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Authors: Susan Higginbotham

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10
Frances Grey
January 1549

My first thought when my husband’s messenger galloped into Bradgate was that something had befallen Jane or my husband in London. “What on earth is it?” I called as I hastened to meet him. “Is someone ill?”

“No, my lady, but the marquis wants you and the girls to come to London immediately.” Before I could get out a question, the messenger added, “It is the Admiral, my lady. He is under arrest.”

***

As I neared London, I began to hear the rumors about the Admiral’s downfall. The closer I got to the city, the wilder the rumors became. At one milestone, the tale was that he had been plotting to kill the Protector; at the next, the story was going about that he had been planning to kill the king himself, followed by the lady Mary, and then to marry the lady Elizabeth and jointly rule England with her. One account even had it that he had been caught breaking into the king’s bedchamber and had killed the king’s faithful dog when it barked at him. One thing was certain: he was a prisoner in the Tower, but my Jane was safe at Dorset House. So was Harry.

“I am a lucky man,” he said when I arrived. “I was with Seymour the night before he was arrested—staying at his house, as a matter of fact. I would ride to and from Parliament with him, dine with him. They arrested him when we were preparing to leave for Westminster together. His house is being searched on orders of the council, and I’ve no doubt our bargain about Jane will be brought out. I’ll have to give evidence, I suppose.”

“Harry, tell me you knew nothing about any plans to do violence to the king.”

“I’ll tell you, and I’ll mean it. Seymour went on a great deal about building an affinity; you’d think we were in the last century. The worst I ever thought he would do would be to get the king declared to be out of his majority and the Protector removed from power. And I never heard any plans about precisely how he was going to do it.”

“But you encouraged such talk.”

“If Tom Seymour wants to talk about something, he’s going to whether one encourages him or not. I listened. He’s been telling all and sundry these things, it appears.”

“How did the council find out?”

“The Earl of Rutland. Something Seymour said made him nervous, and he went to the Earl of Warwick—he admires Warwick—and told him. Warwick brought him to Somerset immediately. But you haven’t even asked about Jane yet.”

“I haven’t had the chance, Harry.” It was late, and Jane was already asleep in her chamber. “You started speaking as soon as I entered the room.”

“True, my dear,” Harry conceded. He made a motion with his hand that served as a sort of apology. “I’m concerned about the effect all of this will have on her. I just hope she doesn’t have to give evidence against him. They say the lady Elizabeth might be questioned. It seems he had hopes of marrying her.” He snorted. “Poor Seymour. He did aim high. But I suppose after you’ve bedded a queen, the girl who’s second in line to the throne is the next logical choice. I’m surprised he didn’t try for the lady Mary, but then again, perhaps not.”

“Harry, promise me, if he gets freed from prison, you will not let our daughter go back to him.”

“Don’t fear. I’ve no intention. From henceforth, Jane stays with us—until she goes to her husband.”

Encouraged, I went on. “And that you will have nothing to do with him. Harry, you could have ended up in prison yourself.”

“You don’t need to tell me that,” Harry said huffily. He sighed. “But yes, I have learned my lesson.”

***

Over the past few weeks, it seemed as if every man in London was called upon by the Protector to depose as to what he knew about Tom Seymour and his doings. There seemed to be no one whom he had not confided in at one time or another. Harry had had to go before the Protector several times—each time he was summoned, I paced my chamber, fearing he would not come back—and the letters he and I had written to Seymour were duly dragged out. Even Jane’s letter to Seymour did not escape Somerset’s sharp eye, but she herself was not called upon to give evidence, the Protector having satisfied himself she knew nothing of any interest to him.

As it became clear neither Harry nor Jane would suffer for Seymour’s folly, I relaxed, then marveled at all that had gone on in the past couple of months while my girl sat quietly at Seymour Place, practicing her music and improving her Latin and Greek. Seymour had come to the king’s chambers at any odd time he pleased, examining the locks and windows to gauge how easily a boy could be smuggled out. With the help of his friend Sharington, the man who’d so handily persuaded me to send my daughter back, he had been plotting to coin money with an eye toward paying an army to help him overthrow his brother. He had bragged of how well he would govern England once the Protector was locked up and he himself was in power. Less sinister, but more disturbing to me as a mother, were the stories that emerged about a flirtation with the lady Elizabeth. Seymour had popped into the princess’s room in the morning, bare-legged, and had made as if to pounce on the girl. With the queen assisting, apparently with the notion that this was simply Seymour having his fun, he had held Elizabeth down and cut a black gown of hers he disliked into shreds. Then the queen herself had caught her husband embracing Elizabeth, and the fun had ended. Might he have been engaging in such conduct with my Jane? She was young—but not so young that such behavior by a man was beyond belief.

“There is something I must talk to you about,” I said, half stammering, as I came into Jane’s chamber at Dorset House. “The Admiral. He seems to have been very familiar with the lady Elizabeth while you were both there.”

“Yes, my lady. He was.”

“In what way?”

Jane’s face puckered in puzzlement. “The same way he was with me, I suppose. He would pay her compliments on her music. He liked to dance with her—with me, too. And with the queen, too, of course, before she became great with child and preferred to sit and watch. He never spoke much about what we were reading; I don’t think he cared for it himself. He would go riding with us and the queen quite often. The lady Elizabeth is a good horsewoman, better than me; he always would praise her. Sometimes they would make a game of seeing who could ride the fastest, but it made the queen worry too much, so they stopped.”

“And after you came to live with him again after the queen’s death? Was he familiar with you?”

“No, my lady. Not like the old days. I spent most of my time with his mother, doing needlework and practicing my music when I wasn’t having my lessons. He seemed very busy, much more than he had been when the queen was alive. He was always coming and going. Even when Father stayed there, I hardly saw him. The most I saw of him was when he took me to court for Christmas. I enjoyed that.”

“Jane, I must ask you a delicate question. Did he ever lay his hands upon you?”

“My lady?”

“Like—like a lover might.”

“No, Mother! Nothing like that.” Jane’s expression, half indignant at this insult to the Admiral, half puzzled at my asking such a strange question, was worth a thousand denials.

I let out my breath with relief. “Then I am glad to hear it.”

“Mother, is the Admiral in trouble? Am I the cause of it?”

“You are not the cause of it, but he is in very serious trouble. It has to do with the Protector and things that he has been saying against him.”

“Oh, the Protector,” Jane said offhandedly. “The Admiral hates him.”

11
Jane Dudley
March 1549 to October 1549

With the last of the depositions completed, the king’s council had made the painful choice to bring formal charges of high treason against Thomas Seymour, which he refused to answer, and a bill of attainder had passed both the Lords and the Commons. An ashen-faced Somerset had signed his younger brother’s death warrant, his hand shaking, and on March 20, 1549, the Admiral, debonair as always, walked to the scaffold at Tower Hill.

His brother was not there to see his last moments on earth. He and the duchess had gone with the king to Greenwich, where the duchess had invited my husband and me to stay lest Somerset give way at the last moment and halt the execution. But as we sat down to breakfast on bacon, eggs, and cheese, it was clear the Protector’s mind was not on the delicious-smelling food, not even on the quince marmalade made by his own duchess, who liked to potter around in the kitchen from time to time.

“The fourth Edward had to put his brother to death,” said the Protector. “I wonder if he felt as I do today.”

“The Duke of Clarence was a menace to the king,” said John. He laid an arm upon Somerset’s sleeve. For the occasion, the Protector had dressed in black. “And your brother was a menace to our king—and to you. You heard what he was plotting.”

“The man gave you no choice,” the duchess said briskly.

“He would never have stopped plotting against you,” I added for good measure.

The duke sighed and stared toward the window, then at the clock on the mantle. “It must be about to take place.” He slowly spread some marmalade over his bread and took the smallest of bites. “Delicious,” he said tonelessly.

For the next hour or so, the men talked about the other problems in the realm, of which there were many at the time. John, normally a taciturn man, hardly stopped talking long enough for the Protector to form a thought, much less a response, while we women discussed our gardens and our children in false, bright voices. Then one of the duke’s servants knocked on the door and entered. “The Constable of the Tower wishes to inform you that the sentence has been carried out, Your Grace. The body has been taken to the chapel for burial.”

I felt the Admiral’s shade glide into the room and make himself comfortable.

“Go back and make certain that the body is treated with all due respect, as befits an uncle of the king,” Somerset said.

“Yes, Your Grace.” The man bowed and backed out of the room.

Somerset pushed his untouched food away, propped his elbows on the table, and wept into his hands. Anne left her seat and knelt next to him, her arm around him. “If he had asked to see me, this never would have happened,” Somerset said, his words barely intelligible through his tears. “I would have never allowed him to be put to death. Why did he not ask? Why did no one offer to bring him to me?”

“Edward, let us go to our estates for a few days. You need some rest and quiet; these past weeks have strained you unbearably. Come. Let us get ready now. The Earl and Countess of Warwick will understand.” We nodded our assent.

“No. I must tell the king that the sentence has been carried out. He cannot be allowed to hear it from someone not in the family. He will hate me for it, but he deserves to hear it from me.” Somerset chuckled bitterly. “He already hates me anyway. Do you know what the king said in his deposition? My brother told him that he would be able to rule without a protector within a couple of years, as I was growing old and would not live long. The king replied, ‘It were better for him to die before.’”

“The king did not mean what you think,” I put in even before the duchess could. “He is a boy, for all that he is a king, and boys speak callously in that manner. He merely meant that if you were truly ill, you should not suffer.”

Somerset ignored my gloss on the king’s comment. “And I must tell our mother. She will never forgive me. Thomas was her favorite son.” Somerset rose and ran a hand over his face. “She never liked me nearly as much as she did him. Just like the king.”

The duchess took her husband’s hand again. “But the people love you, Edward. They call you their good duke.”

The Protector’s face cleared, and something of a faint smile broke through. “It’s true,” he said. “They do.”

***

The summer of 1549 was one of the most frightening ones ever seen in England. Not since the Pilgrimage of Grace twelve years before had the country seemed so much in danger. There was anger in Cornwall and Devon about the new prayer book put out by the government and about the other religious changes, anger in Norfolk about oppressive and corrupt local government. Discontent in one county seeped into the next county, and there were a number of small risings, but the best organized had been in the area around Norwich. William Parr, Marquis of Northampton, had been sent to deal with it, and had failed miserably, losing many of his men in the process.

It had been left to my husband—newly risen from a sickbed, for his health had been poor that year—to save Norwich from its fate. It was not from John but my sons Ambrose and Robert, who had served under him, that I had learned of my husband’s deeds: how he had told the city officials he would either save it or die in its service; how he had urged the rebels to accept a pardon and save their own lives; how, having been refused, he had proceeded to slaughter the rebels; how, wishing to spare the survivors, he had ridden into their midst in person to demonstrate the sincerity of his renewed offer of pardon; how he had executed the leaders of the rebellion but refused the demands of the town officials that he punish even more widely. From my sons, not my husband, I had learned the city of Norwich had declared that each year on the anniversary of the battle, its citizens would close their shops and give thanks for Norwich’s deliverance.

The Protector had not shown similar gratitude. When John asked that our son Ambrose, who had been one of the first to ride against the rebels, receive as a reward for his good services the reversion of certain offices, he’d been refused in favor of one of Somerset’s own friends. Every request John made of the Protector, no matter how easy it would have been for him to fulfill, was refused.

After these slights, John said little to me, and I did not question him. I knew it was just a matter of time before he came to me, and in mid-September, he did. “I don’t know what to do, Mouse.”

Even though I had been anticipating that John would confide in me sooner or later, I blinked, both at the admission and the use of my childhood name, which I’d begged John to stop using when I became a grown-up young lady of twelve. “John?”

“The Protector. This can’t continue as it is, Jane. He’s unfit for his office. I have kept telling myself he’ll grow into the position; it’s not what he was raised to do, after all. He was raised to be an ordinary knight—as was I.” John’s mouth twitched upward faintly. “He’s been far too willing to make concessions to the rebels, at the expense of the gentry. He’s carried on about their grievances so much, one would think he’s one of them. Jane, I care about the people! I truly do. Do you think I don’t feel for the common man? But Somerset takes it too far; the rabble can’t have the rule of the land. Is he trying to make his own nephew less secure on the throne? And it’s not just his behavior toward the rebels; it’s his behavior toward those who are governing the realm with him. Once—twice—I have seen him reduce grown men to tears. Not weaklings, but men who have fought bravely on the battlefield. He doesn’t seek advice from the council very often, and when he does seek our advice, he ignores it. He’s become worse since he executed his brother, too. More prone to anger, more sharp tongued, more uncompromising. Maybe he’ll be more like himself when the guilt over Thomas Seymour’s death eases, but when? We’ve some years to get through until the king comes of age or is old enough to be declared to be of age. Can we afford to wait all these years on the hope the Protector improves? If we keep letting him drag us into the mire, can we pull ourselves free?”

“Are you saying he should be removed as Protector?”

“Yes, I am, and I am not the only one. Trust me, much of the council is of the same mind. But it is tearing at my soul, for we have been friends, and I know him for a good man. I know also he means well toward the king, too; he loves the boy, for all he can’t show it that well. But he is sowing the seeds of disaster, and if this keeps up, it will be left for the king a few years from now to reap them, if he hasn’t already.”

“Do you think he will agree to step down?”

“Aye, that is the crux of the matter. Probably not; he’s too proud.” John snorted. “Paget has taken it upon himself to send him long letters of advice, he tells me. I saw a copy of one. I can’t say I’d be pleased to get such letters myself, but Somerset hardly seems to notice them. I suspect he doesn’t even read them.”

“So he will have to be forced out.”

“Yes. I don’t want to do it. More than anything, I don’t want to shed blood—his or mine or anyone else’s. But this can’t go on. I’m torn, Mouse.”

“You must choose between your friendship with Somerset and your duty to the kingdom—and to the king. That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it?”

John looked at me and sighed. “When you put it that way, there’s no choice at all, is there?”

“None indeed,” I said sadly.

***

No one wanted bloodshed, but for a few frightening days in October, it seemed as if that would be exactly what we would get. Forces gathered around John and his allies in London, while others gathered around the Protector at Hampton Court. Every spare chamber at Ely Place was crammed with the council members and their entourages, to the puzzlement of both my youngest daughter, Katheryn, who could no longer play hiding games in its once vacant spaces, and of Jerome, who asked plaintively one day when all of the grim-faced strangers could be expected to leave. “Soon,” I said hopefully, while I hurried off to ensure yet more provisions were brought in for our many house guests. Civil strife, I was finding, lessened no one’s appetites.

The war over the few days, however, would be fought not with swords, but with pen and paper. From Ely Place, the council sent letters to Somerset; from Windsor Castle, where he had hastened with the reluctant king, Somerset sent letters to the council. Everybody, it seemed, was writing to everybody. The printers of London had never been happier; both sides were furiously producing handbills, which still could be found gracing the walls of sundry buildings weeks after all had ended. As the days wore on, John received a letter from the Protector himself, begging him to remember their old friendship, and I received a letter from the Duchess of Somerset, begging me to use what influence I had with my husband. But there was nothing John could do other than to assure Somerset he did not seek his blood, and nothing I could do other than to send a similar message to the duchess. Meanwhile, the men at Windsor were rapidly deserting Somerset’s cause, and on October 11, he was arrested without putting up any resistance.

Three days later, Somerset was escorted to London as a prisoner. John did not watch him enter the city, half because he felt it unseemly, half because he could not bear to see his old friend brought low. I was of a baser nature, though, and of a more curious one, so I went. I have been repaid threefold for my idle gawking that day.

The council had taken care not to humiliate the duke—no longer Protector, for that position had been abolished the day before. Somerset wore fine clothes and was mounted on a good horse, and the only thing that marked him as a prisoner was the armed guard of three hundred men that ringed him. He gazed at the men surrounding him reprovingly yet sadly, as if they were well-loved children caught in a bad act. Only when a group of poor people cheered did his austere features soften into a smile.

Not far from me, a plainly dressed woman stifled a sob as the duke passed by. I stared at her, and stared at her even harder when, the duke having ridden past us, she began weeping openly. The Duchess of Somerset might have stripped off her jewels and hidden her carefully tended face and figure underneath someone else’s drab clothes, but she could not conceal the love she plainly bore for the prisoner heading off toward an uncertain future.

I moved to her and touched her on the shoulder. She gasped then turned a ravaged face to me. “You are enjoying this, Lady Warwick?”

“No. I am very sorry for all this.”

The duchess stared after her husband. “He thinks I am at my brother’s house in Beddington. I promised him I would not come to see him brought to London as a prisoner if it came to that. I little thought that it would. But it may be the last I ever see of him alive.”

“I told you, Anne, my husband does not seek his life.”

“He cannot bear to be in the Tower long. He will be miserable and cold there. His health will suffer.”

“I have it on good authority that the council is arranging for him to be comfortably housed there. He will be treated as his rank deserves. You have nothing to fear.”

“I miss him.”

I had no response to that. Instead, I said, “I will do everything in my power to see him freed.”

“And restored to his protectorship?”

I had to smile at the duchess’s presumption even in the face of disaster. “That I cannot promise. But I will try my best to have him restored to you and your children.”

“I thank you,” Anne said. For the first time I could recall in our long acquaintanceship, her expression was a humble one. She looked back toward her husband, but his figure had long disappeared from view. “And can his favorite cook be with him in the Tower? My husband is very particular in his eating habits.”

***

“I have made a promise today, John.”

“Oh?”

“To the Duchess of Somerset.”

John groaned eloquently.

“I promised her that I would use my influence to see her husband released from the Tower.”

“Released from the Tower? He’s not even there yet; his quarters won’t be ready until tomorrow. I’ll say one thing for you women—you don’t waste time.”

“I couldn’t bear it, John. She had gone to watch Somerset being brought into the city, and she was weeping. I felt pity for her.” I put my arms around John in the bed we were sharing. I could feel the bones in his back more easily than I could a couple of months ago; he’d been hardly eating, and some days could scarcely keep anything on his stomach. Somerset, at least from my vantage point on the street, had looked less worn for his ordeal than did my husband. “I told her that you would receive her if she came and spoke on his behalf. Did I presume?”

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