The Autobiography of Henry VIII



William Somers to Catherine Carey Knollys:

Kent, England. April 10, 1557.


My dear Catherine:

I am dying. Or, rather, about to die-there is a slight (though unconsoling) difference. It is this: the dying can no longer write letters, whereas those about to die can and sometimes do. As this letter proves. Dear Catherine, spare me your protestations to the contrary. You have not seen me in many years (how many since you went into exile to Basle?); you would not recognize me now. I am not sure I recognize myself, whenever I am so ill-advised as to actually look at myself in a mirror–proving that vanity lives at least as long as we do. It is the first faculty to come and the last to go. And I, I who have made my livelihood at court mocking others’ vanity-I look in the mirror, like all the rest. And see a strange old man who looks decidedly unsavoury.

But I was already twenty-five when old King Harry (who was young then, himself) took me into his household. And he has been dead ten years now, and that is what I am writing about. Let us come directly to business. You know I have never been sentimental. (I think Harry liked that best in me, being so incorrigibly sentimental himself.) I have a small legacy for you. It is from your father. I knew him rather well, even better than you yourself did. He was a magnificent man, and sorely missed today, even by his enemies, so I should think.

I live quietly in the country, in Kent. It is far enough from London to afford one some protection from false accusations, but not so far that one cannot hear the false accusations against others. There have been more burnings at Smithfield; and as you have most likely heard yourself, Cranmer and Ridley and Latimer were roasted. How Mary must have hated Cranmer, all those years! Think of the times when she had to stand near him in some religious ceremony or other . . . such as Edward’s christening, where they actually had her bearing gifts! Dear Cranmer–Henry’s compliant churchman. If ever there were anyone who seemed an unlikely candidate for martyrdom, it was he. I always assumed the man had no conscience at all. I see I was wrong. Did you hear that first he recanted his Protestantism, in a typically Cranmerian fashion, and then–oh, marvellous!-recanted his recantation? It would have been humourous were it not so deadly.

But then, you and those of your . . . persuasion . . . sensed that early, and had the prudence to clear out of England. I will ask you a question, knowing full well you will not answer it, not on paper if you hope ever to return here. Just how Protestant are you? You know the old King never saw himself as a Protestant at all, but merely as a Catholic who fell out with the Pope and refused to recognize him. A neat trick, but then Harry had some odd turns of mind. Then his son Edward, that pious little prig, was Protestant. But not the wild sort, the Anabaptist variety. Are you that sort? If you are, there will be no place for you in England. Not even Elizabeth will welcome you, should she ever become Queen. You should know that, and not pin your hopes on things that are unlikely to be. Some day you can return home. But not if you are Anabaptist or the like.

England will never again be Catholic. Queen Mary has seen to that, with her persecutions for the True Faith and her Spanish obsession. Harry never punished anyone for anything save disloyalty to the King. As long as you signed the Oath of Succession you could believe what you liked, provided you were gentlemanly about it and did not run about in a sweating fervour, one way or the other. Thomas More wasn’t beheaded for being a Catholic (although the Catholics would like people to think that and have nearly succeeded), but for refusing to take the Oath. The rest of his household took it. But More did long for martyrdom and went to . . . heroic? . . . lengths to achieve it. He literally forced the King to kill him. And got that so-called heavenly crown he lusted after as old Harry had lusted after Anne Boleyn. Harry found the object of his lust not as palatable as he had imagined; let us hope More was not similarly disillusioned once he attained his desire.

I forget. I must not make such jests with you. You believe in that Place too. Believers are all alike. They seek–what was More’s book title?–Utopia. It means No Place, you know.

As I said, I live quietly here in my sister’s household in Kent, along with my niece and her husband. They have a small cottage, and Edward is . . . I hesitate to write it . . . a gravedigger and tombstone carver. He makes a good living at it. (Just such puns used to be my living.) But he tends his garden as others do (we had wonderful roses last year), plays with his children, enjoys his meals. There is nothing the least death-like about him; perhaps only that sort can stomach such a profession. Although I think being a jester is equally bound up with death. Or providing a scent to cover it, anyway.

I came here before Edward had his coronation. The boy-King and his pious advisers had no need of a jester, and I would have stood about like a loose sail luffing in the wind. Neither is Queen Mary’s court the sort of place where one makes jokes.

Do you remember, Catherine, that summer when you and I and all your Boleyn family and the King gathered at Hever? You and your brother Henry were brought to see your Boleyn grandparents. Hever is delightful in the summer. It was always so green, so cool. And the gardens had truly the best musk-roses in England. (Do you perchance remember the name of your grandparents’ gardener? I am not far from Hever now, and perhaps could consult with him . . . assuming he is still living.) And it was an easy day’s ride from London. Do you remember how the King used to stand on that hill, the first one from which you could glimpse Hever, and blow his hunting horn? You used to wait for that sound, and then go running to meet him. He always brought you something, too. You were the first Boleyn grandchild.

Remember your uncle George that summer? He was trying so hard to be the gentil parfit knight. He practised riding about in his armour, ran lists against trees, and fell in love with that sloppy girl at The White Hart. She gave her favours to every man who frequented the tavern, except George, I think. She knew that to do so would stop the flow of sonnets he wrote exalting her purity and beauty, and she enjoyed laughing at them.

Your mother Mary and her husband were also there, of course. I always thought your mother more than her sister Anne’s equal in beauty. But of a different sort. She was sun and honey; the other was the dark of the moon. We were all there that summer before everything changed so horribly. The tide has indeed gone out, leaving that little time as a brave clump of ground projecting above the muddy, flat rest of it.

I am rambling. No, worse, I grow romantic and sentimental, something I abhor in others and will not tolerate in myself. Now, to return to the important thing: the legacy. Tell me how I may get it safely into your hands across the Channel. It is, unfortunately, a rather awkward size: too large to be successfully concealed on a person, too small to be its own protection against destruction. In fact, it can all too easily be destroyed by any number of things–sea, fire, air, or even neglect.

I pray you make haste with your reply. I am distinctly less curious to discover at first hand the shape and disposition of my Maker than are you and others of your sect, but I fear I may be honoured with a celestial interview in the near future. The Deity is notoriously capricious in his affections.

Ever your
Will Somers

Catherine Carey Knollys to William Somers:

June 11, 1557. Basle.


My dearest Will.

I beg your forgiveness in taking so long to place this answer in your hands. Messengers who will openly carry things from England to us here in exile are few in these times; the Queen makes sure of that. However, I trust this carrier and equally trust your discretion in destroying this letter once you have read it.

I am distressed to hear of your ill health. But you, as King Henry’s favorite jester, were ever prone to exaggeration in your talk, and I pray God this is but a further example of your art. Francis and I have prayed for you nightly. Not in the idolatrous Mass, which is worse than worthless, it is a travesty (O, if the Queen should see this!), but in our private devotions. We do not do badly here in Basle. We have enough clothes to keep us warm, enough food to keep us fit but not fat; more would be an affront to God, many of whose poor creatures are in bodily need. But we are rich in the only thing worth having-the freedom to follow our consciences. You no longer have that in England. The Papalists would take it all away. We pray daily for that tyranny to be lifted from your shoulders, and a Moses to arise to lead you from spiritual bondage.

But about the legacy. I am curious. My father died in 1528, when I was but six. Why should you wait near thirty years to hand it on? It could not have been scurrilous or treasonous. And that is another thing that puzzles me. You spoke of his “enemies.” He had no enemies. William Carey was a good friend to the King, and a gentle man. I know this not only from my mother, but from others. He was well regarded at court, and his death from the plague saddened many. I am grateful that you remember now to do it, but if I had had it earlier . . . No, I do not blame you. But I would have known my father better, and sooner. It is good to meet one’s father before one becomes an adult oneself.

Yes, I remember Hever in the summer. And my uncle George, and you, and the King. As a child I thought him handsome and angelic. Certainly he was beautifully made (the Devil did it) and had a certain presence about him, of majesty I should say. Not all kings have it; certainly Edward never did, and as for the present Queen . . .

I regret to say I cannot remember the name of the gardener. Something with a J? But I do remember that garden, the one beyond the moat. There were banks of flowers, and he (of the forgotten name) had arranged it so that there was always something in bloom, from mid-March to mid-November. And great quantities, too, so that the little manor of Hever could always be filled with masses of cut flowers. Strange that you should mention musk-roses; my favourites were the hollyhocks, with their big heavy bells.

Your news about Cranmer saddened me. So he was one of us after all. I, too, had thought him merely a creature of whoever was in power. I am sure he has attained his crown and is (in the poor misguided Thomas More’s phrase) “merry in heaven.” More may be there as well, but in spite of his mistaken allegiance, not because of it. If he had trimmed his sails to the wind and survived until now, I doubt not that he would have been among the judges that condemned Cranmer. More was a vicious enemy of so-called dissenters; he is not honoured by us. His death diminished the ranks of our persecutors by one. Naturally there are many remaining, but time is our friend and we shall prevail.

This is hard for you to comprehend as you are of the Old Order, and cautiousness has always been your watchword. But as Gamaliel, the Pharisee lawyer, said in regard to the persecution of the first Christians: “For if this council or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.” It is written in the fifth chapter of Acts. If you have no translation of the Scriptures available to you (as I believe the Queen has had them destroyed), I can arrange to have one brought to you. A trusted friend has business in London, and sees that we can receive things. My messenger here will give you his name, and we can exchange our things. Although I believe that, whatever the legacy prove to be, it cannot be so valuable as the Scriptures.

Ever your servant in Christ,

Catherine Carey Knollys

Will Somers to Catherine Knollys:

July 21, 1557. Kent.


Sweet Catherine:

Your prayers must have had some salubrious effect, as I have made a partial recovery. God has evidently rescheduled our meeting for a more mutually convenient time. As you know, I shun the offices of all doctors as well as priests. Neither has meddled with me in over forty years. To this I attribute my survival. I have never been bled, never had ground-pearl ointments (of which Harry was so inordinately fond), nor have I cared what vestments the current high priest wore. I do not mean to offend you, Catherine. But I am not a believer in anything save the swift passing of things. Religion, too, has its fashions. Yesterday it was five Masses a day–yes, Harry did that!–and pilgrimages to Our Lady of Walsingham; next Bibles and sermons; now, Masses again, with burnings added; next, who knows? By all means pray to that Geneva God you have created in your own image. He is mighty for now. Perhaps there is something that is constant above and beyond mere fashions in worship. I do not know. My job has been always, and merely, to turn people’s faces away from change, loss, dissolution; to distract them while the scenery was being changed backstage.

Catherine: do not send me any Scriptures, or translations. I do not wish to receive them, nor to be associated with them in any way. Are you unaware of what danger that would place me in? And for nothing. I have read them already (indeed, I had to, in order to banter with King Harry in public, and in private, to fill in whenever Cranmer or his last Queen was unavailable for his favourite pastime: a robust theological discussion). I have remained unconverted and singularly uninterested in being converted. As it is extraordinarily difficult to smuggle in these scriptures, give someone else the rewards of your efforts.

I will, however, speak with your man about the transportation of the legacy. I must cease the mystery and tell it plain. The thing is a journal. It was written by your father. It is extremely valuable, and many people would like to destroy it. They know of its existence but so far have confined their efforts to asking the Duke of Norfolk about it, the remnants of the Seymour family, and even Bessie Blount’s widower, Lord Clinton. Sooner or later they will sniff their way to me here in Kent.

There, I have told it all, except the last thing. The journal was written not by William Carey, your supposed father, but by your true father: the King.

Catherine Knollys to Will Somers:

September 30, 1557. Basle.



The King was not–is not!–my father. How dare you lie so, and insult my mother, my father, myself? So you would rake up all those lies from so long ago? And I thought you my friend! I do not wish to see the journal. Keep it to yourself, along with all your other misguided abominations of thought! No wonder the King liked you so. You were of one mind: low-minded and full of lies. You will not muddy my life with your base lies and insinuations. Christ said to forgive, but He also told us to shake the dust off` our feet from towns filled with liars, blasphemers, and the like. Just so do I shake you from mine.

Will Somers to Catherine Knollys:

November 14, 1557. Kent.


Catherine, my dear:

Restrain yourself from tearing this letter to pieces in lieu of reading it. I do not blame you for your outburst. It was magnificent. A paradigm of outraged sensibility, morality, and all the rest. (Worthy of the old King himself! Ali, what memories it brought back!) But now admit it: the King was your father. This have you known always. You speak of dishonouring your father. Will you dishonour the King by your refusal to admit what is? That was perhaps his cardinal virtue (yes, my lady, he had virtues) and genius: always to recognize the thing as it was, not as it was generally assumed to be. Did you not inherit that from him? Or are you like your half-sister Queen Mary (I, too, regret your relationship with her), blind and singularly unable to recognize even things looming right before her weak eyes? Your other half-sister, Elizabeth, is different; and I supposed you were also. I supposed it was the Boleyn blood, added to the Tudor, that made for a uniquely hard, clear vision of things, not muddied by any Spanish nonsense. But I see I was wrong. You are as prejudiced and stupid and full of religious choler as the Spanish Queen. King Harry is dead indeed, then. His long-sought children have seen to that.

Catherine Knollys to Will Somers:

January 5, 1558. Basle.



Your insults must be answered. You speak of my dishonouring the King my father. If he were my father, did he not dishonour me by never acknowledging me as his own? (He acknowledged Henry Fitzroy, made him Duke of Richmond-the offspring of that whore Bessie Blount!) Why, then, should I acknowledge or honour him? First he seduced my mother before her marriage, and now you say he subsequently cuckolded her husband. He does not deserve honour, but disdain. He was an evil man and brought horror wherever he went. The only good he did, he did merely as a by-product of evil: his lust for my aunt, Anne Boleyn, caused him to break from the Pope. (Thus the Lord used even a sinner for His purposes. But that is to the Lord’s credit, not the King’s.) I spit on the late King, and his memory! And as for my cousin, Princess Elizabeth (the daughter of my mother’s sister, naught else), I pray that she may . . . no, it is too dangerous to put on paper, regardless of the trustworthiness of the messenger or the receiver.

Go thy ways, Will. I want no further correspondence from you.

Will Somers to Catherine Knollys:

March 15, 1558. Kent.



Bear with me yet a little. In your wonderfully muddled letter I sensed one essential question; the rest was mere noise. You asked: If he were my father, did he not dishonour me by never acknowledging me as his own?

You know the answer: He was taken out of his true mind by that witch (now I must insult you again) Anne Boleyn. She tried to poison the Duke of Richmond; would you have had her try her hand on you as well? Yes, your aunt was a witch. Your mother quite otherwise. Her charms were honest, and her thoughts and manner honest as well. She suffered for it, while your aunt-witch thrived. Honesty seldom goes unpunished, and as you know, your mother did not have an easy berth in life. He would have acknowledged you, and perhaps your brother as well (though he was less certain of his parentage), if the Witch had not prevented him. She was jealous, very jealous of your sweet mother, although, God knows, she gave the King ample cause for jealousy: the admiration of all the world was not enough for the Witch, she must have the services of all the male courtiers as well. Well, as she herself said, the King, having run out of earthly honours for her, provided her with the crown of martyrdom. Ha! All who are killed are not martyrs. She sought to ally herself with Thomas a Becket and even Thomas More, but it was not to be. She has failed in her transparent bid for posthumous honour and glory.

And now take this journal, and make peace with yourself. If you cannot, then save it for your . . . relation, the Princess Elizabeth, against the time when . . . I, too, must say no more than this. It is dangerous, and even my wattly old neck does not find the feel of a rope particularly appealing. I cannot give it into her hands now, although as you have made clear, she is the obvious choice. Spies surround her, and she is watched constantly. Mary wants to send her back to the Tower, and make sure she never emerges again.

How I came about the journal is this: I was, as you know (or perhaps you do not; why should we always assume our private histories are of general importance, and known to all?) first seen by Harry, the King, when my master, a wool merchant in Calais, happened to court. I was not a jester then, just a young man with an hour to pass in the galleries. I amused myself as I customarily did when without the more interesting offices of sack or wine: I talked. The King heard; the rest, as the common people say, is history. (Whose history?) He took me into his service, gave me cap and bells, bound me to him in more ways than I was at the time aware. We grew old together; but here I must set down what the young Harry was. The eye of the sun, that blinded us all . . . yes, even me, cynical Will. We were brothers; and when he lay dying in that stuffy chamber in Whitehall, I was the only one who had known him young.

But I digress. I was speaking of the journal. When I first came to Harry in 1525 (just before the Witch enthralled him), he was keeping a sort of daily log, all full of rough notations. Later-after the disgrace of Catherine Howard, his fifth so-called Queen-when he was so ill, he began a personal journal to beguile the time and take his mind from the daily pain in his leg and the growing factions about him. Oh, yes, daughter-he felt himself to be losing control. He knew the parties forming about him, waiting for him to die. So he lashed out, in the open; and secretly, he wrote it all down.

Toward the end, he could only make the roughest notes, which he (eternal optimist) planned to expand later. (Why, only one month before he died, he ordered fruit trees for his garden that would riot bear fruit, at the earliest, until ten years hence. An irony: I hear they bloomed last year, and Mary had them cut down. If she must be barren, then the royal garden must perforce imitate the royal person.) He never did; he never will. I enclose them here, along with the rest, with my own notes and explanations. I hesitated to deface the journal, but when I read it, it was as though Harry were talking once again, and I was ever wont to interrupt him. Old habits persist, as you can see. As well as I knew him, though, the journal showed me an unknown Henry-proving, I suppose, that we are all strangers, even to ourselves.

But I began by saying how I came to possess the journal. The answer is simple: I stole it. They would have destroyed it. They have destroyed everything else remotely connected to the King, or to the Old Times: first the Reformers and now the Papists. The Reformers smashed the glass in every church, and the Papists, so I hear, have gone one step further in bestiality, so that even I hesitate to write it. The Queen’s agents have taken Harry’s body–her own father!–from its grave, burnt it, and thrown it into the Thames! Oh, monstrous!

This journal, then, is his last earthly remains. Will you be so unnatural a daughter as the Queen, and burn it, as well? If you are not his daughter (as you maintain), then be to him a better daughter than his true-born.

How humourless this is. Humour is, indeed, the most civilised thing we have. It smooths all raw edges and makes the rest endurable. Harry knew that. Perhaps I should employ a jester of my own, having evidently outrun my own calling.

The blessings of your enigmatic God upon you,


Enclosed herein is the journal. I feel constrained to note: Bessie Blount was not a whore.

The Journal of Henry VIII

Chapter One

Yesterday some fool asked me what my first memory was, expecting me to lapse happily into sentimental childhood reminiscences, as dotty old men are supposed to enjoy doing. He was most surprised when I ordered him out of the room.

But his damage was done; and I could not order the thought out of my mind as easily. What was my earliest memory? Whatever it was, it was not pleasant. I was sure of that.

Was it when I was six? No, I remember when my sister Mary was born, and that was when I was five. Four, then? That was when my other sister, Elizabeth, died, and I remembered that, horribly enough. Three? Perhaps. Yes. It was when I was three that I first heard cheers-and the words “only a second son.

The day was fair–a hot, still, summer’s day. I was going with Father to Westminster Hall to be given honours and titles. He had rehearsed the ritual with me until I knew it perfectly: how to bow, when to prostrate myself on the floor, how to back out of the room before him. I had to do this because he was King, and I would be in his presence.

“You never turn your back to a king,” he explained.

“Even though you are just my father?”

“Even so,” he answered solemnly. “I am still your King. And I am making you a Knight of the Bath today, and you must be dressed in hermit’s clothes. And then you will re-enter the Hall in ceremonial robes and be made Duke of York.” He laughed a little dry laugh-like the scudding of leaves across a cobbled courtyard. “That will silence them, show them the Tudors have incorporated York! The only true Duke of York will be my son. Let them all see it!” Suddenly he lowered his voice and spoke softly. “You will do this before all the peers in the realm. You must not make a mistake, nor must you be afraid.”

I looked into his cold grey eyes, the color of a November sky. “I am not afraid,” I said, and knew that I spoke the truth.

Throngs of people came to watch us when we rode to Westminster through Cheapside. I had my own pony, a white one, and rode just behind Father on his great caparisoned bay. Even mounted, I was scarcely any taller than the wall of people on either side. I could see individual faces clearly, could see their expressions. They were happy, and repeatedly called blessings on us as we passed.

I enjoyed the ceremony. Children are not supposed to enjoy ceremonies, but I did. (A taste I have never lost. Did that begin here, as well?) I liked having all eyes in Westminster Hall on me as I walked the length of it, alone, to Father. The hermit’s robes were rough and scratched me, but I dared not betray any discomfort. Father was sitting on a dais in a dark carved seat of royal estate. He looked remote and unhuman, a King indeed. I approached him, trembling slightly, and he rose and took a long sword and made me a knight, a member of the Order of the Bath. In raising the sword, he brushed lightly against my neck, and I was surprised at how cold the steel was, even on a high summer’s day.

Then I backed slowly out of the hall and went into the anteroom where Thomas Boleyn, one of Father’s esquires of the Body, was waiting to help me change into my rich red ceremonial robes made especially for today’s occasion. That done, I re-entered the hall and did it all again; was made Duke of York.

I was to be honoured afterwards, and all the nobles and high-ranking prelates were to come and pay homage to me, recognizing me as the highest peer in England-after the King and my older brother Arthur. I know now, but did not understand then, what this meant. The title “Duke of York” was the favourite of pretenders, and so Father meant to exact oaths of loyalty from his nobles precluding their later recognizing any pretenders for, after all, there cannot be two Dukes of York. (Just as there cannot be two heads of John the Baptist, although some Papalists persist in worshipping both!)

But I did not understand this. I was but three years old. It was the first time I had been singled out for anything of my own, and I was hungry for the attention. I imagined all the adults would cluster about me and talk to me.

It was quite otherwise. Their “recognition” consisted of a momentary glimpse in my direction, a slight inclination of the head. I was quite lost in the forest of legs (for so they appeared to me; I scarcely reached any man’s waist) which soon arranged themselves into clusters of three, four, five men. I looked about for the Queen my mother, but did not see her. Yet she had promised to come ….

A bleating fanfare announced that the dishes were being placed upon the long table running along the west wall of the hall. It had a great length of white linen upon it, and all the serving dishes were gold. They shone in the dull light, setting off the colour of the food within. Wine servers began to move about, carrying huge golden pitchers. When they came to me, I demanded some, and that made everyone about me laugh. The server demurred, but I insisted. He gave me a small chased silver cup and filled it with claret, and I drank it straight down. The people laughed, and this caught Father’s attention. He glared at me as though I had committed a grave sin.

Soon I felt dizzy, and my heavy velvet robes made me sweat in the close air of the packed hall. The buzz of voices above me was unpleasant, and still the Queen had not come, nor any attention been paid me. I longed to return to Eltham and leave this dull celebration. If this were a festivity, I wanted no more of them and would not envy Arthur his right to attend them.

I saw Father standing somewhat apart, talking to one of his Privy Councillors-Archbishop Morton, I believe. Emboldened by the wine (for I was usually somewhat reluctant to approach Father), I decided to ask him to allow me to leave and return to Eltham straightway. I was able to approach him unobtrusively as I passed the clots of gossiping nobles and courtiers. My very lack of size meant that no one saw me as I moved closer to the King and stood back, half-hidden in folds of the wall-hanging, waiting for him to cease talking. One does not interrupt the King, even though one is the King’s son.

Some words drifted to me. The Queen . . . ill . . .

Was my mother, then, prevented by illness from coming? I moved closer, straining to hear.

“But she must bury this sorrow,” Morton was saying. “Yet each pretender opens the wound anew–”

“That is why today was necessary. To put a stop to all these false Dukes of York. If they could see how it hurts Her Grace. Each one . . . she knows they are liars, pretenders, yet I fancied she looked overlong at Lambert Simnel’s face. She wishes it, you see; she wishes Richard her brother to be alive.” The King’s voice was low and unhappy. “That is why she could not come to see Henry be invested with his title. She could not bear it. She loved her brother.”

“Yet she loves her son as well.” It was a question disguised as a statement.

The King shrugged. “As a mother is bound to love her son.”

“No more than that?” Morton was eager now.

“If she loves him, it is for what he recalls to her–her father Edward. Henry resembles him, surely you must have seen that.” Father took another sip of wine from his huge goblet, so that his face was hidden.

“He’s a right noble-looking Prince,” Morton nodded, so that his chin almost touched his furred collar.

“I give you his looks. Edward had looks as well. Do you remember that woman who cried out in the marketplace: `By my troth, for thy lovely countenance thou shalt have even twenty pounds’? Pretty Edward. `The Sun in Splendour’ he called himself.”

“Whereas we all know it should have been `The King in Mistress Shore’s Bed,’ ” Morton cackled. “Or was it Eleanor Butler’s?”

“What matter? He was always in someone’s bed. Remember that derisive ballad about `lolling in a lewd love-bed’? Elizabeth Woodville was clever to exploit his lust. I do not wish to belittle the Queen’s mother, but she was a tiresome old bitch. I feared she would never die. Yet we have been free of her for two years now. Praised be God!”

“Yet Henry-is he not-” Morton was clearly more interested in the living than the dead.

The King looked about him to make sure no one was listening. I pressed further into the curtain-fold, wishing myself invisible. “Only a second son. Pray God he will never be needed. Should he ever become King”-he paused, then lowered his voice to a whisper as he spoke the unspeakable words-“the House of Tudor would not endure. Just as the House of York did not survive Edward. He was handsome and a great soldier-I grant him that-but at bottom stupid and insensitive. And Henry is the same. England could survive one Edward, but never two.”

“It will never come to that,” said Morton smoothly. “We have Arthur, who will be a great king. The marks of greatness are already upon him. So learned. So stately. So wise-far beyond his eight years.”

“Arthur the Second,” murmured Father, his eyes dreamy. “Aye, it will be a great day. And Henry, perhaps, will be Archbishop of Canterbury someday. Yes, the Church is a good place for him. Although he may find the vows of celibacy a bit chafing. Do you, Morton?” He smiled coldly, a complicity acknowledged. Morton had many bastards.

“Your Grace-” Morton turned his face away in mock modesty, and almost saw me.

My heart was pounding. I pressed myself back into the curtains. They must not ever know I was nearby, and had heard. I wanted to cry-indeed, I felt tears fighting their way into my eyes-but I was too insensitive for that. The King had said so.

Instead, after I had stopped trembling and banished any hint of tears, I left my hiding-place and moved out among the gathered nobles, boldly talking to anyone I encountered. It was much remarked upon later.

I must not be hypocritical. Being a prince was good sometimes. Not in a material sense, as people suppose. Noblemen’s sons lived in greater luxury than we did; we were the butt-end of the King’s “economies,” living and sleeping in Spartan quarters, like good soldiers. It is true we lived in palaces, and that word conjures up images of luxury and beauty-for which I must take some credit, as I have worked hard to make it true, in my own reign-but in my childhood it was otherwise. The palaces were relics of an earlier era romantic, perhaps, steeped in history (here Edward’s sons were murdered; here Richard II surrendered his crown), but decidedly uncomfortable: dark and cold.

Nor was it particularly adventuresome. Father did not travel very much, and when he did he left us behind. The first ten years of my life were spent almost entirely within the confines of Eltham Palace. Glimpses of anything beyond were, for all practical purposes, forbidden. Ostensibly this was for our protection. But it had the effect of cloistering us. No monk lived as austere, as circumscribed, as dull a life as I did for those ten years.

And that was fitting, as Father had determined that I must be a priest when I grew up. Arthur would be King. I, the second son, must be a churchman, expending my energies in God’s service, not in usurping my brother’s position. So, from the age of four, I received, churchly training from a series of sad-eyed priests.

But even so, it was good to be a prince. It was good for elusive reasons I find almost impossible to set down. For the history of the thing, if you will. To be a prince was to be-special. To know when you read the story of Edward the Confessor or Richard the Lionheart that you had a mystic bloodbond with them. That was all. But enough. Enough for me as I memorized reams of Latin prayers. I had the blood of kings! True, it was hidden beneath the shabby clothes, and would never be passed on, but it was there nevertheless –a fire to warm myself against.

(c)Copyright 2002, Margaret George. All rights reserved.

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