The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor (4 page)

BOOK: The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor
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Unsurprisingly, Henry’s chief concern was the succession. He named Edward and then, optimistically, any further children that he should himself beget as his heirs.
4
After them came the princesses of his earlier marriages, Mary and Elizabeth, in that order, while a Regency Council of sixteen equal-ranking executors was appointed to govern during Edward’s minority. There was considerable discussion about whether Henry should appoint someone as Lord Protector to lead the Council, but Henry’s conservative lord chancellor, Thomas Wriothesley, won the argument against in a bad-tempered exchange.
5
The Earl of Hertford cannot have been pleased to be named only fourth on this list of the Regency Council; but he did rather better than his younger brother Thomas, who was to be merely the eighth of ten assistants to the executors. But Thomas was ignorant of the will’s contents. He was, instead, still busy at the Tower of London with his ordnance, supervising the despatch of military equipment northwards in accordance with the Council’s instructions on 2 January.
6
Once the will was signed, it was locked in a coffer for safekeeping – and the key resided with Hertford.
7

Henry was gravely ill at New Year. When the French ambassador attempted to see him, he was refused. The Council members, who had been meeting at nearby Ely Place, were sufficiently concerned to move their meetings to Westminster by 9 January, beginning a long vigil over their master.
8
The kingdom still required its day-to-day government, and so, for example, on 16 January the Council sat to discuss matters such as the delivery of tents and ensuring that there were sufficient scythes to mow hay in the Scottish borders.
9
While these concerns occupied the Archbishop of Canterbury, Wriothesley, Dudley and other leading councillors, Hertford noticeably absented himself: his own plans were rather more ambitious.

As Hertford began to flex his influence, the queen remained adrift from proceedings. Yet, although miles down-river at Greenwich, she was far from inactive and looked for a means to return to her husband and to power. Catherine had worked hard to become Prince Edward’s ‘dearest mother’. Despite spending Christmas away from this important boy, she had sought to keep herself in his remembrance by sending a portrait of both herself and the king as his New Year’s gift.
*1
The pair regularly corresponded in Latin, too, and it pleased the queen to receive the boy’s thanks, which arrived around 11 January – more than two weeks since she had last seen her husband.
10
She replied at once.
11
Her Latin was good, but the corrections in her draft betrayed her emotional state. Squeezing her own words into the space left at the foot of Edward’s letter, she begged the boy to ‘keep this depicted image for always before your eyes’, before crossing through the words. Instead, she expressed the pious hope that the picture should bring to his mind ‘the deeds of your most distinguished father, he of whom it will be pleasing in a great degree to keep the depicted image before your eyes’. It sufficed that she was included in the portrait; when the soon-to-be king looked upon his father’s face, he would also see hers. Even a child king would have some authority.

Gathering the last vestiges of his strength, Henry rallied unexpectedly in mid-January. He was well enough to meet with both the French and Imperial ambassadors on the 16th of the month.
12
Van der Delft kept his own meeting brief, since he could see the king was ill. Nonetheless, he found a monarch in good spirits. He was on the mend, Henry assured him, although ‘he had suffered and passed through a good deal’ since their last meeting at Christmas. The French ambassador spent rather longer with the king, taxing the health of the ailing monarch. It all proved too much for Henry, who retreated to his sickbed, abandoning his ornate, silver-gilt walking stick in the little study off his bedchamber.
13
He would have no further need of it. From 16 January 1547, the only people who saw the king were members of the Privy Council; and access was strictly controlled by his secretary, William Paget.

Sir William Paget was a self-made man who saw himself as a kingmaker.
14
He had a quick wit, carefully weighing each word before he spoke, something that gave him an air of calmness even in a crisis.
15
This wily son of a constable and a ‘mean creature’ had already brought about the ruin of the elderly Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and his son Henry, the Earl of Surrey, in the politicking of that winter.
16
The religiously conservative pair had been committed to the Tower on 12 December 1546, although it was the younger man who was the focus of his sovereign’s rage. In truth, Surrey was his own worst enemy, since his words and actions could be easily twisted. At this moment of acute sensitivity over the succession, he was found incorporating the royal arms of Edward the Confessor into his heraldry – something that could be construed as reflecting his own, treasonable ambitions.

More damagingly, as far as Paget and his friend the Earl of Hertford were concerned, Surrey had asserted that ‘his father was the most qualified person, both on account of his services and his lineage, to be entrusted with the governance of the prince and of this realm’.
17
He repeated this at his trial on 13 January 1547, when he also verbally attacked Paget for bringing about his ruin. It was down to Hertford, who presided, to give the verdict. Unsurprisingly, Surrey was sentenced to die. As far as Hertford was concerned, there was no person more qualified than himself to be entrusted with the governance of the prince and the realm.
18
Paget also thought so.

In the long waiting days of January 1547, the pair were seen standing quietly together in the gallery at Westminster, talking among the potted plants that were tended carefully by the royal gardeners.
19
‘Before the breath was out of the body of the king’, they made a bargain to rule together during the prince’s coming minority.
20
Paget promised to support Hertford’s bid to become Lord Protector while, in turn, his fellow councillor agreed to follow the secretary’s advice ‘more than any other man’s’. Paget – the ‘catchpole’, or bailiff, as he was disparagingly called by his blue-blooded contemporaries – could never have looked so high for himself. However, for the last twelve days of Henry’s life he held the key to the king and was prepared to hand it to Hertford.
21

After a long and eventful reign, Henry VIII had accumulated a diverse range of councillors by the time of his death. They differed in their politics and religion. The reforming Archbishop Thomas Cranmer shared the Council table with the conservative stalwart Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester. Thomas Wriothesley also disapproved of the religious changes during the reign, yet, as Henry’s lord chancellor, he was close to his master and influential.
22
Hertford had little time for him; importantly, neither did Paget.

Henry VIII genuinely liked his secretary. Paget sat with the king in conversation all through the night as Henry’s end approached.
23
At first, the pair were alone, which placed Paget in the unique position of being the only man to know Henry VIII’s thoughts at this time. But then, rather than working for his own self-interest, Paget ensured that Hertford was also admitted into the midnight discussions.
24

The three spent several hours alone together before, finally, the rest of the Council were admitted. They all later reported that the monarch had been active until the end, even going so far as to make the arrangements for his own death to be notified abroad.
*2
It was probably while he was earlier alone with the king that Paget took the opportunity to search Henry’s study, which was connected to the bedchamber by a small door and used as a store for items required for the ailing monarch’s care. When finished, he left some papers relating to Jane Seymour lying on the desk.
25
Other, more significant documents concerning the Seymour queen were probably taken away.

The bedchamber in which the Council joined Henry was small but richly furnished. A depiction of these final days, painted two decades later by an unknown artist, is a work of a vivid imagination.
*3
It shows the pope lying vanquished at the foot of Henry’s bed while Prince Edward sits magnificently enthroned beside his father. Henry, wearing the fine nightclothes and cap in which he died, sits propped up against the pillows, giving his final commands to the assembled Council. One figure stands central to the picture. Sallow-faced, with a serene but stern countenance, it is the Earl of Hertford. Only a prominent vein to the side of Hertford’s forehead suggests the strain of these last hours of Henry’s reign.
26

On 23 January 1547, Queen Catherine made her final attempt to reach her husband. Over the preceding weeks she had become increasingly frantic for news, sending sixteen anxious messages to her courtier brother-in-law, Sir William Herbert.
27
There was little positive that he could tell her. On 11 January she had sent six of her servants to Westminster to prepare her lodgings there; but still she received no summons.
28
Even after she ordered her luggage to be carried to Westminster, she heard nothing.
29
Finally, and still uninvited, she took to her barge on 23 January, sailing down the Thames.
30
But on her arrival she found access to Henry firmly barred. She was hurried away from prying eyes. No doubt protesting, all the queen could do was to send a servant to fetch her bargemen, who had dispersed to the amusements of nearby Southwark.
31
They took her slowly back to Greenwich and to the agony of waiting. No one was to be admitted to the king without the consent of Paget and Hertford.

On the same day that Catherine was rebuffed, Thomas Seymour experienced a rather different fate – he was admitted to the fold. Hertford was eight years older than his brother. But he was affectionate towards him, envisaging a useful alliance, albeit one in which he, naturally, would be the senior partner. On 23 January Hertford informed King Henry that Thomas was to be admitted to the Privy Council. He had probably waited so long to raise the matter out of fear of the king’s reaction, and indeed now Henry cried out ‘no, no’ – but in his weakness was overruled.
32
The other councillors went along with this act of
lèse-majesté
for love, or fear, of the coming new power in England; yet Hertford’s partiality for his youngest brother was noted and was a cause of concern. John Dudley, Viscount Lisle, who had been close to Hertford since their shared boyhood with Cardinal Wolsey, saw
himself
as Hertford’s natural second in command. Now he decided to make himself ‘familiar with them both and loved of them both and trusted of them both’ and so use that as a means to promote discord and sever the possibility of any alliance between the brothers.
33

Thomas was oblivious to the circumstances of his appointment when he strode into the Council chamber at Westminster later that day. The entire Council was in attendance to witness his advancement. For Thomas, it was a proud moment. He listened as Paget announced that ‘the King’s Majesty, having in remembrance the good service of Sir Thomas Seymour, and minding to have him trained in the knowledge of His Majesty’s Council, had appointed him to be sworn of the same’.
34
Rather more down to earth was Thomas’s first experience of government in the Council: discussions of judges’ payments in Norfolk, and the matter of agreeing a reward for one ‘Patrick Craggy, Scot’, who had assisted the English forces in Scotland. The Council sat only one further time during Henry VIII’s lifetime, to arrange the wages for the garrison at Boulogne.
35

Rather than being humbled by his new appointment, Thomas Seymour saw his advancement to the Council as his by right. He was, after all, the prince’s uncle and surely destined for greatness in the reign that followed. Moving upwards with Thomas at the palace were his closest servants, including John Harington, a gentleman from Stepney, who was just approaching his thirtieth birthday. Harington was a new addition to Thomas’s service. After a decade trying to make his place as a musician in the Chapel Royal, he was glad of this promotion. He was a dreamer and a romantic – a poet and composer – but utterly devoted to his master.
36
In January 1547, he was newly married too; in this respect, he might have had a better reason than many for lurking around the royal apartments, since his bride, Etheldreda Malt, was believed to have been fathered by the dying king.
37

Harington was determined to prove his loyalty to Thomas Seymour. Leaving the palace one day, he made the short journey to the house of Henry Grey, Marquess of Dorset, which was also in Westminster.
38
Dorset, who was himself a cousin of the king and had married his niece Frances Brandon – daughter of Henry VIII’s sister Mary Tudor – was an uncomplicated fellow, priding himself on his faithfulness to his royal wife, to his friends and to his reformed faith.
39
He admitted Harington, inviting him into his frosty gardens, where they could speak in private. Would he, Harington asked his host, ‘make friendship’ with Thomas Seymour? Dorset did not know Thomas well, but Dorset appeared ‘inclinable and glad to be friend and familiar’ with him, words that Harington rushed to convey to his master. The servant would later claim that he had acted on his own authority in making the meeting, but it got Thomas thinking. His future as the boy-king’s uncle held a palpable promise of power. He began to form plans for Dorset and, more particularly, for Dorset’s eldest daughter – Jane Grey.

BOOK: The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor
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