The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir


  A spark of understanding began to flicker.

  “I deny that, for it is not true!” Elizabeth declared hotly. “When am I supposed to have told the Admiral about this man?”

  “This morning, in the garden, Her Grace said. She had seen you out of the window, telling the Admiral about it. He said you had been very upset because the man had lost interest in you.”

  “I see,” said Elizabeth. Yes, she did see: It was all making sense now. There rose in her a bitter fury against the Admiral, who had put her in the wrong, and caused her all this trouble, to save his own skin. It was craven, callous…and more than she could bear. She burst into bitter tears.

  “Elizabeth, tell me the truth,” Kat demanded. “Was there any such man?”

  “No,” sobbed the girl. “Never.”

  “But you did meet my lord in the garden?”

  “Yes. He came upon me as I was walking there. I did not plan to meet him.”

  She sniffed and felt in her pocket for her kerchief.

  Now it was Kat’s turn to see the light.

  “And am I right in thinking that his conduct toward you was not that of a careful guardian?” Kat asked gently.

  “He caught hold of me. I fended him off, but he was insistent. He said he loved me.” The whole sorry tale came out, punctuated by gulps and sobs. Kat sat in increasing turmoil, trying to grasp the situation.

  “It seems to me,” she said at length, when Elizabeth had subsided into a tearful silence, “that the Queen knows the truth, and that she herself made up this tale about a secret lover so that I might be more vigilant where my lord is concerned.”

  “You think the Queen made it up, and not the Admiral?” Elizabeth asked, astounded, wanting to believe it.

  “Yes. I don’t think she confronted him at all, now I think about it. She’s probably scared she’ll hear something she doesn’t want to hear.”

  “What are you going to tell her?” Elizabeth asked. “If you tell her there was no man, then she will guess the truth, and that will hurt her greatly.”

  “I will say you misjudged the situation. You thought, mistakenly of course, that the Admiral was about to make an advance to you, and you made the tale up to deflect him. It’s weak, but no weaker than the other nonsense. I’ll say you are mortified at having misjudged him, and deeply sorry.”

  “Very well,” said Elizabeth. “If it spares the Queen any hurt, I will go along with that.”

  “Look at me, Elizabeth,” said Katherine. Elizabeth raised her eyes.

  “Is this true, what Mrs. Astley is telling me?”

  “Yes, madam,” Elizabeth said in a low voice. “I am sorry for having so misjudged my lord. I swear there was no man. Ask my women if I speak truth: I have no opportunity for such dalliance, for I am hardly ever alone, and they see all I do. The only men with whom I come into contact are the servants, Master Grindal, and my Lord Admiral.”

  Katherine was still not convinced: The explanation sounded too contrived, and she was unable to suppress her own suspicions. Because of her inner dread, though, she dared not press the matter further.

  “I’m afraid I have wronged you and the Admiral,” Elizabeth was saying.

  “You have nothing to fear,” the Queen replied, striving to be fair, “either from me or from my lord. All is forgiven and forgotten. And I have some good news for you: You are to go to court for Christmas. Your brother the King has commanded it.”

  Elizabeth’s features relaxed into a relieved smile. The furtive look had gone.

  “That is indeed marvelous news, madam! And are you and the Admiral to go too?”

  “Alas, no,” Katherine said stiffly. “After the Lord Protector’s wife appropriated the jewels that were rightfully mine, and uttered insulting words about me, I vowed never to go there again. But do not fear, we shall make merry at Chelsea. And you will have your sister Mary for company.”

  “I am glad to hear it,” Elizabeth said. “I have not seen her since our father died. Or my brother either.” She paused and looked at her stepmother.

  “You really have forgiven me, madam, haven’t you?” she asked. She could not enjoy going to court if she went there under the cloud of Katherine’s displeasure.

  “I have.” The Queen smiled tautly.

  When Elizabeth had gone, Katherine, still inwardly agitated, sent for Mrs. Astley again.

  “All is resolved,” the Queen told her, “but—oh, this is probably nonsense—there is a foolish notion in my mind that my lord was not entirely innocent in this matter. Men being what they are, you know…” She broke off in embarrassment.

  Kat said nothing, and Katherine began to wonder if the governess knew more than she was saying.

  “This must go no further,” she went on. “I’m sure I am giving way to some silly fancy, and that there is no basis for my concern. But Elizabeth is my responsibility, Mrs. Astley, and I must be careful. I want you to take heed and be, as it were, watchful betwixt the Lady Elizabeth and my Lord Admiral.” She smiled self-consciously. “You know what my lord is like—he enjoys a harmless flirtation, like all men do. I would not wish it to be misinterpreted.”

  “Naturally, madam,” Kat said, rather enjoying the Queen’s embarrassment. “I will be most vigilant, you may count on it.”

  Hampton Court was as grand and as crowded as ever, but Elizabeth was dismayed to find that the court had changed dramatically since King Henry’s day. It looked shabbier, less well organized—if she was to judge by the stained livery of the groom who led away their horses, and the kitchen servants who were lounging about in the courtyard, eating their noon-pieces. And, as she was to discover, there were no ladies at court, just men who were preoccupied with the cares of state.

  She was greeted by the Lord Protector at the gateway at the foot of the processional stair; he looked older, graver, and far less handsome than his brother, but then, she supposed, he was much burdened with the responsibilities of his office. He lacked too the Admiral’s charm: Instead of paying her compliments, he wasted no time in subjecting her to a long lecture on the protocols upon which His Majesty insisted. How she would ever remember it all she did not know.

  Pulling herself up, she remembered that she was the King’s sister and second in line to the throne. She would not be intimidated by these newfangled formalities! This was her little brother whom she was about to greet, and she was his sweet sister Temperance, as he liked to call her.

  Somerset was leading her through the magnificent great hall, where servants were setting up the trestles for dinner, and then to a tiny chamber where a fire had been lit and a table laid with refreshments. She had been here before, long ago, she recalled, visiting her father at court. Pages stepped forward to take her traveling cloak, and Kat and her women fussed around her, smoothing her skirts, fanning out her long court train, and straightening her French hood.

  Now she was ready. The Duke was waiting to escort her into the great watching chamber, which was thronged with courtiers and petitioners, and lined with Yeomen of the Guard and Gentlemen Pensioners on sentry duty. The crowd parted for them as they advanced toward the farther door, which led—she remembered it well—to the presence chamber itself.

  “His Majesty is in the privy chamber,” Somerset explained. “He awaits Your Grace’s company at dinner.”

  “I look forward to seeing His Majesty,” Elizabeth told him. “I will be honored to dine with him.”

  She was aware of the envious stares of the finely dressed lords in the presence chamber as she sailed through the door to the inner sanctum of the private apartments beyond—and then abruptly halted.

  The King was seated enthroned behind a laden table that had been set up on the dais. Above his head, the royal arms of England glittered with gold thread on the rich canopy of estate. Farther along the table, beyond the canopy, sat the Lady Mary, who smiled graciously as Elizabeth entered.

  Edward was watching Elizabeth impassively. As she had been instructed, she went down on one knee and bo
wed her head, then rose, took three steps, and again fell on one knee, bowing. She repeated this obeisance three more times before she found herself standing before the dais, wondering what had happened to put this terrible distance between herself and her brother.

  “Welcome, dearest Sister,” Edward piped up in his high, haughty voice. “Pray be seated.” He indicated a place set beyond the canopy at the opposite end of the board from Mary. There was no chair, just a bench with a cushion.

  Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. Things had changed since her father’s day; his court had never been so formal, nor the King’s important guests so humbled. It was as if Edward wished to underline her own and Mary’s bastard status.

  Doing her best to ignore the slight, and wondering if it was the Protector’s doing, so that she should be reminded just who it was that held the reins of power, she seated herself with all the dignity she could muster.

  “I trust you are in good health, sweet sister Temperance,” Edward inquired.

  “Never better, Your Majesty,” she told him.

  “I rejoice to see you looking so well,” Mary told her, almost shouting to make herself heard along the length of the table.

  “And I rejoice just to see you again, Sister, after so long a time,” Elizabeth called back, smiling warmly. “How are you yourself keeping?”

  “In truth, not well.” Mary sighed. “I’ve suffered much ill health, and it’s worse in the winter months.” Poor Mary. Elizabeth had already noticed how much she had aged since they had last met. Of course, Mary must be over thirty now, so that would account in part for her looking rather faded, but Queen Katherine had said that Mary was plagued with many ailments and suffered purgatory with her monthly courses.

  “I have prayed to the Blessed Virgin to intercede for me,” Mary was saying, looking at the King a touch defiantly.

  Edward scowled, looking a lot like their father in a bad mood.

  “I wonder you waste your time with that popish nonsense, Sister,” he piped up disapprovingly.

  “Sire, this matter of religion is one I must raise with you,” Mary said.

  Edward stiffened. His lips pursed mutinously.

  “Our father, God rest him, left this realm in good order and quietness,” Mary went on, undeterred, “yet I fear that the Lord Protector and his government are now doing their best to promote heresy and disorder by introducing these newfangled Protestant forms of worship. I hear that English has replaced Latin in church services, that we are no longer supposed to venerate images and relics, that the heresy laws have been repealed, and there is a shocking rumor that the Mass itself has been abolished. Sire, I feel compelled to protest. These things cannot be allowed to happen.”

  Edward turned cold eyes on her.

  “I am astonished at your concerns, Sister,” he said. “It was my will that these changes were made, and most of my subjects—my loyal subjects—approve.”

  “Sire,” Mary cried, passionate, “with respect, you are but a child, and a child is incapable of making mature judgments in religious matters. Listen to those who are older and wiser, I beg you. What of those of us who have faithfully followed the true faith for years, and must go to Mass to satisfy their consciences? The Catholic faith has endured since Our Lord himself walked this Earth; it was founded on His authority. Who are you to dare subvert it?”

  She had gone too far. The young King’s expression was glacial.

  “You must not challenge my authority,” he commanded. “That would be treason. Be warned, Sister. I do not wish to persecute you, and I will leave you alone to practice your religion in peace, but you must not question my lawful decrees. Make no mistake, I am resolved to do away with popish doctrine.”

  There was an uncomfortable silence as Mary bowed her head, struggling to hold her tongue. Elizabeth found herself wishing that her brother and sister could each, in their own way, be a little less unbending. Why could they not let each other worship God in their own way and have done? What was the point of all this meddling with the souls of others? They would never convince each other…

  Edward had turned his severe gaze on Elizabeth.

  “And you, dearest Sister, where do you stand on matters of religion?” he demanded to know.

  “I follow God’s word and the King’s commandment,” she replied meekly, and sincerely.

  Edward nodded, satisfied. But seeing Mary regarding her with undisguised dismay in her eyes, Elizabeth looked down at her plate and speared a piece of beef with her fork. It was time to change the subject.

  “Are there to be revels over the holiday, Sire?” she asked her brother.

  There were, but they were disappointing. There was a masque portraying the Pope as a lecherous villain—much to Mary’s barely concealed distress—and a display by some acrobats. Otherwise, the courtiers disported themselves in overeating, drinking, and gambling, while the boy King sat watching them from his high place.

  Elizabeth found herself wishing she could go home.

  “What has happened to the court?” she asked Mary as they passed through the long gallery one evening. Elizabeth had just extricated herself from the amorous embrace of a drunken baron, who had been too intoxicated to recognize her. “There is a corruption about it that was not apparent when our father was alive. And the revels were poor.”

  “Indeed they were,” muttered Mary, remembering with a shudder the sacrilegious portrayal of the Pope cavorting with nuns. “There is no queen, and therefore there are no women for whom men must normally curb their excesses. And there is no money. The war with France left the treasury empty. This realm is all but bankrupt!”

  “In truth, I am looking forward to leaving,” Elizabeth confessed. “Me! And I always longed to come to court.”

  “It is not so much the state of the court that troubles me as the dangerous nonsense with which they have infected our poor brother,” Mary murmured. “I beg of you, Sister, look to your soul. Do not be swayed by these heretics.”

  Elizabeth bent her head demurely but kept her counsel. She had no wish to offend her sister.

  “I thank you for your concern, Mary,” she said. “Never fear, I will follow God’s word.”

  Mary’s look was chilling.

  “I wonder, Sister, how you interpret God’s word,” she retorted.

  “I follow Jesus Christ, as all good Christians should do,” Elizabeth said quietly. Mary looked exasperated.

  “As I have had reason to observe in the past, you are clever,” she said tartly. “You dissemble well. But God knows a true heart: He is not deceived.”

  They were now at the door to Mary’s chamber. She opened it and disappeared inside without another word.

  “Good night, Sister,” Elizabeth said to the empty air.

  CHAPTER 14

  1548

  Elizabeth was relieved to be returning to Chelsea, and to see her stepmother waiting to greet her, but as she alighted from her litter onto the snow-covered ground, she saw that the Queen’s face was grave.

  “I have some sad news,” Katherine said after embracing and kissing her stepdaughter. “Grindal is dead. He went to his sister’s for Christmas, as usual, but there was plague in the district. He caught it and was gone within hours.”

  The gentle, kind tutor, that good, learned man, was no more; gathered to his forefathers with scant warning. Elizabeth felt tears prick her eyes.

  “I am deeply sorry for it,” she said quietly.

  “Come inside,” the Queen said gently. “We shall get warm. The Admiral is waiting in the privy chamber. He has said how much he is looking forward to seeing you. How was the King’s Grace?”

  They were kind to her, the Queen and the Admiral. They made her sit down by the fire and gave her some steaming hippocras and wafers. Elizabeth was struck anew by the Admiral’s debonair charm, but in her sorrow, she felt distanced from it, and he was playing the devoted husband anyway. Her mind was preoccupied with memories of poor Grindal, whom she would never see again.

&nb
sp; Who would teach her now? she wondered, as she fell asleep that night.

  “My Lady Elizabeth, there is a letter for you,” Kat said, bustling into the bedchamber where her charge had been lying indisposed for the past couple of days. Elizabeth raised herself from her pillows, laid down her book, and broke the seal.

  “It is from Master Ascham!” she said, looking instantly better. “He wishes to visit me. This was written two days ago—Kat, he will be here at any time!”

  She bounded out of the bed, ignoring Kat’s protests, wobbled on her feet for a few moments, then began rummaging in the chest for some clothes.

  “My lady, take it easily!” Kat cried.

  “I’m all right, I’m better,” Elizabeth told her. “Just fetch my green gown, will you? The furred one.”

  Later that day, as she had anticipated, Roger Ascham arrived, and Elizabeth welcomed him with outstretched hands.

  “The Queen and the Admiral are in London, Master Ascham, so you will have to make do with me as your hostess!” she told him gaily.

  “I could not imagine a more delightful honor, madam,” he replied warmly in his homely Yorkshire accent.

  After Kat had served wine, they sat together in the winter parlor, where a great fire burned in the grate, and discussed Ascham’s recently published book on archery and then the subjects that Elizabeth had been studying.

  “But enough of me,” she said at length. “You did not come to talk of my modest studies, Master Ascham. What brings you to Chelsea?”

  The scholar’s rugged face creased in a rueful smile.

  “I had heard that you were without a tutor, madam, and am come to offer my poor services.”

  Elizabeth was delighted.

  “That would be to my utmost pleasure,” she declared.

  “It would be an honor to instruct one who is so renowned for her learning,” Ascham said. Elizabeth knew him to be sincere, and that this was not just idle flattery.

  “It would be an honor for me to have such an eminent tutor,” she responded, “and I am sure the Queen will approve. I will write to her today and tell her that I am minded to have you, Master Ascham, and no one else.”

 
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