The Mirror and the Light (The Five Wounds – Part 1)

London, Autumn 1536

Rumours of Tyndale’s death seep through England as smoke leaks through thatch. Are we to believe them? The privy chamber gentlemen say that the king has asked the Emperor for assurances – one sovereign to another – that this Englishman is really dead. But if such an assurance is given or denied, it is not in any document that passes across his desk. ‘I thought we got everything,’ Call-Me says tetchily.

When our people abroad write to the king, they send a copy to my lord Privy Seal – often with a covering note that says more than the original. Henry likes to treat with monarchs brother to brother; ‘Crumb,’ he says, ‘I cannot fault your management of my affairs at home, but some matters should lie between princes only, and I cannot ask my fellow kings to deal with you, because …’ The king looks into the distance, perhaps trying to imagine Putney. ‘Not that you can help it.’

Some maintain Tyndale is still alive, and his keepers are trying to torment him into a spectacular public recantation. But our Antwerp contacts are silent. Perhaps we are missing something, and news is encoded in some merchant’s invoice? Call-Me-Risley says, ‘In Venice they have men who spend every day working at ciphers. The more they do it, the better they get.’

‘I’m sure that could be arranged for you,’ Rafe says. ‘But then Lord Cromwell would put you on a per diem, and you would not get the fees from the office of the Signet, and what would Mistress Call-Me say about that? She would not put her views in cipher – they would hear her scolding in Calais.’

Henry is restless; as if trying to prolong the summer, he tows Jane from house to house. He tries to make sure either he or Rafe is by the king’s side. He says to Chapuys, ‘These talks with the Scots – they will never happen. Henry will not go further north than York. He apprehends bad food and bandits and no proper baths. And the King of Scots will not come south, for the same reasons.’

They are at Whitehall. Chapuys joins him in a window embrasure. The ambassador’s entourage backs off, but he feels them watching. ‘Is Tyndale truly burned?’

‘Henry has not spoken to you? He knows your attachment to that heretic.’

‘I couldn’t abide the man,’ he says. ‘Nobody could.’

But then, we didn’t require Tyndale for a supper guest, or a companion in a game of bowls. We required him for the health of our souls. Tyndale knew God’s word and carried a light to guide us through the marsh of interpretation, so we would not be lost – as Tyndale himself put it – like a traveller tricked by Robin Goodfellow, and left stripped and shoeless in the wastes.

Ambassador Chapuys, you notice, has not exactly said he is dead; he has only let him fall, as it were naturally, into the past tense.

He visits the convent at Shaftesbury as a private gentleman, as if attending on Sir Richard Riche, the Chancellor of Augmentations: with Christophe, as a boy attending him. Begging the favour of an interview with Dame Elizabeth Zouche, he expects to be kept waiting, and he is.

‘Laughable,’ Riche says, gloomily. ‘You the second man in the church. And me, who I am.’

‘King Alfred founded this abbey,’ he tells Christophe. ‘They are rich because they have the bones of Edward the Martyr.’

‘What tricks do they do?’ Christophe asks.

‘The usual miracles,’ Riche says. ‘Perhaps we shall witness one.’

Christophe sees to the horses and trundles out to the kitchen, seeking some young sister to feed him bread and honey. He and Riche are kept in an anteroom. Their entertainment is a painted cloth of St Catherine, suffering on her wheel. They listen to the sounds of the busy house and the town outside, till increased agitation in the air tells them their ruse is detected: scampering feet, a slamming door, a call of ‘Dame Elizabeth? Madam?’ Shaftesbury is a town of twelve churches, too many for the inhabitants. When they ring their bells, the streets quake.

‘So,’ says the abbess, ‘you have come yourself, Lord Cromwell.’

‘You know my face, madam.’

‘One of the gentlemen of the district has a portrait of you. He keeps it on display.’

‘I hope he does. It would be no good in his cellar. You visit many gentlemen?’

Her eyes flick up at him. ‘On the business of the house.’

‘What else? Did the painter do me justice?’

She surveys him. ‘He did you charity.’

‘What you have seen is a copy of a copy. Each version is worse. My son thinks I look like a murderer.’

The abbess is enjoying herself. ‘We lead such a quiet and blessed life here, I am not sure I have seen one for comparison.’ She stands up. ‘But you will want to get on. You have come to see Sister Dorothea.’

As he follows her she says, ‘Why is Richard Riche here? We are as wealthy, praise God, as any house of religion in the realm. I understood Sir Richard’s business is with houses of lesser value.’

‘We like to keep our figures current.’

‘I have been abbess for thirty years. Any question about our worth, ask me.’

‘Riche likes it on paper.’

‘I give you warning,’ Dame Elizabeth says. ‘And you can carry the warning to the king. I will not surrender this house. Not this year, nor next, nor any year this side of Heaven.’

He holds up his hands. ‘The king has no thought of it.’

‘Here.’ She pushes a door open. ‘Wolsey’s daughter.’

Dorothea half-rises. With a gesture, he bids her sit. ‘Madam, how do you? I have brought gifts.’

They are in a side room, small and sunless. He permits himself a single long look. She is not like the cardinal. Her mother’s daughter? She is pleasant enough to look at, though she cannot fetch up a smile. Perhaps she is thinking, where have you been these years past?

He says, ‘I saw you once when you were a little child. You will not remember me.’

She does not reach out for her presents, so he places them in her lap. She unties the bundle, glances at the books and lays them aside. But she picks up a kerchief of fine linen, and holds it to the light. It is worked with the three apples of St Dorothea, and with wreaths, sprigs and blossoms, the lily and the rose.

‘One of my household made it to honour you. Rafe Sadler’s wife – you may have heard your father speak of young Sadler?’

‘No. Who is he?’

He takes out of his pocket a letter. It is from John Clancey, a gentleman-servant to the cardinal, who acted for her father in placing her here. He has had the letter for some time, and he has formed the habit, not of carrying it around, but of knowing where it is.

‘Clancey tells me you want to continue in this life. But I think, you were very young when you made your vows.’

Her head is bent over the kerchief, studying the work. ‘So I can be dispensed?’

‘You are free to go.’

‘Go where?’ she asks.

‘You are welcome in my house.’

‘Live with you?’ The chill in her tone pushes him backwards, even in the cramped space. She folds up the kerchief, so the design is hidden. ‘How is my brother Thomas Winter?’

‘He is well and provided for.’

‘By you?’

‘It is the least I can do for the cardinal. When your brother is next in England, I could arrange for you to meet.’

‘We would have nothing to say to each other. He a scholar. I a poor nun.’

‘I would keep him in my house and gladly. But for the sake of his studies he would rather live abroad.’

‘A cardinal’s son has no place in England. In Italy, I am told, he would be well accepted.’

‘In Italy he would be Pope.’

She turns her shoulder. Very well, he thinks. No more jokes.

‘When Anne Boleyn came down,’ she says, ‘we believed true religion would be restored. The whole summer has passed, and now we doubt it.’

‘True religion was never left off,’ he says. ‘You have had no opportunity to see the king’s manner of life – so you imagine the court spends its days in masques and dancing. Not so, I assure you. The king hears three Masses in daylight hours. He keeps all the feasts of the church, as ever he did. Fasting is observed, and the meatless days. We scant nothing.’

‘We hear the sacraments are to be put down. And that all monks and nuns will be dispersed. Dame Elizabeth is sure the king will take our house in the end. Then how would we live?’

‘There are no such plans,’ he says. ‘But if that were to occur, you would be pensioned. I believe your abbess would bargain hard.’

‘But what would we do, without our sisters in religion? We cannot go back to our families, if our families are dead.’ She flushes. ‘Or even if they are alive, they might not want us.’

He must be patient. ‘Dorothea, there is no need to weep. You are imagining harms that could never touch you.’

He thinks, should I embrace her? A king’s daughter has cried on my shoulder – or she would have, if I had stayed still.

‘I have come here to give you good assurances,’ he says. ‘I understand this place is all you have known till now. But you have all your life before you.’

‘Clancey brought me and left me here under his name. Everybody knew I was Wolsey’s daughter. It was not my choice to come, but no more is it my choice to leave. I do not wish to be turned out to beg my bread.’

This is women, he thinks – they must enact some scene, to wring tears from themselves and you. I have already offered her my house.

‘I will make you an annuity,’ he says.

‘I will not take it.’

He brushes that aside; it is the kind of thing that people say. ‘Or I will find you suitors, if you could like marriage.’

‘Marriage?’ She is incredulous.

He laughs. ‘You have heard of that blessed state?’

‘A bastard daughter? The bastard daughter of a disgraced priest? And no looks, even?’

He thinks, a good dowry would make you a beauty. But that is not what she wants to hear. ‘Trust me, you are a lovely young woman. Till now, no good man has held up a mirror, for you to see yourself through his eyes. Once you have clothes and ornaments, you will be a welcome sight for a bridegroom. I know the best merchants, and I know the fashions at the French court, and in Italy. I have dressed …’ He breaks off. I have dressed two queens.

She appraises him. ‘I am sure your eye is expert.’

‘Or if you would consider me, I could, I myself –’

He stops. He is appalled. That is not at all what he meant to say.

She is staring at him. You cannot take back such a word. ‘I’ll marry you, mistress, if you’ll have me. I am, you may not know this, I am a long time a widower. I lack graces of person, but I lack nothing else. I am rich and likely to grow richer, so your want of fortune is no obstacle to me. I have good houses. You would find me generous. I look after my family.’ He hears his own voice, recommending himself as if he were a servant, urging his merits on this shocked young woman. ‘I have no children to burden you, except Gregory, who is almost grown and will be married himself soon. I would like more children. Or not, as you wished. If you want a marriage in name only, so you have a place in the world, then for your father’s sake I would be prepared …’ He falters.

She crosses to the small window, and stares out of it furiously. There is nothing to see but a wall. ‘In name only? I do not understand you. Are you offering to marry me or not?’

‘You are alone in the world, and so am I. For your father’s sake I would cherish you. Who knows, you might grow fond of me. And if you did not, then – you would still have a home and a protector, and I would make no other demand on you.’

‘That is because you have a mistress?’

He does not answer.

‘Several, perhaps,’ she says, as if to herself. ‘It is true you have everything to commend you – if you were a buyer and I were for sale. You have money to buy any article, thanks to my father, who gave you your start in life.’

My start in life, he thinks: madam, you cannot imagine it. He feels bereft, injured, cold. Why should she have a stony heart towards him? Many times, that long winter at Esher, he had settled the cardinal’s debts. They were sums you would pay out of your pocket, but still: there were butchers, bargemen, rat-killers, men who make poultices for horses, purveyors of horoscopes and salt fish. And there had been other disbursements, that never went through the books: buying off the spies, for instance, that Norfolk had put in the household. ‘Your father was a liberal master,’ he says. ‘I owe him much that cannot be cast into figures. It was he who explained to me the king’s business. How things really work, not how people say they work. Not the custom, but the practice.’

‘Certainly,’ she says, ‘it was he who brought you to the king’s notice. With the result that we see.’

He thinks, she does not like my proposal, she does not. I should never have spoken, I know in my bones it is wrong; I am too old, and besides, so close to her father as I was, perhaps it seems to her we are related, almost as if she is my sister. He says, ‘Dorothea, tell me what it needs, to make you safe and comfortable. Forget I spoke of marriage.’ Despite himself, he smiles. He can’t stop himself trying to charm her. ‘There is still a way forward. Though you find my person defective.’

‘Your person is not defective,’ she says. ‘At least, not so defective as your nature and your deeds.’

He is still smiling. ‘You do not like my proceedings against the religious. I can understand that.’

‘Many of my sisters are keen to cast off their habits. If the house were dissolved they would go tomorrow. Dame Elizabeth does not speak ill of you. She says you are fair in your dealings.’

‘Well, then … I think it is my religion itself you do not like. I love the gospel and will follow it. Your father understood that.’

‘He understood everything,’ she says. ‘He understood you betrayed him.’

He gapes at her. He, Lord Cromwell. He who is never surprised.

‘When my father was in exile, and forced to go north, he wrote certain letters, out of his desperation to have the king’s favour again – letters begging the King of France to intercede for him. And he appealed to the queen – I mean Katherine, the queen that was – to forgive their differences and stand his friend.’

‘So much is true, but –’

‘You saw to it that those letters reached the Duke of Norfolk. You put upon them an evil construction, which they should never have borne. And Norfolk put them into the hand of the king, and so the damage was done.’

He cannot speak. Till he says, ‘You are much mistaken.’

She is shaking with rage. ‘You had your men in my father’s household in the north, do you deny it?’

‘They were there to serve him, to help him. Madam –’

‘They were there to spy on him. To goad him, to provoke him into rash actions and rash statements, which your master the duke then shaped into treason.’

‘Jesus,’ he says. ‘You think Norfolk is my master? I was no man’s servant but Wolsey’s.’

Be calm, he says to himself: not like a hasty gardener, who tugs out the weed but leaves the root in the ground. He asks her, ‘Who told you this, and how long have you believed it?’

‘I have always believed it. And always shall, whatever denial you make.’

‘If I were to bring you proofs that you are wrong? Written proofs?’

‘Forgery is among your talents, I hear.’

‘You hear too much. You listen to the wrong people.’

‘You are angry. Innocence is tranquil.’

Don’t speak to me of innocence, he thinks. I pulled down certain men who insulted your father, as an example to others – call them innocent, if your definition stretches. I ripped them from their gambling and dancing and tennis play. I made each one a bridegroom: I married them to crimes they had barely imagined, and walked them to their wedding breakfast with the headsman. I heard young Weston beg for his life. I held George Boleyn as he wept and called on Jesus. I heard Mark whimper behind a locked door; I thought, Mark is a feeble child, I will go down and free him, but then I thought, no, it is his turn to suffer.

‘If you are of this fixed opinion,’ he says, ‘then I shall not trouble you more. Since you hold it against all evidence and reason, how can I oppose it? I would swear an oath, I would do it gladly, but you would think –’

‘I would know you were a perjurer. I have been told, by those I trust, there is no faith or truth in Cromwell.’

He says, ‘When those you trust abandon you – Dorothea, come to me. I will never refuse you. I loved your father next to God, and any child of his body, or any soul who was true to him, may command me to any service. No risk, no cost, no effort too great.’

‘Take this with you,’ she says. She holds out the kerchief. ‘And these books, whatever they are.’

He picks up the gifts and leaves her. He stands outside the room. He leans against the wall, his eyes resting on a picture, where a twisted man adheres to a tree, and bleeds from head, hands and heart.

Richard Riche bustles up: ‘Sir?’

Christophe’s face is stricken. ‘Master, what has she said?’

‘I believe I have not cried since Esher,’ he says. ‘Since All Souls’ Eve.’

Riche says, ‘Have you not? You surprise me. The king’s great trials have not drawn a tear?’

‘No.’ He tries to smile. ‘When he is vexed the king cries enough for two men, so I thought my efforts needless.’

‘And what provokes this now?’ Riche asks. ‘If I may ask? With all respect?’

‘False accusation.’

‘Bitter,’ Riche says.

‘Richard, you do not think I betrayed the cardinal, do you?’

Riche blinks. ‘It never crossed my mind. You didn’t, did you?’

He thinks, Riche would not fault me, if I had betrayed him: what use is a fallen magnate? He says, ‘If not for me, the cardinal would have been killed in those days of his first disgrace, or if he had lived he would have lived a beggar. I put myself in hazard for him, my house and all I had. If I treated with Norfolk, it was only to speak for my master. I did not like Thomas Howard then and I do not now, and I was never his man and never will be, and if he came to me for a post as a pot boy I would not employ him.’

‘Nor I,’ says Christophe. ‘I would kick him in a ditch.’

‘When I wept,’ he says, ‘that day at Esher – my wife lately dead and my daughters, the ashes cold in the grates, the wind howling through every crack – then the dead souls came out of purgatory, blowing around the courtyards and rattling at the shutters to be let in. That was what we believed in those days. What many believed.’

‘I still,’ Christophe says.

‘I do not believe I shall cry again,’ he says. ‘I am done with tears.’ He hears his own voice, running on. ‘Do you know, when Wolsey was in the north, a fellow came to me, a factor for the cloth merchants: “The cardinal owes us over a thousand pounds.” I said, “Be exact.” He said, “One thousand and fifty-four pounds and some odd pence.” I said, “Will you remit the pence, for the love you bear him?” He said, “My masters have remitted and remitted, supplying cloth for vestments out of their piety and at no profit to themselves – and we are talking about cloth of gold.”’

He thinks, I tried by every means to save my master: I tried by exhortation, by prayer, and when that failed, I tried accountancy. Riche is wondering at him, but he cannot stop. ‘He said to me, this fellow, “The cardinal has owed the merchant Cavalcanti the sum of eighty-seven pounds, standing over these seven years, for richest cloth of gold at thirty shillings a yard, 311½ yards: and of the lesser quality, 195½ yards.” He said, “The whole order was left at York Place – I have the delivery note. The cardinal claims the king will pay,” he said to me – “but I think we shall see doomsday sooner than that.”’

‘Sir,’ Christophe says, ‘sit down on this chest. Using that handkerchief you may wipe your eyes.’

He looks at the green leaves, the loving stitches Helen has made, to give pleasure to a stranger. ‘So I said to Cavalcanti’s man, “Very well, I acknowledge the debt, all but five hundred marks – for the merchants swore they would give that sum to the cardinal, to have his friendship – and no doubt it will do them good at the Last Judgement.” But he said, “The sum was already knocked off, you cannot have it twice.” And I had to concede it.’

He sits down on the chest. Christophe says, ‘Sir, do not weep any more. You said you would not.’

‘After Harry Percy went up to Cawood with a warrant, the cardinal was set on the road without time to pay his debts. The apothecary came to me with a bill for medicines – useless, for the patient was dying.’

‘They are not paid by results,’ Riche says.

‘Once he was dead, the wolves closed in. Basden the fishmonger claimed he was owed for three thousand stockfish. “Since when?” I said.’

‘Sir …’ Riche says.

‘Bay salt too – but why would any kitchen buy salt at one mark the bushel?’ He looks around him. ‘The girl is right. There was rank ingratitude, there was false dealing, there was perjury, defamation and theft. But I was true to Wolsey, or God strike me down.’

A bell is ringing. He can hear the nuns begin to stir, gathering to say their office. He says, ‘I should have gone up to Yorkshire with him. I should have been with him when he died. I should not have let the king get in my way.’

‘My lord,’ Riche says, his tone hushed, ‘the king is not in our way. He is our way.’

He says, ‘I shall go back in to Dorothea. I shall explain it to her.’

Christophe says, ‘You cannot undo what she has been believing for so long. Let it rest.’

‘Good advice, on the whole,’ Riche says. ‘My lord, that was the Vespers bell. We had best be on the road, unless we incline to spend a night here. I have parted on good terms with the abbess, I find her a reasonable woman and well-found in the law – these women surprise one. I have the figures. So for now I have done here – if you have.’

‘I have done,’ he says. ‘Allons.’

He remembers the false prophetess, the nun Eliza Barton. She said she could find the dead for you, if you gave her enough money. She searched Heaven and Hell, she said, and never found Wolsey, till she found him at last in a place that was no place, seated among the unborn.

In London, he twists the embroidered kerchief in his hand. Rafe comes; ‘You can give this back to Helen.’

‘I hear,’ Rafe says gently, ‘you were ill-received.’

‘You counselled me,’ he says, ‘you and my nephew – you said, you must let the cardinal go. Whether I would or no, he was prised away from me. But I did not know he would go as far as he has gone now.’ His hand describes the space of the room. ‘I am used to his visits. I see him in my mind. I ask his advice. He is dead but I make him work.’

‘He will come again, sir, when you need him.’

He shakes his head. Dorothea has rewritten his story. She has made him strange to himself. ‘Who could have told her I betrayed her father – except her father himself?’

Rafe says, ‘So much expenditure of time, of goods, of prayers … surely he knew your devotion?’

We must hope so. You can persuade the quick to think again, but you cannot remake your reputation with the dead.

‘I see now I should have asked her more questions. Your master the duke, she said. By God, I’d rather work for Patch.’

Rafe puts his finger to his lips. ‘You know what the cardinal used to say. Walls have eyes and ears.’

As if he is not safe in his own house. But then, Sadler is a more cautious man than he will ever be.

And Riche? Riche tells his story all around Lincoln’s Inn, and the courts of Westminster, and the guildsmen’s houses in the city: boasts of him, or so he hears. ‘Lord Cromwell had all the figures in his head. Stockfish, bay salt, I know not what. Even though he was stricken, at Wolsey’s girl insulting him. I fear he has been grievously slandered, and who knows who is at the root of it, when he has so many enemies? And yet he has a remarkable mind,’ Riche says reverently, ‘remarkable. I think if writing were rubbed out, and all the records of government erased, he would carry them in his head, with all the laws of England, precedent and clause. And I am a fortunate man, to stand his friend, and to have been able to work a little to soothe his temper. Yes, I am glad I was standing by. Praise God,’ says Richard Riche, ‘I learn from him every day.’

Returned from Shaftesbury, body and mind, he opens letters from Gardiner in France, saying that the dauphin is dead: an unexplained fever, three days’ duration. Henry, who so recently lost a son of his own, offers his sympathies, and the court goes into black. No hardship for Lord Cromwell: black’s what he’s in. He appears at many gaudy occasions – as a courtier he cannot help it – but he would not want his brothers in the city to say, ‘These days Cromwell is wholly in crimson,’ or ‘He has taken to purple as if he were a bishop.’

The news from France is soon corrected. Not that the dauphin is alive, rather that his death was in no way natural. But, he asks, why would anyone trouble to poison the boy? François has other sons.

The French embassy maintains silence. Anthony walks through Austin Friars, ringing his new silver bells and crying, ‘God be thanked, one Frenchman less!’ The sound fades behind closed doors, up staircases, through distant galleries. ‘One less, who cares how?’

The sound echoes: who-who, an owl’s cry: how-how, the hound’s call. Austin Friars is augmented, growing into a palace. Builders bang and hammer from dawn. Richard Cromwell walks in with a roll of drawings in his hand. ‘Our neighbour Stow is bad-mouthing you all over London. You know he has a summerhouse? Our boys have put it on rollers and run it twenty feet back on his own side. He says we’re stealing his land. I sent a message, compliments to Master Stow and may we have sight of his plans?’

He looks up. ‘I know where my boundaries are. He lays a serious charge and I take it ill.’

‘So go fuck himself,’ Christophe suggests.

They scarcely knew Christophe was in the room. But there he squats in the corner, like a gargoyle fallen off a church. He remembers the boy saying, that day when they rode up to Kimbolton, ‘I will kill a Pole for you. I will kill a Pole when you require it.’

He thinks, if Christophe can be in my room undetected, I am sure he could weasel in to Reginald’s household. He says to Richard, ‘It is time I saw about him. Having him stopped.’

‘Stow?’ Richard is surprised. ‘A stiff letter will do it.’

‘Pole. Reynold. As you suggested, it may take a knife.’

But then, he would be sorry if Christophe should end his days screaming in some hell-hole, probed and burned by Italian tortures. The French also are devoted to pain; they say you never get the truth without it. The rumour is that they have arrested a man for poisoning their prince, but they are coaxing him for the while, because they believe he will confess to some master-plot. Subtle methods have their place. But any interrogator would look at Christophe and see subtlety as wasted. ‘Christophe,’ he says, ‘if ever –’ He shakes his head. ‘No, never mind.’

If I do employ him, he vows, I will tell him to bawl out, ‘Thomas Cromwell’s man,’ before they can burn or stretch him. Why not? I will take the blame. My list of sins is so extensive that the recording angel has run out of tablets, and sits in the corner with his quill blunted, wailing and ripping out his curls.

‘Come on,’ he says. ‘Get your coat, Richard. We’re going outside to tramp up and down our line and put down markers for a stone wall as high as two men. And our friend Stow can sit behind it and howl.’

In Lincolnshire, in the east of England, the rumour has been spreading these three weeks that the king is dead. Drinkers gathering at alehouses claim that the councillors are keeping it a secret, so they can continue to levy taxes in the king’s name, and spend the proceeds on their pleasures. Rafe says, ‘Has anyone told Henry he’s dead? I think he ought to know, and I think it should come from someone more senior than me.’

Rafe yawns. He has been with the king at Windsor all week and he has never been in bed before midnight. Henry lingers over paperwork, accepting it from his hand in the morning but calling him in after supper to confer, keeping him standing while he frowns over the dispatches. There are rumours of unrest up in Westmorland; anything that happens near the border, Henry says, you can depend upon the Scots to make it worse. The King of Scots has taken ship, sailed away to France to find a bride, but the winds have driven him back on his own shore. Meanwhile the Emperor offers Henry a joint enterprise against France. Charles is fitting out a fleet of warships. As proof of our commitment, he would like cash on the table.

He says to Chapuys, ‘No wonder your master comes cap-in-hand. Why does he never have ready money? And he pays out such huge sums in interest.’

‘He ought to have you managing his cash,’ Chapuys says. ‘Come on now, Thomas – show willing. My master pays you a pension. We do not fee you for nothing.’

‘That is what the French say too. How can I please you both?’

Chapuys waves a hand. ‘I too would take their bounty. Now you are a lord, you have heavy expenses. But we all know that you are the Emperor’s man in your heart. Think of the advantages to your merchants that would be forfeit, if my master was provoked against them. Be mindful of the losses, if my master were to close his ports to Englishmen.’

He smiles. Chapuys is always threatening him with blockades and bankruptcy. ‘The difficulty is that my prince no longer trusts yours. Time was when your master promised to kick out King François and give my king half his territory. And Henry, good soul, believed him. But then, while we were polishing up our French so we could address our new subjects, Charles was talking to them behind our back and patching up a treaty. We are not fools twice. This time, we would need some great assurances, before we laid out a penny.’

‘Make a marriage with us,’ Chapuys coaxes. ‘Lady Mary says she is not inclined to matrimony, but she would be glad, I believe, to be reunited with her own bloodline. My master will offer his own nephew, the Portuguese prince. Dom Luis is a fine young man, she could do no better.’

‘The King of France has sons.’

‘Mary will not take a Frenchman,’ Chapuys says.

‘That is not what she says to me.’

The king is still keeping his newly-beloved daughter at arm’s length. It is understood that when Jane the queen is crowned, that will be the time for her to come to court, making a great entrance. Meanwhile Mary seems tranquil, ordering new clothes and trotting through the leafy days on Pomegranate and other mounts her friend Lord Cromwell has supplied. She has plenty money for her privy purse – thanks again to her friend – and seems content to encounter her royal father by pre-arrangement, for a day here and there: for supper, and a turn in the gardens when the sun is not too high for a virgin’s complexion. Henry has begged her, ‘Tell me the truth, daughter. When you acknowledged me as what I am, head of the church, did someone prompt you, or constrain you, or urge you to say one thing and mean another? Or did you do it of your own free will?’

He would like to divert the king from this line of questioning. It drives Mary deeper into evasion. Chapuys has told her to send to Rome for the Pope’s pardon, for statements she made in favour of her father. She made them, she argues, under duress.

But in Rome they argue, reasonably enough, that Mary’s declarations were public, and any retraction would need to be public too. She would have to tell Henry, to his face, that she has changed her mind.

Then where would she be? Dead.

Mr Wriothesley says, my lord, you should challenge her. You know where her loyalty lies: to Rome, and to her dead mother. If the ignorant populace are in thrall to an Italian warlord who sets himself up as God’s deputy, surely a king’s daughter should know better? Surely by now, the world and all she has seen has knocked off the shackles of her upbringing, and allowed her to walk a straight path towards reason?

But he does not dispute with Mary. He simply repeats to her, madam, obedience is your refuge. Be consistent in it. With consistency comes peace of mind, and peace of mind is what you need.

Amen to that, she says. She looks grave. Just make my father’s wishes known to me, Lord Cromwell. I will perform them.

‘Mary says,’ he tells Chapuys, ‘that she will marry a Portuguese prince, or a French prince, any prince her father selects. But please note, Eustache, she does not say at any point, “But if I had my choice, I would take for my bridegroom the Lord Privy Seal.”’

The ambassador chuckles – a rusty little sound, like a key grating in a lock – and holds out his hands as if to say, guilty.

Luckily for Chapuys, gossip is not a capital crime.

When the first reports of trouble come in, he is at Windsor with the king. The days are still fine and it is warm in the sun. It is Michaelmas, and through the realm there are processions, with the banners of Our Lady and the angels and saints. All summer, a ban on sermons has been in force, to keep the peace. The ban is lifted for the feast. From the town of Louth in Lincolnshire – a shire of no great fame – there are reports of crowds gathering after Mass. They do not disperse even at dusk.

You know those nights, in market towns. A little money jangling in the pocket, and old companions stumbling through the streets, arms entwined. Youths carolling under a sailing moon, daring each other to leap a ditch or break into an empty house. If it rained they’d go in. But the weather holds. Darkness falls and the marketplace is still packed. Leather flasks are passed hand to hand. Stale grudges are let out for air. Wiping of mouths, spitting at feet. Any quarrel will do, for apprentices looking for a brawl. The clubs and knives come out.

Nine o’clock, a chill in the air. A few masters pick up staves and trot shoulder to shoulder to face down the boys. ‘Sore heads tomorrow, lads! Come on now, get home while your legs will carry you.’

Shog off, say the apprentices. We will break your pates.

Their masters say, almost sorrowful, do you not think we were young once? All right, stay out and starve. See if we care.

Through the hours of darkness the townsfolk hear hallooing from the marketplace – some fool tootling on a trumpet, another bashing a drum. The sun rises on cobbles plastered with puke. The marauders stretch, piss against a wall and go looking for pies. They ransack a baker’s stall, and by ten o’clock they have broached a cask of wine, making cups of their hollow palms.

Last night they stole the watchman’s rattle, and knocked the watchman down. Now they go rattling through the streets, proclaiming the ballad of Worse-was-it-Never. There was a former age, it seems, when wives were chaste and pedlars honest, when roses bloomed at Christmas and every pot bubbled with fat self-renewing capons. If these times are not those times, who is to blame? Londoners, probably. Members of Parliament. Reforming bishops. People who use English to talk to God.

Word spreads. On the farms around, labourers see the chance of a holiday. Faces blackened, some wearing women’s attire, they set off to town, picking up any edged tool that could act as a weapon. From the marketplace you can see them coming, kicking up a cloud of dust.

Old men anywhere in England will tell you about the drunken exploits of harvests past. Rebel ballads sung by our grandfathers need small adaptation now. We are taxed till we cry, we must live till we die, we be looted and swindled and cheated and dwindled … O, Worse was it Never!

Farmers bolt their grain stores. The magistrates are alert. Burgers withdraw indoors, securing their warehouses. In the square some rascal sways on top of a husting, viewing the rural troops as they roll in. ‘Pledge yourselves to me – Captain Poverty is my name.’ The bell-ringers, elbowed and threatened, tumble into the parish church and ring the bells backward. At this signal, the world turns upside down.

Morning brings Richard Riche riding from London to Windsor with rumours of assault on officials of the Court of Augmentations. ‘Our men are in Louth, sir – gone in to value the treasures at St James’s church, which you know is a very rich one.’

He pictures the spire rising three hundred feet, holding up the Lincolnshire sky, clouds draped about it like wet washing. It takes two days to ride from here to Lincolnshire, sparing nor horse nor man. Even as Riche is talking, new messengers are bellowing below: rural gawpers, clay on their boots. How did such folk get here, within the castle walls? They call up, ‘Is it true the king is dead?’

He comes down the stair towards them. ‘Who says so?’

‘All the east believes it. He died at midsummer. A puppet lies in his bed and wears his crown.’

‘So who rules?’

‘Cromwell, sir. He means to pull down all the parish churches. He will melt the crucifixes for cannon, to fire on the poor folk of England. Taxes will be tenpence in every shilling, and no man shall have a fowl in his pot but he pay a levy on it. There will be no bread next winter but made of pease flour and beans, and the commons shall be poisoned by it and lie in the fields like blown sheep, with no priest to confess them.’

‘Wipe your feet,’ he tells them. ‘I shall bring you to a dead king, and you may kneel and beg his pardon.’

The messenger is cowed. ‘We do but report what we have heard.’

‘That’s how wars start.’ Somewhere out of sight a man is singing, voice echoing around the stones:

‘Now God defend and make an end

Their crimes to mend:

From Crum and Cram and Cramuel

St Luke deliver such to Hell.

God send me well!’

He thinks, I believe that’s Sexton. I thought the pest was crushed. ‘Who is Cromwell?’ he asks the messengers. ‘What manner of man do you take him to be?’

Sir, they say, do you not know him? He is the devil in guise of a knave. He wears a hat and under it his horns.

As the trouble spreads from the town of Louth throughout the shire, the king demands, without result, the immediate attendance of Sir Thump and Lord Mump, Lord Stumble and Sheriff Bumble. It is still the hunting season, and they cannot be got to his side for three, four days. First, messengers must go and tell them of the disturbances to the peace. Then they must say, ‘Lincolnshire up? What the devil do you mean, up?’ Then they must instruct their stewards, they must kiss their wives, they must make their general adieux …

‘Come in, cousin Richard,’ the king calls. ‘I need my family. No one else rallies to me in my need.’

At this point he, Thomas Cromwell, could say ‘I told you so.’ Last year he had argued, if we are closing houses of religion, let us deal with them case by case: no need to frighten the people with a bill in Parliament. But Riche had insisted, no, no, no, we should have the clarity of statute. Lord Audley had said, ‘Cromwell, you cannot do everything as you did it in the cardinal’s time. Would not such a programme take us the rest of our lives?’

He had closed his eyes: ‘My lord, I suggested dealing with the houses individually. I did not suggest “one at a time”. That is different.’

But he was overruled. They beat the drum for their intentions: and now look! The king at Windsor wants familar faces about him. His boys are edged onto benches where the great magnates of the realm are used to sit. When the archbishop comes in, dusty from the road, they are at a loss to find an episcopal sort of chair.

‘Why are you here?’ he asks: politely enough. ‘You were not looked for.’

‘Because of the songs,’ Cranmer says. ‘Crum and Cram and Cramuel. Do they think there is you, my lord, and me, and then some third person compounded of both?’

‘It is a mystery. Like the Trinity.’

It seems the trouble is not confined to a distant shire. Cranmer says, ‘There are placards hung through Lambeth. I am not safe in my house. Hugh Latimer has been threatened. I hear in Lincolnshire they have attacked Bishop Longland’s servants.’

John Longland is a cautious, rigid, unsmiling man, who helped the king to get free from his first marriage: not popular on that account, in his own see or through the realm. The upset is worse than Cranmer knows. In Horncastle – it is well-witnessed – one of Longland’s men has been bludgeoned to death, the parish clergy cheering as he gasped his life out; and a man who calls himself Captain Cobbler is strutting with the victim’s coat on his back.

‘My lord archbishop, you should know that I am in the songs too,’ Richard Riche says. ‘I hear my name is reviled.’

‘It would be,’ Richard Cromwell says. ‘It’s a fine name for a rhyme. Flitch, pitch, ditch.’

He says to Cranmer, ‘Perhaps withdraw to the country for a week or two?’

‘Well, if the country were safe,’ Cranmer murmurs. ‘I am afraid there are papists in my own household. If they travel about with me, where shall I go? But London is your business, my lord. If this contagion is spreading, you must look to it.’

‘Switch, twitch, hitch,’ Richard says.

‘Hush,’ Fitzwilliam says. ‘The king is here.’

Mr Wriothesley is a pace behind the king; he has a new doublet of sea-green satin, in which he glows like a Venetian, and delicately he edges aside the quills and penknives of smaller men, to mark out a place for himself. Rafe Sadler, harassed in his old grey riding coat, nudges himself onto a bench end.

‘My lord archbishop!’ the king says. ‘No, do not kneel! It is I should kneel to you.’

‘Why?’ Richard Cromwell whispers. ‘What sin has he done now?’