December 22: The Boy King
A big thank you to author Janet Wertman for sharing this excerpt from her wonderful novel The Boy King (The Seymour Saga, Book 3) as a Tudor treat for us today.
December 22, 1550
Once again, Edward gloated to himself over having successfully insisted the court repair to Greenwich Palace for the Christmas festivities. He knew his Councilors preferred the convenience of London – he had seen them try to avoid rolling their eyes – but there was something special and holy about being able to hunt and hawk for hours each day in the vast countryside.
And it wasn’t as if Edward’s request was unheard-of. Somerset had always said Greenwich was Henry VIII’s favorite palace in his youth, that it was only in later years Henry had come to prefer Hampton Court. Admittedly, Hampton had an amazing bath, a miraculous contraption with actual faucets, one for hot water and one for cold. But the bath in Greenwich was equally warm, it just meant more work for the servants and they didn’t mind.
From his chair of estate atop its dais, Edward looked out over the Great Hall. He had grown tall enough that even seated he could survey the crowd, the thousand courtiers gathered in small glittering circles, like raindrops on a window that merged into or split off from each other.
Elizabeth was with him, her chair a special height just below his, a mark of how close they had become. His sweet sister had been given place of honor despite her inferiority, a signal to the world that good living was rewarded. He smiled down at her, and caught her own happy response before he turned back to stare through the crowds to watch the door.
They were waiting for Mary, who had agreed to celebrate Christmas at court this year. She had tried to refuse again, but his Council had insisted. The entire country believed she had been spirited away to Spain, and they needed to dispel that belief. Despite the emphatic denials from the Spanish Ambassador, Edward knew in his bones that such persistent rumors could not have been total inventions.
Warwick entered from the side door and approached quickly, ignoring everyone but Edward. He bowed before the throne then leaned in to avoid being overheard. “The Lady Mary is proceeding from her apartments and will be here soon to bow to you.”
Elizabeth looked at Warwick, a patient smile on her face.
“Greetings, my Lady,” Warwick said, unabashed. “I trust you are well?”
“Wonderful, thank you. How could I be anything but? I am by the side of my dearest brother.”
“If there is anything you require, anything at all, you have only to ask and I will see to it,” Warwick said.
Somerset slipped into the room by the same side door and joined the group on the dais. He gave a deep bow to Edward, a quick bow to Elizabeth, and a nod of his head to Warwick. “The Lady Mary approaches,” he said.
“Thank you,” Edward said.
“The Spanish Ambassador is not with her, but I would still counsel you not to rebuke her.”
Edward’s fists balled.
“The Spanish Ambassador was not invited,” Warwick said laconically.
Somerset’s eyes widened and he looked back to survey the room. His eyes stopped at the French Ambassador, who bowed to him with a smile that lifted only one side of his mouth. Elizabeth looked down at her hands, as if fascinated by something in her lap.
Edward felt strange speaking of Mary in front of Elizabeth, though he was about to do worse in front of a large crowd. This autumn they had arrested Mary’s almoner for saying Mass before members of her household. After his release he had continued to celebrate the services according to the papist traditions, speaking Latin rather than the King’s English and sanctifying the Host as if it were the true body of Christ. Even a visit by the Lord Chancellor to take him back into custody had not convinced Mary they were serious about her compliance. She had questioned Baron Rich as if she did not understand why such a course had been adopted, adamant that the Council must not have ordered such a thing. She acted as if she had full permission to worship in darkness.
Edward intended to teach her she did not.
“You want me to pretend all is well?” he said. “Would it not be best to first resolve this issue that is destroying our amity?”
Somerset glanced at Warwick, who shook his head. Somerset raised his chin and continued anyway. “A public shaming would be cruel and would provoke Spain needlessly.”
“You fear their power far too much,” Edward said.
“I do not advise you to stand down, only to treat her well in public. At least until the French alliance is certain.”
Warwick’s plan for a sweeping alliance with the French, cemented by Edward marrying the French king’s daughter Elisabeth, was proving a difficult thing to arrange. With Edward excommunicated, England and France were at a temporary stalemate, trying to avoid the possibility that the Bishop of Rome might require a concession England was not prepared to make.
It still irked Edward that he could not simply marry the Scottish queen and unite the two countries. Warwick was still working mischief there, providing support to the Scottish nobles – good Protestants for the most part, working to counteract the influence of young Mary’s mother, a Catholic Regent. The lords might well overthrow their queen and declare for Edward, though admittedly that was unlikely. But Edward could be patient.
“I will try,” he said. “But if she raises the matter, my temper may well get away from me.”
“That is all I ask, Sire.” Somerset bowed. “Reasonable generosity.”
Warwick rolled his eyes and Somerset cringed.
Before the discussion could continue, Mary appeared at the door, clad in a rich gown of burgundy velvet. Relief flooded Edward when he saw a purse, not a rosary, hung from her belt.
After a pause that allowed all eyes in the room to focus on her, Mary curtsied deeply. She rose and approached, eyes locked on his. She stopped just before the dais and curtsied again.
“Dear sister,” Edward said, surprised how much joy he felt seeing her face. She had always brought him such comfort. “It does me good to see you.”
“And I, you,” Mary said. “I am glad to see Your Majesty looking so well, and I thank God for the grace of being together.” She crossed herself.
The gesture stirred the anger that was never far from Edward’s surface. “Unfortunately, you thank God contrary to the laws of the land. I understand you still hear Mass in your chapel.”
Mary drew herself back and all expression disappeared from her face. “I do indeed follow our father’s ways, Your Majesty. I have been permitted to do so by your Council.”
Out of the corner of his eyes, Edward could see Somerset redden and Warwick shrug. Edward stood to assert himself and signal he would brook no interference. “You were permitted to do so when our laws were first promulgated; now you should do out of love for us what the rest of the country does out of duty.” He was proud of his matter-of-fact tone, happy with the threat it conveyed.
“My understanding was that I would be permitted to worship in accordance with my faith for as long as Your Majesty was still a child.”
The word child landed like a slap. “The Scriptures abound in instances to prove that the best-ordered church of the people of Israel was instituted and upheld by kings younger in years than we.”
Her eyes flickered. “You are too young in years as yet to weigh the arguments.”
He made his own eyes glower, like their father used to. He wanted to cow her. He was not a child, and this was not a whim. His very bones felt the sanctity of proper observance and shuddered over the insult to the Lord of men setting priests as their conduits to divinity. “In truth, sister, our youth is an advantage, for perhaps the evil has endured in you so long that it is more strongly rooted than we supposed.”
She cringed a little, but held it like a drawn bow.
“Your Majesty, praise God, is indeed gifted with understanding far beyond that possessed by others at your age.” She spread her arms. “But consider that both sides of the question are not brought before you. The people who advise you all think the same way; there is no one but me to argue the other side.” She clasped her hands as if in prayer; they trembled violently enough that it looked like she was shaking them at him. “Therefore, I beseech Your Majesty to suspend your judgment on spiritual matters until you reach riper and fuller years. Then with better knowledge and understanding Your Majesty will exercise your freedom to decide according to your pleasure.”
She was doing worse than ignoring his power: she was placing herself before him. Disloyalty was treason, whatever form it took. His own uncle had proven that to the world. And suffered the consequences.
He infused his voice with all the icy self-righteousness he could muster. “Truly we do not wish to presume beyond what our age concedes; that is to say, in matters yet doubtful we place no reliance in our own wisdom; but in those things which are plain we believe there is no difference between us and older men. This is plain.”
Mary drew herself up. She peered out of the lower left corners of her eyes, as if trying to gauge the crowd behind her. Edward had almost forgotten about the huge group, so focused he was from anger. They were frozen and silent, more like a painting than real people.
“My faith and my religion,” she said loudly, “are those held by the whole of Christendom, formerly confessed by this kingdom under the late King, my father, until your Council altered them with new laws.”
Edward noticed this time she had said “my father,” not “our father.” She was no longer appealing to family, she was claiming a right. His breathing quickened and the whole room dimmed.
She bowed her head briefly. “I hope God and nature will so work in Your Majesty that when you reach years of greater understanding, you will not be wroth against me, who live and am your poor suppliant. I pray you consent to no changes in religion until Your Majesty has reached the age to judge for yourself.”
“If our father was building a ship and died before it could be finished, would you suggest I leave it until I was grown? How is it different with religion, where he brought us only so far down the path? If I give you leave to follow your conscience, I have to allow others to violate my laws. You ask too much.”
Mary’s face twisted. “It is just my household. More specifically, me and my Chaplain, who has been taken away from me for questioning. It seems to me not suitable that he should be robbed of freedom by laws and statutes on spiritual matters passed during your minority. No such thing has ever been seen in any Christian kingdom; and God knows whether Your Majesty may not take it amiss in time to come.”
Edward’s face burned from her intransigence – and her continued insistence on his youth. He needed to stop her from repeating that charge, repeating it before the entire court as if they would agree with her. His voice emerged from his chest more shrill than he expected. “If you intend to govern your faith according to the practices of what you refer to as Christendom, and not according to the Anglican Church of which you are a member, you err on several heads, such as our father would not have permitted to pass.”
Her eyes opened wide, but instead of apologizing and backing down, she began to weep.
For a moment, Edward exulted in his victory and the murmurs of the crowd. But the sad wail in her tone tore at his heart. Gone was the rebellious subject; all that was left was the loving sister of his youth. The one who kept away the monsters when he had nightmares, who nursed him patiently when he was sick, who rode out with him to hunt and hawk when he was barely off a pony. Tears mounted in Edward’s own eyes.
“Dry your tears, sister,” he said with a catch in his throat. “I think no harm of you.”
Mary sniffled and wiped her nose with her hand.
“My Lady,” Somerset said, “I am sure the King had no other thought except to inquire and know all things.”
She smiled ruefully and nodded. “Thank you, dearest uncle. I appreciate the care you take of me and the love you show me.”
Edward froze. The political Mary was back.
“Perhaps you would like to retire for a bit, to compose yourself,” Somerset said. “You could wait on the King tomorrow, without all this formality.”
That had been Somerset’s suggestion earlier, Edward remembered. It irked him for some reason, but he let it pass.
Mary looked Edward deep in the eyes. “I would appreciate that greatly.”
Edward sniffed. He meant it as annoyance, but her smile told him she took it as weakness.
“Thank you,” she said.
She offered a slow, formal curtsy and walked off with her head held high through the silent crowd. Edward stared after her.
“So, nothing has changed,” he said quietly when she had disappeared.
“We will continue to discuss this with her,” Warwick said. “I am confident she will come to submit, and no further action will be needed.”
Somerset shook his head. “She will never submit, like her mother never did. We did offer her – and Spain – assurances we must honor if we will avoid war.”
Again, Somerset wanted them to back down. Edward was glad the Duke no longer controlled the Council. His advice on this issue was one of the things that had clouded this entire proceeding.
“The Council offered assurances, not the King,” Warwick said. “And they did so before His Majesty’s personal convictions and decision were made known to them. This is the first time His Majesty has directly intervened in this matter, the first time he has made his personal position clear. We will move forward from here.”
“But Spain—” Somerset began.
“Is at war with our friend France,” Warwick responded. “And less likely to intervene than they have been in the past.”
Somerset opened his mouth as if to argue but snapped it shut. His bow was jerky, angry. He disappeared as quickly as he had arrived.
The room was utterly silent. Every face stared at the floor. Everyone but the French Ambassador.
“Ah, Monsieur de Noailles,” Warwick called out, as if to reward his courage, “have you greeted the King yet?”
The Ambassador stepped forward, a wide smile on his face.
Motherless since birth and newly bereft of his father, King Henry VIII, nine-year-old Edward Tudor ascends to the throne of England and quickly learns that he cannot trust anyone, even himself. Edward is at first relieved that his uncle, the new Duke of Somerset, will act on his behalf as Lord Protector, but this consolation evaporates as jealousy spreads through the court. Challengers arise on all sides to wrest control of the child king, and through him, England. While Edward can bring frustratingly little direction to the Council’s policies, he refuses to abandon his one firm conviction: that Catholicism has no place in England. When Edward falls ill, this steadfast belief threatens England’s best hope for a smooth succession: the transfer of the throne to Edward’s very Catholic half-sister, Mary Tudor, whose heart’s desire is to return the realm to the way it worshipped in her mother’s day.