Today’s Advent Calendar treat is from historical novelist Janet Wertman and is an excerpt from her new book, The Path to Somerset, Book 2 of “The Seymour Saga”.
January 3, 1541—Hampton Court Palace
The Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace was the ideal spot for the New Year revels. Edward wondered idly how many times he had seen this exact scene, and whether the sight would ever cease to inspire him. Thick pine garlands, strung with crimson holly berries and white popped corn, ringed the room where the stained glass panels began some twenty feet above the floor. The fir chains on the sills of the scenic windows created the illusion of a forest floor and turned the decorative trusses of the soaring hammerbeam ceiling into virtual tree trunks. Earlier in the day, Edward had brought his royal nephew to experience the room without the pressure of the crowds, and the sight of it had caused the normally reserved four-year-old to lift his arms and twirl in glee.
Anne nudged Edward to look at the King, resplendent in white with silver and diamond accents, sitting in his magnificent chair of estate on the dais before the fireplace. Both his feet were on the floor, a sign his leg didn’t pain him today.
“He looks both terribly happy and horribly sad,” Anne whispered.
The King’s eyebrows were melting down the outside of his eyes while his mouth attempted a wobbly smile. Good. His mawkish joy would be perfectly served by Edward’s story about the Prince’s awe at the decorated hall. The Queen would be entertained as well; she was happier to speak of her stepson than of Jane, even though she had completely eclipsed Jane.
Right now, the Queen sparkled. The King had lavished more presents on her than on any of her predecessors, and her slight frame was dwarfed by a heavy rope necklace of two hundred large pearls around two pendant laces that held ten clear table diamonds and one hundred and fifty-eight fair pearls.
“How many abbeys were dissolved to pay for that finery?” Anne asked.
Edward shot her an amused glance, and her green collar caught his eye. The present he had given her on the birth of their first son. It paled beside the Queen’s finery, but it was worthy of pride forever: a stunning band of four emeralds the size of grapes, separated by smaller diamonds, with everything held into place by a double layer of gold links. From it hung a pendant, a larger emerald in the middle of her chest. Anne had gasped when she first opened the package, and joy had filled his heart. She loved fine things.
With a rustle of skirts, Lady Mary was before them. Her light curtsy gave them honor. “Such a pleasure to see real friends,” she said. “My father was looking for you.”
“We just arrived,” said Edward. “I hope he wasn’t—”
“Not at all,” Mary rushed to interject. “He just wanted to share a moment with you.”
“Lovely,” Edward answered. “Will you bring us?”
Mary looked over at her mother-in-law on the dais and hesitated.
Just then, the Queen stood and raised a hand to issue a loud command. “A galliard, gentlemen.”
Courtiers ran to the center of the room to take part in the dance, jostling for choice positions.
“Husband, will you join me?” the Queen called, stretching out her arm to him.
Henry raised his glass to her. “Nay, my sweet, I will watch you. Your grace will bring joy to me and all the court.”
Edward was glad to see him decline the invitation. The King had exerted himself heavily this season with his young wife. There were limits to his endurance. Even if his leg did seem fine.
Catherine curtsied her happy acceptance. “I cannot dance alone,” she answered coquettishly.
Henry looked at the gentlemen standing to his right. Thomas Culpeper was closest, and he got the slap on the arm. “Go partner the Queen. All of you, dance.”
Culpeper smiled widely and added a flourish to his bow. “If we cannot serve you with dance, Your Majesty, we are happy to so serve the Queen.”
“Better work than they usually get,” said Tom as he walked up behind Edward.
Mary looked at him quizzically. “Sir?”
Tom laughed as if caught in mischief. Given his childish humor, he was probably referring to the amount of time the King spent on his close stool. “T’was but a jest” he said. “And a poor one at that.”
The court turned to watch as ladies ran to face gentlemen in lines. The dancers bowed to each other to begin the ritual, then clasped hands to start a circle around the room. After eight paces, four sideways, the couples stopped to take turns kicking up their heels for each other before bowing and clasping hands again. The steps were controlled and stylized, each gesture exaggerated. The Queen and Culpeper were well matched, of similar age and build, and the same bold smirk cut across their fetching faces. It made sense, as Culpeper was distantly related to the powerful clan.
“Unless you would prefer to dance,” Mary said with a smile, “I would love to bring you to the King right now.”
Edward smiled. It was wonderful when things worked out so well. They approached the King, who was indeed glad to see them. The four were able to gather comfortably on the dais, watching the rest of the court and gossiping among themselves. Family.
The high activity eclipsed the arrival of the seven-year-old Lady Elizabeth. The page could not announce her properly over the music, but the Queen saw her standing in the doorway and stopped dancing. The rest of the dancers quickly followed suit; a few banged into someone else. “Sweet cousin, come join me,” Catherine called out, holding out her hand.
Edward leaned his head in close to Anne before whispering. “A Howard always advances another Howard.”
Anne raised an eyebrow. She had noticed – everyone had – how the Queen had shown great favor to the younger princess during this Christmas season, seating the girl across from her and keeping her close during the day. Much better treatment than she had given Mary.
“If only your brother and sister were equally skilled at such promotion,” she whispered in response.
Touché, Edward thought, though his siblings weren’t as inept as Anne often made them out to be.
Elizabeth bowed to the Queen, then her father, before running over. Smart child.
“You shall be my partner,” the Queen said to the girl and the room applauded.
“She could have no better,” Culpeper said with an easy smile. He backed off in a gallant surrender of his place.
Before the dancing could resume, a page announced Anne of Cleves. She had arrived that day with wonderful gifts – two great horses with purple velvet trappings – for the King and Queen.
“Welcome, sweet sister,” called the King. “We are happy to see your smiling face.”
“It is a joy to see my good brother and his cherished wife.”
The King descended from the dais to greet her, and the Queen raced to his side, Elizabeth in tow.
With an apologetic glance at Anne, Edward offered his hand to Mary so they could follow. It was wrong to remain on the dais when the King was on the floor.
Henry held up his arm, and a page appeared bearing sables on a gilt platter, which he knelt to offer to the King. Henry took the furs in one hand and presented them to Cleves, who marveled over them, though the present seemed a bit light given the contrast to the Queen’s finery.
“And since I am giving gifts,” he said, turning to his wife, “I shall give you tonight’s now.”
He proffered a large ruby ring with one hand and waved the other again. This time two pages appeared, each carrying a tiny beagle puppy.
The Queen clapped her hands in delight. Lady Anne did the same, as did every woman in the Great Hall.
The Queen reached out and took one in her arms. “They are wonderful,” she said. “They will make excellent hunting companions.”
“May I?” asked Lady Anne, doing the same. The women laughed at the wriggling bundles craning to lick their faces.
“You must have one,” said Catherine. “He will be brought to your rooms. And this ring, too.” She motioned for the pages to take the dogs and placed the ruby on Lady Anne’s finger.
Anne of Cleves took a step backwards. “I couldn’t…”
“Nonsense,” said Catherine. She turned to the King. “You don’t mind, do you, that I love your sister as you do? You have given me so many wondrous gifts; it is my great joy to share my good fortune.”
Nicely done, Edward thought. He leaned over to Anne and whispered. “You think her uncle put the idea in her mind?”
“Norfolk hates to part with riches. He would have told her to stop at the dogs.”
Edward stifled his laugh and turned back to the scene before him. But still one thought nagged at him. He leaned back to Anne. “Why is she so easy with Cleves but so uncomfortable about Jane?”
Anne rolled her eyes. “Catherine has no cause to be jealous of the Flanders Mare. Your sister gave him a son.”
Edward closed his eyes. That one fact was the fount of everything.
You can get a copy of The Path to Somerset at THIS LINK.