The King's Secret Matter (6 page)

BOOK: The King's Secret Matter
5.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Here was opulence of a kind not seen even in the King's own palaces; the walls were hung with the finest tapestry which the Cardinal caused to be changed once a week; throughout the
palace were exquisite pieces of furniture and treasures which proclaimed the wealth of their owner. The Cardinal was a man who liked to be constantly reminded of his possessions, for he had attained them through his own brilliance, and because he remembered humbler days he found the greater pleasure in them. He did not care that the people murmured and said that his court was more magnificent than that of the King; that was how he wished it to be. He often said to himself: ‘All that is Henry's is his because he is his father's son. All that is mine, is mine because I am Thomas Wolsey.'

He encouraged ostentation. Let noblemen such as Norfolk and Buckingham sneer. They would sneer once too often. Let them make sly references to the butcher's shop in which they swore he had been born. What did he care? These men were fools; and Wolsey believed that one day he would triumph over all his enemies. He was determined to do so, for he was not the man to forget a slight.

He smoothed the crimson satin of his robes and caressed his tippet of fine sable.

Oh, it was good to be rich. It was good to have power and to feel that power growing. There was very little he wished for and did not possess, for he was not a man to seek the impossible. The greatest power in England, the Papal Crown . . . these were not impossibilities. And if he longed to install his family here in Hampton Court, to boast to the King of his son – his fine sturdy Thomas, named after himself, but known as Wynter – he accepted the impossibility of doing so. As a prelate he could not allow the fact of that uncanonical marriage of his to be known; he was therefore reconciled to keeping his family in the background while he could bestow honours on his son.

He was smiling to himself now because he knew of the activities which would be going on in the great kitchens. There was a special banquet this day; the King would be present in some disguise. Wolsey had not been specifically told that Henry would come; he had merely heard that a party of gentlemen from a far country planned to test the hospitality of Hampton Court, for they had heard that it vied with that to be enjoyed at the King's Court.

Wolsey laughed aloud. Such childish games! One among them would be the King, and the company must express its surprise when he discarded the disguise, and then the great delight and pleasure all felt in the honour of having their King with them.

‘A game,' mused Wolsey, ‘that we have played countless times and will doubtless play countless times again, for it seems that His Grace never tires of it.'

But was His Grace tiring? Had there been an indication recently of a change in the King's attitude to life? Was he taking more interest in matters of state, a little less in masking?

The longer the King remained a pleasure-loving boy the greater pleased would the Cardinal be. Those workmanlike hands of his were the hands to hold the helm. He wanted no interference.

Let the golden boy frolic with his women. Wolsey frowned a little. Boleyn was growing somewhat presumptuous on account of that brazen girl of his; and the man was becoming a little too important. But the Cardinal could deal with such; it was the King's interference that he most feared; and while the King was concerned with a girl he could be expected to leave matters of state to his trusted Chancellor.

The guests were already arriving. He would not join them
until the coming of the party of gentlemen in disguise, for that was beneath his dignity. His guests must wait for him to come among them, as at Greenwich or Westminster they waited for the King.

He knew that they would whisper together of the magnificence they saw about them, of the manner in which he dressed his servants, so that many of them were more richly clad than his guests. In the kitchens now his master cook, attired in scarlet satin with a gold chain about his neck, would be directing his many servants as though he himself was the lord of this manor; and that was how Wolsey would have it: that each man – from his steward who was a dean, and his treasurer who was a knight, to his grooms and yeomen of the pastry and his very scullery boys – should know, and tell the world by his demeanour, that it was better to be a page of the pantry in the household of Cardinal Wolsey than a gentleman steward in the house of any nobleman under the King.

As he brooded, his man Cavendish came to the door of the apartment and craved his master's indulgence for disturbing him, but a certain Charles Knyvet, late of the household of the Duke of Buckingham, was begging an audience with him.

Wolsey did not speak for a second. He felt a surge of hatred rise within him at the mention of the hated Buckingham. There was a man who had been born to wealth and nobility and who never failed to remind the Cardinal of it. It was in every look, every gesture and, often when he passed, Wolsey would hear the words: butcher's dog.

One day Buckingham was going to regret that he dared scorn Thomas Wolsey, for the Cardinal was not the sort to forget a grudge; all insults were remembered in order to be repaid tenfold; for that dignity which he had had to nurture,
having cost him so much to come by, was doubly dear to him.

This was interesting. Knyvet to see him! He knew that the fellow was related to Buckingham – a poor relation – who had been in the Duke's employ until recently. There had been some difference of opinion between Master Knyvet and his rich relation, with the result that Knyvet had been dismissed from the ducal household.

So he came to see the Cardinal.

Wolsey regarded his hands thoughtfully. ‘You discovered his business?'

‘He said it was for the ears of Your Eminence alone.'

The Cardinal nodded; but he would not see the man – not at the first request. That would be beneath the dignity of the great Cardinal.

‘Tell him he may present himself again,' he said.

Cavendish bowed. The man was favoured. At least the Cardinal had not refused his request for an interview.

So Cavendish went back through the eight rooms, which had to be traversed before the Cardinal's private chamber was reached, and in which none who sought an audience might wait.

Now Wolsey could hear shouts on the river, the sound of music, and he decided it was time for him to leave his apartment and cross the park to the water's edge, there to receive the party, for it would contain one before whom even a great Cardinal must bow.

He made his way down his private staircase and out into the sunshine; standing at the river's edge he watched the boat approach the privy stairs. In it was a party of men dressed in dazzling colours, all heavily masked and wearing beards, some of gold wire, some of black. The Cardinal saw with some
dismay that the masks, the false beards, and caps of gold and scarlet which covered their heads were all-concealing, and this was going to be one of those occasions when it was not easy to pick out the King.

Usually his great height betrayed him; but there were several who appeared to be as tall. A faint irritation came to the Cardinal, although he hastened to suppress it; one of the first steps to disfavour was taken when one betrayed a lack of interest in the King's pastimes. That was one of the lesser ways in which the Queen was failing.

‘Welcome, gentlemen,' he cried, ‘welcome to Hampton Court.'

One of the masked men said in a deliberately disguised voice which Wolsey could not recognise: ‘We come from a strange land, and news of the hospitality of the great Cardinal has been brought to us, so we would test it.'

‘Gentlemen, it is my pleasure to entertain you. Come into the palace. The banquet is about to be served, and there are many guests at my table who will delight you as you will delight them.'

‘Are there fair ladies?' asked one.

‘In plenty,' answered the Cardinal.

One tall man with a black beard came to the Cardinal's side. ‘Fair ladies at the table of a Cardinal?' he murmured.

Wolsey spread his hands, believing he heard mockery in the voice. This disturbed him faintly for he fancied it might well be the King who walked beside him.

‘My lord,' he answered, ‘I give all I have to my guests. If I believe the company of fair ladies will enliven the occasion for them, then I invite fair ladies to my table.'

‘ 'Tis true you are a perfect host.'

They had come to the gates of the palace beside which stood two tall yeomen and two grooms, so still that they looked like statues, so gorgeously apparelled that they looked like members of the nobility.

‘Methinks,' said the black-bearded man in an aside to one of his companions, ‘that we come not to the Cardinal's court but to the King's Court.'

‘It pleases me that you should think so, my lord,' said Wolsey, ‘for you come from a strange land and now that you are in the King's realm you will know that a Chancellor could possess such a manor only if his master were as far above him as you, my lord, are above my grooms whom you so recently have passed.'

‘Then is the King's Court of even greater brilliance?'

‘If it were but a hut by the river it would be of greater brilliance because our lord the King was therein. When you have seen him you will understand.'

He was feeling a little uneasy. It was disconcerting to be unsure of the King's identity. The game was indeed changing when that golden figure could not be immediately discovered.

‘It would seem that you are not only a great Cardinal but a loyal subject.'

‘There is none more loyal in the kingdom,' replied Wolsey vehemently; ‘and none with more reason to be. All that I am, I am because of the King's grace; all that I possess comes from his mercy.'

‘Well spoken,' said the black-bearded man. ‘Let us to your banquet table; for the news of its excellence has travelled far.'

In the banqueting hall the guests were already assembled, and the sight was magnificent, for the great hall was hung with finest tapestry, and many tables were set side by side. In the
place of honour was a canopy under which it was the Cardinal's custom to sit, and here he would be served separately by two of his chief servants. The brilliance of the gathering was dazzling, and the members of the Cardinal's retinue in their colourful livery contributed in no small way to the opulence of the occasion.

Wolsey's eyes were on the black-bearded man. ‘You shall be seated in the place of honour,' he said.

‘Nay, my lord Cardinal, it pleases us that you should take your place under the cloth of state and behave as though we were the humblest of your guests.'

But as he took his place under the canopy the Cardinal's apprehension increased. Previously during such masquerades he had discovered the King immediately and acted accordingly. Irritated as he was, he forced himself to appear gracious and to behave as though this really was a party of foreign travellers who had come unexpectedly to his table.

But it was difficult. Who were behind those masks? Buckingham doubtless. Boleyn? Compton? Suffolk? All Henry's cronies and therefore casting wary eyes at a man of the people who had risen so far above them.

He signed to his servants to serve the banquet but his eyes ranged about the table. The napery was exquisite; the food as plentiful as that supplied at the King's table. Everything was of the best. Capons, pheasants, snipe, venison, chickens and monumental pies. Who but the Cardinal's cooks could produce such light pastry with the golden look? Peacocks, oysters, stags, bucks, partridges, beef and mutton. There were fish of many descriptions; sauces made from cloves and raisins, sugar cinnamon and ginger; and gallons of French wines with Malmsey, and muscadell – all to be drunk from fine Venetian
glasses which were the wonder of all who saw them.

But while the company gave themselves to the appreciation of this banquet Wolsey continued uneasy, and suddenly he raised his voice and said:

‘My friends, there is one among us who is so noble that I know it to be my duty to surrender my place to him. I cannot sit under this canopy in good spirit while he, who is so much more worthy than I, takes his place unrecognised at my table.'

There was silence, and then one of the masked men spoke; and a great hatred seized Wolsey when he recognised the disguised voice as that of Buckingham. ‘My Lord Cardinal, there are many members of the nobility present.'

‘I speak of one,' said Wolsey.

Then one of the masked men said in a muffled voice: ‘Since Your Eminence believes there is such a noble personage among us, you should remove the mask of that man that all may see him.'

It was the invitation to unmask, always the great climax of these childish games.

The Cardinal stood up. ‘It shall be so,' he said. And he walked along the tables to that man with the black beard, and stood before him.

‘Take off his mask if you believe it to be he,' commanded a voice which was husky with suppressed laughter.

And Wolsey stretched up and removed the false beard and the mask, to disclose the features of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk.

While he stared with dismay there was a shout of laughter and a tall figure rose and confronted Wolsey.

‘So my lord Cardinal,' he cried, removing his mask, ‘you would deny your King!'

Wolsey knelt and took Henry's hand.

‘May God forgive me,' he murmured.

Henry, his face scarlet with pleasure, his blue eyes sparkling, flung his gold wire beard from him. He began to laugh in that deep rumbling way which appeared to be infectious for the whole company laughed with him.

Thomas stood up and raised his eyes to the jovial giant.

‘So Thomas, my friend, you did not know me.'

‘Your Grace, I have never seen you so perfectly disguised.'

Henry slapped his satin thigh. ‘ 'Twas a good mask. And I'll applaud Suffolk. He led you astray, did he not. Yet I thought you would have seen he lacked that inch or so.'

BOOK: The King's Secret Matter
5.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Finding Fraser by dyer, kc
The From-Aways by C.J. Hauser
Liars by Glenn Beck
Code 15 by Gary Birken
Kansas Courtship by Victoria Bylin
Stone Cold by Cheryl Douglas
Sweet Scent of Blood by Suzanne McLeod