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A Rose Without a Thorn

A Rose Without a Thorn

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A Rose Without a Thorn

542 pages
6 hours
Jul 9, 2013


A Rose Without a Thorn, by Marilyn Kohinke Washburn, offers a powerful and intriguing look inside the tumultuous; and too often, bloody Royal Court of King Henry VIII.

Set in 16th century England, King Henry's kingdom is in the throes of the Protestant Reformation, while his Royal Court is in desperate search of a new Queen and male heir to secure the Tudor line. King Henry has already divorced his first wife and beheaded his second, causing many ladies of his court to pray he does not set his cap for them. Nevertheless powerful patriarchs of both Protestant and Catholic factions at court are in strong pursuit of King Henry to marry a woman of their own choosing and beget a male heir by her, whether or not the woman they choose wishes to wed King Henry VIII.

In a time when religious freedom was nonexistent, and when women were still considered their husband's property, timeless motivators such as love, hate, greed, jealousy, betrayal, and hubris were very much in existence. The stage is thus set for the rise and fall of many powerful courtiers close to King Henry VIII, including those he once passionately vowed his enduring love for.

King Henry VIII had a tumultuous reign, where many heads rolled, culminating in a bloody finale for all those who crossed his unforgiving path. In this fascinating offering of historical fiction, get a closer look at a vengeful Henry VIII and the men and women behind his powerful throne as they rose and fell at the vain and whimsical mercy of tyrant, who ruled absolutely.
Jul 9, 2013

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Marilyn Kohinke Washburn spent over a decade researching and writing, A Rose Without a Thorn and its sequel, Swords of the Spirit. Marilyn is a history buff, who attended Meramec Community College in St Louis, Missouri, before going on to study psychology at Ohio State University. She states, "Both Henry VIII's break with Catholic Rome and England's Royal Tudors' influence on the Protestant Reformation has always been of great interest to me. Writing both books has been an incredible journey into the past." She invites all who are in pursuit of freedom of religion and thought as well as equal rights for both men and women to join her journey by reading her books. She sincerely hopes that those who do, will not only enjoy her work, but will also appreciate that perhaps by learning from such a bloody past we will not be doomed to repeat it.

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A Rose Without a Thorn - Marilyn Kohinke Washburn


© 2002, 2013 by Marilyn Kohinke Washburn. All rights reserved.

Cover design by Sue Thomas

This is a work of fiction. Any similarity between the characters appearing herein and any real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.

Published by AuthorHouse 07/01/2013

ISBN: 978-1-4817-6456-8 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-4817-6451-3 (hc)

ISBN: 978-1-4817-6455-1 (e)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2013910718

Any people depicted in stock imagery provided by Thinkstock are models, and such images are being used for illustrative purposes only.

Certain stock imagery © Thinkstock.

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.


To The Reader

Part I God Send Me Well To Keep

1 A Race Against Time

2 A Puppet King

3 Katherine Howard

4 For The Good Of The Realm

5 So Long As She Lives

6 Master Culpepper

7 As The Golden Sun Excelleth The Silver Moon

8 The Ladies Anna And Amelia

9 A Purse Full Of Gold

10 Lady Anna Of Cleves

11 God Send Me Well To Keep

12 A Deadly Lapse In Judgment

13 The Fates Of Princes And Princesses

14 The Triumph Of Truth

15 A Grave Matter Of State

16 A Loving Sister And Brother

Part II The King Wills It

17 A Rose Without A Thorn

18 The Purity Of The Queen’s Most Perfect Majesty

19 Of The Essence

20 More Than Any Royal Birth

21 As Long As Life Endures

22 This Last Mischief

23 Le Roy Le Veut

To Dave, you made the impossible possible, Je t’aime

To Billie Jo,

Thank you for helping me splash the sea back into the sand, love, Mom

And to the wind beneath my wings,

Mom, Dorothy, Ted, and Steve

In loving memory of

Dad, Debbie, Clayton, and Diane

To the Reader

This story is historical fiction set in 16th-century England. It is about Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anna of Cleves, whose fate was closely entwined with the dazzling, meteoric rise, and tragic fall of his fifth wife, Queen Katherine Howard and her supposed lover, Master Thomas Culpepper, the King’s favored minister. It is set during the treacherous and bloody religious reformation against the backdrop of the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment. I have spent some five years researching and five years writing this novel and its sequel, which as yet I have not completed.

I first became interested in this topic when my late sister, Debbie, and I were in high school and she asked me if I knew who Queen Anne Boleyn was. At that time I did not. However, since that time she sparked an interest in me that has stayed with me all these years. At first I intended to write about Queen Anne. However, much has been written about her while little has been written about the harrowing plights of Anna of Cleves and Katherine Howard. I decided to write about the fates of Queen Anna and Queen Katherine, who were like day and night, as I found their stories, as told by historians, to be quite compelling.

I love history, the dry facts as well as imagined, even slightly embellished historical fiction. I wanted to set the stage as I imagined it might have been centuries ago and to, in a sense, bring, as they say, history alive. In doing so I have, for the sake of the confined space of this work, narrowed the time line of certain events and omitted certain characters who played minor roles during this time frame. Most of the characters were very much alive in the 16th century and their fates, ill or otherwise, happened, for the most part, similarly to the way in which I have depicted them. The events leading up to their fates, the mystery, intrigue, and at best, the period’s questionable justice system, is no doubt still up for spirited debate in some circles. I offer one interpretation of the events culminating in the ultimate execution of Queen Katherine Howard, Culpepper, and others in hopes of sparking an interest not only in the period but in history as well. The character interpretation is mine, based on how I perceived the characters through my research. I have a great respect for history and historians. Therefore, I have attempted not to alter or consciously change the personalities of the characters, or shore up anything that would in any way greatly alter the events leading up to the rise and fall of both Queen Anna and Queen Katherine.

It has been an incredible journey writing this book. At times I felt as if I had one foot in the present and one in the 16th century. I wish to thank all the historians I have read as well as the History Channel, playwrights, historical fiction writers, and documentary film makers, all of whom in some way inspired me by bringing history alive for me not only in this period but back to the beginning of time as we know it and on into more current events.

Lastly, like most historical fiction writers, I created a large portion of the dialogue, which I feel is quite plausible. When at all possible, I let the characters speak for themselves. However, I opted to modify much of their speech from old English into a more contemporary fashion while maintaining the flavor of the period and the essence of what was said as it was, in part, recorded nearly 500 years ago.


God Send Me Well to Keep


A Race Against Time


It was a cold, gray dawn in the year of our Lord, 1538.

An opaque mist eerily cloaked three barges as they stole swiftly over the dark choppy waters of the River Thames, en route to the Tower of London.

Chief ministers of England’s contentious, bloody church and state as well as the French and Spanish Ambassadors were aboard. The eminent ministers included Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Protestant faction at the court of His Royal Majesty King Henry VIII, while Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, led the Catholic cause. Thomas Cromwell, England’s evil genius, led a burgeoning third, more furtive, faction down a politically diabolical, yet equally treacherous, path. Cromwell and the foreign ambassadors were seated beneath the canopied stern of the lead barge. The Catholics rode in the second, while the Protestants in the third bore down hard in the wake of the first two barges, in a race against time. The distinguished emissaries had been commanded by the King to stand in his stead as witnesses to the hotly contended executions of Lord Montague and the Marquess of Exeter, two ill-fated white roses, descendants of the ancient royal, yet long since defeated, House of York.

As the barges advanced upstream, dimly glowing lanterns swung off the sterns and bows and mingled with a fine mist to cast a golden net over the intricately crafted vessels. The golden haze obscured the identities of those on board and lent them a shadowy, nefarious appearance. However, when the wind gusted at intervals, the river’s mist rose and swirled in thick patches that stretched and thinned just enough to reveal glimpses of the massive vessels belonging to the royal fleet. Each was a splendid and ornate sight to behold, while only the lead barge flew the royal banner and bore the King’s insignia, a red Tudor rose. The sails on each vessel were made out of the finest cloth. They dauntlessly unfurled against the cold, bitter wind as the oarsmen labored full steam ahead with the wind in their bearded faces and ice on their brows while their hot breath rose in billows before them.

Upstream, high atop the Tower of London, a distant lookout stood posted on a narrow walkway near one of the ancient fortress’ many towers. He held a telescope to his eye and peered expectantly downstream over the stone wall.

I see nothing, my Lord Constable, he lowered the telescope and said, as the Constable and his yeomen joined him.

Damnable fog, the Constable said, gazing through the lookout’s telescope. He lowered it then handed it back. Keep a sharp eye, and bring me immediate word of when the King’s emissaries have arrived at Traitors Gate. And pray, by God, that all is in readiness or Cromwell, the devil himself, will have our heads on London Bridge by noon today, right along side Montague and Exeter’s.

The lookout nodded then promptly resumed his duty as the Constable and his yeomen strode back into the Tower.

A few floors below the lookout Montague and Exeter shared the same dank cell where presently they embraced their families in a flood of anguished tears. The Tower priest stood in the background near a small window and read aloud from a book of prayers. When prison guards entered, the prisoners’ families refused to leave as ordered. When at last pried away, they were escorted back to their own cells. Alone, except for the priest, the condemned knelt down on the stone floor and began to pray as the priest prepared to hear their last confessions.

On Tower Green, a handful of groundsmen pitched straw from a wooden cart onto a scaffold while one man strewed it about the floor with a pitchfork, piling it thickly around the base of a large stone block. They routinely went about their business. They paid little or no attention to the growing circus atmosphere nearby on Tower Hill as a large mob of common folk, in spite of the cold and the fog, eagerly and noisily thronged as close to the scaffold as permitted, some with picnic baskets and bottles of wine as if the Mayor of London had declared a holiday. Children laughed and screamed as they chased one another about the grounds, making chopping gestures with their hands while more daring ones ran up to the scaffold, touched it and screamed, then quickly ran off while the groundsmen continued their chore.

In a remote castle near the Scottish border, the Countess of Salisbury, the oldest living descendant of the House of York, rose stiffly from her bed then slowly fell to her knees before an altar in her bed chamber. As she prayed, rosary in hand, the barges continued to advance up river while the executioner of the Tower took hold of his axe and wielded it for practice as well as to loosen the mornings’ stiffness in his back and shoulders. He began to sharpen its thick blade on a large whetstone, sending sparks in all directions as it wheeled around and around, and around again, as the Countess continued to weep.

When a cruel wind gusted over the river, the patchy fog was swept into a fine angel-hair haze. As the wind subsided, the haze hung in the gray sky like a sheer billowing veil over the choppy waters of the Thames. A cold shiver ran through the lookout. He hesitantly leaned forward as he swore he could see oars breaching phantom-like out of the mist. He jerked back, rubbed his eyes, then shook his head; convinced that the ghostly fog had played a trick upon his anxious mind while the barges continued their advance.

For a time, the fog thickened as the wind died down. The lanterns cut only a dim narrow path through it, slowing their progress while causing those on board to become as anxious about their timely arrival, as was the lookout.

When the wind at last picked up, the fog began to lift and gradually the identities of the eminent churchmen and distinguished statesmen became more evident. For the most part, they remained seated on wooden benches in the sterns. One or two more restless men thumped and teetered about in their heavy leather boots on the damp wooden planks in a shaky attempt to pace off their apprehensions felt, among other things, toward the pending executions.

The statesmen wore sheathed swords equipped with brilliantly bejeweled hilts about their waists and carried daggers in their boots and waistbands as well as in the pockets of their doublets. They wore brightly plumed hats, tipped this way or that, which they often held onto in order to keep the wind from blowing them off. They were dressed warmly in dark, rich furs and fine leathers from head to toe. Some wore their heavy chains of office, made from precious gems and metals, like mantles over their cloaks. The bishops wore tri-cornered woolen hats with earflaps down. They carried Bibles and wore cloth, fur-trimmed cloaks over black clerical gowns bibbed in white. In spite of their warm clothing, they were a bit damp and quite chilled through to the bone, compliments of the cold, gusty December winds that misted them with a fine, icy spray from the oars as they breeched.

This is Cromwell’s doing, by Christ, the Duke of Norfolk, a terse man with a well-seasoned, leathery face gruffly blurted out. He slammed an iron fist into the palm of his opposite hand as his hard gaze shifted hotly to the lead barge then shifted back.

Aye, the others agreed in a low, conspiratorial growl, over the creaking of the wooden planks and splashing oars. Their broad padded shoulders bumped against each other as they rocked and swayed with the motion of the rough waves. An air of intrigue hung heavily about them as they trailed in the perilous wake of the lead barge.

No doubt, said the Bishop of Winchester, Cromwell’s ruthless hand played a cunning part in the downfall of Lord Montague and the Marquess of Exeter. His treachery knows no bounds. May God have mercy on their souls.

Aye, the others echoed, God have mercy.

My lords, the Bishop said, glancing from the Duke to the ambitious Sir Wriothesley and lastly the coarse and brutal Bishop Bonner, Cromwell’s infernal scheming has now forced our hand in the delicate issue of who will be the next Queen of England. We must not sit idly by while Cromwell pushes the King into a Protestant alliance with Germany. He fans the King’s fears with talk of an invasion led by the Emperor and the Pope… I mean the Bishop of Rome.

Cromwell plays too, Sir Wriothesley added, upon the King’s vanity by assuring His Majesty that by allying England with Germany he will be crowned Emperor over all the Protestant Princes in Christendom.

Now, Winchester said, Cromwell further seeks to seduce our widower King into this unholy alliance with talk of the King marrying one of two German Lutheran Princesses and thus forever tying the knot between England and Protestant Europe. Indeed, the imminent threat of a Lutheran heretic upon the throne of England touches the true church too nearly. For should such a heretic Queen give birth to a son and heir then we, my lords, shall not only fall prey to Cromwell but to Thomas Cranmer, our good Archbishop of Canterbury.

The devil’s own right hand, Norfolk growled.

Cranmer’s the King’s man, Bonner said.

Precisely, Winchester said.

Cranmer, Norfolk said, would be as well-pleased to see us burn in the fires at Smithfield as Cromwell would to see our necks upon the block.

I should be well-pleased to see Cranmer burn one day, Bonner said, eagerly rubbing his hands together.

A stinking Lutheran heretic upon England’s throne, Norfolk growled, grabbing the hilt of his sword. God’s blood, but I shall run Cromwell through yet.

Let the heretic Princesses step one dainty little foot upon England’s shores, Bonner said, and I shall be well pleased to burn them right alongside Cranmer. What a pretty bonfire that would make.

We must, Winchester said, find a way to bring Cromwell down before either Princess has cause to think of stepping foot upon English soil.

Aye, Wriothesley said, that’s the rub. But how, your Grace?

With these hands, Norfolk obsessed. Doubt it not, Gardiner, my good Bishop of Winchester, doubt it not.

Indeed my lord Duke of Norfolk, Winchester replied. I have no doubts of your formidable talents. For, it stands to reason that as Lord High Admiral and commander of all the King’s armies as well as head of the noble Howard clan, oldest and most powerful Catholic family in the kingdom, that the blood running in your veins would stir you into some bold, necking-breaking means, by which to rid England of Cromwell. However, Cromwell rides high in the King’s favor and thus his fall from royal grace must needs be seen by the King’s Majesty to have been brought about by Cromwell himself and not by us. For, consider this… should the King suspect any duplicity on our part in Cromwell’s demise, then how long do you think it would take His Majesty to sign our death warrants eh, my lord of Norfolk?

And I fear, Wriothesley said, that in the King’s ever darkening state of mind, it would take only the slightest amount of suspicion for him to send any one of us to the block.

Aye, Sir Wriothesley, Winchester said. Cromwell would have the King believe that all Catholics throughout Christendom seek to plot against him and his only son and heir, Prince Edward, who by some accounts is a sickly child and may not live to succeed his father. Yet, while this hand before me would have no bloody part in the untimely death of a true Prince of England, I would, however, rejoice in it should God Himself see fit to take the young Protestant Edward from us. For as it stands now, my lords, should some ill fate befall the Prince, the crown would go to the King’s oldest daughter, the Lady Mary, a Catholic sympathizer whose steadfast belief in the true faith, while an example to us all, causes fear to rise in the breasts of Cromwell and Cranmer.

Lady Mary’s obstinacy, Wriothesley said, angers her royal father, who thinks of her as a stubborn, willful, and disobedient daughter.

Thus, Winchester said, it is doubtful that the King would, should Edward die, see his way clear of leaving the crown to her. Cromwell has outwitted us all, including the Archbishop and Edward’s uncles, the Seymour brothers. No doubt they are in the same boat as we, racing against time to find means to pull Cromwell down without staking their own lives in the bargain. For if Cromwell’s new Queen should get a male heir by the King, then the Seymour brothers would be most foolish not to guard against Cromwell’s ambitions.

Aye. They would be most wise to look to the life of their royal nephew. Yet, the King loves both his daughters most dearly, Wriothesley said, and might very well decide to name Lady Mary in the line of succession after Edward.

Cromwell, chief architect of the executions of Montague and Exeter, shall prove by their deaths, Winchester said, that the King still fears the Tudor dynasty will end with him or his children only to once again hurl England back into another long, bloody civil war.

But, Norfolk said, the King’s declared both his daughters to be bastards and has thus denied them the title of Royal Princess. So, there’s an end to it."

Ah, Wriothesley said, that is true, but the King shall never fully disinherit either Lady Mary or Lady Elizabeth. Bastards or no, they are Tudors.

So, Bonner said, if the Catholic Lady Mary does indeed follow her Protestant half-brother to the throne, if he, in fact, outlives the King, then why trouble ourselves over who the King decides to wed, be they a Lutheran heretic or no?

Because, Bishop Bonner, Winchester said, a tad impatiently, while the King’s love for his daughters is undisputed, he has sworn many times that no woman could ever rule England. We might then safely surmise that Princess Mary, I mean the Lady Mary, has, in His Majesty’s eyes, three counts against her. First she is a woman. Secondly, she’s a devout Catholic, and thirdly, upon the birth of Prince Edward, she was indeed declared to be a bastard by her father in order to protect Edward’s claim to the throne as well as any claims made by the children he had hoped to further sire by Edward’s late mother, Queen Jane Seymour. And, as I have already hinted, should the King wed himself to a Lutheran Princess and should she give birth to a son then he, by virtue of being born a Tudor male, would be next in line after Edward. Lady Mary, the King’s eldest child, whose late mother was the King’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, would then be third in line. The bastard, Lady Elizabeth, who receives her religious instructions from the heretic reformer, Archbishop Cranmer, is the daughter of Queen Anne Boleyn, your late niece, Norfolk, the Great Whore. Lady Elizabeth, Norfolk’s great niece, would then be fourth in line. However, I dare say, with exceeding confidence, that Elizabeth the bastard shall never be seated upon the throne of England.

What a spidery tangle, Bonner laughed. I say burn all heretics throughout Christendom and have an end to it. What a magnificent bonfire that would…

So, Wriothesley exhaled deeply, what’s to be done to save England from Cromwell’s grand design for a Protestant alliance?


While the barges bore down on one another, Cardinal Pole bolted on horseback into the courtyard of the Vatican in Rome. He dismounted, throwing the reins of his horse to a stable-hand. With great haste, he entered a cathedral in search of His Holiness, the Pope. An air of grave determination furrowed his brow and tightened his jaws as he quickly made his way to the Pope’s quarters.

Your Holiness, the Cardinal said, when he had been ushered into the Pope’s chambers by a guard posted at the door. He hastily crossed the floor to where the Pope sat at a writing desk.

Cardinal, the Pope said, with his back to him. He continued writing for a moment then set his pen down. Then turning at the waist to face the Cardinal, he inquired matter of factly, You have word of your brother and the Marquess of Exeter’s condition? He extended the back of his hand to the Cardinal who in turn kissed the Pope’s ring. Are they to die? he asked, letting his hand fall then fold inside the other on his lap.

My royal cousin, King Henry VIII of England, your Grace, has indeed signed warrants for their execution. I fear it is too late to save them as foul weather over the English Channel prevented our informants’ safe crossing in time to deliver the message from Ambassador Chapuys dated weeks ago. If Chapuys is correct, they are scheduled to be put to death in a matter of hours.

I see. And?

The message also says that Lord Cromwell of Wimbledon plans to wed my royal cousin to a Princess of Cleves.

A German Lutheran. The Pope closed his eyes. He sighed heavily as he leaned back in his chair. A heretic, he said, opening his eyes.

Aye. Your Holiness, I beg you, we cannot allow King Henry to go unpunished for the death of my brother.

And Exeter?

I wish his death to be avenged as well. I… I fear for the life of my mother, the Countess of Salisbury. We must invade England and spirit her out of the country before it is too late.

The Pope raised a hand and waved at him to be silent. Vengeance belongs to God, my son.

But Holiness…

I do not believe that King Henry is so bloody a man, for he is answerable to God as are all men, as to allow for any harm to come to your aged mother. It is well known throughout Christendom that King Henry reveres the Countess for her past service to him and Queen Catherine of Aragon, daughter of the two most Christian princes ever to rule in Christendom, King Ferdinand of Spain and Queen Isabella of Castile. However…

Forgive me, Holiness, but I beg you, do not underestimate the vengeful nature of this King. I know him well and…

However, the Pope continued, I have already drawn up the Bull of Excommunication against King Henry. He waved a hand over the document on top of his desk. As I too know this King, and thus, with great sorrow and outrage, anticipated Montague and Exeter’s deaths. As for the other… um… We shall have to wait and see. As much as King Henry craves reformation of the Catholic church, I do not believe he would go so far as to hold with the blasphemous teachings of Luther ruling jointly upon his throne. No, if he marries a Lutheran Princess of Cleves, she will quickly learn that she must never stand against her royal husband if she values her head. We do not fear a Princess of Cleves upon the throne of England. Yet it does disquiet us as to what it would seem to mean. For it would be most unfortunate if it should prove to unite all the Protestant rulers in Christendom under one banner and thus one day greet us with a great army at our door. For the moment, we shall wait and see, for these things take much time to unfold.

But with the Emperor’s armies and ours, we can and we must invade England now, your Grace, and restore her to the true church of God before such an army is raised and I…

The Pope waved a silencing hand as he quietly stood up. He motioned for his assistants. I would take my breakfast now, he said to one of them, with his back turned to the Cardinal. Your enthusiasm, he looked over his shoulder and said, for Holy Mother Church is most commendable, my good Cardinal Pole. He turned around and faced the Cardinal. Yet an invasion of England would require a large fleet of ships equipped with a great number of cannons and a tremendous amount of provisions which require vast sums of gold coins that presently do not exist in our purse. So, where would you have us find them?

The Cardinal shook his head then dropped it. He suddenly raised it upward with his mouth open as if in pain, but no sound came out. He shook his head again as he lowered then brought it to center. He stared pleadingly at the Pope but said nothing.

I shall, the Pope said, turning his back to the Cardinal, pray for you. Now you may leave us, he said, holding his hand out behind him for the Cardinal to kiss his ring before he left.

Your Grace, the Cardinal said, then kissed the ring. He bowed slightly at the waist then left the Pope’s chambers under a dark cloud of sorrow and disappointment.


The ministers in the second barge shivered from the cold while at times their teeth chattered when they spoke.

The rapidly aging Bishop of Winchester, now deeply in thought, was an ardent conservative who possessed a uniquely patient grasp of King Henry’s court as well as the King’s hesitant attitude toward any further reforms of the church. He was very well aware that the King, once named Defender of the Faith by the Pope, did not have it in him to implement many of the drastic reforms put forth by Archbishop Cranmer. In some ways, the King seemed to be sitting on the fence. The King, as much as he denounced graven images and idols, still embraced much of the pomp and ceremony of the Catholic services he had been so enthralled with as a boy and loathed the thought of abolishing them altogether as Cranmer would have liked. Winchester was also acutely aware that if one of those services stood in the way of the King’s will, he would not think twice about rationalizing the abolishment of it in order to gain the thing he desired.

Sir Wriothesley was a thin, wiry man who appeared younger than the others on board. In addition to his ambitious nature, he was cautious as well as a keen listener and while he fraternized with Catholics, he also managed to somehow fit himself in quite nicely with Cromwell as well as the Protestant faction. His chameleon-like beliefs in such treacherous times seemed practical to him and served more to insulate rather than harm him. Each faction knew they could count on Wriothesley to keep them updated on what the other said and did. He did not play one against the other, but was rather a benign observer who recognized and accepted that knowledge could be gained by the most unlikely, if not distasteful, sources. For him, God moved in strange ways, as his overall opinion of Cromwell was no better than Norfolk or Winchester’s. However, he hoped to one day become England’s Lord Chancellor and considered Cromwell to be his mentor in matters of state policy. He was liked by the King and was indeed an excellent source of firsthand knowledge that he neither embellished nor diluted. For that, he was, for the most part, trusted by all.

God’s blood, Bonner said, but December’s winds blow cold!

My lords, it is my contention, Winchester said, as they leaned in, careful not to miss a word, that given a choice the King would find the stench of a Catholic wife and Queen far more pleasing than that of a German Lutheran Princess. Indeed, we must find a Catholic wench more tempting than Cromwell’s Princesses.

Impossible, Norfolk scoffed.

Splendid idea, Bonner said. Do find a well-buxomed wench, for it is well known that the King has a lusty appetite for…

But where can we find such a woman in such short a time, Wriothesley asked.

Perhaps Norfolk can aid us in our quest, Winchester said, while shock crossed over Norfolk’s face. I would most strongly urge him to take stock of his stables in the north. I hear one shall find several well-bred fillies there to entice the King into marriage. Come Norfolk, another niece perhaps?

No, Norfolk stated flatly, shaking his head no.

You are a genius, Winchester, dangling another Howard wench before the King’s Majesty! Bonner said. Why, the King has always had a lusty taste for Howard women. Indeed, Queen Anne’s own sister was the King’s mistress before her. Some say their mother, your sister Norfolk, captured the King’s eye in her younger days and thus did her husband’s career a most profitable turn by having bedded with…

God’s wound! Norfolk, throwing his head back, cried out in pain. I shall not go through that again!

Come Norfolk, I entreat you, Winchester said. We must have a Catholic Queen who can get a male heir and thus be guided by us in all things.

Good Bishop, I warn you, push me no further, Norfolk said.

Norfolk, Winchester snapped, "Cromwell’s preemptive strike against Montague and Exeter shall be our ruin and the death of our cause if we do not beat him at his own game. By God, man, think on it! In a clever guise designed to further increase the King’s power by an inkling, Cromwell increases his own tenfold by ridding England of all noblemen of the true faith. Cromwell loathes all clergymen of the true faith and craves the vast treasures of England’s monasteries. He and those henchmen he calls the King’s commissioners ride boldly throughout the countryside burning and hanging monks and priests at will, good men of the true faith. He has overseen the destruction of hundreds of monasteries and loots them to not only fill the King’s coffers but to also enrich his own purse. Doubt it not; if Cromwell succeeds with this Protestant alliance it will be our doom."

I should be well-pleased, Bonner said, dribbling, to burn Cromwell.

Already, my spies, Winchester said, have told me the King has sent for Holbein the Younger’s immediate return from the continent. His Majesty intends to commission Holbein to paint portraits of both Princesses and if he is taken by either of their likenesses then he further intends to…

But, Wriothesley protested, Holbein has been strutting to no avail throughout Christendom for over a year, since the death of Queen Jane, painting one Princess after another at His Majesty’s behest, and being paid a pretty penny for it, too, I hear. Why, the King is like a lovestruck schoolboy! Every time he sees one of Holbein’s masterpieces, he dotes on it, then quickly sets it aside the moment a new one arrives. Only a month ago, upon viewing the Duchess of Milan’s portrait, he swore that he was sore in love with her exquisite beauty and vowed to make her his wife and Queen. Then, quite suddenly he withdrew his vows of love and marriage…

Aye, Bonner said, for the King got wind of her reply when inquiries were made as to whether she was inclined to wed him or not. Reportedly she said, ‘If she had two heads she would send one to England to be a Queen. But since she possessed only one, she would sooner keep it and remain a Princess in her own country than become a headless Queen of England.’

Indeed, Wriothesley laughed with the others then added, It is well known that Princesses throughout Christendom chant, ‘divorced, beheaded and died,’ when approached with even the slightest suggestion of wedding Henry VIII, King of England.

God’s blood, Norfolk said, the King fast approaches fifty and has had three wives already. Why the devil does he not get another mistress? They’re a damn sight easier on the purse and you can give them the heave ho when you tire of them. Christ… all this portrait painting is draining state funds. Why Holbien prances about from court to court fattening his purse with his paintbrushes when if a mistress of the King’s were to give birth to a son of his, then all the King need do is legitimize the bastard by passing an Act of Parliament like he did with his bastard son by Bessie Blount, the late Duke of Richmond. Oh, what’s all the stink about? The King’s got his long desired male heir whose supposed ill health is one of Cromwell’s foul rumors meant to cause doubt and raise fear and dread… Ah! Damn all courtly intrigues! Oh, for a heretic Frenchman to do battle with! Why, give me a rebel Scotsman to hang or a bloody Spaniard to run through with my sword!

Norfolk, Winchester implored, it is your duty to England and to God…

Christ, man, Norfolk said, I shall be crucified by duty if my duty be pandering again for the King. Find another, Bishop. For I shall not put my aged mother nor any of my family through that bloody, damnable hell yet again.

Norfolk. Winchester said, it was not your fault that Queen Anne…

The Great Whore, Norfolk snarled.

. . . and your nephew, her brother, were executed. They were convicted by two grand juries and sentenced to death. Both were found guilty of high treason and thus were deserving of no less a fate than to meet with the axe.

Were they, my lord, Winchester? Were they guilty?! Christ’s wounds, but I must needs believe that to be God’s truth or my soul is damned for it…

Norfolk, they were, Winchester said. Now we must hastily find a suitable Catholic woman for the King to wed. Queen Anne was too strong-willed and she, and only she, brought about her own downfall. We need a young woman who is as pious and virtuous, bound to obey and serve, as was Queen Jane. She must be strong enough to bear the King a son and healthy enough to live long after.

Surely the Howards have plenty of wenches to tempt the King with, plied Bonner.

Norfolk, what is that post you have long aspired to? Ah… I know, Winchester said, Chief Minister of the Realm, was it not? Why should our most generous sovereign find contentment in his bed at night, who knows what shape his royal gratitude might take. More lands, more riches, more titles even… My lords, would it not stick in your throats to call Cromwell Chief Minister of the Realm? Come, my lord Duke of Norfolk, what say you? Who will be the next Queen of England? Cromwell’s heretic? Or yet another creature of the Archbishop and the Seymours? Or, will she be a Catholic Howard and thus ruled by us.


Thomas Cromwell sat perched on the edge of a throne centered in the stern of the royal barge. His dark eagle-sharp eyes pierced through the morning’s mist as if it, as well as his fellow passengers seated a step beneath him, were nonexistent. Cromwell was a sinister, wary man with a menacing air about him. He never missed a word within earshot and when he was not nearby, his informants did their jobs very well. He had a mind like a steel trap and gave the eerie impression that he had eyes in the back of his head.

Cromwell was a short, stocky man who was as industrious in reconstituting political policies, as he was diabolically unscrupulous in his perfidious and all too often ruthless and bloody methods of enforcing the King’s religious reforms. He was well-mannered and even charming, but only when he believed something could be gained by it. He was cleanly shaven and sported a mid-life double chin as well as loose fleshy jowls on his otherwise square face. A round flat hat roosted smack dab on the middle of his head while his pageboy haircut covered his ears. Presently, Cromwell held two warrants of execution scrolled one within the other like a scepter in one of his gloved hands while the other gripped the jeweled hilt of his sheathed sword worn about his thick waist inside a sweepingly full, ankle-length fur coat.

Cromwell had been born a commoner. He was a lawyer by trade whose star had risen by leaps and bounds in the earlier part of the decade. He had been a solicitor for England’s powerful Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, who had spent the better part of his life high in the King’s favor. Cromwell entered Parliament and his uncanny ability served to expedite his ascendancy to the House of Commons where Henry VIII first took notice of him.

In no time, Cromwell was sworn into the King’s Privy Council, an elite inner-circle of confidential advisers to His Majesty. From there, he was elevated to such offices as Master of the Royal Jewels as well as Principal Master and Secretary of the Rolls. In 1536, he became Lord Privy Seal, which in essence came as a package deal, as Cromwell obtained peerage by accepting the title of Lord Cromwell of Wimbledon. However, peerage or not, Cromwell’s numerous enemies at court never let him forget that he was of common descent, and that no title in his lifetime could ever erase that fact.

The bulk of Cromwell’s achievements came early on in his career. Perhaps the most notable was his ability to conceive of England’s break with Rome, where Wolsey had fatally failed the King. Moreover, and much to the King’s great delight, Cromwell was also able to execute England’s breach with Rome. Simply stated, when the Pope denied Henry VIII a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, Cromwell asserted that there should be no power higher in England than that of the King, and the King agreed.

In turn, Henry VIII declared the Pope to merely be the Bishop of Rome and so ordered him to be referred to as such by all his subjects from then on while he declared himself to be Supreme Head of the newly created Church of England. The Pope countered by issuing a Bull of Excommunication against Henry VIII. Subsequently, Henry VIII appointed his own Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, who was a religious reformer at heart whom many saw as an ambitious opportunist. Opportunist or not, Archbishop Cranmer pronounced the royal marriage null and void without the blessing of Holy Mother Rome and in doing so catapulted England into the beginning stages of the reformation of church.

Thereafter, Cromwell became the King’s chief policy-maker, who greatly enlarged the wealth of the monarchy by having led the bloody charge to dissolve England’s monasteries. Indeed, such policies as England’s breach with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries most certainly enhanced the wealth of the King, and to some degree, the King’s power. At first glance, such policies appeared to give the King more power than ever before. Why, Henry VIII could now thumb his nose at Parliament as well as the Pope and marry, divorce, and sentence to death anyone he pleased… or so it seemed. However, while Henry VIII was thumbing his nose at anyone he pleased; Cromwell’s spurious policies were slowly reigning in the King’s autocratic will by subjecting the King more to the law as well as Parliament’s supremacy than was immediately apparent.

On the other hand, the King’s enigmatic conscience posed an even greater challenge for Cromwell to oppose. Cromwell was very well aware that Henry VIII could not move forward on any matter be it religious, political, personal, or otherwise, until he had somehow rationalized the legality of it in the eyes of the state and the morality of it in the eyes of the church. In short, Henry VIII, England’s anointed, was not about to wear the black hat upon his head while it did not bother him one wit to place it upon someone else’s, be it Cromwell, Parliament, the Pope, or anyone who dared challenge his divine will. Nevertheless, as Cromwell’s ambitious career developed, he vainly disregarded the narcissistic, tyrannical nature of Henry VIII and continued to deceive himself as well as the King in the further manipulation of the King’s will as well as the power behind the monarchy with the presumption that mere legal documents could reign in the power of a despot.

These were very perilous waters for Cromwell to be treading in as Henry VIII gloried in the belief that his will ruled England. His reign had fathered the English Renaissance movement and ushered in the reformation of church and state. King Henry believed that he alone had saved England from the dark, superstitious and ignorant times that his father, Henry VII, Earl of Richmond, had led England into after he slew the usurper Richard III and gained the crown, thus ending the reign of the House of York. Henry VIII, champion of learning and the arts, loathed the fact that as time wore on, his infamy as a man of blood was beginning to overshadow the Golden Age of Enlightenment that had come to symbolize the first two and a half decades of his reign. Presently, the King was closing the twenty-ninth year of his reign and Cromwell was acutely aware that the King did not want to be remembered as a bloody tyrant who had signed countless death warrants for nobles, ministers of both church and state, commoners, and to date, his second wife, Queen Anne Boleyn. However, Cromwell banked on the King’s many vain cravings as well as recent fears to buoy him as he waded inch by inch up to his neck in those dangerous waters.

My Lord Cromwell, the Spanish Ambassador ventured slyly, bracing himself against a gust of wind that carried a cold but light spray of water from the oars.

Aye Ambassador Chapuys, speak. For, I am all ears.

Chapuys chuckled softly. Indeed, he said, glancing from Cromwell to the French Ambassador seated across from him. They exchanged brief, wry smiles. My lord, Chapuys glanced back at Cromwell and said, my master wishes me once again to assure his brother, King of England, that he has no intentions of invading his realm now or in the future.

Indeed, Cromwell replied, looking down at Chapuys. Why, such good news will most surely bring comfort to my master when he sleeps in his bed at night.

Scoff if you like but…

I do scoff at your assurances and reassurances, Chapuys, Cromwell snapped indignantly. For, I know very well that your master, Emperor Charles, has aligned himself with the Bishop of Rome as well as Catholic France against my master, whom the Emperor dares call brother while he secretly plots to invade his kingdom. You must both tell your masters, and the Bishop of Rome, that any invasion shall be most difficult now, as the King has seen to it that all coastal lands belonging to Montague and Exeter have been seized. Neither Spain nor France, or Rome, shall find a safe harbor to sail their bloody warships into now.

But my lord, war? With England? Indeed I must protest such an accusation. Perhaps Spain might be so foolish as to launch an invasion against the great Henry VIII, but what has my country to do with Spain? Why, my master, the King of France, merely hopes that England will soon restore herself to the folds of the true church of God.

"Merely, my lord Ambassador Castillon? Merely, you say?" Cromwell replied, shaking his head in disbelief.

My lord, Chapuys said, "I fear the executions

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