In High Places – Bonny G Smith [Chapter] Part 2

Wow, this one is super late. I’ve been in a weird funk lately, and can’t seem to shake it, but I’m going to power through! I’m happy to share with you the second part of Bonny’s In High Places submission. Feel free to read part one by clicking here!

In High Places – Part 2

The ring was not attractive to Elizabeth’s eye, but its significance far outweighed its outward appearance. For this was the ring that her sister had worn upon her finger without once removing it since her marriage to the King of Spain. Like much that was Spanish, it was gold and black. She had instructed Sir Nicholas Throckmorton to bring the ring to her the moment her sister breathed her last. This he had arranged to do, with the assistance of one of Mary’s bedchamber women. It was the only proof she would accept that her sister was truly dead, for she knew that only death would separate Mary from Philip’s ring. Otherwise it was possible that she should have been guilty of treason for celebrating…yes, celebrating…her sister’s death prematurely. Sir Nicholas had arrived with the ring before the men of the Council had found her under the great oak tree. But it was not until she had heard them exclaim “God save the queen!” that she could truly believe that it was so.

Sir Nicholas had delivered the ring to her with a list of suggestions for Council appointments, and other advice that he felt might be needed. She would consider the advice, but she fully intended to go her own way. There would be many to give her advice now, most of it slanted to their own advantage. Sir Nicholas she trusted more than most because although he always trimmed his sails to the prevailing wind, a practice she had prudently employed many times herself, he knew the value of giving sound counsel. But she knew that any advice he offered was given with an eye to the future…his own! He had almost been executed for treason for suspected complicity in the Wyatt Rebellion. She should not thank him for that, except that he had steadfastly refused to implicate her falsely when doing so might have eased his own lot considerably. For that she did feel grateful, and therefore she was willing to listen to what he had to say. But he was far too radical in his Protestant religion for her taste.

She continued to examine the ring, turning it this way and that, but she could not bring herself to place it upon one of her fingers. When she looked at it, all she could see were Mary’s hands with their stubby fingers and square nails. She should have a new coronation ring made; she had no intention of wearing Mary’s for the rest of her life!

And that was another thing! The coronation must take place without delay. For she believed that once she was anointed of God, it would be far more difficult for the French or the Spanish to attempt to unseat her with impunity, and it would give the pope pause before taking the drastic step of excommunicating her. Already Henri of France was pressuring the pope to declare her bastard and heretic and visit anathema upon her. What she must do now was to buy time…in any way possible.

Elizabeth rose and placed the ring into her jewel case. She walked to the window. The roads were very dry and any rider tended to leave a trail of dust as he wended his way to the palace through the forest. The dust usually rose languidly and dispersed on any errant breeze. But this dust trail was rising very swiftly behind the trees. Presently the sound of hooves could be discerned. There was something different about it…as swift as a messenger or courier, but not as light. This rider was approaching rapidly, and unless she missed her guess, on a very substantial horse.

The rider finally broke through the forest path and onto the wider road that led down the avenue to the entrance to the palace. It was a great white steed, its tail and mane flying, galloping as if it were being pursued by the Devil, and ridden by a man as dark as the Devil himself.

Robin!

With a strangled cry Elizabeth swept up her skirts and bolted from the room. Along the corridor and down the stairs she ran, a purple blur with her red hair flying behind her.

Breathless, she arrived at the doors to the palace and the halberdiers flung them open at the sight of her.

And then suddenly there he was, her childhood friend, Lord Robert Dudley, he to whom she had confided that she would never marry. They had been imprisoned in the Tower at the same time, under suspicion of treason because of the deeds of others…so unfair! Later, with her brother Edward, she had attended his wedding to Amy Robsart. During the years of Mary’s reign, Lord Robert had sold some of his lands in order to lend her money when she was short of funds. She had told him that if ever she was able to repay him, she would do so. And now, it seemed, he was here to collect. And she knew exactly how she planned to reward him.

*          *          *

“Tell it me again,” said Elizabeth. She lifted her face up to the sun and closed her eyes, letting the breeze wash over her.

Robert laughed. “I have already told you.”

Elizabeth cocked an eyebrow. “Am I, or am I not, the queen? Would you disobey your sovereign?” They sat under the great oak tree, a blanket spread, a picnic lunch laid out. She seized a grape and threw it at him, but he was too fast for her; his hand shot out and he caught it in mid-flight.

“And shall I peel this for you, Your Grace?” He smiled; his teeth shone white and even in the dappled sunlight as the bare branches swayed in the breeze.

“Only if you can peel and talk at the same time.”

Robert gave her a wicked look and popped the grape into his mouth. “First the bells began to ring,” he said. “At first only at the abbey, but soon, every bell in London was pealing. All the church bells, every single one, I trow! The noise was deafening! Everyone stopped what they were doing; people were thronging the streets. Then someone spotted the Earl Marshal…”

Elizabeth, who had been lounging on one elbow, sat up and cried excitedly, “My cousin Norfolk!”

“Yes,” smiled Robert. “The duke proceeded from the palace at Westminster with all of the nobles, heralds and bishops…”

“All the Catholic bishops?” interrupted Elizabeth again.

“Yes,” replied Robert patiently.

“Tell it right!” cried Elizabeth, playfully slapping his face.

“They all proceeded from the palace and met the Lord Mayor and the city aldermen at the cross at Cheapside, and there the heralds…”

Elizabeth pounded her fist on the blanket. “You are not telling it right! What about the trumpets? Did the trumpets not blare?”

“Yes, yes, the trumpets indeed blared, very loudly, more loudly than I have ever heard them do, having been standing right next to them, and then Somerset Herald proclaimed, ‘Her Grace, the Princess Elizabeth, by the grace of God, queen of England’…”

Elizabeth waved an imperious hand. “I know all that part. Tell about the bonfires!”

Robert shook his head and ran an exasperated hand through his thick, black hair. “Well, by three of the clock it was beginning to get dark, and the people began lighting bonfires on every street corner. By four of the clock it seemed as if the entire city was ablaze! Then the pubs began to haul out onto the streets hogsheads and barrels of free ale and wine for all; the citizens who could afford to do so set out food for everyone! The ’prentices were let off, and there they all were, man and master, lord and lady, high and low, all drinking together to the health of the new queen and making very merry! It was a goodly sight. The celebrations went on so long into the night that I trow not a lick of work is being done today for the sore heads!”

“And then you came,” said Elizabeth, putting a gentle hand to the place where she had lately playfully landed a slap. “Sweet Robin! There are tribes in the New World, I hear, that reward their storytellers. I have such a reward for you.” Elizabeth regarded Lord Robert closely; he had been a handsome boy, and now he was a striking man. Her stomach did a pleasant little flip-flop.

But even in that delightful moment, when she was so happy, to be queen, to be doing as she pleased for once, to be out from under the oppressive weight of her sister’s rule, she saw the avidity in his eyes. Well, her gift was the equal of any greed he might be feeling.

Elizabeth sat back, lifted an apple from the basket with her long slender fingers and took a bite.

“Well?” His eyes were still as playful as they had been but she could feel the waves of anticipation and expectation emanating from him.

She continued to chew thoughtfully. Just when she saw his impatience begin to get the better of him, she sat up, laid the apple aside and said, “I have decided. You are to be my favorite.”

Confusion reigned for a moment; he blinked and said, “Your Grace’s…?”

Elizabeth threw her head back and laughed heartily at his bewilderment. A queen’s favorite was an enviable position, but it was not a paid post! “You, my dear, my Sweet Robin, are to be my Master of Horse.”

His eyes widened. It was the perfect occupation for such as he; he was the son of the man who had been Master of Horse to Anne of Cleves and Queen Mary, and his brother John had served King Edward likewise. He enjoyed a reputation as an excellent horseman, some said the best in England; he excelled at all forms of horsemanship. It was an important post, and should be well-paid. But it was no sinecure; he would be responsible for the health and welfare of every piece of horseflesh in the royal estate, from the mildest palfrey for a timid lady-in-waiting to the mighty destriers needed for the queen’s joust. He would arrange all progresses and processions. He would oversee the stud and purchase every animal that the queen needed to keep her stable the best in the world, which was, no doubt, what she intended him to do.

He was gratified, but it was not a post usually associated with the Privy Council. Caution prevailed; all in good time. And in addition to Horsemaster, he was to be her favorite…and that could mean a host of other things!

“I accept,” he said.

Elizabeth snorted inelegantly. “Of course you do. And now we have work to do, Horsemaster! You have a progress to London to plan, and it must be magnificent! And hard on that shall be the processions needed for the coronation, and the coronation itself. I shall expect you to earn your gold, Sir Robert!”

He smiled; he stood up to his full height and then bowed deeply, with a flourish. He hoped, in time, to earn much more than that.

*          *          *

There were so many men in the Great Hall at Hatfield that the noise was deafening. Everyone was talking at once and the result was a discordant cacophony that grated on Elizabeth’s nerves. There were upwards of forty men on her sister’s Council, far too many to be efficient, in her opinion. These men were not going to like it, but she was planning to appoint far fewer advisors than that. If too many cooks might spoil the broth, then too many councilors made for naught but dissension and confusion. But whom to keep, whom to send away? Whom to add? She certainly did not lack for advice on the subject!

She had immediately sought the support of Mary’s Lord Chancellor, Nicholas Heath; he was also the Archbishop of York, a known Catholic, and yet it was he who had insisted on her immediate proclamation by the Parliament as Queen of England. He had, by his precipitate action, demonstrated his flexible conscience and dedication to the Tudor succession. It was a pity that he was too ill of the new ague to travel to Hatfield; she could have used his support in coping with what seemed to be a most unruly collection of men such as Mary’s Council was proving to be.

There were radical, inflexible Catholics on the Council who must be dismissed, and any Councilor not willing to dispense with the pensions being paid them by the King of Spain would not be retained. There were several high-ranking aristocrats with extensive land holdings or relationship to her, either by blood or by marriage, who should not easily be dismissed. Lord Clinton was the husband of the Fair Geraldine, and he, along with the earl of Pembroke, the Marquis of Winchester and Lord William Paget, had been serving on the Council since her father’s time; they must be retained. And finally, her great-uncle Lord William Howard must be kept on, regardless of his religion; time after time over the years he had proved himself unfailingly loyal to her, even when doing so was neither popular nor safe. She had formed in her head a vision of what she wanted her Council to be like; all in good time.

She tried to speak, but the sound of her voice was drowned out. She tried rapping on the table with the heel of her shoe, but the oak was thick and absorbed the sound. Finally, she arose from her chair to her full height and cried, “Enough!”

Immediately all was startled silence.

“Let us come to order, gentlemen,” she said authoritatively. When all the men had seated themselves she said, “Let us begin with a prayer. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen. Lord, we thank Thee for vouchsafing us a peaceful accession to the throne. Of Thy mercy give us the grace to govern with clemency and without bloodshed.”

As Elizabeth prayed on, Cecil remarked to himself that they did not really know for certain if the succession was to be peaceful or not; it was early days yet. But as far as the internal insurrection such as that which had plagued her sister upon her accession, there had been as yet no sign. On that score, at least, all seemed fair fit to succeed; Elizabeth was, after all, the most English woman in England, having no foreign parent, as Queen Mary had had in Katharine of Aragon. It was that Spanish connection that had, in the end, been Mary’s undoing.

Suddenly Cecil became aware that the hall had gone very quiet.

Elizabeth had ended her prayer and was referring to a parchment with what looked to be a lengthy list of items. Finally she looked up; she briefly regarded each one of the men sitting at the council table before she began to speak. It was an effective ploy; each man gave her his undivided attention, and it seemed as if she were speaking not to a large group, but to each man individually.

Elizabeth steepled her long, elegant fingers and rested her hands upon the table. “My lords, it must be understood at the outset that the people of England are my first care. Any business we conduct, any decisions we make, shall be with their welfare in mind.” She stopped and once again briefly regarded each man. Some looked away; some met her gaze full on. She found it very easy to read them all. She wondered if they somehow knew it; she thought not.

“The people,” she continued, “long for, crave, indeed, must have, stable government, economic recovery, an end to foreign influence in English affairs, and an end to religious strife. It will be our task, sirs, as daunting as it may seem, to manage the affairs of England so as to ensure all of this. Only then can we once again be a powerful and prosperous nation.” The words were left unspoken; but it was writ as if upon the air that since the death of her father, eleven years of first her brother’s reign and then Mary’s had left England practically insolvent, and with her prestige in the eyes of the other countries of Europe at its very lowest ebb. The nightmare years of religious persecution, the horror of the burnings in her sister’s reign, and the confusion that years of contradictory rules concerning religious doctrine had engendered, had left the English people muddled and brutalized.

Henry FitzAlan, the earl of Arundel, leaned forward. Bother the people, he thought; his first concern was that Sir William Cecil was sitting at the queen’s right hand. Why was a mere factor being given such pride of place? What did it mean, he wondered?

“Lofty aims, Your Grace,” he said. “All know that the treasury is nearly empty, the loss of Calais has left the people demoralized, and the Continental powers regard England as of no importance whatsoever.” Did the chit think they did not know the dire condition in which England now found herself?

Elizabeth had never liked Arundel; she thought him arrogant, haughty and far too self-important. And he would not have dared to speak to her father in such a manner! She once again scanned the faces at the table, one by one, before replying; by doing so she seemed to ignore the earl.

“This is not the first time, my lords, that England has faced difficulties, nor, I trow, shall it be the last. But rest assured that there are remedies for all of England’s ills. An empty treasury is not a problem to be taken lightly; therefore we must refrain from bemoaning the fact and laying blame, and press forward with solutions. We must re-establish England’s credit with the bankers in Antwerp and Florence; the coinage, so sadly debased in the last three reigns, must be restored. Through our alliance with Spain we have our trade with the Low Countries; indeed, the Netherlands depends upon English wool to weave their cloth. But mark my words, my lords, there will be no interference from Philip of Spain in the affairs of England whilst I am on the throne! Spanish and Imperial interests concern me only in so far as English trade, the peace we so desperately require, and the recovery of Calais are concerned.”

Several of the men knocked their fists on the table in agreement.

Arundel grunted but said nothing; it was far easier to say that this and that must be done, than to accomplish it!

Of all the difficulties facing them, she thought, the religious issue was going to be the most challenging, and its consequences the most profound and far-reaching. They must craft a religious settlement that satisfied as many people as possible, but there was no getting around the fact that the fate of England was bound up in the Protestant Reformation; there could be no other way. Anything less would lead to once again tying England to Rome and the pope, and that she would never allow.

Thanks be to God, she reflected, her cousin Reginald had expired before he could become a hindrance. His death had swiftly followed her sister’s, indeed, he had died on the same day a mere twelve hours later. A speedy answer to prayer if ever there was one! There was no doubt in her mind that her sister’s Archbishop of Canterbury would have been a daunting adversary. He might even have refused to crown her, and then where would she be?

Elizabeth once again scanned the faces of the men of her sister’s Council. She believed that she had won over some of them with her decisive stance, but she could still see doubt in the eyes of others. A woman had landed them into the mess in which England now found herself; they had little confidence that another woman should rescue them from it. She believed in herself; she must make them believe in her as well.

In answer to the unspoken question she said, “I have been instructed well by adversity and experience, my lords, two very excellent teachers.” She rested her eyes on each man, assessing their confidence in her ability to accomplish what she was telling them must be done. More of them were meeting her gaze now than at the beginning of the meeting; that was good. The compelling charisma that her mother had possessed in such measure allied with the power of her father’s personality to make of her a most formidable force. They could sense this; they could feel it. At that moment there was not a man at the table who already did not dread falling afoul of her.

“I have a question,” said Elizabeth. “Are there any outstanding death warrants?”

The men seemed startled by the abrupt change of topic; all eyes went to Sir Richard Oxenbridge, the Lord Lieutenant of the Tower.

“If it please Your Grace,” he replied, “there are two heretics awaiting the stake. Queen Mary signed the warrants just before…”

Elizabeth’s fist came down onto the council table with a bang. “It does not please me! There will be no such doings whilst I am queen! They are pardoned. Release them at once.”

Sir Richard’s face was the color of chalk. “Y-yes, Your Grace,” he stuttered in reply.

Elizabeth arose and silently eyed them all one last time. “That is enough for today,” she said. “We shall meet again tomorrow.”

No one had the temerity to ask the question that was foremost in all of their minds; what of the queen’s marriage? For surely Her Grace did not intend to rule alone? The role of a queen, regnant or not, was to assure the succession by producing an heir. And by the looks of things, the sooner this queen married and turned the reins of government over to a husband, the better! As far as the men of the present Council were concerned, that moment could not come too soon.

London, November 1558

On a brilliant blue and gold day, a magnificent cavalcade wended its way south on the Great North Road towards London. The sun shone brightly, puffy white clouds dazzled the eye, and the wind was cool but calm. The trumpets blew a fanfare as the glittering procession made its way through the villages and hamlets. At their clarion call, the people came out in excited droves to behold their new queen, to cheer for her, and to wish her well.

Robin had already worked a miracle in just six short days; just like the Almighty! Elizabeth chuckled to herself at the unintentional blasphemy.  In less than a week, Robert had arranged a splendid show for her first public outing as Queen of England. All agreed that there must be no delay; the new queen must claim her capital city and the arsenal at the Tower, and be publically acclaimed by the populace, as soon as possible in order to reinforce her queenly authority.

The Privy Council had been whittled down to twenty men; those ousted had grumbled but wishing to make no enemies, Elizabeth had found other posts and positions for most of them, and those too old to meet the challenges of a new regime had been pensioned off, despite their protestations of both vitality and loyalty. Dismissals had been done privately and without rancor, but firmly and leaving no doubt as to the finality of the queen’s decision.

The dismissals, in fact, had been far less difficult than the additions made to the Council. There had been much muttering and head-shaking at Cecil’s appointment as Secretary of State, even though he had shown himself to be an able and proven statesman in the previous reigns. He was known to be incorruptible, as Elizabeth herself had pointed out when she announced his new position in the government. Perversely, to many that did not bode well; officials who could not be bribed were most troublesome when it came to asking for boons and seeking favors.

But if there had been some mild grousing at Cecil’s elevation, there was overt protest at Lord Robert Dudley’s assignment as Master of the Queen’s Horse. Officially, horsemaster was a household post, not a government appointment, but there were many who felt that a man whose father and grandfather had both been executed for treason had no business being employed in any royal capacity. And there was genuine concern that it could mean the rise once again of the Dudley ambition. But Elizabeth made it clear that she was not to be gainsaid in matters either great or small; the Tudor temper had been very much in evidence during the days just after her accession.

And so on this most auspicious day, a grand concourse of lords, ladies and gentlemen bedecked in their finest jewels and wearing their sumptuous velvets and brocades, their colorful silks and satins, their dazzling cloth of gold and silver, made their way to town in the company of their new queen. Elizabeth had cause then to be glad that so many had come prematurely to Hatfield to pay court to her; the courtiers who accompanied her out of Hatfield on that sparkling fall day numbered in their hundreds and made for an impressive show. And by the time the cavalcade reached the outskirts of the city, the throng numbered almost a thousand as the common folk joined the merry procession and ran alongside their betters.

Awestruck children and young maids approached Elizabeth offering nosegays and sprigs of holly and of rosemary; every gift was acknowledged gratefully and with a smile, and then handed over to Kat Ashley, now her First Lady of the Bedchamber and Mistress of the Robes, to be placed in the litter in which Mistress Ashley was following.

Elizabeth was mounted on a magnificent dapple grey mare. Lord Robert had proved his worth and her great trust in his abilities when he had argued down the men of the Council and the ladies of the Queen’s Household, who had insisted that Her Grace must make her grand entry into London in a sumptuous litter. No, he had exclaimed adamantly; more of the eager populace would be better able to behold their new queen if she were mounted on horseback. Elizabeth was an excellent horsewoman and had readily agreed with Lord Robert’s strategy. There should be plenty of time for sitting in a sedate litter on Coronation Day, when she would be weighed down with the heavy robes that she must wear on that day. For today she was content to dazzle the crowds in her purple velvet riding gown with cloth of gold pulled through her sleeves. Her horse was trapped in the same purple velvet and cloth of gold to match. She wore her red hair flowing down her back and on her head was the slim golden circlet of a princess, studded with precious gems and diamonds that glittered in the sunlight, especially when she threw her head back laughing for sheer joy. This circlet would be the only royal head-gear she would wear until her Coronation Day, when the crowns of England and Ireland would be placed upon her head.

When they reached the Highgate the royal cavalcade was met by a procession of bishops. Fully thirteen Catholic bishops had perished in the past year of the new ague; there was an opportunity if ever there was one, she reflected. She dismounted briefly to accept their greetings and offered each man her hand to be kissed. But when she recognized the bowed head of Edmund Bonner, the Bishop of London, she withdrew her hand and would not allow him to touch her. He had been responsible for many of the burnings that had taken place in London.

She remounted and after being greeted by the Lord Mayor and the aldermen bedecked in their scarlet gowns for the meeting with their new queen, she and her great retinue followed them into the City of London to the fanfare of the royal trumpets and the deafening cheers of the people. The streets were choked with well-wishers, and those not on the streets leaned from their windows, which had been festooned with carpets, banners, and any other colorful thing that could be found to show their support for their new queen.

Through the streets of London Elizabeth rode, greeting even the dirtiest beggar who addressed her directly, calling out to those she knew in the crowd, smiling and waving. Never since her father’s time had a sovereign been more approachable and more in tune with the mood of the people.

The Lord Mayor preceded her carrying her scepter and by his side rode Garter King-at-Arms. Lord Pembroke bore the sword of state, its golden scabbard studded with hundreds of pearls. The sergeants-at-arms guarded them all front and back, but most wonderful of all was that Lord Robert, as her Master-of-Horse, rode right by her side on a great black stallion.

As they approached the Tower they rode along the London Wall, which the excited citizens had hung with tapestries and colorful streamers and pennants. All was constant cheering, but every time the royal trumpets ceased one could hear the sweet music of shawms, rebecs and regals, flutes and cornets; and as they came closer to the Tower, the City Waites played and sang to welcome their new queen to her capital city.

Finally, all was drowned out by the ear-splitting sound of the firing of the Tower guns, to herald her approach. She could feel the impact of each salvo in the pit of her stomach, in the very core of her being. Down Market Lane and Tower Street she progressed with her royal escort, all the while expertly managing her mare, who had become restive at the booming of the guns. The mighty cannon continued to discharge until she drew rein on Tower Hill. The music stopped, the cheering ceased, and all was quiet as Elizabeth raised her eyes to the very pinnacles of the mighty fortress, which seemed to float on the chilly air; these she regarded for some moments.

Silently she approached the great gates. Then she solemnly turned her horse around to face the multitudes gathered about her, and lifting her eyes and her arms up to heaven, she began to speak.

“Some,” she said solemnly, “have fallen from being princes of this land to be prisoners in this place; I am raised from being a prisoner in this place to be prince of this land. Mine dejection was a work of God’s justice; this advancement is a work of his mercy. I acknowledge that Thou hast dealt as wonderfully and as mercifully with me, as Thou didst with Thy true and faithful servant Daniel, Thy prophet, whom Thou deliveredst out of the den, from the cruelty of the greedy and raging lions. Even so was I overwhelmed, and only by Thee delivered. To Thee therefore only be thanks, honor and praise, forever, Amen.”

With that declaration, and to the deafening cheers of the crowds, Elizabeth once again walked into the Tower of London. She paused for a moment at the place where her mother had been beheaded, and then she disappeared into the Bell Tower to visit the rooms where she had been held prisoner during her sister’s reign.

Only Robert, who had been a prisoner in the tower adjoining Elizabeth’s, knew what she was feeling at that moment, for his own thoughts were the same.

I'm a lover of all things Tudor, and historical - fiction or fact. My aim is to bring together writers of all calibers to share their work with like minded people!

One thought on “In High Places – Bonny G Smith [Chapter] Part 2

  1. This chapter leads on so well from the first and reaches the heart of Elizabeth herself. Bonny has described so well the new queen’s feelings and decisions as she rewarded Lord Robert Dudley for his friendship and loyalty, addressed the Privy Council for the first time and spoke to the crowd, her new subjects, as she entered the grounds of the Tower of London. Her route to this historic building has been so well-depicted scribally that I felt almost part of the multitude of people who welcomed her prior to her coronation.

    This is a very interesting era in Tudor history, heralding a complete change for the country, though no-one could have predicted in 1558 that Queen Elizabeth’s reign would span over 40 years, into the 17th century. This transition period it must have been both an exciting and apprehensive time for many and I am certain that Bonny has captured so much of the essence of the reign of Queen Elizabeth in this book.

    Like

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