Her Highness, the Traitorby Susan Higginbotham
Praise for Susan Higginbotham's Novels
"Susan Higginbotham transports her readers into a vividly portrayed past."—Helen Hollick, author of The Pendragon's Banner trilogy
A daughter can be a dangerous weapon in the battle for the throne of England
Frances Grey harbored no/strong>/em>/strong>… See more details below
Praise for Susan Higginbotham's Novels
"Susan Higginbotham transports her readers into a vividly portrayed past."—Helen Hollick, author of The Pendragon's Banner trilogy
A daughter can be a dangerous weapon in the battle for the throne of England
Frances Grey harbored no dream of her children taking the throne. Cousin of the king, she knew the pitfalls of royalty and privilege. Better to marry them off, marry them well, perhaps to a clan like the Dudleys.
Jane Dudley knew her husband was creeping closer to the throne, but someone had to take charge, for the good of the country. She couldn't see the twisted path they all would follow.
The never–before–told story of the women behind the crowning of Jane Grey, this novel is a captivating peek at ambition gone awry, and the damage left in its wake.
"Susan Higginbotham draws the reader under her spell...she brings the dead to life."—Christy English, author of The Queen's Pawn, praise for The Stolen Crown
"A beautiful blending of turbulent history and deeply felt fiction...Higginbotham has given readers of historical fiction a gift to treasure."—Karen Harper, New York Times bestselling author of The Irish Princess, praise for The Queen of Last Hopes
"Along with historical accuracy, a swift-moving plot and little family details that any mother would remember and treasure, such as Lady Dudley's talking parrot and Lady Grey's dismay at her daughter's surprising lack of common sense, the novel includes characterizations at which this author excels. She takes the infamous villains of history and presents them as relatable human characters.
This book at times made me smile and then cry with the tragedy. I very much recommend it." - Historical Novels Review
"Susan Higginbotham is one of the best accessible historical fiction authors out there and will soon be well known for very enjoyable and well-researched novels." - Burton Book Review
"Author Susan Higginbotham's take on the tale is one of the most complete, most polished, and most well-told versions of the Jane Grey story I've ever read. Not only is Higginbothan an incredibly gifted writer and researcher, but her approach to the subject is unlike any others I've read. " - Diary of a Book Addict
"Higginbotham magnificently weaves together the events leading up to the disinheritance of two royal princesses and the coronation of a young girl more to devoted to books and prayer." - Fresh Fiction
"In Her Highness, the Traitor, Susan Higginbotham turns the story of Jane's short life into a fascinating novel." - Shelf Awareness
"I feel that the author did a very good job of making these women their own and really getting the reader to care about them. " - The Maiden's Court
"Susan's very true to her historical detail. I never fail to come away from one of her books having immensely enjoyed her writing, her story, and most of all that I've learned more about that vast world of history out there so thank you for that Susan!" - Peeking Between the Pages
"This is my first Susan Higginbotham novel, and I look forward to more of her historical narratives." - jaffareadstoo....
"Susan Higginbotham really managed to bring history to life with Her Highness, the Traitor and I loved seeing the 'villains' of history from another perspective." - The Broke and The Bookish
"Higginbotham's idea of telling the story through the eyes of these women is a wonderful way of bringing these events and characters to life. You feel you're there with them and you cannot help but be moved by the events as they unfold." - The Tudor Book Reviews
"Overall, this was a great book with a unique story and I think any fan of historical fiction will enjoy it." - So Many Books, So Little Time
"The writing was engaging and like I said before, it was nice to see it through the eyes of these two women, who give the facts colour with their love for their husbands and children. Definitely recommended for historical fiction lovers like me!" - Between the Pages
"This is a story I would not only recommend to readers of this review but people I personally know and I plan on encouraging them to read this story. It's that good." - Long and Short Reviews
"Fans of the era will enjoy this engaging entry filled with plenty of tidbits from the period between the two Tudor ruling giants" - Genre Go Round Reviews
"I enjoyed this one. Definitely recommended." - Readin and Dreamin
"This novel will be published in June of 2012. Add it to your TBR list! It's a must read. " - Layered Pages
"This is the quick rise and quick fall of Jane Grey like it's never been depicted before readers of Tudor historical fiction should download a copy before the day is much older!" - Open Letters Monthly
"Susan Higginbotham's Her Highness, the Traitor, is what great historical fiction should always be." - PaperBack Swap Blog
"Well written and engaging" - Tanzanite's Castle Full of Books
"Fans of the era will enjoy this engaging entry filled with plenty of tidbits from the period between the two Tudor ruling giants." - The Midwest Book Review
"This is another winning historical fiction novel by Susan Higginbotham! I can hardly wait to see what she comes up with next!" - So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
"Her Highness, the Traitor is definitely a journey of a book and a heartfelt one at that.
" - The Musings Of Almybnenr
" Flawless, compelling storytelling" - Crickhollow Books
"Higginbotham has done an excellent job of wading through those myths and half-truths, presenting a balanced, well-rounded case for what might really have happened, all lightly seasoned here and there with Higginbotham's sense of humor" - At Home with a Good Book and the Cat
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Read an Excerpt
If there is an advantage to dying, it is this: people humor one's wishes. I could ask for all manner of ridiculous things, and I daresay someone would try to oblige me, but instead I simply call for pen and paper.
"Here follows my last will and testament, written with my own hands," I begin, and then I stop, frowning. I am not learned in the law, and the thought occurs to me that perhaps I should give up my task and call in someone who is. But he would charge for it, and that fee would make my children, who have lost so much already, that much the poorer. So I press on. I can say what I need to say as well as any lawyer can, though I might not be as verbose about it. If these last few months have taught me anything, it is how to fend for myself, which is more than I can say for some women I know.
But there is a phrase I am searching for. What is it?
Being in perfect memory, of course. I smile to myself, for although I have forgotten that phrase, there is not much else I have forgotten.
January 1512 to January 1547
I was not born to high estate. My father, Edward Guildford, was only a knight-and he was not even that when I was born, but a mere squire, albeit one high in the young king's favor. It was owing to this royal esteem that one chilly day in January 1512, my father strode into our hall at Halden in Kent with a black-haired boy in tow. "This is John Dudley, Mouse," Father said, using the pet name I had been given to distinguish me from my stepmother, Joan, whose name was sufficiently close to mine as to cause confusion sometimes. "He is to be my ward-that is, in my care-now that his father is dead and his mother's remarried. He'll be staying here a long time."
John, who was seven years of age to my three (almost four, as I liked to point out), executed a respectful bow, but did not match my stepmother's welcoming smile. "You look cold, John," my stepmother said then, her voice lacking its natural warmth. "Why don't you sit by the fire?"
It was an order rather than a suggestion, and the boy said, "Yes, mistress," and obeyed. His voice was not a Kentish one, even I at my young age could tell.
"He seems very ill mannered," my stepmother said when the boy was out of earshot.
"He's coming among strangers, and he's tired. He's a London boy, don't forget, not used to riding." My father chuckled. "Stared at my horse as if he were at the menagerie at the Tower. I had him take the reins for a time while coming here, though, and he did quite well. He's sharp."
"Aye, like his father. And look where that got him, speaking of the Tower."
"Where's that, Mama?" I could not resist asking. "What tower?"
"Never you mind," said my stepmother briskly as my father gave her what I had begun to recognize as a meaningful look. I was a quiet child, which meant adults often said interesting things in my presence they might have avoided saying in front of a more talkative girl, but sometimes to my disappointment they remembered themselves. Pitching her voice in a manner that informed me that future comments would not be welcome, she said to my father, "How much does he know of all that, by the way?"
"Most all, I fear. Some of the neighbors talked before they stopped speaking to the family altogether, and he figured out the rest for himself. He's sharp, as I said."
"Oh." My stepmother's voice softened. "Poor lad." She glanced at me. "Jane, why don't you join Master Dudley by the fire?"
I obeyed. John was sitting on a bench and staring into the flames. Shy as I was, I was being brought up to converse properly, as became a well-bred young lady. "Hello," I said brightly.
John looked at me with apparent reluctance, though in my opinion, I was at least more interesting than the fire, crackle as it might. "They called you ‘Mouse' just now," he said with the air of one feeling bound to say something. "That's a strange name."
"That's just what they call me here. My real name is Jane." I paused. "Jane and John. They sound almost alike."
"I have my own pony," I went on, undaunted. How I had forgotten to mention this to John immediately I had no idea, for there was no creature I loved more than my new pony, which I was just learning to ride. I'd tried my best to let everyone in Kent know of my new acquisition. "Father said you don't know how to ride yet."
"No. Why should I? I'm from London."
I did know something about London. Father was often at the king's court there. But I didn't know all that much. I contemplated this apparently horseless place for a time before asking, "How do you go places there? Walk?"
The boy gave me a pitying look for my ignorance. "Just for short distances. People do ride, especially if they're coming in or out of the country, but if you're traveling from one part of London to another, it's best to take a boat down the Thames."
"My father used to take me all of the time before he died."
"My mother's dead," I offered companionably. "She died the same day I was born." (I thought at the time only that this was rather an interesting coincidence.) "They say she got sick. What did your father die of?"
"They cut off his head."
I stared at him in bewilderment. I vaguely knew that men who did wrong things could get hanged, though I had never seen such a dreadful sight. But cutting a man's head off? "Like a chicken?"
I placed my hands on my neck and determined that losing one's head would not be an easy accomplishment. "But why?"
"Mouse," said my father, putting his hand on my shoulder and looking at John apologetically. "That's enough questions for now. Your mother needs you to help her with-well, she needs you to help her with something."
"Yes, Father," I said, but I could not resist looking back at the boy as I scurried away. I had good reason to look back, after all; without knowing it, I had met my husband.
No, I was not born to high estate, and neither was my husband, the eldest son of a man who had been executed as a traitor. The titles we held were gained, and will die, all in a single generation. Yet if we were upstarts, we were no different from many others of our day. Dukes, earls, even queens-the court of Henry VIII was plentiful with those who had owed everything to one man, and in January 1547, five-and-thirty years after little John Dudley entered my life, that man, King Henry, lay dying at Whitehall. Henry VIII was an upstart in his own way, as well: his dynasty had sat on the throne for only two generations.
Upstart he might be, but I could not remember another king; I'd been but a babe in arms when Henry VIII came to the throne. I had known all six of his queens, if only well enough to bend a knee in some cases.
I mused upon this as I made my way from the queen's side of Whitehall, where I had been attending the sixth and last of the king's wives, Catherine Parr. There was no sign here that anything was amiss: meals were still being brought into the sick man's chamber, accompanied by the sounds of trumpets. They would stay in the chamber for a decent interval, I supposed, before being brought out and distributed to the poor, who surely by now must have been wondering about all of this extra bounty they were receiving.
As I had hoped, my husband was inside the chamber we had been allotted at court. He rose from the desk at which he had been working and kissed me. "What brings you here?"
"I came to check on the king's health."
"Did the queen send you?"
"No, but I expect she will be glad to hear a report."
"Then you must keep this secret, my dear, at least for a little while longer. King Henry is dead. He's been dead for two days."
I stared. "Why has no one been told?"
"The Earl of Hertford wished there to be no difficulties until King Edward was brought to Westminster. He, of course, has been told, along with the lady Elizabeth. The earl brought the news himself. Tomorrow it will be announced in Parliament."
King Edward. It seemed a strange title for the nine-year-old I'd known since he was christened, whose mother's funeral procession I'd ridden in. "Why was the queen not told? Why not the lady Mary?"
"They will be, very shortly." My husband gave an uneasy cough. "I suppose Queen Catherine is expecting to be made regent."
"Then she will be disappointed, I fear. The king did not wish a woman-even a woman as able as the queen-to have the rule during the king's minority. Don't glare at me so, my dear. I am only the messenger. In truth, the council won't have the rule of England either, not completely anyway. The council has agreed. There will be a protector."
For a moment, I paused to admire the industriousness of the men who had settled all of this in just two days, while keeping up this façade of a living king. But I knew my chronicles. I frowned. "A protector?"
For the first time, my husband smiled. "Shades of Richard III! And yes, it is to be an uncle. But Hertford has no kingly ambitions, and it's wise to have a single man in charge, even though he will be answerable to us on the council. And in any case, it's a different world now than it was in 1483."
"Well, it is that," I conceded. I sighed, thinking how disappointed the queen would be not to be named regent for the young king. She'd been closer to him than any of the other queens, for Jane Seymour, Edward's mother, had died soon after giving birth, the good-natured Anne of Cleves had lasted only a few months as queen, and poor Katherine Howard had been badly in need of a wise mother herself. Catherine Parr had been on good terms with all three of King Henry's children-no easy task, as each was as different as their respective mothers. Surely she had deserved the honor of a regency after putting up with her increasingly lame and ill-tempered royal husband. Worse, Anne Seymour, Countess of Hertford, was completely insufferable. Being the protector's wife could make her only more so. "What of Thomas Seymour?" He was the younger brother of Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford; the two were Jane Seymour's brothers. "Is he to have a role in all of this?"
"Something, I'm sure." My husband yawned. "That's to be discussed. These things take time."
I stared out the window, my mind still trying to adjust itself to an England without Henry, who'd reigned nearly eight-and-thirty years, nearly as long as I had been alive. Softly, for I knew I was treading on delicate ground, I asked, "John, did you ever hate him for what he did to your father?"
"I never really thought about it." My husband tipped my chin up gently and brushed his lips against mine. "I've got some time to spare before I return to the council. Do you have to hurry back to the queen?"
I smiled. It was not uncommon of my husband to avoid talking about a topic by making love to me. It was a tactic that might have been employed more often than I realized, and generally with success, for I had borne him thirteen children.
To a man's eyes, I must have looked seemly enough as I returned to the queen's lodgings at Whitehall. To a woman, it was obvious that unskilled hands had put me back into my clothes; all my fastenings were slightly awry. I hoped I had sent John back to his council meeting in somewhat better repair, though he had servants nearby who would probably step in to make him presentable.
Anne Seymour, Countess of Hertford, gave me a knowing look as I entered the outer room of the queen's private chambers. The queen was in an inner chamber attending to business, it being the time of the day when she did this, but most of the other great ladies of England were here: the lady Mary, the new king's eldest sister; the lady Frances, King Henry's niece; a dozen or so others. I had known them all for years: together we'd buried Jane Seymour; greeted Anne of Cleves; watched helplessly as poor Katherine Howard giggled and flirted her way to the scaffold; speculated on who would be the king's sixth, and it would prove, final, bride.
"Did you hear anything, Lady Lisle?" asked the lady Mary. Just shy of her thirty-first birthday, she was still reasonably attractive, despite her voice, which was oddly gruff for a woman's.
I quaked at lying to a princess, but I did it anyway. "I have heard nothing new, Your Grace," I said smoothly, sensing Anne Seymour's eyes upon me. If I knew, she must certainly know, as well; her husband would no more leave her out of his confidence than mine would me. "I saw my husband, but he could tell me nothing more than that the king was doing poorly." That, I consoled myself, could be viewed more as a gross understatement than as an outright lie.
"I can't believe they have told us nothing. I know my father wished to make his peace with the Lord in private, but he is dying, for mercy's sake! I simply cannot fathom that he would not want his queen or his children by his side." Mary's thin face hardened. "I am not putting up with this lack of communication any longer. When the queen finishes her business, we are going to go to the king's lodgings togeth-"
A knock sounded upon the door, and a grave-looking man entered the room. "My lady," he said, kneeling to Mary. "I am grieved to tell you that His Highness King Henry has departed from this life."
Mary closed her eyes, then opened them again. What went through her head? After King Henry had repudiated her mother, Catherine of Aragon, and married Anne Boleyn, he had treated Mary horribly, declaring her a bastard. Only in the past several years had she been treated as a princess ought to be. Even after that, her father had been lacking: he'd not made a suitable marriage for her, so she was a maid at an age when many women were mothers ten times over; he'd not given her a household of her own, but seen fit to subsume hers within the queen's. Her voice gave nothing away. "Has the queen been told?"
"Yes, my lady. She is being brought the news as we speak."
"When did my father die?"
The man bowed his head even farther, perhaps as much out of caution as respect. "The king died two days before, my lady. Parliament will be informed tomorrow morning. The Earl of Hertford is aware that your ladyship might find the delay unsettling, and he has given me a letter explaining why he acted as he did."
Mary took the letter and read it slowly, a flush on her pale complexion the only betrayal of the anger she must have felt. "Take me to see my father's body."
Followed by her most trusted attendants, Jane Dormer and Susan Clarencius, Mary left the room. As the sound of conversation filled the chamber, the Countess of Hertford whispered to me, "You knew."
"Yes. Surely you did, too?"
"Yes, but I am the new king's aunt, after all. It is different. How long have you known?"
"Since John told me this afternoon."
The countess shook her head. "And he swore you to secrecy."
"No." I resumed the work I'd left behind, a handkerchief for the young prince-no, the young king. "He didn't have to swear me to anything. He is my husband."
The old king's death had been officially proclaimed, and the young king was on his way to the Tower to take up his duties. As the executors of the king's will and their wives collected to greet their new sovereign, Thomas Seymour, the younger of the king's maternal uncles, hurried up to John and me. "Fool bargemen," he panted. "Why, the king and my brother are not here yet? It's not like my brother to be unpunctual."
"The clock has not struck three yet," I said as John nodded distantly. Like many men, he was somewhat cool toward Thomas Seymour, although Seymour never flirted with me as he did with some women. I could not help but feel slightly insulted by his neglect in this regard.
"No, my lady, but it is my brother's habit to always be slightly ahead of his time. So when a lesser man might be punctual for arriving on time, my brother is late for arriving on time. A deeply irritating habit, don't you agree?" Without waiting for my reply, he asked, "The queen is not coming to greet King Edward, my lady?"
"No. She and the lady Mary have gone into seclusion until King Henry's funeral, as they thought was proper."
"Pity," said Thomas Seymour thoughtfully. "I was hoping to offer my condolences in person."
John quirked an eyebrow.
Just as the clock struck three, a distant rumbling announced the arrival of the king. As we ordered ourselves into tidy lines and sank to our knees, King Edward VI, accompanied by his uncle the Earl of Hertford and a host of other dignitaries, rode through the gate.
Ginger-haired like his father and sisters, the new king was a handsome child, well grown for his age and looking around him with obvious interest. He listened patiently as the Constable of the Tower, Anthony Kingston, welcomed him. When we had all paid our respects, the king asked, "Where shall we stay?"
"Why, in the palace," the Earl of Hertford said. Plainly puzzled by the king's unwonted ignorance, he stroked his brown beard, which grew less luxuriantly than his younger brother Thomas's, and added, "That is where kings usually await their coronation, of course. The rooms are ready and are quite spacious. Were you never told?"
Thomas Seymour pushed forward. "I believe Your Highness was pointing at the Garden Tower as you rode in."
"Yes!" Edward looked up at the younger of his uncles eagerly. "Where the princes were murdered by Richard III. Can't we stay there? Or at least see it?"
"That is hardly appropri-"
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Brother, what's the harm? I was always keen to look at it when I visited the Tower as a youngster; isn't any boy? I am sure that it is too small for Your Highness to lodge in"-the constable nodded-"but I daresay Sir Anthony will allow you to go inside."
"It is ill omened," said Hertford dismally. "And probably full of lumber."
"We have read much about it," said the king in a good approximation of his father's tone. He squared his legs in the manner that had made King Henry's courtiers quake. "We have never been inside it, as it happens, and we wish to see it."
"And so Your Highness shall immediately," Thomas Seymour promised. "I shall take you myself. Do you trust yourself there with your wicked uncle Thomas?" Seymour contorted his stance to give the appearance of a hunchback.
The king unsquared his legs. "Oh, yes!"
"I shall come, too, then," said Hertford resignedly.
"Ah, see? Now Your Highness has two wicked uncles. What king could want more? Lead on then, Sir Anthony."
I supposed it was an honor that the queen, usually the most self-contained and dignified of women, thought highly enough of me to include me in the small circle of ladies who were privileged to hear her rant like a fishwife. "The nerve of my husband! Letting me think for months-nay, years-that I would be regent for King Edward in case of a royal minority, and what does he do? Changes his will without a word to me."
"The king mentioned Your Grace in his will with great affection," I said.
"It was not ingratitude, Your Grace, I am sure of it, or lack of natural affection. The king merely wanted a man-men-to have the guiding of the kingdom."
The queen scoffed. "Say ‘man,' Jane. The Earl of Hertford seems to have grabbed all for himself." The queen flicked her elegant hand, adorned with a mourning ring in the shape of a death's head. "Oh, they had the right to elect Hertford as protector, I suppose. But that's not what the king planned. If he had wanted a lord protector, with a council to guide him, that's what he would have created in the first place. And I am not the only one who has been treated shabbily in this business. Sir Thomas Seymour is every bit as much the king's uncle as Hertford, and just as capable, I daresay, and he is not even a councilor! Only an advisor to the council. He might as well be a stick of wood."
A knock at the door sounded, and the stick of wood himself was announced.
Thomas Seymour, dressed more somberly than was his wont, entered the room, measuring his usually buoyant steps to the solemnity of the widow's bereavement. "Your Grace, I wanted to give you my condolences on the king's death," he said, brushing his lips against the queen's hand. "I know my brother will do his utmost to be of service to you, as well."
"On the contrary, the Earl of Hertford-or the Lord Protector, as we must call him now-has been of no service to me whatsoever," the queen said. Resentment lit up her face, making her appear rather younger than her five-and-thirty years. "He sent his man to inform me of King Henry's death only the night before the news was proclaimed to the public. Two solid days after he died. He should have told me and the lady Mary immediately, as a courtesy." She nodded at the lady Mary, who had joined her in her seclusion, which would continue until the old king was buried. "After all, the lady Elizabeth was told at the same time as King Edward."
"My brother moves in mysterious ways," Thomas said. "Much like the Lord, and trust me, the comparison is not one that would displease him."
The queen let out a sound much like a snort of laughter and clapped her hand to her mouth.
Mary was not so easily amused. She said, "It does not auger well, if those who have the keeping of the kingdom cannot be bothered with the common courtesies."
"I could not agree more," Thomas said, inclining his head.
"Why, you have been treated shabbily yourself," said the queen. "We were just saying."
"Well, I am to be a baron." He glanced at me with more interest than was his wont. "By the way, my lady, I understand congratulations are in order."
"You mean your husband hasn't told you?"
"I have been attending the queen over the past few days, and have not seen or heard from him."
"Oh, yes. Well, it's known by all and sundry now-except here, I suppose. There was a clause in King Henry's will stating that gifts which had been promised but not perfected were to be fulfilled. Well, lo and behold! Lord Paget came before the council, and what do you think he announced? He announced that the king would have doled out new titles and lands if he had lived a little longer to amend his will. I myself am to be Baron Seymour of Sudeley-so I can hardly complain, I suppose. Your Grace's brother is to be Marquis of Northampton."
The queen blinked. "Why, he has told me nothing!"
"It has only just come out. And as for you, Lady Lisle, your husband is to be an earl."
"Old title, dating back to Anglo-Saxon times," Seymour said cheerfully.
"I believe Lady Lisle knows the origin of the title," said the lady Mary, who had a certain literal cast of mind.
I said nothing but gripped the sides of my chair.
The queen asked, "That is well deserved on Viscount Lisle's part, I daresay. But what, pray tell, is the Earl of Hertford gaining out of this?"
"Merely a dukedom. Of Somerset, to be precise."
"Your brother to be a duke, and you to be a mere lord," mused the queen. "Something is wrong there." She turned to me. "But I will not keep you here. You have matters to discuss with your husband. You may go home-Countess."
It was a bitterly cold day, but I barely noticed the wind biting into my cheeks as I made my way to the house we'd rented in London. It was a large place, but it seemed much smaller, for John liked having the children residing with us in town instead of staying on our estates in the country. All seven of them were waiting for me as I entered. "Father is to be an earl!"
"An earl, Mother! You are to be a countess!"
"That means Jack is to be Lord Lisle. Doesn't it?"
"Do we get new clothes?"
"Will there be a ceremony?"
"What is an earl?"
My husband pushed past the mob surrounding me and embraced me.
"When were you going to tell me?" I asked after we had hugged for a long time.
"Tonight, as a matter of fact. I was going to send for you and break the news to you over a private supper." He glanced at our brood, whose ages ranged from four to twenty. "Quietly."
"You have well and truly deserved this earldom."
John smiled. "Do you know where I went today after the news was announced? Candlewick Street, my father's house. I remember the day he was arrested, just after the seventh King Henry died. I was five years of age, full of excitement about the new king being crowned, and my father had said he would find a good place for me to see the coronation procession-he was sure the king would oblige, as he'd been in such good favor with Henry VII. Instead, I woke one morning to hear my mother crying, our servants shouting-absolute chaos. The king and his council had ordered their men to surround the house just before the break of day. They seized my father like a common criminal. My nurse tried to keep me from seeing them rough handle him out of the house and into the street, but I was too quick for her. Then a few days later, the rest of us had to leave. I loved that house. They had to drag me out kicking and screaming."
"John, in all the years we've known each other, you've never talked of this."
He shrugged. "You know I've never cared to speak of those days. Father was guilty of nothing more than collecting money too well for Henry VII, but he'd made enough men angry doing that, and the new king couldn't resist such a sop to the people. So my father had to lose his head, after he had spent more than a year sitting in the Tower, hoping the king would change his mind. I never saw him again after they took him out of Candlewick Street that day, and I never saw his house again until this morning. It's strange. They say the places you've been in childhood look smaller when you see them as an adult, but this place didn't. It was just as I remembered it. I found myself missing it again, just like I had when I first had to leave."
"Maybe you could buy it or lease it. We surely could afford it."
"No," John said dryly. "Too small for us now. Besides, some other young boy might be attached to it. I wouldn't want to be the one who took him away from it, even in exchange for a handsome sum."
He fell silent. I indeed had never heard him speak of his father before, save in passing. Instead, John, after his first evening at Halden, had thrown himself into country life: learning to ride and to hawk and hunt, going for long outings with my older brother and returning muddy and cheerful. After my brother died, John had become practically a son to my father. At age thirteen, he had gone with my father to court, where he had made a good impression and fit in easily with the other youths his age; it was I, when I came to court, who had felt awkward and shy.
John continued. "You once asked me if I hated King Henry for executing my father. Yes, until I saw him for the first time. Then I couldn't. He was kind to me, interested, pleasant. I didn't feel like a lowly page in his company. Sometimes I wondered if he remembered who I was, the eldest son of the first man he had executed. But he never forgot things like that. I've wondered if all of the honors he gave me over the years, all the trust he placed in me, weren't his way of apologizing for putting my father to death. But it's not the sort of question one can ask a king." He squeezed my hand. "Do you know what else is amusing? I never did see King Henry's coronation, of course, following my father's arrest as closely as it did. So when King Henry died, the first thing that popped into my head was that this time, I would get to see the new king's coronation. It shall be my first."
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