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The Mirror and the Light (Augmentation)

London, Autumn 1536

The dead man comes out of the Well with Two Buckets, wipes his mouth on the back of his hand, and stands looking up and down the street. He pulls up his hood, checks to see who is watching him, then strides towards the great gate of Austin Friars.

There is a new guard, who lays a hand on the visitor, and rifles through his wallet of papers. ‘Blade?’

The corpse stretches out his arms, pacific, allows himself to be patted down. An elder porter steps out. ‘We know the gentleman. In you go, Father Barnes.’

Inside they say, ‘His lordship’s expecting you.’ The corpse runs upstairs.

Go back ten years. Winter, 1526, the friar Robert Barnes is brought before Wolsey on suspicion of heresy. Through a frozen day, no light but the ice-light from standing pools, Barnes stands in an anteroom, clad in the black habit of his order. Beneath it, his flesh creeps. The cardinal, they tell him, is making his preparations. What kind of preparations could they be?

Christmas Eve last, at St Edward’s in Cambridge, Barnes preached at midnight Mass against the pomp and wealth of the church. It is impossible to do that, obviously, without preaching against the pomp and wealth of the cardinal.

Now it’s February: dies irae. As he waits the cardinal’s people watch him, and a low flame sputters in the grate. ‘Cold,’ Friar Barnes says.

‘Didn’t you bring your own firewood?’ There is a rustle from the onlookers, a snigger. Barnes moves, edging away from the cardinal’s ruffian.

In Wolsey’s room a great fire blazes. Barnes stands away from it, against the painted wall. ‘Prior Robert,’ Wolsey says. ‘Come where you feel the heat, man.’

He feels he has walked into a joke, set up to torment him. ‘I am not here on trial,’ he bursts out. ‘Your man Cromwell is out there, taunting me, talking about firewood.’

‘Of course you are not on trial.’ The cardinal is civil. His purple silks flash in air smoky with resins. ‘They say you are a heretic, yet it seems you have no difficulty with the teachings of the church. Your only difficulty is with me.’

Outside, a bell pierces frozen air. A man comes in with a tray of spiced wine. The cardinal pours it himself, from a jug gaudily enamelled with a Tudor rose. ‘So what do you want me to do, Barnes? You want me to leave off the state and ceremony which honours God, and to go in homespun? You want me to keep a miser’s table, and serve pease pudding to ambassadors? You want me to melt down my silver crosses, and give the money to the poor? The poor, which will piss it against the wall?’

There is a pause. After a time, faintly, Barnes says, ‘Yes.’

The ruffian Cromwell has come in behind him and is leaning against the door. Wolsey says, ‘I am sorry to see a scholar ruin himself. You must grasp that it is no use to avoid heresy, only to fall into sedition. Oppose the church, you will burn at Smithfield. Oppose the state, you will choke at Tyburn – and for present purposes, I am the church and I am also the state. But both fates are avoidable, if you repent now.’

Prior Barnes begins to shake. The interrogatory stare of the cardinal is enough to bring a man to his knees. ‘Your Grace, pardon me. I do no harm. Truly. I could not kill a cat.’

The man Cromwell laughs. Barnes blushes; he is ashamed of his own words. The cardinal says, ‘There are four bishops coming presently to examine you. All men who drown kittens for their pleasant recreation. For my part, I will be good to you, Dr Barnes – as much for the sake of your university as for yourself; my secretary Stephen Gardiner has been earnest with me in that regard. If you satisfy the bishops with your answers – please make them brief, and make them humble – I will recommend you do penance. But it must be public. Then afterwards there will be a good deal of fasting and praying, but you won’t mind that, will you? Of course you cannot continue as prior of your house. You must quit Cambridge.’

‘My lord cardinal –’

The cardinal turns his face, mild: ‘What? Drink up, Dr Barnes. And take the chance. You only get one.’

Ejected from the warmth, Barnes weeps like a woman, his face to the wall. Wolsey has not raised his voice, but he is broken by the encounter. Thomas Cromwell walks up to him. ‘Dry your tears. You can make a better story to tell among your friends. You can boast you gave bold answers. Confounded him.’

Barnes huddles into himself. He finds Cromwell incomprehensible. He looks like the kind of fellow who chucks drunks out of taverns.

On Shrove Tuesday, the friar abases himself on the flags at Paul’s, and Wolsey looks down on him from his golden throne. A score of great churchmen, in their vestments stiff and bright with gems, watch as Barnes kneels among certain merchants of the Steelyard, foreigners, who have been trapped by Thomas More with heretic books. They have been led through the streets on donkeys, set backwards in the saddle with their faces to the tail. Torn sheets of the writings of Luther are pinned to their coats, and now flap like grey rags. Lashed to their backs, as to his own, are faggots, dry sticks tied up for kindling – it is to remind them the stake is ready, if they offend again. Like Dr Barnes, they have recanted. If they backslide they will die in terror and pain, in public, and their ashes will be thrown on a midden.

Outside the church, a crowd has gathered. Their faces rain-blurred as if melting, their forms indistinct in winter light, men are tented under oiled canvases that seem to rest on their shoulders, making them a beast with many legs. ‘Stand aside,’ officers call. Big baskets are lugged and bumped into the centre of the crowd. Their contents are tipped out; they make a brave enough pile, heaped on a gridiron. One of the executioner’s apprentices sets a torch to them. His fellows poke at the books with iron bars, to let air into the pile, and under their skilled attention the pages ignite, despite the sheeting rain. The suspect men are herded together and driven round and round the fire, close enough to flinch from the heat, their faces jerking away as sparks fly into their eyes. The texts sigh as the paper curls, and disintegrate into a mute sludge.

Dr Barnes is sent to a friary in the city of London. His keeping is none too strait, and he is allowed visitors. One day Thomas Cromwell comes in. ‘I live near here. Come to supper.’ On the bench he drops a copy of William Tyndale’s Testament, single sheets loosely tied. ‘Arrived from Antwerp,’ he says. Barnes looks up. The cardinal’s heretic, he thinks.

‘I have twenty copies. I can get more.’

It is not long before the Bishop of London suspects where the Testaments are coming from. Another difficult interview: but with Bishop Tunstall, who is not by choice a persecutor. Barnes is not as overawed as he was by Wolsey. ‘How would I bring in Tyndale’s books? I go nowhere. I see no one.’

He gambles that Cromwell’s name will not be raised. Nor is it. Tunstall just shakes his head, and presently sends him to Northamptonshire. It’s a long way from any port. You can’t run from there, out of the cardinal’s jurisdiction. Nor can your fellow gospellers visit you, without all the countryside knows it.

One night Barnes steals out of the monastery where he is confined. Next day in his cell the monks find a letter, addressed to the cardinal, in which the miserable man says he means to drown himself. On the riverbank they find his folded habit. No body is found, but the poor sinner has made his intention clear.

And that’s the last of Robert Barnes: till the times change, and the Pope goes down, and he surfaces in a new England, his past failures washed away.

‘Come in, old ghost,’ the cardinal’s heretic says. ‘God’s work is marvellous. You bobbing up from your watery grave.’

‘You never tire of the jest,’ Barnes says.

‘But your feet not even damp!’

Barnes was never in the river. He swam up from his ruse somewhere in the Low Countries, and found friends, protectors, brothers in Christ. Years pass, he comes back proficient in many tongues; the world turns, and now he is a chaplain to the king, and carries his letters abroad. ‘And Tunstall gone up to Durham,’ his host says. ‘And my lord cardinal dead.’ He sits back in his chair. ‘And me a lord.’

‘Brought you these.’ Barnes lays engravings on the table. Fat Martin.

‘You spoil me,’ Lord Cromwell says.

In the older portraits, Luther is spiritual, attenuated. In the newer ones, porky. His tonsure grew out years ago. Sometimes he wears a beard. Barnes tells him, ‘When the papists burn his books they pin his picture on top, as if it were Martin himself. But the country people in Germany, the simple people, they believe his image can resist the fire.’

Lord Cromwell stabs one likeness with a finger. ‘I notice he wears a halo.’

‘That is not his choice. He does not set up as a saint. But it is wonderful, what the printers can do. All Europe knows his features. Every ploughboy.’

‘Is that a good idea?’

‘His life has been attempted many a time. Once,’ Barnes smiles, ‘by a physician who could make himself invisible.’

‘Oh, those,’ he says. Secret assassins with scalpels of air. ‘I have been looking over my shoulder for invisible men since Wolsey’s day. I’ve got ears like a fox and my head on a swivel. One sniff of a papist or a Yorkshireman and it swings right round and eyeballs him.’ He broods over the engravings. ‘Is his temper not improved?’

‘Worse, I would say. Vain and touchy as a woman.’

Luther fleshes out, since he wed an ex-nun. Marriage doesn’t have the same effect on our archbishop. Cranmer remains lean and pallid. ‘Because he must be worried,’ Barnes says. ‘In case the king finds out.’

‘The king already knows.’

‘Likely he does. But I mean, in case he finds himself in a position where he cannot deny the knowledge.’

Our king is vehemently opposed to clerical marriage. Cranmer wed when he was among the Germans, brought Grete back, keeps her secluded. Celibates are busy gossips; many would pull Cranmer down if they could. But then they have their own secrets, that do not bear telling: their mistresses, their children. He says, ‘We work it all between us, Cranmer and I. The archbishop tells Henry how to be good, and I tell him how to be king. We do not cut across each other. We try to persuade him that great kings are good kings, and vice versa.’

Barnes says, ‘Luther speaks frankly to rulers. Harshly, if need be.’

‘But in the end he defers to them: as he must.’ He examines Luther’s homely features, and lays him face-down. ‘Look, Rob, we do what we can do. We are in concord, Cranmer and myself. We are leaving Henry his rituals and he is giving us the scriptures. I think it is a good trade.’

‘It seems to me,’ Barnes says, ‘our prince thinks the purpose of scripture is to allow him to marry new wives. You claim he will license a Bible, so why does he delay?’

He sweeps the engravings together like a pack of cards and tucks them in his writing box. ‘Thomas More used to say, all translators crave something from their text, and if they do not find it they will put it there. The king will not let us use Tyndale’s version. We are obliged to pass it off, give other men the credit.’

‘If Henry is waiting for a translation with God’s thumbprint on it, he will wait a long time. Luther would labour three or four weeks on a single phrase. I never thought he would get his work out, and yet two years back at the book fair in Leipzig he was selling a complete Bible for under three guilders – and they have reprinted twice since then. Why should the Germans have God’s word, and not Englishmen? You may stare at the text till your eyes bleed, consume a stack of paper as high as Paul’s steeple – but I tell you, no word is the last word.’

It is true. No text stays clean. Yet one must part with it, send it to the printer. The trick is to get them to set the line right to the edge of the page. It does not make for a good appearance, but no white space means no perversion by marginalia.

‘You will forgive me if I am indignant,’ Barnes says. ‘I have been toiling these many years for the king, trying to patch up an alliance, trying to come into some agreement with the German princes and their divines – and the news from England comes, and you have cut the ground from under me.’

By cutting off the queen’s head. True. It is autumn, and Barnes is still shocked. ‘She, who believed in the Word.’

‘She was a Howard,’ he says. ‘You know what Howards believe in. Themselves.’

‘Cranmer doesn’t believe she was guilty.’

‘Cranmer is like me. He believes what the king believes.’

‘That is not true either.’ Barnes is bubbling like the hot springs at Viterbo. ‘They know in Germany that Cranmer is a Lutheran – whatever he may say to Henry. Cranmer is the only card I hold. I have waited and waited for some word from our English bishops that I can represent as an advance on papist superstition, and at last they issue their ten articles – and they give with one hand, take with the other. Every word is ambiguous.’

‘Yes,’ he says.

‘They mean everything and nothing.’

‘You can say to the Germans … how to phrase it? … that though the articles are a statement of our English faith, they are not a complete statement.’

Barnes rolls his eyes. ‘You send me out naked. If you want allies, you must offer something in return.’

It is more than five years since the German princes formed a league, which they call the Schmalkald League, to defend themselves against the Emperor, who is their overlord. As England needs friends, people to stand with her against the Pope, who better than these princes? Like Henry, they have offered to lead their subjects out of darkness. If an evangelical alliance were also a diplomatic alliance, there is a chance of a new Europe, with new rules. But for now we are still playing by the old ones: setting France against Emperor, one great power against the other, seeing our safety only in their disputes, trembling whenever they come into amity; sneakily trying to disrupt their treaties and stir up mistrust, and bending our efforts to provoke, belie and betray. It is not work for a great nation. Barnes says, ‘It is up to you, my lord, to show the king how things could be different, and better.’

‘But he doesn’t like different!’ He is exasperated now. ‘I think, Rob, as we have been keeping the gospel alive in your absence, you must let us judge the best way to proceed.’

‘You talk as if I had been travelling for my own pleasure. It has all been on the king’s business, and a sad business it is. Folk in Germany believe we are living through the Last Days.’

‘They’ve been saying that for ten years or more. If you talk to Henry about the Last Days he thinks you’re threatening him. And that never does any good.’

It is difficult to be at ease, he thinks, with men who believe that, since the misunderstanding in Eden, we have had neither reason nor will of our own. ‘The king says if, as Luther holds, our only salvation comes through faith in Christ, who has elected some of us, not others, to life eternal, and if our works are so besmirched as to be entirely useless in God’s eyes, and cannot help us to salvation – then why should any man do charity to his neighbour?’

‘Works follow election,’ Barnes says. ‘They do not precede it. It is simple enough. The man who is saved will show it, by his Christian life.’

‘Do you think I am saved?’ he says. ‘I am covered in lamp black and my hands smell of coin, and when I see myself in a glass I see grime – I suppose that is the beginning of wisdom? About my fallen state, I have no choice but agree. I must meddle with matters that corrupt – it is my office. In the golden age the earth yielded all we required, but now we must dig for it, quarry it, blast it, we must drive the world, we must gear and grind it, roll and hammer and pulp it. There must be dinners cooked, Rob. There must be slates chalked, and ink set to page, and money made and bargains struck, and we must give the poor the means to work and eat. I bear in mind that there are cities abroad where the magistrates have done much good, with setting up hospitals, relieving the indigent, helping young tradesmen with loans to get a wife and a workshop. I know Luther turns his face from what ameliorates our sad condition. But citizens do not miss monks and their charity, if the city looks after them. And I believe, I do believe, that a man who serves the commonweal and does his duty gets a blessing for it, and I do not believe –’

He breaks off, before the magnitude of what he does not believe. ‘I sin,’ he says, ‘I repent, I lapse, I sin again, I repent and I look to Christ to perfect my imperfection. I cling to faith but I will not give up works. My master Wolsey taught me, try everything. Discard no possibility. Keep all channels open.’

‘You cite your cardinal? In these times?’

‘Admit it.’ He laughs. ‘You were terrified of him, Rob.’

Barnes leaves him. He looks downcast and is muttering about Dun Scotus. A worldly man, a clever man, but he is afraid to be in England now: as if she were Ultima Thule, where earth, air and water mix to form a jellied broth, and a night lasts six months, and the people dye themselves blue. There was a day, before Wolsey, when the princes of Europe no more regarded England than they regarded this soup-land, where they had never set foot. England bred sheep and sheep sustained it, but the women were said to be loose and the men bloody-minded; if they were not killing abroad, they were killing at home. The cardinal, out of his great ingenuity, had found some way to turn this reputation to use. He made his country count: he, with his guile and his well-placed bribes, his sorcerer’s wit and his conjurer’s wiles, his skills to make armies and bullion from thin air, to conjure weaponry from mist. I hold the balance, gentlemen, he would say: in any little war of yours, I may intervene, or not. The King of England has deep coffers, he would lie, and a race of warriors at his back: your Englishman is so martial in his character that he sleeps in harness, and every clerk has a broadsword at his side, and every scrivener will stick you with a penknife, and even the ploughman’s horse paws the ground.

And so for a year or two it became a question: what does England think? What will England do? France must solicit her: the Emperor must apply. War itself, the cardinal preferred to avoid. Henry on French soil, curvetting on his steed, his visor lowered, his armour a blaze of gold: that is as far as it went, if you add in a few sordid engagements that consisted in churning up the mud and blowing trumpets. If war is a craft, the cardinal would say, peace is a consummate and blessed art. His peace talks cost as much as most campaigns. His diplomacy was the talk of Constantinople. His treaties were the glory of the west.

But once Henry began divorcing his wife, spitting in the Emperor’s eye, all this advantage was lost. The Pope’s bull of excommunication hangs over Henry like a blade on a human hair. To be excommunicate is to be a leper. If the bull is implemented, the king and his ministers will be the target of murderers, who carry the Pope’s commission. His subjects will have a sacred duty to depose him. Invading troops will come with a blessing, and the sins incidental to any invasion – rapes, robberies – will be allowed for and wiped out in advance.

Lord Cromwell gets up every day – Austin Friars, his rooms at court, his house at Stepney, the Rolls House at Chancery Lane – and he tries to think of a way to stop this happening. This week, France and the Emperor are at war. Next week who knows? Circumstances alter fast, and before news can cross the Narrow Sea they have altered again. Even now – with the king twice widowed and newly-married – our people in Rome have a wedge in the door, keeping it open a crack: still maintaining a dialogue, and passing cash with a wink. The curia must keep hope alive, that England might return to the fold. The great thing is to make sure the bull remains in suspension. Meanwhile, we must assume the worst case: Charles or François, one or both, will walk in and wipe their boots in Whitehall.

There are now three kinds of people in the world. There are those who give Lord Cromwell his proper title. There are flatterers, who called him ‘my lord’ when he wasn’t. And there are begrudgers, who won’t call him ‘my lord’ now he is.

Gregory trails him: ‘Do you think if my mother had lived, she would have liked being called Lady Cromwell?’

‘I do suppose any woman would.’ He halts, papers in his hands: looks Gregory over. ‘How would it be if we were to stretch out a hand to the Duke of Norfolk, and help him in his trouble?’

The duke has said to him, for God’s sake, my lord, work something with the king, to put me back in his grace. Is it my fault Richmond is dead?

‘Call-Me,’ he says, ‘send our people to Norfolk’s people, and make them know that if they were to invite Gregory to hunt this summer, I would look favourably on such an invitation.’

‘What, me?’ Gregory says.

Richard says, ‘Not as if you were doing anything else.’

Gregory digests it. ‘They say it is good hunting country at Kenninghall. I suppose I can do it. But before I go, I would like to know when I am to get a stepmother.’

He frowns: stepmother?

‘You promised,’ Gregory says. ‘You swore to us, you would step out of here and wed the first woman you met, to clear yourself of any charge you mean to match with Lady Mary. So did you? Have you? Who was she?’

‘Oh, I remember,’ he says. ‘It was William Parr’s niece, Kate. Lady Latimer, as she is now. Unfortunately.’

‘We agreed a husband is no obstacle,’ Gregory says. ‘Though is not Latimer her second? She does not keep them when they are worn in, I warrant. What did she say to your suit?’

‘She asked him to dine,’ Rafe says. ‘We were witness.’

‘She took his hand,’ Richard says. ‘She drew him aside, most tender.’

‘I think,’ Mr Wriothesley adds, ‘she would have kissed him, if we had not been right behind them gaping and nudging each other, and grinning and mincing like apes.’

‘I have come,’ Lady Latimer had said, ‘to see the new queen. I have come to introduce my sister Anne Parr, and ask if she can have a position.’

‘I am glad to see you back at court, my lady. If your sister is as handsome as you, she will do well.’

There is a stifled giggle from his attendants. He pretends not to hear it. Kate Latimer is a sweet-faced, snub-nosed young woman, five-and-twenty. Her family are courtiers by blood. Maud Parr, her lady mother, served Queen Katherine for many a year; William her uncle is an Esquire of the Body.

‘I will speak to Lady Rutland for your sister, though I don’t know if Jane can take anyone else. Lady Lisle sends me a reminder by every boat. If her daughters are not placed, I shall soon feel her wrath, blowing out of Calais on a cutting wind.’

‘Oh, the Bassett girls.’ Kate bites her lip: considers the applicants, as if they were parading before her. ‘The queen should not feel obliged to take more than one. Put in a word for my sister, will you? And come and dine this week at Charterhouse Yard. Lord Latimer is here under sufferance, and chafing to get back to his summer’s sport. I want some conversation, before he can gallop me back north.’

Latimer is a papist, he suspects: but, so far, loyal. ‘How do you like Snape Castle?’

She wrinkles her nose. ‘Well, you know. It’s Yorkshire.’ She touches his sleeve, nods towards a window embrasure. ‘We seem to be amusing your boys.’

‘Oh, they are a foolish set of youths. They cannot keep their countenance at the sight of a pretty woman.’

Out of line of sight, she drops her head, as if they were going to discuss her velvet shoes. ‘Tyndale?’ she whispers.

For a moment he thinks he has misheard. Then, ‘Still alive,’ he says.

‘But out of hope.’ She nods. ‘We hear you have done what is possible. Now he must suffer, as the godly must. Till they go to a better world than this.’

He looks at Lady Latimer with new eyes. ‘I beg you to trust no one here at court.’

‘And you, trust no one in Yorkshire.’

He breathes in the warm scent of her skin: rose oil, cloves. He looks out of the window. ‘I never did.’

‘If the king intends to crown Jane, he should do it in York. Show his power there. It would be timely.’ For the benefit of passers-by she raises her voice. ‘Advertise us which day you will come. We should like to do all honour to you.’ She glances over her shoulder. ‘Send one of those silly fellows with a message.’

She seems to have caught on to the joke, because she turns at the end of the gallery and blows him a kiss.

August, he is in Kent; his duties follow him, the boy Mathew bundling up his papers as he did at Wolf Hall, and Christophe riding at his elbow, a club slung at his saddle to beat off assailants. ‘Have you heard of fire-pots?’ he demands, as they pass under the dripping trees. ‘One fills them with ardent substance and then launches them in a sling. Such a weapon might reach Gardineur, who knows? Flying across the sea to ignite him.’

He says, reminiscing, ‘We made those in Italy when I was a boy. We used to seal the sulphur in with pig fat. I dare say there are better ways now.’

‘Pig fat is king,’ Christophe says. ‘When are we making them?’

At Allington Castle, the master looks as if he has only weeks to live. ‘This last summer,’ Sir Henry says, ‘I could not sleep for the thought of my boy lying at the Tower. I knew you would not suffer him to be mistreated. But you could not watch over him all the hours, with great business of state toward.’ His hand trembles; a drop of wine falls on the ledger before him. ‘Oh, by the Rood!’ Sir Henry dabs at the page.

‘Here. Let me.’ He moves the book from danger. The old man sighs. ‘I trust Tom has learned to live quiet. I hope it will content him now, and he be well to keep.’ Sir Henry’s eyes close. ‘To be master of Allington in my stead, and all its pleasant ways and walks. My chases and woods. My flowery meads.’

Thomas Wyatt says, send me abroad. Send me abroad in the king’s service. I will go anywhere. I want to be out of the realm.

He lays the papers down and sits by the old man as he dozes. Lauda finem, he thinks: praise the end. He thinks of the lioness that stalked Tom Wyatt, out in the courtyard: where the scent of evening flowers drifts, instead of her feral breath. Sir Henry opens an eye and says, ‘He’ll gamble the shirt off his back, unless you nail it to him. He’ll sell the place off, or lose it at some gaming house. And be borrowing from you, Thomas Cromwell, before my corpse is cold.’

As he travels, he signs off on the paperwork to give Rafe a clutch of Essex manors belonging to William Brereton, deceased. In accordance with the king’s wishes, he redirects the possessions and holdings of young Richmond. Charles Brandon receives munificent grants. Henry Courtenay, the Marquis of Exeter, is given a slice of Dorset to secure his loyalties and keep his wife Gertrude content. A portion of the county of Devon goes to William Fitzwilliam, and the land and buildings of Waverley Abbey; it was the first house of the Cistercian monks when they came into England, but the site has always been likely to flood, the coffers are exhausted and there are but thirteen monks to be paid off. Fitz is granted manors in Hampshire and Sussex, set on firmer ground; he needs to support his new dignities, as he is promoted Lord Admiral.

It’s another disappointment for the Duke of Norfolk. The post had been his once. Having given it up to young Richmond, he hoped to get it back now he is dead. But the king says, William Fitzwilliam is more use to me, a steadfast man who tells me the truth.

The king’s new family must be augmented, with leases and licences. Tom Seymour sails among the ladies, scattering smiles like posies; he wears a doublet of hyacinth, a curtmantel of violet velvet. Edward Seymour seeks out the company of black-gowned savants to learn how he can be useful to the realm. All agree he is an improvement on the last royal brother – though as Gregory says, if he can only keep from tupping his sister, it puts him ahead of George Boleyn.

Edward Seymour invites him to his town house and shows him a painting that occupies a whole wall. It portrays all the Seymours that grace the records, right back to where writing began: other Seymours, imagined ones, carry the line back to paradise, situated top centre. Far-sighted ancestors wear plate armour, years before its manufacture. They carry broadswords, poll axes, horseman’s hammers and maces. Their brides are represented by their family emblems. Give or take a beard, generations of Seymours bear a marked family resemblance: that is, they look like Edward. They shelter under their coats of arms as if standing out of the rain.

As for the queen herself – Henry doesn’t know how to reward her, what to give her. She is endowed with castles, manors, rents, services, privileges, liberties and franchises. Her letters patent are inscribed in gilt, illuminated with the king’s picture: in which he is younger, fresh-faced, clean-shaven, as if Jane has wiped away the last ten years. Henry has made exhaustive enquiries into the state of her body and soul. He is satisfied that no man except a brother or close cousin has so much as kissed her cheek. When she confesses to her chaplain, it takes five minutes. She may as well be transparent, for all she has to hide. And the king takes all her attention. Katherine had her little apes, Anne her spaniels, but Jane has only her husband. She treats him with great deference, and carefully, as if he might snap; but she treats him cheerfully, as he himself, Cromwell, tries to do. Above all, she treats him as if everything he wants to do is perfectly normal. And in gratitude for the gold and precious stones, she smiles slowly and blinks at him, as if she were a lass whose lover has cut her a slice of apple, and offered it to her on the point of his blade.

Before he lays down his pen, Lord Cromwell remembers Lady Latimer with a manor in Northamptonshire.

As summer ends Gregory returns, tousled, sun-browned. ‘My lord Norfolk was good to me. When he saw me sit down to my book, he said, “Gregory Cromwell, are you not done with learning yet?” I said, “No, my lord – I have set aside Linacre’s Grammars, but now I must look into Littleton’s New Tenures, and be educated in the law. Also,” I told him, “my father said to me lately, ‘Are you acquainted with the Seven Wise Men of Greece?’ And when I said no, he said, ‘Look you be acquainted with them by September.’” So my lord of Norfolk said, “Seven wise men be buggered, I never knew them myself, and I lack no parts that become a sage. Leave off your book, lad, and get out there into the sunshine, I’ll make it right with your father.”’

He nods. ‘So he did.’ Thinks, I cannot fault the scrawny old reprobate, he has been genial to my boy.

‘But his son …’ Gregory says. ‘Surrey was a surly host. He spoke Italian at me. I am not perfect in that tongue, but a man knows when he is being insulted.’

‘True. Especially in Italian.’

‘Surrey says you are a sectary. A heretic. You say there is not one God but three. You say Christ was not God, or God was not Christ. You are a sacramentarian, he says. That is, one who does not think infants should be baptised. Surrey pretends to favour the gospel himself, but it is only to provoke his father. My lord Norfolk curses the day laymen began to read the scriptures. “Blessed are the meek!” he says. “With all respect to our Saviour, you don’t want that notion to get around an army camp.” So the more he hates the Bible, the more Surrey loves it.’

He nods. Fathers and sons. At the age when lords were perched up on their first quiet pony, he was playing in the forge within range of flailing hooves. ‘Just let him get kicked once,’ Walter used to say, ‘and he’ll learn.’ He did get kicked, but he doesn’t know if he learned.

Gregory says, ‘Mary Fitzroy is at Kenninghall with her family. She scolds night and day about her settlement from Richmond’s estate. She has all the figures in a book, what she should have as his relict. The duke is surprised she has such a good wit, he has barely spoken to her till now, he does not think a man should dally in idle talk with daughters. She says, “If you will not go to the king and get my settlement, I will turn to Lord Cromwell, he is gentleness itself to widows.”’

Mr Wriothesley suppresses a snort of laughter. But then when Gregory has cantered off, Call-Me follows him into his closet and says, ‘You want Gregory to be wed. Have you thought of Mary Fitzroy? You could secure the duke’s friendship for ever.’

‘That’s a turnabout, from you. You said I should destroy him.’

Mr Wriothesley looks penitent. ‘I did not understand your methods.’

Norfolk depends on him now, to speak up for him to the king. Henry glowers whenever he hears Norfolk’s name. The row over Tom Truth, and Richmond’s death, his scant poor burial … the king’s grievances have accumulated. Norfolk sees himself in the Tower. By the gridiron of St Lawrence, I never deserved such treatment, the duke says. When did I ever thwart Henry or cut against him? Always my loyalty, always my best endeavours, my money and my men and my prayers. I am full full full, he writes, of choler and anger. When you read his letters, you picture tongues of fire bursting from his head.

As for Norfolk’s daughter, ‘Not for us,’ he tells Wriothesley. ‘Norfolk will look higher. The Howards don’t think about the future, not the way we do. They want it to look like the past.’

Seven Wise Men, he tells Gregory: here are their sayings. Moderation in all things, nothing to excess (those two are the same, wisdom can be repetitious). Know yourself. Know your opportunity. Look ahead. Don’t try for the impossible. And Bias of Priene: pleistoi anthropoi kakoi, most men are bad.

This summer, the Court of Augmentations is busy turning monks into money. Only the small houses are dissolved: the court has capacity for more work, should Henry wish it. When its clerks move into their new rooms at Westminster they will have a garden, where they can recreate themselves in fresh air and sit amid birdsong and the fragrance of the herb beds. Yarrow and camomile comfort the scrupulous, who stay late re-adding the columns. Betony cures a headache, blue borage lightens the heart. Oculus Christi, infused, is good to bathe the eyes of those who spend long hours at their books, and the scent of a rosemary hedge strengthens the memory.

Bishop Hugh Latimer says to him, it were pity the monasteries should close and the poor gain nothing from it. But it is not likely the pauper will lay his head where Father Abbot once reposed. More likely a gentleman will knock down Father Abbot’s house, and build himself a bigger house with the stone. No doubt it is good policy in the king, not to keep all the gain for himself. The Pope’s name is taken out of the service book, but parishes have simply glued strips of paper over it, thinking the world will turn and Rome rise again. But once the lands are given out, no subject will want to give them back to the church. Prayers may be rewritten, but not leases. Hearts may revert to Rome, but the money never will.

So even after Henry dies, he thinks, our work is safe. After a generation, the name of Pope itself will be blotted out of memory, and no one will ever believe we bowed to stocks of wood and prayed to plaster. The English will see God in daylight, not hidden in a cloud of incense; they will hear his word from a minister who faces them, instead of turning his back and muttering in a foreign tongue. We will have good-living clergy, who counsel the ignorant and help the unfortunate, instead of a scum of half-literate monks squatting in the dust with their cassocks hauled up, playing knucklebones for farthings and trying to see up women’s skirts. We will have an end to images, the simpering virgin saints with their greensick faces, and Christ with the wound in his side gaping like a whore’s gash. The faithful will cherish their Saviour in their inner heart, instead of gawping at him painted above their heads, like a swinging inn sign. We will break the shrines, Hugh Latimer says, and found schools. Turn out the monks and buy horn books, alphabet books for little hands. We will draw out the living God from his false depictions. God is not his gown, he is not his coat, he is not shreds of flesh or nails or thorns. He is not trapped in a jewelled monstrance or in a window’s glass. But dwells in the human heart. Even in the Duke of Norfolk’s.

As the days shorten Norfolk writes to him, to ask him to be an executor of his will. Not that he thinks of dying; but of course, sic transit gloria mundi, and he will be five-and-sixty soon, though he doesn’t know where the time has gone. He seeks a meeting, at the convenience of the Lord Privy Seal. He wants to talk about Mary Fitzroy. ‘It’s a shame that Richmond didn’t go and die a few weeks sooner. For then the king could have wed my daughter, who is some of the best blood in the kingdom, instead of John Seymour’s girl. And my girl is a maid, you know, pure as the day she was christened, for I never let Richmond near her.’

It is precisely because the match was not consummated that the king is saying it was no marriage, so the bride does not merit a pay-out. But as the duke is so well-disposed, he does not interrupt him with that news. ‘You know who came to see me?’ Norfolk says. ‘The Emperor’s man. Begged audience. Wanted to give me money. Well,’ the duke says benignly, ‘that’s all in order. I used to have a pension from the Emperor, till my niece came along and fouled up every reasonable arrangement.’

‘Then your Grace is restored to your rights,’ he says gravely.

The duke eyes him. ‘Have I you to thank?’

He waves it away. ‘Chapuys well understands your great lineage and your long experience. He knows what you are and will always be, to both the king and the commonwealth.’

‘That may be,’ the duke says. ‘But he doesn’t regard them as much as the dinners you give him. He speaks about you as if you have all to rule. Cremuel this, Cremuel that. Still. You have done me service. I acknowledge it.’ The duke stumps away on his little legs.

In answer to his summons, Master Holbein comes. He trails with him traces of his occupation, the scents of linseed and lavender oil, pine-resin and rabbit-skin glue. ‘Now you are a milord, shall I paint you again?’

‘I am content with what you did before.’ If a portrait may serve as an act of concealment, then he has effected one, he and Hans between them. He says, ‘I thought I might have a whole wall of portraits. The past kings of England.’

Hans sucks his lip. ‘How far you wish to go back?’

‘Back before King Harry who conquered France. Before his father Bolingbroke.’

‘You wish to include those murdered?’

‘If it does not take up too much space.’

Hans crucifies himself against the wall, then spins about and about, using his wing span to measure it. ‘You can build a new room if need be.’ Below the window, the tramp of bricklayers: scaffolding is lashed together, dust rises into the air. ‘Write them down, their names. You want a picture of Henry? You standing beside him, whispering sums of money?’

He knows what Hans is hinting at. If Henry is to be painted this year, he wants the commission. Hans says, ‘He can no longer ride hard, nor play at tennis. So look now.’ He pats his belly.

‘True. The king is augmented.’

Hans strides along the gallery, squaring off with his hands the notional space for each king. ‘When you come home from the court you will come in and greet them. They will say, “God bless you, Thomas,” as if they were your uncles. You do this because you have no people of your own.’

True again. ‘I wish you had painted my wife.’

‘Why? She was pretty?’

‘No.’

If he had been able to afford Hans when his wife and daughters were alive he could have painted them as he had Thomas More’s family, along with their house spaniels and any other little pets they had then: he with his book in hand, and Gregory playing with a child-sized sword, and his daughters with their coral beads. He can almost see the picture; his eyes move around it, to where Richard Cromwell leans on the back of his chair, and Rafe Sadler sits to the right of the frame with abacus and quill, and a door is open for Call-Me to come in when he pleases. When he tries to bring the faces of his girls to mind, he cannot do it. He knows memory tricks but they don’t help with this. Children change so fast. Grace changed every day. Even Liz’s face is a blurred oval beneath her cap. He imagines telling her, ‘A German is coming to draw us, and we shall be doubled, as if we carried a mirror.’ When you went to Chelsea you made your bow to the Lord Chancellor – the one seated on the wall, wearing the grave expression of the councillor. Then the real one would sidle up, with his blue chin and his frayed wool gown, rubbing his cold hands and letting you know you were interrupting him. Thomas More looking at you twice: a dirty look both times.

He says, ‘Hans, I am not expecting you to paint these kings yourself. Send a boy. It doesn’t matter what the faces look like, because nobody knows.’

They shake hands on it. There is nothing against the recreation of the dead, as long as they are plausible. He, Lord Cromwell, will provide bed and board for two apprentices, who will stay till the kings are dried and hung, and Hans will charge for materials, and a nominal sum for labour, ‘but rich man’s rates’, Hans says. He digs a finger into his patron’s plush person, and goes out, whistling.

His jester Anthony comes to him: ‘Sir, when was it heard of, that a man was fool to the Lord Privy Seal, and was not hung with silver bells?’

‘Good idea,’ Richard Cromwell says. ‘You can ring them to let us know when you make a joke.’

‘I may be the saddest jester born,’ Anthony says, ‘but I don’t go parading around the taverns and giving your secrets away, and I am cheaper than Will Somer, that is the king’s fool now, for he has a man to attend on him, and I need no keeper. Except in the spring when I am melancholy, and need someone to keep me away from sharp knives, and streams and ponds where I might drown myself.’

Will Somer is a hunchback who falls asleep while he is talking. He sits at table and slam goes his head, right down into his platter. He is not safe in the street; if he did not have a servant to check him he might fall under the wheels of a cart. He might slump to the ground while he is mounting a stile, his feet entangled, his hair trailing in mud. Every moment of his day is interpenetrated with night, and when he sinks to the ground in the precincts of the court, spaniels run up and peer at him, and wave their tails as they lick his ears. Somer is harmless, an innocent. But the man Sexton, or Patch, remains in Nicholas Carew’s house, where they say he tells stories about the queen that was, calling her a harlot, and for each slander Carew augments his living; and the ingrate talks about the cardinal too, his former master, and defames him every waking hour.

He says to Anthony, ‘Tell Thomas Avery to give you a budget. Then you can buy your own bells.’

Three great ships, it is reported, have docked in the river port of Seville, and are unloading treasure from Peru to swell the coffers of the Emperor: whose forces now advance into Picardy, into the territory of the King of France. King Henry offers his services as mediator, and declares he will remain neutral. ‘By which he means,’ Chapuys says, ‘he will go to the side that promises him most and costs him least. That is what he means by neutrality.’

He says, ‘What prince would do anything else? He must seize his advantage.’

‘But then,’ Chapuys says, ‘Henry talks so much of his honour.’

‘Oh,’ he says, ‘they all do.’

The Venetian ambassador, Signor Zuccato, calls on him beaming with pleasure, to explain the Senate has voted him fifty ducats for the purchase of horses – a perquisite all former ambassadors have enjoyed, but which in his case had unaccountably been forgotten. So the Venetian can hunt if he likes, cantering after the king and Madamma Jane into the dappled misty mornings. There have been years of hunting par force: while gentlemen lie abed the questers are at work to find a runnable stag, who stirs in the glade and wakes and sniffs the air of a new day. When the beast is chosen the hounds are relayed on the line of his run, grey and lemon and tawny and white; and when the hart is unharboured, the huntsman feels the grass where he lay – if it is cold, if it is warm. At sun-up the chase begins. Hart may ruse and he may flee, he may plunge into the chilly stream, but the hounds run on and never change, till he is brought to bay, and as they run they revile him, baying their taunts in a language he can understand, calling him a varlet and a knave: and the hunters cry ho moy, cy va, ho sto, mon amy: sa cy avaunt, so ho. And when the sword strikes him, through the shoulder into the heart, then hart is turned on his back, his antlers in the earth; and the horn, which has blown mote and recheat and prise, now blows mort. When he is unmade, disassembled, then the hounds are thrown bread soaked in his blood, and certain bones, cast aside for crows, are called the raven’s fee; and the head is set on a spear and carried home, foremost, as it was in life.

But this year, to save the king hard riding and so he may enjoy the society of delicate ladies, the harts are driven to the hunters where they stand against the trees, dressed in silken green, their crossbows in hand. Henry, dragging his new weight, is easily fatigued, his face furrowed sometimes by pain from his leg, which his servants bind every morning as tight as he may endure, bandaging round and round the patch of fragility where the damage strikes into the bone. The queen is silent beside him, her steady eye on the deer. If the quarry should swerve to left or right it takes discipline for the hunters to hold fire lest they wound each other; if the beast cannot be shot head on, it is better to let him break through the line, then place the arrow forward to anticipate his path. If the kill is not clean the hunter tracks the wounded hart, knowing by the quality, colour and thickness of the blood how long the pursuit will last. Hunters, it is said, live longer than other men; they sweat hard and stay lean; when they fall into bed at night they are tired beyond all temptation; and when they die, they go to Heaven.

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