Privy Seal : His Last Venture, by Ford Madox Ford

Part three

The Sunburst

i

In the great place of Smithfield, towards noon, Thomas Culpepper sat his horse on the outskirts of the crowd. By his side Hogben, the gatewarden, had much ado to hold his pikestaff across his horse’s crupper in the thick of the people.

The pavement of heads filled the place — bare some of them, some of them covered, according as their owners had cast their caps on high for joy at the Bishop of Worcester’s words against the Papist that was to be burned, or as they pressed their thumbs harder down in disfavour and waited to shew their joy at the hanging of the three Protestants that should follow. In the centre towered on high a great gallows from which depended a chain; and at the end of the chain, half-hidden by the people, but shewing his shoulders and his head, a man in a friar’s cowl. And, towering as high as the gallows, painted green as to its coat and limbs, but gilt in the helmet and brandishing a great spear, was the image called David Darvel Gatheren that the Papist Welsh adored. This image had been brought there that, in its burning, it might consume the friar Forest. It gazed, red-cheeked and wooden, across the sunlight space at the pulpit of the Bishop of Worcester in his white cassock and black hat, waving his white arms and exhorting the man in the gallows to repent at the last moment. Some words of Latimer might now and again be heard; the chained friar stood upon the rungs of a ladder set against the gallows post; he hung down his head and shook it, but no word could be heard to come from his lips.

‘Damnable heretic and foul traitor!’ Latimer’s urgings came across the sea of heads. ‘Here sitteth his Majesty’s council ——’ At these words went up a little buzz of question, but sufficient from all that great crowd to send as it were a wind that blew away the Bishop’s words. For the style ‘his Majesty’ was so new to the land that people were questioning what new council this might be, or what lord’s whose style they did not know. Latimer waved his arm behind him, half turning, to indicate the King’s men. These ministers, bravely bonneted so that the jewels sparkled, habited in brown so that the red cloth covering their tiers of seats shewed between their arms and shoulders, sat, like a gay bank of flowers above the lake of heads, surrounded by many other lords and ladies in shining colours. They sat there ready to sign the pardon that was prepared if the friar would be moved by fear or by the Bishop’s argument to hang his head and recant.

The friar, truly, hung his head, clung to the rungs of the ladder, trembled so that all men might see, and once caught furiously at the iron chain and shook it; but no word came from his lips. Culpepper was bursting with pride and satisfaction because he was a made man and would have all the world to know it. He swung his green bonnet round his red head and called for huzzays when the friar shewed fear. Hogben called for huzzays for Squahre Tom of Lincoln, and many men cheered. But the silence dropped again, and the Bishop’s words, raised now very high, dominated the sunlight and eddied around the tall faces of the house fronts behind.

‘Here have sat the nobles of the realm and the King’s Majesty’s most honourable council only to have granted pardon to you, wretched creature, if but some spark of repentance would have happened in ye.’ Hanging his cowled poll beneath the beam that reached gigantic and black across the crowd, the friar shook his head slowly. ‘Declared to you your errors I have,’ cried Latimer. ‘Openly and manifestly by the scriptures of God, with many and godly exhortations have I moved you to repentance. Yet will you neither hear nor speak ——’

‘Bones of St. Nairn!’ Culpepper cried; ‘here is too much speaking and no work. Huzzay! e caitiffs. Burn. Burn. Burn. For the honour of England.’ And, starting from his figure at the verge of the crowd, cries went up of ‘Huzzay!’ of ‘Burn!’ and ‘St George for London!’ and unquiet rumours and struggles and waving in the crowd of heads, so that the Bishop’s voice was not heard any more that day.

But through the crowd a silence fell as the image slowly and totteringly moved forward, ankle deep only in the crowd. Ropes from the figure’s neck ran out and tightened — some among the crowd began to sing the song against Welsh Papists that ran —

’David Darvel Gatheren

As sayeth the Welshmen

Fetched outlaws out of hell!

and the burden of it rose so loud that the image swayed over and fell unheard. At that too a silence fell, and presently there came the sound of axes chopping. The friar, swaying on his ladder, looked down and then made a great sign of the cross. The Bishop in his pulpit, raising his white arms in horror and imprecation, seemed to be giving the signal for new uproars.

Whilst he shouted with delight, Culpepper felt a man catch at his leg. He kicked his foot loose, but his hand on the bridle was clutched. There was a fair man at his horse’s shoulder that bore Privy Seal’s lion badge upon his chest. His face was upturned, and in the clamour he spoke indistinguishable words. Culpepper struck towards the mouth with his fist; the man shrank back, but stood, nevertheless, close still in the crowd. When the silence fell again, Culpepper could hear amongst the swift chopping of the axes the words —

‘I rede ye ride swiftly to Hampton. I am the Lord Cromwell’s man.’

Culpepper brought his excited mind from the thought of the burning and the joy of the day, with its crowd and its odour of men, and sunshine and tumult.

‘Ye say? Swine,’ he shouted. ‘Come aside!’ He caught at the man’s collar and kicked his horse and pulled at its jaws till it drew them out of the thin crowd to a street’s opening.

‘Sir,’ the man said — he had a goodly cloth suit of dark green that spoke to his being of weight in some house-hold —‘ye are like to lose your farms at Bromley an ye hasten not to Master Viridus, who holdeth the deedings to you.’

Culpepper uttered an inarticulate roar and smote his patient horse on the side of the head for two minutes of fierce blows, digging with his heels into the girthings.

‘Sir,’ the man said again, ‘some lord will have these lands an ye come not to Hampton ere six of the clock. I know not the way of it that be a servant. But Master Viridus sent me with this message.’

Already a thin swirl of blue smoke was ascending past the friar’s figure to the bright sky; it caressed the beam of the gallows and Culpepper’s bloodshot eye pursued it upwards.

‘Before God!’ he muttered, ‘I was set to see this burning. Ye have seen many; I never a one.’ A new spasm of rage caught him: he dragged at his horse’s head, and shouting, ‘Gallop! gallop!’ set off into the dark streets, his crony behind his back.

In the Poultry he knocked over a man in a red coat that had a gold chain about his neck; on the Chepe he jumped his horse across a pigman’s booth — it brought down Hogben, horse and pike; three drunken men were fighting in Paternoster Street — Culpepper charged above their bodies; but very shortly he came through Temple Bar and was in the marshes and fields. Well out between the hedgerows he was aware that one galloped behind him. He drew a violent rein where the Cow Brook crossed the deep muddied road and looked back.

‘Sir,’ he called, ‘this night I will hold a mouse on a chain above a coal fire. So I will see a burning, and my cousin Kat shall see it with me.’ He spurred on again.

By the time he was come to Brentford four men, habited like the first, rode behind him. When he stayed to let his horse drink from the river opposite Richmond Hill, he was aware that across the stream a pageant with sweet music marched a little beyond the further bank. He could see the tops of pikes and pennons amid the tree trunks.

He muttered that such a pageant he would very soon make for himself; for, filled with the elation of his new magnificence, since Privy Seal was his friend and Viridus was earnest to do him favour, he imagined that no captain nor lord in that land soon should overpass him. For that any lord should desire his new lands troubled him little; only he hastened to cut that lord’s throat and to kiss his cousin Kat.

It was a quarter before six when he drew rein in the green yard that lay before the King’s arch in Hampton. There befel the strangest scuffle there; flaring for a moment and gone out like the gunpowder they sometimes lit in saucers for sport. A man called Lascelles came slowly from under the arch to meet him, and then, running over the green grass from the little side door, came the young Poins in red breeches, pulling off a red coat that he had had but half the time to don and tugging at his sword whose hilt was caught in the sleeve hole. Even as he issued, Lascelles, walking slowly, began to run and to call. Four other men of Privy Seal’s ran from under the arch, and the four men that had followed behind him so far, closed their horses round his. The boy had his sword out and his coat gave as he ran. Lascelles closed near him on the grass, stretched out a foot to trip, and the boy lay sprawling, his hands stretched out, his sword three yards before him. The four men that had run from the arch had him up upon his feet and held his arms when Culpepper had ridden the hundred yards from the gate to them.

‘Why,’ said Culpepper, gazing upon the boy’s face, ‘it was thee wouldst have my farms.’ He spat in the boy’s face and rode complacently under the archway where were many men of Privy Seal’s in the side chambers and on the steps that ran steeply to the King’s new hall.

‘I do conceive now,’ Culpepper, in descending from his horse, spoke to Lascelles, ‘wherefore that knave would have had me stay in Calais and be warder of barges. ‘A would have my lands here.’

Word was given him that he must without delay go to the Sieur Viridus, and in a high good humour he followed the lead of Lascelles through the rabbit warren of small and new passages of the palace. In them it was already nearly dark.

It was in that way that, landing at the barge stage, a little stiff with the cold of his barge journey, Throckmorton came upon the young Poins in his scarlet breeches, his face cut and bleeding in his contact with the earth, his sword gone. Privy Seal’s men that had fallen upon him had kicked him out of the palace gates. They had no warrant yet to take him; the quarrel was none of theirs. The boy was of the King’s Guard, it was true, but his company lay then at the Tower.

Throckmorton cursed at him when he heard his news; and when he heard that Culpepper was then in the palace where window lights already shone before him, he ran to the archway. He had no time for reflection save as he ran. Word was given him in the archway itself that Privy Seal would see him instantly and with great haste and urgency. He asked only for news where Thomas Culpepper was, and ran, upon the disastrous hearing that Viridus had taken him up the privy stairway. And, in that darkness, thoughts ran in his head. Disaster was here. But what? Privy Seal called for him. He had no time for Privy Seal. Culpepper was gone to Kat Howard’s room. Viridus there had taken him. There was no other room up the winding staircase to which he could go. Here was disaster! For whether he stayed Culpepper or no, Privy Seal must know that he had betrayed him. As he ran swiftly the desperate alternative coursed in his mind. Rich, the Chancellor of the Augmentations, and he had their tale pat, that Privy Seal was secretly raising the realm against the King. He himself had got good matter that morning listening to the treasonable talking of the printer Badge.

Several men in the stair angle would have stopped him when at last he was at foot of the winding stairs. He whispered:

‘I be Throckmorton upon my master’s business,’ and was through and in the darkness of the stairway.

Why was there no cresset? Why were there these men? It came into his mind that already the King had heard Culpepper. Already Katharine was arrested. He groaned as he mounted the stairs. For in that case, with those men behind him, he was in a gaol already. He paused to go back; then it came to him that, if he could win forward and find the King, who alone, by giving ear, could save him, he would yet not know first how Katharine had fared. He had a great stabbing at his heart with that thought, and once more mounted.

From the door next hers there streamed a light. Hers was closed. He ran to it and knocked, leaning his head against the panels to listen. There was no sound, no sound at all when he knocked again. It was intolerable. He thrust the door open. No woman was there and no man. He went in. He thought: ‘If the room be in disorder ——’

He made out in the twilight that the room stood as always; the chair loomed where it should; there was a spark on the hearth; the books were ordered on the table; no stool was overturned. He stood amid these things, his heart beating tumultuously, his ears pricked up, stilling his breathing to listen, in the blue twilight, like a wild beast.

A voice said:

‘Body o’ God! Throckmorton!’ beneath its breath, the light of the next door grew large and smaller again; he caught from there the words: ‘It is Throckmorton.’ And at the sound Throckmorton loosened his dagger in its sheath. Some glimmering of the plan reached him; they were awaiting Katharine’s coming, and a great load fell from his mind. She was not yet taken.

He paused to stroke his beard for fear it was disordered, pulled from over his shoulder the medallion on the chain; it had flown there as he ran. He pushed ajar the next door a minute later, having thought many thoughts and appearing stately and calm.

He replaced the door at its exact angle and gazed at the three silent men. Thomas Culpepper, his brows knotted, his lips moving, was holding his head askew to see the measurements upon a map of his farm at Bromley. That Lascelles had gone out and come back saying that one Throckmorton was in the next room was nothing to him. The next room was nothing to him; he was there to hear of his farms.

Viridus, silent, dark and enigmatic, gazed at a spot upon the table; Lascelles, his mouth a little open, his eyes dilated, had his hands upon it.

Without speaking, Throckmorton noted that the room was empty save for the table and benches; the hangings had been taken down; all the furnishings were gone. That morning the room had been well filled, warm, and in the occupancy of the Lady Deedes. Therefore Cromwell had worked this change. No other had this power. They waited, then, those three, for the coming of Katharine Howard or the King. Lascelles shewed fear and surprise at his being there; therefore Lascelles was deeply concerned in this matter. Lascelles was in the service of Cranmer that morning; now he sat there. Thus he, too, for certain, was in this plan; he was a new servant to Privy Seal — and new servants are zealous. With Viridus he had had some talk of events. Therefore Lascelles was the greatest danger.

Throckmorton moved slowly behind Culpepper and sat down beside him; in his left hand he had his small dagger, its blue blade protruding from the ham; Culpepper beside him was at his right. He said very softly in Italian to Lascelles:

‘Both your hands are upon the table; if you move one my dagger pierces your eye to the brain. So also if you speak in the English language.’

Lascelles muttered: ‘Judas! Traditore!’ Viridus sat motionless, and Culpepper moved his finger across the plan of the farm.

‘Here is the mixen,’ he appealed to Viridus, who nodded.

It was as if Throckmorton, with his slow manner and low voice, was a friend who had come in to speak to Lascelles about the weather or the burnings. He was no concern of Culpepper’s, nor was Lascelles who had spoken no word at all.

Throckmorton kept his head turned towards Lascelles as if he were still addressing him, and spoke in the same level voice, still in Italian.

‘Viridus, to thee I speak. This is a very great matter.’ Unconsciously he used the set form of words of Privy Seal. ‘Consider well these things. The day of our master is nigh at an end. Rich, Chancellor of the Augmentations, thy crony and master, and my ally, hath made a plan to go with me to the King this night with witnesses and papers accusing Privy Seal of raising the land against his Highness. Will you join with us, or will you be lost with Privy Seal?’

Viridus kept his eyes upon the same spot of the table.

‘Tell me more,’ he said. ‘This matter is very weighty.’ His tone was level, monotonous and still. He too might have been saying that the sunshine that day had been long.

‘A fad to talk Latin of ye courtiers,’ Culpepper said with uninterested scorn. ‘Ye will forget God’s language of English.’ He slapped Throckmorton on the sleeve. ‘See, what a fine farm I have for my deserts,’ he said.

‘Ye shall have better,’ Throckmorton said. ‘I have moved the King in your behalf.’ But he kept his eyes on Lascelles.

Culpepper cast back his cap from his eyes and leant away the better to slap Throckmorton on the back.

‘Ye ha’ heard o’ my deeds,’ he said.

‘All England rings with them,’ Throckmorton said. He interjected, ‘Still! hound!’ to Lascelles in Italian, and went on to Culpepper: ‘I ha’ moved the King to come this night to thy cousin’s room hard by for I knew ye would go to her. The King is hot to speak with thee. Comport thyself as I do bid thee and art a made man indeed.’

Culpepper laughed with hysterical delight.

‘By Cock!’ he shouted. ‘Master Viridus, thou art naught to this. Three farms shall not content me nor yet ten.’

Throckmorton’s eyes shot a glance at Viridus and back again to Lascelles’ face.

‘If you speak I slay you,’ he said. Lascelles’ eyes started from his head, his mouth worked, and on the table his hands jerked convulsively. But Throckmorton had seen that Viridus still sat motionless.

‘By Cock!’ Culpepper cried. ‘By Guy and Cock! let me kiss thee.’

‘Sir,’ Throckmorton said, ‘I pray you speak no more words, not at all till I bid you speak. I am a very great lord here; you shall observe gravity and decorum or never will I bring you to the King. You are not made for Courts.’

‘Oh, I kiss your hands,’ Culpepper answered him. ‘But wherefore have you a dagger?’

‘Sir,’ Throckmorton said again, ‘I will have you silent, for if the King should pass the door he will be offended by your babble.’ He interjected to Viridus, speaking in Italian, ‘Speak thou to this fool and engage him to think. I can give you no more grounds, but you must quickly decide either to go with Rich the Chancellor and myself or to remain the liege of the Privy Seal.’

Never once did he take his eyes from Lascelles, and the sweat stood upon his forehead. Once when Lascelles moved he slid the dagger along the table with a sharp motion and a gasping of breath, as a pincer pressed to the death will make a faint. Yet his voice neither raised itself nor fell one shade.

‘And if I will aid you in this, what reward do I get?’ Viridus asked. He too spoke low and unmovedly, keeping his eyes upon the table.

‘The one-half of my enrichments for five years, the one-half of those of the Chancellor, and my voice for you with the King and with the new Queen.’

‘And if I will not go with you?’

‘Then when the King passeth this door I do cry out “Treason! treason!” and you, I, and this man, and this shall to-night sleep in the King’s prison, not in Privy Seal’s. And I will have you think that I am sib and rib with Kat Howard who shall sway the King if her cousin be induced not to play the beast.’

Viridus spoke no word; but when Culpepper, idle and gaping, reached out his hand to take the black flagon of wine that was between them under the candles on the table, Viridus stretched forth his hand and clasped the bottle.

‘It is not expedient that you drink,’ he said.

‘Why somever then?’ Culpepper asked.

‘That neither do you make a beast of yourself if you come before the King’s great majesty this night,’ Viridus said in his cold and minatory voice, ‘not yet smell beastly of liquors when you kiss the King his hand.’

Culpepper said:

‘By Cock! I had forgot the King’s highness.’

‘See that you kneel before him and speak not; see that you raise your eyes not from the floor nor breathe loudly; see that when the King’s high and awful majesty dismisses you you go quietly.’ Throckmorton spoke. ‘See that you speak not with nor of your cousin. For so dreadful is a king, and this King more than others; and so terrible his wrath and desire of worship — and this King’s more than others — that if ye speak above a whisper’s sound, if ye act other than as a babe before its preceptor’s rod, you are cast out utterly and undone. You shall never more have farms nor lands; you shall never more have joyance nor gladness; you shall rot forgotten in a hole as you had never done brave things for the King’s grace.’

‘By Cock!’ Culpepper said, ‘it seems it is easier to talk of a king than with one.’

‘See that you remember it,’ Throckmorton said, ‘for with great trouble have I brought this King so far to talk with you!’

He moved his dagger yet nearer to Lascelles’ form and held his finger to his lip. Viridus had never once moved; he stayed now as still as ever. Culpepper crammed his hand over his lips.

For from without there came the sound of voices and, in that dead silence, the rustle of a woman’s gown, swishing and soft. A deep voice uttered heavily:

‘Aye, I know your feelings. I have had my sadness.’ It paused for a moment, and mouthed on: ‘I can cap your Lucretius too with “Usque adeo res humanas vis abdita ——”’ It seemed that for a moment the speaker stayed before the door where all three held their breaths. ‘I have read more of the Fathers, of late days, than of the writers profane.’

They heard the breathing of a heavy man who had mounted stairs. The voice sounded more faintly:

‘Now you have naught further to think of than the goodly words of Ecclesiastes: “Et cognovi quod non esset melius, nisi laetare et. . . . ”’ The voice died dead away with the closing of the door. And as a torch passed, Throckmorton knew that the King had waited there whilst light was being made in Katharine’s room. He said softly to Viridus:

‘Whilst I go unto them you shall hold this dagger against this fool’s throat. We gain as many hours as we may hold him from blabbing to Privy Seal. And consider that we must bring to the King Rich and Udal and many other witnesses this night.’

‘Throckmorton,’ Viridus said, ‘before thou goest thou shalt satisfy me of many things. I have not yet given myself into thy hands.’

ii

A weary sadness had beset Katharine Howard ever since she had knelt before Anne of Cleves at Richmond, and it was of this the King had spoken outside the door whilst they had waited for light to be made.

All Anne’s protesting that willingly she rendered up a distasteful crown could not make Katharine hugely glad with the manner of her own taking it. And, when a messenger, dressed as a yeoman in green, had come into the bright gallery to beg the Queen and that fair lady the Lady Katharine Howard to come a-riding side by side and witness the sports that certain poor yeomen made in the woods upon Thames-side, she felt a sinking in her heart that no Rhenish of the Queen’s could relieve. She desired to be alone and to pray — or to be alone with Henry and speak out her heart and devise how they might atone to the Queen. But she must ride at the Queen’s right hand with the Duke of Suffolk at her left. It was so between their captives that the Cæsars had ridden into Rome after the taking of barbaric kings. But she had waged no war.

She did not, in her heart, call shame upon the King; she knew him to be a heavy man with bitter sorrows who must in these violentnesses and brave shows find refuge and surcease; it was her province to endure and to find excuse for him. But to herself she quoted that phrase of Lucretius that the King again repeated: there was a hidden destiny that tamed the shows of the great; and she was the mutest of that throng that upon white horses, all with little flags flying and horns blowing, cantered to see the yeomen shoot. For the ladies and knights, avid of these things, loved above all good bowmanry and wagered with out-stretched hands for the marksmen that most they deemed to have skill or that usually seemed to enjoy the fortunate favours of chance and the winds.

But, being alone with the King —(for when the Queen rode back to Richmond the notable bowman in green walked, holding Katharine’s stirrup, back to Hampton at her saddle-bow)— she could not stay herself from venting her griefs.

Et cognovi quod non esset melius nisi laetari et facere bene in vita sua’— Henry finished his quotation when they were within her room. He sat himself down in her chair and stretched his legs apart; being tired with his long walk at her saddle bow, the more boisterous part of his great pleasure had left him. He was no more minded to slap his thigh, but he felt, as it was his favourite image of blessedness to desire, like a husbandman who sat beneath his vine and knew his harvesting prosper.

‘Body of God!’ he said, ‘this is the best day of my life. There doth no cloud remain. Here is the sunburst. For Cleves hath cut himself adrift; I need have no more truck with Anne; you have no more cause nor power to bend yourself from me; tomorrow the Parliament meets, such a Parliament to do my will as never before met in a Republic; therefore I have no more need of Cromwell.’ He snapped his thumb and finger as if he were throwing away a pinch of dust, and when she fell to her knees before his chair, placed his hand upon her head and, smiling, huge and indulgent, spoke on.

‘This is such a day as seldom I have known since I was a child.’ He leaned forward to stroke her dusky and golden hair and laid his hand upon her shoulder, his fingers touching her flushed cheek.

‘On other days I have said with Horace, who is more to my taste than your Lucretius: “That man is great and happy who at day’s end may say: To-day I have lived, what of storms or black clouds on the morrow betide.”’ . . .

He crossed his great legs encased in green, set his heavy head to one side and, though he could see she was minded to pray to him, continued to speak like a man uttering of his memories.

‘Such days as that of Horace I have known. But never yet such a day as today, which, good in itself, leadeth on to goodness and fair prospects for a certain morrow.’ He smiled again. ‘Why, I am no more an old man as I had thought to be. I have walked that far path beside thy horse.’ It pleased him for two things: because he had walked with little fatigue and because he had been enabled to show her great and prodigal honour by so serving her for groom. ‘This too I set to thy account as my good omen. And that thou art. No woman shall have such honours as thou in this land, save only the Mother of God.’ And, after touching his green and jewelled bonnet, he cast it from his head on to the table.

‘Sir,’ she cried out, and clasping her hands uttered her words in anguish and haste. ‘Great kings and lords upon their affiancing day have ever had the habit of granting their brides a boon or twain — as the conferring of the revenues of a province, or the pardoning of criminals.’

‘Why, an thou come not to me to pardon Privy Seal ——’ he began.

‘Sir,’ she cut in on his words, ‘I crave no pardon for Privy Seal; but let me speak my mind.’

He said tenderly:

‘Art in the mood to talk! Talk on! for I know no way to hinder thee.’

‘Sir,’ she said, ‘I ask thee no pardon for Privy Seal, neither his goods ne his life. I maintain this man hath well served thee and is no traitor; but since that he hath ground the faces of the poor, hath made thee to be hated by bringing of false witness, hath made the thirsty earth shrink from drinking of blood, hath cast down the Church — since that this man in this way hath brought peril upon the republic and upon the souls of poor and witless folk, this man hath wrought worse treasons than any that I wot of. If ye will adjudge him to die, I am no fool to say: No!’

Henry wrinkled his brows and said:

‘Grinding the faces of the poor is in law no treason. Yet I may not slay him save upon the occasion of treason. I would a man would come to me that could prove him traitor.’

Kneeling before the King she grasped each of his knees with one of her hands.

‘Sir,’ she said, ‘this is your occasion, none of mine. I would ye would reconcile it to your conscience so to act to him as I would have you, for his injustice to the poor and for his cogged oaths. But yet grant me this: to cog oaths for the downfall of Privy Seal upon the occasion of treason ye must have many other innocents implicated with him; such men as have had no idea, no suspicion, no breath of treason in their hearts. Grant me their lives. Sir, let me tell you a tale that I read in Seneca.’ She moved her body nearer to him upon the floor, set her hands upon his two arms and gazed, beseeching and piteous, up into his face.

‘Sir,’ she said, ‘you may read it in Seneca for yourself that upon the occasion of Cinna’s treachery being made known to the Emperor Augustus, the Emperor lay at night debating this matter in his mind. For on the one side, says he in words like this: “Shall I pardon this man after that he hath assailed my life, my life that I have preserved in so many battles by sea and by land, after I have stablished one single peace throughout the globe into all the corners thereof? Shall he go free who has considered with himself not only to slay me but to slay me when I offered sacrifice, ere its consummation, so that I may be damned as well as slain? Shall I pardon this man?” And, upon the other side, the Emperor Augustus, lying in the black of the night, being a prince, even as thou art, prone to leniency, said such words as these: “Why dost thou, Augustus, live, if it is of import to so many people that thou diest? Shall there never be an end to thy vengeance and thy punishments? Is thy single life of such worth that so much ruin shall for ever be wrought to preserve it?”’

‘Why, I have had these thoughts,’ Henry said. ‘Speak on. What did this Emperor that thought like me?’

‘Sir,’ Katharine continued, and now she had her hands upon his shoulders, ‘the Empress Livia his wife lay beside him and was aware of these his night sweats and his anguishes. “And the counsels of a woman; shall these be listened to?” she spoke to him. “Do thou in this what the Physicians follow when their accustomed recipes are of no avail to cure. They do try the contrary drugs. By severity thou hast never, sire, profited from the beginning to this very hour that is; Lepidus has followed to death Savidienus; Murena, Lepidus; Caepio followed Murena; Eynatius, Caepio. Commence to essay at this pass how clemency shall act in cure. Cinna is convicted: pardon him. Further to harm thee he hath no power, and it shall for ever redound to thy glory.”’

She leaned upon him with all her weight, having her arms about his neck.

‘Sir,’ she said, ‘the Emperor Augustus listened to his wife, and the days that followed are styled the Golden Age of Rome, he and the Empress having great glory.’

Henry scratched his head, holding his beard back from her face that lay upon his chest; she drew herself from him and once more laid her hands upon his knees. Her fair face was piteous and afraid; her lips trembled.

‘Dear lord,’ she began tremulously, ‘I live in this world, and, great pity ’tis! I cannot but have seen how many have died by the block and faggots. Yet is there no end to this. Even today they have burnt upon the one part and the other. I do know thy occasions, thy trials, thy troubles. But think, sir, upon the Empress Livia. Cromwell being dead, find then a Cinna to pardon. Thou hast with thy great and princely endeavourings given a Roman peace to the world. Let now a Golden Age begin in this dear land.’

She rose to her feet and stretched out both her hands.

‘These be the glories that I crave,’ she said. ‘I would have the glory of advising thee to this. Before God I would escape from being thy Queen if escape I might. I would live as the Sibyls that gave good counsel and lived in rocky cells in sackcloth. So would I fainer. But if you will have me, upon your oaths to me of this our affiancing, I beseech you to give me no jewels, neither the revenue of provinces for my dower. But grant it to me that in after ages men may conceive of me as of such a noble woman of Rome.’

Henry leaned forward and stroked first one knee and then the other.

‘Why, I will pardon some,’ he said. ‘It had not need of so many words of thine. I am sick of slaughterings when you speak.’ A haughty and challenging frown came into his face; his brows wrinkled furiously; he gazed at the opening door that moved half imperceptibly, slowly, in the half light, after the accustomed manner, so that one within might have time to cry out if a visitor was not welcome. For, for the most part, in those days, ladies set bolts across their doors.

Throckmorton stood there, blinking his eyes in the candle-light, and, slowly, he fell upon his knees.

‘Majesty,’ he said, ‘I knew not.’

The King maintained a forbidding silence, his green bulk inert and dangerous.

‘This lady’s cousin,’ Throckmorton pronounced his words slowly, ‘is new come from France whence he hath driven out from Paris town the Cardinal Pole.’

The King lifted one hand from his thigh, and, heavily, let it fall again.

Throckmorton felt his way still further.

‘This lady’s cousin would speak with this lady in cousin-ship. He was set in my care by my lord Privy Seal. I have brought him thus far in safety. For some have made attacks upon him with swords.’

Katharine’s hand went to her throat where she stood, tall and half turning from the King to Throckmorton. The word ‘Wherefore?’ came from her lips.

‘Wherefore, I know not,’ Throckmorton answered her steadily. His eyes shifted for a moment from the King and rested upon her face. ‘But this I know, that I have him in my safe keeping.’

‘Belike,’ the King said, ‘these swordsmen were friends of Pole.’

‘Belike,’ Throckmorton answered.

He fingered nonchalantly the rim of his cap that lay beside his knees.

‘For his sake,’ he said, ‘it were well if your Grace, having rewarded him princely for this deed, should send him to a distant part, or to Edinbro’ in the Kingdom of Scots, where need for men is to lie and observe.’

‘Belike,’ the King said. ‘Get you gone.’ But Throckmorton stayed there on his knees and the King uttered: ‘Anan?’

‘Majesty,’ Throckmorton said, ‘I would ye would see this man who is a poor, simple swordsman. He being ill made for courts I would have you reward him and send him from hence ere worse befall him.’

The King raised his brows.

‘Ye love this man well,’ he said.

‘Here is too much beating about the bush,’ burst from Katharine’s lips. She stood, tall, winding her hands together, swaying a little and pale in the half light of the two candles. ‘This cousin of mine loves me well or over well. This gentleman feareth that this cousin of mine shall cause disorders — for indeed he is of disordered intervals. Therefore, he will have you send him from this Court to a far land.’

‘Why, this is a monstrous sensible gentleman,’ Henry said. ‘Let us see this yokel.’ He had indeed a certain satisfaction at the interrupting, for with Katharine in her begging moods he was never certain that he must not grant her his shirt and go a penance to St Thomas’ shrine.

Katharine stayed with her hand upon her heart, but when her cousin came his green figure in the doorway was stiff; he trembled to pass the sill, and looking never at her but at the King’s shoes, he knelt him down in the centre of the floor. The words coming to her in the midst of anguishes and hot emotions, she said:

‘Sire, this is my much-loved cousin, who hath bought me food and dress in my days of poverty, selling his very farms.’

Culpepper grunted over his shoulder:

‘Hold thy tongue, cousin Kat. Ye know not that ye shall observe silence in the awful presence of kings.’

Henry threw his head back and laughed, whilst the chair creaked for a minute’s space.

‘Silence!’ he said. ‘Before God, silence! Have ye ever heard this lady’s tongue?’ He grew still and dreadful at the end of his mirth.

‘Ye have done well,’ he said. ‘Give me your sword. I will knight you. I hear you are a poor man. I give you a knight’s fee farm of a hundred pounds by the year. I hear you are a rough honest man. I had rather ye were about my nephew’s courts than mine. Get you to Edinbro’.’ He waved his hand to Throckmorton. ‘See him disposed,’ he said.

Culpepper uttered a sound of remonstrance. The King leaned forward in his seat and thundered:

‘Get you gone. Be you this night thirty miles towards the Northland. I ha’ heard ye ha’ made brawls and broils here. See you be gone. By God, I am Harry of Windsor!’

He laid the heavy flat of the sword like a blow upon the green shoulders below him.

‘Rise up, Sir Thomas Culpepper,’ he said. ‘Get you gone!’

Dazed and trembling still a little, Culpepper stuttered his way to the door. When he came by her Katharine cast her arms about his shoulder.

‘Poor Tom,’ she cried. ‘Best it is for thee and me that thou goest. Here thou hast no place.’ He shook his head like a man in a daze and was gone.

‘Art too patient with the springald,’ the King said.

He thundered ‘Body of God!’ again when he saw Throckmorton once more fall to his knees.

‘Sire,’ he said — and for the first time he faltered in his level tones —‘a very great treason has come to my ken this day!’

‘Holy altar fires!’ the King growled, ‘let your treasons wait. Here hath this lady been talking to me very reasonably of a golden age.’

‘Sire,’ Throckmorton said, and he leant one hand on the floor to support him. ‘This is a very great treason of men arming to sustain Privy Seal against thee! I have seen it; with mine own eyes I have seen it in thy town of London.’

Katharine cried out, ‘Ah!’

The King leapt to his feet.

‘Ho, I will arm,’ he said, and grew pale. For, with a sword in his hand or where fighting was, this King had middling little fear. But, even as the lion dreads a little mouse, so he feared secret rebellions.

‘Sire,’ Throckmorton said, and his face was towards Katharine as if he challenged her:

‘This is the very truth of the very truth, I call upon what man will to gainsay me. This day I heard in the city of London, at the house of the printer, John Badge ——’ and he repeated the speech of the saturnine man —‘that “he would raise a thousand prentices and a thousand journeymen to shield Privy Seal from peril; that he could raise ten thousand citizens and ten thousand tenned again from the shires!”’

Katharine kept her eyes upon Throckmorton who, knowing her power to sway the King, nodded gravely and looked into her eyes to assure her that these words were true.

But the King, upon his feet, marched towards the door.

‘Let us arm my guard,’ he said. ‘I will play Nero to London town.’

Nevertheless Throckmorton kept his knees.

‘Majesty,’ he said, ‘I have this man in my keeping.’ And indeed, at his passing London Bridge he had sent men to take the printer and bring him to Hampton. ‘I pray your pardon that I took him lacking your warrant, and Privy Seal’s I dare not ask.’

The King stayed in his pacing.

‘Thou art a jewel of a man,’ he said. ‘By Cock, I would I had many like thee.’ And at the news that the head of this confederacy was taken his sudden fear fell. ‘I will see this man. Bring him to me.’

‘Sire,’ Katharine said, ‘we spoke even now of Cinna. Remember him!’

‘Madam,’ Throckmorton dared to speak. ‘This is the man that hath printed broadsides against you. No man more hateth you in land or hath uttered more lewdnesses of your chastity.’

‘The more I will have him pardoned,’ Katharine said, ‘that his Highness and all people may see how little I fear his lyings.’

Throckmorton shrugged his shoulders right up to his ears to signify that this was a very madness of Roman pardoning.

‘God send you never rue it,’ he said. ‘Majesty,’ he continued to the King, ‘give me some safe conduct that for half-an-hour I may go about this palace unletted by men of Privy Seal’s. For Privy Seal hath a mighty army of men to do his bidding and I am one man unaided. Give me half-an-hour’s space and I will bring to you this captain of rebellion to your cabinet. And I will bring to you them that shall mightily and to the hilt against all countervail and denial prove that Privy Seal is a false and damnable traitor to thee and this goodly realm. So I swear: Throckmorton who am a trusty knight.’

He was not minded to utter before Katharine Howard the names of his other witnesses. For one of them was the Chancellor of the Augmentations, who was ready to swear that Cromwell, upon the barge when they went in the night from Rochester to Greenwich, had said that he would have the King down if he would not wed with Anne of Cleves. And he had Viridus to swear that Cromwell had said, before his armoury, to the Ambassador of the Schmalkaldners, that ne King, ne Emperor had such another armoury, yet were there twenty score great houses in England that had better, all ready to arm to defend the Protestant faith and Privy Seal. These things he was minded to lay before the King; but before Kat Howard he would not speak them. For, with her mad fury for truth and the letter of Truth that she had gained from reading Seneca till, he thought, her brains were turned, she would begin a wrangle with him. And he had no time to lose; for his ears were pricked up, even as he spoke, to catch any breaking of the silence from the next room where Viridus held Lascelles at the point of his dagger.

The King said:

‘Go thou. If any man stay thee in going whithersoever thou wilt, say that thou beest upon my business; and woe betide them that stay thee if thou be not in my cabinet in the half of an hour with them ye speak of.’

Throckmorton rose stiffly to his feet; at the door he staggered for a moment, and closed his eyes. His cause was won; but he leant against the door-post and gazed at Katharine with a piteous and passionate glance, moving his fingers in his beard, as if he appealed to her in silence as with the eyes of a faithful hound, neither to judge him harshly nor to plead against him. This was the day of the most strain that ever was in his life.

And gazing back at him, Katharine’s eyes were filled with pity, so sick he appeared to be.


‘Body of God!’ the King said in the silence that fell upon them. ‘Now I hold Cromwell.’

Katharine cried out, ‘Let me go; let me go; this is no world for me!’

He caught her masterfully in his arms.

‘This is a golden world, and thou a golden Queen,’ he said.

She held her head back from his lips, and struggled from him.

‘I may not find any straightness here. I can see no clear way. Let me go.’

He took her again to him, and again she tore herself free.

‘Listen to me,’ she cried, ‘listen to me! There have been broadsides printed against the truth of my body; there have been witnesses prepared against me. I will have you swear that you will read of these broadsides, and consider of these witnesses.’

‘Before God,’ he said, ‘I will hang the printers, and slay the witnesses with my fist. I know how these things be made.’ He shook his fist. ‘I love thee so that were they true, and wert thou the woman of Sodom, I would have thee to my Queen!’

She cried out ‘Ah!’

‘Child,’ he calmed himself, ‘I will keep my hands from thee. But I would fain have the kisses of thy mouth.’

She went to lean upon her table, for her knees trembled.

‘Let me speak,’ she said.

‘Why, none hinders,’ he answered her kindly.

‘I swear I do love thee, so that thy voice is as the blows of hammers upon iron to me,’ she said. ‘I may have little rest, save when I speak with thee, for that sustaineth thy servant. But I fear these days and ways. This is a very crooked riddle. So much I desire thee that I am tremulous to take thee. If it be a madness call it a madness, but grant me this!’

She looked at him distractedly, brushing her hands across her eyes.

‘It feels within my heart that I must do a penance,’ she said. ‘I have been wishful to feel upon my brow the pressure of the great crown. Therefore, grant me this: that I may not feel it. And be this the penance!’

‘Child,’ he said, ‘how may you be a Queen, and not crowned with pomp and state?’

‘Majesty,’ she faltered, ‘to prepare myself against that high office I have been reading in chronicles of the lives of them that have been Queens of England. It was his Grace of Canterbury that sent me these books for another purpose. But there ye shall read — in Asser and the Saxon Chronicles — how that the old Queens of Saxondom, when that they were humble or were wives coming after the first, sat not upon the throne to be crowned and sacred, but — so it was with Judith that was stepmother to King Alfred, and with some others whose names in this hurry I may not discover nor remember in my mind — they were, upon some holidays, shewn to the people as being the King’s wife.’

She hung her head.

‘For that I am humble in truth before the world and before my mother Mary in Heaven, and for that I am not thy first Queen, but even thy fifth; so I would be shewn and never crowned.’

She leaned back against the table, supporting herself with her hands against its edges; her eyes piteously devoured his face.

‘Why, child,’ he said, ‘so thou wilt be that fifth Queen; whether thou wilt be a Queen crowned or a Queen shewn, what care I?’

She no longer refused herself to his arms, for she had no more strength.

‘Mary be judge between me and them that speak against me,’ she said, ‘I can no more hold out against my joy or longings.’

‘Sha’t wear a hair shirt,’ he said tenderly. ‘Sha’t go in sackcloth. Sha’t have enow to do praying for me and thee. But hast no need of prayers.’ He lulled her in his arms, swaying on his feet. ‘Hast a great tongue. Speakest many words. But art a very child. God send thee all the joy I purpose thee. And, an thou hast sins, weight me further down in hell therewith.’

The light of the candles threw their locked shadows along the wall and up the ceilings. Her head fell back, her eyes closed, so that she seemed to be dead and her listless hands were open in her skirts.

This web edition published by:

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http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/f/ford/ford_madox/privy-seal/part3.html

Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 21:53