THE QUEEN’S LADY
by Barbara Kyle
Out With The Old, In With The New
Honor was still shaking snow from her hem when she entered the Queen’s suite at Greenwich and found several clerics lounging in the antechamber. Apparently part of a small delegation come to see the Queen, these assistants were taking their ease with some of her ladies-in-waiting, bantering over mulled wine and roasted chestnuts. The door to the Queen’s private chamber stood slightly ajar and male voices rumbled out. Inside, Catherine, moved past the crack of the opened door. She glimpsed Honor and tensely beckoned her.
Honor went in. Catherine threw her a fleeting smile and a nod to close the door behind her. “Some wine, my lords?” Catherine suggested with obvious relief at the diversion Honor had brought.
Honor dutifully crossed to the sideboard to pour wine. In the silence, flames from the hearth leapt and crackled as if feeding on the fuel of tension between the three people she had interrupted. They formed a triangle: the Queen at the window, Cardinal Campeggio near the door, and the obese Cardinal Wolsey facing the fire. Both men were swathed from cap to shoe in the scarlet satin that blazoned the might of the Church.
“Your Grace is unkind,” Campeggio protested to the Queen as if there had been no interruption in their talk. He shifted off his gouty foot, visibly in pain. “I am completely impartial in this sad business. My one goal has been to reconcile you and the King. To restore harmony. It is always the goal of the Church in such matters.”
“Reconciliation. Bah!” Cardinal Wolsey grunted from the hearth. He kept his huge red back turned on the room, and as Honor offered him the goblet he waved it away with such vehemence that she stepped backwards too quickly and spilled some wine onto the Turkish carpet. “Can you reconcile the lion and the hyena?” Wolsey scoffed.
Catherine’s lips twitched, but she said nothing.
Campeggio closed his eyes tightly as if to regain his composure. Honor could see from his gray face that two months of this English standoff had left him drained. He waited until Honor brought him wine, then gulped it down, and gave her back the goblet. “If, however, reconciliation is impossible,” he went on doggedly, “then why, Your Grace, will you not agree to take the veil? Surely your retirement to a convent is the course that offers a blessed comfort to all. The King promises that your life in seclusion will be as rich and joyful as at any court. In whatever convent you chose, you shall keep state like a Queen.”
“But not be a Queen,” Catherine said witheringly.
Campeggio sighed. “No.”
“And such a course would leave my lord free to marry again, would it not?” she asked.
Campeggio looked down.
“Am I not correct?” Catherine insisted. “That you have discretionary power to dissolve my earthly marriage in favor of a spiritual one in a nunnery?”
“There is a pious precedent,” Campeggio urged. “The Queen of Louis XII of France took the veil—“
“Yes, my lord Cardinal,” she cut him off bitterly. “So I have been told. Several times.”
For a few moments the only sound above the fire’s hiss was the click of the Queen’s rosary beads slipping through her fingers, one by one.
Wolsey stamped his foot on a cinder. “By all that’s holy,” he growled, “you would lose nothing but the person of the King, and that you have lost already.” The remark was all the more malicious for having been delivered to the fire, not to her face.
She addressed his back. “Have the courage to answer me at least. If I take the veil, would the Church consider my lord a widower?”
The monstrous bulk of Wolsey turned. He sneered, no longer even bothering to mask his contempt. “You know it to be so.”
“As well as I know my duty!” Catherine flared. “Duty to God, who brought me to the vocation of marriage. Duty to our daughter, whom I will not desert. And duty to my lord, who, I doubt not, will presently shake off the wicked snares and vain councilors that beset him, and see where his duty lies. You spoke of lions, my lord Cardinal. Take care the royal one you serve, who seems to sleep, does not awake to maul you.”
The folds of Wolsey’s chins trembled in fury beneath his waxy face. Campeggio hobbled into the corridor of combat between the two adversaries, so ill-matched in stature, though equals in resolution. “Please, my lord. Please, my lady. We must remain calm.” Wearily, he pinched the bridge of his nose. “Your Grace speaks of the Princess Mary. Now, we understand the strain on you in not having your daughter near—“
“In being mercilessly kept from her!” Catherine cried. “Cardinal Wolsey has forbidden me to see or contact her these many months. And,” she added, her voice almost cracking, “you speak right. It goes hard, indeed.”
“But, there!” Campeggio said brightly. “It is only a matter of agreeing to take the veil and you shall be reunited with your child. In making this slight sacrifice you would honor God, and honor the scruple of your conscience, too, without loss of any of your temporal goods or possessions, or those of your daughter. Take this offer, my lady, for your sake, and for hers.”
“The scruple of my conscience do you call it?” Catherine stared at him, incredulous. “The holy state of matrimony is the state God called me to. Is that so little a thing? Shall I blaspheme against the sacrament of marriage? Shall I call myself a whore? My daughter a bastard? Call my union with one of God’s anointed kings a sin that has defiled my honor – and his – for nineteen years? Endanger my very soul? Never! I long with all my mother’s heart to see my child again, but never will I bargain for it at the cost of my immortal soul.”
“I marvel at your obstinacy, Madame,” Wolsey sputtered. Campeggio, beaten, shuffled to a chair near Honor and slumped on its edge, apparently to ease the throbbing of his foot. Wolsey stalked to the center of the room with the breath wheezing out of him like wet moss squeezed underfoot. Honor instinctively backed up closer to the sideboard. She knew where Wolsey’s fury sprang from. All of Europe was watching him, England’s Chancellor, as this drama unfolded. His credibility with the King – his whole future perhaps – rested on securing the divorce. “You prate of the safety of your soul,” he said to the Queen, “but what of the safety of this realm if his Grace is thwarted in his rights? Without an heir, you abandon it to bloody civil strife. Are these such ‘little things’?”
“These things lie in God’s hands,” she said. “My soul’s safety lies in mine.” Straining for calm, she added tonelessly, in the manner of a catechism, “It is not necessary to be careful of many things, but only of the one thing needful.”
“And what of the safety of the King himself?” Wolsey cried. “Foul designs are afoot. Plots on the King’s very life. And be assured, madam, that if certain traitorous persons were to wreak their wicked plots, the blaming fingers would not fail to point your way.”
Catherine gasped, truly shocked. “My lord’s life is dearer to me than my own. I know nothing of such plots.”
“Do you not?” he said with menace in his eyes.
“If it’s murderers you seek,” she cried, “then look no further than Bishop Fisher’s door. That good man lies wracked on his bed, poisoned with soup from his own kitchen. Two of his household died of it – though, thank the Lord, the Bishop himself is out of danger now. Ask yourself, who would poison the one man of the Church who speaks up for my rights? Oh, I know his cook was blamed and boiled alive at Smithfield in his own kettle. But who forced the poor sinner’s hand to do the deed? For a murderer, look to those who would profit by destroying my only champion. Look to those who serve the house of Boleyn.”
“My lady! My lord!” Campeggio cried, his hands raised in despair at the pointless quarrel. Glowering, Wolsey held his tongue. Campeggio stood and smiled wanly at the Queen. “Your Grace, I see that your position is a lonely one. Would it not soothe your heart to see your loving daughter? It is easily arranged. Tell us only that your retirement to a convent is a possibility and she shall be brought to your side as fast as horse can carry her. To retire now is no more than dutiful obedience to the Church. Speak but the word, and let the Princess Mary come.”
Catherine had to turn her face away, and Honor saw that her heart was breaking.
Wolsey appeared to sense the change: a crumbling, a chink in the Queen’s defenses. “Accept this bargain,” he rumbled as if to ram home his advantage, “or be banished from henceforth.”
Honor’s hand flew to her mouth to stifle a gasp. Campeggio groaned. But Catherine did not flinch.
“And take this thought for council,” Wolsey plowed on. “Once banished from the court you will have no need of the large train you now enjoy, nor of your sumptuous household. These can, and will, be removed. But agree now, and you shall maintain all your state and dignity.”
Catherine was looking deep into Honor’s eyes, as if searching past their pitying warmth for an answer. She seemed to find it, for a small smile played on her lips. “My lord Cardinal, your threats of poverty hold no terror for me. I have been poor before, and friendless. I can live poor again.” She gazed through the open doors of her bedchamber to the candle-gilded prie-dieu by her bed. Her eyes lingered on its carved ivory image of exquisite suffering nailed to a silver cross. “Leave me this one maid,” she said with a nod to Honor, “and Dr de Athequa, my confessor, and I can live out my days happy in my duty to God.”
She turned to Campeggio. “My lord, I do wish to show myself an obedient daughter of the Church. I will live wherever my husband commands me. But in this one claim I shall not be shaken: I am the King’s legal wife. If I were to be torn limb from limb for saying so, and then rise again from the dead, I would die a second time in defense of this truth.”
“So be it!” Wolsey cried. “I have done!” He lumbered to the door and flung it open so that every wondering maid and cleric in the antechamber could hear him. He turned and pointed a bloated finger at the Queen.
“You have perverted many hearts,” he said, “and who knows what deeds men will stoop to perform for your desperate cause? The King’s Grace is not safe abiding near you. I am commanded by his Grace to tell you that he wishes no longer to be affronted by your presence.”
For a moment he seemed to feed on the shock in her face. His final words were cruel with softness. “You are henceforth banished from the King’s bed and board. And you are ordered to be gone this very night.”
* * *
Two days later Honor again crossed the antechamber of the Queen’s suite and came to the open doorway of the private chamber. The room buzzed with activity. Anne Boleyn’s friends strolled, or lounged near the blazing morning fire. Servants bustled in and out, forcing Honor to step to one side. Some were carrying away the last bundles of the Queen’s books and tapestries; some were struggling in under armloads of Anne’s things: gowns, bird cages, sheet music, jewel boxes, a spaniel puppy. Anne herself sat on a chair in the center of the room looking bored. Hans Holbein was sketching her at his easel.
A snowball splatted against the window casement. Anne sprang up and ran to the window and flung the shutter wide. A second snowball struck. Shrieking with laughter, she skipped backwards to dodge the flying fragments, then instantly dashed back. She leaned over the snow-drifted ledge to shout down at the knot of horsemen below.
“You missed, your Grace!” She scooped a wet clump of snow from the ledge, whacked it between her palms and, with a strong, practiced arm, pitched it down through the crystal air. She leaned out to watch its flight. “Winged him!” she cried, and hopped in place, clapping her hands like a child.
The King’s laughter boomed up from below, buttressed by a cheerful round of his hawking comrades’ comments. Then there was a thudding of horses’ hooves over earth, gradually diminishing to a soft shudder, and finally to silence.
Anne’s shoulders heaved in a happy sigh. She wiped her dripping hands on her skirt and turned back to the smiles of her friends. She winked at her brother, George, who was tuning the strings of his lute near a bright-cheeked young lady. Walking towards him, Anne made a small, funny pirouette in mid-stride that made George laugh out loud.
Holbein’s voice barked from his easel across the room. “Lady! Sit! Be still!”
The command was so brazen, so barefaced rude, that one of the gentleman almost choked on his wine, and several ladies giggled. Anne turned to the room with an acid smile. “Master Holbein’s highly individual use of the English language has a charm all its own,” she declared.
“Ah, but his paintings speak eloquently,” said George.
“If he ever gets to the painting,” Anne grumbled. “All this sitting – and just for a sketch.” She flounced back onto the chair and presented the artist with her grumpily knitted brows. “Satisfied, Master Holbein?” she said, peering around a maidservant who was staggering by with a large mirror. Anne raised her voice and spoke with exaggerated clarity as if communicating with someone almost deaf. “Holbein see? Lady sits!”
This brought laughter from the guests, but Holbein only frowned in oblivious concentration as his hand whispered across the pink paper with his black chalk.
George Boleyn began to play a ballad, and Anne finally noticed Honor standing in the doorway. Her smile evaporated. “Yes, Mistress Larke?” she asked.
“Surely the extra day has given you ample time for the removal of your mistress’s articles. What is it? Some trinket she’s forgotten?” Her hands flew up beside her face, mimicking a protestation of innocence. “Whatever it is, I swear it is unmolested! These ladies and gentlemen can vouch for me. I have not purloined any treasure of hers.”
Honor kept her face civil but her heart raged against Anne’s insolence. And all these preening camp followers too, she thought. Scavengers who’ve descended to share in the spoils. “Not something forgotten, my lady,” she said politely. “Rather, something offered. Her Grace bids me ask if there is anything of hers you would like kept behind for your pleasure.” Her eyes were fixed on Anne, but she sensed the dropping jaws and staring faces of the guests. George Boleyn’s fingers stilled on the lute strings.
“She bids me say you are welcome to anything,” Honor went on sweetly, “but she suggests, perhaps, the prie-dieu in the bedchamber? For your pious meditations? It is an exquisite work in silver and ivory crafted by a Spanish master. Though, of course, its commercial qualities will not be as important to you as its inestimable value as a channel to God.”
In the hushed room Honor gloried at the successful double thrust of the Queen’s parry; the offer not only displayed generosity, it sparkled with panache.
Anne recognized the ambush. Her eyes narrowed. “Tell your mistress,” she said, “that I have no need of her prie-dieu. I do my praying in church and chapel as most good Christians do. More praying seems excessive. It leaves one sallow-faced and peevish.” She picked irritably at gold filaments on her green brocade sleeve. “Well, don’t just stand there, Mistress Larke,” she almost spat, “come in. And take away the prie-dieu. I tell you, I have no need of it.”
Honor smiled. She signaled to two heavily booted menservants behind her with satchels of tools, and pointed them to the adjoining bedchamber. George Boleyn then broke the silence with a ballad. Soon, his clear baritone was cresting above the music of his lute. Chatter began to percolate among the guests. Wine flowed again, along with the laughter of flirtation. Anne accepted a goblet and listened to George’s song.
Everyone frostily ignored Honor, yet she knew she was caught in this hostile territory until her workmen had dismantled the prie-dieu. She looked at Holbein. He and his easel formed an island of stillness in the stream of bustle. She made her way toward the friendly ground. She had followed the moon-faced painter’s success with great pleasure ever since he had arrived on the Chelsea riverbank a year and half ago. Sir Thomas had immediately commissioned him to paint portraits of the family, then had shown them to the King, who was enthralled by the artist’s work. “Is there really such a marvel in England,” the King had cried, “and can he be had for money?” Now, Holbein could hardly keep up with the demand for portraits from the lords and ladies of the court.
Honor touched his elbow, gently so as not to disturb his hand. He frowned up at the interruption, then instantly brightened at the sight of her face.
“How goes the work, Hans?” she asked. She leaned to whisper in his ear. “Can silk be made of a sow’s ear after all?”
His eyes twinkled and his shoulders lifted to contain a chuckle. “Master Holbein seems able to make silk from thin air,” a male voice murmured.
Honor looked up in surprise. On the other side of the easel a man was stooped, leafing through a standing portfolio of Holbein’s drawings. The easel had obscured him from her view. She flushed crimson realizing he had overheard her remark.
As he lifted out two drawings and straightened to resume his examination of them, Honor’s anxiety dissipated, for she sensed that he was somehow aloof from this gathering. For one thing, the slightly sagging cheeks and emerging double chin proclaimed that he was older than the others, perhaps in his early forties. Also, he was dressed in an ankle-length robe of black velvet with only a wide collar of sable to indicate his status, and this alone distinguished him from the bright plumage of Anne’s friends. But there was something else that separated him and made him their superior – a look of sharp intelligence in his small, brown eyes, and a quickness there that devoured the details of Holbein’s drawings, yet remained coolly detached. There was precision and resolution in his straight wide mouth.
“Remarkable,” he murmured. He turned to study Holbein as if hoping to discover a link that connected the mastery of the artwork with the face of the master. He looked again at the drawings, then shook his head in admiration. “I do love to see reality in art, not fantasy. And here is reality – made more real. One almost expects these faces to open their mouths and complain about the weather.” He replaced the sheets in the portfolio.
Holbein shrugged with an awkward smile, obviously pleased. Honor could not help laughing. “Hans, I’ve never seen you respond so warmly to praise.”
He nodded and resumed his sketch of Anne, this time taking a pencil to scrawl a doodle in the corner of the large sheet. All four corners of the paper were figured with these doodles. Honor knew it was his way of noting details of the sitter’s clothing: fabric texture, embroidery designs, jewelry. Later, he would refer to them when he came to paint the portrait. But she noticed that today the doodles were not all of clothing details. Among them, tiny animal faces and plants betrayed the artist’s wandering mind. She realized, with some amusement, that he found drawing Anne as tedious as Anne found sitting for him.
“Master Cromwell has seen Rome and Florence,” Holbein said as he worked. “Seen Leonardo da Vinci. Michelangelo’s ‘David’. Raphael. Master Cromwell knows genius. His praise is good.”
Cromwell. The name struck a note in Honor’s memory. But where had she heard it? She was sure they had never met.
Feeling her scrutiny, he introduced himself. “Thomas Cromwell. Your servant, mistress.” He made a slight, stiff bow.
She smiled. “A traveler in Italy, yet surely a native of England, sir?”
“Of Putney, mistress,” was the crisp reply, delivered with an ungarnished directness that would have made the young courtiers, in love with rhetoric, wince. “And my sojourns in Italy are long past. Though I trust some wisdom of the Florentines remains crammed in this skull of mine to do service yet to my lord Cardinal.”
“And I am—“
“Mistress Larke,” he filled in. “Sir Thomas More’s ward.”
Proudly, she acknowledged this with a small curtsey. Then: “You mentioned the Cardinal . . .”
“He is legal counsel to Cardinal Wolsey,” Holbein volunteered as his chalk tapered Anne’s nose, and he added, with the archness of the foreigner testing an unfamiliar idiom, “Wolsey’s ‘right hand’.”
Memory flashed. Honor saw again the officers boiling through Sydenham’s warehouse, the foul vat, the scabbed face of Brother Frish. This Cromwell was the very man Frish had wanted her to sound out for the Brethren! She recalled Humphrey Sydenham’s kind, worried face as he argued with his ramrod wife. What had become of Sydenham? She hoped he was safe at home after his misadventure, resolved to meddle no more in criminal activities. And what of Brother Frish? Had Bastwick caught up with him, or was he still at large? Had Frish, perhaps, even made contact with Cromwell on his own? Her heart suddenly twisted. Since Frish had held such hopes of Cromwell’s interest in these underground affairs, could Cromwell possibly know something about Ralph? She had heard nothing more from Percy DeVille, for shortly after their meeting he had gone off to collect a manuscript from a monastery in Wales and would be away for weeks yet. She watched Cromwell’s keen face as he murmured with Holbein over the sketch of Anne, Cromwell pointing his stubby finger at the expertly cross-hatched shading of the cheek. Should I hazard a question? she wondered. She was on the brink of forcing the conversation somehow in that direction, when Anne’s voice lashed across at them.
“Master Cromwell, what are you and Holbein plotting over there? Is the rogue drawing me with horns? Or fangs perhaps?” Her friends laughed, for her tone was gay, but there was a note of stridency too, and her eyes darted among the trio of misfits at the easel and flashed mistrust when they lighted on Honor.
Cromwell spoke up stoutly. “Master Holbein’s hand reproduces only reality, my lady,” he said. His face remained blank, giving no hint that he was aware of the ambiguity of his statement, but Honor had to hide a smile: he had not categorically denied the existence of horns or fangs in the drawing, not if they reproduced reality. A legal mind indeed, she thought, eyeing him with amused respect. One to match the subtlety even of Sir Thomas.
“You must trust the artist, Anne,” George Boleyn said. “He is the one with the skill to leave a copy of you to the world. When all of us poor devils are in our graves your face will live on, thanks to Master Holbein. A reminder of these happy days.”
Anne had removed one of her rings and was playfully holding it up to her eye so that it framed the window. She squinted through it at the straight-falling snow. “I need no help from scribblers to leave my mark,” she muttered. She moved her head around, the ring still at her eye, until Honor was in her sights. “But it’s true, George, that these are happy days. Happy for England, don’t you agree, Mistress Larke?”
“The realm does not groan under war or pestilence,” Honor answered steadily. “And God keeps his Grace hale. I am content.”
“Ha! His grace is hale indeed. I have my hands full to keep him so!” Anne laughed, and her friends tittered. “Yet it is a joyful task,” she went on in good humor, “for His Grace loves good pastime and merry company, and he has suffered for the want of both in his bedfellow these many years. A change was overdue.”
There was a murmur as several ladies and gentlemen watched the Queen’s trusted maid for signs that she would engage the enemy, but Honor only clenched her teeth.
Tasting blood, Anne plowed on. “It appears that Mistress Larke has no opinion on the subject. How unfortunate, for it is one that interests me mightily. Master Holbein, what have you to say? You must be an expert on change of many kinds, having changed your country for a better one, and changed your patron for a royal one. All you need to round out the new identity is a new religion. Tell us, have you made an alteration there as well? These mad upheavals in your native land must have left some mark? What exactly is going on among your countrymen?”
Holbein was gazing at her above the easel with a wide-eyed mixture of frustration at being once again interrupted in his work, and confusion at the questions, for Anne always spoke as rapidly as she moved, and with his faltering grasp of English he had only partly understood her.
Anne snorted a laugh. “Master Cromwell, can you answer for this poor, dumb creature?” She raised her goblet as if in a toast. “Your gift of claret is delicious, by the way. Now, answer for the speechless Master Holbein and you’ll make yourself doubly welcome. Come, enlighten us.”
“You speak true, Lady Anne,” Cromwell said. “Vast changes there have been in the German lands.”
“But explain them, if you please.”
“Naturally, you are aware that several territories have officially adopted Martin Luther’s new doctrine. The leaders of many cities – Master Holbein’s own native Augsburg and his adopted city state of Basle among them – have embraced Luther’s followers.”
“Yes. What is that name they call themselves?”
“Evangelicals, my lady.”
She smiled. “Fascinating. Go on.”
“Well, the great centers of Nuremberg, Bern, Magdeburg, Strassburg, Zurich – all are now out of the orbit of the Holy Roman Church. And, naturally, these changes have altered institutions and the traditional patterns of commerce, too, producing even more change.” Cromwell rocked on his heels with his fingers woven together over his stomach as if he was comfortably prepared to talk on in this way at some length. His voice carried clearly across the room, but Honor noted that his expressionless face still gave no hint of emotion. It was impossible to say whether he abhorred or applauded the Germans’ religious experiments. He simply catalogued them.
“But how did it all happen so quickly, Master Cromwell?” Anne’s question was serious, but she asked it with a tight, private smile, like a teacher who knows the answer and is laying a trap for the pupil. Honor found it disconcerting.
“Quickly, indeed,” Cromwell went on. “You will recall the Edict of Worms issued by the Emperor only seven years ago. It excommunicated Luther and placed him in the Imperial ban. Since then, the formation of the Catholic League of Regensburg – which allied Ferdinand of Austria, Bavaria, and the south German Bishops, and was blessed by the Pope – has attempted to enforce the Edict. But many in England are not aware that this has brought about the Lutheran League of Torgau, which is attempting to prevent the enforcement of the Edict.”
“And these Lutheran forces? Are they strong?”
“Strong but fragmented, my lady. There are conflicting elements, for the reformers are by no means agreed amongst themselves. Zwingli of Zurich, for instance, battles with Luther over points of reformed doctrine and, fearing an alliance between the Emperor’s Hapsburg relations in the north and the Catholic cantons to the south, Zwingli is now preaching for an all-out evangelical war. Amid this great upheaval, power elites of both government and commerce are shifting daily.”
“And where do the mass of the German people stand in all this?”
“There can be no doubt that many thousands of them support the new order, and some of their most powerful princes embrace it. Yes, vast change indeed. It is a new German reality we must all accept.”
Having defined the point, Cromwell closed his mouth. Stares of unease met him all around, except from Honor, who was impressed with his grasp, and from Anne whose eyes shone with fresh interest.
“You are well informed, sir,” Anne said, smiling at his cold-blooded dissertation.
“I try to keep abreast of all matters that affect his Grace’s business.”
“His Grace the Cardinal, or his Grace the King?” she asked pointedly.
“Both, my lady,” was his bland reply. “Only if Cardinal Wolsey’s servants keep him informed can the Cardinal properly serve the King.”
“If he were properly serving the King,” she said with sudden savagery, “he would by now have dissolved the King’s illegal marriage!” Allowing her smile to brighten again, she added, “The King would do well to have such able servants about him as the Cardinal is blessed with, sir.”
Cromwell only bobbed his stiff bow to acknowledge her compliment, but Honor was sure she had finally seen excitement flicker for a moment in his eyes. Was that his secret wish, then? she wondered. His reason for attending Anne, and bearing gifts of wine? Was it proximity to the King he sought? If so, he was managing a fine balancing act; in a situation where everyone clung with tribal fierceness to one faction or the other – the Queen’s party or the Lady’s – it was still impossible to know in which camp he stood. And although he had spoken of the German heretics without a trace of disapproval, his loyalty to his master, a Cardinal of the Church, remained indisputable.
Anne carried on, warming to her subject. “Yes, the King would be well served indeed if everyone took the refreshing view of the Germans’ reforms as Master Cromwell does. I confess I have a desire to investigate some of their new doctrine myself. It’s a pity that reading their books is illegal here.”
There was an audible intake of breath from several throats. Anne’s eyes glinted as though she knew she was creeping out on a limb but enjoyed the view. “Yes, I’ve heard there is much wisdom in the works of some of these reformers,” she said. “Men like William . . .” she frowned and appeared to falter in memory. “Oh, dear, what is that exiled Englishman’s name, Master Cromwell?”
“Tyndale, my lady,” was his clear reply.
“Ah, sir,” she smiled. “You do not disappoint.”
“But, my lady,” Cromwell added calmly, “you are aware, of course, that these books are full of lies, obscenities, blasphemies. The Church has declared them so.”
“Aware? Let me see. I am aware that the reformers preach the abolition of some of the seven sacraments. Of the seven – baptism, confirmation, holy orders, matrimony, confession, the Eucharist, and extreme unction – they declare they can find no sign in scripture.”
“Clearly, this is heresy,” Cromwell said mildly.
Anne raised an eyebrow. “Clearly, sir.”
Honor watched them, fascinated. They were testing one another, she realized. Like two children on the bank of a swift-flowing river, each was daring the other to jump in first.
“But I am also aware,” Anne went on, clearly relishing the roomful of stares, the danger in the air, “that Luther says the godly prince has a divine commission to reform the Church. For example, to rid it of grasping prelates. Now, this suggestion interests me, for there are some overmighty, odious priests, grown fat on the sweated labor of the people, who do the King no good, and whose demise would be a blessing to this realm. As for the Lutherans’ disapproval of the Pope—“
“They call him Anti-Christ!” a shocked young lady murmured.
“Indeed,” Anne said with withering scorn. “Touching on that, I, for one, can happily imagine a Church without a pope. For we must ask: is Christendom well served by a man who waffles and whimpers, who promises and then forswears, who cannot bring himself to grant the simplest and most deserved of requests concerning the marriage of one of Christendom’s most loyal princes? Perhaps it is the Pope who is the heretic.”
The room fell deathly quiet. “I am aware, too,” Anne said, “that the reformers are calling for priests to marry, as Luther himself has done. Married a nun, no less.” The imp of humor played over her lips. “Imagine. The monk and the nun. Will their children be born wearing habits, I wonder?”
A hollow, staccato laugh left one gentleman’s lips and died on the air. Anne looked around her. Most heads were bowed or turned away. Suddenly, she clapped her hands to break the pall. “Enough philosophy! Come, George, let’s have a tune. And where’s my little spaniel? I’m sure I saw Eleanor bring him in. I long to hold him. Now, Lucy, pour some more of Master Cromwell’s excellent claret . . .”
The room sprang to life in a flurry of relief.
Honor looked past Holbein’s back at Cromwell. His shrewd eyes had not left Anne, but there was a shadow of a smile in them as he inclined his head to Honor and murmured, “The Lady Anne has an uncanny knowledge of the contents of illegal books she claims not to have read.”
Honor wondered which of the two had won their dare. It seemed to her to be a standoff; that both had retreated from the bank unscathed and with renewed respect for the other’s abilities. But Cromwell’s face betrayed nothing. She longed to draw him out and make him declare himself. “Master Cromwell, have I understood the lady aright?” she asked with as much amazed innocence as she could feign. “Did she really express a desire for a Church without a pope?”
“She did, mistress,” he answered. He brought his eyes around to Honor and added flatly and finally, though with a small smile, “And my son desires a school without a teacher. But we must all deal in reality, as our artist friend here does. My son may pine for freedom but he obediently takes his desk every day, for his teacher is still his master. For us, the Pope is still the Pope. And,” he added meaningfully, “your mistress is still the Queen of England.”
Holbein stepped back from his labor and wagged the black chalk in Cromwell’s face to make a point. “Ah, but one day your son will graduate and then he will need a teacher no longer.” His eyes twinkled at the surprise on the two faces beside him. “My English improves, I think!” he said coyly.
Cromwell and Honor blinked at one another. Then they laughed.
Boots thudded at the bedchamber doorway and Honor’s workmen emerged hoisting boxes of the dismantled prie-dieu. They strode past her, nodding deferentially, then halted at the doorway to the antechamber to wait for her.
But Honor did not join them. Her eyes had been drawn to the upper left corner of Holbein’s paper – to a flower among the doodles. Her heartbeat quickened. Sketched roughly but faithfully was the little blossom that had brightened the title page of the dying foreigner’s book. Although naked of colour, every stroke – every vein of the four petals, every leaf-point – was the same. There was no mistake; the original flower was imprinted on her memory. Her very fingertips tingled at the remembered feel of paint on vellum that she had traced over as she sat in Ralph’s arms under the kitchen lantern. “Speedwell,” Ralph had said, identifying the flower. And for years, the book and the flower and Ralph had been entwined in her memory in a aching tangle of regret. Whenever she thought of him, she thought of the speedwell. But she had never guessed, had never known until this moment, that Holbein was its creator.
She lifted her face to him, hungry to find out, at last, about the contents of the book, about its author, about the extraordinary stranger who had given it to her that May Day night eleven years before. She opened her mouth – but which of a hundred questions should she ask first?
“Mistress Larke?” The steely impatience in Anne’s voice snapped across the room. “I believe your task here is complete. We will not detain you longer.”
All eyes were on Honor: the workmen waiting for her; Anne; the guests once more sniffing rivalry between the women; Cromwell. And Holbein, who had seen the colour leave her face as if drained by some ghost on his easel.
“Good-bye, mistress.” Anne’s dismissal clanged.
Honor had no choice but to leave.
Barbara Kyle is the author of the acclaimed Thornleigh Saga novels The Queen’s Exiles,Blood Between Queens, The Queen’s Gamble, The Queen’s Captive, The King’s Daughter and The Queen’s Lady which follow an English middle-class family’s rise through three tumultuous Tudor reigns. She also writes contemporary thrillers. Over 450,000 copies of her books have been sold in seven countries. Barbara has taught writers at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies and is known for her dynamic workshops for many writers’ organizations and conferences. Before becoming an author Barbara enjoyed a twenty-year acting career in television, film, and stage productions in Canada and the U.S. Visit www.barbarakyle.com
To Purchase One of Barbara’s Outstanding Novels, Click Links Below!!
Blood Between Queens
The Queen’s Gamble
The Queen’s Captive
The Queen’s Lady
The King’s Daughter
The Queen’s Exiles (Thornleigh Saga)