Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Henry VIII, Man, Myth or Monster

Greetings my well regarded readers, all several of you.  In between putting up the first chapters of Red Ned’s very first novella The Liberties of London, and prior to its launch, I thought we’d have the first in a series of discussions of prominent Tudor characters and how we perceive them now.
Prior to that I’d just like to repeat my message from the last post.  If at all possible I ask you to assist one of the aid programs for those displaced by the Japanese Tsunami.  As we’ve seen, the news on that multiple tragedy is not improving.  As an example my dear partner and most excellent Uber editor suggest this one for the crafty amongst you. or So far four hundred and sixty people from around the world are participating.  This originally started as a response to the floods in Queensland (Australia), but has grown since then .  This just goes to show that there are many ways for us to help.  

Now on to character number one, Henry VIII.  This Tudor monarch is perhaps the most well known figure of all the sovereigns of England.  In general knowledge quizzes he even beats William the Conqueror.  Now it may appear a simple and redundant question, but why?
Was it his larger than life stance in the royal paintings, the sheer presence of his armour with the not inconsiderably sized cod piece?  Maybe it had to do with his frenetically diverse interests, which ranged from building to theological debate to ship design.  Or was it his signal, triple time failure in that most English of pursuits – the Conquest of France.  No wait, it wasn’t any of those reasons.  It was the six wives he ‘went through’ of which, as we know from the popular rhyme, he beheaded two and divorced two.  As everyone knows of the remainder, one died of relatively natural causes, while his last wife was a lucky survivor.  So, of all his achievements it is good old King Henry matrimonial endeavours that are best remembered!  Well that and the little disagreement with the Pope over his first marriage and divorce, but after all, who cares about that, when you have all that sex and bloodshed!  Through out the intervening history Henry’s reputation has oscillated like a yo-yo.  According to the Victorian period historian, William Walton the Tudor monarch was

"That spot of blood and grease on the pages of history."

while one contemporary historian, Robert Hutchinson calls Henry ‘psychotic and ruthless’ in his first sentence. Lacy Baldwin Smith in his Mask of Royalty tries to give us a darkly psychological profile of the last decade of Henry’s reign a view of an aging monarch, racked by injury, disease and mental trauma.  The famous British writer Peter Ackroyd seems to imply that Henry was guilty of the most heinous crimes and wrenched a devout people from the bosom of Holy Mother Church, unleashing a veritable Dark Age of church destruction, the murder of Sir Thomas More being but one example.  Those are just a small selection of the more extreme views of those tumultuous times.  Others like Starkey and Loades have been more restrained, endeavouring to provide some balance from the hysteria, loathing and shrill condemnation.  Starkey’s The Virtuous Prince is one very good example.  In fact read that and then the Mask of Royalty and it is as if you are looking at each side of a Dorian Grey painting  or a version of Jekyll and Hyde.

The interesting thing about Henry is that he was always a complex character.  As many have said he ended his reign racked by rampant suspicion and paranoia, lashing out in fits of absolute rage in an orgy of executions against rivals and perceived enemies.  However it isn’t as if, like a latter day Caligula, he started out ravishing the daughters of Roman senators.  Or, as some triumphant victor, commonly riding past mounds of skulls of his enemies as did Genghis Khan.  Then if we want a more contemporary comparison, how about Pol Pot who literally the day after he gained control of Cambodia ,began a genocidal remodelling.  So for a monarch who was the very model of a Renaissance prince for over twenty three years, how did Henry VIII become transformed into a veritable monster who’d, it is claimed slay any one who displeased him and go through a six pack of wives?
So from Shakespeare to The Tudors which one of these is the real Henry if indeed any of them. 

Well lots of questions, and in this blog we will see what we can come up with.  The views, reasons and rancour are just some of the themes we will explore. One recurring viewpoint will be that of Master Red Ned Bedwell, the ubiquitous foot soldier at the sharp end of the changes in royal directions, and the observer of that tumultuous period of Tudor history.  Ned has a unique position to report on events, in that he serves the men (and women) who serve the King.  It is Ned’s duty to enact suggestions, commands, writs and statute, whether he does that willingly or not is a measure of his own personal battle between his better angel of conscience and his daemon of ambition.   So see how Ned fares and what he thinks of those above him.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Liberties of London

Good day to my growing legion of devoted readers.  Firstly before we start this instalment of Red Ned, I would like you to take a moment to think of the survivors of the Japanese Tsunami and the on going Nuclear disaster.  If it is possible for you, please donate or support a local/international charity of your choice.  For those in the Antipodes, I suggest this site .

Now as promised in yesterday’s post, I will be putting up the prologue of the Red Ned adventure The Liberties of London.  As also previously stated, if all the editing and uploading goes smoothly, it with be available on both Amazon Kindle and Smashwords within the week.  As for hard copies, I’m currently negotiating with a printing service, so they should be available for posting and retail within four months. 

On to Red Ned, Apprentice Lawyer and Aspiring Rogue.  This set of stories follows the life and adventures of Edward (Red Ned) Bedwell, a young apprentice lawyer at Gray’s Inn as well as reluctant investigator who experiences first hand the tumult and intrigue during the reigns of the Tudor monarchs from Henry VIII to Queen Elizabeth I.  As a comparison, it is similar to the Lindsay Davis Falco novels set in ancient Rome and, like other historical mystery novels, examines the rivalries, ambitions and human foibles that frequently led to treachery and murder.

It is the year 1529, and the kingdom is embroiled in the factional politics of ‘The King’s Great Matter’, Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon.  This convoluted and dangerous affair has already brought down Cardinal Wolsey, the former Lord Chancellor, who has been stripped of his office.  During the festive season of Christmas until Twelfth Night, all rivalries are in abeyance amongst the round of services, festivities, feasts and revels.  It is the last that Ned is particularly interested in, since he’s organised his own and convinced some fifty fellow clerks and apprentice lawyers from the Inns of Court to shell out a golden angel each to be part of his Revels.  An excellent plan, and one that, with the assistance of his friend Rob Black, will no doubt prove to be very profitable. 

However he failed to account for the disapproval of Rob’s redoubtable sister Meg.  She has her own plans for ruining Ned’s version of ‘Christmas’ entertainment.  So to Ned’s dismay, an arrogant command delivered with insult by Meg’s surly retainer Gruesome Rodger arrives from his patron Privy Councillor Thomas Cromwell.  Rather than feast, carouse and gamble, Ned is to escort a young reformist lad, Walter Dellingham, around the best ‘reformist Christian’ sites of London.  This presents a bit of a problem since Ned hardly knows any, though Meg Black is more than keen to lead the way. When young Walter suddenly disappears after lodging at Ned’s Revels, Meg’s suspicions automatically gravitate toward, as she says a ‘fellow with too thorough a knowing of the lewd and sinful Liberties of London.  Thus to clear his name and find the missing ‘lost lamb’ Walter, Ned has to search through the sinkholes of vice and lewdness with Meg Black and the surly and secretive Gruesome Rodger, a man who’s past Ned suspects holds the key to finding Walter.

Prologue  A Perilous Position, Fleete Ditch Bridge

Ned closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the winter chilled stonework of the bridge.  No, he kept on telling himself, don’t look down.  That wasn’t a good idea.  It may look like any other patch of the murky, stygian gloom of mid winter, but searching for an unseen peril below didn’t help.  If he fell he knew what happened.  He’d seen it a minute or so ago when the bridge wall collapsed.  Earless Nick’s luckless minion tumbled over him and, screaming briefly, had plummeted onto the ice which had shattered with a loud crash, then finally a choking gurgle.   So no, he didn’t need to peer down there to see the effects.  His imagination was already doing a good enough job supplying him with the images he didn’t need.  He already knew the Fleete Ditch by reputation – all of London and the Liberties did.  In summer you could smell it for a mile.  So a closer inspection of the sluggish, turgid, stream, charged with turds and piss channel scourings was not required.  Instead he needed to do something constructive, like figure out how to climb up. 
As it was, his fingers were getting cramped, shoved as they were between the iron and the stone.  He’d tried to tighten his grip on the iron staple and who knows, without the gloves, it may have been easier.  However as slippery as they felt right now, they protected his flesh from the jagged edged iron.  Damn the Liberties work crews and damn Sir Thomas Bloody More!  That lofty royal official had been Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and this bridge was under his jurisdiction for repair.  Perhaps if the new Lord Chancellor of the Kingdom had spent less time a’ hunting heretics, he could have put that spare energy to better use.  Like repairing the bloody Fleete Ditch Bridge!
Ned attempted to distract himself from this situation.  An ancient philosopher had suggested that, when in peril, one should recall a happy or pleasurable occasion to regain a moment of joy.  Well he did that, and what readily sprang to mind was the Christmas Revels.  His Christmas Revels actually, that he’d organised, financed and in fact should have, at this very moment, been sitting down to.  Feasting on roast suckling pig with a tankard of the finest sack in his hand.  And just think, during these twelve nights of Christmas didn’t he have so much to be thankful for.  Now he was hanging off the Fleete Ditch Bridge.  Oh, how could it be better? 
Ned wedged his hand further into the unyielding stone and mortar.  Let him see.  Of course, Mistress damn her arrogance Black, she could be here instead or him.  Oh wait no, no.  What would be more fitting was that meepish little rat, the reformist lost lamb, Walter Dellingham!  But wait, his daemon supplied one name above all, one name that well and truly deserved to be here; Gruesome Rodger Hawkins.  It was the fault of that surly retainer of the Black’s that Ned was here swinging off a piece of iron, waiting to plunge to an ignominious end.  Oh Christ on the cross no, not drowned in turds!
As Ned made an effort to remember a prayer, any prayer, he heard the scraping of a boot on the cobbles of the bridge above him.  Slowly the scuffing came closer.  Damn – more of Earless Nick’s minions.  He’d already gone through three – wasn’t that enough?  Anyway that complaint was moot.  It was not as if he could get to his dagger or sword – they were up there on the bridge.  Possibly he could push himself hard against the stone wall.  It was damned dark down here and the bridge lanterns didn’t cast even a smidgen of light this way.  The boots hit his sword and the metal chimed on the cobbles.  The outline of a figure peered over the edge as if looking straight at him.  Ned wasn’t sure whether or not he should call out.
Then a low voice spoke above him.  “Well bless me, it really is Christmas.  Fancy finding y’ here Bedwell.  Wotcha doin’ down there?  Is Walter with y’?
Ned closed his eyes for a moment and, to keep his temper in check, slowly counted up to ten – in Latin.  “No!  You stupid puttock, I don’t have lost lamb Walter here!  Now for the love of all the saints, Rodger bloody Hawkins, get me up!”
“Tch tch.  That’s a fair nasty tongue on y’ this evening, Red Ned Bedwell.” 
At the wryly amused tone, Ned ground his teeth and sent up another prayer, this time calling on forbearance.  “Forgive me Master Hawkins.  I’m cold, my arms hurt and damn Walter’s slipped off again.” 
The shadow changed shape as Gruesome Rodger Hawkins squatted by the broken wall, no doubt to help him up.  “Yeah remember, Bedwell, the other day when you challenged me at the tavern?”
“Yes, yes I do.”  How could he forget it?  That instant in time, just a few days ago was the very harbinger of his hanging off a rusty iron staple on Fleete Street Bridge.
‘Yeah, well so do I Bedwell, and I’ll remind you of what my reply was.   By god’s blood, afore the weeks out y’ goin’ to rue those words, y’ll be wading through a river o’shit to beg my forgiveness.” 
Ned sighed.  Oh yes he remembered that part. 
“Well Bedwell here we are, an’ I’m waiting.” 
Ned blinked a few times in sheer surprise.  This damned retainer was expecting him to apologise?  What of his honour, his dignity, his natural superiority as an apprentice lawyer?  As an instance of poor timing, the iron staple which former chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster should have replaced along with repairing the broken wall, chose now to ease out from its mortared hole.  “Ahh Meg Black isn’t nearby by is she?” 
At this point even the shrewish comments of an ungrateful Mistress Black were preferable to what awaited below.  Even in the dull gloom of the lanterns Ned could see the glint of Gruesome Rodger’s smile and the shake of his head.  “No, she’s tending someone down the road.  I can go and get her if y’ want.”
The iron squealed and Ned’s heart thumped rapidly.  “No, ahh it's fine!”   
“I can come back later if’n y’ want Bedwell.”
If there was one aspect of his character, apart from his intelligence, that Ned was justifiably proud of, it was his practicality.  After all, when hanging twenty foot over a frozen river of ordure, practicality was practically a virtue. 
Chapter 1 will be posted by the end of the week, bye everyone keep well
Regards Greg

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Terrible Tudors

Welcome dear visitor to Red Ned’s Tudor Mysteries Blog
If you have any interest in our most famous and infamous royal dynasty, this is the place to visit.  As you may have already guessed the Red Ned of the title is a Tudor period detective.  Now the correct Tudor term that Ned prefers is intelligencer, it is so much more in keeping with his aspirations of becoming a gentleman.  Considering that the ‘common title’ is pursuivant, and as everyone knows in Tudor London a pursuivant is a lowly vagrant, who spies upon good god fearing honest people, always ready to report mischief and rumour.  What’s more they’re so untrustworthy and shifty, they’d sell their blessed mothers for a groat based on privy gossip.  Ned would never stoop so low, after all a groat won’t buy a meal for gentleman, what with the devaluing of the king’s silver.  So on to the blog I have transferred this article from my other site Prognostications and pouting to where I feel it will be more at home with its fellow Tudors.  I have also updated some of the sections to place them in more of a Red Ned Bedwell context ie where he fits in the highly complex Tudor hierarchy of family, faction, religion and politics.   

Why are we so facianted by the Tudors?I mean its such a boring dreary period. Absolutely nothing happened, no dramatic love triangles (Henry, Katherine and Anne) no illicit affairs (Henry’s mistresses all several of them) no bloody revenge of spurned wives from the grave (Katherine to Anne as on historian has suggested no zombies though) a complete lack of tragedy and pathos (the death of Jane Seymour and the official murder of Anne). And its not as if there’s any link with a few modern social crises such as growing radical religious division (protestants v’s catholics) or even the abuses of government or elitists hierarchies (Oh dear, where to start the list, the church, the Act of Supremacy, stacking Parliament).
Or perhaps we could look at the current Arab Uprisings against the entrenched corrupt regimes who stoutly insisting that they are perfect!  Those who complain must be treasonous criminals and heretics and will be rooted out and punished.  How familiar is that, do we not have an echo in the complaints of the early Protestants against the Catholic Church, doesn’t the rhetoric ring true?
Then again its was such a different world and of course they didn’t have the benefit of the internet or social media. Instead the early printing presses that ran almost 24/7 pumping out books, pamphlets and ballads all striving to put new ideas into public circulation. Not that the flood of new literature or radically fast communication had anything to do with the sudden burgeoning of ideas and changes in society. So as I said it’s no wonder that the publishing industry has consigned the Tudors to the status of a lowly niche market, inhabited by readers of historical romance and history devotees nutters. (oops Uber editor’s correction that should have been devotees, after all would our dearly beloved publishing industry ever label any of their readers as nutters?

So be it, as you’ve no doubt read in my prior posts, the Tudor era is where I’ll be launching my first series of books. As I’ve briefly outlined above this fascinating period of British history is packed full of bloodshed, treachery, manipulative scheming politicians, overt sexual tensions, a dominating monarch and a simmering religious feud that threatened to erupt into civil war. This has recently been made even more accessible by the history programs of David Starkey on Henry VIII and his Wives as well as the kind of accurate cross between a soap opera and history for television series The Tudors

Leading on from that I was checking up with my ‘unbiased’ reviewer this afternoon regarding my Tudor novel I’d recently sent him to proof read. He quite gratifyingly said it was really good and a lot of fun to read. Naturally I thought this was fantastic news. Imagine at this stage a series of energetic cartwheels and popping champagne corks. Then after my brief moment of euphoria, he uttered those dreaded words feared by any writer- ‘however’. It amazing how a simple word like ‘however’ can strike you with bone shaking dread. His use of it was luckily only as a member of the very general reading audience, thus not quite so chilling. He found it a little confusing sorting out the characters and their motives. Considering the twists, turns, reversals and abrupt terminations of the Tudor family affairs that is perfectly understandable, so as a rough guide to the perplexed here is the potted version of Tudor characters

Historical Characters

Henry VIII: King of England and Ireland, though he also longs for a chance to renew a hereditary claim to the French crown, which is why it’s stored amongst the royal titles in case of need. Henry has a serious problem due to the ravages of disease and the lottery of genetics. He is the last legitimate male Tudor. Apart from him, there is only one daughter Mary and a scattering of nieces and nephews via his two sisters. What’s worse is that he knows that if he has a ‘sudden accident’, his wife Katherine will immediately arrange a marriage of his daughter Mary to her cousins, the Hapsburgs. This possibility doesn’t improve the notoriously fickle royal humour, since Henry views her family as inherently manipulative and untrustworthy. So as the biological clock ticks away Henry desperately needs an annulment of his first marriage so that he can marry again and gain a son as heir. Simple isn’t it.

Katherine of Aragon: Queen of England and aunt of the Hapsburg Emperor Charles V, who happens to be master of half of Europe as well as the limitless riches of the New World. Katherine has a serious problem. She could only provide one living child for the English throne, a daughter Mary. By 1528 she is past child bearing age and she knows Henry is desperate for a male heir. However that can only happen if she is out of the way. This presents a difficulty since Katherine likes being queen and she wants her daughter to be queen. The solution is simple- she gains her Hapsburg nephew’s support and stymies Henry’s efforts for a legal papal divorce. In this endeavour Katherine is not alone, she has a number of both public and secret English backers in positions of power and influence. Some are men of principle and honour, while others seek to gain from a continuation of the current dynastic problem, or profit from the dispute. One more factor that is frequently ascribed to her motives, is a very deep Castilian desire for revenge. No one casts aside the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain!
Now due family connections and the vagaries of political allegiance Ned finds himself opposing the followers of Queen Katherine.  He has nothing against her personally, except that her minions keep on trying to entangle him in their plots or kill him. As you’d expect, this has not engaged his sympathies for her difficult position as a cast off and discarded wife.

Anne Boleyn: the beloved mistress of King Henry and the essential reason for the annulment commission. Her sister is rumoured to have had a son to Henry so in royal eyes the odds of a male heir are good. Anne however, wants the legal recognition of a marriage for advancement and protection. Thus the complicated legal and biblical wrangling and negotiations to and fro with the Pope that lasts for years. It’s also been said around the court that Anne is both the driving force behind Henry and keen on the heretical ideas of Luther. If her potential husband has to break with Rome, then she won’t shed a tear over it. Whether she or Henry made the first move to ramp up the affair is now irrelevant. In the bitter factional rivalry of the Tudor court it has become a do or die effort. Anne is very aware of the penalty for faltering or failure- a quick river trip to the Tower.

For good or ill Ned has by circumstance, been forced to join the ranks of those supporting the push for a ‘legal’ marriage between Ann Boleyn and his sovereign majesty King Henry.  It did help that rather than the usual method of threat or blackmail to gain his services Ned is actually rewarded for his efforts, even if it came with some pretty strict and onerous conditions.

Thomas Wolsey: Cardinal legate, Archbishop of York and the Lord Chancellor of England. The supreme administrator of the kingdom and right hand of the king. He has gained this position by solving all the king’s problems and increasing his master’s status amongst the powers of Europe. However, as an upstart commoner he is loathed by the nobility, while as the instigator of high taxes and for his supreme arrogance, he is actively hated by the commoners. With the advent of Anne Boleyn Wolsey’s power begins to slip and the Cardinal is caught in a quandary. If he pushes Anne’s cause she gains power. If he doesn’t, he loses the trust and support of the King and falls. In the end he plays a dangerous game of prevarication and delay, hoping for change of mood in his fickle royal master or until he can find a substitute for that damn Boleyn woman. Or alternately a shift in the power balance in Europe makes ‘Lady Anne’ vulnerable.

Ned’s relationship with the Cardinal is as distant as he can make it.  If Wolsey was banished to the wilds of the New World, well Ned couldn’t be happier.  It is due to the machinations of the Cardinal that Ned owes the first steps in his painful and terrifying ascent of the Tudor hierarchy.

My first story Red Ned and The Liberties of London (a 40,000 word novella complete with maps and other Tudor goodies ) comes out sometime this week on both Smashwords and Amazon Kindle!  It will also contain a few sample chapters from The Queen’s Oranges, were Ned and his companions are dragged in to a dangerous mix of murder, treason and plot possibly involving gonnepowder and… well oranges.
The prologue for The Liberties of London will be up here within a few days, feel free to have a read or leave a comment.
Gregory House

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Red Ned’s Tudor Mysteries

Welcome dear visitor to Red Ned’s Tudor Mysteries Blog
If you have any interest in our most famous and infamous royal dynasty, this is the place to visit. As you may have already guessed the Red Ned of the title is a Tudor period detective. Actually he prefers the title intelligencer to the more common pursuivant. But since he’s pretty low in the Tudor pecking order, Ned tends to consider himself lucky if his betters like Thomas Cromwell and his ‘loving’ Uncle Richard Rich don’t deliver a cuff with every command. Ned like many others in his position is caught up in the momentous changes in Tudor England as his Sovereign Majesty, King Henry VIII, grapples with the complex problem of annulling his marriage to Katherine of Aragon.

For a royal monarch this shouldn’t be difficult, the process of putting aside a royal wife is well established amongst European princes and nobility, simply come up with a plausible reason and cough up a fee (usually significant boxes of gold) to the Apostolic See in Rome. However in Henry’s case there are added complications, his father Henry VII seized the throne after the bloody battle at Bosworth Field. Since then there have been frequent worries of the legitimacy of the Tudor dynasty which consist of Henry, his two sisters and one daughter (along with a small cluster of nieces and nephews). The other major problem is that his to be discarded wife is the aunt of the current Holy Roman Emperor Charles V the wealthiest and most powerful monarch in Europe. Charles also happens to control the Pope, Clement VII despite his habit of equivocation isn’t interested in offending the man with an army on his doorstep. So Henry has a problem and when the king is unhappy every body suffers as the royal boot prods butt down the line.
Ned’s problem is that as an apprentice Lawyer at Gray’s Inn the butt stops with him. While a Lord or Privy Councillor may loftily command its Ned who has to wade through the piss channels of London and the Stews of Southwark to enact the Privy writ.
It’s fortunate he has a good dependable friend in Robert Black apprentice artificer. It would be ever more fortuitous if Rob’s sister Meg Black was similarly trustworthy, but her boldly forward manner and dabbling in heresy look likely to cause as many difficulties as they solve.
As you will no doubt discover in The Cardinals Angels please read the prologue inserted below and feel free to leave a comment.
The ebook will be available soon on Smashwords and Amazon’s Kindle I will update this blog on their web address

Also within the month I will have a Red Ned short story The Liberties of London ready to roll out, the front cover, prologue and first chapter will be previewed on this site. Just putting in the finishing touches like a map and the last edit by my wonderful uber-editor. In the meantime put your feet up lean back and enjoy the story.

Prologue: The Cardinal’s Dilemma

The Moore, Hertfordshire September 1529

The changing colour of the trees, from shading green to red and finally a crumpled brown, was enough of a hint of the passing of summer’s bounty for any to heed, in this the year of Our Lord, fifteen hundred and twenty nine, the twentieth year of the reign of Our Sovereign Lord, King Henry VIII.  Now that the colder winds of autumn were at hand, forewarning of winter’s chill and dearth, crossroad prophets warned of the nearing edge of Death’s dark scythe and railed for the repenting of sins.  Considering the recent fickleness of the seasons and poor harvests, the prudent farmer or goodwife would look to the state of their stores and give a heartfelt prayer for a short winter and perhaps an offering at their parish church, to avert the ill omens.  The cannier of them would, in the dark of the lengthening nights, also slip off to secretly consult the local hedge witch on their predictions for the season, while, as an added precaution, procuring a talisman to avert the dreaded ‘sweats’ that had recently ravaged the country, carrying off thousands in its grim tally.  Others, clustered around the crackling tavern fires and made reckless by strong ale, growled of the exorbitant tithes demanded by the clergy, and shared dangerous complaints.  The most common of these was that the dammed priests and bishops had no God-given right to the rewards of men’s labour.  The bolder amongst them stood up and with tankard held high, pledged to the coming day, when the mightiest of the church prelates, bloated by greed and with his cardinal’s robes dyed red with the blood of murdered yeoman, would fall to the hand of a commoner.  At that cry the tavern audience would cautiously nod agreement, while keeping a suspicious watch for the church’s pursuivants, sniffers of sedition and heresy.  So far, it was just a whisper amongst the market crowds, elusive, secret and deadly.
Treason was the usual charge for overheard slanderous public utterances regarding Cardinal Wolsey, the Chancellor of the England, the excuse being that such claims defamed the sovereignty of His Majesty, Henry VIII.  So as a precaution against unnatural pretensions to the King’s majesty, the punishment was harsh, bloody and public.  It was a long painful death by hanging, drawing and quartering on Tower Hill – spectacle, entertainment and warning for the commons, Parliament and gentry of London.  For the past twenty years it had served as a useful choke on wayward treasonous tongues, that was until this season.  Now it was openly spoken that the Cardinal’s power was wilting as fast as the fading leaves.  Last week, according to a rumour sweeping the Spitalfield Market, the Abbot of Wigmore threw out Wolsey’s pursuivant, telling the retainer to go hang.  The abbot, according to a friar who claimed to have seen it, had stood at his gate as the Cardinal’s servant was thrown into the mire of the road and screamed out he needn’t bend knee to some grasping upstart butcher’s brat from Ipswich.  An indrawn gasp of shock and glee greeted the tale and the folk of London gathered around the parish wells and fountains gossiping and betting as to the probable rewards for the abbot’s impudence. 
In Hertfordshire at the former royal estate of Manor of the Moor, by the village of Rickmansworth, one man was wracked by the recent waning of respect.  Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York was deeply worried.  His position and power should be unassailable.  He was the King’s right hand, holding the royal seal as Lord Chancellor, as well as the unique position of a lifetime legatine commission of Cardinal, trumping the usual head of the English church, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Across the realms of western Christendom, monarchs and princes were accustomed to placing all matters of peace and war into his skilled hands for counsel and deliberation.  Wasn’t he called the ‘Great Arbiter of Europe’ by Emperor Charles V, the master of half of the Christian world as well as the new lands across the Atlantic?  Francis, the King of France, also held him in high esteem, hosting sumptuous banquets in his honour and clasping him by the hand and proclaiming him a loyal friend, rewarding him with a bishopric for his favour.  Then his own sovereign, Henry Tudor, had also been unstinting, bestowing unlimited favours and wealth, entrusting him with the high affairs of the kingdom.  As for the Holy Father in Rome, Clement’s retention of the papal throne was owed to Wolsey’s own blend of negotiation, bargaining and threats. 
So why should he be worried this night?  What was the arrogant braying of a minor cleric to him?  A gadfly bite, no more.  However, as the yapping of a mastiff gave warning of the sneak thief, this open insult presaged dark moves by those who were jealous of the King’s favour and was not just the least insult, but rather the latest.  Last week the King’s good friend and close brother–in–law, the Duke of Suffolk, stood up at the
Blackfriars Court
and swore before all the assembly, “that it was never merry in England whilst we had cardinals amongst us”.  The Court had cheered this vile insult.
He could have trumped that smear from Sir Charles Brandon with a flick of his hand, easily bringing the snarling cur to heel.  Brandon was hot headed and vain, and without Wolsey’s intercession the strutting jousting companion to the King wouldn’t have survived his secret marriage to the King’s sister.  Henry was touchy about his royal honour and that action had strayed too close to treason.  That being so, after the cheers from the rabble, the Court had settled down, His Sovereign Majesty had sat on his throne watching, and said nothing.
How could this be?  A few months ago Brandon was all smiles and scrapping bows for his beloved patron.  Now he displayed all the ingratitude of a treacherous heart.  This betrayal wounded deeply, but of more concern was why?  For all his bluff and swagger, Brandon was as cunning as a rat in sniffing the political winds of the Court.  That one so formerly loyal should turn was an ominous portent and the King had watched, and said nothing.  Nothing!
Cardinal Wolsey wearily rubbed his heavy jowls and considered the latest problem, his latest burden, that damned commission on the annulment of His Sovereign’s marriage to Queen Katherine.  He snorted in provoked anger at the memory.  Why couldn’t the Spanish harpy just leave it be?  As well wish for the moon.  That stiff necked woman hadn’t budged an inch and he’d even humbled himself on bended knee pleading for her to yield, promising lands and status as befitted her station.  All that effort wasted!  Even his personal solemn oath that she’d gain untold sympathy and guarantee a later return when His Majesty’s need for Imperial aid was stronger hadn’t altered her stubbornness.  Finally during the commission her scheming and tricks had ruined the open hearing at Blackfriars.  It was going so well, smoothly and rehearsed, and then the queen burst in, all tears and entreaties to her ‘loving husband’ and in a single act demolished years of work.  The plan was too cunning to be Katherine’s work.  He suspected Father Juan Luis Vives. It had taken but a few well placed and judicious threats to scare that learned scholar back to Spain.  And what of that recent arrival, Don Alva?  The Spaniard was young, clever and ambitious, a dangerous combination.
It was revenge, pure and simple, delivered with all the vicious calculation of a spurned wife.  Wolsey had turned pale at the scene.  Henry Tudor, his lord and master, did not forgive humiliation.  Still it could have been saved and the royal ire deflected, if it wasn’t for the actions of one of his own, an English bishop even, that damned sanctimonious interfering fool, Fisher!  Ignoring the hints of royal disfavour and legatine reward he defended Queen Katherine.  Of course the baleful glare of his outraged monarch alighted upon his most loyal chancellor and long-time solver of church problems, and the King said nothing!  That was the culminating ruin of the commission. 
Wolsey was almost tempted into profanity at the recollection.  A muttered prayer pushed him past the sinfulness of anger into a moment’s blessed peace.  It was all too brief.  He turned to the work at hand, and putting quill to parchment, wrote out the salutations to Thomas Boleyn, Lord Rochford, and father of Anne, the new beloved of His Sovereign and the reason for his mounting calamities.  After decades in royal service he knew how the play of power functioned.  He’d expected the manoeuvrings of Rochford and the Boleyn faction.  That was just the common practice at Court, as was so much of his business recently.  It was another in a long succession of ‘gifts’, the coin of patronage.  This one, by the King’s command, was a patent assigning the rents of the vacant see of Durham, worth two thousand four hundred pounds per annum, to Lord Rochford.  One more favour drawn from his suddenly waning stock.  At the memory of loss, Wolsey’s thoughts once more spiralled back to the last hour of the
Blackfriars Court
, and His Majesty’s ominous silence. Even now his requests for an audience were refused and His Majesty was not ten miles away!
Damn that feckless Abbot!  Wolsey frowned as one wrong dredged up another.  His servant, Cromwell, had determined that dissolving Wigmore monastery brought him enough to fund his work through to next spring.  The man was a veritable hound for sniffing out disposable abbeys.  It was not as if they were doing anything – gaining the remittance of sin for a smattering of rural yokels didn’t compare in any way to his two glorious colleges at Ipswich and Oxford.  The quill trembled in his spasmed hand and punched through the stiff parchment.  It had been several days, and His Majesty was still silent!
Wolsey thumped the table with his ringed hand and pushed up from his labours.  He’d handled His Sovereign’s amours and problems before – Mary Blout and Mary Boleyn were the two most prominent.  Henry was a lusty man, full of all the vigour expected of a monarch, but to cuddle his paramour before all, and treat Anne Boleyn as if she was already Queen – that was just too much to endure.  This whole situation with the disaster of the annulment was the fault of that meddling Frenchified punk!  It didn’t take a university scholar to see that My Lady Anne Boleyn was the drafter of all his problems, scheming, conspiring and plotting to pull him down as the King’s trusted servant.  It was her hand behind that affair with secretary Knight last year and the ‘secret mission’ to the Pope.  Damn, that had been close.  A day’s delay in messages from his intelligencers would have seen the decretals wing their way straight into the King’s hands without ‘careful appraisal and editing’.  That little surprise had the stiff necked Boleyns and their snarling pack deflated, taking the wind right out of their sails.
Until now, and the King’s silence and distance continued to grow.
Wolsey flexed his fingers and cracked his sore knuckles in irritation.  Which problem first?  Should he play down or use the Royal indiscretions?  Imperial eyes watched every loving caress and mark of favour.  It was a deliberate provocation on her part.  The woman was so sure – may as well call her Queen Anne for the bitch was that in all but name!  Why couldn’t His Majesty have asked for a French princess as Wolsey had been working towards?  The prestige of the Christian world would have been his, not to mention the benefits of a firm French alliance against the shifting factions of Europe.  This infatuation with that Boleyn temptress had thrown the complex game of crowns and lands into confusion.  Wolsey clenched his left hand in frustration.  Now to favour Henry’s passion, the path to a French crown receded, and England risked the wrath of Emperor Charles V for slighting his Aunt Katherine, and for no gain.  And his hold on power, now not nearly so firm, cracked and crumbled away like old plaster.
And it wasn’t just the Boleyn curs baying.  Now the court jackals scented blood as well, snarling and snapping away at his ankles.  Brandon’s insult and Wigmore’s insolence were merely the first signs.  And like any rebellious pack of hounds, they needed a firm hand on the whip to bring them to heel.  Wolsey frowned and pinched the bridge of his nose. Damn them all to the nethermost regions of Hell!  He’d seen the warnings but due to the demands of the Legatine Commission for His Majesty, it had been left to slip for too long.  Only last month he’d received a report from his agent secreted amongst the French Ambassador’s retainers, full to the brim with open conspiracy.
"These Lords intend, after he is dead or ruined, to impeach the State of the Church, and take all its goods; which it is hardly needful for me to write in cipher, for they proclaim it openly. I expect they will do fine miracles as well, I expect the priests will never have the great seal again; and that in this Parliament they will have terrible fright."
Of all the ambassadors in residence, Du Bellay was the cleverest.  If this was in his report to Francis, then Wolsey’s enemies had already sounded out foreign allies. What unnatural arrogance!  The casual expectation of his fall was an insult.  What was he already dead and buried?  Had they sung the last rites over him?  Wolsey hadn’t gained this hold over the Kingdom and been the right hand of the monarch all these years just to have foreigners and strutting nobles dismiss him so readily.  No!  There had to be a way out of this thicket, a way to regain Henry’s approval and to banish that distancing silence. 
He pushed himself painfully up from the table, and stood before the fire.  His gentleman usher, Cavendish, stepped forward and offered a goblet of Rhenish wine.  With a brief nod of acknowledgement, he took a hefty draught and stared into the crackling logs. 
He’d tried getting rid of the Boleyn girl – it hadn’t worked.  She was much cannier than her older sister, Mary, and so Henry had set his mind to marriage, legal and lawful, to Anne.  So had begun the round of offer, bargain and threat between London and Rome.  The bitch had even survived a bout of the sweats so she was unlikely to succumb to a sniffle.  It was time he lacked now. Three years this had played out as he swatted off the petty intrigues of the Boleyns.  And now he was out of time.  Damn Clement for the weak fool that he was! 
He’d solved the problems of Henry’s two sisters – a divorce for the Queen of Scotland and removal of the bigamy charges for the ungrateful Suffolk, thus elevating his stature as the papal expert.  Now … now was different.  After the letter from Master Casale in Rome, three days ago, any hopes of an annulment from the Apostolic See were dust.  The only remaining army on the Italian peninsula were beaten, and as a result, that master of equivocation, Pope Clement, had finally decided to commit himself once and for all to Charles V and the Imperial faction by recalling the annulment case to a Papal court.  A disaster – it was a complete disaster.  Why did Clement have to pick now to stick irrevocably to a decision?  By reputation, former Cardinal Giuliano Medici never resolved to one course of action for longer than it took to eat a capon.  It was often quoted as a wry joke within the Apostolic chambers that His Holiness could agree to several opposing suggestions between one sip of wine and another.  This last reported rumour from his agents in Rome, hinted at the cause for his unaccustomed consistency – an illegitimate Hapsburg daughter was to wed a papal nephew. 
Wolsey passed back the empty goblet and slapped one meaty hand into the other.  This too public failure could break him!  That damned harpy would be at her royal paramour every day, whispering and pouting, flashing those dark eyes, every word dripping with venom. ‘Our Lord Chancellor promised so much …’  Damn her and damn Clement! 
As this thought brought on yet another surge of bile, his ire acquired a more Romewards direction.  Clement, that Florentine ditherer, it was all his fault.  He had even fowled up the appointment of Cardinal Campeggio to the annulment commission.  Lorenzo Campeggio was supposed to be England’s agent in the Holy See, a cleric bought and paid for by English gold.  The Italian received the income from a bishopric and hefty annual gifts and yet now, despite all this generosity, he was hedging and wavering just like his master.  As slowly as was possible, Campeggio had travelled all the way from Rome – two weeks even to get from Dover to London.  A blind, crippled snail on crutches could have managed a faster journey!  Almost daily he was advised to either halt and wait, or to speed up as the inconstant Papal mind wandered along its meandering path.  Finally, after months wasted on the journey, Campeggio arrived and in his very first conversation with the King revealed that within his luggage was a Papal decretal granting the divorce. A much prayed for solution to this bitter, bitter problem. 
Ahh, but of course, it was not that simple.  Unless Katherine agreed to go into a nunnery, it was to neither published or displayed.  This sly surprise gave Lady Anne all the ammunition to further undermine his standing.  And then despite his best efforts, Katherine managed to smuggle out a letter to her nephew, Charles V, imploring his assistance.  This had only magnified his problems, and since then he had kept his intelligencers and spies working at full pitch, both in England and across the Channel.  Right now most of these were concentrated on the city of Cambri, watching that intricate dance between the Houses of Hapsburg and Valois over the culmination of their long wars.  All his long-honed instincts told his that he must be there before the ink dried on any treaty.  For Wolsey to prosper, then he must be seen with the powers of Europe.  Instead Henry had chosen to send that preening ingrate, Suffolk, as well as the simpering would-be philosopher, Sir Thomas More.  And what use were they?  Neither had the reputation or weight of experience needed to gain for England a place at the bargaining table.  How could either hope to get anything more than mere crumbs as a reward for His Majesty’s great efforts.  How could they know of such subtle nuances as Margaret of Austria’s distinctive cough just before she yielded a point?  How would they conduct those quiet but oh so useful talks at feast or hunt with important lords and princes?  Yes, he’d seen it all before, Royal Ambassadors, puffed up in velvet and cloth of gold, and too blinded by huberous and glittering promises to see the traps clearly laid in their paths.  For two men, supposedly  so beholden to him for their titles and advancement and previously so garrulous in his praised, he had received little regarding their embassy, scarcely a word or a letter in report.  And as with His Royal Master’s, this infectious silence sounded a dread knock upon his heart.  England would rue the day he was not present.
Frustratingly he was shut out, relying on minions, as the powerful made their own arrangements without him, reduced to the pitiful expedient of agents in the curtain shadows.  And the King said nothing refusing his requests.
His exclusion was a public slight and who knew what secret deals were being hatched, maybe even a compact bringing both the Valois and Hapsburgs against an isolated England?  In an attempt to stem the stampede, he’d penned a missive to His Majesty as a reminder of his diplomatic expertise and in returned received a curtly dismissive letter from Gardiner, his former secretary, asking him, the Chancellor of the Kingdom to be more specific as to his inquiry.  Gardiner!  He had raised that ingrate to the position he now held.  Bishop Gardiner owed him everything.  It didn’t need an astrologer to interpret that sign.  The King was drifting away, his ear full of the whispers and innuendoes of those at Court eager to gain preferment and wealth.  The Duke of Norfolk was one rival already much too close to Henry and, as uncle of Lady Anne, he would relish any chance to gain the chancellor’s title.  Thomas Howard already held the reputation as a man more devious than a serpent and twice as dangerous.  And this situation was steering towards the perilous.  Wolsey knew from du Bellay’s letter and other’s since that he wasn’t the only one at risk – the English Church was also in the butts as a target.  Previously he had played up its vulnerability as a useful goad to Campeggio, and satisfyingly, the Italian’s letters to the Apostolic See had proved the worth of that tactic.  He recalled one part with particular satisfaction:
“The Cardinal alone stood between the Church and its subjection. It was owing to Wolsey's vigilance and solicitude that the Holy See retained its rank and dignity.  His ruin would drag down the Church!”
True, very true.  How could Pope Clement ignore the crisis?  He snorted at the memory. That would be easy – the Florentine was quick enough to favour needed allies, though afterwards he had a discriminating tendency for selective ‘forgetfulness’.  One prime example that still rankled was the English gift of ten thousand ducats.  In desperation the Holy Father had begged for assistance, a petition to his faithful servant, the King of England and his valued loving friend, Cardinal Wolsey.  Clement had pleaded that without it, the papal armies would wither away before the Imperials.  That was not a happy recollection.  The subsidy had come close to ruining him.  The Commons in Parliament had almost revolted over openly shipping that much gold out the Kingdom.  And of course later Clement had ‘forgotten’ his English friends – typical! 
Then the deceitful Italian had pulled his culminating cony catcher’s trick.  While Clement knew full well the Annulment Commission was in session, His Holiness sent several letters via Imperial messengers, withdrawing its validity and recalling the case back to Rome!  Wolsey wasn’t a fool.  He’d tried to misdirect the missives and his agents had stalked every route in Europe to forestall their posting.  God’s blood, all to no avail!  Why was it that his dealings with this Pope were so cursed by an ill star? 
That thought didn’t solve his problems and concentrating on it only brought on a pounding headache.  If only His Holiness had succumbed to that illness earlier this year.  That would have left his apostolic legate free to declare judgement on the whole case sede vacante before they’d elected a new pope.  As he’d found before, the vacancy period between pontiffs always brought up a host of possibilities and removed a legion of obstacles.  If only Clement had died!  Wolsey instinctively crossed himself at that remembered wish.
In normal circumstances such an evil thought would be roundly banished to the nether most parts of the soul, chastised and discarded.  Suddenly an edge of frantic desperation gripped him and held the thought up to the light of speculation.  Perhaps?
Hmmm Perhaps?
Perhaps, it wasn’t so…evil?
Wolsey’s eyes narrowed and his fingers rubbed at the seal ring on his right hand.  Was it a temptation from the arch fiend?  Or an angelic inspired revelation?
In the past, priests who had brought the throne of St Peter into disrespect, had been opportunely removed by the provident hand of God.  So, what if the Almighty chose to work through the agency of rebellious lords, conniving cardinals or convenient illnesses?
Sin or saviour?  As of this instant, it was well lodged in his thoughts.  Not even a barrel of Gonne powder could dislodge it, as its suppleness, justice and symmetry beguiled him.  He mused on the interminable failings of Pope Clement.  It was a very long list that started with the Sack of Rome and Babylonian captivity of the Pontiff by the Imperial army, then descended through the pervasive spiritual spinelessness and calumny of political debacles.  While no man could be perfect, that status belonged only to the Son of God, this Pope had taken the Patrimony of St Peter to a state lower in esteem than a harlot’s chastity.  Clement had failed in his duty!  He’d done little to reassure a distraught and desperate flock, made vulnerable and confused by the religious conflict between that heretic Luther and the Church.  More importantly, he had shown niggardly regard for the true friends of the Holy See.  Wolsey tapped his fingers on the heavy beam of the over mantle, almost a Te Duem in rhythm.  It was a grievous sin to encompass the death of another.  Dare he act on the impulse?
He had done so before in the case of the Duke of Buckingham, playing upon the King’s fears of a rival to the throne, and the suspicious links to Richard de la Pole’s Yorkist plots.  It had taken little effort to tease and distort letters, confessions and coincidence until Buckingham fell to an executioner’s axe.  But, temptation twitched another smouldering thought his way, a new Pope would solve an accumulation of problems, both here and for his potential backers.  Francis of France would not be too distressed and the debts of several French prelates beholden to him now pushed the consideration onto firmer ground. 
Of course in the current balance of power Charles V had to be considered.  Wolsey had been promised the Emperor’s support at the very next Papal candidacy, not that the guarantee had held firm during the last Convocation of Cardinals.  This time he’d make sure he had more leverage, like perhaps easing the vexations of Katherine of Aragon and bringing low her rival.  Bur first, Pope Clement VII had to receive his heavenly reward for services rendered.
Wolsey made his decision in an instant.  His high position had been attained solely by interpreting the Royal will and fearlessly acting on inspiration.  He turned to Cavendish and snapped out a command.  “Summon Master Smeaton at once!” 
Then seized by the moment he strode over to his table and began to draft a new series of letters.  The first was to the English agent in Rome, Master Casele.  The fellow had frequently mentioned that Clement had more enemies than a dog had fleas.  The most useful among these would surely be Cardinal Colonna.  He was a man with a finely honed sense of revenge.  Reports had it that twice he’d tried to kill Clement.  If not Colonna then Francesco della Rovere, the Duke of Urbino, would welcome a chance to dispatch the former Medici cardinal.  That Italian nobleman made it a point of honour to have no living enemies.  Wolsey reflected on the long list of papal foes.  One of these should be able to fulfil the deed if given enough incentive.  As Chancellor, the wealth of the Kingdom was available at his discretion, but this required a more subtle touch.  Several thousand gold angels withheld from the King’s recent devaluing were still at hand and were innocuously secreted for just such an emergency.  A quiet chuckle and crooked smile broke upon Wolsey’s face at the aptness of this image.  Yes, gold greased the wheels of state, and made men amenable to suggestion.  Thus chests of golden angels could wing Clement to his eternal rest.  Ahh choke on that Giuliano Medici.  A Cardinal’s angels will bring you down!  This, however, was only two sides of the triangle, a plan and a means to implement that plan.  Still missing was a cat’s paw.  Now who could be employed in this manner?  The smile returned to his lips – ahh, of course, Campeggio.
Despite his wavering, Campeggio could be very useful.  The Italian had frequently expressed his reluctant compliance with the instructions from Rome and had discretely conveyed his willingness to repay his good friend, the English Cardinal, for his generosity.  The Italian was a martyr to two main afflictions, the first being gout.  Always anxious to try any new remedy available, Wolsey’s own physician, Dr Augustino, was frequently called to attend him, and thus accordingly was privy to many complaints and “confessions” from a man in pain and suffering.  So Wolsey now knew of the second and greater cross carried by Cardinal Campeggio – his insatiable pack of children and assorted relatives, all begging constantly for preferment or position.
His own patron angel must be guiding his thoughts.  It was so easy to see a path wrought by solicitude and inducements to bring the errant Cardinal onside.  One member of Campeggio’s staff in particular had proved amenable as a conduit for influence, the Italian’s son and personal secretary, Rudolpho.   For a “consideration” and “evidence of friendship” via the sweet reason of those tinkling “angels”, young Rudolpho could easily sway the old Cardinal to see the benefits of an ‘English’ point of view and the advantages of a Clement–less future.
As for the King, this was perfect.  It gave Henry a chance for public pomp and mourning at the sad demise of our Holy Father, and would additionally keep him distracted for a month or more.  Largess and ceremony always played well to the grumbling Commons as well.  Conveniently it opened up a need to summon his faithful Chancellor as diplomat and potential papal contender.  Good, very good.  However before that could happen, he needed certainty and leverage, both here and abroad.  He had to break his enemies and ruin the pretensions of that cursed woman.
Like any man of sense and prudence, he had his spies spread through all the great households, usefully ferreting out secrets and treachery.  One recently discovered gem of knowledge could solve this annulment impasse and bring Lord Rochford and his daughter around to a more submissively obedient frame of mind.  He had to move fast – his pursuivants had warned of other stalkers in the household.  Even better it could be made to look as if he was aiding Katherine and thus, gain Hapsburg support.  Then with those two knocked out, his hold on power would be firm enough to dangle a protégée before the King.
If only he had another sign.  The sight of ‘golden angels’ wetted men’s appetites as evidence of an earthly reward, but to be more certain  of success, he needed something more divinely sanctified than the coiners stamp, perhaps even metaphysical?  Where could he gain that guarantee?  Wolsey pondered this problem, idly twisting a ruby ring.  Dare he risk it?  It was said that there were more diviners of the future in the Holy City than clerics.  Clement wasn’t the only one who wouldn’t set foot outside his door until the heavens had been scrutinised for portents.  So how to use that penchant?
Once more his own angel whispered inspiration.  The fates were rallying to his aid.  Didn’t he have his own bonded diviner, a scryer of the heavens, a fellow famed for his accuracy?  Yes he did!   But now was a dangerous time to utilise the fellow’s arcane services.  Norfolk’s spies had sniffed too close before now. 
And again his angelic inspiration revealed a path.  The good doctor’s charts and book had proved vital in removing that annoying Buckingham with a charge of treason.  Once more he could play on his knowledge of His Majesty’s “concerns”.  Utilising those cunning implements, he’d have those twice damned Boleyns muzzled and brought to heel by fear. Yes!  His growing certainly flashed firm resolution through his soul.  Not even the quivering warnings of his daemon could halt it now.  Wolsey shook his head to silence the seditious whispers. 
With a new confidence, he returned to his pile of correspondence and pulled out the latest letter from his secretary, Thomas Cromwell.  This was the second time today he had considered its import.  The warnings were clear.  Norfolk was snapping at his heels.  Thomas Howard, the slippery as a snake Duke of Norfolk, had his clients spread throughout the court, eroding Wolsey’s standing with every scurrilous whisper.  Now with the Blackfriars debacle, Queen Katherine had raised her banner of war and when a Castilian swore dire revenge, it was best to believe it.  His enemies were gathering, and not even his own household was safe.  Cromwell wrote of treacherous rumours and advised swift action.  Wolsey held the letter as if weighing it’s import on the scales of decision.  Yes, his angel cried, now was the time!  Now for the tool!  Cromwell would have been perfect.  He’d proven an astute and loyal retainer, though at this juncture, his many talents were better employed watching over the skulking rats at Court.  Fortunately there was another servant, steadfast and true, a man also used to the darker moves of statecraft, a sharp blade to match the alluring whisper of his Cardinal’s angels and, moreover, one who had experience in setting the traps of treason.
“Your eminence?” 
Wolsey put down his quill and smiled at his kneeling servant.  That familiar shock of grey just like the coat of a badger, brought back an older memory.  His eyes sparkled with a gloating satisfaction – yes it was the glowing hand of an angel guiding him.
“Ahh John.  I have a task of some discretion for you.  Tis time to return to London.  Dr Agryppa has a new commission to fulfil.  As well, there is another affair, an acquisition touching close to the King’s honour that requires your certain skills.”
“I am at your eminences’ command.”  The lanky figure of Master Smeaton gave a low bow of respect, bending almost double.  Wolsey smiled at the obvious loyalty.  With retainers such as Thomas Cromwell and John Smeaton and the deft deployment of his ‘angels’, the future was assured. 
Thomas Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England, would continue to ride the crest of Fortuna’s Wheel as it dashed his enemies to ruin!

Check next week I'll put up chapter 1