The Mirror and the Light (Inheritance)

December 1538

His scheme of registration is badly taken. Recording baptisms, the people say, will enable the king to tax us in our infancy. Recording weddings will allow him to impose a levy on every bride and groom. Given notice of funerals, Cromwell’s commissioners will attend to pluck the pennies off the corpse’s lids.

Cromwell is laying his plans, they say, to steal our firewood, our chickens and our spoons. He means to impound our millstone, tax cauldrons and stewpots, weight the beam, tamper with the baker’s scales, and fix liquid measures in his favour. The man is like a weasel, who eats his own weight every day. You do not see him coming, he makes himself so small he can pass through a wedding ring. His eyes are open all night. He dances to baffle his prey then sucks out their brains. His lair is in the dens of the vanquished and he lines it with their fur.

Ambassador Chapuys seeks an interview. He is agitated. ‘Thomas, do you know what they are saying in Rome? They say that when you broke Becket’s shrine you took his bones and shot them out of a cannon. Surely it cannot be true?’

‘Ambassador, if only I had thought of it …’

Chapuys says, ‘You are lucky you do not serve that King Henry who had Becket murdered. The chronicles state he would roll on the floor in his rages, and foam at the mouth like a mad dog.’

At Lambeth Palace they had a statue of Becket perched in the outer wall, looking over the river. Now Cranmer has taken it down and the place is empty. His bargemaster says, ‘I’ve been saluting that knave since I was a boy.’

‘Time you stopped then, Bastings.’

‘My father before me. His father before him. I expect habit will keep me to it.’

Bastings spits over the side. In the days when he was a little lad at Putney, he used to think boatmen spat for luck. But his uncle John told him that they do it to alert their gods, who look up through the tides at the underside of vessels, and see the leaks not yet sprung.

When he was fourteen he thought all the time about the river. When it rained he thought, good, more water, carrying me away to the sea.

The Thames is swollen; it is the kind of weather that washes the corpses out of St Olave’s churchyard, and sends them swimming on a frothy tide. Safely home, he unlocks the box where he keeps his dead wife’s prayer book. He locates the image of Becket and cuts out the page. He does it delicately, with a thin-bladed knife. He turns over the pages and looks at each picture. He sees Mary dead and carried in procession, with the Jews darting out to shake the bier and trample underfoot the rose-garlands of the mourners. He sees Christ scourged at the pillar, His white fish body writhing from the flail.

At Austin Friars the strongrooms and cellars are filling with relics. There is a stack of handkerchiefs neatly hemmed by the Blessed Virgin and a piece of the rope with which Judas hanged himself. Madonnas have been through by the half-dozen, some on their way to be burned, others axed; our Lady of Caversham nudges St Ann of Buxton, St Modwen giggles in their train. It reminds him of the days before Anne Boleyn came down, when the ladies clustered together, sliding dangerous thoughts through painted lips, and rolling their painted eyes. In a box there is a livid two-inch piece of gristle, which is the ear of Malchus, servant to Israel’s high priest – cut off by St Peter at the time of our Saviour’s arrest. Becket’s bones lie in their plain box. Only a clever surgeon, and possibly not even he, could tell you whether they are the bones of a martyr or of an animal.

While her kinsfolk are interrogated at the Tower, Margaret Pole remains in custody at Fitzwilliam’s house. When Fitzwilliam goes from home, his wife Mabel makes him take her with him. She will not stay alone under that cold Plantagenet eye.

Once a thorough search is made of Margaret’s castle at Warblington, papers come to hand which perhaps she wishes were burned.

‘And I doubt not,’ Castillon says gaily, ‘that more will come to hand, as you require them.’

Chapuys says, ‘Cremuel is happy enough if the evidence follows the trial.’

‘Margaret Pole is not on trial,’ he says, expressionless.

She is the head of the family. It is she who carries the bloodline. She will never walk free again, but time will take care of her; he does not relish explaining to the ambassadors why the king chose the headsman, to rid an ancient lady. Geoffrey’s wife Constance is not to be charged. He has left Thomas More’s family out of the indictments, and Bishop Stokesley: for now. The net spreads wide, but at its extremities it is cobweb-thin.

Riche says, ‘We have no actual thing against them, to convict them of treason. No actions. Only words. But we have done it before. We have done it under the statute.’

Our law of treason is capacious. It encompasses words and bad intentions. We let More bring himself down that way, we let the Boleyns do it. Is a man a victim, who walks onto a knife? Are you innocent, if you set up the damage for yourself?

‘Thank you, Riche,’ he says, ‘for your confidence.’ But it is up to him, as ever, to make sure the king does nothing he regrets.

Henry says: ‘Lord Montague and Lord Exeter have worked against me seven years past. They have perverted my daughter Mary to their cause. Her safety ensured,’ he inclines his head, ‘only by your efforts, my lord Cromwell.’

He waits: allowing the king to hold a trial inside his head. At last he says, ‘Geoffrey Pole, sir? Without Geoffrey’s help we would have not much matter to stand up in court.’

‘A pardon, I suppose. Hold him for now.’

He makes a note. There is no doubt as to the outcome of the trials. ‘Will your Majesty grant them grace as to the manner of their deaths?’

‘Noble blood,’ Henry says. ‘I cannot send them to Tyburn, though God knows – would François be as merciful? Would the Emperor endure to be laughed at, as I have been? Because they did laugh at me, my sore leg. Said it would kill me. And if it did not, they would speed nature. I ask myself, what would they have done to my son Edward? The day he was baptised, Gertrude Courtenay carried him in her arms. She held him against her heart. How could she, with such malice in it? God knows she has deserved a death.’

‘No, sir,’ he says firmly. ‘We will spare the women. By themselves they can do nothing. Gertrude may be lodged at the Tower in a chamber near her son. He is still of a tender age. And Henry Pole is not yet ten.’

‘They will be companions for each other,’ Henry says. ‘They can walk in the gardens. They can have a target to practise archery. Who knows? A time may come when they can be let go. Though I hope my son’s heart will not be as soft, to nourish traitors decade after decade. In truth, I hope none of my heirs will have hearts as pitiful as mine.’

The captive children will need to be shown occasionally to witnesses, so no one can say they have been disappeared, like King Edward’s heirs. As with those tender princes, it is inheritance condemns them. Though he, Thomas Cromwell, has nothing to say against inheritance. Already the name of his grandson Henry is beginning to appear on title deeds. And the child as yet has no teeth.

In early December the order goes to the Tower: bring up the bodies for trial. Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter, is condemned, and Lord Montague too, led to the scaffold at Tower Hill on a day of howling wind and heavy rain.

Geoffrey Pole will be released before spring. He is pardoned by the king, but not by himself. On the fourth day of Christmas he tries to kill himself again, this time by eating a cushion. The feathers fail to choke him.

For the season the king goes to Greenwich as usual. The Pope’s bull of excommunication is now to be carried by Reginald Pole through Europe, and for a man doomed to Hell, Henry keeps a merry court. From Brussels, our envoy Mr Wriothesley writes he has seen Christina. He never thought he could like a woman as tall as himself, but he does like her, and he understands the king would not object to a tall bride. When Christina smiles, dimples appear in her cheek and chin. He thinks she would smile more often if she were given cause. When he asks her how she would like to be Queen of England, she says, alas, it is not for her to decide.

Henry shows off her picture. Everyone who sees it smiles. ‘She looks kind,’ the king says wistfully. ‘What if she is not so white as Jane? Jane was white as Staffordshire alabaster.’

All souls must make the passage, Dante tells us. They flock on the riverbank to wait their turn: the mild, the defenceless, crossing in the weak light.

On the last day of 1538 Nicholas Carew is arrested: the king’s Master of the Horse, old Carve-Away, the hero of the tilting ground. A cache of letters in possession of Gertrude Courtenay shows him as one who has not only urged on the conspirators but broken the king’s confidence repeatedly over the years, revealing freely what is done and said in the privy chamber.

Henry says sadly, ‘The cardinal always warned me against Carew. I didn’t listen. I should listen to my advisers, shouldn’t I?’

He feels it is not for him to comment.

‘Carew was always a partisan of my wife. I mean, of Katherine. Then of Mary, crying up her rights.’ Henry is thoughtful. ‘Carew’s wife is still a beautiful woman.’

He almost drops his papers. He imagines the words dragged out of him: Majesty, I know you had to do with Eliza Bryan in your young days, but you cannot order a man’s death and then marry his widow. King David sent Uriah into battle to be killed: thereafter, he impregnated Bathsheba, who gave birth to a dying child.

He thinks, somebody else will have to tell him. Lord Audley. Fitz. I have had enough of refraining him from what will hurt him, slapping away his hand like a nursemaid.

The king says, ‘I gave Lady Carew diamonds and pearls. I never saw her wear them. I suppose Nicholas locked them away in his coffers.’

He says, ‘His coffers will be emptied now. They will come back to the Wardrobe. By your Majesty’s leave I will send Master Cornelius to make a special inventory.’

‘Yes, do that.’ Henry looks into the distance. ‘These men, you know, Carew, Lord Exeter – they were the friends of my youth.’

He bows, waits, then begins to withdraw. The end of the Round Table, he thinks. Henry says, ‘Reginald called me the enemy of the human race.’

The boy Mathew comes to him: ‘My lord, an old woman has brought a nightingale in a cage. I gave her one mark.’

Christophe says, ‘You gave her one mark, for a singing bird? You rustic dolt. My lord should send you back to Wiltshire. I suppose it is all the entertainment you are used to, down at Wolf Hall.’

Nicholas Carew is held in custody, pending his indictment on Valentine’s Day. The king does not mention his name again.

Ou sont les gracieux galans

Que je suivoye ou temps jadiz,

Si bien chantans, si bien parlans,

Si plaisans en faiz et en diz?

Such singers, such dancers, their words and deeds false to the core: when our prince went hunting they whispered to each other, ‘When will the Tudor break his neck?’

The gaoler Martin tells him that Carew has begun to read the gospel. He laments the life he has led, and wishes to be a new man. ‘Will you not do something for him, sir? Now he has come over to us?’

Before Lambert was burned he would have protested against the trial of a fellow evangelist, thinking it his duty to prevent it, knowing that until he had done his utmost his conscience would not rest. But he has got over that now.

They say the cardinal in the days of his power had a wax image of the king, which he talked to and bent to his will. He keeps a waxen Henry in the corner of his imagination, painted in bright colours and fitted with gilt shoes. He lives with it but he doesn’t talk to it. He is afraid it will answer back.