The harshness of winter is beginning to wane and the bloom of the first snowdrops on the palace grounds have given way to vibrant yellow daffodils. I sit on a beautifully embroidered cushion in a window seat of my privy chamber gazing out at the early morning dewdrops that cling to the new shoots of grass and stare at the lush green of the trees. An occasional bird flits carelessly from tree to tree and I find myself marvelling at the circle of nature that God nurtures and cares for year in and out. My thoughts then turn to more personal issues.
Unfortunately 1536 has not been the best of years so far, although it started off well with my pregnancy advancing normally and my former mistress Katherine finally having been taken to God. My happiness was not to last and since the day my son was lost my marriage has broken down into endless rounds of bitter recriminations and arguments over my husband’s neglect of me and his attentiveness to Mistress Seymour.
After a particularly nasty exchange two nights ago in which my husband offhandedly retorted that ‘I had become a woman who repulsed him’ I began to think that our relationship might be heading beyond repair. This was a thought I could not let go unchecked and so late last night after thinking about it all day I sent my most trusted companion and friend Lady Lee with a note to fetch my Chaplin Mathew Parker.
Lady Lee’s announcement of Doctor Parker’s arrival aroused me from my musing. ‘Thank you Lady Lee, you may go. She walks backwards from the room and quietly closes the door. I turn my attention to greeting my Chaplin. ‘So good of you to come to me and I hope you can forgive the clandestine nature of my note and the unconventional way in which I have requested your attendance on me today. I was anxious that our meeting should take place out with the Palace of Whitehall and while the King was occupied with his ministers in London. I also needed to ensure that some of my more, erm how shall I say… loose-tongued young maidens were absent.’
He dropped to his knee and kissed my hand. ‘Your Grace, it is my pleasure to serve you and as I admire the most sincere love you bear God it is truly an honour to assist you in whatever way I can. However I cannot pretend that the manner of your request has not alarmed me to some degree’
‘Quite I understand your concerns, but there is no danger for you in coming to me this way. I regret that any dangers will be mine alone. Now, please sit and let me explain myself. You have always been a good and faithful servant to my family and in the past you have provided me with spiritual comfort and reassurance when events in my life tested my faith and forbearance. It is because of your loyalty and discretion that I know the words that pass between us today will indeed stay between us for evermore.
Before I begin to unburden my fears please forgive the frankness and crudeness of the language I must use. Events have reached such a stage that there is no advantage in anything other than plain speaking. I believe my position at the king’s side and in turn the security of my child, the Princess Elizabeth may be under threat.
No doubt you will know of my misfortune in January when I miscarried a child and since then I have not conceived another. Please be assured Parker my lack of pregnancy is not from the want or neglect of the necessary act on my behalf. I am an obedient wife and well understand my duty to my husband and to God in this regard. However ever since the miscarriage and the burial of my former mistress, the Princess Dowager of Wales, my husband, and once again I must insist on the strictest confidence, has not found the passion between us enough to rouse him to the correct physical stature.
My husband has only been to my chamber on three occasions since early in March and on each occasion our bedding ended in the same deficiency. Since then although the king is cordial to me in deed and letter in public he is angry and cold in private. Is God punishing me for my failure in January? If this is the case then how am I to correct it if the king will not visit my chamber?’
My Chaplin’s response is delivered with his usual caring and compassionate tone. ‘Your Grace, being a man of the cloth my whole life I do not profess to be an expert in the relations between man and wife, but I have frequently seen that a man’s grief and sorrow for the loss of a child can be equal to that of a mother. Please bear in mind gracious lady that be we man or woman the trials that God places before us will never test us beyond what we are capable of bearing’.
I continue to unburden my doubts and concerns ‘What of his interest in my maid of honour, Lady Jane Seymour? I’m embarrassed to confess that I have plagued my husband about his conduct towards her and that I spoke harsh and unrepeatable words to him after I caught her on his knee’.
‘Madam you are the king’s lawful wife and so the authority and the blessing of the church will always be with you both. Although God chooses monarchs to rule over us, their status does not place them beyond the temptations of the flesh and so they stray with the same regularity that ordinary men do. Do you believe this young woman will freely give herself to the king as his mistress?’
With tears pricking my eyes I speak ‘You have touched the thing that frightens me the most. I believe this lady is being schooled by her ambitious and ruthless family to keep the king at arms length in order to increase his ardour. As you know the road to my own marriage was a lengthy and frustrating process. We have all witnessed King Henry’s behaviour and singleminded action when his heart’s desire is denied.
Brushing formality aside and with a look of shock Mathew moves his chair closer to mine, grasps both my hands and then vocalises my fears in one succinct statement. ‘You are afraid this woman is being trained to supplant you as Queen. Your worst anxiety is that should she succeed you, you will be put away and your child will be disinherited?
With my head bowed and my eyes downcast the tears begin to fall onto the rich crimson material of my dress. He has uttered aloud the dread that has haunted my days and nights for weeks. Between my sobs I speak ‘Yes, yes you have spoken the truth that I dare not and since you are the only person who shares this confidence with me I must ask: If for some reason I am removed from my position as Queen will you do all you can to guide my precious Elizabeth in the way of the gospels and look to her well-being? I do not ask you to risk your own safety just that you will offer the same compassion and wisdom you have so often offered me.
‘Madam I am sure the king would not be so rash as to cast aside a noble Christian woman such as yourself and of course I freely and without condition give you my word I will do as you ask.’ He made the sign of the cross and carried on ‘If, God forbid you and the Lady Princess were separated I would be honoured to be bound to influence and guide her in the true word of our Lord. Now would you be comforted to receive the Lord’
‘Yes Parker that would be a great comfort to me. I say with a sigh.
‘Before I administer the sacrament let us pray together. We both kneel at the altar in my chamber. ‘Dear Lord, hear your loving child and our dearest Queen Anne now and in the hour of her fear and darkness. In the name of your son Jesus Christ let your grace and light pass to her through the gifts of your words and your presence in the world. Shield, protect and guide her with your wisdom and love’.
I receive the sacrament and am grateful that God has seen fit to send me one of his very best messengers. If the very worst should come to pass my darling Elizabeth will have an ally in this the most Christian of men.
All images courtesy of Wiki Common