The Mirror and the Light (Mirror | Part 1)

June–July 1540

Sunset, Christophe stands on the threshold. His clothes are torn and his eye is blacked. ‘They made me swear an oath,’ he says, ‘that if I stayed with you I would report any treason you spoke. I swore it, and then I went outside and spat.’ He paces the room. ‘The river lies beyond. Escape can be committed.’

‘Turniphead,’ he says. ‘How can escape be committed? And if it could, how would that leave my family? Do you think you are all coming with me, to Utopia in one big boat?’

He thinks, at least Christophe has not stuck my knife in anybody; or if he has, they haven’t found the corpse.

‘They came trampling,’ the boy says. ‘They demanded keys and I said, give them nothing. But Thomas Avery and those people, they obeyed.’

‘They had no choice.’

‘They came like an army. “Everything here belongs to the king.” They carried our money away from our strongroom. They broke the lock on our closet, where you alone have the key. I said to one, “Watch your feet, you beast of the field, if you walk mud on that carpet of silk flowers, the Lord Cromwell will personally shred the flesh from your bones.” But no, he walked on it. They went down in the cellars with torches. They came up and said, “Bones!”’

Bones and relics, some nameless, some marked with their origin. He thinks, I will send a message: go down to the cellar and find Becket, then pull his label off. That will finish him.

He asks, ‘Who led them?’

‘Who would it be, but Call-Me?’

He looks up. ‘You were not surprised?’

‘No one was surprised. But we were all disgusted.’

He thinks, when Gardiner approached Wriothesley, he did not put a reasonable proposition: which do you choose, Cromwell or me? His offer was: choose me or death.

Christophe says, ‘They threw your papers in boxes to carry away. Call-Me directed where to go – look in this chest, open that. But he did not find all he expected, so then he shouted. Thomas Avery said, “I have suspected Call-Me for months – why did my master entertain him?”’

‘Christ entertained Judas. Not that I force the comparison.’

‘Then Richard Riche came. He also shouted. “Look in the yellow chest in the window.”’ Christophe grins. ‘The yellow chest is gone.’

Gone with it are his letters from the Swiss divines: which would injure him. They may choose to say he is a heretic who denies that God is in the host. But they will have no evidence. And he has no difficulty in saying that God is everywhere.

‘All look for your restoration,’ Christophe says. ‘You will walk back in and all will be as it was. Meanwhile, I am here to serve you.’ He gazes up at the gilded ceiling. ‘I feared to find you in a dungeon.’

‘Have you not been here before?’

He rebuilt these rooms himself, seven years back, for Anne Boleyn to lodge before her coronation. It was he who reglazed them, and ordered the goddesses on the walls; who had their eyes changed from brown to blue, when Jane Seymour came in. You enter through a great guard chamber. There is a presence chamber, where he now sits in a large light space; there is a dining room, a bedroom, and a small oratory. ‘It is not for my comfort,’ he says, ‘so much as for those who will come to put questions to me. I expect them soon.’

For the king’s councillors were prepared for my arrest, if I was not. How did they work it? What backhand whispers, what lifts of the eyebrow, what nods, winks? And what conferences with the king, their informants greasing in as I went out? No wonder Henry turned his back on me when last we spoke. No wonder he addressed himself to the wall. He says, ‘Tell Thurston not to hang up his apron. I want him to send in my meals.’

‘When you get out,’ Christophe says, ‘we nail down Norferk, pull his head off and toss it to the dogs. Riche, I’m spiking him to the floor and rats can nibble him, he can die slow as he likes, I am cheering. Call-Me, I am cutting his legs off and watch him crawl around the courtyard till he bleeds to death.’

He puts his head in his hands. He feels weakened by Christophe’s agenda.

‘It is to me entirely enjoyable,’ Christophe says. ‘I look forward. As for Henri, I shall kick him down Whitehall like a pig’s bladder. Once he is exploded, we shall see who is king. When he is a smear on the cobbles, we shall see who is the last man standing.’

That first night, left alone, he tries to pray. Chapuys had asked him once, what will you do when one day Henry turns on you? He had said, arm myself with patience and leave the rest to God.

There are books which say, contemplate your final hour: live every day as if, that night, you go not to your bed but to your bier. The divines recommend this not just for the prisoner or invalid, but for the man in his pride and pomp, prosperity and health: for the merchant on the Rialto, for the governor in the senate.

But I am not ready, he thinks. Let me see the foe. And the king is mutable. Everybody knows that. We complain of it all the time.

Yet is there an instance – he cannot think of one – where, having turned his face away, Henry turns it back? He left Katherine at Windsor and he never saw her again. He rode away from Anne Boleyn, gave directions to kill her, and left her to strangers.

He has read a library of those volumes called Mirrors for Princes, which state the wise councillor must always prepare for his fall. He should embrace death as a privilege; does not St Paul say, I covet to be dissolved with Christ? But he covets nothing more than to be in his garden on this soft evening, now fading unused beyond the window: where a strong guard stands, in case Cromwell decides on a breath of air.

He puts his hand to his heart. He feels something alien inside his chest – as if the organ has been forced out of shape, stretched at one point and squeezed at another. How many days left? My enemies will try to rush Henry. In case they cannot keep him in this destructive frame of mind, they will want me killed this week. But if the king wants to be free of Anna, he should keep me alive to help him, and perhaps it will not be a simple matter or short. If I can survive two months, by then Henry will have quarrelled with Gardiner, and when he turns to Norfolk what will he find, but obstinacy and incapacity and spleen? So who will govern for him? Fitzwilliam? Tunstall? Audley? They are good enough men – good enough to be a chief minister’s assistant. Three months, and his affairs will be in such disarray that he will be beseeching me to come back.

And I shall say, ‘Not me, sir: I’ve had enough of you, I’m going to Launde.’

But next moment, within a heartbeat, I would snatch the seals from his hands: now, Majesty, where shall I begin?

He thinks of Thomas More, in ward for fifteen months. Continually he scribbled, till his pen and paper were taken away. Although, More could have freed himself at any moment. All he had to do was say some magic words.

When the Giant kills Jack, the Giant himself begins to fail. He is worn down and diminished with loneliness and regret. But it takes the Giant seven years to die.

Next morning Kingston comes in at eight o’clock. ‘How do you?’

‘I do very ill,’ he says.

There are mirrors in the queen’s lodging, as you would expect. He has seen himself, paper-faced, unshaven, unsteady.

‘I have seen this before,’ Kingston says. ‘It afflicts not a few prisoners, in their early days. Especially if their downfall is sudden.’

‘What remedy?’

Perhaps no one has ever asked Kingston this before. But he is not a man to hesitate. ‘Accept it. Settle your mind. Make your reckoning with yourself, my lord.’

‘I am still “my lord”?’

Kingston says, ‘You came in here as Earl of Essex, and you are Essex unless I am told otherwise.’

So Gardiner was wrong: wrong on big things and wrong on little things. He is not sure if his earldom is a little thing. In the sight of God, perhaps it is. But he had felt it, this last two months, as protection, a wall the king had built around him.

‘Also,’ Kingston says, ‘the king has sent money for your support while you are here. He wishes you to be kept as befits your rank.’

He wants to say, my support for how long? Kingston answers without being asked: ‘The king will fund what is needed. No term is set.’

Till yesterday, he had money of his own. Now he is the king’s beggar. Kingston says, as if it were a matter of indifference, ‘Your boy is here.’

An uprush of anguish: ‘Gregory?’

‘I mean young Sadler. Or rather, Master Secretary, Sir Rafe, one forgets these recent promotions. No, bless you, he is not in ward, I mean he is without, he is waiting for you. Call for anything you need.’

In his black clothes Rafe looks overheated. ‘Morning, sir. That wind has dropped. It’s as warm as August out there. They say this will go on all summer. We can’t be suited, can we? Warm, cold, we’re always complaining.’ His glance flits up and down the room, because he cannot look at his master. He takes off his cap and crushes it, his fingers bruising the velvet.

‘Rafe,’ he says, ‘come here.’ He embraces him. ‘Kingston frightened me, I thought they had arrested you.’

Tentatively, Rafe touches his sleeve, as if to test if he is still solid. ‘I think they would have, except the king does not want the disruption to his business. I hardly know where I am. Early this morning I sent Helen and the little ones out of London.’

‘They will be watching you.’ He sits down again. ‘I am ill, Rafe. My breath comes short. I feel crushed, here. Kingston tells me I have to get used to it.’

‘It is shock, sir. I did not know myself what was happening, or I would have got a warning to you somehow. As we were going into council, they had someone call me back for some footling piece of business – and next thing, as I was hastening in your direction, I saw a crowd streaming away. Audley said to me, “Your master is arrested, and I am going to the Parliament house to announce it.” He was prepared. He had the paper in his pocket. He was just waiting for word from the guard.’

He thinks, I had scarcely a foot in the boat, and they were rowing me across the Styx. ‘And how did Parliament take it?’

‘In silence, sir.’

He nods. Both Lords and Commons might have been astonished, that a man made an earl in April is by June kicked out like a dog who’s stolen the beef. But then, Parliament men do not expect to understand the king’s mind. He does not answer for himself downwards, to his subjects – only upwards, to the Almighty; and perhaps, these days, not even that. To hear Henry talk, you would think God ought to be grateful, for all Henry has done for him in England these last ten years: the way he’s set him up, got his big book translated, made him the common talk.

Rafe says, ‘Edward Seymour went at once to the king, to speak for Gregory.’

‘Did he speak for me?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Did anyone speak for me?’

‘Yes. But I was not heard.’

‘Not Cranmer?’

‘Cranmer is writing the king a letter.’

‘Try and get me its content.’ He lowers his head. ‘When I think of Call-Me … I wonder what inducement … I suppose I expected it of Riche. Though I have been good to them both.’

Rafe would be justified in saying, I told you at the first not to trust Call-Me. Instead he says, ‘All the years we have known him, I think he has been trying to show us his own unhappy nature. How fretful he is, how ill-at-ease, how envy eats away at him. He was trying to warn us about himself.’

‘It is my vanity, really. I did not suppose anyone would prefer Gardiner’s service to mine.’

‘Gardiner has threatened him. But you know that. As for Purse, he runs to the day’s winner.’

‘Tell Gregory,’ he says, ‘to be as humble as he finds it necessary. He will be questioned, and he should say what they want to hear. Richard too.’

‘Richard is enraged. He wanted to go straight to the king and break in on him.’

‘Tell him to do no such thing. He should rest quiet, and keep away from Gregory, and both should keep away from you. Do nothing that could be called conspiracy. I know how Henry’s mind works.’

Even as he says it, he thinks, that can’t be true, or I wouldn’t be here. Separation from his friends will not save my son. Money abroad will not save him. All he can do is to comply with Henry exactly, till his killing fit passes. ‘How did he take it, Gregory?’ He pictures his boy inconsolable, crying like a child.

‘He is pensive, sir.’

Pensive? But then, if they had come to him when he was a boy to say, ‘They’re hanging your old dad tomorrow,’ he wouldn’t have been pensive. He’d have said, ‘I’ll be there early! Are they selling pies?’

He asks, ‘Has the king let fall a word about what charges to expect? Or Audley has, perhaps?’

Rafe looks away. ‘It appears to be about Mary as much as anything. The stories of how you meant to marry her. The king has decided to hear them at last. He has written to François about it – in his own hand, I am told. He has sent for Marillac, to explain your arrest to him. Though I think it is Marillac who will explain it to the king, because the French were active in those rumours.’

‘Chapuys started them.’

‘Perhaps. Who knows where it began? Perhaps in Mary’s head. I would not be surprised. She is a very strange woman.’

‘No,’ he says, ‘she is innocent in this, I swear.’

‘You have always thought better of her than she deserves. I doubt she will stir for you, sir, though we all know you saved her life. Henry believes – but I do not know how he can believe it – that you meant to wed her and then thrust him aside and become king yourself.’

‘That is ludicrous. How could he think that? How could I? How could I even imagine it? Where is my army?’

Rafe shrugs. ‘He is frightened of you, sir. You have outgrown him. You have gone beyond what any servant or subject should be.’

It is the cardinal over again, he thinks. Wolsey was broken not for his failures, but for his successes; not for any error, but for grievances stored up, about how great he had become.

He asks, ‘Did they take my books?’

‘Tell me what you want and I will get it.’

‘Will you find my Hebrew grammar? Nicolas Clendardus of Leuven. I have it at Stepney. I have wanted to study it. I lacked leisure.’

Clendardus advises, grasp the basic rules before you advance to detail. They say with his help you can learn the rudiments in three months. I might not live that long, he thinks, but I can make a start.

12 June, first interrogation: ‘We might begin with the purple satin doublet,’ Richard Riche says.

Riche sits at one end of the long table, with Gardiner and Norfolk established in the places of honour; and Master Secretary Wriothesley, restless and unhappy, at the other end. ‘You know,’ he says, as Norfolk and Gardiner take their seats, ‘I never knew you as such great comrades, till lately. More likely to abuse each other roundly, than sit together as friends.’

‘We have not always seen eye to eye,’ Norfolk says. ‘But one thing we have in common, Winchester and I – when we scent the truth, we stick on the trail. So beware, Cromwell. Whatever we suspect, we will have out of you, one way or the other.’

It is as crude a threat as ever made. He says, ‘I will tell you the truth, as I know and believe it. There is nothing for you beyond that.’

Gardiner sharpens his pen. ‘They say Truth is the daughter of time. I wish time bred like rabbits. We would arrive at a reckoning sooner.’

A clerk comes in. He greets him in Welsh. ‘Give you good morning, Gwyn. Nice sunny weather.’

‘None of that,’ Norfolk growls. ‘Get this fellow out and send another scribe.’

Gwyn gathers his gear and exits. It takes time to locate a clerk that suits Thomas Howard, and one Thomas Cromwell does not know. At length they are settled. Wriothesley says, ‘Will you go on, Riche? The doublet?’

Riche lays a hand on his papers, like one putting it on the gospels. ‘You understand, sir, that it is my duty to put these questions to you, and that I bear you no ill-will in the doing of it.’

He recognises a disclaimer. Riche thinks Henry might recall him. He says, ‘Can I see the king?’

‘No, by God,’ Norfolk says.

Wriothesley says, ‘That is the last thing –’

Riche says, ‘Whatever gave your lordship that idea?’

He takes his ruby ring from his finger. ‘The King of France gave me this.’

‘Did he?’ Norfolk cries out to the clerk. ‘Make a note, you!’

‘And when he did so, I took it to our king. Who in time was pleased to return it to me, saying it would be a token between us, and that if I were to send it him, even if I did not have my seal, even if I were not able to write, he would know it came from me. So I send it him now.’

‘But what is the point?’ Gardiner says.

‘A good question,’ Riche says. ‘The king knows where you are. He knows who and what you are.’

‘It will remind him how I have served him, to the best of my capacities and to the utmost of my strength. As I hope to do for many years yet.’

‘That is what we are here to determine,’ Riche says. ‘Whether you have served him or no. Whether you have abused his confidence, as he believes, and whether you plotted against his throne.’

Riche must somehow be assured, he thinks, and Wriothesley too, that if Henry frees me I will not revenge: or they will kill me in a panic. ‘How, plotted?’ He asks civilly, as if it were a matter of passing interest.

‘Letters have been discovered at Austin Friars,’ Gardiner says. ‘Highly prejudicial to your claims to be a loyal and quiet subject.’

‘Clear proof of treason,’ Norfolk says.

‘I am waiting for you to tell me what they are. I cannot guess what you might forge, can I?’

‘They are Lutheran letters,’ Riche says. ‘Letters from Martin himself and his heretic brethren.’

‘Melanchthon?’ he asks. ‘The king writes to him.’

Gardiner glares. ‘And also from German princes, urging on you a course most injurious to king and commonwealth.’

‘There are no such letters,’ he says, ‘they never existed, and even if they did –’

‘Lawyer’s logic,’ Norfolk says.

‘– and even if they did, and if they contained seditious matter, would I keep them in my house for you to find? Ask Wriothesley what he thinks.’

Gardiner looks at Call-Me. ‘What I think …’ he hesitates, ‘what I truly …’ He stops.

‘Pass on,’ he says. ‘Or are you waiting for me to set the agenda and run the meeting? I think you wanted to know about my wardrobe.’

‘Yes, the doublet,’ Riche says. ‘We will begin there, and return to the treasonous correspondence when Mr Wriothesley is more himself. In the cardinal’s day you owned, and were seen to wear, a doublet of purple satin.’

He does not laugh, because he sees where this is tending.

Norfolk demands, ‘What gave you the right to wear such a colour? It is the preserve of royal persons and high dignitaries of the church.’

Riche says, ‘Was it perhaps violet? If violet, it can be excused.’

Wriothesley says, ‘I saw it myself. It was purple. And moreover, you had sables.’

He thinks, not like the beautiful sables I have bought since. ‘I feel the cold. Besides, they were a gift. From a foreign client who did not know our rules.’

Riche’s brow furrows. This answer takes him in so many promising directions he hardly knows which to follow. ‘When you say a client, you mean a foreign prince?’

‘Princes did not send me gifts. Not at that date.’

‘Still,’ Gardiner says, ‘if your client did not know the rules, you knew them.’

Norfolk sticks to his point: ‘It was above your rank and station, to dress as if you were an earl already.’

‘True,’ he says, ‘but why would your lordship object, if the king did not? He would not like to see his ministers go in homespun.’

Norfolk says, ‘The doublet is only a single example, of your insensate ungodly pride. It’s not just your attire that offends. It’s the way you talk. The way you put yourself forward. Interrupt the king’s discourse. Interrupt me. Scorn ambassadors, the envoys of great princes. They come to your house, and you give out you’re not in, when you are in. Then they hear you in the garden playing bowls! They know when they are held in contempt.’

‘Speaking of ambassadors …’ Riche says.

Gardiner snaps, ‘Not yet.’

Norfolk says, ‘The king has entrusted you with high office. And you scant the procedures that are laid down. You reach across and put your signature to some scrap of paper, and thousands are paid out without a warrant. There is no part of the king’s business you do not meddle in. You override the council. You pull state policy out of your pocket. You read other men’s letters. You corrupt their households to your own service. You take their duties out of their hands.’

‘I act when they should act,’ he says. ‘Sometimes government must accelerate.’ He thinks, I cannot wait for the slow grindings of your brain. ‘We must move in anticipation of events.’

‘I do not see how,’ Riche says. ‘Unless you consult sorcerers.’

The gentlemen glance at each other. He says, ‘Are you done about the doublet?’

Messengers come in and whisper in Gardiner’s ear. A paper is given him, and shuffled surreptitiously to the duke, but not before he, Thomas Essex, catches a glimpse of the seal of the King of France. Norfolk seems pleased by what he reads – so pleased he cannot keep it to himself. ‘François congratulates our king on his initiative.’

‘Your putting down,’ Gardiner clarifies. ‘The French have much to tell us, regarding your ambitions. Not to mention your methods of discharging our sovereign’s trust.’

It is then he grasps what has eluded him: the timing, the personnel. It must have been in early spring, when Norfolk was so keen to cross the sea, that François first hinted at an alliance and named his price. The price was me, and the king baulked at it: until now.

He says, ‘The French like to deal with you, my lord Norfolk.’

Norfolk looks as if he has been congratulated. By the living God, he thinks, I do not know which is greater: Norfolk’s vanity, or his stupidity. Of course the French prefer a minister who they can bewilder and trick and – if it comes to it – purchase.

‘I want to take us back …’ Riche says.

‘I am sure you do,’ he says. ‘You had better change the subject, because you are in danger of proving how bad a minister I have been for François.’

Riche is leafing through an old letter-book. ‘You made a great deal of money in the cardinal’s day.’

‘Not so much from Wolsey. From my legal practice, yes.’

‘How did you do that?’

‘Long hours.’

‘Wolsey commonly enriched his servants,’ Wriothesley says.

‘He did – as Stephen here can testify. But one had expenses. The cardinal fell from grace before his debts could be paid. His enemies fell on his assets. He cost me money, in the end.’

‘When you say his enemies, you mean the king?’

‘Oh, give me some credit, Gardiner. Am I likely to gratify you by calling the king a thief?’

‘You adhered to Wolsey,’ Riche says, ‘even when he was a proven traitor.’

‘What you call “adherence” is what the king called loyalty.’

‘He does,’ Wriothesley says. He sounds almost tearful. ‘I have heard him.’

He looks up at Call-Me. I don’t care how you cry. You’ve picked your side. He says, ‘The king regrets the cardinal. He misses him to this day.’

Gardiner says, ‘Can we leave the cardinal out of this? It is a living traitor we seek.’

Riche says testily, ‘I want to get on, I want to get on to Lady Mary, but I cannot do that without mentioning …’

Gardiner sighs. ‘If you must.’

Riche says, ‘You wore a ring, which Wolsey gave you. It was said to possess certain properties …’

‘You covet it, Ricardo? I can have it sent to you. It will save you from drowning.’

‘You see!’ Norfolk says. ‘It is a sorcerer’s ring. He admits it.’

He smiles. ‘It preserves the wearer from wild beasts. It also secures the favour of princes. It doesn’t seem to be working, does it?’

‘It also …’ Riche is embarrassed. He rubs his upper lip. ‘It also, allegedly, makes princesses fall in love with you.’

‘I’m turning them away daily.’

Wriothesley says, ‘You didn’t turn the Lady Mary away.’

Riche says, ‘You presumed, and the king knows it, you presumed to practise upon her, to insinuate yourself with her, to ingratiate yourself, so that she referred to you as,’ he consults his notes, ‘my only friend.’

‘If we are speaking of the days after the death of Anne Boleyn, then I think it is true, I was her only friend. Mary would be dead now, if I had not persuaded her to obey her father.’

‘And why were you so interested in saving her life?’ Gardiner asks.

‘Perhaps because I am a Christian man.’

‘Perhaps because you hoped she would reward you.’

‘She was a powerless girl. How could she reward me?’

Norfolk says, ‘It was your dreadful presumption, offensive to Almighty God, to attempt to marry her.’

‘For instance,’ Riche says, ‘upon a certain occasion, you were her Valentine and made her a gift.’

He is impatient. ‘You know how that works. We draw lots.’

‘Yes,’ Wriothesley says, ‘but you rigged the ballot. You have boasted of your ways to manipulate elections of any sort. Even the draw at a tournament – I offer this, and my recollection is perfectly clear – the day your son made his debut in the field, you told him, never fear, I can get you on the king’s team, then you will not have to run against his Majesty.’

‘Gregory told you that?’

‘He told me that very day. You hurt his pride.’

‘He spoke in innocence. And to you, Call-Me, because he took you for his friend. But I suppose you must use what you have. Valentines? Sorcerers? Any jury would laugh you out of court.’

But, he thinks, there will be no jury. There will be no trial. They will pass a bill to put an end to me. I cannot complain of the process. I have used it myself.

Riche is frowning. ‘There was a ring,’ he says. ‘I think you offered Mary a ring, summer of 1536.’

‘It was not a lover’s ring. And in the end it was not a ring at all, it was a piece to wear at her girdle.’ He closes his eyes. ‘Because it was too heavy. There were too many words.’

‘What words?’ Norfolk says.

‘Words enjoining obedience.’

Gardiner affects to be startled. ‘You thought she should obey you?’

‘I thought she should obey her father. And I showed the object to his Majesty. I thought it a wise precaution, against the kind of insinuation you make now. He liked it so well that he took it for himself, to give to her.’

Wriothesley drops his eyes. ‘That’s true, my lord. I was there.’

Riche gives his colleague a poisonous glance. ‘All the same, the volume of your correspondence with the lady, your manifest influence with her, the nature of the information she confides to you, information that concerns her bodily –’

‘You mean she told me she had toothache?’

‘She confided things proper for a physician to know. Not a stranger.’

‘I was hardly a stranger.’

‘Perhaps not,’ Riche says. ‘In fact, she sent you presents. She sent you a pair of gloves. That signifies, “hand-in-glove”. It signifies alliance. It signifies, matrimony.’

‘The King of France once sent me a pair of gloves. He didn’t want to marry me.’

‘It disgusts me,’ Norfolk says. ‘That a woman of noble blood should lower herself.’

‘Do not blame the lady,’ Gardiner says sharply. ‘Cromwell made her believe only his own person stood between herself and death.’

‘There you have it,’ he says. ‘My person. It was my purple doublet she could not resist.’

‘I remember well,’ Norfolk says, ‘though by the Mass I cannot swear to the date –’

He, Thomas Essex, rolls his eyes. ‘Let no scruple impede you, my lord …’

‘– but there were others standing by,’ Norfolk says, ‘so I dare say –’

‘Out with it,’ Gardiner says.

‘– I remember a certain conversation – could a woman rule, was the topic, could Mary rule – and you, bursting in, as is your habit, on the discourse of gentlemen, said, “It depends who she marries.”’

Gardiner smiles. ‘It was the autumn of 1530. I was present.’

‘And since that time,’ Riche says, ‘you have ensured that Lady Mary never makes a marriage. All her suitors are sent away.’

‘And I remember,’ Norfolk says, ‘when the king took his fall at the joust –’

‘24 January, 1536,’ Gardiner says.

‘– when the king was carried to a tent and lay on a bier either dead or dying, all your concern was, “Where is Mary?”’

‘I thought to secure her person. To protect her.’

‘From?’

‘From you, my lord Norfolk. And your niece, Anne the queen.’

‘And if you had laid hands on her,’ Gardiner says, ‘what would you have done?’

‘You tell me,’ he says. ‘What makes the best story? Do I seduce her, or enforce her?’ He throws out his hands. ‘Oh, come on, Stephen – I no more meant to marry her than you did.’

Gardiner is cold. ‘Kindly address me as what I am.’

He grins. ‘It never seemed likely to me you should be a bishop. But I beg your pardon.’

‘Leave aside marriage,’ Gardiner says. ‘There are other means of control. The king believes you meant to place Mary on the throne and rule through her. And to this end you cultivated your friendship with Chapuys, the Emperor’s man.’

‘He dined with you twice in the week,’ Call-Me says.

‘You would know. You were at the table.’

‘He was your friend. Your confidant.’

‘I have no confidants, and few friends. Though till yesterday, I put you among them.’

‘I was present at your house at Canonbury,’ Wriothesley says, ‘when you conferred with Chapuys in the garden tower. You made him certain promises. About Mary, her future estate.’

‘I made no promises.’

‘She thought you did. And Chapuys thought you did.’

He remembers the ambassador’s folio, on the grass among the daisies. The marble table, the envoy’s suspicion of the strawberries. The gradual clouding of the day, so that Christophe said that in Islington they feared thunder. Then Call-Me, at the foot of the tower in the twilight, a sheaf of peonies in his hand.

Gardiner promises, ‘Another day we will come to the bribes the Emperor gave you. For now let us pursue the matter of your marriage. The Lady Mary was not your only prospect. You took care that Lady Margaret Douglas was preserved, though guilty of wilful disobedience to the king.’

Wriothesley bursts out, ‘I uncovered that whole affair! And you talked it away, as if it were nothing.’

‘Not nothing,’ he says. ‘Her sweetheart died.’ He says to Norfolk, ‘I am sorry I could not save them both.’

Norfolk makes a sound of disgust. He has many brothers, he hardly misses Tom Truth. ‘You put her under a debt of gratitude,’ he says. ‘The king’s niece. What was she to you, but another path to the throne? “If I were king” is a phrase often in your mouth.’

Gardiner leans forward. ‘We have all heard you say it.’

He nods. It is a habit he should have checked. Once he said, ‘If I were the king, I’d spend more time in Woking. In Woking it never snows.’

‘You smile?’ Gardiner is shocked. ‘You, a manifest traitor, who offered to meet the king in battle?’

‘What?’ He is blank: still thinking of Woking.

‘Let me remind you,’ Riche says. ‘At the church of St Peter le Poor, near your own gate at Austin Friars, on or around …’ Riche has lost the date, but no matter, ‘… you were heard to pronounce certain treasonable words: that you would maintain your own opinion in religion, that you would never allow the king to return to Rome, and – these are the words alleged – if he would turn, yet I would not turn; and I would take the field against him, my sword in my hand. And you accompanied these words with certain belligerent gestures –’

‘Is this likely?’ he says. ‘Even if I had such thoughts, is it likely I would speak them out? In a public place? Surrounded by witnesses?’

‘One utters in a rage sometimes,’ Norfolk says.

‘Speak for yourself, my lord.’

‘You also stated,’ Riche says, ‘that you would bring new doctrine into England, and that – and here I quote your own words – If I live one year or two, it shall not lie in the king’s power to resist.’

‘What though you are a cautious man?’ Gardiner says. ‘I have seen you moved to mockery, and to wrath.’

‘I have seen you moved to tears,’ Riche says.

‘I could weep now,’ he says. He is thinking, yet I would not turn. Perhaps I may have spoken those words. Not in public. But in private. To Bess Darrell. I am not too old to take my sword in my hand. I will fight for Henry, I meant to say. But the god of contraries made me say the opposite. And I could have bitten out my tongue.

Riche has recovered a date. ‘Peter le Poor – last day of January –’

‘This year?’

‘Last.’

‘Last year? Where have the witnesses been since? Were they not culpable, in concealing treason? I look forward to seeing them in chains.’

He can see Riche thinking, look, now he is wrathful, now he is provoked. He might say anything.

‘You admit it is treason?’ Norfolk says.

‘Yes, my lord,’ he says patiently, ‘but I do not admit to saying it. How would I make good such threats? How could I overthrow the king?’

‘Perhaps with the help of your Imperial friends,’ Norfolk says. ‘Chapuys is not in the realm, but you have contact with him, do you not? He congratulated you, on your earldom. I hear he plans to return.’

‘He’ll have to go somewhere else for his dinner,’ he says.

‘Why do we trouble ourselves over Chapuys?’ Riche says. ‘It is much worse than that, as all will attest, who were in Sadler’s garden at Hackney, the night the king met his daughter.’

The apostle cups, he thinks. The great bowl buried in the earth to keep our wine cool. Riche says, ‘You had secret dealings with Katherine. And that night you confessed as much.’

‘You have known a long while, Riche. What kept you from speaking out?’

No answer. ‘I will tell you,’ he says. ‘Your own advantage kept you mute. Till advantage was greater on the other side. What promise have I made to you, that I have not kept? And what promises have you made to me?’

‘You should not speak of promises,’ Norfolk says. ‘The king hates a man who breaks his word. You said you would kill Reginald Pole.’

‘Not a drop of his blood is shed,’ Gardiner observes.

He thinks, now we come to it. This is why Henry faults me. And so he should. This is where I have failed.

Riche says, ‘There was much big talk in your household, how you would trap Reginald. One week, you would set on him murderers you knew in Italy. Another week, it was your nephew Richard who would kill him. Then it was Francis Byran, then it was Thomas Wyatt.’

Wriothesley says, ‘And on that subject – one wonders, when Wyatt was ambassador lately, for what reason he held back certain letters from the Lady Mary, that the Emperor was meant to see. Was he not acting for you, as your agent?’

‘My agent? For what purpose?’

‘Some dishonesty,’ Riche says. ‘We have not yet penetrated it.’

‘But no doubt we shall,’ Gardiner says. ‘Mr Wriothesley has overheard so much loose and treasonous talk, merely in the course of daily business. He heard you say recently that you would do the King of France a favour, if he would do one for you. One wonders what ensued.’

‘Nothing ensued,’ he said. ‘He has not done me any favours, has he? It is my lord Norfolk who is in his graces.’

‘Then why say it?’ Riche presses.

‘Big talk. You said it yourself. My household’s full of it.’

Gardiner puts his fingertips together. ‘Add the braggarts in with the rest, and your household falls little short of three thousand persons. It is the household of a prince. Your livery is seen not only through London, but through England.’

‘Three thousand? With that number I would be bankrupt. Look, every man in England has applied to me these seven years, to take his son into my service. I take who I can, and bring them up in learning and good manners. For the most part their fathers pay their keep, so you cannot say I employ them.’

‘You speak as if they were all meek scribblers,’ Gardiner says. ‘But it is well-known that you take in runaway apprentices, roisterers, ruffians …’

‘Yes,’ he says, ‘roaring boys such as Richard Riche was once, in days he would rather forget. I do not deny I give a second life to those who have the enterprise to knock at my gates.’ He looks at Riche. ‘Any chancer has his chance with me.’

‘You feed the poor at your gates every day,’ Norfolk says.

‘It is what great men do.’

‘You think they will rise in your support, a pauper army. Well, they will not, sir. They will not favour a shearsman, such as you once were.’ The duke affects to shiver. ‘Great man, you call yourself! St Jude protect me!’