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‘You surprise me. The way things are with me, the people called Cromwell will be wanting to change their names to Williams.’
‘If I had your name, I should never disown it.’
‘Would your father like it? You know he believed he had his descent from Welsh princes.’
‘Ah, he did. When he’d had a drink, he would say, who will give me a shilling for my principality?’
‘Even so, you have the Tudor name in your descent. By some accounts.’
‘Don’t,’ Richard pleads. ‘It makes beads of blood stand out on my forehead.’
‘It’s not that hard.’ He laughs. ‘Listen. The old king had an uncle, Jasper Tudor. Jasper had two bastard daughters, Joan and Helen. Helen was Gardiner’s mother. Joan married William ap Evan – she was your grandmother.’
‘Is that all? Why did my father make it sound so deep? But if I am the king’s cousin,’ Richard pauses, ‘and Stephen Gardiner’s cousin … what good can it do me? We’re not at court and not likely to be, now the cardinal … well …’ He looks away. ‘Sir … when you were on your travels, did you ever think you would die?’
‘Yes. Oh, yes.’
Richard looks at him: how did that feel?
‘I felt,’ he said, ‘irritated. It seemed a waste, I suppose. To come so far. To cross the sea. To die for …’ He shrugs. ‘God knows why.’
Richard says, ‘Every day I light a candle for my father.’
‘Does that help you?’
‘No. I just do it.’
‘Does he know you do it?’
‘I can’t imagine what he knows. I know the living must comfort each other.’
‘This comforts me, Richard Cromwell.’
Richard gets up, kisses his cheek. ‘Good night. Cysga’n dawel.’
Sleep well; it is the familiar form for those who are close to home. It is the usage for fathers, for brothers. It matters what name we choose, what name we make. The people lose their name who lie dead on the field of battle, the ordinary corpses of no lineage, with no herald to search for them and no chantry, no perpetual prayers. Morgan’s bloodline won’t be lost, he is sure of it, though he died in a busy year for death, when London was never out of black. He touches his throat, where the medal would have been, the holy medal that Kat gave him; his fingers are surprised not to find it there. For the first time he understands why he took it off and slid it into the sea. It was so that no living hand could take it. The waves took it, and the waves have it still.
The chimney at Esher continues to smoke. He goes to the Duke of Norfolk – who is always ready to see him – and asks him what is to be done about the cardinal’s household.
In this matter, both dukes are helpful. ‘Nothing is more malcontent,’ says Norfolk, ‘than a masterless man. Nothing more dangerous. Whatever one thinks of the Cardinal of York, he was always well served. Prefer them to me, send them in my direction. They will be my men.’
He directs a searching look at Cromwell. Who turns away. Knows himself coveted. Wears an expression like an heiress: sly, coy, cold.
He is arranging a loan for the duke. His foreign contacts are less than excited. The cardinal down, he says, the duke has risen, like the morning sun, and sitteth at Henry’s right hand. Tommaso, they say, seriously, you are offering what as guarantee? Some old duke who may be dead tomorrow – they say he is choleric? You are offering a dukedom as security, in that barbaric island of yours, which is always breaking out into civil war? And another war coming, if your wilful king will set aside the Emperor’s aunt, and install his whore as queen?
Still: he’ll get terms. Somewhere.
Charles Brandon says, ‘You here again, Master Cromwell, with your lists of names? Is there anyone you specially recommend to me?’
‘Yes, but I am afraid he is a man of a lowly stamp, and more fit that I should confer with your kitchen steward –’
‘No, tell me,’ says the duke. He can’t bear suspense.
‘It’s only the hearths and chimneys man, hardly a matter for Your Grace …’
‘I’ll have him, I’ll have him,’ Charles Brandon says. ‘I like a good fire.’
Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor, has put his signature first on all the articles against Wolsey. They say one strange allegation has been added at his behest. The cardinal is accused of whispering in the king’s ear and breathing into his face; since the cardinal has the French pox, he intended to infect our monarch.
When he hears this he thinks, imagine living inside the Lord Chancellor’s head. Imagine writing down such a charge and taking it to the printer, and circulating it through the court and through the realm, putting it out there to where people will believe anything; putting it out there, to the shepherds on the hills, to Tyndale’s ploughboy, to the beggar on the roads and the patient beast in its byre or stall; out there to the bitter winter winds, and to the weak early sun, and the snowdrops in the London gardens.
It is a wan morning, low unbroken cloud; the light, filtering sparely through glass, is the colour of tarnished pewter. How brightly coloured the king is, like the king in a new pack of cards: how small his flat blue eye.
There is a crowd of gentlemen around Henry Tudor; they ignore his approach. Only Harry Norris smiles, gives him a polite good morning. At a signal from the king, the gentlemen retire to a distance; bright in their riding cloaks – it is a hunting morning – they flutter, eddy, cluster; they whisper, one to the other, and conduct a discourse in nods and shrugs.
The king glances out of the window. ‘So,’ he says, ‘how is …?’ He seems reluctant to name the cardinal.
‘He cannot be well till he has Your Majesty’s favour.’
‘Forty-four charges,’ the king says. ‘Forty-four, master.’
‘Saving Your Majesty, there is an answer to each one, and given a hearing we would make them.’
‘Could you make them here and now?’
‘If Your Majesty would care to sit.’
‘I heard you were a ready man.’
‘Would I come here unprepared?’
He has spoken almost without thinking. The king smiles. That fine curl of the red lip. He has a pretty mouth, almost like a woman’s; it is too small for his face. ‘Another day I would put you to the test,’ he says. ‘But my lord Suffolk is waiting for me. Will the cloud lift, do you think? I wish I’d gone out before Mass.’
‘I think it will clear,’ he says. ‘A good day to be chasing something.’
‘Master Cromwell?’ The king turns, he looks at him, astonished. ‘You are not of Thomas More’s opinion, are you?’
He waits. He cannot imagine what the king is going to say.
‘La chasse. He thinks it barbaric.’
‘Oh, I see. No, Your Majesty, I favour any sport that’s cheaper than battle. It’s rather that …’ How can he put it? ‘In some countries, they hunt the bear, and the wolf and the wild boar. We once had these animals in England, when we had our great forests.’
‘My cousin France has boar to hunt. From time to time he says he will ship me some. But I feel …’
You feel he is taunting you.
‘We usually say,’ Henry looks straight at him, ‘we usually say, we gentlemen, that the chase prepares us for war. Which brings us to a sticky point, Master Cromwell.’
‘It does indeed,’ he says, cheerful.
‘You said, in the Parliament, some six years ago, that I could not afford a war.’
It was seven years: 1523. And how long has this audience lasted? Seven minutes? Seven minutes and he is sure already. There’s no point backing off; do that and Henry will chase you down. Advance, and he may just falter. He says, ‘No ruler in the history of the world has ever been able to afford a war. They’re not affordable things. No prince ever says, “This is my budget; so this is the kind of war I can have.” You enter into one and it uses up all the money you’ve got, and then it breaks you and bankrupts you.’
‘When I went into France in the year 1513 I captured the town of Thérouanne, which in your speech you called –’
‘A doghole, Majesty.’
‘A doghole,’ the king repeats. ‘How could you say so?’
He shrugs. ‘I’ve been there.’
A flash of anger. ‘And so have I, at the head of my army. Listen to me, master – you said I should not fight because the taxes would break the country. What is the country for, but to support its prince in his enterprise?’
‘I believe I said – saving Your Majesty – we didn’t have the gold to see you through a year’s campaign. All the bullion in the country would be swallowed by the war. I have read there was a time when people exchanged leather tokens, for want of metal coins. I said we would be back to those days.’
‘You said I was not to lead my troops. You said if I was taken, the country couldn’t put up the ransom. So what do you want? You want a king who doesn’t fight? You want me to huddle indoors like a sick girl?’
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