Read an Excerpt
HERE I LIE IN MY DARK PRISON. I hear voices in the nightthose who were here before me, those who had suffered as I am suffering now, numbed by fear, without hope, the prisoners of the King.
They came for me yesterday, and we glided along the river to the great gray Tower. Many times had I seen it before but never with such fearful clarity. Once I came here in great pomp and gloryand that only three years agoand never for one moment then would it have seemed possible that one day I should be brought herea prisoner.
It was May then as now and the people crowded the river banks to see me pass. I was proud, so confident, so sure of my power. At the prow of my state barge was the stem of gold with branches of red and white rosessymbolic of York and Lancaster, which the King displayed on every occasion to remind people that the Tudors had united the warring factions; and among those roses was my very own symbol, the White Falcon, with the motto "Me and Mine."
How had I come to pass from such adulation to bitter rejection in three short years? Was it my fault? I must be in some measure to blame. When did I cease to be the adored one and become the outcast?
The people had not cheered me even in my day of triumph. They did not like me. All their affection was for Queen Katharine. They did not accept me. "We will have none of her," they cried. "Queen Katharine is our true Queen." They would have abused me if they had dared. The people were my enemies, but I had greater and more powerful enemies than they were. Now they would be openly gathering against me; even during the days of my triumph they had sought to destroy me; how much more assiduously would they work against me now! And they had succeeded, for I was the King's prisoner.
As I passed through the gate the clock was striking five, and each stroke was like a funeral knell.
Sir William Kingston, the Lieutenant of the Tower, was waiting for me. I murmured to myself: "Oh, Lord help me, as I am guiltless of that wherefore I am accused."
I turned to William Kingston and said: "Mr. Kingston, do I go into a dungeon?"
And he replied: "No, Madam, to your lodging where you lay at your coronation."
They took me there and I laughed. I could not stop laughing, for I, who had come in such pomp and glory just three years ago, now was here in the same apartment...a prisoner.
Had they brought me here purposely to remind me? Was it a touch of that exquisite torture which so many of my enemies knew so well how to administer?
My women tried to soothe me. They knew the nature of that wild laughter; and in time I was quiet.
I thought: I will write to him, I will move him with my words. I will remind him of how it once was between us.
I wrote and I destroyed what I wrote. Again and again I took up my pen and tried to appeal to him.
"Your Grace's displeasure and my imprisonment are things so strange unto me that what to write or what to excuse, I am altogether ignorant..."
That was not true. I did know and I would not make it easy for him. I knew him wellhis reasoning, his sanctimonious excuses, his mean, hypocritical nature, his passionate desires all cloaked in piety. No, I would not make it easy for him.
My angry pen flew on. My lack of discretion had often turned people against me, but I was reckless. I was fighting for my life. I would let him know that I was aware of the real reason why he wanted to be rid of me.
"...that Your Grace may be at liberty, both before God and man, not only to execute worthy punishment on me as an unfaithful wife, but to follow your affections already settled on that party for whose sake I am now as I am..."
Angrily I wrotemore vehement perhaps because I was now in the position of the discarded wife.
He would be angry. He would try to pretend that it was not because he desired another woman that he wished to be rid of me. He was a past masternot of deceiving others, for those about him saw through his utterings and posturings as clearly as I didbut of deceiving himself.
He was superstitious, fearful of ill luck; he committed his sins with one eye on Heaven, hoping to pull the wool over the eyes of God and His angels as he thought he did over those of his ministers and courtiers.
"But if you have already determined of me that not only my death but an infamous slander must bring you the joying of your desired happiness, then I desire of God that He will pardon your great sin herein and likewise my enemies, the instruments thereof and that He will not call you to a straight account of your unprincely and cruel usage of me..."
I was again on the verge of hysterical laughter. I must calm myself. Others had suffered like this before me. This place was full of the ghosts of martyrs. What was so important about one more?
I sealed the letter. I would send it to the King. I wrote on it "From the Lady in the Tower."
It must give him twinges of conscience. His conscience was important to him. He referred to it constantly; and knowing him well, I believed that it did exist.
I could see him in my mind's eye so clearly...those days at Hever and at Court...his little eyes alight with desire for me, his cruel mouth suddenly soft and tender...for me. How he had wanted me! He had fought for me with that tenacity which was a part of his nature; he had been determined to have me. For me he had shaken the foundations of the Church; and however much he declared he did it to satisfy his conscience, he knew...the whole world knew...that he had done it for me.
So where did it change? There must have been some point where I started to go downhill. When? I could have stopped myself perhaps.
I remembered early days at Blickling and Hever and later at Court where I was surrounded by those who loved me. My dearest brother George, my friends, Thomas and Mary Wyatt, Norris, Weston, Breretonthe wits and poets of the Court. We had talked of life and death, of ambition and achievement; we had come to the conclusion that we were all masters of our fate. The wise knew how to recognize danger before it reached them, to step aside and let it pass by. We were what we made ourselves.
That was George's theory. Some of the others disputed it; and in a Court where living was precarious and once-great men could be brought low in the space of an hour it was a debatable conclusion.
But in my heart I believed there was some truth in it, for if a man or woman did not wish to face danger he or she could stay away from where danger would most likely beand nowhere in the country was that more than at Court.
So where did I go wrong? Where was that moment when I could have averted the danger?
I could have produced a son; but that was not in my power. I had my sweet daughter Elizabeth and I loved her dearly, though I did not want to think of her, for I greatly feared what would become of her. She had her governess, a good friend of mine. I trusted Lady Bryan for she loved the child well and her husband was a kinsman of my family. When the power had been mine I had always looked after my own family.
But I must not think of Elizabeth now. It is too distressing and could do no good.
But if I had had a son this would not have happened. Henry would have been unfaithful, but the ambitious Seymour brothers would not have been able to guide their silly sister; she would have become his mistress no doubt and I should have been expected to accept that. I should have raged against them; I should have been insulted and humiliated, but I should not be in this doleful prison in the Tower.
No. I had taken a false step somewhere. All through the waiting years I had managedwith consummate skill, all would agreeto hold him at bay, to refuse him until I could take an honorable position beside him. Suppose I had not done this? Then I should now be a cast-off mistress instead of a Queen in a Tower.
I put my fingers to my throat. It was long and slender. It added an elegance to my figure. I accentuated it as I did all my assets and I disguised my defects, with success, I believe. I could almost feel the sword there.
All through the waiting years I had known I must hold him off. I knew him as the hunter and his delight in pursuit. As long as it remained the chase he was determined to succeed. But the joys of capture were brief.
I should have known. I should have realized even as the crown was placed upon my head that it was there precariously.
I knew well the man on whom my fate depended. None knew him better. I should have realized that my life depended on one who was not to be relied on. His fancies faded as quickly as they came. I had been bemused because he had pursued me so ardently and with such persistence. The years of the chase had been long; those of possession short. When had he begun to weary? When had he begun to realize all he had done for me and to ask himself whether it had been worthwhile? What did he think now of his public quarrel with the Pope and the power of Romeall for a woman who had ceased to interest him?
I should never have become involved with him. I should have escaped while there was time. I should have married Henry Percy. I should have died of the Sweat. Then this would never have come to pass.
Somewhere along the years the fault lay with me. Where? I would seek it. It would occupy me in my prison. It would keep my thoughts in the past, away from contemplation of the fearful future.
I would go back to those happy days at Blickling and Hever, to the glitter of the Court of France, my return to Englanda young girl knowledgeable beyond her years, brought up in the most sophisticated and elegant Court in the world. That was what had made me what I was, and what I was had brought me to my present state. I wanted to recall it in detail...and while I waited here in my prison I would do so.