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He broods: foresees, vaguely, an opportunity for placing bets. ‘That young woman,’ he says. ‘Anne Cresacre. She is an heiress, you know? An orphan?’
‘There was some scandal, was there not?’
‘After her father died her neighbours stole her, for their son to marry. The boy raped her. She was thirteen. This was in York-shire … that’s how they go on there. My lord cardinal was furious when he heard of it. It was he who got her away. He put her under More’s roof because he thought she’d be safe.’
‘So she is.’
Not from humiliation. ‘Since More’s son married her, he lives off her lands. She has a hundred a year. You’d think she could have a string of pearls.’
‘Do you think More is disappointed in his boy? He shows no talent for affairs. Still, I hear you have a boy like that. You’ll be looking for an heiress for him soon.’ He doesn’t reply. It’s true; John More, Gregory Cromwell, what have we done to our sons? Made them into idle young gentlemen – but who can blame us for wanting for them the ease we didn’t have? One thing about More, he’s never idled for an hour, he’s passed his life reading, writing, talking towards what he believes is the good of the Christian commonwealth. Stephen says, ‘Of course you may have other sons. Aren’t you looking forward to the wife Alice will find you? She is warm in your praises.’
He feels afraid. It is like Mark, the lute player: people imagining what they cannot know. He is sure he and Johane have been secret. He says, ‘Don’t you ever think of marrying?’
A chill spreads over the waters. ‘I am in holy orders.’
‘Oh, come on, Stephen. You must have women. Don’t you?’
The pause is so long, so silent, that he can hear the oars as they dip into the Thames, the little splash as they rise; he can hear the ripples in their wake. He can hear a dog barking, from the southern shore. The Secretary asks, ‘What kind of Putney enquiry is that?’
The silence lasts till Westminster. But on the whole, not too bad a trip. As he mentions, disembarking, neither of them has thrown the other in the river. ‘I’m waiting till the water’s colder,’ Gardiner says. ‘And till I can tie weights to you. You have a trick of resurfacing, don’t you? By the way, why am I bringing you to Westminster?’
‘I am going to see Lady Anne.’
Gardiner is affronted. ‘You didn’t say so.’
‘Should I report all my plans to you?’
He knows that is what Gardiner would prefer. The word is that the king is losing patience with his council. He shouts at them, ‘The cardinal was a better man than any of you, for managing matters.’ He thinks, if my lord cardinal comes back – which by a caprice of the king’s he may, any time now – then you’re all dead, Norfolk, Gardiner, More. Wolsey is a merciful man, but surely: only up to a point.
Mary Shelton is in attendance; she looks up, simpers. Anne is sumptuous in her nightgown of dark silk. Her hair is down, her delicate feet bare inside kidskin slippers. She is slumped in a chair, as if the day has beaten the spirit out of her. But still, as she looks up, her eyes are sparkling, hostile. ‘Where’ve you been?’
‘Oh.’ She is interested. ‘What passed?’
‘Dame Alice has a little monkey that sits on her knee at table.’
‘I hate them.’
‘I know you do.’
He walks about. Anne lets him treat her fairly normally, except when she has a sudden, savage seizure of I-who-will-be-Queen, and slaps him down. She examines the toe of her slipper. ‘They say that Thomas More is in love with his own daughter.’
‘I think they may be right.’
Anne’s sniggering laugh. ‘Is she a pretty girl?’
‘No. Learned though.’
‘Did they talk about me?’
‘They never mention you in that house.’ He thinks, I should like to hear Alice’s verdict.
‘Then what was the talk?’
‘The vices and follies of women.’
‘I suppose you joined it? It’s true, anyway. Most women are foolish. And vicious. I have seen it. I have lived among the women too long.’
He says, ‘Norfolk and my lord your father are very busy seeing ambassadors. France, Venice, the Emperor’s man – just in these last two days.’
He thinks, they are working to entrap my cardinal. I know it.
‘I did not think you could afford such good information. Though they say you have spent a thousand pounds on the cardinal.’
‘I expect to get it back. From here and there.’
‘I suppose people are grateful to you. If they have received grants out of the cardinal’s lands.’
He thinks, your brother George, Lord Rochford, your father Thomas, Earl of Wiltshire, haven’t they got rich from the cardinal’s fall? Look at what George is wearing these days, look at the money he spends on horses and girls; but I don’t see much sign of gratitude from the Boleyns. He says, ‘I just take my conveyancer’s fee.’
She laughs. ‘You look well on it.’
‘Do you know, there are ways and ways … Sometimes people just tell me things.’
It is an invitation. Anne drops her head. She is on the verge of becoming one of those people. But perhaps not tonight. ‘My father says, one can never be sure of that person, one can never tell who he’s working for. I should have thought – but then I am only a woman – that it is perfectly obvious that you’re working for yourself.’
That makes us alike, he thinks: but does not quite say.
Anne yawns, a little catlike yawn. ‘You’re tired,’ he says. ‘I shall go. By the way, why did you send for me?’
‘We like to know where you are.’
‘So why does your lord father not send for me, or your brother?’
She looks up. It may be late, but not too late for Anne’s knowing smile. ‘They do not think you would come.’
August: the cardinal writes to the king, a letter full of complaint, saying that he is being hounded by his creditors, ‘wrapped in misery and dread’ – but the stories that come back are different. He is holding dinners, and inviting all the local gentry. He is dispensing charity on his old princely scale, settling lawsuits, and sweet-talking estranged husbands and wives into sharing a roof again.
Call-Me-Risley was up in Southwell in June, with William Brereton of the king’s privy chamber: getting the cardinal’s signature on a petition Henry is circulating, which he means to send to the Pope. It’s Norfolk’s idea, to get the peers and bishops to sign up to this letter asking Clement to let the king have his freedom. It contains certain murky, unspecific threats, but Clement’s used to being threatened – no one’s better at spinning a question out, setting one party against the other, playing ends against the middle.
The cardinal looks well, according to Wriothesley. And his building work, it seems, has gone beyond repairs and a few renovations. He has been scouring the country for glaziers, joiners, and for plumbers; it is ominous when my lord decides to improve the sanitation. He never had a parish church but he built the tower higher; never lodged anywhere where he did not draw up drainage plans. Soon there will be earthworks, culverts and pipes laid. Next he will be installing fountains. Wherever he goes he is cheered by the people.
‘The people?’ Norfolk says. ‘They’d cheer a Barbary ape. Who cares what they cheer? Hang ’em all.’
‘But then who will you tax?’ he says, and Norfolk looks at him fearfully, unsure if he’s made a joke.
Rumours of the cardinal’s popularity don’t make him glad, they make him afraid. The king has given Wolsey a pardon, but if he was offended once, he can be offended again. If they could think up forty-four charges, then – if fantasy is unconstrained by truth – they can think up forty-four more.
He sees Norfolk and Gardiner with their heads together. They look up at him; they glare and don’t speak.
Wriothesley stays with him, in his shadow and footsteps, writes his most confidential letters, those to the cardinal and the king. He never says, I am too tired. He never says, it is late. He remembers all that he is required to remember. Even Rafe is not more perfect.
It is time to bring the girls into the family business. Johane complains of her daughter’s poor sewing, and it seems that, transferring the needle surreptitiously into her wrong hand, the child has devised an awkward little backstitch which you would be hard-pushed to imitate. She gets the job of sewing up his dispatches for the north.
September 1530: the cardinal leaves Southwell, travelling by easy stages to York. The next part of his progress becomes a triumphal procession. People from all over the countryside flock to him, ambushing him at wayside crosses so that he can lay his magical hands on their children; they call it ‘confirmation’, but it seems to be some older sacrament. They pour in by the thousand, to gape at him; and he prays for them all.
‘The council has the cardinal under observation,’ Gardiner says, swishing past him. ‘They have had the ports closed.’
Norfolk says, ‘Tell him if I ever see him again, I will chew him up, bones, flesh and gristle.’ He writes it down just so and sends it up-country: ‘bones, flesh and gristle.’ He can hear the crunch and snap of the duke’s teeth.
On 2 October the cardinal reaches his palace at Cawood, ten miles from York. His enthronement is planned for 7 November. News comes that he has called a convocation of the northern church; it is to meet at York the day after his enthronement. It is a signal of his independence; some may think it is a signal of revolt. He has not informed the king, he has not informed old Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury; he can hear the cardinal’s voice, soft and amused, saying, now, Thomas, why do they need to know?
Norfolk calls him in. His face is crimson and he froths a little at the mouth as he starts to shout. He has been seeing his armourer for a fitting, and is still wearing sundry parts – his cuirass, his garde-reins – so that he looks like an iron pot wobbling to the boil. ‘Does he think he can dig in up there and carve himself a kingdom? Cardinal’s hat not enough for him, only a crown will do for Thomas bloody Wolsey the bleeding butcher’s boy, and I tell you, I tell you …’
He drops his gaze in case the duke should stop to read his thoughts. He thinks, my lord would have made such an excellent king; so benign, so sure and suave in his dealings, so equitable, so swift and so discerning. His rule would have been the best rule, his servants the best servants; and how he would have enjoyed his state.
His glance follows the duke as he bobs and froths; but to his surprise, when the duke turns, he smites his own metalled thigh, and a tear – at the pain, or something else – bubbles into his eye. ‘Ah, you think me a hard man, Cromwell. I am not such a hard man that I don’t see how you are left. Do you know what I say? I say I don’t know one man in England who would have done what you have done, for a man disgraced and fallen. The king says so. Even him, Chapuys, the Emperor’s man, he says, you cannot fault what’s-he-called. I say, it’s a pity you ever saw Wolsey. It’s a pity you don’t work for me.’
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