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Authors: Susan Higginbotham

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In September, we got the good news: Catherine had given birth to a girl, Mary, at the end of August. Then, just a few days later, another message arrived. The queen was dead.

8
Frances Grey
September 1548 to October 1548

Just a day after the terrible news arrived that Queen Catherine had died of childbed fever, a messenger rode up with a letter from Tom Seymour, written in his own hand. It was tear stained and barely coherent. His aged mother would be taking charge of his baby girl, and the Protector had invited him to stay with him at Sion House so he would not have to face his sorrow alone. Our Jane had been chief mourner at the queen’s funeral and had done her duty with much gravity and honor. Which brought him to his main point: with the queen gone, he could no longer maintain our daughter in his household. The very sight of the girl for whom his dear wife had had so much affection was too much for him to bear. In fact, Seymour said in a postscript, our daughter was on her way to Bradgate now.

I had barely had time to make my daughter’s chambers ready for her, when I heard Jane was just a mile or so off. Not long afterward, my girl stood before me. She was dressed in mourning for the queen, which made her look older than her eleven years, and I could see she was beginning to develop a hint of a bosom.

Jane allowed me to embrace her. “I was very sorry to hear of the queen’s death,” I said. “I know she was very fond of you.”

“She was very kind to me. I shall miss her.”

“When you are ready, we can talk more of—”

“Jane! Come here, my girl!”

Jane rushed to Harry’s arms. He ruffled her hair. “Tell me about the queen, lass. I know it must have been dreadful. Wasn’t it?”

“It was. At first everything went so well. I didn’t see the poor little baby being born; the queen said I was too young. But it didn’t take that long, and I saw the queen soon afterward. She looked so happy, and the Admiral was so proud. He said he had the finest baby girl in all of England.”

Harry said, “Well, he was wrong about that, because I had the finest baby girl in all of England, but we can make some allowances. Go on, child.”

“Everyone thought the queen was going to be well, and then suddenly she fell ill. The Admiral said later the very same thing happened to his sister Queen Jane. She became feverish and started to rant—accusing him of treating her badly, of not allowing her to be alone with her own physician, so many foolish things she never would have said if she had been in her right mind, for he was never unkind to her. Anyway, he lay in bed beside her and tried to ease her, and toward the end, she did become calm. She dictated her will and left him everything. She said she wished her possessions were a thousand times more in value than they were. And then she started to fade away, almost, and in a few hours, she died.”

Jane put her handkerchief to her eyes, and Harry patted her back. “She is in heaven, Jane.”

“Oh, I know,” said Jane. “But I miss her, and I feel so sorry for the poor Admiral. He was crying—even when he shut himself away, we could hear him. I think he loved the queen dearly. I never saw them have an argument—well, only once. It was right before the lady Elizabeth left. They were shouting at each other—I don’t know about what. But later, the Admiral came to me and told me that he was sorry I’d overheard that, but that I shouldn’t worry, all married people fought once in a while, and that they usually made it up. And I think they did make it up after the lady Elizabeth left. The Admiral had the cooks make the queen’s favorite foods, and he sent for anything that she wanted that he couldn’t supply. He ordered magnificent things for the baby’s chamber. When he had to leave, he sent letters to her every day.” Jane brightened. “The queen did have a very nice funeral, though. Doctor Coverdale preached the sermon in English and said that the offering was not for the dead, but for the poor.”

Harry nodded approvingly.

***

In a few days, it was as if Jane had never left us. She approved thoroughly of our stripped-down chapel—I still found myself walking in there and thinking a thief had been to Bradgate—and she took it upon herself to improve her younger sister Kate, who was not entirely grateful for the attention.

Jane had been back at Bradgate for several weeks when a messenger delivered a letter from the Admiral. Unlike the tear-laden missive he had last sent us, this was written in a clerk’s trim hand and came straight to the point. So grieved by the queen’s death that he had had little regard for his own doings, and believing his household would have to be broken up, he had sent our daughter home, but now he had reviewed the situation and felt he could retain the queen’s household. Therefore, he was able to take Jane back into his care, and what was more, his mother would treat her as her own daughter. As soon as he could manage it, he would come to talk to Harry and me in person.

I frowned at the letter. Tom Seymour was planning to retain all of the women who had waited on the queen, plus a hundred and twenty gentleman and yeomen. How on earth could he keep up such a household, with no queen to justify it? Even I could see the impossibility of it all.

Katherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, my childhood companion who had become my stepmother, was paying us a visit at Bradgate that day. “So, what does Tom Seymour want?”

“He wants us to send Jane back to stay with him.”

“So soon? I saw him at his brother’s house a couple of weeks ago, and he could hardly hear the queen’s name without weeping. Or maybe it was just the company of Somerset and his duchess. I declare, I shall be heartbroken if my two boys end up rubbing along as miserably as those two brothers do. I told Somerset that he really ought to give his brother a little more power, to keep him sweet.”

“You told the Lord Protector that?”

“Oh, I tell everyone everything, you know that, Frances. Not that everyone listens. Somerset didn’t, anyway. But at least I got the cold stare instead of the blank look, so I knew he heard me at least. Maybe one day he’ll actually remember what I said and act on it, thinking of course it was his own brilliant idea.” Katherine snorted. “Mind you, I like Somerset; he’s a kind man in that remote way of his. I trust him, which is more than I can say for his brother Tom.”

“Harry trusts Tom Seymour.”

“Do you?”

“I don’t know what to think. Harry—”

“Why did the Lord give you a brain if not to think? Really, Frances! You’ve more common sense in your little finger than what’s in the whole of Harry Grey. It’s high time you realized that. So what do
you
think?”

“I was going to tell you, if you’d allowed me to speak. I believe Harry is still keen on marrying Jane to the king, although he hasn’t said as much to me lately.”

“Of course not. When does he consult you, and bring common sense into the picture?”

“He consults me. It is not quite as bad as you say.”

“Certainly he consults you. On what to serve your guests and where to lodge them, no doubt, and no more. And you allow it, even though I’ll wager this household would fall apart in days were its managing left up to your Harry.”

“It’s easy for you to say how married people should get on together,” I snapped. “You are, after all, a widow, and I don’t recall you having things entirely your way when Father was alive.”

“No, but I was making inroads. But do go on.”

“It’s not that I trust or mistrust the Admiral anyway—it is Jane. She took a very high opinion of herself in the queen’s household. She has great gifts, I know, but she has become almost arrogant. She treats my poor Kate as if she were the household fool instead of her younger sister, and me—well, she has never had much to say to me, you know, but now she is almost insolent. Even Harry noticed.”

“If Harry Grey noticed something amiss about his darling, she must need a good boxing on the ears, Frances. Give it to her. I would, if my lads were acting so.”

“I fear that if I send her back to Tom Seymour—particularly without the queen—she will take an even higher opinion of herself.”

“Quite possibly.” Katherine snorted. “You ought to send her to the Duchess of Somerset.”

***

To my surprise, Harry was also reluctant to return Jane to Seymour’s care. He wrote a long letter to the Admiral, explaining that Jane needed to be under my guidance. “As I do think she ought to be, my dear, because she has been a bit pert as of late, one can’t deny it. But there are other reasons, too, of course.”

“Which are?”

“Quite frankly, I don’t think the Admiral’s the right man to entrust Jane’s education to. Why, they say even the queen became more frivolous in his company in those last few months. She might lose interest in her studies.”

“Nothing could turn Jane from her books.” My tone held a conviction so firm that even my stepmother would have been impressed.

“Well, perhaps you’re right, my dear. Perhaps you are. But I’ll not chance it. Seymour has asked to visit and will no doubt try to persuade us, but we must stand firm.”

That was easier said than done.

After a further exchange of letters, in which even Jane herself joined, Tom Seymour arrived at Bradgate in October. He was accompanied by Sir William Sharington, who ran the mint in Bristol. My husband entertained Seymour, while I entertained Sharington.

They must have rehearsed for their conversations with us. To every objection I raised, Sharington had a rejoinder that made me feel utterly unreasonable for having entertained it, and Harry fared no better with Seymour. Forgotten was the fact that the king had not shown the slightest inclination to marry our girl; Seymour was still laboring to bring it about. All he needed was time and more access to the king. Harry had debts? They would all be taken care of by Seymour, who offered to loan him two thousand pounds. Jane was still but young to be pledged in marriage? The Protector’s girls were even younger, and had I not heard they were fine scholars? If we let our daughter languish at Bradgate, there was every chance the Protector would marry one of them to the king. Would I want to attend that royal wedding, knowing my gifted young daughter should have been standing in the bride’s place? What of my daughter’s feelings? There was no young lady more suitable to be Edward’s queen. Why, if I let such a chance slide by her, I might as well marry her to a mere knight’s younger son this very afternoon and be done with it.

If I was the well of common sense Katherine claimed, the well had run dry by the time I came out of our interview. “My lord, your lady has expressed her willingness to return the lady Jane to you,” Sharington announced triumphantly as we emerged from our conference.

“Then I cannot but agree,” Harry said. I surmised from his dazed look, he had survived Seymour’s bombardment no better than I had survived Sharington’s.

Yet the misgivings we could not entirely suppress might have won out had not Seymour begged to pay his respects to Jane herself. “My lord Admiral!” she said, arising from the table where she had been working. There was no mistaking her genuine delight. “I hope you are doing well, as is your baby girl?”

“Little Mary is thriving, and I am as well as can be expected, but my household has been empty without its ward, Jane. It is not the same. I have been attempting to persuade your parents to have you come back to me. My work is done; I can only hope they say yes. Won’t you put in a good word on my behalf?”

“I very much enjoyed staying with you, my lord.” She looked up at him, and at us, in a fetching way that she could have inherited only from my own mother. “I should be most pleased to return—if my lord father and lady mother consent, of course.”

Harry and I looked at each other and at Jane, and we knew we could do nothing else. A week later, we watched as Jane once again left Bradgate.

9
Jane Dudley
December 1548

At the Christmas masque at Whitehall, the king visibly stifled a yawn, his third such effort in an hour. For the sake of the masquers, I hoped it was the lateness of the hour and not the quality of the entertainment that was afflicting the king so.

Yet I suspected that even had this been the grandest of masques at the most splendid of courts, it would not have been enough, for there was something very odd about the court this Christmas. All of the men, including my husband, seemed distracted, and tones were hushed. It reminded me, now that I thought of it, of the days a dozen years before, just before Anne Boleyn and her supposed lovers had been clapped into the Tower. The same wary glances, the same conferences in corners, the same desperate jollity as everyone tried to pretend nothing was amiss.

I turned my eyes from the masquers and toward the dais where the king sat, flanked by the Duke and Duchess of Somerset. Despite his grand clothing, only a trifle less splendid than the king’s, the duke had a weary, strained look about him. The duchess—resplendent in jewels I recognized as the late queen’s—was patting his hand in a tender way that reminded me why I sometimes liked her.

As I gazed toward the duke and duchess, I felt a pair of eyes on me. But no, they were not fixed upon me; rather, they were staring in precisely the same direction. They were those of Thomas Seymour.

***

The masque over, it was time for dancing—starting with a galliard, which my own generation wisely left for the younger among us to enjoy. The king promptly arose and led out the Protector’s eldest daughter, Anne, while one of his companions, nineteen-year-old Henry Sidney, partnered my daughter Mary. While I watched the latter pair attentively, noting they seemed more interested in each other than in the dance, Thomas Seymour pushed forward, Lady Jane Grey in tow. For a moment, I thought they might join the dance as a couple themselves—a shocking breach of etiquette for the Admiral, who had been widowed but a few months—but instead, my eldest son claimed Jane Grey, and the dance began as Thomas Seymour stood with the rest of the spectators.

The Duke and Duchess of Somerset had joined the throng and stood there hand in hand, watching their own daughter dance with the king. Then the duke walked over to his brother and took his hand with a smile that seemed genuine, if wary. “I am glad to see you here this Christmas, my brother. Is this a portent of a better year between us to come?”

“You say ‘I,’ Brother, not ‘we.’ Are you slipping?”

I could not help but smile at this, for John, too, had commented on the alacrity with which the Protector had taken to using the royal “we” in his letters. Somerset said in an injured tone, “I use ‘we’ in correspondence, as befits my position. I do not use it elsewhere.”

Thomas Seymour snorted. “Well, I have come here to see my nephew the king. I cannot see him in private. I must make do at public occasions like this one.”

“I have never prevented you from seeing the king,” Somerset said. “I have asked only that you see him when he is at leisure to receive visitors and that you refrain from giving him the presents of money that you have brought him in the past. He has plenty in hand.”

“Yes, and you have plenty of my late wife’s jewels in yours. Or on your wife’s person, I should say.”

Somerset’s hand went to his left hip, where he would have worn his sword had this not been a feast. With obvious difficulty in controlling his temper, he said, “We have been through this. The jewels became the Crown’s upon the king’s death, and even if there was the slightest bit of doubt, which there is not, they certainly became the Crown’s upon the death of the queen. Until the king marries, the Duchess of Somerset has every right to wear them. It is fitting, as my wife, that she do so. She graces them by placing them on her person.”

“Indeed,” said Seymour. “I see that your daughter is wearing some of them, too. Have your youngest children some tucked inside their cradles, as well?”

“I will not have you speak of my daught—”

The music stopped, and Somerset flushed as heads turned to see why he had raised his voice. The king released his partner with a bow that made her beam and run to her mother to recount her triumph. Young Anne Seymour had barely left the king when Thomas Seymour, the queen’s jewels forgotten, swiftly disengaged the lady Jane from my son and propelled her firmly in the king’s direction. “Your Majesty, might my young ward be allowed to demonstrate the tutelage of her dancing master?”

The king smiled down at Lady Jane. She was a small girl; the Protector’s gangly daughter, by contrast, was slightly taller than her royal partner. “Why, we shall be honored.”

With Seymour and Jane’s father, the Marquis of Dorset, beaming nearby, I watched as the king and the lady Jane danced together. I had expected such a studious young lady would have no interest in such frivolity, but I was quite wrong. Jane danced beautifully, though she seemed to be enjoying the music more than the dance itself. As for the king, his father had been a fine dancer in his youth, and Edward evidently took after him in this respect. I turned to the Somersets, who were talking together unintelligibly but obviously angrily. “They make a pretty pair, don’t they?”

“Lovely,” said the Protector. He put his hand on my husband’s shoulder. “Let us talk,” he said quietly.

***

By midnight, the king himself had begun nodding off in his chair, and the Protector gave the signal he be escorted to his bed. The rest of us, some more sober than others, straggled to our chambers.

John would have kissed me and rolled over to sleep, but I would not let him. “What on earth did the Protector have to discuss with you, on Christmas day? Why does the man look so miserable? Why is everyone acting so strangely?”

My husband gave half a smile. “Can I choose which question to answer, or must I answer all at once?”

“You can answer any one of them, because I suspect that they all have the same answer.”

“You would suspect right.” John lay on his back, staring up at the canopy. “The Admiral is becoming truly dangerous. It is not just that he wants to marry the king to that lady Jane Grey, which would be harmless enough, as the king can’t be forced to marry any girl he doesn’t wish to marry. The Admiral aspires to marry the lady Elizabeth.”

My first foolish thought was my son Robert would be furious at that. Then I realized the deeper implications. “Marry the girl who’s second in line to the throne?”

“Yes. He seems to find no incongruity in the idea at all.”

I winced. “I knew he had flirted with her outrageously while the queen was alive; Catherine told me so. But I thought there was no harm in it, so I said nothing.”

“How could you have thought there was harm in it? After all, the queen was living and was getting ready to bear Seymour a child. He couldn’t exactly put her aside. In any case, that’s not the worst of it. The worst is that I, and several others, believe, on good information, that he intends to take both the king and Elizabeth into his custody and imprison and perhaps kill the Protector.”

“John?”

“I don’t believe Seymour is entirely sane where the Protector is concerned. I’ll freely admit that Somerset has his faults, but he’s never held any ill will toward the Admiral. He was kindness itself to Seymour when the queen died. But Seymour has convinced himself that the Protector has some grand scheme to alienate him from the king and to ruin him. The more he speaks against the Protector, the less the Protector is inclined to let him near the king, and then the more the Admiral speaks against the Protector. And so it grows worse and worse.”

“Has someone tried to speak to the Admiral?”

“Many have tried to reason with him. I have myself. I couldn’t make any headway; I’m too close to his brother, so he thinks I have sinister designs against him, as well. But no one else has succeeded either.”

It was fortunate, I thought, that poor Jane Seymour had not lived to see her brothers fighting for control over her son. “What is the Protector going to do? I suppose that is what you were talking about tonight?”

“He would rather not do anything. Paget wrote him a letter this very day, complaining that he was trying too hard to please all men and has not been firm in upholding the laws. And those are against ordinary men, not his own brother. But he can’t tolerate this much longer. Something will have to be done.” John put his arm around me. “I cannot tell you how I long for the day when the king is old enough to rule on his own.”

“What does the poor boy think of all this?”

“Somerset has tried to shield him from it. Unfortunately, that also means trying to shield him from Seymour, and you know how charming Seymour can be when he cares to exert himself. Somerset can’t compete with that; he’s never had the gift of speaking to young boys. So the king’s unhappy with the Protector because he wants to visit with his favorite uncle.” John shook his head. “It’s a thankless job, being Protector. I wouldn’t have it. Sometimes I wonder whether Somerset regrets having taken it on.”

“You are friends. Why don’t you ask him?”

John sighed. “I could have a year ago. Now I can’t. This discussion we had tonight—it was like a king speaking to a councilor, not two old friends who fought together. I was the one he told when he discovered his first wife had been unfaithful to him. I was the one he told when he became engaged to his present wife; he was excited as a boy. All that’s changed now. He has subjects, not friends. One doesn’t confide in mere subjects.”

“Maybe when the king comes out of his minority and Somerset is back to being another advisor, he will be more like his former self.”

“Maybe.” John wrapped his arm around me tighter, and I pressed my lips to his. He smiled in the darkness. “Shall we make it a merry Christmas for two people, at least?”

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