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Rafe comes in: ‘First back to my lord cardinal?’ Where else, he says. He gathers his papers for the day. Pats his wife, kisses his dog. Goes out. The morning is drizzly but brightening, and before they reach York Place it is clear the cardinal has been as good as his word. A wash of sunlight lies over the river, pale as the flesh of a lemon.
PART TWO (#ulink_aa6e6309-867a-5c83-ae4b-550f197c76a3)
I Visitation 1529 (#ulink_f1a3fdb8-722f-5c75-812a-7f4699128bed)
They are taking apart the cardinal’s house. Room by room, the king’s men are stripping York Place of its owner. They are bundling up parchments and scrolls, missals and memoranda and the volumes of his personal accounts; they are taking even the ink and the quills. They are prising from the walls the boards on which the cardinal’s coat of arms is painted.
They arrived on a Sunday, two vengeful grandees: the Duke of Norfolk a bright-eyed hawk, the Duke of Suffolk just as keen. They told the cardinal he was dismissed as Lord Chancellor, and demanded he hand over the Great Seal of England. He, Cromwell, touched the cardinal’s arm. A hurried conference. The cardinal turned back to them, gracious: it appears a written request from the king is necessary; have you one? Oh: careless of you. It requires a lot of face to keep so calm; but then the cardinal has face.
‘You want us to ride back to Windsor?’ Charles Brandon is incredulous. ‘For a piece of paper? When the situation’s plain?’
That’s like Suffolk; to think the letter of the law is some kind of luxury. He whispers to the cardinal again, and the cardinal says, ‘No, I think we’d better tell them, Thomas … not prolong the matter beyond its natural life … My lords, my lawyer here says I can’t give you the Seal, written request or not. He says that properly speaking I should only hand it to the Master of the Rolls. So you’d better bring him with you.’
He says, lightly, ‘Be glad we told you, my lords. Otherwise it would have been three trips, wouldn’t it?’
Norfolk grins. He likes a scrap. ‘Am obliged, master,’ he says.
When they go Wolsey turns and hugs him, his face gleeful. Though it is the last of their victories and they know it, it is important to show ingenuity; twenty-four hours is worth buying, when the king is so changeable. Besides, they enjoyed it. ‘Master of the Rolls,’ Wolsey says. ‘Did you know that, or did you make it up?’
Monday morning the dukes are back. Their instructions are to turn out the occupants this very day, because the king wants to send in his own builders and furnishers and get the palace ready to hand over to the Lady Anne, who needs a London house of her own.
He’s prepared to stand and argue the point: have I missed something? This palace belongs to the archdiocese of York. When was Lady Anne made an archbishop?
But the tide of men flooding in by the water stairs is sweeping them away. The two dukes have made themselves scarce, and there’s nobody to argue with. What a terrible sight, someone says: Master Cromwell baulked of a fight. And now the cardinal’s ready to go, but where? Over his customary scarlet, he is wearing a travelling cloak that belongs to someone else; they are confiscating his wardrobe piece by piece, so he has to grab what he can. It is autumn, and though he is a big man he feels the cold.
They are overturning chests and tipping out their contents. They scatter across the floor, letters from Popes, letters from the scholars of Europe: from Utrecht, from Paris, from San Diego de Compostela; from Erfurt, from Strassburg, from Rome. They are packing his gospels and taking them for the king’s libraries. The texts are heavy to hold in the arms, and awkward as if they breathed; their pages are made of slunk vellum from stillborn calves, reveined by the illuminator in tints of lapis and leaf-green.
They take down the tapestries and leave the bare blank walls. They are rolled up, the woollen monarchs, Solomon and Sheba; as they are brought into coiled proximity, their eyes are filled by each other, and their tiny lungs breathe in the fibre of bellies and thighs. Down come the cardinal’s hunting scenes, the scenes of secular pleasure: the sportive peasants splashing in ponds, the stags at bay, the hounds in cry, the spaniels held on leashes of silk and the mastiffs with their collars of spikes: the huntsmen with their studded belts and knives, the ladies on horseback with jaunty caps, the rush-fringed pond, the mild sheep at pasture, and the bluish feathered treetops, running away into a long plumed distance, to a scene of chalky bluffs and a white sailing sky.
The cardinal looks at the scavengers as they go about their work. ‘Have we refreshments for our visitors?’
In the two great rooms that adjoin the gallery they have set up trestle tables. Each trestle is twenty feet long and they are bringing up more. In the Gilt Chamber they have laid out the cardinal’s gold plate, his jewels and precious stones, and they are deciphering his inventories and calling out the weight of the plate. In the Council Chamber they are stacking his silver and parcel-gilt. Because everything is listed, down to the last dented pan from the kitchens, they have put baskets under the tables so they can throw in any item unlikely to catch the eye of the king. Sir William Gascoigne, the cardinal’s treasurer, is moving constantly between the rooms, preoccupied, talking, directing the attention of the commissioners to any corner, any press and chest that he thinks they may have overlooked.
Behind him trots George Cavendish, the cardinal’s gentleman usher; his face is raw and open with dismay. They bring out the cardinal’s vestments, his copes. Stiff with embroidery, strewn with pearls, encrusted with gemstones, they seem to stand by themselves. The raiders knock down each one as if they are knocking down Thomas Becket. They itemise it, and having reduced it to its knees and broken its spine, they toss it into their travelling crates. Cavendish flinches: ‘For God’s sake, gentlemen, line those chests with a double thickness of cambric. Would you shred the fine work that has taken nuns a lifetime?’ He turns: ‘Master Cromwell, do you think we can get these people out before dark?’
‘Only if we help them. If it’s got to be done, we can make sure they do it properly.’
This is an indecent spectacle: the man who has ruled England, reduced. They have brought out bolts of fine holland, velvets and grosgrain, sarcenet and taffeta, scarlet by the yard: the scarlet silk in which he braves the summer heat of London, the crimson brocades that keep his blood warm when snow falls on Westminster and whisks in sleety eddies over the Thames. In public the cardinal wears red, just red, but in various weights, various weaves, various degrees of pigment and dye, but all of them the best of their kind, the best reds to be got for money. There have been days when, swaggering out, he would say, ‘Right, Master Cromwell, price me by the yard!’
And he would say, ‘Let me see,’ and walk slowly around the cardinal; and saying ‘May I?’ he would pinch a sleeve between an expert forefinger and thumb; and standing back, he would view him, to estimate his girth – year on year, the cardinal expands – and so come up with a figure. The cardinal would clap his hands, delighted. ‘Let the begrudgers behold us! On, on, on.’ His procession would form up, his silver crosses, his sergeants-at-arms with their axes of gilt: for the cardinal went nowhere, in public, without a procession.
So day by day, at his request and to amuse him, he would put a value on his master. Now the king has sent an army of clerks to do it. But he would like to take away their pens by force and write across their inventories: Thomas Wolsey is a man beyond price.
‘Now, Thomas,’ the cardinal says, patting him. ‘Everything I have, I have from the king. The king gave it to me, and if it pleases him to take York Place fully furnished, I am sure we own other houses, we have other roofs to shelter under. This is not Putney, you know.’ The cardinal holds on to him. ‘So I forbid you to hit anyone.’ He affects to be pressing his arms by his sides, in smiling restraint. The cardinal’s fingers tremble.
The treasurer Gascoigne comes in and says, ‘I hear Your Grace is to go straight to the Tower.’
‘Do you?’ he says. ‘Where did you hear that?’
‘Sir William Gascoigne,’ the cardinal says, measuring out his name, ‘what do you suppose I have done that would make the king want to send me to the Tower?’
‘It’s like you,’ he says to Gascoigne, ‘to spread every story you’re told. Is that all the comfort you’ve got to offer – walk in here with evil rumours? Nobody’s going to the Tower. We’re going’ – and the household waits, breath held, as he improvises – ‘to Esher. And your job,’ he can’t help giving Gascoigne a little shove in the chest, ‘is to keep an eye on all these strangers and see that everything that’s taken out of here gets where it’s meant to go, and that nothing goes missing by the way, because if it does you’ll be beating on the gates of the Tower and begging them to take you in, to get away from me.’
Various noises: mainly, from the back of the room, a sort of stifled cheer. It’s hard to escape the feeling that this is a play, and the cardinal is in it: the Cardinal and his Attendants. And that it is a tragedy.
Cavendish tugs at him, anxious, sweating. ‘But Master Cromwell, the house at Esher is an empty house, we haven’t a pot, we haven’t a knife or a spit, where will my lord cardinal sleep, I doubt we have a bed aired, we have neither linen nor firewood nor … and how are we going to get there?’
‘Sir William,’ the cardinal says to Gascoigne, ‘take no offence from Master Cromwell, who is, upon the occasion, blunt to a fault; but take what is said to heart. Since everything I have proceeds from the king, everything must be delivered back in good order.’ He turns away, his lips twitching. Except when he teased the dukes yesterday, he hasn’t smiled in a month. ‘Tom,’ he says, ‘I’ve spent years teaching you not to talk like that.’
Cavendish says to him, ‘They haven’t seized my lord cardinal’s barge yet. Nor his horses.’
‘No?’ He lays a hand on Cavendish’s shoulder: ‘We go upriver, as many as the barge will take. Horses can meet us at – at Putney, in fact – and then we will … borrow things. Come on, George Cavendish, exercise some ingenuity, we’ve done more difficult things in these last years than get the household to Esher.’
Is this true? He’s never taken much notice of Cavendish, a sensitive sort of man who talks a lot about table napkins. But he’s trying to think of a way to put some military backbone into him, and the best way lies in suggesting that they are brothers from some old campaign.
‘Yes, yes,’ Cavendish says, ‘we’ll order up the barge.’
Good, he says, and the cardinal says, Putney? and he tries to laugh. He says, well, Thomas, you told Gascoigne, you did; there’s something about that man I never have liked, and he says, why did you keep him then? and the cardinal says, oh, well, one does, and again the cardinal says, Putney, eh?
He says, ‘Whatever we face at journey’s end, we shall not forget how nine years ago, for the meeting of two kings, Your Grace created a golden city in some sad damp fields in Picardy. Since then, Your Grace has only increased in wisdom and the king’s esteem.’
He is speaking for everyone to hear; and he thinks, that occasion was about peace, notionally, whereas this occasion, we don’t know what this is, it is the first day of a long or a short campaign; we had better dig in and hope our supply lines hold. ‘I think we will manage to find some fire irons and soup kettles and whatever else George Cavendish thinks we can’t do without. When I remember that Your Grace provisioned the king’s great armies, that went to fight in France.’
‘Yes,’ the cardinal says, ‘and we all know what you thought about our campaigns, Thomas.’
Cavendish says, ‘What?’ and the cardinal says, ‘George, don’t you call to mind what my man Cromwell said in the House of Commons, was it five years past, when we wanted a subsidy for the new war?’
‘But he spoke against Your Grace!’
Gascoigne – who hangs doggedly to this conversation – says, ‘You didn’t advance yourself there, master, speaking against the king and my lord cardinal, because I do remember your speech, and I assure you so will others, and you bought yourself no favours there, Cromwell.’
He shrugs. ‘I didn’t mean to buy favour. We’re not all like you, Gascoigne. I wanted the Commons to take some lessons from the last time. To cast their minds back.’
‘You said we’d lose.’
‘I said we’d be bankrupted. But I tell you, all our wars would have ended much worse without my lord cardinal to supply them.’
‘In the year 1523 –’ Gascoigne says.
‘Must we refight this now?’ says the cardinal.
‘– the Duke of Suffolk was only fifty miles from Paris.’
‘Yes,’ he says, ‘and do you know what fifty miles is, to a half-starved infantryman in winter, when he sleeps on wet ground and wakes up cold? Do you know what fifty miles is to a baggage train, with carts up to the axles in mud? And as for the glories of 1513 – God defend us.’
‘Tournai! Thеrouanne!’ Gascoigne shouts. ‘Are you blind to what occurred? Two French towns taken! The king so valiant in the field!’
If we were in the field now, he thinks, I’d spit at your feet. ‘If you like the king so much, go and work for him. Or do you already?’
The cardinal clears his throat softly. ‘We all do,’ Cavendish says, and the cardinal says, ‘Thomas, we are the works of his hand.’
When they get out to the cardinal’s barge his flags are flying: the Tudor rose, the Cornish choughs. Cavendish says, wide-eyed, ‘Look at all these little boats, waffeting up and down.’ For a moment, the cardinal thinks the Londoners have turned out to wish him well. But as he enters the barge, there are sounds of hooting and booing from the boats; spectators crowd the bank, and though the cardinal’s men keep them back, their intent is clear enough. When the oars begin to row upstream, and not downstream to the Tower, there are groans and shouted threats.
It is then that the cardinal collapses, falling into his seat, beginning to talk, and talks, talks, talks, all the way to Putney. ‘Do they hate me so much? What have I done but promote their trades and show them my goodwill? Have I sown hatred? No. Persecuted none. Sought remedies every year when wheat was scarce. When the apprentices rioted, begged the king on my knees with tears in my eyes to spare the offenders, while they stood garlanded with the nooses that were to hang them.’
‘The multitude,’ Cavendish says, ‘is always desirous of a change. They never see a great man set up but they must pull him down – for the novelty of the thing.’
‘Fifteen years Chancellor. Twenty in his service. His father’s before that. Never spared myself … rising early, watching late …’
‘There, you see,’ Cavendish says, ‘what it is to serve a prince! We should be wary of their vacillations of temper.’
‘Princes are not obliged to consistency,’ he says. He thinks, I may forget myself, lean across and push you overboard.
The cardinal has not forgotten himself, far from it; he is looking back, back twenty years to the young king’s accession. ‘Put him to work, said some. But I said, no, he is a young man. Let him hunt, joust, and fly his hawks and falcons …’
‘Play instruments,’ Cavendish says. ‘Always plucking at something or other. And singing.’
‘You make him sound like Nero.’
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