The Mirror and the Light (The Five Wounds – Part 2)
He suppresses a smile. King and prelate tussle; Cranmer is set on his feet. ‘Well, gentlemen,’ the king says, ‘the news is poor hearing. I would incline to mercy if this brawl were to end now, with no further harm to gentlemen’s property nor insult to the crown.’ He sighs: Henry the Well-Beloved. ‘They fear the winter, poor devils. Reassure them that should there be scarcities, no one will profit from their distress. Proclaim a fixed price for grain if you must. Set up a commission to investigate hoarding. My lord Privy Seal knows what to do, he will remember how the cardinal used to deal with such matters in his day. Offer the malcontents a free pardon, but only if they disperse now.’
‘I counsel you against leniency,’ Fitzwilliam says. ‘If this should spread to Yorkshire, and north to the border, we are all in peril.’
He leans forward. ‘May I alert my lord of Norfolk? He could turn out his tenants and quiet the eastern shires.’
‘Keep Thomas Howard away from me,’ the king says.
Riche says, ‘With respect, Majesty, it is towards the rebels we would send him. Not towards your sacred person.’
The king is annoyed. ‘I think I can rely on my officers in those parts. If need be, my lord of Suffolk has a sufficient power.’
Wriothesley holds up a dispatch. ‘It is stated here that wherever they gather they are chanting, “Bread or Blood”. They have sworn oaths. What oaths,’ he consults his papers, ‘we await advisement.’
Fitzwilliam says, ‘Saving your Majesty, the reason for these riots – it is not just about filling their bellies. They want their monks back.’
‘Their monks are not gone,’ Richard Riche says. ‘I wish to God they were, and the revenue from the great houses free to use.’
Under the table, he – Lord Cromwell – kicks Riche’s ankle.
Fitzwilliam says, ‘They ask for the old worship to be restored. The Pope to have his primacy.’
‘They ask for all things to be as they were in times past,’ Wriothesley says. ‘And God knows, even my lord cardinal would have found that outwith his powers, to make time flow backwards.’
‘But their saints are eternal,’ Fitzwilliam says, ‘or so they think. They want them back, those our injunctions have taken away. They are asking for St Wilfred. They want Crispin and Crispianus, and the virgin Agatha. They want Giles and Swithin, and all the harvest saints. They would rather have a holiday than get the crops in, and they would rather parade with banners than set the winter wheat.’ He says, ‘They believe that if you harvest on saints’ days, your hands drop off. The fruits of learning may one day be seen in England, but let me advertise you, they are not seen yet.’
Cranmer says, ‘I understand they are burning books.’
‘Poor men do not rise without leaders,’ he says. ‘Let no man tell me they do.’
Letters come in. The seals are broken. The king tosses the papers down as he reads: ‘Here, Wriothesley. Give my lord Cromwell sight of this.’
Call-Me is reading over the king’s shoulder. ‘As you say, Lord Cromwell, certain gentlemen are leading the canaille. We have names.’
‘But the gentlemen protest they are enforced?’
‘Haled out of bed in the middle of the night,’ Wriothesley says. ‘Nightcaps on their heads.’
‘One has heard of it before,’ he says. Their wives screaming, and country folk with torches aloft in their hands, threatening to fire the barns unless the gentlemen saddle up and lead them to the king. These broils begin the same, and from age to age they end the same. The gentry pardoned, and the poor dangling from trees.
He says, ‘I will send a message up-country to Lord Talbot. Tell him to turn out his people and get himself to Nottingham with the strongest company he can find. Hold the castle, and from there he can move either by Mansfield towards Lincoln, or up to Yorkshire if –’
The king says, ‘Sadler, send to Greenwich for my armour.’
There is a babble of protest: no, sire, do not risk your sacred person! For Lincolnshire? God forbid.
‘If the common folk are saying I am dead, what choice have I?’
Cranmer says, ‘The malcontents aim at your councillors, not your Majesty’s person. To whom they declare themselves loyal – but such rebels always do. I know what they intend for me. If they come south I shall be burned.’
‘Lord Cromwell’s head is their chief demand,’ Wriothesley says. ‘They believe my lord has practised some device or sorcery on the king. As the cardinal did before him.’
He says, ‘I am offended for my prince, that they deem him no more than a child to be led.’
‘By God, I am offended too,’ Henry says. He has read all the news that comes in, but only now does he seem to take it in – flushed, his fist thumping the table. ‘I take it ill to be instructed by the folk of Lincolnshire, which is one of the most brute and beastly shires in the realm. How do they presume to dictate what men I keep about me? Let them understand this. When I choose a humble man for my councillor, HE IS NO MORE HUMBLE. Who will advise me, when Lord Cromwell is put down? Will these rebels do it? Colin Clump and Peter Pisspiddle, and old Grandpa Gaphead and his goat?’
‘No, they will not,’ the archbishop murmurs.
‘Will Robin Ragbag raise the revenues?’ the king asks.
‘Or Simple Simon draft a law?’ Riche pipes up as if he cannot help himself. Henry glares at the interruption. His voice rises. ‘I made my minister, and by God I will maintain him. If I say Cromwell is a lord, he is a lord. And if I say Cromwell’s heirs are to follow me and rule England, by God they will do it, or I shall come out of my grave and want to know why.’
There is a silence.
The king rises. ‘Keep me informed.’
Master Wriothesley steps out of the king’s way, watching him with solemn eyes.
‘I go to shoot,’ Henry says. He rolls away with his gentlemen, to the archery butts below the royal apartments. ‘Keep my eye in,’ he calls. His voice trails after him, and is lost in the afternoon.
The council disperses, except the archbishop: except Fitzwilliam, and except Richard Riche, who sticks at the table, frowning and leafing through his papers, and Wriothesley, who leans over him, whispering. It is settled that Charles Brandon will stop whatever he is doing, take men and restore order in Lincolnshire. Charles is a brisk man for this sort of thing, and we rely on him not to be too heavy-handed with the poorer sort. Lord Chancellor Audley, now on his way to Windsor, should be sent back to his own parts, in case any spark blown south should start a fire in Essex.
‘So, Crumb, how does it feel?’ Fitzwilliam asks him. ‘To be the heir presumptive to England?’
He waves the joke away. ‘But he proclaimed you!’ Fitz says. ‘Sir Richard Riche, you are witness.’
A non-committal grunt from Riche, head low over his notes. Fitz says, ‘The king by himself can appoint you, since he made his new law for the succession. Certainly Parliament can make you king – what think you, Riche?’
Suppose Parliament were to pass an act saying that I, Richard Riche, should be king? If Riche hears an echo from Thomas More’s day, it does not distract him. ‘Riche will not look up,’ Fitz says. ‘I must be wrong. I am no lawyer, am I? Still, my ears did not deceive me. He named you next king, Crumb. And I have thought that, of late, young Gregory had a very princely air about him.’
‘It is since he came back from Kenninghall,’ he says. ‘He enjoyed his summer with Norfolk.’
‘If this business spreads,’ Fitz says, ‘we will have to unleash Uncle Norfolk, whether Harry wants him or no. He has the forces in the east, and he is a power in the north.’
Riche says, not pausing in his scribbling, ‘Anyone you can pull back from Ireland?’
‘We’re barely holding the Pale,’ he says. ‘I would abandon the wretched place, except it would let our enemies in Europe set up camp on our doorstep. My lord archbishop,’ he turns to Cranmer, ‘you must take your lady out of London. Keep her safe at some small house of yours –’
The archbishop emits a shriek – muffled, like Jonah’s inside the whale.
Riche cuts him off. ‘Oh, peace, my lord archbishop. We all know you have married a wife.’
Fitz says, ‘We all know.’
‘No one here would betray you,’ Riche says. ‘The king holds you in high esteem, and if he does not choose to know, we do not choose to tell him.’
‘I pray God to move his heart,’ the archbishop says, ‘so he relents, and understands matrimony as a blessing no man should be denied.’
‘He likes it himself,’ Fitzwilliam says. ‘You would think he would like it for others.’
‘Give him time,’ he says. ‘And Riche, I know you are keen for work, you Augmentations men, and I am sorry I kicked you under the table, but I do not want the king to say we pushed him or led him where he did not want to go.’
‘But we have a plan?’ Riche says. ‘For the great houses to be dissolved?’
‘Oh, we always have a plan.’
Call-Me straightens up from his conference with Riche’s papers: glimpsing himself in the window, he studies his wavering shape and adjusts the angle of his cap. ‘My lord archbishop, you should comfort your lady that all will be well. I hear she does not speak our language. That must make her start at shadows. The rebels will not come here.’
‘No?’ Cranmer says. ‘You will not talk it away, Wriothesley. It is no light matter and I believe we are ill-prepared. I do not believe this is the action of a few malcontent men. You will find the Emperor’s finger in the pie. You will find certain familiars of his Majesty, who look to a future without him. They will proclaim Mary if they can get her, and then we shall have war. You need not mince matters with me, Mr Wriothesley. I have seen the worst men can do, to their fellow men and to women. In Germany I have seen a battlefield. I have not spent all my life at Cambridge.’
He turns his back on the archbishop and walks to the window. He can see the king and his gentlemen at their sport, in a haze of late sunshine. On the opposite bank, out of sight through the trees, the scholars of Eton are conning their book, and filing to oratory and chapel to pray for their founder, King Henry VI of blessed memory.
Riche has joined him, silent at his elbow. Far below them, he sees a shifting glitter, like salmon skin, against the afternoon: it is the queen in a dress of silver grey, brought out to watch the sport. ‘She looks – cushioned,’ Riche says.
‘She is a great doer at the table, that is all. She is not with child. Lady Rochford tells me when her courses come. No husband more anxious than I.’
‘The other one was skin and bone at the last. A thin old woman.’
The king looks up, as if he knows he is being watched. He turns and waves: Lord Cromwell, come out to play?
He holds up a letter, just arrived: scratches his head to show he is busy making sense of it. The sunshine has faded, and the river light is green; the king, swimming in it, thrusts out his lip to mimic a sulky child. Then he plucks off his hat and points with it towards Datchet: I shall come in when the light fails.
‘October already!’ people say. ‘Where did the summer go?’
Helen has sewn another kerchief, in place of that he carried to Shaftesbury. She has sewn the laurel, which lives for ever, and the ivy, continual in its green.
An order goes to the London guilds to muster men and arm them. Beacons set by the rebels are seen across the river Humber. It is certain Yorkshire will rise. ‘Rely on my lord Cromwell to placate them,’ Fitzwilliam says, smiling. ‘In Yorkshire they treasure his good word.’
The king raises an eyebrow. He must explain – an activity he dislikes. ‘In former times, Majesty, they used to threaten my life.’
Mr Wriothesley adds, ‘My lord Privy Seal was detested, for his service to the cardinal.’
‘Sir,’ Riche says, ‘had we not better heed the archbishop’s words, and secure the person of the Lady Mary?’
‘What do you suggest?’ he asks Riche. ‘Chaining her up?’
The king looks uneasy. ‘I would not for the world that rebels use my daughter against me. Keep watch on her, will you?’
He says, ‘She’s watched.’
In London they halt all large gatherings, including Sunday games. Horses are requisitioned, the garrison at the Tower reinforced. Let merchants buy up stocks of wool and finished cloth and keep the outworkers of Essex employed, as well as apprentices in the city: we know about idle hands. Masters should look well to their servants. All the priests and friars should deliver up any arms they possess to the city – save they may keep a knife for cutting their meat at table.
Wriothesley comes to him: you need to go to the Tower and get the king’s gold plate and start turning it into coin. Then back here to Windsor, quick as you can.
He says, I am going to see Chapuys.
It is said that a servant of his called Bellowe, a trusted clerk, has been captured and blinded. They have skinned a new-dead bull, sewn Bellowe in its hide, then loosed dogs.
He pictures Bellowe, as he was. Presumably his own father would not know him now. Only God will recognise him, restoring his features at the general resurrection.
He thinks, how can they know the dogs are hungry enough? Do they whip them into pens and starve them? Even his own watchdogs would not eat a living man.
The ambassador says, ‘I understand the Duke of Norferk is in London, and in a fever to see you. Alack, where is Cremuel? One would think the duke is in love.’
‘He wants me to put him back in credit with the king.’
‘Henry thinks he has disrespected the corpse of the poor little Fitzroy,’ the ambassador says. ‘The king asked for no pomp, so the duke tips his dead bastard in a wagon.’
‘It gives you something to amuse the Emperor with. In your dispatches.’
‘I myself think Norferk was angry with the boy for dying. What about Madame Jane, is Henry tired of her yet?’
‘You see, this is how my master is traduced,’ he says. ‘Fickleness is not his vice – even you must allow that. He was with Katherine twenty years. He waited seven years for Boleyn.’
‘There were concubines, of course. Although, what king is without them? There was Richmond’s mother. And the Boleyn sister who he bedded before Anne. The court is speculating who will come next. They say Norferk will put his daughter forward. He must get use out of her, and perhaps it would pique Henry’s appetite, to penetrate the widow of his dead son.’
‘Eustache …’ he says.
‘I see you are out of humour.’
‘It’s the scent of treason in the air. It makes my eyes water. It sets my teeth on edge.’
Grievous, Chapuys murmurs.
‘If your master means to send aid to our rebels, he has left it late in the year.’
‘Ah, you call them rebels. I thought it was merely a few turnips, sodden with drink? What interest could my master have in their proceedings?’
‘None. Unless he has received bad advice. Through your usual bad sources.’
He imagines upending Lord Montague and other Poles, and smacking the soles of their feet till their secrets spill out of their mouths. He imagines laying a clasp-knife to the heart of Nicholas Carew, prising it open like an oyster. He imagines shaking Gertrude Courtenay, till treason drops from her like falling leaves. Slicing the cranium of her husband, the Marquis of Exeter, and stirring a forefinger in the murk of his intentions.
‘I shall not regret this business if it brings the traitors out,’ he says.
Chapuys is shocked. ‘You cannot mean the princess!’
‘Any approaches, Mary must report to me. Any letters, they must come straight from her hand to mine.’
‘By the way,’ the ambassador says, ‘I hear that the Courtenays have taken in Thomas Guiett’s woman. It is a charity.’
‘A duty. Bess Darrell gave all she had to Katherine in her trouble.’
‘An angel’s face,’ Chapuys says, ‘and an angel’s disposition. Ah, Thomas, it is always the women who suffer. Those tender creatures whose protection God has given into our hands.’
‘I told Mary, I have done all for her that I will do. Let her move one inch towards the rebels, and I will cut off her head.’
‘Truly, Thomas?’ The ambassador smiles. ‘We know this game, you and I. It is your duty to come here and boast to me of the strength of the king’s forces, and say how he is loved throughout the land. And it is my duty to exclaim, “Cremuel, what kind of imbecile do you take me for?” You know what I must say, and I know what you must say. Why do we not, as the tennis players say, cut to the chase?’
‘Very well,’ he says. ‘Let me say something new. If your master subverts my king in his own country, I will find means to make him suffer, by uniting my king with the princes of Germany, who are your master’s subjects – or he thinks they are.’
I doubt it, mon cher,’ the ambassador says cheerfully. ‘All your talks so far have come to nothing. Henry may hate the Pope, but he hates Luther worse. You once told me you hated him yourself. I believe you incline to the Swiss heretics, for whom the host is but a piece of bread.’
‘You are my confessor?’
‘You have a great many secrets. You and your archbishop.’
He thinks, if Chapuys knows Cranmer has a wife, he will keep it back till it can do most damage.
‘Bread can be more than one thing,’ he says. ‘Anything can.’
‘If Henry were to destroy you for heresy, it would be …’ Chapuys thinks about it. ‘It would be a tragedy, Thomas.’
‘You would come to Smithfield to see me burned.’
‘That would be my painful duty.’
‘Painful my arse. You’d buy a new hat.’
Chapuys laughs. ‘Forgive me,’ he says. ‘I sympathise with you. At such a time you must feel the inferiority of your birth – which at other times’ – a courtly nod – ‘is not evident. Your rivals at court can turn out their tenantry, and arm them from their caches of weaponry that they have owned time out of mind. But you have no retainers of your own. You can expend some of your wealth, no doubt. Yet the cost of keeping even one soldier in the field, especially if he is mounted, and at this end of the season, fodder so dear … I do not care to estimate, but figures come easily to you. Of course, you could go and fight yourself –’
‘My soldiering days are done.’
‘But no one would follow you. Not even the Londoners. They want noble captains. In Italy there are charcoal-burners and ostlers who have founded honourable houses and left great names. But England has its own rules.’
Not prayer nor Bible verse, nor scholarship nor wit, nor grant under seal nor statute law can alter the fact of villain blood. Not all his craft and guile can make him a Howard, or a Cheney or a Fitzwilliam, a Stanley or even a Seymour: not even in an emergency. He says, ‘Ambassador, I must leave you and cross the river to see Norfolk. Or his heart will break.’
Chapuys says, ‘He is chafing to be at the rebels. Any glory going, he wants to get it. He wants to slaughter somebody, even if it’s only tanners and plumbers. He is in high spirits, I hear. He thinks this affair will bring you down.’
When he goes to the Norfolk stronghold in Lambeth, he takes an entourage: Rafe Sadler, Call-Me. He hopes Gregory’s presence will ease matters.
The duke’s great hall is like an armourers’ shop and Thomas Howard, batting to and fro, looks more worn and gristly than ever, like a man who has chewed and digested himself. ‘Cromwell! No time to talk to you. I’m only here to get my orders direct and then get on the road. North, east, I will go where the king commands, I have six hundred armed and ready to ride, I have five cannon – five, and they are all mine. I have artillery –’
‘No, my lord,’ he says.
‘And I can whistle up another fifteen hundred men in short order.’ The duke pounds Gregory’s shoulder. ‘Well, lad! Are you saddled and armed? Oh, I tell you, Cromwell, he’s a wise quick piece, this young fellow! What a summer we had of it! He spares no horseflesh, eh? Let’s hope he doesn’t go at the women so hard!’
Speaking of women … but no, he thinks, I will mention his duchess later. First to disabuse him. ‘Gregory stays at home,’ he says. ‘But the king has given a command to my nephew Richard. He is taking cannon from the Tower. The king has declared a muster in Bedfordshire, at Ampthill.’
‘So thereto I proceed,’ says the duke. ‘Is Harry going to the Tower?’
‘Staying at Windsor.’
‘Probably wise. In olden times, I was once told, the rabble pulled the Archbishop of Canterbury out of the Tower, and cut off his head. But Windsor should stand against rebels and all else, the wrath of God excepted. It should be strong enough to keep out these piddlewits, if every gentleman in the realm does his part. How many can you turn out, Cromwell?’
‘One hundred,’ he says.
He wishes the ground would open and swallow him.
‘One hundred,’ the duke repeats. ‘Clerks, are they?’
He is sending his builders from Austin Friars, and his cooks. Cooks are belligerent men, they are worth two. But to equip them he will need to go begging to the London armourers, and pay whatever they charge. He says, ‘Everything I have is at the king’s disposal.’
‘I should hope so,’ Norfolk says. ‘Since everything comes from him in the first place. No disrespect, my lord. But your father was a pauper, all know.’
‘Not a pauper, my lord. A roisterer, I concede. It was not money we lacked, so much as peace of mind.’
The duke grunts. ‘You can handle a weapon, therefore. I hear you’ve killed men.’
At his back, he feels Call-Me stiffen in alarm.
‘Not without cause, I dare say,’ the duke concedes. ‘And as God gave you other talents, beside the ruffian kind, it is proper to use them for the commonweal.’
The duke is doing his best to be civil. He is straining every sinew, as he paces and twitches and breaks off to bellow an order to a man at arms. But whiffs of hostility come from him – he can no more help it than a manure heap can help stinking. ‘You can tell the king from me,’ he says, ‘that if his forces are extended in the north, he will be hard put to hold down the east country too.’
‘Which is why it is the king’s pleasure –’ Wriothesley begins.
The duke turns on him. ‘I’m talking to Cromwell. Who has been to war, which is more than you have, sir.’
‘We have enjoyed the benefits of a forty-year peace,’ Wriothesley says, ‘under the most sagacious of kings.’
Norfolk glares. ‘To maintain which, every gentleman must lead their tenants, and maintain his right and title – which we are right glad to do, and God defend our cause. This will find out traitors, I assure you.’
His eyes meet the duke’s: those indented, fiery pits. ‘I hear some of these rural stuffwits are proclaiming Mary,’ the duke says. ‘God knows who has stirred them towards that treason, but we can make a shrewd guess. If she moves an inch towards the rebels, I will not speak for her, I will not defend her, I will do naught.’
‘Nor I,’ he says.
‘If the Scots were to come down …’ The duke gnaws his lip. ‘We need every strong man. We need every brute who can wield a staff and every gentleman who can sit a horse. Henry wouldn’t let my nephew out of the Tower, would he?’
‘Tom Truth? No.’
‘I only hope the king knows I had no part in his folly.’
It is a question, really; but he turns aside, and says to the duke, ‘So the king’s pleasure is – as Master Wriothesley here hoped to explain – that you linger neither in London nor near his person, but repair to your own country, there to ensure quietness –’
The fiery pits glint. ‘What? There are no rebels in my country!’
‘You must see there are not,’ Rafe Sadler says. ‘For now, my lord Suffolk takes command of the king’s forces.’
‘Brandon? That horsekeeper? By St Jude,’ says the duke. ‘Am I to be set aside? Me, of the best blood this nation affords?’
‘It is all one, my lord,’ Rafe says. ‘Blood, I mean. We all come of the same parentage, if you go back far enough.’
‘Any priest will tell you,’ he says gravely.
The duke glares. He knows this is true. But he would prefer if there had been a special Adam and Eve, as forebears to the Howards. ‘What about my son?’ he says. ‘What about Surrey? It appears I have offended his Majesty, God knows how, but surely he will not rebuff my son’s service?’
‘He says he’ll see,’ Call-Me says.
‘See?’ The duke is simmering. ‘See? I had better ride to Windsor and meet my sovereign face to face. For I doubt not you misreport him.’ Call-Me opens his mouth, but the duke says, ‘One more word, and I’ll gralloch you, Wriothesley. The king knows he has no more faithful servant in England than Thomas Howard.’
‘My advice, my lord – if you will hear it –’
But the duke will not. ‘I have followed the Tudor’s words in every matter – as ever I shall, so help me God. Yet what fortune falls to me? The monasteries are pulled down, and every little jack and knave is paid. But where is my reward?’
‘If you want abbeys,’ Gregory says, ‘you must apply to Richard Riche. The Master of Augmentations.’
‘Apply?’ The duke fairly spits the word. ‘Why should I apply for what should be granted as of right?’
‘It reminds me,’ he says, ‘I have a letter from my lady your duchess. She says it is four years now since you separated.’
‘Aye. Best years of my life,’ the duke says.
‘She complains of scant living.’
‘You don’t want her back, but you don’t want to maintain her?’
‘Let her family keep her.’
‘Sir, it is shameful,’ Rafe says. His face flushes. ‘Forgive me, but I cannot fail to speak, when I hear of a woman misused.’
The duke shoves his face into Rafe’s. ‘We all know about your woman, Sadler. We know you bought her out of a brothel, and so well-used they handed her over for the pence in a pauper’s pocket.’
Rafe says, ‘If you were not an old man, I would strike you.’
He, Lord Cromwell, steps between them. The duke says, ‘I’ll stick you, Sadler. I’ll spit you like a pullet.’
‘My lord,’ he says, ‘if there is anything I can do, to hasten your return to favour – count on me.’
The duke whirls away, cursing. ‘You know in the north parts they use your name to frighten children? Be quiet, they say, or we’ll fetch Cromwell.’
‘Do they?’ he says. ‘Lord Cromwell would be more polite.’
‘Your title is still a novelty,’ the duke says, ‘and change is slow up there. Their view is, the fellow will be dead before we have to use it.’
As they cross the river on his barge, rain drives into their faces, and the flag with his coat of arms whips about its pole; the statue of Becket on the wall of the archbishop’s palace is barely visible through the spray, but Bastings his bargemaster salutes the saint just the same.
‘I’ll have that traitor down,’ he says. ‘One day soon.’
‘But sir, the rivermen hold him lucky.’
‘You make your own luck,’ he says.
They sit under the canopy. ‘That was ill-considered,’ he tells Rafe. ‘Face-and-brace with the duke?’
‘I have only done one foolish thing in my life,’ Rafe says. ‘I mean, in marrying Helen. And since those who have seen her know I was truly wise, I have not even that to set in my account. Therefore while I am still young enough, I am looking to run into danger. So I know how it feels.’
‘Because we are not fighting men,’ Wriothesley says, laughing. ‘We must try our manhood where we find the opportunity.’
‘Give me notice of the next time,’ he says. ‘And keep Uncle Norfolk out of it.’
He broods. He will stand up each one of his men against Norfolk’s – cooks or clerks or masons. He will stand up himself, against the duke. Norfolk has tenants, but he has cash. If the duke has ancient blood, he has stomach. If the duke is an impregnable fortress, then he is a siege engine, he is God’s catapult, he is the Warwolf; he is the trebuchet and the mangonel, crashing boulders into the walls and chucking body parts over them. People will tell him that the duke’s walls are unbreachable, like the walls of Caerphilly, like Maynooth. But he believes there is no fortress that cannot be undermined or betrayed from within. He doesn’t want Norfolk dead. He wants him alive and conformable. He wants him grateful.
He says to Wriothesley, ‘Tell Riche. Treat with the duke for his requirements. Find out what abbeys he has in view.’
‘I believed he maintained the old ways,’ Wriothesley says. ‘I hear he hates the scriptures. Now he is asking for profit from the monks’ fall?’
‘The Howards were merchants once,’ he says.
Wriothesley says, ‘I suspect we were all merchants once.’
‘One hears,’ Rafe says, ‘that in Lincolnshire monks have come out with battle-axes, and are leading the rebel columns. The king says their vows will not save them, when the broil is over he will hang them up in their habits.’
They disembark. The steps are half under water, it threatens to lap over their boots. Richard will be lucky if he can get his cannon north of Enfield, he thinks, before he is bogged down. The rebels are now advancing on Lincoln. They are said to be ten thousand men mounted and armed, with another thirty thousand behind them, and their ranks increasing by five hundred every day.
‘Let me go with Richard,’ Gregory begs. ‘For the honour of our house. Or with Fitzwilliam – he will have me in his train. He is keen to be killing rebels, he says he will eat them with salt.’
‘You apply to your book, Master Gregory,’ Richard says. ‘You are not done learning yet. And look after your father.’
He has to get back to Windsor to the king. Government must still go forward, it does not stop because we are raising an army. Henry insists he will go up to Ampthill to the muster, and all must try to dissuade him. For the next weeks – who knows, perhaps for ever – he, Thomas Cromwell, will be on the sodden road west of London, or on the swollen river, while his carpenters and spit-boys and glaziers fight north and east through their own morass. He thinks of all the roads of the kingdom swilling into trackless mud, into drench and mire.
He goes out to say goodbye to Thurston. His chief cook is resolved to go with Master Richard to pepper some traitors, but he is tearful as he stands polishing a knife, turning it about, a glint on the blade. ‘I remember your little lass Anne,’ he says, ‘when she came looking for eggs to paint. I offered her a brown egg from the bantam, and she says to me, “Thurston,” – or rather, “Master Thurston,” she says – “I want to paint the cardinal in his scarlet hat, and you give me this egg? Do you say to me he has a head the size of a thumbnail, and a complexion like a Moor? You must do better,” she says. “Only a good-sized egg will answer, and a milk-white shell.” You could not have put it better yourself.’ Thurston blows his nose on his apron. ‘God rest her. A milk-white shell.’
When he thinks of his daughters now it is as very little girls, clinging to their mother’s skirts. He eases them away from him, to wherever the dead live now. He sits alone, under a blue ceiling newly painted with stars, in a chamber suited to the head of a house: lofty, airy, draughty. He closes the shutter, pulls his chair to the fire. He knows these eastern towns. Horncastle, Louth itself, Boston where he did much business when he was young, going to Rome once to represent their pious guild. He knows people in Lincoln who will report to him, and he has advance notice, from the rebels’ camp, of their demands. He remembers Norfolk saying to him once, ‘Give a pike to some tosswit and he is more dangerous than the greatest general, because he has nothing to lose.’ If his informants are correct, the rebels are writing lists of demands, and what they demand – along with the restoration of the Golden Age – are amendments of certain laws that bear on inheritance, how they can dispose of their goods in their wills. These are not the concerns of simple people. What has Hob or Hick to leave behind him, but some bad debts and broken shoes? No: these are the complaints of small landowners, and men who don’t like to pay their taxes. Men who want to be petty kings in their shires, who want the women to curtsey as they pass through the marketplace. I know these paltry gods, he thinks. We had them in Putney. They have them everywhere.
From the fireplace wall, there is a scrape and scratch. The spaniel at his feet scrambles up and shakes herself, her nose raised and twitching, her eyes shining in merriment; the marmoset is stirring in his night-box, and the dog hopes he will venture out. He remembers a lightless November afternoon: Anne Boleyn, her moue of distaste as she pulled her sleeve away from the tiny paw reaching for her hand. ‘Who sent it? I don’t want it. Because Katherine coveted such creatures does not mean I do.’
Someone in pity had made it a little wool jacket, and like a nervous petitioner the creature was shredding it with its nails: it shrank and twitched under the lady’s hostile glance. ‘I’ll take it,’ he said. ‘It will thrive with me, I keep my houses warm.’
‘Do you? How?’ Anne was shivering even in her ermine.
‘Smaller rooms, madam. You would not want those.’
She made a wry face. Cranmer had once said, she is afraid of what she has begun. ‘Perhaps I shall give it all up,’ she said. She pulled at the fur of her cuff, tugging gently as if to show what she would lose. ‘Perhaps the king can never marry me, and I am a fool to think he can. Perhaps I shall give it all up, Cremuel, and come and live in your warm house with you.’
The town of Beverley is the first place north of the Humber to join the rebel cause. Thomas Percy, who is the Earl of Northumberland’s brother, brings five thousand rebels down from the north-east. A one-eyed lawyer called Aske is leading the commons of Yorkshire. First he said he was loath to do it, he said he was pressed – but that is what such chancers say. It is Aske who calls the rebellion a pilgrimage to the king: sometimes he calls it a pilgrimage for grace. He gives the rebels their emblem, raising over their ranks a banner of the Five Wounds. This is how Christ died: two nails in the hands and two in the feet, heart pierced by a lance.
The web of treason is sticky in the palm, and leaves its bloody smear: the pukers on the Louth cobbles, the fat confederates in the north, the abbots wiping their grease on their napkins and raising a glass of gore: the Scots, the French, Chapuys mon cher, Gardiner plotting in Paris, Pole at his dusty prie-dieu. When this is done, who will be master and who will be man? He pictures Norfolk in his armoury, polishing the plate: diligent he rubs, till he can see his swimming face. The king’s companions are prepared to march. So scented, the courtiers, so urbane: the rustle of silk, the soundless tread of padded shoes. But slaughter is their trade. Like butchers in the shambles, it is what they were reared for. Peace, to them, is just the interval between wars. Now the stuff for masques, for interludes, is swept away. It is no more time to dance. The perfumed paw picks up the sword. The lute falls silent. The drum begins to beat.
By mid-October, the king’s hand falls on Lincolnshire. Richard Cromwell writes to him from Stamford, where Charles Brandon has arrived with his power, and Francis Bryan with three hundred horse. The commons sue for pardon, and will hand over their ringleaders. Captain Cobbler is stripped of his borrowed coat. But can we send Charles north, to meet the next onslaught? Not unless we want trouble to break out again behind him.
Meanwhile, the storm-lashed King of Scotland has made landfall among the French. He has been seen at twilight in a lodging near Dieppe, his gentlemen about him, his manners so easy and free that no one knows who is gentleman and who is king: ‘I do not think,’ Henry says, ‘that anyone could entertain a similar doubt in my case, and even if I were to dissemble’ – he laughs – ‘I doubt I would pass as a common fellow, unless I were to assume some disguise, and even then …’ Scotland’s ships lie at anchor in the bay, while James himself takes the Paris road, with the intention of marrying a French princess and thereby doing mischief to his English neighbour.
It is a pity James did not linger in Dieppe. It might have killed him. The townsfolk complain of a pest brought over from Rye. Contagion and false news cannot be stayed by officers of the excise.
Wriothesley says, ‘Bishop Gardiner applies for instructions: how shall he bear himself if, as our ambassador, he should meet the King of Scots?’
He says, ‘He should congratulate James on escaping the dangers of the deep. He has been on his voyage a good while.’
The king says, ‘Tell Gardiner to do James no more honour than he must. I am, as all know, the rightful ruler of Scotland.’
Behind the king’s back he makes a sign to Call-Me: you can leave that out of your letter.
‘And if the French ask about the commotion in our shires,’ the king says, ‘let Gardiner assure them that I have an army at my command that is ready to humble any prince in Europe, and then have puissance remaining, for a second battle and a third.’
He can imagine with what shrugging, grimacing and eye-rolling this news will be received by François. ‘Though the Tudor claims he has a hundred thousand men, all know he has but a fraction of that, and cannot trust his own commanders: or if he can trust some of them, he does not know which.’
And when you think about it, François will say, what did it take, fifty years back, to invade England and overthrow Crookback? A rabble of two thousand mercenaries, led by a man whose name no one knew.
Henry says, ‘You can tell Gardiner, and any other person who enquires, that I will go against the rebels with the whole armed might of England, and so reduce them that their heirs will have to creep over the earth where they lie, and puzzle out their fragments with a magnifying glass.’
But meanwhile, what will he do? He will negotiate.
At Windsor, the king picks through his Italian songbook. The autumn rain beats at the glass. Dead leaves whisk through the air. A la guerra, a la guerra, Ch’amor non vol più pace …
The king says, ‘Where is Thomas Wyatt?’
‘In Kent, sir. Raising his tenants.’
‘How many can he fetch?’
‘A hundred and fifty. Perhaps two hundred.’
A la guerra … Love wants no more peace.
‘How is Sir Henry Wyatt?’
‘Will he leave me anything?’
‘His son, sir. Begging as his last request that you will favour him.’
Tom Wyatt: his ardour, his faith, his verse.
The king says, ‘Will Lord Montague bring his people to the muster?’
‘He needs only a day’s warning, sir.’ He thinks, it will be interesting to see if he takes the field himself.
‘Where is his brother Reginald?’
‘Just left Venice.’
‘For?’ The king finishes his thought. ‘Perhaps for Rome. In Rome they will be triumphing over me now.
‘Questa guerra è mortale,’ the king sings. ‘Cromwell, I have forgot the words.
‘Io non trovo arma forte
Che vetar possa morte …’
What weapon is strong enough, to shield me from death? He leafs through the manuscript, which is illuminated with larkspur, vine leaves and leaping hares. ‘I am the tree the wind casts down, because it has no roots …’ And Scaramella goes to war, boot and buckler, lance and shield.
Five wounds. Wife. Children. Master. Dorothea with her needle, straight between his ribs. One withheld? A man might survive them if they were evenly spaced, and he knew the direction from which they would come.
The king says, ‘How many can Edward Seymour turn out?’
‘Two hundred, sir.’
‘And the Courtenays? My lord Exeter?’
‘Five hundred, sir.’
‘Forty,’ the king says. ‘He is only a lawyer, of course.’
‘I have ordered every coastal district to keep a strait watch for alien ships.’
The king plucks his lute string. ‘Perché un viver duro e grave, Grave e dur morir conviene …’ My life hard, my death bitter, a ship that is wrecked upon a rock.
Prophets – and we are awash with them, though their better forecasts are made after the event – have assured us that this year the waters of Albion will run with blood. When he closes his eyes he can see the flow: not a river tumbling and bursting its banks, not a torrent roaring over stones, but a channel that is oily, crimson, a narrow slick rivulet, boiling beneath its surface: a slow, seeping, unstoppable flood.
In Yorkshire they sing that old complaint from John Ball’s day:
Now pride reigns in every place, and greed not shy to show its face,
And lechery with never shame, and gluttony with never blame.
Envy reigns with reason, and sloth is ever in season.
God help us for now is the time.