey did not appear to have noticed; he inclined his head slightly and Norfolk did likewise, as Wolsey went on towards the King's apartments, the two Dukes on to Buckingham's.

‘ 'Tis my belief he heard your words,' said Norfolk.

‘ 'Tis my hope that he did.'

‘Curb your pride, Edward. Will you never understand that he is forever at the King's side, ready to pour his poison in the royal ear?'

‘Let him pour – if the King listens to the butcher's boy he is unworthy to be King.'

‘Edward . . . you fool! When will you learn? You already have an enemy in the Cardinal; if you love your life do not seek one in the King.'

But Buckingham strode on ahead of Norfolk, so that the old man had to hurry to keep up with him; and thus they came to his apartments.

As they entered three men of his retinue who were conversing together bowed to him and his companion. These were Delacourt his confessor, Robert Gilbert his chancellor, and Charles Knyvet who was not only his steward but his cousin.

The Dukes acknowledged their greetings and when they had passed into Buckingham's private apartment he said: ‘My servants are aware of it. They know full well that their master might, by good chance, ascend the throne.'

‘I trust,' put in Norfolk nervously, ‘that you have never spoken of such matters in their presence.'

‘Often,' laughed Buckingham. ‘Why, only the other day Delacourt said to me: ‘If the Princess Mary died, Your Grace
would be heir to the throne.' Why, my friend, you tremble. Norfolk, I'm surprised at you.'

‘I never heard such folly.'

‘Listen to me,' murmured Buckingham soothingly. ‘The King is not such a fool as to attack the nobility. He has too much respect for royalty to harm me. So set aside your fears. This much I tell you: I will be treated with the respect due to me. Now, what do you think the King is saying to his Queen at this moment? He is upbraiding her for not accompanying him to watch the sport; but what he really means is that she is of no use to him since she cannot give him a son. I do believe he has begun to despair of ever getting a boy by her.'

‘But the boys he gets by others will not provide the heir to the throne.'

Buckingham chuckled. ‘No. There'll be no heir – and is the Princess Mary really a healthy child? But the King would do well to forget his anxieties. He has good heirs in me and mine.'

It was useless, Norfolk saw, to turn Buckingham from the subject which obsessed him; nevertheless he tried; and they talked awhile of the Field of the Cloth of Gold and the treaties which had been made with François Premier and the Emperor Charles.

Norfolk, who had not accompanied the royal party to France on that occasion, grumbled about the cost to which England had been put, and Buckingham agreed with him. The nobility would be on short commons for the next few months in order to pay for all the finery they had had to provide.

‘And for what?' demanded Buckingham. ‘That our Henry might show François what a fine fellow he is! As if François could not match pageant with pageant!'

Norfolk sourly agreed. He had not stood in high favour with
the King since Thomas Wolsey had risen to such eminence; he hated the Cardinal as much as Buckingham did, but he had had an opportunity of realising the venom and power of the man, and he was too shrewd to take unnecessary risks.

Buckingham was in a rebellious mood that day and, being conscious that members of his retinue were hovering, and fearing some indiscretion might be uttered in their presence, in which he might be involved, Norfolk took his leave as soon as he could politely do so.

When he was alone Buckingham brooded on that favourite subject of his, which aroused such bitterness within him and which, try as he might, he could never succeed in dismissing from his mind. He could work himself to a fury over what he construed as an insult from anyone of lowlier birth than his own, and the very presence of Wolsey at Court seemed an affront.

Norfolk's warnings had only succeeded in intensifying his recklessness, and when Knyvet came to his apartment to ask his advice about some matter of his stewardship, the Duke said: ‘His Grace of Norfolk has been talking to me of the affair of William Bulmer.'

‘Ah, Your Grace,' said Knyvet, ‘that man is now back in the King's service. Some say he had a lucky escape.'

‘Oh yes, he went back like a whipped cur. He would have done better to have remained with me. I shall not forget that he deserted me . . . when the time comes.'

Knyvet looked startled. ‘It is not easy to disobey the King's command.'

Buckingham lifted his shoulders. ‘At one time I believed the King was preparing to have
me
sent to the Tower for my part in that affair.'

‘Your Grace to the Tower!'

Buckingham nodded. ‘Kings do not last for ever,' he mused. ‘My father learned that. He was in conflict with Richard III. But my father was no coward. He planned that when he was brought to the King he would have his dagger ready and plunge it into that false heart. I do assure you, cousin, that had an indignity been forced upon me, I should have been as ready to avenge the honour of my family as my father was.'

Knyvet murmured: ‘Your Grace cannot mean . . .'

‘And,' interrupted Buckingham fiercely, ‘if the King were to die and the Princess were to die, I should take over the crown of this Kingdom, and none should say me nay.'

Knyvet recoiled, which amused Buckingham. How terrified everyone was of being drawn into a conspiracy! Such fear in others spurred the Duke on to further recklessness. He said: ‘Is Hopkins, the monk, in the Palace today?'

‘Yes, Your Grace.'

‘Then send him to me. I have heard that he can see into the future. I want him to look into mine.'

‘I will have him brought to Your Grace.'

‘With all speed,' cried Buckingham.

He paced excitedly up and down his apartment while waiting for the monk; and when the man was brought to him he shouted so that several of his servants could not fail to hear him: ‘So, Hopkins, you are here. I want you to tell me what the future holds for me. I want you to tell me what chance I have of attaining the throne.'

The monk shut the door and put his fingers to his lips. The face which peered out of his hood was shrewd. He took in the details of the apartment; the love of luxury was apparent. Here
was a noble Duke who could do him much good in exchange for the prophecy he wanted. Hopkins knew that if he told the Duke that he would be more likely to end his days on a scaffold than on a throne (and one did not have to be a soothsayer to suspect that) he would be dismissed without reward. But such as this Duke would be ready to pay well for what he wanted to hear.

Hopkins looked long into that arrogant face, half closed his eyes and murmured: ‘I see greatness ahead for Your Grace.'

‘What sort of greatness?'

‘All that you desire will be yours. I see a crown . . .'

A slow, satisfied smile spread across the Duke's face. This fellow has great and unusual powers, he told himself. It
shall
come to pass. Has he not prophesied that it shall?

So he presented the monk with a heavy purse; and from that moment his manner grew a shade more arrogant.

BOOK: The King's Secret Matter
6.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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