Chronicles of King’s Edward’ s Privy Chamber Gentlemen
….Part the First ….Family Matters
By J. McDonnell Murphy
…..Montacute – sometime in the mid 1540s
‘She’s off up on St. Michael’s Mount.’
‘By the saints, how should I know? She went like a hare over the field once the Angelus was rung.’
Kate Somers wags her finger
‘There’s no good will come of this Will Somers, none I tells ye.’
‘What harms in her being there?’
‘Plenty will say plenty who knows. It‘s witches what dance up there they say and brews and does no good. No good will come of it and it’s your place to tell her as her father.’
‘Well I’ll speak with her wife if you must. But I sees no harm.’
They part: Will returns to his field and scythe and Kate walks deliberately back towards the abbey…muttering to herself…
The gatehouse and abbey – its old stones softened to honey by the golden sun – still loom as large as ever in Montacute. It stands solid and unchanging – impervious to time’s tests.
Yet it’s changed beyond recognition; it’s lived beyond its purpose. These days there are no monks in Montacute Abbey. They were put out some seven or so years back.
The entire monastic estate is passed to William Petre…one of the king’s men. Those working on the abbey lands are kept-on but those who die aren’t replaced.
The cultivated lands dwindle. The village feels deserted.
The villagers are resentful – but what can they do?
Only family Phelps, living in a small manor-house outside the village, prospers in the changes. The Phelps judiciously invests its family gold, squirreled away over several generations, in purchasing some of the former abbey’s lands from William Petre….
That was then…
Now, just a few years on, even those with silver coin to spare can’t buy land – the new minted coin is worthless. One of the Mint officials from Bristol has already been and taken all the plate from the chapel of St Catherine. The chapel‘s left as poor as the village. Those left must shift as might.
Will and Kate Somers have reason to be grateful. They’re still employed. Will has his place on the land and his wife works inside the abbey. Yet even this meagre success only succeeds in feeding local resentments.
The villagers wonder aloud how all this evil can be explained if there’s no evil hereabouts. Spells and magic and witchcraft suggest explanations that reason can’t supply…
And there’s supporting evidence of sorts…the strange goings-on…above the village, on St Michael’s Mount…lights have been seen at night…fires are sometimes seen burning up there. Some says there are voices…cavorting… shrieking…such badness…witches at their coven… evil-doings…women doing with the devil acts Nature means to be done only with man…Smoke sometimes rises into the night. Is it witches on their sticks? Who knows? But what else might account for Montacute’s recent misfortunes?
Sir William Petre isn’t local to Montacute. He’s of Devon. For a while he, his wife and family, had used the abbot’s quarters when they came. But once knighted, made Sir William Petre, Montacute Abbey wasn’t a grand enough stage for the family ambitions of the Petre. Sir William Petre, it’s whispered in the village, is made the king’s secretary. He’s of the king’s Privy Council.
Then in the summer following Sir William’s elevation others come in his place…these are Irish lords…Butler they call themselves. They lease the abbey’s estate. They use it most summers and into the autumn before returning to London and to the court. When they come to hunt in the summer they bring their household retinue. They’ve two sons…Tomas and Barnaby…and a dowager of some sort also comes in their train. An old woman with beady eyes and wooden teeth, she’s much disliked in the village. She calls herself Katherine Fitzgerald dowager countess of Desmond. She looks old as God and appears at least old enough to be His mother….a lady of a place called Inchiquin…or so she says…if what she says might ever be believed.
Will and Kate Somers duties include keeping the private family quarters….the abbot’s rooms…in readiness. Will’s house is outside the Abbey gate. It’s almost opposite St Catherine’s chapel and the village graveyard. The villagers are buried there….
The monks were buried behind the abbey buildings. Once neat wooden crosses marked each grave; they’re gone; instead village sheep graze peacefully amongst them…
Both Will and Kate have been blessed by God with four daughters. It’s their eldest Meg who‘s taken to wandering on the hill above the abbey. Meg is delicate featured, with creamy pale skin, long shiny dark brown hair and serious eyes…and such a smile…she’d be a beauty in any time…. if it weren’t for…
Her face is disfigured by a port-wine birth mark…Meg‘ll not marry.
Meg is alone. She’s on the very top of St Michael’s Mount. The steep climb has left her breathless and scratched by brambles and thorn. Behind her there’s a ruined castle. The footpath to the top peters-out a third of the way up the hill and Meg had tried several ways before she found one through. Her dress is torn; her mother will be furious.
The view is worth it….
Maybe it’s not like the mountains on which Jesus once walked but it commands…a view…a view of a world beyond the world Meg knows; beyond her world-view; beyond her wildest imaginings. It’s also beyond beauty. It‘s mesmerizing.
She stares into the horizon. Might the known world end at the horizon’s edge? Could there perhaps be even more world beyond what she sees…beyond everything…She feels certain there is; as certain as she feels she’ll never know for certain for herself.
Up here, on the tiptop of her reality, she feels safe, although alone…very alone, pleasantly alone. She’s away from the village and the girls who shout after her; she’s also away from the boys…
Boys…she’s curious of boys…and since she’s developed a fine pair of rounded firm white breasts with veal-pink nipples…boys are as curious of her…..
They say they want to …know her…they certainly want to touch and hold her titties. That’s what they call her breasts. Sometimes, if she’s had un-watered ale, she lets them. Sometimes she’s likes them being felt and stroked…sometimes…
The blacksmith’s son wanted more from her than just feeling and stroking her breasts. He put his hands up her dress. He felt about between her legs. He played with her privates. He made her wet. He put his fingers inside a little…it hurt but it was also exciting…He said he loved her to be wet like that with him…for him…he told her she had beautiful eyes. He made her feel special…
Alone, up here on the top of the world, she’s…happy to recall their adventure….
He kissed her. He told her he didn’t mind about her face. He said he liked her face. He said the mark…the scar…was nothing…He said…he loved her…
Maybe he meant it…Love…Meg is unsure about love…Did he love her? He promised he’d marry her and make her happy if she let him put his pistol inside…
She laughs involuntarily. She’s not so much embarrassed as humiliated…she blushes at the memory….
….She’d been waiting around behind the forge while George had told his parents…
His mother had laughed
‘Old crippled face…she’s nothing to bring to you but misfortune. What childer would ye have with that cursed-face one? Ye fool…none will have her; she’ll use her sex to trap you, me boy. Stay clear – heed me and hear me now…’
His father hit him
‘Fuck her if you will – her tits are fine enough for that – but there’ll be no wedding with that misshapen crit.’
When George came back, he’d smiled. Meg smiled. She pretended she’d not heard. George pretended he’d got his parents’ permission. It was one pretence too far. Meg cried. George comforted her. He promised her if they did ‘do it’ he’d marry her. She said no. He said he wasn’t bothered. George never called for her again on Sunday to walk her to Mass….
….George married the inn keeper’s girl, Clare, blonde pretty Clare. She was younger than Meg. Clare’s many months on now…almost due…
Meg told her mother. Kate Somers comforted her daughter as best she could. But there was no keeping it secret. Everyone knew what had happened. Villagers smirked at Meg outside church on Sunday…that was about the time the minister began looking at Meg. He’d look at her tits from the pulpit.
Sometimes he’d smile at her.
Meg understood he was like George – not to be trusted. Men were not to be trusted. What her mother had always told her proved bitterly true.
It’s the bitterness of that truth drives her up here…where she’s alone….well, she thinks she’s alone – but every now and then, in late afternoon as the sun’s heat wanes….it’s like…well, like she’s being watched….
Meg pulls her shawl over her breasts…just in case….the goings-on up here… they’re the talk of the village…It’s why she comes here; no, not for the goings-on; nothing happens; nothing has happened…no, she comes here knowing she’ll not be followed….
‘Thems says they’re lights and fires up here on the top of the mount at night. Them says to mother there’s all manner of evils…all manner of…well…it’s what they say.’
Meg‘s talking startles her. She looks about suspiciously. She knows enough to be wary. She’s uncertain of the truth behind what the villagers say and think. After all, she knows what they say and think of her….
Then there’s what the priest thinks….
His sermons…are full of duty and such…and of the king and of… the sins of the flesh…and full of witches too…and full of harlots from the bible…Jezebels he calls them. He’s no longer priest in the village…These days he says, by the king’s express command, he says, he’s minister of God’s word… or the word of God… one or the other…whatever it means.
He still farms the priest’s lot in the village fields…like before… and he has the priest’s tithes at Michaelmas. That’s not changed. He still marries couples by the door of St. Catherine’s chapel. He still buries the dead of the village in the same graveyard.
So much appears much the same and so much appears so different…
Meg doesn’t pretend to understand. She does as she’s told. What more can God and the king want of her?
Priests… ministers, he says, the priest says…he says he’s minister not priest…he says priests may marry now…when he looks at her from the pulpit… he smiles…with his brown teeth…he says the bishops and the king command him to marry…like other men…From the pulpit he says he’s like other men a sinner and has been saved by Jesus on the cross…except he’s taken down the cross in St Catherine’s…He says too much for Meg’s taste…And he says it in the common tongue… not like the monks who prayed in plainchant. They sang words…words…of another world…maybe of heaven…
The monks didn’t marry…though Abbot Blow had knowledge with the innkeeper’s wife…so Meg’s mother says…Clare…Kate Somers says, was of the abbot….
‘Kate Somers you says too much…’
Meg’s father, Will Somers, says….He says his wife’s gossiping will be his ruin…But Meg’s heard the gossip as has most of the village…..
….The minister says it’s comely for maids to lie with man. He says in his Sunday sermons that he’s a village man – with appetites like other men in the village.
The minister also said this to Meg – not in church – it was outside the Star Inn, after Easter games were played on the village green…
….There‘d been much beer drunk at Easter Monday games. The priest had taken more than his fair share; he said it was an Easter game when he touched Meg’s titties. He said they’d both please God if she was good to him. He said it was a special gift…like the holy wafer… that he could give her. He called it sacra…sacra…something…Meg can’t recall the word he used but it made it sound holy…
She can still taste his sour breath. He forced his tongue into the mouth while he stroked her titties and thighs. She was repulsed…but also aroused…it made her privates…wet.
Meg reflects the priest’s special gift wasn’t so special after all…at least George had called it love…
Meg had run away from the priest….that was her first time up here on the top of St Michael’s Mount. She’d cried and cried.
She’s aware men will say anything when they want to pistol her…
These and other thoughts run randomly around her head when she hears a voice close behind her…
‘It’s Meg, isn’t it? Will Somers’ child, Meg, Meg, is it you?’
These few simple words change her life…forever…
That is how Meg meets him…the herbalist from the abbey…Father Simon.
He’d worked in the kitchen garden. She’d known him from her childhood…he’d played with her in the abbey gardens when she was small. They’d played hide and seek….Kate Somers had permission of the abbot to work for their laundry. That’s how Meg knew about Clare and who Clare’s father really was…The abbey laundress had always been a village woman. She washed the sheets and stuff belonging to the small hospital where visitors stayed overnight. Pilgrims they called themselves; they were usually on the way to see the relics of the Holy Cross…they could do great magic those relics…like Father Simon…he did magic too….
The magic of Father Simon had nothing of spells and witches. It was with herbs and bandages, and hot water and making potions by receipt he did his magic. He made a balm from herbs and oil and garlic which he gave to women who helped with birthing. He prevented many deaths with these medicines. He was a good man.
He and a number of brothers put out of the monastery with nowhere to go had taken refuge up here on St Michael’s mount. They lived off the berries, nuts and ate squirrel, hares and such as they could trap. Father Simon knew what was safe to eat and so they survived. They’d built a lean too against the rear of the ruined tower. They huddled there – as vagrants might huddle from the rain under a bridge….that was how they served out the remains of their lives…holding to each other and to their vows.
There were only four of them. The last winter had killed the oldest, Father Miles.
Meg spent these precious days, these golden days…with Father Simon and his band of brothers. The short summer altered her life….everything….
To repay their kindness and their teaching she smuggled odds and ends from her mother’s kitchen; left-over’s from the Abbey given to the monks – sometimes there was meat and bread; other times Meg took beer in a jug from the buttery; later in the year she’d steal some seed corn.
These kindnesses were in others’ eyes crimes. She kept her mouth closed; none knew of her charity….
The monks taught her to sing in the Latin tongue. Father Simon also taught her what he knew of healing and potions. Meg was intelligent though uneducated. She picked up what she was shown quickly and her interest was repaid. The other monk, Brendan, had worked in the scriptorium. He showed Meg letters. Soon she could write her name. The monks had smuggled a breviary from the library when they fled the abbey. From this Meg learned something of reading…though Latin was not much use in her daily life. She learned from Brendan something of the meaning of the Latin. She could write pretty well by the time the mount wore frost and leafless trees dressed in winter’s white….
Through this time they never asked to see her titties nor tried to touch her. They trusted her and she them….Father Simon gave her the receipt for the birthing balm. He showed her how to make a poultice and told her how to use heat to draw out puss from an infected wound.
‘When the blood runs free and bright red my child the evil is drawn from the wound. Then you only need to keep the area clean. Bathe it in waters made of marigold and gentian. Cover it with clean linen freshly washed. Everything you use, knives, needles and such place in boiling water for a sturdy time before ye use them. Boil them again afterwards. Wash yer hands clean with hot water before ye touch a patient and again afterwards. Where there’s infection and soreness wash both ye and it in gentian water made from the herb with boiling water until purple. It’s a strong cure for many ailments. It keeps well in a covered jar. List not to those who tells ye otherwise…cleanliness will cure much.’
Meg threw herself into these friendships. They distracted her from the pains of hopeless love…she forgot George and slowly forgave him and forgave herself.
The Butler family were in the abbey when Clare’s term came…Traditionally those who owned the Abbey sponsored village children at their baptism. Before the dissolution it had been the abbot’s portion to be Godfather to the village children but the earl and countess of Ormond, Sir William Petre’s leasees, take up the obligation with their lease…
Kate Somers had naturally enough attended the birthing…and young Meg is now of an age when she might also assist…
Young Clare’s had been a long and painful delivery – not aided by the fact that the leg broke-off the birthing chair. The baby came out sideways and caused some damage to the cervix. Fortunately, Clare didn’t haemorrhage and the baby‘s healthy enough. But for safety the child needs to be baptised straight away…he’ll be named William in honour of Sir William Petre….
The crying baby-boy is wrapped in couple of wool blankets and taken to the church by Kate. Meg goes with her. Once at the chapel they wait on the priest. While they’re waiting the countess arrives by foot and enters with her woman, Alice Dormer…
The countess is impatient of the priest.
As it was the clerk was hoeing in the priest’s lot on the far side of the village when he received a peremptory summons from the abbey.
He hares across the fields to the chapel but it takes him half an hour…..
Noble sighing and huffing and puffing do nothing to accelerate his arrival. Even nobility must on occasion wait on ceremony. To fill the time, as women do, they talk amongst themselves. The countess, politely, makes condescending small talk of this and that about the child. It’s natural enough for Kate to praise he daughter’s part in the birthing….
Afterwards Kate and Meg are called back to nurse the poor Clare – the village midwife abandons the girl
‘Pray, good women, pray, for I can’t do more. Let nature take her course; give God his way.’
And the doctor from the Abbey can’t be bothered to give Clare more than a cursory examination. Such nursing as there is for Clare is left to Kate: Meg takes charge over her mother. She cleans Clare, washes her, and applies the birthing balm and the gentian….they save the girl from death.
Clare’s mother and father are grateful enough to Meg. They give her two groats, one badly clipped….but the miraculous cure acquires its own currency in the village. This is how Lady Joan Ormond hears of Meg’s skill….
When Master Barnaby has an accident…Joan suggests to her physician that Meg assists him. The physician, like most professionals, is impatient of amateurs. But the countess isn’t a woman to be contradicted over any matter great or small….
Barnaby had been cut in practice with sword and dagger. The cut wasn’t particularly deep but it had been ignored. Needless to say within a few days it was infected. After the neglect of a week Barnaby couldn’t bend his arm. The lad was running a fever and his arm was swollen and angry…
The countess’s physician leached the wound to no particular effect. By the time Meg arrives, he’s already suggested calling the earl’s surgeon to take off Barnaby’s arm. Fortunately for Barnaby, the surgeon is hunting with the earl and won’t be back for a couple of days. As the patient seems intent on dying the physician is impatient to be rid of his responsibilities…He’s happy to leave Meg in charge. If the boy dies he’ll blame the local girl easily enough and that will be that.
With that purpose the physician brings Meg to Barnaby’s bedchamber and leaves her to nurse him. He tells her to send for him if Barnaby’s condition worsens.
Young Barnaby is semi-conscious, in pain, alarmed by talk of amputation.
After the physician leaves, Meg boils some water by the fire and begins gently to wash the arm in hot water. It eases the pain. Barnaby’s arm by now is deep red, inflamed and the swelling is hard and by the cut the skin has blistered and turned purple. A watery yellow puss oozes from the blisters.
Meg cauterises a sewing needle in the fire and lances the boil. Barnaby screams. He passes out. After he’s come around, she keeps him calm by speaking quietly. Once she has his trust she continues.
She applies a poultice to draw the poison. Lady Joan watches as Meg gently presses the flesh about the wound, reapplying heat and gradually the blistered area opens and white and grey puss burst out. She reapplies the poultice and then with the same technique draws out the white hard poison in a steady continuous line on to a piece of linen – it looks like lard. She works, for over an hour, on until blackish blood flows freely from the wound. Again she cleans the wound and reapplies a fresh poultice and this time draws the wound until bright red blood runs free.
Barnaby, by now, had passed out exhausted. Meg re-cleans his arm and applies some gentian and covers it. Two days later, once there’s no sign of further swelling, she cauterises the wound with a hot blade. It leaves a scar four inches long on Barnaby’s left arm.
By the time the surgeon returns four days later with a boar and deer from the hunt, Barnaby is running about as if nothing has happened.
The surgeon praises Meg. He, like the physician, is jealous of his professional skills; he takes every opportunity to disparage his colleague….
….The surgeon’s praise of Meg’s homespun skill ignites a rivalry between him and the physician. Over time this rivalry plays out into a tragedy. Lady Joan’s husband, the earl of Ormond will be accidentally poisoned by the physician’s emetic. And when his medicine fails the earl agrees to surgery. His surgeon may be reputed a cut above the rest but James Butler still dies of septic shock under his knife.
Before these two exemplars of medicine are dead and buried they’ll have bled and buried many more of their patients. But early graves are a commonplace of Tudor times….
Kate Somers’s pride in her daughter swells in the telling and the re-telling of the tale of Barnaby’s recovery. The village being the village and gossip being gossip it’s not long before there are whisperings about Meg’s magic craft being honed on St Michael’s Mount.
Meg’s cold shouldered by the entire village. Kate at the end of her tether and beyond hope for her daughter bursts in upon Lady Joan who’s supervising the packing for the Butler family’s return to London…
‘Well let those fools suffer for their stupidities. Mistress Kate, I’ll take your daughter in my household train. I’ve good use for her skill and I’ll see her liveried and gentle-made for her trouble.’
This is how Meg is brought into service with the Ormond. She’s a servant in the countess’s household.
At the end of the summer in her fine wool dress and cream linen apron and smart cap…she travels with the Butler family back to London. She lives with the earl and countess in the grand house they’ve leased from the Bishop of Ely – in Ely Place on the edge of the city. It’s pretty there in late spring when buttercups, daisies, red campion and clover dot the meadow land by the Holborn….
The Butler London residence is conveniently near to the court at Whitehall. The earl and countess are often commanded there…favourites of sorts with King Henry. Immobile, the old king spends much of his time in Whitehall is these last years of his reign.
His immobility is a consequence of untreatable suppurating and cross infected sores on both of his legs – aggravated by gargantuan obesity. The one, as it were, feeding off the other. He knows nothing of Meg’s skill; Meg knows even less of the king’s complaints, though she’s complaints of her own about the king and his doings.
Wisely, she keeps her opinions to herself….
It’s in service that Meg learns that Barnaby is Fitzpatrick and first cousin to the Butler and Tomas, the elder, is the Lady Joan’s son and heir to Ortmond. Both boys travel in Prince Edward’s household train to his castle in Ludlow. The two young men are apparently being educated with the king. This privilege makes the Butler family much favoured in London society…
These absences of Tomas and Barnaby disappoint Meg. She’s developed something of a crush on Barnaby….
Very occasionally the earl and countess together with Barnaby and Tomas return to Ireland. Then they usually stay in Kilkenny Castle. Meg travels in their train. She hates Ireland. It’s wet, and dull…her opinion is shared by the earl. Their visits are kept mercifully short. James Butler is a lifelong anglophile; co-religionist of the English king he believes the Irish backward. James Ormond has patience for little – least of all his stubborn countrymen…
Carrick on Suir – 1583
‘There’s fine fishing here McBride. There was a giant salmon taken here when I was a boy.’
‘An Eden for fish then and now…sure there’s a still a teaming glut when the salmon rise.’
‘Not a miracle then to catch one.’
‘No, not at all a miracle to catch one…but to catch one yonder in the gully…with yer hands… and from that boat…that’s entirely another matter, so. It’s what happened this morning at first light and no word of a lie, sir, it’s a giant of a fish sure it is and that’s no tale at all I’m telling to your honour.’
The shorter of the two men gestures towards the point where a stream on the far side joins the river.
He’s dressed in dark blue; his manner is deferential.
The stream opposite is thick with tall reeds. Dead leaves, dried to gold and glistering in the sun, interlace the reeds green shafts – the last of autumn’s ‘fallen’. The stream’s banks, on either side, are over-run with wild grasses and bushes of flowering thorn and gorse – some taller than men. It might be a gulley since silver birches in early leaf appear almost to have taken root in the stream’s bed. The tangled glut tames the waters flow. A small boat bobs where the rivulet’s waters trickle into the river’s faster moving current. The boat is empty but for two oars.
Opposite there’s another boat with oars tied to a tree stump. By it both men stand on the edge of bank, looking across the river, straining to see inside the boat opposite. The taller of the two tries on tip-toe…His failure obviously frustrates him.
‘Shall I row you over sir…to see it for yerself?’
‘No need…I’ll wait for it to be brought to me.’
The river is aquamarine. Yet, beneath the crystal waters the pebbles of the river bed can easily be seen. There are mercurial flashes as the quick-silver scales of fish reflect the morning light. It’s barely eight.
‘Thirty five pounds at least you say.’
‘They so say, your honour – not an ounce less than thirty five they says. It’s maybe the biggest fish that’s been caught by hand and speared by knife for many a season your honour. It’s a fine fish alright…and I’ll swear it’ll fair grace yer table tonight… and be talk of the table, no mistaking…’
‘We’ll need no swearing at table from you McBride.’
Silence…their eyes follow the dancing patterns of sunlight on the rippling river.
‘It’s in the boat over yon?’
‘They’ll be rowing across shortly, sir.’
‘Well we’ll weigh for ourselves and with our own eyes the truth of their bragging.’
They both laugh easily – the man dressed in blue taking his leave to laugh from the other.
It’s a scene that might be played at any time on any river between any two anglers.
These two are neither anglers nor equals.
One is six feet tall and has black curly hair speckled now with grey and white hairs. From a distance he might be but thirty but closer you’d quickly see him for what in these times would be late middle age.
As it’s the year of grace 1583 the times are Tudor.
It’s late May.
The man is fifty, still slim, perhaps his shoulders are a little rounded – and stomach too. This the quilting of the doublet disguises; in doublet and hose he’s gangly rather than a trim buccaneer. He’s dressed in black. The unbuttoned black damask doublet is trimmed with gold braid. The black damask hose is slashed with black velvet. His stockings are as black as his lawn shirt is white. The shirt isn’t fully tied. He’s slim built. As with many tall men, he has the appearance of being slightly round-shouldered when he stoops to speak – as he does to McBride.
Behind them is a grand stone-faced house. It’s new and clearly a recent outgrowth from a square grey stone castle hid behind. The castle’s late Norman tower towers over house and all.
A number of blue liveried men appear from around the side of the house. Some of these carry underarm large flat open woven baskets. As they do so – hollering and shouting and waving arms – two men emerge from the reeds on the opposite side and clamber into the boat. They’re slightly unsteady. They balance themselves before gingerly sitting. They use the oars to push off into the river. At first the boat drifts uncertainly…until the oarsmen hit their rhythm…then they easily row it across the river.
They’re also dressed in the same dark blue livery. As they reach the near bank one of the men excitedly jumps from the boat.
‘Here it is your lordship.’
He wades ashore pulling the boat. He uses his oar as a pike on the bank. McBride pulls him up. The other oarsman uses his oar to steady the boat. He throws a rope to his mate. Somehow they secure it to a tree stump on the bank while simultaneously sprinkling McBride and the grandee in his black doublet with water from the oars. The grandee wipes his face with a linen kerchief pulled from his doublet. McBride uses his sleeve. They’re all shouting, pointing and laughing in the excitement.
All of them can clearly see the fish.
It’s no exaggeration. There’s at least forty, maybe forty five pounds of bright eyed pink fleshed salmon lying in the bottom of the boat. A dagger is sticks out from below its gills. Its mouth is open. It’s still. Blood spatters its silver scales. Its struggle for life is ended. It lies in a pool of its own blood. In death its unseeing eyes stare with vacant boldness upon this prince of men. The king of fish looks upon the honour of Tomas, earl of Ormond, count of the palatinate of Tipperary. The earl stares back at his dead fish. It was his whilst it lived. It’s certainly his in death.
It’s his trophy. He mayn’t have made the kill but he owns it as surely as he owns everything hereabouts.
‘Excellent fine, Master McBride’
The earl claps McBride’s shoulder: the servants from the kitchen lift the salmon on to the largest of the flat baskets. They put two others underneath to strengthen it.
It’s laid at Ormond’s feet. He laughs. They applaud. Then one of the servants pulls the dagger from the fish. Ormond hands his dagger – with its finely gilded haft – to McBride. He hands it to the same servant who inserts it in place. Now even the kill is his.
It will be served like this with his dagger in its place to general applause in the hall. That’s yet to come for both fish and earl.
His household men applaud him once again. He waves the fish and his servants easily from him.
This is noblesse oblige as practiced by Tomas Dubh Butler and as practiced by his father before him and his father before that.
It is the way of things.
A grey horse rides into the far side of the park. Horse and rider can be seen from the river. They’re followed by two outriders post-haste. McBride and the earl know they’re not of the house.
The Ormond have no greys in their stable. Greys are sold on or used out of sight in Ormond lands at Cahir, Clonmel or even by the archbishop’s household by the Rock of Cashel. The archbishop is Ormond’s cousin. He rides to hunt as any nobleman – although protocol dictates a bishop must ride an ass in his ecclesiastical estate. And though an English king’s many matrimonials have made asses enough of the clergy, the income of the Cashel diocese is still worth this symbolic indignity.
The approaching riders will bring news…perhaps from the west and the Geraldine Desmond sometime rivals of the Ormond…perhaps from the east and Dublin castle and the lord deputy…perhaps even from the court of the English queen herself…who knows?
Tomas sets back to his house. As he does several men appear, better dressed than the household servants in their plain plunket jerkins, these own dark blue worsted doublets slashed with pale blue watchet. They’re gentlemen ushers who serve above stairs in the chamber and private apartments. They’ve been alerted. They’re sent to fetch their noble lord.
The riders’ approach was seen from the castle’s tower. But whisper of their coming had reached the steward’s ear long before they rode into Ormond lands to the east. They come from Dublin. That’s already known. From whom they come and why they come is as yet unknown.
That’s why Tomas is already finely dressed for audience.
Here at Carrick none enter into the Ormond lands without notice.
Hereabouts the earl grants permissions. He holds court. He gives audience. Hereabouts Tomas Ormond rules as any prince or king. The Butler family own much and govern most of Munster. They govern where the English crown only lays claim to sovereignty. It’s rich Munster, on the ‘Wild West’ edge of their kingdoms that’s the jewel and thorn in the crown of Tudor Ireland.
By the river at Carrick-on-Suir, Tomas has built this fine house in the modern style. It looks much like Burton Agnes or perhaps Montacute…grander by far than Holyrood House – home to the Scottish king – Ormond’s distant Stewart cousin. It’s built on the same scale as all the petty palaces of the great European nobility. It mimics their tastes, style and possesses all the common architectural trappings of the period. Everywhere, in plaster and carved wood the emblems, heraldic devices and titles of Ormond are displayed. This house is fit for royalty.
It was built to be fit for a royal bride…
The riders will be received at the gatehouse. Identified by their livery or dress, the seals of their papers will be formally displayed. Only then may they dismount. Once dismounted and having first ceremonially offered up their arms they’ll be led into the castle and through a series of rooms by grooms and ushers until they reach the door of the great chamber. It’s guarded by four Irish guards, all in Irish plaid – two with pike and two with halberd. Here they must for the present part with sword and dagger.
The leader of the group is youngish man of about twenty five or thirty. Fair skinned, fair haired and blue eyed, he looks ten years younger. He’s dressed, as are his companions, in grey worsted slashed with a fine pink woollen fabric. They look exotic. It’s expensive livery. It causes comment in the house.
From the window in his privy closet Tomas stares across the park that leads down to the river. The parkland’s grass is kept neat by grazing sheep and goats: none dare to graze when the Butler reside. On the left-hand side there are the makings of a fine Italian garden. This is one of the countess’s contributions to the design of their grand new home. The yew and box hedge are not yet quite established and the herbs and flowers aren’t grown to fill the gaps in the geometric plan of the beds. But there‘s enough already to impress.
He sits on his closed stool. He farts. No one notices. He’s not alone even now he has one groom by the door and the other behind his closed stool. He’s not using it – it’s his toilet – but its velvet plush lid is comfortable to sit on…easier on the bum than the hard wooden seat of his oak chair. He’s thinking…The fish has stirred up memories of another river scene…of another time…when the world was young and he was young in that young world. It was a time of hopeful dreams, of youthful laughter and of easy love. He smiles…
….How old was he then…barely eighteen…God how long ago that now feels…
Wardo was what, only twelve, perhaps thirteen; Patty maybe fifteen; and Robin also eighteen? The four of them had always been close – they shared more than a schoolroom; they’d shared their lives; they’d grown up together; they’d become close as brothers….
They’d been fishing.
In his mind’s eye he sees them playing at being fishermen. The memory is so alive he almost hears their shouts of excitement. Was it Wardo’s or Patty’s rod that suddenly bent and whisked away…? Wardo had run after it; got his hand to it; it jerked clean into the river. He’d chased after it into the water, splashing happily, trying to hold the rod and land the fish. Losing the struggle Wardo was pulled from the shallows of the bank….
Without thought all those watching…including Tomas..tore off their doublets and jumped into the river.
By then Wardo had disappeared.
Tomas shudders with horror at his vivid recollection. What if Wardo had drowned?
Wardo hadn’t drowned….he’d arranged the whole thing with his groom Fowler. Fowler was thick with the Lord Admiral’s men…as it turned out it was they who’d been on the far side of the river.
The boys had half-noticed five or so men, dressed as priests digging and hoeing. They paid them no heed. They did not see them strip and slip into the river. It was no fish that pulled the rod.
Two of these men safely had carried Wardo off…and only when the others were drenched, swimming in the Thames, had Wardo shouted and waved triumphantly from the banks on the far side.
Patty was struggling…he’d not taken off his doublet before jumping into the river after the king. How could he know it was practical joke? His clothes dragged him under water.
Patty‘d have died if it hadn’t been for Tomas. Tomas pulled him up and somehow got him to the bank….where there were plenty of household servants on the bank to pull him out….
Ever since, Tomas Butler has had a particular distaste for practical jokes – one outstripped only by his contempt for the pranksters who play them….
They’d rowed Wardo back in triumph. The king was thrilled at fooling everyone. He was high spirited… laughing. His moment in the sun wasn’t to be gainsaid by Patty’s death. Edward Tudor was indifferent; he wasn’t bothered whether Patty lived or died; all he wanted was the prize-money from Fowler
‘I told you the Admiral knows nothing of how surely I can gull all about me. Fowler I will have my prize. Give me gold as my uncle promised…’
Wardo laughed; the household servants also laughed; they applauded the king… just as Tomas had earlier been applauded…just deserts…Tomas shudders at the comparison…
The intense memory of Wardo’s coldness floods his consciousness…King Edward’s arrogance…was unnatural…or was it? Was it rather a poor reflection of the realities of the disordered world over which nobility presides?
For the purposes of easy conscience Tomas shrugs this aside. He’s no political philosopher. He rather reacts to the situations instinctively – as he did then all those years back. Yet…he feels what he then felt…that the chivalry of princes wasn’t all it appeared to be.
Patty of all of them was closest to Wardo. This repayment wasn’t brotherly; not right; not how friends should be towards one another. Tomas knew from then that he little understood Wardo; and as importantly that Wardo deliberately had chosen not to be known….Edward’s camaraderie was shadow play…
Uncomfortable…his mind abandons the memory…. after all….whatever Wardo wanted…felt…had….in the long run….made no difference…
Patty had stopped breathing. It was Gates who saved him.
Tomas cannot quite remember why Gates was there, Gates…Sir John Gates always seemed in those days to be everywhere…the ever present eyes and ears of others offstage…Gates dramatically had jumped off his horse; got Patty on his back; thumped him with his fist… so hard…Tomas flinches at the thought…Gates might have killed him with the blow…
Patty coughed up the river water from his lungs; he started to breathe.
Oddly, Tomas sees how Patty looked at Gates. Now, he suddenly understands the meaning hidden behind that look….a glancing look Gates brazenly returned…
If he saw that then how come it’s only now he’s noticed its significance? Tomas feels so…stupid, blind….this was when Patty…Tomas doesn’t wish to think about this anymore…it’s too disgusting, too upsetting…unnatural…
How can something be part of nature and of the nature of those he’s known and loved….and be unnatural?
Poor Patty…Tomas wishes they’d not argued…and not above all things over religion…sex maybe…but not God…
Tomas shakes his head….
All this bought back to mind by a dead fish with a dagger in its throat…
Tomas looks up at the tapestry that almost covers three walls of the closet. It’s of the assassination of Julius Caesar. He smiles. Wardo’s favourite amongst the Roman Emperors…
‘I shall rule like mighty Caesar.’
…Wardo never amounted to his boast…he hardly had the time…Tomas mutters
‘Tu quoque, Brute, fili mi’
In his mind’s eye he sees their schoolroom at Windsor…old Richard Cox sermonising. …Yes it was Windsor where the incident took place. He should have remembered that before…it wasn’t Wardo’s favourite palace. Then there was that odd looking fellow from the college over the river…what was his name…Udall…how could he forget him? ‘Old Nick’ they called him… back to beatings and buggery…
Tomas laughs aloud…his grooms look startled. He notices. He ignores their reaction, reassured by the sudden completeness of his recollection….these days elusive memories often intrude into his day…like daydreams of adventure once saturated the dull schooldays of his lost youth.
His days sure are quiet now; quiet by the quiet Suir…far away from England…far from her troubles, removed from struggles at court, separated from the excitement of intrigue…and divorced from the pain of love.
Tomas winces…he’s often promised himself not to think about… her…But she’s eternally in his mind; always hiding in his thoughts; always ready to spring upon him when he least expects it…like in those silly games of hide and seek they’d played together in the knot garden of Queen Catherine’s house in Chelsea…and later…in the walled gardens of Sudeley Castle…the Lord Admiral’s house in Gloucestershire…Hide and seek…they led to him seeking more…she knew what she did to him…he loved…he lost…or has he really lost?
An hour has passed….
Tomas is seated on a great oak chair draped with fancy cloth that covers a bolt of wool on the wooden seat. The earl’s arrived in the great chamber before the messengers. Seated at the far end the messengers have entered the great chamber and slowly walked its intimidating length. They’ve bowed to him three times and the fair haired one has handed him a letter.
It is that which he reads:
“Right noble cousin, salve, I greet you right well and thank you for your pains in my conveyance from my prison. I know and understand your lordship’s noble heart and never doubted that you would come to my assist even though it placed your noble person in the displeasure of the lord deputy and of her majesty’s privy council. I rest here in my house in Dublin, with my own, hid, from the public gaze. I cannot flee any further. I write this with heavy heart for I fear most certain for my life. I’m poisoned by the waters in the castle and I fear the sickness will shortly take me from this world to another place. And though cousin you and I did disagree between us on this matter of religion as we are kin and cousins close of blood I beg your noble heart to forgive me any wrongs I may have done your lordship and let this letter now put to rights those wrongs that remain between us still. I never doubted in your honest love for me and I remain true brother and friend to your lordship. I have dictated this to a gentle servant close to mine own estate and he shall give your lordship further account of matters. Truest of the true, Barnaby Fitzpatrick, of Ossory once baron.”
Tomas looks at the young groom…he cannot be much more than his early twenties. His white blonde hair and blue eyes…remind him more of his Butler kin more than the Irish. Kin indeed…Tomas considers how close he might be to Barnaby and why…the thought displeases him. He’s peremptory with the youth
‘This ain’t of his lordship’s hand.’
‘I wrote this for my lord as he spoke it from his bed.’
‘You can write in this clerks’ hand? Were ye with the monks to learn to write so?’
‘My mother taught me the writing your lordship…’
‘Your mother…was she a nun?’
‘My mother was a maid to the Lady of Upper Ossory’
‘A maid you say….no grace to you if she weren’t…so ye wrote this?’
‘I write my lord but only the words I was commanded to put down’
‘So ye say.’
‘So I say my lord…as my master commanded me to say to you. He also bade me to give you this which he wrote with his own hand.’
‘Indeed gave to you, you say?’
‘This is it sealed and seal unbroken as your lordship shall see.’
The groom bows and hands a second folded letter to Tomas. He takes the paper and breaks the seal with his thumb and opens it. This is certainly Barnaby Fitzpatrick’s hand. He’s signed the letter at the beginning and at the end. Tomas looks at the groom. He says nothing. The young man annoys him with his steady gaze and steadier composure. He’s also reluctantly impressed by him.
“Cousin and most dear Tomas, as I give you my farewell I pray two courtesies of you. I ask you shall ensure my daughter Margaret Mary marries in your house and keeps by that knot the interests that have bound our houses by our knot of friendship and by which we’ve long been bound since our boyhoods past. Pray also use this favourite groom of mine as he’ll no longer have place in my old home where jealousies will see him put out and as God shall witness he’s honest and he’s served me well whilst in my good estate and yet kindly ministered to me in my prison days. He’s a fine voice, my lord, and sings soulful songs of Ireland which I know will please ye. Do this for me and betwixt us let there be peace. Most heartily I wish and pray to see you cousin in heaven no matter what differences of faith there are between us. We’ve been compatriots, close kin and family, before this tussle over worship. Let that kinship and friendship trump all else between us. I can’t write more beyond saying, vale, from Patty, your truest cousin and kinsman.”
Tomas looks suspiciously at the groom who stands head bowed before him.
‘What do you know of this letter, knave?’
The groom looks up. There are tears in his eyes.
‘My master bade me give ye this my lord once you had read his letter.’
The groom turns to one of his assistants. He motions with his hand. The other hands him a cloth parcel, in which it appears, something‘s been wrapped. The groom takes it and proffers it to Tomas. The earl refuses to take it and signals to one of his gentlemen. He undoes the cloth parcel. Inside there is a muslin shirt with lace trim and fine double lace stitched collar. The collar is torn. The groom places on a sideboard, on which three silver ewers and a round silver plate are displayed.
‘That…how’s he that?’
Tomas is frozen in instant recognition and memory. He must not let himself drop his guard before strangers.
‘Tell you master…’
‘That I cannot my lord…’
‘Don’t venture cannot….’
‘My lord, I misspoke…my master is dead and I and these here with me are masterless men. Lord Barnaby died three days ago.’
‘Dead you say…? Then may he rest in peace…’
He rereads the second letter
‘Ossory says you sing.’
‘I do my lord.’
‘Can ye sing the old requiem?’
‘I can my lord.’
‘Well said. Sing it then this evening in my chapel. Let us mourn you master in the way he loved though I’ll not give his religion place in my house.’
‘Yes, my lord.’
‘See them fed and dress them for place here.’
The grooms look from one to another with surly disapproval. Tomas stands.
‘Mark ye masters treat them well for my cousin’s men are right close to me.’
He turns Barnaby’s men. He looks them up and down. He speaks without consideration and against his better judgment
‘Will ye wear my livery?’
‘We will my lord and serve your lordship as you will.’
‘We all worship in the queen’s religion here…you understand?’
The three messengers nod their assents.
‘I’ll see ye hanged if you dare to breach my command.’
They bow to Tomas and he nods. They’re dismissed. As he watches them leave the great chamber he regrets his impulsive generosity. He looks after them scratching his beard.
‘Keep them under closest watch.’
He nods to his grooms who smile. They’ve their own interests and ambitions to serve. The strangers will find a cold welcome in the steward’s hall. Tomas knows this. He little cares. He does what custom demands. They’ll fend for themselves as the steward sees fit after the requiem is sung. He little thought he’d ever let that nonsense inside his chapel again. But Patty made good the breach with good words. He’d honour him as any would a comrade and a friend. They’d both been friends and saved each other’s lives on more than one occasion.
‘Requiescat in pacem. Amen’
All say ‘Amen’ as the earl leaves the chamber. His body-servants scurry after him…timorous as well fed mice.
‘Yes your lordship…’
‘Up now, I cannot sleep. Fetch me a cup of wine.’
‘Shall I warm it my lord?’
‘I’ll drink it as it is’
His groom fetches the wine and hands it Tomas.
‘Sing, Sean…something of Ireland.’
The earl drinks from his silver goblet.
The groom fetches a bandore. He stands by the fireside and starts to sing madrigal in a reedy tenor voice. His voice is not exactly beautiful, rather haunting and soulful.
They’re alone in the bedchamber.
Ormond isn’t in the carved four-poster with its red damask drapes and elaborate bolster. He’s sitting on the sill of the window looking out over the fields that are shadowed by cloudy night. Occasionally in flashes of milky moonlight rabbits can be seen darting over the grass parkland.
Although it’s high summer, late July, it’s damp enough for him to still feel the need to wear a full length bottle green gown with fur trim. Underneath he has on a nightshirt. Sean sleeps in the cot at the end of the earl’s bed…except when Tomas entertains…then he waits outside…to conduct his lady safely out into the great chamber. When the earl beds with his wife he goes to her rooms by the privy stairs behind the tapestry that hangs behind his bed. It covers the small door that’s been cut into the panelling.
Song done, Tomas holds up his hand. He wants to talk…he doesn’t need to speak, Sean knows him well enough to understand these non verbal communications. Like smiles and winks and nods he knows the earl’s mind – as Tomas puts it ‘better than I know it myself.’
‘You miss Lord Barnaby?’
‘I’d lie, sir, to pretend I didn’t.’
‘There’s no need for us two to lie…Sean.’
Tomas smiles; he knows the whispers about his house; they’re product of petty jealousies. It’s the duty of a great noble to know what’s being said; by whom it’s said…and why….
‘I too think of Lord Barnaby…we’d grown apart… but his death or maybe it’s my age…it’s brought back the past… you see…we had such times. I tell ye…times you’d not believe. I scarce believe them true myself.’
‘I’d believe anything of Lord Barnaby, sir…How can I put it? Lord Fitzpatrick had the gift for life and for its living…He’d great soul…not that yours isn’t great too sir…greater I’d say…as duty says I must…’
Tomas laughs easily…
The earl opens up with Sean…trusts him like no other…they joke with each other. Sean is dumb to all others; deaf to their entreaties. He’s Tomas’s man and his alone. That’s a rare quality in a servant…and one to be rewarded.
‘I’d like to hear of Lord Barnaby…and of you, sir…if you will…He often spoke of you and the falling out with the Admiral and Protector. He said it was how he saved your life…’
‘Did he by Jove?’
‘I saved his skin more times than he mine… more than once too…more than once… as I remember…You know that shirt you brought to me…’
‘The shirt… you remember the shirt. Why did you bring it to me?’
Sean’s silence reveals he knows more than his office might imply…
‘My lord, he…I can’t put this into my words…he told me where it was and that if I brought it to you …he said you’d understand…he said he’d…he said…something of it being not right. He was delirious but well…oddly insistent. I did not know ye sir… what was I to know? I knew it must mean something and knowing my master’s nature what… other might I have thought?’
‘You thought that?’
They both laugh suddenly at its preposterousness. Then they are both sobered by the integrity of Patty’s final remembrance…..
‘I could think no other as he spoke so often of you, and…so fair…as one for whom he who cared…loved…maybe just longed…’
Tomas shakes his head
‘I beat a servant for thieving of that favourite shirt of mine. Patty begged me not to…he said I could not know it was stolen…afterwards he did not speak to me for three days. I was ashamed for the injustice I’d done without proof. I was a petty tyrant, spoiled in those days… I thought Patty was shamed for me…you see he must have taken the damn shirt…. I think I know when and perhaps I understood why…perhaps I even suspected then and was angry with him… I wanted him to know I did not like this in him…what fool I was…he never did harm where he loved. He was always too honest…It wasn’t long after the night we were rescued…by Gates…
‘By gates my lord, I don’t follow you were rescued by which gates?’
Sean’s puzzled expression makes Tomas realise he’s not followed…not understood…he starts to laugh again
‘Rescued by Sir John Gates… you dolt… not gates…yes we were rescued from the Admiral’s house in the nick of time…’
‘Sir John Gates…the traitor…?’
‘Get yourself some wine Sean… and bring some more… I’ll explain to ye…all in all as best I can…then you will see.
Both men are drinking from goblets. Tomas is still sitting by the window, looking over night’s shadow-land. This time Sean has warmed the wine with the hot poker and the aromatic smell of herbs and spices hangs in the air. It makes Tomas sneeze. Sean on the floor, legs crossed, like some giant elf.
It makes Tomas smile when he looks at him. A few years back he could still sit like that and effortlessly stand afterwards….
‘You see we’d grown up so close. We all of us thought it’d always be the same. I was very much… well we all were young …still more boys than men…Still we thought of ourselves as men…Men, hardly knowing anything of the real world…probably knowing less of it than you Sean…God only knows that you’re still young enough…by heaven what fools the young are.’
He sets aside the goblet.
‘I didn’t care to think of myself in those terms especially after my father had been killed….I felt that made me grown up. ’
‘Killed…you mean your father was murdered… or died in battle?’
Tomas shakes his head
‘Well if it was murder it was at the hands of his physician and if it was in battle he was fighting with the surgeon’s knife…not heroic I’m afraid. But it left me prematurely earl of Ormond…the interesting stuff started after that for us…there really were the four of us you see, Edward, who was about to be king, me and Barnaby your master…we called him Patty and the king was from Ludlow days called amongst us Wardo…I was Tom naturally enough and there was Robert…one of the Dudley boys…Robin always to all who knew him…’
‘You mean the famous earl of Leicester?’
Sean looks intent…wrapped…Tomas continues in a low voice….
‘You see King Henry’s death had been a long time coming. It turned the world upside down…..’
Brothers and brotherly Love
January 1547 to June 1549
…King Henry’s death is a long time coming. It turns the world upside down….Yet, like all the momentous events of Henry VII’s life, his death isn’t accomplished without blood…
When Wardo, Tom, Patty and Robin Dudley return to Whitehall for Christmas, the court is full of talk of Thomas Howard, duke Norfolk and his son, Henry Howard, earl of Surrey…both are already in the Tower.
‘Why it makes no sense…’
Edward laughs at Patty’s innocent comment.
‘He’d quartered his mother’s arms with his…without permission.’
‘It’s a pretext.’
Edward looks at Tomas. He smiles thinly…
‘Oh yes, a pretext but my father will make it serve…’
They’re all silent. They know what Edward means.
Henry Howard is bold, flashy and a lot a fun. The boys all like him. He’s engaging, difficult not to like. But Henry Howard’s hot-headed provocations have caused comment at court and difficulties for his father the duke of Norfolk before now…Riots in the city, swaggering about city taverns, loutishness, swordfights in the streets, eating in Lent, carousing with Thomas Wyatt and others… all the typical attention-seeking misdemeanours of a spoilt, bored young nobleman…
Surrey and his friends had redeemed themselves by cutting a dash in the war with France and at the siege at Boulogne. But the quartering of his mother’s Plantagenet lineage on his coat of arms is a more dangerous provocation entirely.
Henry VIII has kept the Tudor rose pre-eminent by clearing the bed of the English succession of any Plantagenet undergrowth. This very same Plantagenet descent has already done for the duke of Buckingham and the countess of Salisbury. The king isn’t too fussed over niceties…the Tudors are ruthless cutthroats: brutally effective; often unjust; artful masters of lawful murder…
‘They say the duke’s attainted too…’
Edward gets up and walks over to his bedchamber. He looks at his three friends squeezed together on the settle. He claps his hands
‘I suppose there’ll be no more school then….’
Tomas shakes his head
‘You wish…all this has nothing to do with us….there’ll be school you’ll see.’
Edward leaves them without further comment. He’s right there’s no more school. The court is rotten with intrigue; the king too sick to leave his bed. If King Henry’s too ill to play Christmas games – a nod of his head can still execute a death warrant.
The Howard family are tried and found guilty of treason. Then comes the snow; then twelfth night; then Christmas is over for another year. Epiphany is marked by a brutal manifestation of royal justice.
Henry Howard, earl of Surrey gracefully takes his fourteen steps to the block. Surrey blazons life’s final sonnet with his blood. The poet of sweet Geraldine Garret parts from her and from his head with two strokes of the axe.
Tomas is sent to the Tower Hill to watch the final curtain rung down on Howard ambition. It’s his first public execution….
‘What was it like?’
Edward’s interest is intellectual.
‘I couldn’t watch after the first stroke…’
‘It took how many…?’
Tomas doesn’t answer.
‘That’s tasteless Patty…’
‘I hear it was five…’
‘Robin that’s silly gossip…And I was sad to see him die.’
Patty speaks in a hoarse whisper…protectively…
‘Don’t say that… it’s dangerous…’
Edward coolly to Tomas
‘Try and watch the old man…I’m curious to know more…all of it…how it looks…’
‘When will it be?’
Robin asks the question
‘A few days no more….anyone want to play chess?’
Patty and Edward play a game while Tomas and Robin roast chestnuts….
But the days pass: the old duke doesn’t walk up to Tower Hill. He doesn’t follow his son headless into paradise. Instead time runs out for the tottering colossus…King Henry VIII of terrible majesty is dying… like any other man….
Others watching over the death-watch coldly prepare for a future that doesn’t include King Henry VIII.
In his name they’re executing…a coup d’état…
At last the king is dead…the conspirators hold off for a few days pretending he’s yet alive…. Sewers and grooms carry vast meals to and from the king’s bedchamber accompanied by golden fanfares. Those bearing the meals later bear the truth into Edward’s privy apartments.
‘Are you sure he’s dead?’
‘Sure, sir, I’m sure. The smell is terrible.’
Tomas considers the young groom.
‘I tell you the truth. The old man lies in that bed and he must be’
The groom’s voice drops
‘Rotting like a sow…Although we was sworn by Lord Seymour to say not a word…but I thought…the prince, his majesty…should know.’
Edward is over by the casement. He dismisses the groom apparently unconcerned.
‘It’s no more than gossip. They’d never dare keep the truth from me…’
Tomas gives the groom a couple of coins. Once he’s left he shrugs
‘Well it’s probably as you say…’
He bows and whispers
‘Don’t do that…it’s not funny…’
‘We could go look for ourselves…we can use the queen’s gallery…and the door behind…’
‘Now that’s a good idea….’
The four of them are inside the room. They’re horrified. The room is in darkness. There’s not even a candle lit by King Henry’s bed. The dead king’s bloated corpse lies in the putrid stench of its monstrous decay…. A rat runs over Tomas’ foot. He jumps. Barnaby vomits.
Afterwards none of them speak…Edward had deliberately hung back…he didn’t get close enough to see his father’s face.
Now he stares into the fire in his chamber. He holds his hands out to warm them. Finally he turns to his friends. His expression is solemn
‘Things will never the…the same…’
‘Oh, Wardo, it will you’ll see…it’ll be better than ever…you and me and Tom and Robin…we’ll have such a time…’
Tomas shakes his head and puts his fingers to his lips. Robin giggles…
‘What will my father say….if he knew I knew?’
Edward is peremptory
‘None shall speak. No one must know what ye three know…Tomas I rely on you to make sure…everyone sleeps here tonight…until…’
That’s it…no one says another word. But those few words inaugurate a new order.
It is three more days before King Edward is publically proclaimed at court. By then the Privy Council has been to the new king’s chambers in a solemn procession together with King Henry’s last wife Queen Catherine Parr. The queen wears violet and black. The councillors wear black and gold with weeds tied about their arms.
There’s much scraping and bowing to the king but they tell him what’s been decided. Edward listens impassively. The boy’s cold grey eyes consider these black clad grandees…all old men… it’s they who seem to govern his future. He can already see they say they serve him but seek to serve themselves. Their new king is silent; they take silence for consent; they see him as a silent partner
While others of the council talk of that and this and ask the king to sign warrants for this and that, two brothers, uncles to the young king, stand slightly aloof witnessing the proceedings.
‘Your majesty…your uncle will be made Lord Protector by this warrant.’
Edward signs the paper. It’s Sir William Paget who’s speaking
‘And will my other uncle be my Governor?’
Edward’s innocent enquiry strikes to the heart of the divisions that have already derailed the smooth progress of the coup.
‘Your uncle will be both Lord Protector and Lord Governor…by your father’s design…’
‘My father’s design…’
‘By his will…’
‘Yes your father’s will appointed a council of regents and made your uncle its head as Lord Protector and Governor of your majesty’s person…he also gave title and honours to others of the council.’
‘Titles…in my name…how so…I’ve not been asked..?’
Paget again coughs.
‘It’s a little more complicated…your father wanted matters settled before he died. He was particular wasn’t he my lords…’
There are murmurs of agreement.
‘For example… see your uncle Edward is made Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector by your father and your uncle, Thomas, here, King Henry has made him Lord Admiral and Baron Seymour of Sudeley…for example…’
‘For whose example..?’
‘I’m sorry your majesty I know these things are difficult for a young mind to grasp.’
‘Oh grasping things, Sir William, I’m sure I can rely upon you all to grasp things in my name…’
The uncles intervene
‘It’s best perhaps we keep this a family occasion, my lords…’
‘Indeed my brother and I and the queen may perhaps better inform his majesty.’
The councillors leave…disgruntled to be so easily set aside by events. Sir William Paget fusses over the papers and gives bits and pieces to his clerk. He goes to seat himself on the settle.
‘Family matters…Master Secretary.’
Thomas Seymour speaks, Paget replies
‘My Lord Protector…will want me here.’
Edward Seymour looks at his protégé. He’s no further use for him…
‘No my brother and I and the queen can resolve this business.’
Paget is annoyed but manages a milky smile.
‘Will the king’s gentlemen come with me…please…gentlemen?’
‘They will not; they remain with me.’
Edward’s firm tone surprises everyone. Thomas Seymour looks at his nephew and smiles. The good duke smiles and shrugs
‘As your majesty wishes…’
‘Yes, as I wish…Uncle, why did you serve food to my dead father?’
Thomas Seymour and the queen laugh. She says
‘Your majesty is already well informed…’
She turns to the protector
‘It’s a good question Ned, why did you?’
They all laugh as if sharing some family secret. Paget leaves.