Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

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

1 comment:

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