He, Cromwell, was having a bad morning. Last night Henry had boxed his ears, he had barely slept, and had already had an interview with that insipid Jane Seymour that morning.
“What will I talk to him about, Master Secretary?” he imitated, squeakily under his breath, as he thundered down the hall. Then she had eaten half his breakfast loaves and beef, and finished all of his ale. So now he was hungry and thirsty, as well as grumpy. The sight of Jane Rochford sidling up to him, pressed against the wall, did nothing to improve his spirits. He halted.
“Lady Rochford”, he said, more politely than he felt, wondering how she hid her forked tail under her skirts.
Jane muttered something out of the corner of her mouth. Cromwell leaned closer to her, unable to hear over the sudden racket that had sprung up behind him.
“Lady Rochford?” he repeated, a little testily.
Jane continued to mutter at him, while Cromwell gazed at her incomprehensibly. He leaned closer. Frustrated, Jane pulled a hand-puppet out of her pocket and began to mime.
“Lady Rochford,” he began, wearily, when a shadow suddenly loomed in front of him. It was the King’s Fool.
“Somers!”, the Fool snapped, as He, Cromwell, leapt back in alarm “Will Somers, you dolt! I’ve been here since 1535! Nobody cares about Sexton! I’m the likeable one” he bellowed, brandishing his bauble at him.
“Somers,” repeated Cromwell, slightly confused “ Er, yes, Somers”
“Somers Somers Somers!” chanted Will, thumping Cromwell and proceeding to caper around him in a circle.
“You must excuse me Lady Rochford,” he snapped at Jane through the flailing limbs of Will. Jane was still frantically pantomiming. Cromwell left her, but he had only taken a few steps when Suffolk appeared in his path.
“Cromwell” bellowed Suffolk, his breath flattening Cromwell’s hair. “The old lady is dead already. Why haven’t you done away with the other one yet?” Suffolk set his teeth into the turkey leg that was clutched in his great paw and tore a hank of meat off, grease shining on his chin and dribbling into his beard. Appalled, Cromwell took a step back.
“My Lord,” he began, in an attempt to calm him, spying Chapuys glowering a few feet away. He was distracted for a moment by the sight of Chapuy’s magnificent hat. It was breathtaking.
“We haven’t got all year Cromwell!” shouted Suffolk, and then let out a great belch. His wife, little Katherine Willougby, pinched her nose and swooned.
Chapuys drew himself up and glared at Suffolk, then turned to Cromwell. He opened his mouth to speak to Cromwell, but Somers inserted himself between them.
“Somers!” he shouted at Chapuys. “Somers, Somers, Somers!” Chapuys sighed, and Somers swept the hat from his head and took off down the hall with it. Cromwell hurried after him.
“Majesty” began Cromwell, flattening out a large sheaf of parchment
“On no not your confounded lists Cromwell” Henry sighed “Henry wants to play today”
“See how ridiculous it sounds,” said Will brightly, “When you refer to yourself in third person?”
Cromwell glowered at him and turned back to Henry with the parchment. Henry waved him away impatiently.
“Where is Anne?” Henry asked absently, surveying his large breakfast platter.
“Not Anne, Jane,” Cromwell said wearily, abandoning the list. “it is Jane now. We’re to get rid of Anne.”
“Get rid of Anne?” Henry looked at him blankly “Now why would I want to do that?”
He, Cromwell, surreptitiously picked up a heavy book and walked around behind Henry, who was intent on his breakfast platter. Cromwell gave him a sharp thump on the back of the head. Henry looked up, his eyes unfocussed, as Cromwell dashed back to where he had been standing.
“Jane,” Cromwell repeated coaxingly.
“Handy, that fall from his horse was,” commented Will sourly.
“Jane,” agreed Henry placidly, selecting a little almond cake and stuffing it into his mouth. He reached for his goblet, then became distracted with his reflection in the silver-gilt.
“Shiny!” he bellowed happily, waving the cup at Cromwell and spilling half the wine out of the goblet. “Shiny shiny!”
Cromwell groaned quietly as the Seymours were announced. Thomas strode into the room, his dashing beard preceding him. Jane flattened herself against the wall and started inching around towards the window. Must these women always sidle? Thought Cromwell irritably.
“Come now Mistress Seymour” he said through gritted teeth “there is plenty of food.”
Jane’s eyes widened, and she began to inch closer, tentatively towards the food. Cromwell daintily re-arranged some cakes. Jane inched a little closer.
“Jane!” Henry said cheerfully “do come sit with me”
Jane fell upon her knees.
“I am but a virtuous maiden,” she began dramatically, as Thomas nudged her savagely with his foot.
“Not yet, stupid” he hissed.
Jane looked confused and embarrassed as he hauled her up off the floor. Henry was by now distracted with his reflection again, and hadn’t noticed anything amiss, and Cromwell pushed a flame-faced Jane towards the food.
Cromwell gazed across his desk at Mary Shelton.
“The truth is Master Secretary” she began “All the women of the bedchamber want to see you”
He, Cromwell, suddenly preened. Somers let out a great guffaw.
“Somers what are you doing here?” he snapped, exasperatedly.
“Really, I wish to be away from this place” began Mary again.
“Got tickets on yourself Cromwell,” goaded Somers, waving Chapuys hat at him.
“I must tell you,” began Mary again
“Really Mary I thought you’d be too tired from shagging half the courtiers to come in here protesting your supposed virtue”, sang Somers “you’re really rather dull anyway. Why don’t you send in Lady Rochford? She’s far more entertaining”
He swept around to stand behind Mary’s chair and staged-whispered
“She has a puppet too. Do you have a puppet Mary?”
Mary burst into tears. Cromwell leaps forward and tried to snog her, and she punched him in the nose. Wearily he waved her away, clearly this was getting nowhere. He’d already had the dirt from Lady Worcester anyway, all he had to do was distract her with cake. And of course, Somers had cheerfully reminded him Worcester owed Anne 100 pounds.
“You won’t need to bribe Rochford with cakes Crummy” said Somers, snatching one off the plate just as Lady Rochford swept in.
“Really Master Secretary”, she said, flopping into a chair unceremoniously. “You exhaust me”
Cromwell gave her a look of polite enquiry.
“I don’t know how many times I have sidled over to tell you things” she continued, pouring herself a hefty goblet of wine and proceeding to drain half of it. She relaxed and smiled lazily at Cromwell. “We’ve gone through all this before. My husband shags the stable boys, half the courtiers, male and female, and dogs. Perhaps goats, I’m quite sure he’d fancy it. And his sister. Maybe both, as Mary is such a slut. Anne is old, you see, she’s never been as good looking as Mary. So,” she leaned forward and carefully selected a cake. “Now who’ve you got lined up for Anne? Norris, Weston, Smeaton? You may as well throw George in there”
“And why are you accusing your husband, Lady Rochford,” he said with brisk formality, his pen poised. Somers snorted. Cromwell gave him a sharp poke.
“Oh must we Cromwell?” she wailed, slumping in her chair “You’d think I didn’t come sneaking up to you three times a day” She sat frowning for a moment.
“Oh well, you know I never wanted to be married to him” she said brightly, leaning over to pour herself another glass of wine. “my father forced me”
“What?’ injected Somers, before Cromwell could speak “You didn’t want to marry a young, handsome, intelligent courtier on the rise?”
“Somers!” bellowed Cromwell.
“Well it doesn’t make much sense,” said Somers, looking slightly perplexed. “You’ve got to do better than that!”
“But I already went through his bizarre sexual habits,” said Jane “really Cromwell can’t you just fill in the rest? Have him beat me if you like. I’ve got to go and start filching stuff out of his room before you arrest him. There’s not much time left is there?”
“Also,” continued Somers “how do you expect to implicate Brereton in this anyway? Really Crummy, I think you’re making this way too complicated”
“Brereton?” Jane asks, looking bewildered “How are you going to do that?”
“He’s lining up some people who owe him money for the jury,” Somers capered around the room again.
“Ah,” said Jane, rising from her chair and neatly arranging her skirts “that should do it. But you’re going to need at least one confession”
“Did you say you wanted to shag me?” Cromwell suddenly asked hopefully.
Jane burst out laughing.
Cromwell sat at the head of the table, Mark Smeaton on his right, and will Somers on his left. What was Somers doing there anyway? He gave him a fierce look, and Somers made a great fuss about arranging Chapuys hat on the table next to him. Cromwell turned back to Smeaton.
“So, now we need a confession of course,” he said shortly, longing for bed. It had been such a long day already.
“Yes, yes’ Mark was fixated on the cakes “the Queen is in love with me”
Mark stuffed a cake in his mouth.
Everyone looked at him.
Suddenly a horrified look came over his face. He turned to Somers.
‘Why would I say that?” he implored, aghast.
Somers shrugged “Seems incredibly stupid. Who’s writing this pose anyway?”
“Prose,” Cromwell corrected him.
‘No Crummy,” said Somers with a smile. “Pose”
“Really, it’s ridiculous,” stammered Mark “You haven’t even tortured me. Who would say that?”
“Well you’ve said it now, can’t take it back,’ said Cromwell cheerfully.
‘No I take it back,’ snapped Mark. “ It’s ludicrous!”
“CAN’T!” bellowed Cromwell.
“Well you can’t torture me into it now,” said Mark sulkily “It’s not like you’ve got a portable rack here.”
Cromwell looked around frantically. There must be something to torture him with.
“Father,” interjected Gregory “you’ve already got the confession, do we need to torture him?”
“Of course” snapped Cromwell “He took it back.”
“But he can’t,” said Gregory
“CAN!” shouted Mark.
“Can’t,” said Gregory “he’s written it down. There’s no need to torture him now.”
“But we’ve got to,” Cromwell said sourly, “because we forgot to do that first.”
“Well, how, Crummy?” asked Somers, as Mark’s eyes grew wide with fear. Cromwell sat for a moment, then leapt out of his chair.
“I know,” he cried. He turned to Gregory
“Bring up the baubles!” he intoned dramatically.
Somers and Gregory were staring at him.
Mark looked bemused.
“The Christmas room,” shouted Cromwell in glee “Sure to scare the lights out of him”
“Really?” said Gregory, looking unconvinced.
“Yes that doesn’t sound very scary Master Secretary,” Mark said, unhelpfully.
“Of course it’s scary!” cried Cromwell. “It’s got decorations!”
“No, really Crummy, it doesn’t sound scary at all” said Somers.
“Sounds stupid to me,” injected Chapuys hat.
Mark looked at the hat, screamed, and fainted dead away.
“Well I suppose that’s solved,” said Somers with a mirthless grin. “Come on now Crummy we’ve got to get back to the castle, it’s getting past bed-time.”
He, Cromwell, was thoroughly tired and fed up. This day felt like it would never end. With Somers trailing him he stormed into the King’s privy chamber. Henry was playing cards with Rochford and Weston. Ah, he thought, excellent. This should take no time at all.
“You, you,” he said pointing at Rochford and Weston “Arrested. Hurry now, off to the Tower.
“Whatever for?” injected Henry Norris. Cromwell swung around.
“What are you doing here Norris?” he snapped “I’ve already arrested you!”
Norris’s mouth popped open. Weston looked confused.
“You shagged the Queen,” he told Weston hauling him out of his chair “And you” he pointed at Rochford.
“Weston shagged me?” Rochford asked, bewildered.
“No, You shagged Anne,” Cromwell said impatiently, summoning some guards.
“Shagged my sister?” Rochford shouted, incensed, leaping out of his chair.
“Yes, yes, “Cromwell said wearily, “Because incest is easy”
“What?” spluttered Rochford
“Incest is easy”
“Maybe for you, you old pervert!” shouted Rochford.
“Good one George,” chuckled Brereton
“Brereton, you’re not usually here until the execution,” Somers said, hustling him out of the room.
“That’s right, nobody ever says anything about me!” shouted Brereton as Will frogmarched him outside.
“What’s this about incest,” Henry asked perplexed. “And why have you broken up my card game? I was winning!”
“You don’t like Anne anymore, you like Jane,” Cromwell said as he stuffed his pockets with coins from the table “And Anne shagged this lot. All of them. Her brother too. So we’ll send them to the Tower”
“She would never shag her brother!” said Henry indignantly.
“But when brothers and sisters don’t grow up together,” Cromwell explained patiently “and then they see each other again as adults they can easily be attracted to each other and want to shag. So, you see, incest is easy”
“What, what? That’s preposterous!” spluttered Henry. “I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous before”
“Ah,” Cromwell floundered, a moment.
“She was planning to poison Fitzroy, and have someone seduce Mary to ruin her reputation!”
Henry let out a great shout of laughter.
“Mary!” he leaned back in his chair, roaring “Who on earth would try to seduce Mary?”
Cromwell froze. Somers gave Henry a look of intense dislike and snuck up behind him, thumping on the back of his head with his bauble. Henry’s eyes went glassy, then he focused again and smiled at Cromwell.
“Pair of oafs,” muttered Somers
Cromwell looked at Henry, who was watching the last of his friends being hustled out of the room. He looked back and Cromwell, and suddenly lunged for his gold collar.
“Shiny, shiny, shiny,” Henry shouted happily, as Cromwell was flattened under his weight.
Somers made a great show of sidling out of the room.