The King's Secret Matter (7 page)

BOOK: The King's Secret Matter
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‘But surely Your Grace stooped to deceive me?'

‘Ha! Stoop I did. And 'twas effective.'

‘And I had thought I could find Your Grace anywhere . . . in any circumstances.'

‘So, friend Thomas, you offer me your seat of honour, eh?'

‘Everything I have belongs to Your Grace. And now I would crave your indulgence and ask you to wait awhile before you sit to table. That which was served for a band of travellers is not what I would put before my King.'

‘How so, Thomas?'

‘If Your Grace will excuse me I will send for my master cooks. When the King comes to Hampton Court that which is served must not only be fit for a King but fit for the King of England.'

Henry's eyes gleamed with pleasure. There was never such a one as Thomas Wolsey. He could be trusted to rise to any occasion. Whether it was matching the wits of his great enemy, François Premier, or talking of treaties with the Emperor Charles, Wolsey was the man he wanted to have beside him.
And in a mask such as this he could be as effective as at the Council table.

‘Go to, Thomas,' he said; and when Thomas gave a quiet order to his stewards the King's merry eyes watched the ceremonial arrival of Thomas's cooks in their scarlet velvet livery and golden chains.

‘The fellows look as royal as myself,' he said in an aside to Suffolk. But he enjoyed it. He admired Wolsey for living in this manner; it was a credit to his country and his King.

‘We are honoured by the presence of the King,' said Wolsey to his cooks. ‘Have this food removed; bring in new and scented napery; set new dishes on the tables. I wish for a banquet – not worthy to set before His Grace, for that would be impossible – but the best we can offer.'

The cooks bowed and with ceremony left the hall followed by their clerks of the kitchens, surveyors of the dresser, clerks of the hall-kitchens and clerk of the spicery who followed the master cooks as Wolsey's gentlemen of the household followed him on his ceremonial journeys from Hampton to Westminster Hall.

Then the guests left the tables and Wolsey led the King to another apartment; the banquet was postponed for an hour that it might be made worthy of the King.

Nothing could have pleased Henry more, for the climax of his game was that he should receive the homage due to him as King. Buckingham might grumble to Norfolk that the butcher's cur was vulgar in the extreme; but there was not a man present who did not know that it was the red-clad figure which led the way and that which was clad in jewelled cloth of gold followed, because it was pleasant and easy to do so.

So it was with Wolsey that Henry walked in the hall of Hampton Court, his arm laid heavily on the shoulder of the
Chancellor so that all could see – if they had ever doubted it – that he looked upon Thomas Wolsey as his friend, that he rejoiced in the Cardinal's possessions because they were a symbol of how high a humble man could rise in his service, that he saw Thomas's glory as a reflection of his own power. Nothing the jealous near-royals could do would alter that.

And when the food was prepared and the company reassembled in the great banqueting hall, Henry took his place under the canopy of state and all were merry as it pleased the King to be; but Henry would have, seated on his right hand, his host and friend, Thomas Wolsey.

He wanted all to know that he had great love for that man.

The next morning when Knyvet again asked for an audience with the Cardinal, Wolsey received him.

The Cardinal, in crimson damask on this morning, sat at his table, his hands – very white in contrast to the crimson – spread out before him.

‘You have something to tell me?' he asked.

‘My lord Cardinal, I have wrestled with my conscience . . .'

How they always wrestled with their consciences! As though it was not the desire for revenge which so often brought them to him!

‘I am listening,' said Wolsey.

‘It concerns my Lord Buckingham.'

‘In whose service you are.'

‘In whose service I was, Your Eminence.'

‘So you are with him no longer?'

Wolsey's face was impassive but he was chuckling inwardly. So the fool Buckingham had dismissed a man from
his service after having been indiscreet before him. The trouble with Buckingham was that he felt himself too important to need caution. It might be that the time was near when he would learn that he misjudged that importance.

‘A little difference between us, Your Eminence. The Duke has a hasty temper.'

‘I am sorry.'

‘Your Eminence, it is a matter of relief to me to be free of him. Although he is my cousin I must say that.'

There was venom there. It might be usefully employed.

‘And why have you come to see me?'

‘Because I felt it my duty to do so.'

‘You wish to tell me something about the Duke?'

‘Yes, Your Eminence.'

‘I am listening.'

‘I would have Your Eminence know that it is my duty to King and State which impels me to lay these matters before you.'

‘I accept that.'

‘Then I would say that my lord and cousin has uttered remarks against the King's Grace which seem to me treasonable.'

‘And what were these remarks?'

‘Before the Princess Mary was born he claimed to be heir to the throne. Since Her Highness's birth he has said that should she die he would be the heir.'

‘Is that so?'

‘Your Eminence, he has referred constantly to his noble birth and has made slighting remarks concerning the bastardy of a certain family.'

Wolsey nodded encouragingly.

‘Your Eminence, he has consulted a soothsayer who has told him that the crown will one day be his.'

‘It would seem that your cousin is a rash man, Master Knyvet.'

‘ 'Twould seem so, Eminence. You will remember that he lured Sir William Bulmer from the King's service into his.'

‘I remember the occasion well. The King was angry and declared he would have no servant of his hanging on another man's sleeve.'

‘Yes, Eminence, and my Lord Buckingham told me that had the King reprimanded
and sent him to the Tower, he would have asked for an audience with His Grace, and when it was granted would have stabbed the King and taken over the rule of this kingdom.'

‘His recklessness is greater than I believed it to be. Why was he such a fool as to dismiss a man to whom he had uttered such treasonable words?'

Knyvet flushed uncomfortably. ‘He accused me of oppressing the tenantry.'

‘And he dismissed you? And it was only when you were dismissed that you recognised these remarks of his as those of a traitor?'

Knyvet shivered and began to wish that he had not come to the Cardinal, but Wolsey had begun to smile as he laid a hand on the ex-steward's shoulder.

‘My lord, I came to you because I felt it to be my duty . . .'

‘It was indeed your duty. But what will be said of a man who only recognises his duty when his master dismisses him from his service?'

‘You would not find it difficult to prove the truth. I was not the only one who heard these remarks. There were Hopkins the monk, and my lord's confessor, Delacourt, and Gilbert his chancellor. My lord lacks caution and speaks his mind before his servants.'

The Chancellor waved a hand, which was enough to tell Knyvet that he was dismissed.

Knyvet looked at him in amazement; he had often heard Buckingham sneer at Wolsey; surely, he reasoned, Wolsey should reward one who brought such evidence to him.

But the Cardinal's white hand was now at his lips suppressing a yawn; and there was nothing Knyvet could do but bow and retire with as much dignity as possible.

When he was alone the Cardinal took a tablet from a drawer and set it before him; then he began to write: ‘Hopkins the monk, Delacourt the confessor, Gilbert the chancellor.'

It might be that he could use these men if and when a certain occasion arose.

The Queen had dismissed all her women with the exception of Maria de Salinas.

‘I think, Maria,' she said thoughtfully, ‘that when the woman comes in, you should go.'

Maria bowed her head. She was sorry that the Queen had made up her mind to see this woman. It would have been better, she was sure, to ignore her. Moreover, if the woman went to the King and complained to him, what an undignified position the Queen would be in!

‘You are thinking that I am being unwise?' Katharine demanded.

‘Your Grace, who am I to think such thoughts?'

‘I am not the King, Maria, in constant need of flattery. I like to hear the truth from my friends.'

‘I think, Your Grace, that the interview may be distasteful to you.'

‘There is so much that is distasteful to me,' Katharine answered sadly.

‘Your Grace, I hear voices without.'

‘She is come. When she enters, Maria my dear, leave at once.'

A page entered and told the Queen that Mistress Boleyn was without and saying that she had come at the Queen's command.

‘It is true. Bring her to me. Now Maria, you will go.'

Maria curtseyed and went out as Mary Boleyn entered.

Mary came to stand before the Queen; she made a deep curtsey, raising her big, dark eyes fearfully to the Queen's face as she did so.

Mary shivered inwardly. How frozen she looked! No wonder Henry went elsewhere for his comforts. She would be a cold bedfellow.

So this is the girl for whom he has neglected me! thought Katharine. She has the look of a slut. Why does he not choose someone more in keeping with his rank?

‘Mistress Mary Boleyn, pray rise,' said the Queen.

The girl straightened herself and stood forlornly waiting for what the Queen had to say.

‘You are the centre of a most distressing scandal,' began Katharine, and, watching the slow flush mount to the girl's forehead, thought that it was some small comfort that she felt some shame. ‘It is unbecoming of you and . . . in those who share your misdemeanours.'

Mary looked at her helplessly. She wanted to explain: It was at Ardres or Guisnes – she was not quite sure. She had noticed his eyes upon her; and she had known the meaning of the looks he gave her. Then he had caught her alone one day and when
his hands had strayed over her body there was nothing she could do but say Yes. She would have said Yes to anyone who was as handsome and had such need of her. With the King, of course, there could be no thought of refusal. Did not the Queen understand this? Poor lady. Mary believed she really did not. She did not know the King very well then. She did not know the way of the Court.

But how explain? She hung her head for she was ashamed; and she was deeply sorry that she had caused the good and pious Queen distress. Strangely enough she had never thought of the Queen; she could never think of anything at such times but the need for gratification, and when it was over it was too late. Mary was not the sort to waste regrets on things which it was too late to change.

What was the Queen asking of her now? To refuse the King! Did anyone ever refuse the King?

Then an idea occurred to her. The Queen still had some power, even with the King. Although she was so old and the King was clearly tired of her, she was still a Princess of Spain and her nephew was the most important monarch in Europe.

Mary had wanted to tell the Queen that she was sorry, that she would willingly end her liaison with the King tomorrow if she could. But it was so difficult to explain. So Mary did the only thing possible; she burst into tears.

Katharine was quite unprepared for such a loss of control, and for a few moments did not know what to say to the girl.

‘Your Grace,' sobbed Mary. ‘I wish I were a good woman . . . but I'm afraid I'm not. I was made this way. And now that I want to marry Will . . . Oh dear, it is all so difficult, but I wish . . . oh how I wish . . .'

‘You should control yourself,' said the Queen coldly.

‘Yes, Your Grace,' said Mary, dabbing at her eyes.

BOOK: The King's Secret Matter
12.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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