Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to write a short story for our Christmas competition, the judges were blown away by the quality of the stories – you’re a talented lot!
The winner is Lisa Linthicum who wrote a beautiful piece entitled “Wolsey’s Crown – A Tudor Christmas Tale”, a magical piece that had all the right ingredients. Lisa wins signed copies of my three Tudor history books – congratulations, Lisa! Two runners up – Sonetka and Sydney win Anne Boleyn magnet sets.
All of the entries can be enjoyed on the competition page – click here – but here is Lisa’s story. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
Wolsey’s Crown – A Tudor Christmas Tale by Lisa Linthicum
April stared at the twinkling lights on the Christmas tree. Her mind replayed the events of the stress-filled day of family gatherings celebrating Christmas Eve. She swirled the wine in her glass and admired the brilliant ruby colored liquid dancing in the goblet. April took a slow, deliberate sip and savored the flavors as her gaze returned to the lights.
She put the glass down on the end table and stood up from the couch. April felt the thick carpet under her feet as she walked toward the Christmas tree. She paused and smoothed her red sweater and dark wash jeans. Then, her right hand reached out and touched the glittery pig ornament that was her daughter’s favorite. As her fingers stroked the rough texture of the decoration, she glanced at the toy soldier and penguin ornaments that were her sons’ favorites. April’s thoughts turned to the new ornament that her husband had purchased for her the previous weekend.
Her searching gaze finally locked onto the gold crown. April knelt next to the tree as she reached for the glorious ornament. Tim had specifically purchased it for her from an antiques store in England because of her obsession with Tudor history. The ornament had a distinct resemblance to the lost crown of Henry VIII which had recently been restored and put on display at Hampton Court Palace in England. April’s fingers gingerly touched the heavy decoration. She closed her eyes and thought of Henry VIII wearing the original crown.
“You staying up awhile?” Tim’s question startled her.
“Mmmm hhhmmm. Just a bit longer, then I’ll come to bed,” April replied.
“Ok, sweetheart. Don’t be too late. Santa will be here in a little while,” Tim said as he kissed her forehead and playfully mussed her short dark hair before leaving the room.
April removed the crown ornament from the tree branch and squeezed it in her right hand. She returned to the couch, tightly clutching the decoration. She carefully placed the ornament on the couch next to her and picked up her glass of wine. She inhaled the fragrance of the wine before taking a big sip. As she swirled the liquid in her mouth, she stared at the crown. Suddenly it appeared to emit a silver glow. April could not believe her eyes.
“I haven’t had THAT much wine, have I?” she silently asked herself.
She closed her eyes tightly and shook her head, hoping that would help her decipher what was happening. Very slowly, April allowed her eyelids to part. She gasped at the glowing crown beside her on the couch. She felt a bundle of emotions, primarily comprised of fascination and fear.
“Dare I touch it?” her mind asked.
The fingers on her right hand trembled slightly as she reached out for the glowing decoration. She hesitated for a moment as she focused on the crown.
“Yep, still glowing,” she said softly.
Her fingertips brushed the top of the crown. It was shockingly cold. April’s hand recoiled a few inches from the shock of the temperature against her fingers. She gulped and reached out to touch it a second time. This time, she was prepared for its coldness. Her fingers landed on the top of the crown. April could not fathom what was making the decoration glow. As she stared at the crown and felt the frigidity of it, a voice whispered in her ear.
April jumped and jerked her head all around. She was certain that Tim must have snuck out of the bedroom and was playing a prank on her. She stood up and walked all around the living room. She was all alone. April then finished off the wine in her glass with a hearty swig and nervously replaced the goblet on the table.
“Ok, here goes,” April said.
She turned back to look at the crown that she had left on the couch. Her eyes grew wide as they focused on the silver light emitted by the decoration. April quickly sat next to it. As she stared at the top of the crown, she saw swirls of red, blue and green light appear. April felt compelled to hold the ornament again. This time she did not hesitate to pick it up. It was still very cold to the touch. But, the writhing rays of colorful lights were mesmerizing.
The hushed voice was louder this time.
April tightened her grip on the crown and said, “Wolsey, huh?”
She felt a shock go through her body and the red, blue and green lights grew larger and swirled around her body. The room went dark and April’s senses were overwhelmed. She felt like she was zooming down the highway in a convertible at 200 miles per hour. Suddenly the red, blue and green lights disappeared into the crown ornament in her hand. A huge flash of light startled April. That was the last thing she remembered.
April felt something tugging on her red fuzzy sock. She flinched, hoping that her son Ian would get the message and let her sleep a while longer. The tugging grew more forceful, and a voice startled her awake.
“No, I do not know who this is.”
“Well, what should we do?”
April opened her eyes and let out a piercing scream.
“Where am I?” she asked, her voice quivering in fear as she looked around the room. She was not in her living room and there were two men staring at her.
“First of all, we would like to know who you are,” the taller man demanded forcefully.
April noticed they both spoke with a foreign accent and that they were wearing matching outfits that did not appear like any menswear she had seen before – at least in person.
“I am April Hile,” she finally stammered.
“Where are you from? Who sent you?” the other man asked, looking at her in amazement.
“No one sent me. I don’t know how I got here,” April answered. “Now, can you please tell me where I am?”
“What do you mean?” the taller one said.
“I think she is drunk,” the other one interjected. “I mean, look at her hair and her clothes. What woman would go around looking like that – especially here at Hampton Court?”
They continued to whisper to each other in the shadows of the flickering candlesticks about what they should do about the strange woman who had suddenly appeared.
The reality hit April like a knock-out punch from Mike Tyson. She now understood as she looked around at the room and then focused on the two men questioning her.
“Don’t panic,” April’s mind commanded. “Think, think, think.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She thought of the crown ornament in her hand and instantly developed a plan.
“Gentlemen,” she said aloud. “Gentlemen,” she repeated in a louder, more confident voice.
The two men stopped talking and looked at her.
“I am Lady April Hile from the far away kingdom of Oklahoma,” she said. “I have come to visit Cardinal Wolsey and bring him a gift from my kingdom.”
“Oklahoma? Where is that?” said the tall man as he looked at his friend.
“I’ve never heard of it,” the other man replied.
“I assure you that Oklahoma is a grand place with many treasures,” April insisted. “I come in peace and friendship.” She began to feel nervous again about what their reactions would be to her demand to see Cardinal Wolsey.
The two men began whispering to each other again. April tried to maintain an aura of elegance as she stared at them.
“Francis, you go fetch Mr. Cavendish and I will stay here with the lady,” the tall one said.
April felt her knees almost buckle as she heard the name “Cavendish”.
“I have really travelled back in time to Tudor England,” her mind swirled.
“Very well,” the other man answered as he rushed out of the room.
April and the man charged with guarding her both paced, but on opposite sides of the room. April felt the cold of the stone floor through her red fuzzy socks.
“I’m not even wearing shoes,” she thought. “Oh, and my short hair and my clothes must make me look like quite an odd bird.”
Her guard kept glancing at her as he walked back and forth. He couldn’t quite figure out how this woman had just magically appeared and also why she was dressed in such a strange manner.
After what seemed like an eternal wait, Francis returned to the room with George Cavendish, one of Cardinal Wolsey’s most trusted servants.
Instinctively, April did a slight curtsy and bowed her head.
This caught him by surprise, and he bowed his head slightly and said, “My lady,” as he reached out his right hand.
April stood up and approached him and grasped his right hand for a brief second. She felt his gaze pour over her – her short hair, then her sweater and jeans, and finally her bright red socks.
“I am George Cavendish. I understand you would like an audience with Cardinal Wolsey.”
“Yes, I would,” April said, trying to sound regal and brave.
“Well, who are you?” Cavendish quizzed her.
“I am April Hile from the kingdom of Oklahoma,” she answered.
“I see,” he muttered.
“I also bring a gift of tremendous significance for the Cardinal,” April said.
“You may present it to me and I will give it him, and you can be on your way,” Cavendish said sternly.
“I’m afraid that is not possible. I must present the gift to the Cardinal personally,” April insisted.
“My lady, I know nothing of your kingdom and have never heard of you. The Cardinal is far too busy to drop everything to come running to meet with you,” he replied.
Everyone in the room was shocked when Cardinal Wolsey entered the room with a loud swishing sound from his long red robes.
“Mr. Cavendish, I appreciate your efforts on my behalf, but please allow me,” Wolsey said as he nodded at Cavendish.
Cavendish bowed and said, “Yes, Your Imminence.”
April bowed her head as Wolsey approached her.
“My lady,” he said. “How may I help you?”
“It is an honor to meet you,” April stammered. Her eyes wide with wonder as she looked directly at the man she had read about in so many books and watched portrayed in so many movies, plays and TV shows. “I am unsure of how I got here, but I believe I have been sent here to return something of great value to you.”
“Pray tell, what is this item of value?” Wolsey asked, staring at April’s short hair style.
“It’s this crown,” April said softly as she held up the crown ornament.
She wasn’t sure how Cardinal Wolsey would react. She expected that he would probably laugh at the small decoration and send her to the Tower of London for punishment.
Instead, he smiled and said softly, “So, you have my crown.”
Then Wolsey commanded everyone to leave him alone with April. “You too, Mr. Cavendish.”
The three men hurried out of the room causing the flames on the candlesticks to flicker dramatically.
Wolsey and April stared at each other in silence. A nervous knot grew in her stomach as the awkward silence continued. Wolsey walked to the long table in the center of the room and filled two silver goblets with wine. He turned around and approached April, holding one of the goblets out to her.
“Please, sit,” with a curious glance at her.
“April, my name is April,” she said as she sat at the table.
“Ah, Lady April, I am very happy to meet you,” Wolsey said as he raised his goblet.
April raised her goblet and nodded at him, her thoughts still swirling around trying to comprehend what was going on.
“It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to Hampton Court this Christmas Tide,” he continued.
“Thank you, Cardinal Wolsey,” April answered.
April noticed his eyes were now focused on the crown ornament that she had been clutching in her left hand. She felt it begin to grow cold again, and she knew that it was emitting the silver light again.
“Did my crown bring you here?” Wolsey asked quietly.
“I believe so,” April answered in a hushed voice.
“How did the crown come to be in your possession?” he asked.
“My husband purchased it for me as a Christmas gift,” she replied.
“What year are you from?” Wolsey inquired, taking a gulp of wine as he steadied himself for her answer.
April followed his lead and took a big drink of wine before she looked directly into his eyes.
Without skipping a beat, Wolsey said, “I see. Well, then I guess you must be curious about the crown.”
“I am dying to know all about it,” April blurted out. Then she felt incredible nervousness about her choice of words.
“Relax, Lady April. I assure you that you are in no danger,” Wolsey reassured her.
“Thank heavens,” she said breathlessly, taking another sip of wine.
“Now, let me explain the story of the crown,” he said, politely nodding at his anxious guest. “Before I begin, may I hold it?”
April didn’t know what to do. Holding the crown was what seemed to be the reason for her time travel adventure. “Is the crown my only way back home?” she thought to herself.
Wolsey understood her reluctance to hand over the prized object.
“May I touch it?” he asked sternly.
“Yes, of course,” April replied.
Wolsey stood up and stepped away from the table. He flung his robes behind him and stepped toward April. She felt her grip tighten around the crown as he approached. April held the ornament out and Wolsey reached his left hand out to touch it. When his thumb and index finger reached the surface of the crown, a big ball of green light bounced out. The sphere hovered near Wolsey’s head and he smiled broadly. April watched in amazement as Wolsey returned to his seat at the table with the glowing green ball of light following right behind him before it slowly faded away.
“What in the world is that green light?” April asked.
“I actually have no idea,” Wolsey replied.
“My lady, I am about to share with you everything I know about this crown. But, you must first understand that there is much that I do not understand about it. “
April sat back in her chair and stared at the crown as Wolsey shared the story of the crown.
“One day in July in 1525, I was accompanying King Henry and his hunting party out in the countryside. The group had stopped to rest near a small pond. I decided to take a brief walk. As I walked by the water’s edge, I spotted something glowing in the water. I knelt and saw the crown on the bottom of the pond. I reached in and as I grabbed it, a shock went through my body and the world went dark briefly. “
Wolsey paused as he saw April nodding in acknowledgement of his description.
“Suddenly light returned and I found myself in the middle of a crowded room. I instantly knew that something was amiss because of the way the other people were dressed. They were wearing clothes very similar to yours. One of the ladies in the room seemed to recognize me and pointed me out, mentioning to others in her group that it was nice of Hampton Court to arrange for an actor to portray me during the party.”
“Wow,” April stammered. “So the partygoers thought you were an actor! Did you understand what was going on?”
“I really didn’t have time to think it through because then the shock sensation went through me again and I found myself in the dark again for a few seconds. Then I was in the pond.”
“In the pond?” April asked.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Wolsey replied, shaking his head in disgust. “To make matters worse, the King and some of his advisors had grown worried about my absence and were looking for me. I literally appeared out of nowhere right before their eyes. Luckily, they had been indulging in drink, so I was able to explain it away rather easily,” he explained. “Thankfully, I was able to maintain possession of the crown without anyone noticing it.”
“Did you have any other experiences with the crown?” April asked with her eyebrows raised in anticipation.
“I hid it away, not wanting it to fall into someone else’s hands. I wasn’t entirely sure of what had happened that day. But, I did feel very strongly that I had been briefly transported to the future. And, I found great comfort in knowing that people in the future knew who I was,” Wolsey explained.
“Of course we know who you are,” April interjected.
“Well, that is all fine and good. But, I decided that the powers held by this diminutive crown must be hidden away. Things were growing precarious in the King’s Court. Different factions were strategizing against other groups. My position and influence with His Majesty have been constantly eyed with jealousy and suspicion. I have allowed myself to touch the crown a couple of times since that day. But, I never held it in my hands again. A couple of weeks ago, I discovered it was missing when I opened the secret drawer in my cabinet.”
“And now, I arrive at Hampton Court with your crown,” April said with trepidation.
“Yes, My Lady, that appears so,” Wolsey replied.
“Your stay in the future was extremely brief. I wonder how long I will be here. Tomorrow is Christmas, and my family will be very worried if I am not there when they wake up,” April said.
“I do not know. Tell me about your family,” Wolsey answered, looking intently at her.
“I have been married to my husband Tim for 21 years and we have three children, a son who is 13, a daughter who is 10 and another son who is 7,” April answered, smiling as she thought of her family.
“It sounds like you have a nice life. If I knew we had more time, I would talk to you about the future both distant and near,” Wolsey said cunningly.
“I’m not sure that it is a good idea,” April immediately replied. “It could change the course of events of history if I tell you facts about you, Henry VIII and your other contemporaries.”
She stared at him with great curiosity, wondering how he would respond to her refusal. His gaze went to the crown in her hand. After a few moments, he closed his eyes and lowered his head.
“You speak the truth. That is certain – and painful as well,” Wolsey said softly. “Well, tell me, Lady April,” he continued. “Is there anything you would like to know that you feel would aid in the understanding of life in Tudor England?”
A million questions swirled in her mind. Many of those centered on Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. But, April thought better of asking those questions and instead thought of an important one aimed directly at Wolsey.
“Cardinal Wolsey, how would you like to be remembered?”
April could tell he was pleased by the question by the sparkle in his eyes.
“I would like to be known as a man who was dedicated to serving his Majesty above all others,” he sighed.
April smiled and nodded at him. They sat in silence for a few minutes before Wolsey suggested, ‘It is late. Tomorrow is Christmas. Perhaps we should get some rest. You can sleep in one of the many apartments here. If fate deems it right for you to still be here in the morning, I will take you with me to Greenwich to celebrate Christmas with the King.”
“The king?” April gulped.
“I thought that would please you,” Wolsey said slyly as he stood up. “I have one request before we retire. May I touch the crown one last time?”
“Here,” April said as she stood up, holding the crown out for Wolsey.
Wolsey shuffled his feet underneath his long robes. April looked at his face, noticing that he looked a bit tired and weary at this late hour.
His fingers shook as he reached out for the crown. The sensation of electrical voltage sizzled through Wolsey and April. Balls of light of blue, green , red, white and purple radiated from the ornament. Wolsey smiled and sighed as he watched the brilliant display.
Satisfied, Wolsey nodded at April as he pulled his fingers away from the crown and quickly left the room.
Francis reentered the room and escorted April down the long hallway. He paused at a doorway. April paused and nodded at him as she entered the room. She gasped as she took in the opulence of the room.
“This has to be a dream,” she thought as she sleepily climbed into the huge bed.
A quiet tapping sound jarred April awake. As she rubbed her eyes, she said, “Wow! What a dream.”
April forced her eyelids open and got the shock of her life when she saw that she was still in Hampton Court Palace. The crown ornament was next to her on the bed. She picked it up and sighed with sadness when it did not turn cold or glow.
“It’s Christmas, and I’m not home.”
The tapping grew louder and the voice of Francis announced, “Lady April, Cardinal Wolsey requests you ready yourself to travel to Greenwich for the Christmas celebrations.”
“I’ll be ready shortly,” April stammered.
April used her hands to fluff and arrange her hair. She smoothed her sweater and jeans as she stepped into the hallway. She discovered a small red velvet pouch on the table in the room and placed the crown in it.
She discovered that Wolsey was already there waiting for her.
“The King will have already celebrated the first Mass of the Christmas celebration. But there will be two additional services today. There will be a huge feast and lots of merriment on this joyous day. We will make haste to Greenwich,” he explained as he glanced up and down at April’s appearance.
April self-consciously fell into line with the other people going to Greenwich with Wolsey. When the group reached the carriages and horses, Wolsey motioned for April to enter his carriage. The two rode in silence.
April’s thoughts concentrated on meeting King Henry VIII and other members of his Court. She also thought about her family and missing them on Christmas morning. She wondered if she would ever get back home. As her mind returned to the carriage, she noticed Wolsey’s eyes locked on the velvet pouch in her hand.
The carriage continued to jostle and shimmy for what seemed to be an eternity to April. She was close to dozing off when Wolsey’s voice jarred her awake.
April moved toward the opening in the side of the carriage and strained to see what was ahead. She could make out the outline of Greenwich Palace in the distance.
“Lady April, I want to give you a token of my esteem and also as a remembrance of your Christmas journey here,” Wolsey said softly as he placed a small beaded cross in her hand.
“I don’t know what to say, Cardinal Wolsey,” April replied as she gazed at the beautiful cross.
He smiled and nodded at her.
“When we arrive at the palace, just remain by my side. I am not sure how I will explain your presence and your manner of dress, but I will think of something,” he reassured her. “The gossip and attention being paid to the Lady Anne Boleyn will help take away the focus from you.”
The clip clop of the horses hooves slowed to a halt, and the shimmying carriage rolled to a stop. The door of the carriage opened and Cardinal Wolsey climbed out. April scurried behind him, petrified to let him get even two paces ahead of her. She stared in wonder at the people hurrying about and the beauty of the palace. Her hand tightened its grip on the velvet pouch containing the crown.
Wolsey paused at the door of the palace and nodded at April before they stepped inside. The splendor of the palace’s interior was mesmerizing. April could not believe how beautiful it was. Suddenly, trumpets sounded and cries of “His Majesty, the King!” filled the hall. April’s heart pounded in anticipation of catching a glimpse of the famous Monarch. The bustle of activity of the King and his escorts got closer and closer. Wolsey glanced at April, understanding the magnitude of this moment for her. Everyone dropped into curtsy and bows as the King walked by.
April’s eyes lifted and she squeezed the velvet pouch containing the crown and let out a quiet squeal as she saw King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn pass in front of her.
Wolsey darted a disapproving look at her as the King paused several steps away from her.
April quickly lowered her eyes and blurted out, “Your Majesty.”
The tingling shock jolted through her body. She knew instantly that her time in Tudor England was over. Darkness enveloped her as she yelled, ‘Happy Christmas, Wolsey!”
“What did you say?” a puzzled voiced asked.
April recognized the voice belonging to her husband.
“Huh?” she replied as she quickly sat up and looked around her living room.
“I could have sworn you said, ‘Happy Christmas, Wolsey,’” Tim said.
“Really?” April asked.
“I think you must have stayed up too late watching The Tudors,” Tim admonished her playfully as he bent over to kiss her.
“I can’t believe the kids aren’t up yet,” April said as she tried to brush the strange images of her Christmas Eve dreams out of her mind.
She decided a cup of coffee might help jolt her awake, so she headed to the kitchen to get a pot brewing. As she crossed the living room floor, a delicate glow caught her attention. She couldn’t believe what she saw beneath the Christmas tree. Her hands shook violently as she picked up the red velvet pouch containing the crown and the beaded cross Wolsey had given her in her “dream”.