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The Mirror and the Light (Magnificence | Part 2)

Christophe drops his shirt over his head. ‘I bear in mind that the Emperor is a widower.’ His head emerges from the linen. ‘I would not put it past him to choose this week to announce his marriage to a Frenchwoman.’

If he did, he thinks, that would sharpen Henry’s appetite for his own bride.

‘God forbid!’ Call-Me says. ‘Wyatt is with the Emperor, he would have to prevent it.’

‘He would abduct the lady,’ Christophe offers. ‘Declaim a sonnet. Biff-boff with her in some roadside inn. Return to Emperor in used condition.’

In the king’s apartments, the councillors are talking in low voices, as if in the presence of someone dying. William Kingston: ‘My lord, this cannot be true? That the king has taken against the lady?’

He puts a finger to his lips. He has just endowed Anna with the first of many grants that will guarantee her income as queen. Her household is set up, a mirror of the king’s. The Earl of Rutland is her chamberlain. She has priests and pages, washerwomen and pastry cooks, cupbearers and ushers, footmen and grooms, auditors, receivers and surveyors. When the Cleves delegation arrives, he means to dwell on these details to reassure them – because yesterday’s ill-will, the tension in every look and gesture of the English, has escaped no one. His hope is that he can prevent them translating the tension into any sort of insult, which they will relay back to our allies.

Fitz comes in. He says abruptly, ‘I suppose we still need, what was it, alum?’

‘Yes,’ he says. ‘And friends, we need friends as we never have before.’

Back in autumn he told the councillors, alum is very hard to extract. You must cut to the marrow of the mountains and prop your workings as you go. Now he enlarges on it to Fitz: you need heavy hammers and steel pikes and wedges. It is quickest to employ explosive devices. ‘The miners call them Pater Nosters – because when they go off, you jump out of your skin and shout, God Our Father Almighty!’

But Fitz is not listening. His head is cocked to sounds of dissatisfaction coming from the inner room. When the king himself comes out he is already dressed in his gown of cloth of gold strewn with silver flowers. ‘Where is my lord Essex? He is supposed to escort the bride. He is late, what will she think?’

‘May I offer?’ Fitz says, unwilling.

The king says, ‘It has to be an unmarried man, some custom they have in her native land – pointless, but she will want it to be observed.’ Henry’s eye falls on him. ‘You fetch her, my lord Privy Seal.’

‘I am not worthy,’ he says.

Henry says, ‘You are, my lord, if I say you are.’

The door is flung open. Henry Bouchier – old Essex – limps in. ‘What?’ he says, looking around.

‘LATE!’ the courtiers roar.

‘Ah, well, dark mornings,’ Essex says. ‘Fires low, boys half-asleep. Ice on the path, what would you? Needless to imperil oneself. What’s the hurry?’

‘We want her before she is beyond the age of childbearing,’ Mr Wriothesley breathes. ‘Ideally, in the next decade.’

Essex looks around. ‘Is Cromwell going for her? Won’t she be insulted, Majesty? She must know he was once a common shearsman, does she not?’

‘Barely that,’ he says. ‘I drove geese to market, my lord, and plucked them for the warm feather beds of earls.’

‘Oh, get on,’ Henry says. ‘Get on, Cromwell, make haste, what matter who does it?’

The gentlemen of the privy chamber look at him, shocked.

‘Sir,’ William Kingston says, ‘everything matters. Of this sort.’

Someone with presence of mind holds the door open, and Essex limps through. The king turns to him, his voice low and vehement: ‘I tell you, my lord, if it were not for fear of making a ruffle in the world, and driving her brother into the arms of the Emperor, I would not do what I must do this day, for none earthly thing.’ He lifts his head. ‘Gentlemen, let’s go.’

They keep a stately pace to the queen’s side, to allow the bride to arrive first: that is how royal people do it, a king waits for no one. In the queen’s closet Cranmer stands ready, his book in his hands, his stole about his neck. ‘Where is she?’

A rumbled jest from Brandon: ‘Perchance Essex died on the way?’

The king pretends not to have heard. He is dignified as a bridegroom must be; they never hear the sly asides of their companions, who hint that they will be happy when it is dark. Over his glittering gown the king wears a coat of indigo satin, furred. Light glints and slides from his many surfaces. His lips move, as if in prayer.

When Anne appears, she wears a gown strewn with flowers, like the king: hers are not silver, but pearl. Her blonde hair is loose, falling to her waist, and entwined around her coronet a garland of rosemary. She no longer looks like a grocer’s wife, but like what she is: a princess whose childhood was spent in a high castle on a crag, from where you can see for miles.

It is a short and simple ceremony. Nothing is required of her but to stand still and look cheerful. The archbishop glances around him, when he asks if any impediment is known: as if he offers chances to all comers. No one speaks. Cranmer bobs his head as if taking cover. The king makes his vows. Then at his archbishop’s signal, he turns, takes the queen by the elbows, and plants a kiss on her cheek. Stiffly, she turns her head; ducking around her winged head-dress, the king kisses the other cheek. The red lips are pursed, ready for him: but nothing doing.

Cranmer says, Deo Gratias.The king and queen leave the closet hand in hand. Fanfares sound. Courtiers cry, Gaudete! The councillors follow to the feast.

For once he hardly notices what he eats. Usually, after a dinner like this, the king’s councillors knot together in a corner and talk about hunting. But when the pipers come in Norfolk is prevailed upon to dance with his niece Katherine. Fitz watches him, gloomy. ‘I suppose this was worth getting out of bed to see?’

‘You will not dance, Lord Cromwell?’ Culpeper says. ‘If my lord Norfolk can, you can.’

Mr Wriothesley says, ‘If only Lady Latimer would come in. Then my lord would caper.’

‘You will not let that joke go,’ he says amiably. ‘Lord Latimer is younger than the king. And in health, as far as I know.’

Health and prosperity. Lady Latimer’s brother William became Baron Parr last year. And her sister, who served Jane the queen, is now a gentlewoman in the new queen’s privy chamber.

Norfolk’s niece giggles at her uncle’s show of high spirits. She is soon on her feet with the other maids: a lively dancer, her cheeks flushed. Into the fray go the young gentlemen, kicking up their heels. The king watches them with a tolerant smile. When they rise from the table, Henry holds out a hand to the queen, and leads her to the portrait that Hans has given him for a New Year gift. The councillors follow, like goslings in a line. A curtain is drawn back, revealing Edward the prince in red and gilt. Below his broad infantine forehead, under his feathered cap, his eyes glow. One open palm is held out; in the other he clutches his jewelled rattle, wielding it like a sceptre.

‘Master Holbein painted it,’ the king says; she understands that.

‘What a darling prince,’ she says. ‘When shall I meet him?’

‘Soon,’ the king promises.

‘And your lady daughters?’

‘Presently.’

‘And Lady Mary is to be wed?’

There is a hasty conference among the translators. An emphatic shake of the head makes Anna look sorry she spoke. The king turns to speak in French to the Cleves envoys. ‘We take pleasure in the company of the Duke of Bavaria. So there is no haste in the matter, and much to be discussed.’

He, Lord Cromwell, employs Italian, which Olisleger understands a little. His gesture cuts the air: drop it.

The king continues, showing off his son. ‘Edward is my heir. My daughters are not my heirs. Does she understand that?’ He turns back to the picture, his face softened. ‘That little chin of his, that is Jane’s.’

The king and queen part, bowing to each other, the queen turning towards her own rooms. The interpreters and the Cleves delegation set into each other, buzzing and elbowing. He leaves them to it and walks away. A message comes: the queen will speak with Lord Cromwell.

When he arrives Anna is still in her wedding dress. Norfolk’s niece is sitting on the floor, holding a needle and thread, an inch of the queen’s hem beneath her fingers. In her lap is Anne’s garland of rosemary. A knot of Cleves ladies are laughing in a corner. Jane Rochford gives him a nod. The queen takes off her wedding ring and shows it to him. Her chosen motto is written around it: God send me well to keep. What goose suggested that to her? It should have said, God send him well to keep.

‘Thank you for the cakes,’ the queen says. ‘We enjoyed them. A taste of home. You have visited my home?’

He is sorry to say he has not.

‘I hoped for letters at Calais. But there was nothing for me.’

Poor lady, she is homesick. ‘The posts are bad at this time of year,’ he says. ‘I myself am awaiting news from our ambassadors in France.’

‘Yes,’ she says, ‘so are we all. To know whether the amity continues. It seems harsh to wish for discord, when we have grown up praying for peace. But I know my brother Wilhelm would be relieved if the Emperor and the French king were to set about each other with their fists and teeth.’ She laughs.

‘War for them is peace for us,’ he says, ‘their discord our harmony.’ He realises she is not uninformed, or lacking in eloquence, and also that he can partly understand her. But he would not speak to her without an intermediary. He cannot afford to create a misunderstanding. It is risky enough even when the translators are doing their best.

‘Where is the young Gregory?’ she asks in English. ‘So well he entertained me in Calais. What a good boy.’

There is a murmur of pleasure and surprise from the ladies. ‘Well spoken, madam!’

Katherine Howard looks up from her work on the floor. ‘Can’t get the needle through. This stuff is as tough as hide. It needs some great bodkin.’

There is a little laughter, edgy. Mary Norris blushes, guessing at something unfit for maiden ears. Jane Rochford says, ‘Get the whole thing off her. She will not be wearing it again till it has been made over in our English fashion.’ She reaches down – a comradely gesture – and pulls the young Howard to her feet.

He is making his farewells, but Anna calls him back. She seems preoccupied with the fifty sovereigns he sent her, as if he might expect to be paid back. She explains she has broken the coins into those of lesser value and given some in largesse. Women came out of their houses, she explains, at –

‘At Sittingbourne,’ Jane Rochford says.

‘– offering me delicacies to eat.’

He says to the interpreters, ‘Tell her whenever she issues out, she should carry suitable coins – or have them carried, in her case. She need not wait for gifts to be made her, but should hand them freely to bystanders. Be generous especially to children, as it stores up goodwill for the future.’

Jane Rochford is studying Anna’s lips as they move, as if to pick out the words. She is a woman with a good wit, he thinks, but she has never found a use for it; perhaps this is her time to shine. Soon the great ladies, Bess Cromwell included, will go home to their households and children, and Rochford will assist Lady Rutland with the queen’s daily round, keeping a hand on the young maids and ensuring order and piety.

One of the interpreters asks him, ‘My lord, what comes next?’

‘Evensong,’ he says. ‘Then the French ambassador will be joining us for Caesar’s invasion of Britain, with more bagpipes and drums; then it will be tumblers or magicians, then supper and bed.’

At twilight they play Britannia unconquered. The queen sits up straight and looks alert, while one of the interpreters rehearses to her what will unfold: the repulse of the Romans, how the island stood firm and resisted tribute. He recognises the King of Britain as one of George Boleyn’s men.

Henry will like the queen to see what manner of countrymen she has now: they refuse all slavery, detect all knavery. The monarch that was then, in Caesar’s time, armed the Thames itself, planting iron-tipped staves below the waterline to rip out the belly of the Roman ships. When the survivors hauled themselves to shore, the Britons butchered them.

There were ninety-nine kings, the chroniclers tell us, before we came to our present monarch. He suspects them of snipping sections out of history, so Henry makes one hundred.

‘I don’t suppose you have anything like this at home,’ the king says to Anna.

The remark is laboriously relayed to her.

No, she says. More is the pity. She looks bewildered.

The players take up their stance and menace each other with drawn blades. Solemnly, they perform the actions of fighting men, till those who are Romans fall to their knees and then judiciously, thoughtfully, checking the floor is clear, topple forward on their faces. The maids of honour nudge each other, laughing. The king glances over at them, and smiles, like a man reminiscing. He says to his wife, ‘Kings of Britain have conquered Rome.’

He, Lord Cromwell, keeps finding reasons to get up and walk about, to speak to one and then another. He views the queen from different angles and in different lights. Some expressions need no translator; he sees she is resolute, whatever the evening may bring. Behind the rampaging battle there is a pavilion made in twenty-six sections, with windows like a house. It was sewn over with ‘H&K’ but that has been unpicked. The walls are purple and gold, and the lining is of green sarcenet – which lends a spring-like air. ‘Anybody could issue forth from that tent,’ he says. ‘King Arthur himself would be proud.’

‘Is there much more of this?’ the French ambassador enquires.

The interlude comes, and everybody sits up. First a masque of lovers is played. Two gentlemen hold lyres, their expressions bereft, their garb sewn over with scallop shells: they are the heart’s pilgrims, they declare.

‘There are no other sorts of pilgrims now,’ Norfolk says. ‘Even Walsingham is down.’ He grimaces. ‘It seems to me this conceit is stale. The master of revels thinks to save a little money.’

‘I am all for that,’ he says.

Presently two maidens come out of the tent, and are kind to the swains. They dance a little jig together. ‘That’s my niece, Katherine,’ Norfolk says. ‘Edmund’s girl.’

‘I know.’

‘How do you like her?’

He has no opinion. The lovers hop away, arm in arm, and in come Friar Flip-Flap and Friar Snip-Snap, trying to pickpocket the spectators, till one races in with a dog and chases them. The dog’s name is Grime. He yearns towards dainties held out to him, and his keeper hauls him back. Beneath the keeper’s hood, a familiar face. ‘Is that Sexton? I thought I had banished that churl for good and all.’

The boy Culpeper says, ‘He must find some employment, I suppose. Nicholas Carew took him in but Carew is dead.’

Sexton leaves Grime to tussle with the friars, ambles off and comes back in another guise, his belly thrust out, wearing purple and with great sleeves like a ship’s sails. He is Privy Seal, he says, a man low born, whose dam and sire he hides in his sleeves for shame.

Anger washes through him like a wave, and out again. He says to Marillac, his neighbour, ‘It is an outworn jest, once made against the cardinal.’

‘Ah yes, your old master,’ Marillac says. ‘I was warned never to refer to him, but you use his name freely. Strange that people are still arguing over him. What is it, ten years?’

He points to Sexton. ‘You should have seen that fellow, how he screamed when he was parted from the cardinal and conveyed into the king’s service – I say “conveyed”, because we had to bind him and throw him in a cart.’

Sexton loops nooses around the necks of Snip-Snap and Flip-Flap. They stagger and protrude their tongues. He calls out, ‘Sexton! Beware! Perhaps I have a rope for you in my great sleeve.’

Sexton looks straight at him. ‘Tyburn is no jest, Tom. For him it is a jest,’ he points to the king, ‘and for her, and for me, but not for thee, Tom, not for thee.’

Grime is circling and about to crap. The king’s lips tighten. He makes a gesture: get dog and keeper out, remove friars too. Sexton runs, raising his knees high as if leaping over puddles.

The Britons come in again, to a spatter of applause, carrying the river Thames looped over their arms. Lord Morley sits forward on his stool: ‘Shall we have the war machines of the Emperor Claudius? Vespasian, and the Siege of Exeter?’

‘By my faith,’ Norfolk says, ‘it’s been a long day for us councillors, my lord. And the king will want to have the queen apart, will he not?’

‘There ought to be giants,’ Gregory says. ‘Gogmagog was twelve feet tall. He could rip up oak trees, no effort at all, it was like picking flowers. There was another giant, Retho by name, who made himself a great beard with the beards of men he had slain.’

‘Like Brandon, what?’ Norfolk says. He laughs with pure delight. It is once a decade he makes a joke.

The Thames unrolls, a length of patchy blue. To aid the players, the maids seize the ends and ripple it. Lord Morley says, ‘I am afraid a great part of the story is missed. Britain had kings before Christ was incarnate. You will find it all in Geoffrey of Monmouth, his book.’

He says, ‘My lord, I have read that not all those princes were lucky, and few of them were wise.’ There was the prince who drowned in the river Humber, which they named after him. There was Bladus, who flew over London on home-made wings: they had to scrape him off the pavements. Rivallo was a good king, or well-intentioned at least: but during his time it rained blood, and swarms of flies ate Englishmen alive. And if you go further back, the nation was founded on a murder: Trojan Brutus, father of us all, killed his own father. A hunting accident, they claimed, but perhaps there are no accidents. Those mis-aimed arrows, and the ones that bend in flight: they know their target.

Gregory says, ‘Geoffrey of Monmouth, he was such a liar. I wager he wasn’t even born in Monmouth. I wager he was never there in his life.’

The queen stands up, at some invisible signal or perhaps some inner prompting. Her ladies rise and flock about her. The Howard child has to be nudged; she is gaping at a lutenist with a well-turned leg. The evening is winding to its conclusion. The musicians will play the king to his own chamber and then put away their timpani and viols. Henry’s face shows nothing, except traces of fatigue. Mr Wriothesley bends and speaks into his ear: ‘Do you wish you could read his thoughts, sir?’

‘No.’

The privy chamber gentlemen rise and follow the king. The clergy are assembling to go in procession and bless the bed. Every night the king’s sheets are sprinkled with holy water, but tonight he needs Heaven’s special regard: the attention of the angels and saints, fixed on his privy member. Culpeper says, in passing, ‘Now all he has to do is climb aboard and make a Duke of York.’

The king has had a new bed made, very wonderfully carved. He, Lord Cromwell, cannot lie still in his old one, but must walk about. The palace is quiet. Fires are damped. He encounters no one but guards who salute him, and two giddy young lords, wearing red and yellow masquing bonnets, one dancing while the other claps. At the sight of him the dancer skids to a halt. The beat is missed, trapped between his friend’s palms.

‘Go to your cribs,’ he tells them. ‘If you are lucky, in the morning I shall have forgotten your names.’

Abashed, they pass him their bonnets, as if they do not know what else to do with them. ‘They are hats for Tartars, my lord.’

They ought to have strings or ribbons, he remarks. You would think the wind would pluck them off, as they gallop the snowy wastes.

The boys ramble away, arms linked. He calls after them, ‘Pray for me.’ He hears their laughter as they sway downstairs.

He walks back to his rooms, closes his door. Give a man a Tartar hat and he will try it on, whether he has a mirror or no. But he is out of heart. He leaves the hat on Christophe’s pallet, so when he wakes he will think he is still dreaming. All night, in his broken sleep, his countrymen fight Caesar’s legions: slow, dogged, their movements enmired.

He is up at dawn, sitting down in his chambers with Richard Riche to talk about the surrender of the abbey at Malvern. Riche is yawning. ‘I wonder …’ he says, and breaks off.

‘Shall we just keep our mind on the figures?’ Christophe comes in with pots of small beer. He is wearing the Tartar hat and Riche says, ‘Why is he …’ His sentences keep failing him, as if they are lost in mist.

A messenger comes in, sent straight up in his boots, blue-nosed and splashed from the road. ‘Urgent, my lord. From York, for your hand.’

‘Jesus spare us,’ Riche says. ‘Don’t tell me the countryside is up again?’

‘Too early in the year, I think.’ The seal is already broken; he wonders why. He reads: York’s treasurer says he will have to shut down his office if he does not get two thousand pounds by the week’s end and as much again to follow: the bills have come in for the harbour at Bridlington, and the northern lords are clamouring for the pay-out of their yearly grants and pensions.

Norfolk stamps in. ‘Cromwell? You see that from Tristram Teshe?’

He glares at Norfolk; then at the messenger, who avoids his eye. ‘By Our Lady,’ Norfolk says, ‘Teshe should take those barons by their napes and shake the living Jesus out of them. If it were me, I would make them wait for their money till Lady Day.’

Fitzwilliam is on Norfolk’s heels, sour and not yet shaven. ‘If he tries to hold them off, my lord, some of them may ride over to the Scots. Or exact payment by plundering it.’

Mr Wriothesley comes in. ‘From Wyatt, sir.’ He has opened the letter already. François and Charles are still together, prolonging the season of goodwill. ‘Wyatt says the Emperor looks like thunder whenever our realm is mentioned.’

‘Not surprising,’ he says. ‘Our king well-married, and no thanks to him.’

He strides out towards the king’s presence chamber and his arms fill with petitions from courtiers, with letters and bills. He hands them back to Wriothesley, to Rafe. A pity that neither Rafe nor Richard Cromwell was on the privy chamber rota last night; then he would have been sure of good information. Perhaps he should have arranged that? He says to himself, I cannot think of everything. He hears the king’s voice saying, why not?

The Cleves delegation is there before him. They are spry and hopeful, and declare they have heard Mass already. ‘And,’ they say, ‘we have a present for you, Lord Cromwell, to mark this auspicious day.’

The Duke of Saxony, Wilhelm’s brother-in-law, has sent him a clock. Taking it, he murmurs his appreciation. It is the neatest he has seen, perhaps the smallest – a drum-shaped object you can hold in your palm. The English gentlemen are playing with it, passing it from hand to hand, when the king comes in. ‘Sir, present it to him,’ Rafe whispers.

The Germans nod regretfully; they understand this sort of sacrifice. Henry takes the clock from his hand without looking at it. He goes on talking to one of his privy chamber gentlemen: ‘… fetch back Edmund Bonner, as I have promised, and send my brother of France an envoy more agreeable and modest.’ He breaks off. Turns to the Cleves ambassadors: ‘Gentlemen, you will be pleased to know …’

‘Yes, Majesty?’ They are eager.

‘… I have sent the queen her morgengabe, as I think you call it, a gift in accordance with the custom of your country. We will let you have written details of the value.’

They are hoping to hear more. But the king has closed his lips. He does not even mention the clock. Normally he would be delighted by such a novelty – would examine its workings and ask for another one, this time with his portrait in the lid. But instead he looks down at it with a sigh, a mechanical smile, and hands it on to one of his suite. ‘Thank you, my lord Cromwell, you always have something new. Though sometimes not as new as one would wish.’

There is a heartbeat’s pause. Henry nods to him: ‘Come apart.’

He stares at the king. Disassemble? Disperse? Then he recovers himself. ‘Yes. Of course.’ He follows.

Sometimes with the king it is best to be brisk and show yourself a good fellow. As if you were elbow to elbow at the Well with Two Buckets, sharing a pint of Spanish wine. He thinks, I’d knock it back if I had some. Or Rhenish. Aqua Vitae. Walter’s beer. ‘How liked you the queen?’

The king says, ‘I liked her not well before, but now I like her much worse.’

Henry glances back over his shoulder. No one has approached them. They are alone, as in a wasteland.

Henry says, ‘Her breasts are slack and she has loose skin on her belly. When I felt it, it struck me to the heart. I had no appetite for the rest. I do not believe she is a maid.’

What the king is saying is preposterous. ‘Majesty, she has never strayed from her mother’s side …’

He steps back. He wants to walk away: for his own protection. He sees from the corner of his eye that Dr Chambers and Dr Butts have come in, with their modest caps, their long gowns. The king says, ‘I will speak with those gentlemen. No word of this should escape.’

No words escape from him, as he draws back from the king’s path. And no one addresses him, but clears his way, as he walks the length of the presence chamber and through the guard chamber and passes from view.

The two physicians are the first to seek him out. He is reading Wyatt’s letter, and lays it aside with the scenes it conjures, distant but clear. Wyatt is a presence even when he is absent, especially when he is absent. His letters are close narratives of diplomatic encounters. Yet, however tight you pin your attention to the page, you feel that something is escaping you, slipping into the air; then some other reader comes along, and reads it different.

Butts clears his throat. ‘My lord Cromwell, like you we are forbidden by the king to speak.’

‘What is there to say? We would speculate about the queen’s maidenhead. Such talk belongs to chaplains in confession, if it belongs anywhere at all.’

‘Very well,’ Butts says. ‘Now you know, and I know, and the king knows, that in such unmentionable matters he has been wrong before. He took the dowager Katherine to be untouched, though she had been wed to his brother. Later, he thought the contrary.’

Chambers says, ‘He thought Boleyn was a virgin, then he found she was unchaste since her French days.’

Butts says, ‘He knows the breasts and belly are evidence of naught. But just this morning he is ashamed and out of heart. When next he tries her it may be a different result.’

Chambers frowns: ‘You think so, brother?’

‘All men do sometimes fail,’ Butts says. ‘You need not look as though that is news to you, Lord Cromwell.’

‘My concern,’ he says, ‘is that he does not make this accusation again, that she is no maid. Because if he does I have to act upon it. However, if he says he mislikes her, has a distaste for her person –’

‘He does.’

‘– if he admits he has failed with her –’

‘– then perhaps you have a different sort of problem,’ Butts says.

‘I do not believe he has spoken to anyone,’ Chambers says, ‘except us. One or two of the privy chamber, possibly. His chaplain.’

‘But we fear the news will soon spread,’ Butts says. ‘Look at his face. Would anyone take him for a happy bridegroom?’

Also, he wonders, has Anna confided in anyone? He says, ‘I had better try and cheer him.’ Nagging at his attention is the treasure he needs to dispatch to York. He thinks, I do not want to be with Henry but I cannot risk his being with anyone else. I will have to dog his footsteps like the devil. He says, ‘What shall I tell the ambassadors of Cleves?’

‘Need you tell them anything? Let the queen speak for herself.’

Chambers says, ‘I do not think she will make any complaint. She is too well-bred. And innocent, perhaps.’

‘Or,’ Butts says, ‘perhaps of sufficient sense to see that that a bad beginning may be recouped. I have advised the king to keep to his own chamber tonight. By abstinence, appetite may increase.’

‘Time was when they used to display the bedsheets,’ Chambers says. ‘It is lucky those days have passed.’

But the king’s looks tell the tale. Thinks of all the people who crowded into the room at Rochester, to see him nourish love. At the first moment he saw Anna, he saw himself in the mirror of her eyes. From that instant it was written that there would never be love or affection between them. From that time he had no curiosity as to what he would find under her clothes: just teats and her slot, pouches of skin and hair.

He seeks out Jane Rochford. ‘Our opinion is, nothing happened,’ she says.

‘What does Anna say?’

‘Anna says nothing. Did you think we would fetch the men in this morning, to interpret?’

‘There are women who can do it.’ There are: because he has found some.

Jane says, ‘I think it is better if she keeps her own counsel and we keep ours, yes? If he has failed, no one wants to know that, surely? What can you do with the information?’

‘You are right,’ he says. ‘It is of no value. Therefore, take heed, it should have no currency.’

Rochford turns back to him, as if relenting. She says, ‘He lay on her, is our view. I think he put his fingers in her. C’est tout.’

The council meets. No messages have come from the queen. Her own people, both ladies and gentlemen, have visited her and come away looking unperturbed. It is clear that we are living in a dual reality, such as experienced courtiers can maintain. For many years now, more years than we can count, the King of England has been a fair youth. So often, he has been married, and then unmarried; and the dead have been in Purgatory, and plaster saints have moved their eyes. Now the councillors shoulder their double burden: their knowledge of the king’s failure, and their pretence that he has never in all his days met with anything but success.

‘We should not be discouraged,’ the Bishop of Durham suggests. ‘Allow a little time. Nature will take its course.’

Norfolk looks puzzled; surely Tunstall is no friend to Germans? Tunstall says, ‘I find no fault with the lady. Whatever her brother may be, she is not herself a Lutheran. And perhaps it is time, for England’s sake, to reconcile our differences, through her person.’

Norfolk says, ‘If Henry could take some air in the day it might go better at night. Skulking by the fire with a book will not help him.’

Fitzwilliam says, ‘Unless a book of bawdy. That might.’

Edward Seymour says, ‘He never had trouble in my sister’s day.’

‘Not that you know of,’ Norfolk says.

‘But he loved her,’ Cranmer says, his voice low.

Norfolk snorts. Seymour says, ‘True. That match was for love, this for policy. But I agree with Bishop Tunstall. I see nothing wrong with her.’

Riche says, ‘There is nothing. Except his dislike.’

Bishop Sampson says, ‘The king being as he is, you took a gamble, Lord Cromwell.’

He says coldly, ‘I acted for good and sufficient reason. If I promoted the match, it was with his full permission and encouragement.’

Cranmer says, ‘It may be … and it is only my own opinion …’

‘Do not make us drag it from you,’ Fitzwilliam says.

‘… there are those who believe every act of copulation a sin –’

‘I did not think the king was among them,’ Tunstall says pleasantly.

‘– though a sin that, of necessity, God will forgive – yet one must come to the act, not only with intent to engender –’

‘Which the king surely does,’ Lord Audley says.

‘– but also with the object of a pure merging of heart and soul, arising from a free consent –’

‘You’ve lost me,’ Suffolk says.

‘So if he, or she, were to have any reservation, in mind or in heart – then to the scrupulous, an impediment might appear –’

Audley cuts him off. ‘What impediment? You mean the pre-contract?’

Cranmer whispers, ‘The king has read a great deal in the Church Fathers.’

‘And later commentators,’ Bishop Sampson says. ‘Who are not always helpful, tending to dispute how men sin and in which way, when they are abed. But sin they do.’

‘Even with their wives?’ Suffolk looks stricken.

Sampson says, with dry malice, ‘That is possible.’

‘Bollocks,’ Norfolk says. ‘Cromwell, is that in the scriptures?’

‘Why doesn’t your lordship try reading them?’

Audley clears his throat. All the councillors turn in his direction. ‘Just be clear. His incapacity –’

‘Or unwillingness –’ Cranmer adds.

‘– or unwillingness – is it anything to do with the papers from Cleves, or not?’

Cranmer will not commit. ‘Scruples are of various sorts.’

‘So will it be helped by getting the papers?’ Riche asks.

‘It couldn’t hurt, could it?’ Bishop Sampson says. ‘Of course by then it will be Lent. And he will not sleep with her in Lent.’

‘We shouldn’t be talking like this.’ Suffolk looks stern. ‘We are men, not gossiping housewives. We lack respect for our sovereign lord.’

Fitzwilliam slaps the table. ‘You know it is me he blames? He says I should have stopped her at Calais. I wrote to him she was like a princess, and she is. Nothing else was in question. Is it for me to feel her duckies and write home my opinion, and send it by post horse and boat?’

The door opens. It is Call-Me. He looks as if he is walking on hot pebbles. ‘Get out!’ Norfolk bellows. ‘Interrupting the council!’

Call-Me says, ‘The king. He is coming this way.’

They stand, with a scraping of stools. Henry’s eyes pass over them. ‘Squabbling?’

‘Yes,’ Brandon says sadly.

He cuts in: ‘Your Majesty values concord, and rightly. But I cannot and never will come into concord with those who give wrong advice.’

Charles Brandon says, ‘But it is very good of you to join us, sir. We did not look for you. We hardly expected you. We rejoice to see you. We –’

‘Yes, enough, Charles,’ Henry says. ‘It is time we talked about the Duke of Bavaria, his suit to my lady daughter.’

‘Bless him,’ Charles Brandon says: as if the young duke were sick.

‘My lord Privy Seal,’ the king says, ‘you and Bavaria went up to see the Lady Mary, did you not? And then of course, she was fetched to Baynard’s Castle, and she and the duke were permitted some discourse. That would have been about Christmas Eve?’

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