KINGS AND PAWNS
March 6th, 1556
WESTMINSTER PALACE, ENGLAND
The din surrounding the council chamber was maddening. Outside it, the last of the workmen could be heard packing up their tools and supplies as they left their newly finished work to be surveyed by the King and his men. Edward's dream of reconstructing and adding onto the royal palace of Westminster had taken nearly three years to come to fruition and even though the court had returned to London days before, the final touches were only just now being finished. Dudley couldn't say he was pleased, he had advised against the King's decision in the first place, but he had been overruled. It was a flex of Edward's muscle, a show of his monarchical strength. Westminster had been used solely by Parliament since the great fire of 1512, and now Edward had reclaimed it. St. Stephan's Chapel would still serve as the permanent home of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, but Edward had renovated the living quarters of the Royal family and their courtiers. Once again, the households of the King, his wife and all of their Court were living together under the roof of the ancient palace. Great Harry had abandoned Westminster (and why not when he had taken Whitehall from Wolsey for his own?) but Edward had wanted it returned to the Royal fold and he had gotten his wish.
He was happier than Dudley had seen him in years. He had gone from a sickly, sheltered boy, to a fervent, malleable youth and now he stood at the threshold of manhood with a young wife and his prime years stretching out ahead of him. He was coming into his own, and everyday Northumberland could feel his own power fading. He had known this day would come. From the moment he had wrestled power from Somerset and his cronies, he had known that the position of Lord Protector was a temporary one. Could he be happy being the second most powerful man in the Kingdom? Would he be satisfied with the wealth and power he had amassed up to this point? The knot of dread growing in his stomach said no, but he had no other choice now. The attempt on his life had bound Edward to him again out of fear, but his marriage had seemed instill in him a more renewed sense of independence. He had chosen his own bride, thwarting Dudley's right to guide him in his choice. Truly, it had entwined Edward even closer to Dudley's family, but that bond meant nothing if he could not control his bride and through her control Edward himself. Could he control the Sidney girl? He was still unsure.
The Council spoke of the Queen's household now. The expenses for the coming Easter celebrations and her coronation were being itemized. Her newly appointed Lord Treasurer, the Earl of Essex, stood proud as a peacock in the new Queen's colors of green, blue and gold as he spoke of silk, ermine, jewels and horseflesh. William Parr and the other highest ranking members of her household were appointed positions on the council, as Edward felt the inclusion of his Queen's people quite necessary.
The King was already planning her coronation, planning to consolidate her power as consort. William, brother of the later Dowager Queen Catherine Parr, had already enjoyed favor under Edward, who had repudiated his unfaithful wife Anne Bourchier after years of waiting under the old King. He had been free to marry his longtime mistress Elizabeth Brooke and now he had been put in control of the young Queen's revenues and the budget of her household. Dudley was happy with that, he and Parr had been allies for many years and Dudley was pleased to have a loyal man in her midst so in turn he could keep an eye on Margaret's finances.
Another one of Dudley's allies, the Earl of Huntingdon, had been given the position of Lord Chamberlain. Margaret's brother in law, the Earl of Sussex, had been appointed Vice Chamberlain. The former had already held a position on the King's Privy council but now the Earl of Sussex had found himself a spot as well. Dudley went over the other members of the Queen's household in his head. None of them were present. There was wily William Cecil, her newly appointed Secretary. Also there was Henry Neville, the Earl of Westmoreland, her Comptroller and Henry Manners, Earl of Rutland, her Master of the horse. She had chosen these three men herself and had approved their choices for their own clerks, secretaries and pages. Edwin Sandys had been chosen as her own personal Chaplain. Cecil was rumored to have handpicked all her grooms, ushers, her physicians, her churchmen and even her Pages of Honor. Dudley didn't believe it, he knew Margaret would have had a hand in her own household, but he believed she had relied strongly on Cecil in making those decisions.
The rest of her household consisted of her ladies-in-waiting. These women were of the most illustrious women in England, the most noble and well bred women of the land. They all now served Margaret Sidney of Croxden on bended knee. The thought probably chafed some of them, but the ladies of the court were more than happy to serve. It had been years since there had been a royal lady to hold court in England. Edward's sisters had held only diminished households, even though Elizabeth's may have been celebrated and grandiose. Margaret seemed at ease in her new position and rumors from the servants said that she was a kind and generous mistress. She had granted them all, courtiers and servants both, with their own miniature copies of the new testament on her arrival at Westminster. She had ordered them when she had been named Duchess of Richmond. Apparently, every night they spent time in quiet study and prayer before retiring. A pious, benevolent Queen. Edward was pleased.
When they had finally quit their ceaseless squawking on the Queen's finances, one of the other councilors brought up the vanquished rebellion in Cornwall. The area had been heavily taxed, and Cranmer reported that they had tripled the number of Ministers in the region, to guide the people to the bosom of the true church. They would have to be rid of their Popish ways, once and for all. No more unrest could be tolerated. Any fissure in the Kingdom gave a foothold to the French or the Spanish or the Holy Roman Empire. All of them schemed to wash England in the heresy of Rome as they had in the years before Henry VIII. Now the council could breathe easy again. The land was quiet, the Bible was in English and the Bishop of Rome held no sway in their land. But fear of the false faith was still palpable.
That fear, the fear of the enemies of the Reformed Faith, spurred the council on; especially Edward. Lately, whispers of secret Catholic courtiers had began to circulate once again and those nobles known for their catholic sympathies had fallen squarely under Edward's suspicions. Recently he had spoken his worries to Dudley about John De Vere, the Howard boys, the Earl of Arundel, William Paget and his stripling sons, Henry and Thomas Percy, the Earl of Cumberland and the Earl of Shrewsbury; but he most pressing matter on his mind had been the young Earl of Southampton. His mother, the Dowager Countess Jane Wriothesley, had been fined four times in the past year for possession of heretical icons, and her next indiscretion would earn her a trip to the tower. Edward seethed about the poor boy's wellbeing.
"I've half a mind to throw that evil gorgon into my dungeon and to take in the boy as my ward. The blasphemy she must be teaching him, she poisons his mind!"
Dudley had agreed. The Catholic faction may have been small, but it posed obvious problems. There was Mary, still marriageable (however ancient she was) and while she lived she would always represent a threat to Edward's reign. Whispers of a Spanish marriage to the newly crowned King Phillip of Spain had circulated, but Edward had simply doubled her guard and forbid her any foreign correspondence. Renard, had protested hotly, claiming that the Emperor was Mary's cousin and that Phillip was as well. They were her family, and if the King chose to persecute her, she needed them more than ever. Edward had nearly spat, crying out as he hurriedly dismissed the Emperor's man.
"What do you know of persecution? When your Emperor allows God fearing men and women to be killed for their faith daily? Speak to me no more of persecution!"
He spoke not of the Lutherans of the Empire, they were protected by the Diet of Ausburg, but the Calvinists and the Anabaptists and the followers of Zwingli. Edward had been disgusted by the tales of burning and trials of Reformers in Germany and longed to reach out to his fellow Protestant Princes, but the Hapsburg power was mighty on the continent. The council had toyed with the idea of a French alliance, but Henri was an ardent Catholic himself and continued to uphold the rights of his soon-to-be daughter-in-law Mary Stewart. After the "Rough Wooing" of her by Edward's father she had escaped to the French King's court. Her mother, Mary of Guise, was Regent in her daughter's stead. She was also a minion of the Bishop of Rome.
Phillip himself was a devil. While his father had allowed for religious tolerance in his far flung Empire, Phillip would allow no such thing. He brutalized and massacred his protestant subjects and the weight of those dead martyrs tormented Edward's soul. He felt like they were beset on all sides, and that England must remain strong. They were a bastion of the true faith and without that the world would fall back into darkness. That meant doing something about Mary.
"We must wed her to a Protestant, a strong one. The Earl of Bedford was mentioned as a candidate before." Dudley said offhandedly, trying not to sound too invested. But truly, this was important. If Edward were ever to die and had no issue, Mary would be Queen and Dudley needed her husband to be a man he could work with, manipulate even. Bedford was a good man, but not suited to Kingship. Of course, Northumberland could always groom him...
Edward leaned back in his canopied chair. The matter of Mary and Elizabeth's marriages was becoming more and more important. Mary needed to be controlled, Elizabeth could be used to make alliances. The last time the King of England had made a dynastic match with any of the Protestant Princes in Europe had been between Henry and Anne of Cleves. That had not worked out as the old King had planned. The Council had a list of possible candidates, and for what seemed like the thousandth time, they listed them off.
"There are the Danish Princes. Frederick is twenty two, the same age as the Lady Elizabeth and Magnus is fifteen. Young, but still he is in line to inherit a powerful Dukedom from his father." the Duke of Suffolk suggested, shuffling through a Danish treatise he had just finished reading. "Both are Lutheran Princes. She would be a Duchess, or better yet a Queen."
The council nodded and muttered in unison.
"There is John of Hungary." the Earl of Lincoln raised his voice "He is still in the Regency of his mother, but they fight to reclaim his lands in Western Hungary. Ferdinand is his enemy in the same way he is ours."
More mumbles and agreements. The suggestions had all been mentioned before. There were more candidates to examine, though this room was familiar with them all.
Before Elizabeth's banishment, the favorite had been young Prince Eric of Sweden. He was next in line for the Vasa throne and had already made a visit to England to pursue his suit. His father, King Gustav, hadn't approved at first but now that Edward was married and that much closer to producing heirs, the chance of Sweden's chosen heir living abroad in England was all but extinguished. Elizabeth would, if Eric was chosen, travel to Sweden where she would be Queen-in-waiting until Gustav's death. Edward reported that Margaret had grown fond of Eric and during his last visit she had noticed a goodly report between Elizabeth and the Prince. Other candidates included the young Margrave of Brandenburg, George Frederick, the thirty year old Adolf, Duke of Holstein, Francis Otto, the Prince of Luneburg, John, the heir to the Count of Nassau and Julius, the heir to the Duke of Brunswick.
So many German Princes, so many foreign houses. The Low Countries, Germany, Denmark and Sweden. Edward would accept no Catholic suitors, would not endanger his sister's immortal soul by sending her off to some Popish husband. Edward leaned his head against his hand and smiled subtly as a thought came to him. After another brief moment of silence, he looked up at his councilors.
"We have looked to the continent, but why had we not looked upwards to our Protestant brothers in Scotland? They are under the yoke of France and many wish to break that yoke. Henri will wed their heiress to his weak boy and Mary of Guise will hold the land in the grip of the Pope for her French masters. There are many men, including Lord James Stewart, who would do anything to keep this from coming to pass."
The "Kirk" in Scotland was growing, slowly but surely. The strife and division of Great Harry's reformation was reaching their neighbors to the North now. Dudley pondered for a moment. James Stewart was a bastard, yes, but legally so was Elizabeth. Both had royal blood, and with Edward's backing they could mobilize with the other Protestant nobility. They could wrest Scotland from France's grip and end the Auld Alliance once and for all. The council began to mutter, to undermine France in that way would be a great victory for the English.
"It would be most prudent." Dudley mentioned after a moment "To have a hand both in Scotland and on the continent. Two dynastic marriages would strengthen us greatly. Mary to a strong Prince in Germany or the Low Counties and Elizabeth to Scotland?"
The thought of Mary on the continent, so close to her royal cousins made many uncomfortable. The men all began to mutter and squirm, Edward shook his head. They had more subjects to cover, and Parliament opened only a week. He spread his hands on the table.
"We will revisit the matter of these marriages at a later date. Let us now turn to my Lord Treasurer, who has some good news about taxation in..."
Dudley's mind had begun to wander. The idea of Scotland had gripped him. He had favored a French alliance, to counter the overwhelming power of the Hapsburgs, but now maybe this could be an alternative. Even if England were able to break the Auld Alliance, Henri would not turn to Ferdinand or Phillip. They were already embroiled in Milan and the rest of the Italian territories they both coveted. The warfare and confusion broiling in those Catholic realms could be used to England's gain. It was truly an idea to ponder, and ponder Northumberland did...
March 11th, 1556
WESTMINSTER PALACE, ENGLAND
"Your Majesty, I believe the silver brocade most appropriate." Eleanor said with a wink, one hand resting on her growing belly "With the ermine collar and the Tudor green trim."
Margaret looked at the fabric and leaned back in her cushioned chair. Her head was aching. Her wardrobe was growing and changing again. All the clothes she had acquired for her wedding seemed to matter not at all to these women. She needed more! Always more! More cloth, more jewels, more perfume, more slippers and combs and sleeves and skirts. Easter was coming, her coronation was coming and before either of those, Parliament would open in two days and Edward had requested Margaret sit with him during the opening ceremonies. The throne Jane Seymour had graced during her reign would be placed right beside the King's and they would sit in State as the House of Lords was convened for the first time in nearly three years. It was all very overwhelming and the work on all these wardrobes was a bit exhausting. She was still in the middle of planning out all the Easter celebrations, and her one consulting tool was rather dated. She flipped the heavy book closed and stared at her sister-in-laws, who were smiling down at Margaret with sly eyes.
"I warned you, Your Majesty. My Lady the King's Mother had some very specific ideas abut courtly procedure." Mary smiled as she shifted through another pile of dyed damask "It would be easier to rely on your own council."
She was unsure of her own council, that was the problem. Well, she had requested a meeting with Cecil later that afternoon. She would ask for his help on the finer points, but the menu and the entertainment she could probably figure out with the help of her ladies. She had so many, they should come in handy for something! At present, all of her women were together in the privy chamber, the halfway point between her bedchamber and her presence chamber. She hated the jealousy and the infighting that blossomed from the rigid court protocol of rank. The women of the bedchamber were the most prominent and the women of the presence chamber the most lowly while the privy chamber women hovered right in the middle. It was tradition, of course, but Margaret was not a traditional Queen.
Three Duchesses, two Marchionesses, thirteen Countesses, a Viscountess, eight Baronesses and a smattering of untitled ladies like here sisters Lucy and Anne had all convened on Westminster to take their posts as Queen's women. Jane and Catherine weren't titled either, and neither was Eleanor. Her unmarried ladies (the Maids-of-Honor) were title less as well, but they were daughters of England's great families and would come to those honors when they wed. As Queen, Margaret could choose husbands for them, but Cecil had warned her to heed their families wishes. Elizabeth Woodville had meddled heavily in noble marriages, and had alienated the aristocracy for taking the authority they thought was rightfully theirs alone. But she did have her own authority. All of these women were to do as she ordered. They were to follow her example. The Queen's ladies were beautiful, elegant, poised and at all times upheld the virtue of Margaret of England. Some loved her, some despised her, but all were waiting to see whether she failed or succeeded. So far, in producing an heir she had failed, but she was determined to fulfill her duty once Lent had ended.
Today was the first time they had all been brought together in one chamber. In the corner, Margaret had ordered a trio of musicians with a lute a lyre and a recorder. They had been playing delightfully all afternoon, and at present some of her ladies were singing harmonies together, their silken voices carrying up into the rafters. Some women chatted as they embroidered and stitched clothes for their husbands and children, others browsed through books. Margaret's library had been meager, but now that she was Queen she had received many books as wedding presents and had purchased many of her own. She encouraged her ladies to read and write. She gave permission to the ones who could not, to seek assistance from the literate ladies of her household. The royal nursery had been opened to her ladies children and she liked to spend time amongst the little ones, trying to prepare herself for motherhood. She was trying to be a good Queen, trying very hard.
"Your Majesty, you have been long in thought." The Duchess of Suffolk was staring pointedly at Margaret "Are you quite well?"
Madge nodded sharply and stood. All the rest of her women stood as well, she turned towards them, her head held high and her voice clear.
"I am well Frances." she used the Duchess of Suffolk christian name as often as possible, to make her bristle "You ladies will all retire to my presence chamber and continue your work. The musicians may follow, if you wish it. Catherine Herbert, would you please send for Secretary Cecil and usher him here to my privy chamber? Have him informed I wish our meeting to begin sooner than was previously decided."
Then she turned towards her bedchamber. She heard the hurried swish of skirts as the score of ladies curtseyed behind her. Without having to be asked, Jane and Mary followed her through the doors. Eleanor looked at them with longing, but thought better of it and followed out with the rest of the ladies. Within, the fire wasn't stoked and instead of calling for a servant, Jane approached it and stirred the embers herself until it blazed in the hearth. Once inside her bedchamber, Margaret sunk down onto a seat just beneath her window, her elegant sleeves dragging on the Turkish carpet beneath her. Mary looked concerned. Before she could speak, Margaret held up a hand.
"Send Francis out to fetch her husband Sussex as well, and call Henry to my chamber. I need council as soon as they can attend me."
She waved, not mentioning who should do her bidding, but expecting it to be done. That was Queenship, and at times it could be a burden but other times it was quite useful. Mary silently left and headed out to see that her commands were followed. Jane stayed, standing by the hearth, her hands crossed over her still flat belly.
Margaret closed her eyes and then opened them again, glancing at Jane but seeing right through her.
"I am overwhelmed Jane, I sometimes feel as if I am Odysseus, floating far from my home with no hope of ever seeing my native shore. what would my father say if he saw me here? My mother? I do not know if they would believe it, I scarce believe it myself."
Jane took a step forward, smiling softly.
"They would be proud, they would be so very proud, as I am. You were my friend before you were Margarita Regina. I may not have seen God's plans for you then, but now I see they are as natural as breathing. Do not fear, for out Lord had placed you here. You are Queen of a new England! We are on the precipice of a great revival. We have thrown off the yoke of Rome, and you rule a King blessed by God. He will change the face of the world as we know, and you will rule beside him."
Rule? Why did everyone keep saying that? How could she help rule a country if she couldn't even keep her mind calm when assessing her own household? She shook her head, her eyes downcast. Jane put a hand on her shoulder. No one was to touch the Queen without her leave, but Margaret allowed her closest ladies to be familiar with her without fear.
"You humility is admirable Your Majesty, but you must accept that you are the Queen of England now. You must have faith in God and in yourself. Continue on this path, take strength from your friends and your loved ones. Pray for guidance and favor and remember you have the love of your King and your people. You must wear that knowledge about you like an armor."
Little Jane, so wise. Margaret felt tears welling in her eyes. It would take time, but she vowed she would one day be the Queen and the woman Jane actually thought she was. Madge was no pillar of faith, she sometimes doubted that the Reformation was God's will at all. Was King Henry breaking with Rome really sanctioned by God, or had it sated his own lust and pride? Was Rome the true church? Were they barbarian heathen, lost on this remote island, waiting for the maws of hell to open for them?
These thoughts often assailed her, far from the thoughts of a pious, Reformed Queen. And would the people love her if they knew that weeks before she was wed, she had loved another? Had plotted to run off and marry a stable hand? She would not think his name. It still pierced her like a blade. She took a deep breath and tried to smile. A rap on the door got her attention.
"What would I do without you?" she embraced Jane "God has blessed me with the best council a Queen could ask for. Friends."
Jane, Catherine, Mary and Eleanor. Through it all, they had been her rock. Elizabeth had brought them together and when she had banished Margaret had feared their bonds would dissolve, that they would fall away. Now, she stood as that bond. Their Queen. They were her strength and her solace and she knew they would always be loyal to her, as she was to them. She took another breath and walked towards the door. Outside, Cecil, Henry, Francis, Thomas and Mary waited. They all bowed and curtseyed deeply. Margaret sat and motioned for them to follow.
"Now, we have much business to attend to. Cecil, what artisans could we gather that would be useful in both he Easter celebrations and in my coronation procession?"
Cecil looked taken aback. Her voice was forceful and edged with steel. She smiled at him, trying to ease the tension building in him.
"I am taking initiative Lord Secretary. I had hoped you would be pleased."
Henry smiled beside Cecil and gave him a small shove, one reddish blond eyebrow raising in amusement. Cecil let out a little cough, and Margaret thought she spied a ghost of a smile flicker past his face.
"If I may, Your Majesty," Francis interrupted "My lord husband employs a young man who has already spoken of several ideas I believe would suit your tastes perfectly."
"His name is Conrad Anselm, a painter from Bavaria and I believe he would be a perfect choice as one of your artisans Your Majesty."
"Very well. I wish to meet with him, and survey some of his work. I thank you both."
William Cecil nodded curtly and pulled a sheet of vellum from his ever present bundle of correspondence and reports. He handed them to her, a list of English, Italian, French and German artisans and their specialties. It was perfect as Cecil so often was. She trusted him.
"Apart from Herr Anselm, I will trust Secretary Cecil's judgment on the rest of men chosen. But I would enjoy it I could meet them all as well, and discuss my ideas and theirs as well."
She smiled serenely and laid back against the chair.
"I would also have every copy of Margaret Beaufort's courtly etiquette books burnt after this Easter. God bless her soul, my lady Great-Grandmother could surely drone on."
Margaret would soldier on. After her coronation, when she was with child, life would be easier. She would learn and she would have these people she loved around her. Her weaknesses would not leave her overnight, but in time she hoped to be a Queen her parents would truly be proud of, a Queen her mother would proudly serve.