While Thomas Cromwell’s birthdate is unknown, we do know he was born in circa. 1485. So, for the purposes of writing Cromwell fiction, I placed his birthday in November. Which means, for November, you can buy Queenmaker Book One, FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS, and Queenmaker Book Two, SHAKING THE THRONE, for half price on Kindle all month! Here is all you need to know –
The moderate man shall inherit the kingdom.
That man needs to be the Queenmaker.
London 1529 – Cardinal Wolsey has ruled England in King Henry VIII’s name for most of his reign. Now Henry wants to leave his extraordinary Spanish wife of twenty years, Queen Katherine, to marry Anne Boleyn and secure a male heir for the kingdom. Only God can end a marriage, through his appointed voices on Earth, the powerful Cardinal Wolsey, and Cardinal Campeggio sent from Rome in the Pope’s place. Wolsey’s faithful attendant, commoner Thomas Cromwell, has the mind, the skills and the ambition to secure a royal annulment.
Cromwell’s forgotten past in Italy reappears with Campeggio’s new attendant, Nicóla Frescobaldi, the peculiar son of Cromwell’s former Italian master. While the great Cardinals of Christendom fight the King, the Pope and their God for an annulment, Cromwell and Frescobaldi hold the power over a country at war with its own conscience. Cromwell is called the double-minded man, whose golden eyes make money appear. Now Cromwell wants the power to destroy the Catholic Church in England. Frescobaldi is known as the waif-like creature, the Pope’s favourite companion, but Frescobaldi wants freedom from Pope Clement and his Medici family in Italy.
Cromwell and Frescobaldi will place themselves into the heart of religious and political influence as they strive to create an English queen, or lose their heads for their crimes and sinful secrets.
The moderate man shall inherit the kingdom.
That man needs to be the Queenmaker.
November 1533 – Thomas Cromwell and Nicóla Frescobaldi have their queen on the throne. The Catholic Church is being destroyed as the Reformation looms over England. Cromwell has total power at court and in parliament, while Frescobaldi wins favour with the king’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy.
But England’s fate is uncertain. The nobles still despise Cromwell and his Italian creature. Anne has not given the king a son. Queen Katherine refuses to give up her title, and Thomas More and Bishop Fisher defy their king. The final Plantagenets think they should hold the throne while the Catholics want Princess Mary named as heir.
England can be reformed, but Cromwell must dissolve all the monasteries and abbeys, and with the king on his side, the plan to change religion will sever heads. Queen Anne is losing Henry’s love, but Cromwell could suffer if Anne loses her crown. Frescobaldi creates a daring plan to replace Anne and regain the Pope’s favour, but Cromwell must execute the plans on his own. Schemes will go astray and the wrong heads will be severed to satisfy a vengeful sovereign.
Kings will rise, queens shall fall, children will perish, and the people of England will march in a pilgrimage to take Cromwell’s head, while Frescobaldi will have to make the ultimate sacrifice.
SHAKING THE THRONE is available today! Today is part five of a ten-part series, letting you into the world of King Henry VIII’s Chief Minister Thomas Cromwell, and his master secretary Nicóla Frescobaldi, as they embark on part two of THE QUEENMAKER SERIES.
Part one of the series, FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS, is out now, covering Cromwell and Frescobaldi in 1529 – 1533, SHAKING THE THRONE, covering 1533-1536, will be available worldwide on October 1st. NO ARMOUR AGAINST FATE shall cover 1537 – 1540 and will be released September 2019.
Up first, the synopsis –
November 1533 – Thomas Cromwell and Nicóla Frescobaldi have their queen on the throne. The Catholic Church is being destroyed as the Reformation looms over England. Cromwell has total power at court and in parliament, while Frescobaldi wins favour with the King’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy.
But England’s fate is uncertain. The nobles still despise Cromwell and his Italian creature. Anne has not given the king a son. Queen Katherine refuses to give up her title, and Thomas More and Bishop Fisher defy their king. The final Plantagenets think they should hold the throne, while the Catholics want Princess Mary named as heir.
England can be reformed, but Cromwell must dissolve all the monasteries and abbeys, and with the King on his side, the plan to change religion will sever heads. Queen Anne is losing Henry’s love, but Cromwell could suffer if Anne loses her crown. Frescobaldi creates a daring plan to replace Anne and regain the Pope’s favour, but Cromwell must execute the plans on his own. Schemes will go astray and the wrong heads will be severed to satisfy a vengeful sovereign.
Kings will rise, Queens shall fall, children will perish, and the people of England will march in a pilgrimage to take Cromwell’s head, but Frescobaldi will have to make the ultimate sacrifice.
‘Catholic, Protestant, all makes no matter; for I shall die a sinner for the justice I administer.’
Nicòla’s rose-gold eyelashes fluttered, such was the strength in which she held her green eyes closed. Tears perched upon her lashes, waiting to ripple down her dark olive cheeks.
‘God gives us the power of His spirit, and the sword of His word. True contrition shall deliver souls to heaven.’
Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, knelt opposite to Nicòla, his purple robes flowing around the carpets beneath their knees. His hands closed over Nicòla’s clasped in prayer. Behind the altar was Nicòla’s bedroom, or more precisely, the bedroom of Thomas Cromwell, her master. Before them; William Tyndale’s English Bible, handwritten by the man himself. Also, Martin Luther’s German translation, and, for Nicòla’s comfort, a Catholic Latin bible. Cromwell may have yearned for Protestant reform, yet Nicòla’s soul, away from the ears of her master, struggled with reformation.
Cranmer and Nicòla were firm friends, yet in times of prayer, in times of struggle, Cranmer also proved himself a man of true piety, patient with Nicòla’s fear for her soul.
‘Can contrition and repentance truly come to me?’ Nicòla whispered, one tear making its defiant roll down her cheek.
‘At the heart of the Christian faith, contrition shows that a soul is ready for repentance. The old religion and the new; it makes no matter, my child. Absolution will come through the regret you now feel.’
‘Father, forgive me, for I have sinned. I know you came yesterday for my need to confess and repent, but again I feel burdened with my deeds.’
Nicòla felt Cranmer’s hands move against hers, a gentle gesture. She opened her eyes a little to see him before her, his eyes closed, his dark hair over his face a touch. While Cranmer preached to king and country about the virtue of reformation in England, in private, Cranmer allowed Nicòla her need to adapt from Catholic idolatry and into the light of God.
‘Oh, Thomas,’ she whispered as she closed her eyes again, forgetting to address him formally. ‘I walked into the Tower of London, my stride strong, my will determined. I walked into the cell of Elizabeth Barton and I struck her across the face. Not a word. I watched as others hurt her, beat her, kicked her. I watched as others tortured her accomplices. I interrogated them; I screamed in their faces. The power I feel, disguised as a man, the favourite man of Thomas Cromwella, the most powerful man in this realm, makes me a monster. I watched as men were put to the rack, I heard their screams and yet I did nothing. How can God want me to do this?’
‘Elizabeth Barton is a heretic, a traitor. She is a traitor to her faith. Those men who stand accused beside her represent all the corruption and abuse of the Church itself.’
Cranmer’s hands shook over Nicòla’s, and she opened her eyes again. Cranmer stared back at her. ‘God gave Barton and her men the chance to repent, Nicòla. She claims to speak with God, to hear His words. Barton claims Mary Magdalene writes letters to her. She claims God tells her the future. Barton sins so deeply that there can be no salvation for her soul. They have forced you to torture Barton. Someone must do God’s will.’
‘What if Barton is like me?’ Nicòla asked. ‘I am a fantastical creature. The mind of a man trapped in a woman’s body. That is how I am explained. But I am a woman! You know well the frailty of my affairs. What if Barton is the same? A woman, confused by her calling in life, used by that heretical Friar Bocking and the others in Canterbury?’
‘Whatever the cause, Barton speaks. She spoke to the King himself, prophesying his death. That is treason on its own. She taints the minds of influential men. Perchance she is ill in the mind; perchance we shall never know. But what Elizabeth Barton has done is use God’s word against the King, against many of us. That is treason. That is heresy. She calls for us to be Catholic and to stop religious reform. She wants to keep England in the darkness.’
‘And for that, I must sin, abuse bodies, harm others, alongside Cromwella, alongside Ralph Sadler, Thomas Wriothesley, Richard Rich. We cloak ourselves under Cromwella’s name and commit sins.’
‘Let us pray. Mighty Lord, you have fashioned the universe, and brought order out of chaos. We thank you for bringing order to our lives. Help us respect the authorities you have established, for the sake of the world and for the Church. Guide us by your Spirit to serve Your will, and give us the courage needed by early reformers, so that in our time we may confess our faith in your Son Jesus Christ, in whose gracious name we pray. Amen.’
‘Amen.’ Nicòla made to cross herself, but stopped; for that was a Catholic gesture, not Protestant. But after years by Cromwell’s side, it remained a habit.
The pair wandered away from the corner of the enormous bedroom, past the bed where she and Cromwell slept in sin many nights, to the fire burning in silence beside two plush chairs and a table for wine. Nicòla leaned on the back of one chair and sighed.
‘Thank you, Thomas,’ she said, her Italian accent rolling the letters of his name. ‘I fear the truth of my sex makes me weak.’
‘Even the strongest man can be averse to torture,’ Cranmer replied, folding his hands together. ‘There is no need to feel ashamed after committing violence. We broke a country away from the Catholic faith. Violence happens all over Europe for this reason.’
‘King Henry looks to you as archbishop, to Cromwella as chief minister, to bring these changes.’
‘It is Cromwell who broke the Catholic Church in England. All must bow to Henry now. I owe my position in this country solely to Cromwell. I owe my life to Cromwell.’
Poor Thomas Cranmer. The Lutheran faith of the German States stated clergy did not need to be celibate, so he married Margarete in Nuremberg and shipped her to England in a crate. Now they had a son, also named Thomas, and both mother and son still lived in fear for their safety, hidden from the King until Henry decided if English priests could marry. Margarete moved often, so no one knew much of her. She lived in the Austin Friars nursery with her son at present, along with Jane, Nicòla’s daughter by Cromwell, already three years old. But Margarete could tarry nowhere long, lest be arrested, the archbishop likewise.
‘As long as we have the favour of Master Cromwella, we are safe,’ Nicòla replied. ‘Have you been at the King’s side recently?’
‘Yes, just yesterday,’ Cranmer said and invited himself to sit down in Cromwell’s private room. Few got into Cromwell’s huge bedroom; even the maids scurried with fear. ‘There is an anger in Henry, I must confess. His new daughter vexes him with anger, but also much confusion. His marriage to Queen Anne is sound, in both God’s eyes and the law. We defeated the Pope. Yet God gave Henry and Anne a daughter, not a son for the throne.’
‘Henry believes that God has given him the Princess Elizabeth to punish him for his sins against the former Queen Katherine.’
Cranmer nodded as he watched the fire. ‘Queen Anne has been out of confinement after the birth for a month now, yet the King barely goes to her. She wishes to make a son as fast as God can deliver another pregnancy.’
‘Surely Henry loves his new daughter. One of the ugliest babies I have laid my eyes on, God forgive me, but still Henry’s child.’
Cranmer stifled a laugh. ‘You have visited with Her Majesty?’
‘I have, a few days past. Cromwella suggests I call on the Queen often now she is back in London instead of Greenwich. Anne delights in her daughter; they even keep the child in Anne’s rooms, not the royal nursery! What the child lacks in looks she makes up for in her mother’s love. Cromwell spends much time in private with Henry, while Henry urges for further legislation, to make the Act of Supremacy legal and binding. Soon we shall all have to swear an oath that the King rules the Church, not the Pope.’
‘And we shall be better for it.’
‘We need no more of the Pope.’ Nicòla remembered Pope Clement in the Apostolic Palace in Rome. Gone was the handsome man of his youth who inspired her lust. He had forsaken her now, thought her a heretic. The Pope’s bastard son, Nicòla’s husband, had also ceased in demanding her to return home to Florence. At age three and thirty years, Nicòla had more than destroyed her Catholic soul. It was almost twenty years since her love affair with Pope Clement, then only Cardinal Giulio de’Medici, and even four years since she married his depraved Moorish son. Without God giving Nicòla a home, Cromwell allowed her to live safe in England.
‘How is Thomas?’ Cranmer asked after Cromwell. ‘For I have barely seen him.’
‘We are much busy at court. Master Cromwella is working on the Act of Succession, so Princess Elizabeth can be heir to the throne, and the Act of Supremacy, recognising Henry’s religious authority. Not only is Cromwella the King’s Chief Minister, set above all others, he runs the Exchequer, the Jewel House, the Hanaper, he sits in Parliament, and now Henry has made him the Steward at Westminster Abbey, now also Surveyor of the King’s Woods! One man can only do so much. We have only so many clerks, messengers, attendants…’
‘And spies.’ Cranmer smiled. Everyone knew of Cromwell’s creatures. Nicòla, “the Waif” was the chief creature of the English court.
‘There are rumours of rumblings in Ireland. The Dublin councillors are not happy with the Catholic Church’s destruction. Many northern lords are also complaining. Cromwella must see to quelling both factions. He seeks the head of Elizabeth Barton on a spike. Cromwella seeks the heads of Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher. He seeks to push Bishop Gardiner from court for good. Cromwella is the King’s Chief Minister and Secretary of State. And every nobleman at court hates him for it.’
‘I am the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church in England, under His Majesty, of course. There are bishops, archdeacons, priests, all who wish to defy me. I know what it is to be a common man raised so high all hate him. I lack Cromwell’s political knowledge, his deftness in his choices and movements, his ability to take on so many tasks at once. You and he have that art of memory skill. You speak Greek do you not, Nicòla?’
‘Yes, Master Cromwella taught me Greek last month while we were away from court.’
‘The whole language, in one month?’
‘That is Ioci, Archbishop. It is the powerful skill of remembering all. That is how Master Cromwella can recite the New Testament from memory alone.’
Cranmer shook his head. No one in England studied Ioci, the ancient Greek method of remembering everything. ‘You know of the Greek expression, “polymath.” It means to have the ability in many subjects, having the complex knowledge to solve many complicated issues, using many bodies of work all learned by one man.’
‘You believe Master Cromwella is a polymath?’
‘With no doubt. Cromwell can think of parliamentary legislation and religious reform, but be…’
‘Torturing heretics in the Tower, despite being a man of almost fifty years,’ Nicòla finished the sentence.
‘I have passed forty years and I could not sustain such a life. There are no exciting soldier-of-fortune stories in my history,’ Cranmer smiled inwardly. ‘I worry for Cromwell, Nicòla,’ he continued. ‘He rises so high; he works so often.’
‘Master Cromwella believes his reforms to England are a legal matter, using religion as a cover to change a country. He leaves the religious needs of the realm in your good hands. His soul seems at ease, despite all he handles.’
‘Yet, he hides you in his life. A woman, dressed as a man, works in the royal court as Cromwell’s master secretary. A woman married to another man. You violate this country’s social conduct laws, Nicòla. They should remove you to your husband in Florence. You, by right, should be Duchess of Florence, yet are a lowborn man’s attendant.’
‘You, sir, are Archbishop of Canterbury yet your wife serves in my daughter’s nursery, along with your son. King Henry could topple you with one word. I could be toppled also, but while Cromwella does whatever Henry wishes, then I feel safe. I know, every morning when I wake, that they could throw me back in the Tower where I was years ago. This is the world we have created, Archbishop Cranmer; a dangerous world, even for ourselves. As Machiavelli once wrote, “there are two methods of fighting, the one by law, the other by force: the first method is that of men, the second of beasts; but as the first method is often insufficient, one must have recourse to the second.” But we must pay a hefty price for owning such power.’
‘Now I have annulled Henry’s marriage to Katherine and the Boleyns have their queen…’
‘Anne is the Cromwella queen, not the Boleyn queen. They may think they have power with Anne on the throne, her father as the Lord Privy Seal, but we know Master Cromwella holds the power.’
‘Well indeed. Now that marriage is real in law and before God, what of your marriage? Will there be an inquiry into that?’
‘And risk telling the world I am hidden as a man?’ Nicòla brushed her newly trimmed rose-gold hair behind her ears. She wore her all-black Cromwell livery, even a black overgown lined with black fur to stay warm in the brisk late autumn. Her brighter clothes, which gave away hints of her feminine nature, had disappeared away again at Cromwell’s instance.
‘I can, as Archbishop of Canterbury, rule that Thomas Cromwell may take a foreign wife, one in need of an annulment. As the new marriage would be in England, with an English man, I can rule on the wife’s annulment. What the Pope of Rome says matters none.’
‘I married in the eyes of God, in the Apostolic Palace, before the Pope himself. I said the words before God.’
‘Did you not swear before God to marry Cromwell too, before King Henry and his Anne?’
‘And you consummated your marriage to Alessandro de’Medici?’
‘No. Alessandro is living in Florence happily with his head mistress, and the other girls. To gain an annulment, Alessandro would be the one to ask. A wife cannot petition for an annulment from a marriage.’
‘If your husband were to ask for an annulment, then your marriage would fall short and be ended.’
‘But Alessandro needs to apply to the Pope. The Pope will not grant his son an annulment.’
‘I can try to help you, Nicòla,’ Cranmer continued. ‘We can canvas the scholars of Europe… as we did for Henry and Anne.’
‘Henry is a king. I am a whore.’
‘Cromwell wants your marriage annulled, or at least ruled invalid.’
‘I had carnal relations with the Pope, my father-in-law, when Alessandro was still in the nursery. Surely that rules the marriage invalid.’
‘Yes, but it would also be spoken of, in front of the Convocation of Canterbury, before I could rule the marriage invalid.’
‘And we cannot see the King’s Chief Minister in the company of the Pope’s whore,’ Nicòla sighed.
‘I do not think I can help you without revealing your nature to the world, Nicòla, no matter how much Cromwell wants it done. We could try a secret ruling of the Convocation…’
‘But there are no secrets in the English court, parliament or convocation,’ Nicòla scoffed. ‘There are so many spies, so it would never work.’
‘If Cromwell’s Act of Supremacy laws are in effect, perchance all we shall need is the King’s consent. He knows of your fantastical nature and could rule in your favour.’
‘Mayhap once we have a legitimate son in the cradle we can ask,’ Nicòla suggested.
The sound of a distant tolling bell echoed through the private chambers. Master Cromwell had returned to Austin Friars; a rare event at present.
‘I shall retire to my private rooms,’ Cranmer said and eased himself from the warm chair. ‘Please, thank Cromwell again for letting me tarry at Austin Friars to visit my wife. If they found Margarete and baby Thomas, we would all be in grave danger.’
‘Margarete is welcome hither until after Christmas, then we shall move her out to Cromwell’s new house in Dewhurst for a few months. We shall keep your new family safe.’
Cranmer allowed Nicòla to kiss his ring and he shuffled along the darkened hallway, his purple robes smooth on the bare floor.
Nicòla knew Cromwell would go to his library and offices, where Ralph, who ran Austin Friars, would probably still be working. Ralph had been in Cromwell’s care since the age of seven and now had a baby with his new wife Ellen. Both Ralph and Cranmer had sons named Thomas. Had Nicòla’s last baby not been stillborn, there would have been three babies named Thomas in the nursery with baby Jane.
Nicòla sat before the fire and waited; they would flood Cromwell with papers from the lawyers and clerks still working in the offices on the ground floor. But it was not long before someone rushed into the private rooms with wine and cheese on a silver tray. Rather than a maid, it was Ellen, Ralph’s wife. She was one of the rare few who knew of Nicòla’s truth and thus allowed in the private bedroom.
‘Master Frescobaldi.’ Ellen bobbed in a curtsy as she placed the tray on the small table before Nicòla. Despite knowing of her sex, and after time to get used to the notion, Ellen still choked a little when calling Nicòla “Master.”
‘Mrs. Sadler,’ Nicòla said with a smile. ‘Cromwella and Ralph are in the library, I assume?’
‘Yes, Master Cromwell and Mr. Sadler appear to be in much cheer. I thought to bring this tray, as Master Cromwell will retire shortly. I shall tell him you are hither.’
‘Tell them to take their time,’ Nicòla smiled. ‘Archbishop Cranmer has retired for the night.’
Ellen curtsied again and rushed from the room. Nicòla sipped the sweet red wine and closed her eyes. The image of kicking Elizabeth Barton in the face flashed before her and she quickly opened her eyes.
The door to the chambers opened and Cromwell appeared in the bedroom moments later. He tossed his black bag and hat on the Turkish carpets and dashed over to Nicòla, and he pulled her into his embrace the moment she stood up to him. Only when he finally ended their kiss, could she see how tired he appeared. ‘Tomassito…’ she began.
‘I know, they forced you to interrogate Barton and her heretic bastards without me today, and I thank you for your pains. Ralph has already told me Barton gave away no news?’
‘No, she maintains she speaks with God,’ Nicòla replied, still in his embrace.
‘I could not leave the King today. He greatly needs every detail about his son’s wedding.’
‘Well indeed, but I shall not be the one to remind the King of his son’s illegitimacy,’ Cromwell said, and guided his love back to her seat. He sat down across from her and grabbed the wine. ‘Henry loves that boy, named for him,’ Cromwell sighed. ‘A young son, just fourteen years and now marrying a noble girl. If only we could make him legitimate.’
‘If any person can, you can,’ Nicòla replied.
Cromwell raised his eyebrows in agreement as he gulped the wine, most unlike him. The silver streaks in his dark curls caught the light of the fire. ‘I have thought to make a law, designed so they need no heir of the English throne to be born legitimate, and then Henry could choose his successor.’
‘That could spark civil war!’
‘And I know it, Nicò. Still, I must keep all options open. The wedding at Westminster shall be grand indeed. Lady Mary Howard may not wish to marry Henry Fitzroy, but it pleases her father, old Norfolk. It pleases Lady Mary’s brother, for he and Fitzroy are close friends. Fitzroy may be a bastard son, but he is the Duke of Richmond and Somerset, and Lord-lieutenant of Ireland. Henry loves his son. Even the King of Scotland speaks highly of Fitzroy. Naturally, our new queen hates the wedding plans. Fitzroy, and Katherine’s daughter, the former Princess Mary, are equally hated by Anne.’
‘But we draft laws so baby Princess Elizabeth can rule over Henry’s other children,’ Nicòla argued.
‘That does not stop Anne from complaining,’ Cromwell said and gulped his wine again. ‘She has been queen but six months and already finds fault in the role, and in her own world. I do loathe that woman.’
‘Pray to God we get a legitimate son in the royal cradle and all will not matter,’ Nicòla replied.
‘But what of you, my love. What of Jane?’
‘Our daughter is well. It has only been a week since I last saw you, Tomassito.’
‘I hate when we must work apart. A week is too long to be apart from my most wonderful and adored wife.’
‘I am glad you are so assured in our marriage.’ Nicòla swore to marry Cromwell before God and the King, but that did not overrule her lawful marriage in Italy.
‘And I also am assured in the abilities of you, my master secretary. After the Fitzroy-Howard wedding, we shall travel to Greenwich Palace to prepare for the royal Christmas.’
‘We prepare The Company of Merchant Adventurers of London banquet on your behalf. All have replied they will attend, except the governor.’
‘John Hutton is most ill. Stephen Vaughan shall take his place as governor of the Company when Hutton is dead. Tis a shame Vaughan shall not return to England this year.’
‘I know he is your closest friend, but Vaughan is safe in Antwerp. He need not get burned as a heretic for his Protestant views.’
‘England is my country now. They shall burn no more Protestants. Those days are gone.’
‘Now we shall burn Catholics,’ Nicòla replied, unable make eye contact with Cromwell.
‘No, I shall burn no one. I shall take the heads of heretics and traitors though.’
Now Nicòla raised her gaze to meet the double-minded man’s golden eyes. Cromwell softened in his position in the chair and took her hand. ‘I received word from Gregory today.’
‘Is he well?’ Nicòla thought often of Cromwell’s only son; a boy of female favour and not as intelligent as his father.
‘Very well, and happy to move to Dewhurst after Christmas. He shall enjoy being tutored there, and Cranmer’s wife and son shall be there for months. Gregory shall be fourteen in a few months. I shall soon need to find him a wife.’
‘Must you, Tomassito?’
‘A pre-contract only. Do you wish to hear scandalous talk?’
Nicòla noticed a twinkle in Cromwell’s beautiful golden gaze. ‘What have the creatures heard?’
‘An affair at Wulf Hall, one of the Seymour households. Catherine, wife of the eldest son Edward, has been sleeping with her father-in-law, old Sir John Seymour. Such disgrace! Two of the Seymour girls, Lady Jane and Lady Elizabeth, have been called home from Anne’s court. Now Edward’s two sons may not be his heirs, but perchance his own half-brothers!’
‘Idle talk, surely.’
‘It harms Edward’s chances of rising at court, with Sir John out of royal favour. A decent man, by all accounts. But no longer.’
‘As if King Henry cares for men being faithful,’ Nicòla scoffed.
‘We need Queen Anne pregnant before Henry finds himself a mistress. That is all we need to worry about for now.’
‘Such is the glory of ruling England,’ Nicòla replied.
Cromwell took Nicòla’s hand again, and she looked at his reddened knuckles, a sign of interrogating people in the Tower. ‘We shall rule together, you shall see.’
SHAKING THE THRONE, the second edition in the Queenmaker trilogy, is now available in paperback and Kindle
Anne Boleyn’s unconventional beauty inspired poets ‒ and she so entranced Henry VIII with her wit, allure and style that he was prepared to set aside his wife of over twenty years and risk his immortal soul. Her sister had already been the king’s mistress, but the other Boleyn girl followed a different path. For years the lovers waited; did they really remain chaste? Did Anne love Henry, or was she a calculating femme fatale?
Eventually replacing the long-suffering Catherine of Aragon, Anne enjoyed a magnificent coronation and gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth, but her triumph was short-lived. Why did she go from beloved consort to adulteress and traitor within a matter of weeks? What role did Thomas Cromwell and Jane Seymour of Wolf Hall play in Anne’s demise? Was her fall one of the biggest sex scandals of her era, or the result of a political coup?
With her usual eye for the telling detail, Amy Licence explores the nuances of this explosive and ultimately deadly relationship to answer an often neglected question: what choice did Anne really have? When she writes to Henry during their protracted courtship, is she addressing a suitor, or her divinely ordained king? This book follows Anne from cradle to grave and beyond. Anne is vividly brought to life amid the colour, drama and unforgiving politics of the Tudor court.
Are you thinking, oh God, another biography of Anne Boleyn? Is there anything else to know? I can tell you that, yes, there is more to know and you should be thrilled to get this one. Amy Licence has practically handed a perfect account of Anne’s life to readers on a silver plate. Come bask in its glory.
Regardless whether you think Anne stole the throne, was a home-wrecking schemer, or she was the king’s love, this book covers all angles, all details and all possibilities. Licence starts with Anne’s family and background, to see how a woman could be so loathed for her background compared to more noble beginnings, despite the fact Anne had a wonderful education abroad, enough for any noble man. The time period of Anne’s life was one where, as a young girl, the royal family of England was relatively stable; Henry married to Katherine, the odd mistress thrown in for good times (his at least). But when Katherine hit menopause and religious opinion was suddenly flexible, Anne’s life could never be the same.
The realities of the time are not romanticised by the author – being a woman was not all gowns and chilling with your lady friends. These people, with their lives dictated by custom, ceremony and family loyalties, were still real people. They loved, they loathed, they hurt like anyone else. The Boleyn family, while not as noble as others (only Anne’s mother was noble born), had their own plans in this world.
Anne served the archduchess of Austria, and Henry’s sister Mary when she was Queen of France. She also then served mighty Katherine, Queen of England. Anne was no fool, no commoner, yet not quite ever noble enough. Her family wanted better, and could you blame them? But the portrayal as the Boleyns as scheming, as pushing daughters forward as whores under the king’s nose has done Anne no favours, and this book can make Anne lovers feel safe she is not portrayed as some witch.
Women routinely became mistresses, as the social order gave this is an avenue, yet was frowned upon (um, who was sleeping with these girls, gentlemen?), and a route Anne’s sister Mary took with Henry, and we shall never know for sure if Mary really wanted the job. But Anne knew, regardless, that she would not do the same thing. She loved Henry Percy, and wanted to have a real marriage, real love, only to have it dashed away thanks to that same social order.
The book delves into Anne’s rise to power as Henry’s paramour, and discusses whether she played him as part of a strategy or whether she was forced into a ridiculous game with no option but to play along. No woman can say so no to a King; Anne had to be his love, his mistress-without-benefits (or did they share a bed? The book discusses), and Henry’s selfish nature sent him down a path Anne couldn’t have imagined. She wanted to be a man’s wife, not whore. Henry, in turn, got Thomas Cromwell to destroy the social order and religious boundaries. Even the most scheming woman couldn’t have predicted that.
Licence uses excellent sources for her biography, and as a person hungry for minor details on certain periods of Anne’s life, I fell upon these pages with great excitement. Anne was smart, she had morals, she had a temper and a strong will, so much so that king chased her long enough to create divorce from the Catholic Church and make her a queen. No one does that for any mistress.
Anne married Henry, and received a coronation with the crown only meant for ordained kings, and gave Henry the Princess Elizabeth. Anne should have had full control of her life by then, only to find she was more helpless than ever. Having given up her virginity but given Henry no son, she fell from favour, and when Henry asked Cromwell to remove Anne to make way for another virgin with a womb, poor Anne was destroyed in a way everyone knows, never learning what a glorious queen her daughter would become. What people didn’t know was the truth over the whole debacle that brought Anne to the executioner’s sword.
As a woman, a spurned one at that, Anne’s history became sullied with lies and cruelty – that she was a femme-fatale who turned into a whore and witch, that she gave birth to a monster child, that she had disfigurements. History was not ready to tell the truth about a smart, powerful woman. Thank God we live in a time where historians like Amy Licence are able to guide readers through Anne’s real history without forcing conclusions on readers.
Everyone knows Anne Boleyn; home wrecker, whore, poisoner, birther of the vicious redheaded queen, married to a vicious redheaded king. But as we all know, history is not kind to women, thus most of what is known is a lie, and most basic details about Anne’s life are not known by the wider public. Here is a neat round-up if you are new.
Anne was the daughter of Lady Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the second Duke of Norfolk (and brother of the 3rd, obviously), and Thomas Boleyn, a courtier and diplomat (who married up in my opinion). Anne’s birthdate is unknown, and is either accepted as 1501 or 1507. It has been suggested Anne was born anywhere from 1499 to 1512, but as a daughter, the date was not considered worth recording. Based on research and writings, it is generally believed Anne’s sister Mary was born 1499, and her brother George was born about 1504, putting Anne around 1501 (as Eric Ives claims; he’s my personal Anne historian of choice). There is also evidence of further Boleyn sons, Thomas and Henry, but we will leave that for another post.
Anne was born to parents with a rich family history in the Howards and their Norfolk dukedom, though the Boleyn family also boasted Earls, knights and one Lord Mayor. The Howard family could be traced right back to King Edward I, and Anne’s family were well-respected and noble by the time of her birth.
Anne Boleyn moved across to Europe in 1513, aged either 12 or 6 (depending on your preference) to study while her father worked for the ruler of the Netherlands, Margarete of Austria (daughter to the Holy Roman Emperor). Anne learned the traditional subjects of dancing, sewing, manners, music, singing, along with more useful skills such as math, history, grammar, reading and writing, etc. Anne’s mind would have quickly flourished with all this, along with more social subjects like chess, dice, falconry and hawking, horseriding and hunting. Anne sent a year in her studies and serving at the court until her father arranged for her to go to France, to serve King Henry’s sister Mary, who was due to marry the King of France.
Princess Mary’s marriage to the French king lasted three months before he died, but Anne stayed in France, serving the new Queen Claude for seven years. The life and education Anne would have received is unclear, but would have been the best a girl could have hoped for. The French court would have taught her French culture, along with their games, dances, literature music and poetry, and the ever-present flirting and courtly love. The French court would have also influenced Anne’s religious beliefs, where the traditional Catholic learnings were being questioned by many reformers and writers.
Anne was a pretty girl, with dark hair and black eyes, and olive-coloured skin, rather than the more pasty English and French girls. But her personality was what shined, setting her apart from others. Anne was also known as educated, witty, funny and sophisticated. She could gossip and flirt as well as any, then also hunt, gamble and play with the best of them. Anne’s lack of beauty (or what was considered a beauty standard of the era) was noted, yet her charm made up for it (that’s not my view, it’s the sexist opinion of the time). Much has been made of her appearance, such as her sixth finger (could have been nothing, could have been little more than a sixth nail, no one knows), to moles on her neck, crooked teeth, jaundice skin, but much of it is considered a 16th century way of blackening her reputation over time. King’s don’t leave their queens for monster-like women, do they?
Anne’s family had been busy while she lived it up in France. Her older sister Mary had also been in France, but was called home in 1519, and much was made her whoreish behaviour at the court, even with the new French king. Mary was married off to William Carey in 1520, but then became King Henry’s mistress, up until around 1525. One or both of her children may have been Henry’s. Again, that’s another post.
Anne’s father Thomas had been locked in a dispute for the title of Earl of Ormond in Ireland, as the eldest son of one of the women who had inherited the title from their father. With many family members battling for the prize, it was decided Anne had to leave France in 1522. She came home to England, with plans to marry into Ireland, to James Butler, a cousin also with a claim to the title. Anne had no desire for the plan, and Thomas Boleyn kept negotiations slow, so slow that James Butler married someone else in the family for the inheritance.
Anne went to the English court in 1522, bursting on the scene in a masque for King Henry, alongside her sister Mary, and the king’s sister (also a Mary). It wasn’t long before Englishmen were falling over themselves for Anne, though King Henry was still bedding her sister. Despite loving the attentions and affections, Anne fell in love with Henry Percy, future Duke of Northumberland. Only, his father, the current duke, hated the idea, and Anne’s and Henry private betrothal was cut off by Percy’s family and Percy’s boss Cardinal Wolsey, the most powerful man in the country and right hand of the king.
Anne continued in the service of Queen Katherine, and spent much time with her friend Thomas Wyatt, whose love for Anne grew with their friendship. Wyatt’s wife had been charged with adultery, but there was one bigger obstacle. Anne’s sister Mary had fallen pregnant again during her affair with the King, and his eye needed a new girl to bed, and it fell on Anne in late 1525/early 1526. Poor Wyatt had to stand back, and Anne spent time away from court at Hever Castle, to avoid Henry. But he was a persistent man, and a king, so eventually Anne came around to being a mistress, but a celibate one. Anne was smarter than her sister.
King Henry wanted out of his marriage to Katherine. Now he had met a woman worthy of being a new queen. Anne was young and had a womb that might give Henry and England a son and heir. By 1527, Henry was petitioning the Pope for annulment, to no avail. Everything was tried (see my great matter post if you aren’t aware). But in 1528, Anne, along with much of England, caught the sweating sickness, a now-ancient illness which killed within days. Anne managed to survive the illness, a rare occasion, though her sister’s husband (and cuckold) did not. Henry sent his best doctor to care for Anne (though went nowhere near her himself, a real germophobe) and she became his obsession; Henry had to marry her at any cost.
Long story short, Henry could not gain an annulment and solve the great matter, not from the Pope, nor the legatine court set up in London to decide on his marriage’s validity. This is when Anne’s influence as a woman educated in reformation and Protestant teaching came in useful. She had Henry turn on the leader of England, Cardinal Wolsey, and along with Thomas Cromwell, Anne had moves made to extract the Catholic faith from laws around marriage. Queen Katherine was banished from court and Anne and Cromwell was at Henry’s side in all matters (but Anne still wouldn’t get in bed with Henry).
In late 1532, Anne went with Henry to the French court, and Anne, now Marquess of Pembroke in her own right (yet another post), was presented as future queen of England. It is suggested this is when Anne gave in to Henry’s sexual demands, and they married in secret in London in January 1533, or even more secretly in France months earlier (yet another post). Together with Cromwell’s law changes, and a reformer placed as Archbishop of Canterbury saw Henry and Anne allowed to be legally married and Anne crowned in June 1533.
Anne gave birth in September 1533, to Princess Elizabeth, not the son she had promised the king. Laws were sent out, making sure only Elizabeth could inherit the throne, not Henry’s daughter Mary, Queen Katherine’s daughter. Heads rolled as influential men like Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher refused to agree to Henry’s rule over the church and baby Elizabeth’s inheritance. Anne was lavished as the new queen; she had 250 servants in her household and spent much time on the love and attention of her daughter. Historians state Anne lost a child in late 1534 and Henry was tiring of his new wife. His first wife was still alive, tucked away in poverty, and Anne, his pet project, wouldn’t give him a son as promised. Henry didn’t want to go back to Katherine, and made up with Anne, who got pregnant again by spring 1535.
1536 had a bumpy start, but Queen Katherine died of cancer, causing joy for Henry and Anne. Finally Anne was out from Katherine’s shade and she could be recognised as a queen, not a whore. Everyone believed Katherine was poisoned by Anne, but there was no proof, but Princess Mary, Katherine’s daughter, was not forgiving to Anne. But Henry was tired of his second wife, and with her pregnant, as his eye found Jane Seymour, one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting (one of sixty!). In late January, King Henry’s famous accident occurred, when he fell during a joust and was unconscious for two hours. Anne was in a panic, and miscarried her son five days later.
Henry had a blonde in his sights, and Anne’s son was dead. Anne was forced to see Henry lavish love on Jane Seymour as the Boleyns were put aside. Anne then fell out over confiscated monasteries with Thomas Cromwell, the man who had got her the crown, and without Cromwell or Henry, Anne was doomed. Henry and Cromwell came up with a plan; charge Anne as adultery with courtiers and incest with her brother, and she could no longer be queen.
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who had made the marriage of Anne and Henry could unmake it; Thomas Cromwell had George Boleyn, Mark Smeaton, Francis Weston, William Brereton and Henry Norris (all whom worked for Henry) charged with adultery. With a false charge, false evidence and a corrupt jury, Anne and her fake accomplices were found guilty. The men were all promptly beheaded.
Anne’s day came on May 19, and executed by an expert French swordsman (again, the whole event is for another post). She was dumped in an unmarked grave at St Peter ad Vincula chapel until 1876, when workers identified her (and perfectly formed hands), and is now marked there. Anne’s daughter of course went on to be Elizabeth I and reigned England for 40 years, also never gaining a son. Anne may have wielded power for a time, but never really stood a chance as a woman up against King Henry and Thomas Cromwell. All images of Anne were destroyed, any and all paintings are now recreations of her likeness.
The way I write Anne in my first Cromwell book is of a quiet woman, intelligent and charming, but very much eclipsed by the situation around her. In the second book she shall become more of a power, more of the strong Anne many portray her as.
Welcome! Today is the day – the worldwide release of Frailty of Human Affairs, in paperback and on Kindle. You might be thinking – another Tudor book, Caroline? Is that what the world needs? Another book on Thomas Cromwell? Seriously? Has Hilary Mantel not done that man to death?
The world needs more Thomas Cromwell.
Why? I can tell you. Many books on Thomas Cromwell (all of wish I love and have nothing but respect for) tend to paint Cromwell as a hero or villain. I seek to do neither of these. My style is to let the readers decide what the character is, good or bad. Canna Medici was the villain and hero in her series, Mireya Centelles was a victim with an evil streak in Intense Professional Marquesa, and Luna Montgomery was an unlikely hero in the Secrets of Spain series.
This time, you have Thomas Cromwell, an already wealthy man who is on the verge of greatness, alongside Nicóla Frescobaldi (yes, Nicóla is a a man’s name in Italian), a sort-of Italian version of Cromwell, who have to do good and evil in order to create a queen in the form of young Anne Boleyn. Two characters, attendants to prominent masters in 1529, who are ready to set the world on fire. Literally and figuratively.
So here is the first chapter. The book is from the POV of both Cromwell and Frescobaldi, starting with Frescobaldi. Purchase links are at the bottom of the page.
The most wondrous seecryts art hydden coequal from thyself
York Place, London
Nicóla could not master the sound of the powerful male footstep. As men ambled together along echoing halls, Nicóla made a gentle tap, even if wearing heavy riding boots. Every person who met Nicóla regarded him up and down, questioning his every ability. Today proved no exception.
London seemed such a grim place. Many people on the muddy streets appeared near death, and Nicóla knew death well. Rain fell constantly, cold when driven into his face, as if God despised all. Yet was it not spring? The decorated walls of York Place provided scant relief; the hallways appeared bleak and shadowy, candles constantly snuffed out by endless drafts of chilled wind. Weeks at sea, to arrive hither? Nicóla feared death might seize him atop the crest of every wave of the journey. Now, after muddy roads tortured the horses, finally, London, the fabled York Place. A potential new plot with Cardinal Wolsey beckoned. Nicóla could not think of those left behind; Nicóla knew enough grief to stop any heart.
Two guards, dressed in dark blue with golden adornment, stood at the arched doorway. Both relented their positions when the party of three approached. Their master entered first, followed by Nicóla and purple-clad Bishop Alessandro, papers in hand, ever the attendants to the powerful man who allowed them his patronage, who needed them to endure England, far from Rome.
‘His Eminence, Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio.’
Nicóla acknowledged the short gentleman-usher who announced their presence, and glanced up and down his livery, the same as the guards; imported blue fabric, a decent price per yard of cloth. Following their master’s lead, Nicóla and Bishop Alessandro shuffled, faces forward, towards the end of the extraordinary room. No view presented through the broad windows; early evening darkness blotted out the world. Yellowing candles flickered in their numbers in the dusty but richly decorated room, which smelled so strange. Someone named the smell to be mould, something which seldom grew at home in Florence. The damp weather caused it here, the way it made cheese in cellars in Italy. Little yet made sense in this foreign land, yet the opulence of this office, golden tapestries, Turkish carpets, gold and silver plate laid out said much. Only fit for the richest man in England.
‘Lorenzo.’ Cardinal Wolsey did not stand as he addressed his long-time colleague, his face as grim as his tone. The old Cardinal appeared harmless enough, at least in Nicóla’s eyes. Ageing, a gift not bestowed to many, his fingers fat, jeweled rings constricting and bloating his hands. He wore the red robes of a cardinal, which Nicóla despised, the same as Campeggio. The Catholic faith gave Nicóla no comfort, even after going all the way to the Pope in need of salvation. Now, another cardinal with his fur-lined red robes and ugly red biretta cap sought to control Nicóla’s life.
Cardinal Campeggio took the offer of a seat across the grand desk of Wolsey, and Nicóla stood, head down, a few steps behind him with Bishop Alessandro. The others had visited the palace of the English Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, not so Nicóla.
‘Most thanks for seeing me before I need to address the King.’ Campeggio spoke in accented English, his age evident in his voice. He stroked his long white beard, grown to commemorate the sacking of Rome eighteen months earlier, just as the Pope had done.
Wolsey sighed. ‘The King will delay no longer. The court’s decision on His Majesty’s annulment from Queen Katherine has been considered enough. Perchance God made me so unwell for the winter, a way of giving Henry a chance to reconsider. But now it is my job as both papal legate and Lord Chancellor to hear, in your words, what you think before we start proceedings. Henry asked for an annulment two years ago, and the tide of favour is starting to turn against me.’
Campeggio gestured to Nicóla for his papers, which Nicóla happily dropped on the desk. The correspondence on Wolsey’s desk sat in a neat pile, with perfect handwriting, next to a solid silver ink quill. A fastidious man. A lone orange sat on the desk; it was said Wolsey carried the orange at his nose, so not to smell commoners on the street.
‘So few papers for such a burden,’ Wolsey sniffed. ‘You are a man of well over fifty years, Lorenzo, yet you seem to have let your long years of experience fail you.’ His tone told Nicóla that Wolsey considered himself well superior to his Italian counterpart.
‘Thomas, you would not believe the state of Rome,’ Campeggio sighed and took the first page into his hands. ‘The sacking of Rome was extreme and prolonged. I got left behind as papal legate to Rome, and I lost everything. My own palace got destroyed, robbed of its jewels, its art. I was almost killed.’
‘Oh yes, we heard of Rome’s sacking. You have told me several times this past year. Remember our own envoy got assaulted when hoping to see the Pope,’ Wolsey replied, and the clean-shaven old man, his double chin shaking as he spoke, had an appearance of boredom.
‘The Holy Roman Emperor’s soldiers assaulted the palace. Almost all were killed in broad daylight. If not for my friend …’ Campeggio paused and gestured at Nicóla… ‘I would be dead.’
Nicóla tilted his head enough to see beyond his brim of the soft cap of Campeggio’s servants’ livery, to witness, beyond the wooden throne of the great Cardinal, another man dressed all in black, and most tall. He took a few steps forward out of the darkness of the corner, closer to Wolsey. Nicóla caught his eye and the pair stared at one another, the man refusing to look away. He stood older than Nicóla by more than ten years. Power sat in the hands of old men in England. How did the young bear it? At home in Florence, the generations all fought for power.
The man’s wide golden eyes continued to stare with the slightest of frowns, and Nicóla remained still. Everyone regarded Nicóla up and down, took a second glance, but this man seemed the most threatening in his golden gaze. It was if he knew a secret so hidden that Nicóla felt faint at the thought of being discovered. This man wanted to recognise Nicóla but struggled. Secrets were Nicóla’s trade and currency, and Nicóla could never lose his biggest secret of all for no special reason. The dark man’s golden stare held remembrance, not secrecy.
Campeggio had seen the man in the shadows the whole time. ‘If it was not for my friend, I could not have talked with the Pope during his capture, nor his time in Orvieto after His Holiness’ escape. Nicóla delivered messages back and forth. Even then, it took months before the Pope decided to allow me hither, to come and decide on Henry’s future.’
‘Yes, but that is without relevance. You reached England eight months ago. If only your friend had brought us the papal dispensation we need from Rome,’ the dark man spoke with only mild curiosity on the subject, one hand now on Wolsey’s throne. His golden eyes continued to study Nicóla, but Nicóla refused to bow or look away. ‘Who are you? I have not seen you in the Cardinal’s envoy.’
‘A total stranger could you believe,’ Campeggio answered for Nicóla and coughed, the sound of a chronically ill man. ‘You know, with my poor eyesight, I am in need of young men. During the sacking, this young boy found me cowering as my palace burnt, and took me to safety, a home already sacked, but safe. I promoted him to the Pope, and His Holiness brought Nicóla into the Church, to live in the Apostolic Palace. Nicóla is not consecrated with holy orders, like my son Alessandro here. Nicóla has just arrived from Rome with supplies needed for this extended trip.’
‘You are here to rule on an annulment for King Henry and Queen Katherine, Your Eminence,’ the man continued in a smooth, even tone, and switched his gaze to Campeggio in the chair. ‘Anything less is a failure. I do not care why the Pope will not rule on the proposed annulment. We have the facts. No more delays; my master Cardinal Wolsey needs this completed.’
‘And we know how desperate King Henry is to marry Lady Anne,’ Wolsey added with a sigh. ‘They are involved in a three-year love affair. The King’s conscience is in a state of great suffering.’ The old Cardinal threw a gentle smile to Nicóla. For being known throughout Christendom as the most powerful cardinal of them all, and known as a corrupt tyrant, he certainly appeared placid. Just another heavy-waisted old man. ‘Before we continue, does your friend speak English?’
‘Parli inglese?’ the dark man asked, his voice suddenly as sharp as a blade.
Nicóla glanced up at the sound of Italian. ‘I speak fluent Italian, English, French, Spanish, Flemish, and Latin.’ At once, Cardinal Wolsey and his man showed surprise at Nicóla’s soft, lilting voice. ‘But I prefer that remained private. Bishop Alessandro beside me speaks Italian, English, with Greek, German, Portuguese and Latin, so we can deal with any duty.’
‘Gracious!’ Wolsey exclaimed. ‘What did a delicate man such as yourself do before entering the Church?’
Campeggio laughed; people often commented on Nicóla’s short and modest frame. ‘We call Nicóla ‘il reietto’ in Rome.’
Wolsey glanced to the dark man for a translation.
‘It means one who is an outsider, outcast, left over, abandoned. In this instance, based on the appearance of this man, petite, delicate, gentle, I believe they are saying like “the Waif”, someone small and useless.’ His voice growled deep, strong as his golden gaze. Nicóla could not look away, something about the man drew all eyes to him.
‘I have spent my life as a banker’s and merchant’s apprentice in Florence, Your Eminence,’ Nicóla replied to Wolsey.
Again the dark man had his gaze fixed upon Nicóla, enough to make any strong heart skip a little. ‘Who are you?’
‘Hush now, Thomas,’ Wolsey snorted. ‘He is Campeggio’s well-dressed, dashing, if not petite, hero of Rome.’
But the dark man would not so easily abate. ‘What is the make of your doublet and hose, Waif? Is that pale blue damask from Brussels? Are not churchmen bound to poverty, not opulence?’
‘Thomas,’ tumbled from Nicóla’s lips and he covered them with a hand, guilty of speaking out of turn.
‘We are both Thomas,’ Wolsey replied with a smile and gestured to himself and his attendant. ‘We know Bishop Alessandro Campeggio standing beside you, but tell us about yourself.’
‘You are Thomas Cromwella,’ Nicóla replied, his voice light and surprised, hands clasped together again. His sweet Italian accent added a vowel to the surname.
‘Everyone in Europe knows Thomas Cromwella,’ Campeggio commented from his seat.
‘You have an admirer,’ Wolsey jested to Cromwell.
No wonder the King’s annulment could not be settled; these two cardinals loved small talk which delayed work. But Nicóla wanted to speak to Cromwell personally, had come all this way in search of the man whispered of as “The Prince.”
‘Master Cromwella, you once worked as a servant in the Frescobaldi household in Florence. You worked as an apprentice to my father, Francesco. He spoke of you often.’
Cromwell’s golden eyes flared but he uttered nothing.
‘Do you know the name, Thomas?’ Wolsey asked, the old man finding it all rather amusing.
‘Perchance we ought to discuss the papal decision,’ Cromwell cut in with a cough.
‘Indeed,’ Wolsey sighed. ‘Lorenzo, your attendants can leave for your chambers downstairs.’
With a silent bow, Nicóla and Bishop Alessandro turned and left the cavernous room. Alessandro shuffled ahead of Nicóla in his purple bishop’s vestments, Nicóla’s calf-leather shoes making no sound on the wooden floorboards. But no sooner than the heavy doors closed behind them, they reopened, sending a short burst of light into the white stone hallway. There was Cromwell himself, following after Nicóla. Bishop Alessandro carried on along the hall, ignoring the Englishman.
With not a word spoken, Cromwell pulled Nicóla by the arm towards a window seat and pulled a great red curtain around the discussion. All done with his intense golden stare fixed upon Nicóla. But his touch sent a spark through Nicóla’s body, and it mattered none who this man thought he was; Nicóla pulled away in defiance.
‘You are the son of Francesco Frescobaldi?’ Cromwell asked in a whisper as they sat together against the cold glass laced with black lattice in diamond patterns, the Thames dark below them.
‘You knew my father,’ Nicóla began.
‘Most well!’ Cromwell’s golden eyes lit up, suddenly an angry face becoming a smile of pure happiness. ‘Your father saved my life when he took me off the streets and into the Frescobaldi household in Florence. I remember your father being well-furnished with daughters.’
‘I am the bastard child of my father’s annulled first marriage. Father had five daughters by his second marriage.’
‘What year were you born?’
Nicóla resisted the urge to cringe. Cromwell remembered so much detail, too much. ‘The year 1500.’
‘I see, before my arrival in Florence. How is your father now?’
‘My father went with God almost two years ago. Sadly, 1527 was not a positive year to be working in banking in Florence.’
‘Francesco did not meet a natural death?’ Cromwell swallowed hard at the thought.
‘No, in the chaos of the Holy Roman Emperor’s army rebelling in Rome, many took the chance to rise up against the Medici family and their power in Florence. My father got killed while visiting the Medici home at Poggio a Caiano. The palace got ransacked in the uprising.’
Cromwell dropped his gaze and shook his head, and slowly made the sign of the cross. Dark curls laced with silver hid his eyes for a moment. ‘It is uncommon for an only son to join the Church, especially since your father’s estate would be most prized. Your stepmother and sisters? The recent War of the League of Cognac was not kind on the Republic of Florence.’
‘They cannot be harmed now.’
‘So why have you come hither as part of Campeggio’s envoy?’
‘Did you not wander Europe once yourself?’
‘I did. Your father helped me learn Italian. I see he has passed his English skills onto you.’
Nicóla smoothed the pearl buttons on his blue doublet and took a deep breath. ‘There can be opportunities far and wide for a man who has seen war, who lives well and is educated. After Rome got sacked by the Emperor’s army, I decided to travel.’
‘Yet you found time to save the life of the papal legate of Rome and be praised by the Pope?’
Every word Cromwell spoke brought back memories of him in his youth, working at Frescobaldi manor during Nicóla’s childhood. ‘Luck. One day I saw a group of men fighting, and an old cardinal lying on the ground in agony. I went to his aid, and in return, Cardinal Campeggio kindly offered me a position in his household, at a time when I had lost my place with the fallen Medici family. Leaving for England was a final moment offer, so I grabbed hold.’
‘You have your father’s look about you. The rose-gold hair, and green eyes, though very dark skin. Not a large man like your father, though your English is as fine.’
Nicóla made sure no shoulder length rose-gold strands strayed from under his black cap. ‘It is said I am more like my mother, though I knew her not.’
‘Your father used to call me Tomassito, little Thomas, when I was young and homeless. I was privileged to work in the Frescobaldi household. I had no clothes on my back, and starving when your father saved me. Your father worked for the Medicis?’
‘Indeed, when seeking loans for clients, you always seek the help of the Medici family, one of the richest in Europe. I am sure you agree, Tomassito.’
Nicóla suspected Cromwell would not take kindly to the informal title, but instead, he gave a trifling smile, a tiny insight into Cromwell as a man. As a master of secrets, every detail brought prized information to Nicóla. Cromwell’s eyes did not leave Nicóla’s, a gesture which stirred nerves. For the last few years, Nicóla had sought to remain silent, behind a new master, out of sight as much as possible. Now a man, one known throughout Christendom as a common blacksmith’s boy who had risen above his station beside a cardinal, with a golden gaze ready to read the markings on one’s soul, had Nicóla cornered.
‘Cardinal Campeggio came to England unwelcome by many,’ Cromwell continued. ‘Campeggio is seen as weak by the King, and a natural ally to the Queen, and her nephew, the Roman Emperor. Campeggio may find his head departs his neck before long. Perchance we could be of assistance to one another.’
‘How, Master Cromwella? I am just a humble attendant.’ Yet Nicóla knew, as the child of the beloved Francesco Frescobaldi, Cromwell wanted collusion at once. Francesco had often spoken to Nicóla about Cromwell’s undying fealty to the family many years ago.
‘You may be a short man, a delicate man, but I am in need of people in all kinds of roles. I am sure you know how far the reach of Cardinal Wolsey extends.’
‘You are a wealthy man. Everyone knows that.’
‘Please, let us be friends. I shall do anything to be of service to the son of Francesco Frescobaldi. I loved your father, and I feel ashamed I knew not of his passing. We lost touch a while ago now, but I shall forever think upon him dearly.’
‘How could I be of service to you?’
‘Does it matter?’ Cromwell asked.
Nicóla smiled. ‘No, Master Cromwella. I suppose not. But Cardinal Campeggio is my master.’
‘And Cardinal Wolsey is my master. The King’s patience is at an end, and loyalties are being tested. Our masters must work together, and so must we, if we are to remain in success. It may be that someone with your accent has wandered into this palace at just the right moment. Go about your work for Campeggio, I will send for you when I am ready. A decision to claim scant of the English language is a wise choice. As I say, anything for the son of the kindest man I have ever known.’
‘Men speak of you, Master Cromwella. They say you are a fierce lawyer, a masterful accountant, a skilled orator. Men say you are corrupt; that you profit by Wolsey’s plots, with honest men’s money flowing into your pockets. Bribes are constantly accepted by you. You are not noble, just base, common born, and called “the double-minded man”.’
‘Mr. Frescobaldi, I play unfairly in an unfair world. Your father taught me how to survive. If you have worked for your father, and the Medici family, then you understand.’
Corruption. Bribery. Lies. Nicóla understood perfectly. Falling into Cromwell’s favour proved so easy. ‘Let us be friends, Master Cromwella.’