The Boleyn Reckoning (Anne Boleyn Trilogy)

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9780091956509: The Boleyn Reckoning (Anne Boleyn Trilogy)

After presenting listeners with an irresistible premise in The Boleyn King (what if Anne gave birth to a healthy royal boy who would grow up to rule England?) and returning to the dangerous world of the Tudor court in The Boleyn Deceit, Laura Andersen brings to a triumphant conclusion the enthralling tale of the Tudor king who never was.

Elizabeth Tudor is at a crossroads. Though her brother, William, has survived the smallpox, scars linger on the king's body and mind and he marches to the drumbeat of his own desires rather than his country's welfare. Wary, Elizabeth assembles her own shadow court to protect England as best she can. Meanwhile, Minuette and Dominic have married in secret, but the truth cannot stay hidden for long. Faced with betrayal by those he loved most, William's need for vengeance pushes England to the brink of civil war and in the end, Elizabeth must choose: her brother, or her country?

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About the Author:

Laura Andersen is married with four children, and possesses a constant sense of having forgotten something important. She has a BA in English (with an emphasis in British history), which she puts to use by reading everything she can lay her hands on.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:



CHAPTER ONE


18 March 1556


Richmond Palace


Today the Duke of North-umberland stands trial at Westminster Hall. Dominic traveled to London yesterday to take part, though I know he is conflicted. Robert Dudley has told him that someone other than his father is behind all the twists of treachery these last two years, but Robert will say no more to Dominic. He has demanded, rather, to see Elizabeth. Dominic asked me to help persuade her, but I did not try very hard. Why should she go? Whether there is one traitor or twenty in this, it was North-umberland himself who held Elizabeth and me prisoner. For that alone he must answer.


Besides, all Elizabeth can think of just now is William. It has been three months since the nightmare of his smallpox and the effects . . . linger.


Perhaps the resolution of North-umberland’s fate will release us all from this sense that we are snared in the moment before action. The tension of waiting is almost more than I can bear.


The trial of John Dudley, Duke of North-umberland, was presided over by George Boleyn, Duke of Roch-ford and Lord Chancellor of England. Traditionally, it was the Earl Marshal of England who conducted such trials, but William had delayed bestowing that hereditary office on the young Duke of Norfolk after his grandfather’s death. Certainly Roch-ford did not appear to mind.


While Dominic settled into place with the other peers who today would sit in judgment of North-umberland, his attention was almost wholly given over to contemplating Roch-ford himself. Three months ago the imprisoned Robert Dudley had made an enigmatic accusation aimed at the Lord Chancellor but had thus far refused to provide any details. Robert seemed to believe that even if his father were convicted today, William would be merciful as to the sentence and so there would continue to be time to consider the matter.


Dominic knew better.


The doors at the back of the hall opened and North-umberland was escorted in. The hall at Westminster was a rich backdrop to today’s trial. A stage had been erected in preparation, hung with tapestries and a canopy beneath which was a bench for North-umberland. Dominic viewed the tableau with a cynicism that he had learned from Roch-ford—the trappings might argue respect for the accused, but they served primarily to remind those watching how far the man had fallen.


Now in his early fifties, North-umberland had always been the image of a rough, plainspoken outsider, his physical presence a reminder of his military prowess. But today he looked diminished, his high, broad forehead and dark pointed beard emphasizing rather than hiding the new gauntness of his face. He conducted himself with gravity, three times reverencing himself to the ground before the judges. Dominic thought wryly it was the most humility he’d ever seen from John Dudley.


The hall was crowded with spectators, including members of London City’s guilds as well as diplomats and foreign merchants who would no doubt be taking careful notes and sending word of the proceedings far and wide across Europe. England had been the subject of intense Continental scrutiny for quite some time—what with her young and untried king, her inflammatory religious divide, and her highly desirable and unwed royal princess. England might not be a powerhouse like France or Spain, but it was very often the critical piece that determined the balance of power.


And now a peer of the realm was being tried for his life. Not to mention that a mere five months ago—despite a peace treaty— a French army had engaged English troops in battle on the Scots border, and since that time England’s king had been mostly absent from public view. Everyone in England and Europe knew that William had been ill, and some correctly guessed at the smallpox that had driven him to seclusion. Now even his own people were beginning to grow restless. They had waited years for William to grow old enough to take his father’s place as a reigning monarch. They were not content to leave the government in the hands of men like Roch-ford and North-umberland, rightly distrusting the motives of such powerful men. The people wanted their king.


This trial was the first step in appeasing the public. North-umberland was hugely unpopular. Although Dominic had not been in London when the duke and four of his sons were paraded through the streets to the Tower, he had heard countless versions of how they were booed and mocked, pelted with rotten fruit and even stones. With William not quite ready to return to public view yet, North-umberland’s trial for high treason was a distraction.


It was also a sham. The original plan had been to have Parliament pass an Act of Attainder against North-umberland, avoiding a public trial and allowing the Crown to quickly confiscate the duke’s lands. Granting him a trial instead in no way meant that North-umberland stood a chance of acquittal. There could be no doubt of the verdict; this trial was for the sole purpose of placating the populace.


Roch-ford opened the proceedings with a reading of the charges, none of which Dominic could dispute: the calculated secret marriage between North-umberland’s son, Guildford, and Margaret Clifford, a cousin to the king and thus in line to England’s throne. That disastrous marriage had been annulled after Margaret had given birth to a boy, but North-umberland’s impudence could not be overlooked in the matter. And then there was the damning charge of with intent and malice aforethought confining Her Highness, Princess Elizabeth, against her will: Dominic had seen firsthand the duke’s intent to keep hold of Elizabeth in his family castle until William agreed to listen to him. Related to that last was also the charge of raising troops against the king—again indisputable. For the last two charges alone, North-umberland’s life was forfeit.


But Dominic was less easy about the other charges that had been considered behind the scenes. Charges that North-umberland had conspired to bring down the Howard family two years ago, that the duke had offered alliance with the Low Countries, even claiming in writing that Elizabeth would be a more amenable ruler than her brother . . . Dominic had been the one to find those damning letters in North-umberland’s London home. He just wasn’t sure how much he believed in them. Papers could be forged. Letters could be planted. Witnesses could be co-opted to a certain testimony. And it hadn’t escaped his attention that those particular charges were not being tried in court today.


“We’ll keep it simple,” Roch-ford had said. “Leave out the messier aspects of North-umberland’s behavior.”


And that was why Dominic kept a wary eye on Roch-ford. Because the messy aspects of this business were also the most open to other interpretations. More than eighteen months ago, the late Duke of Norfolk had died in the Tower after being arrested for attempting to brand the king a bastard and have his half sister, Mary, crowned queen. Dominic now believed, as most did, that the Duke of Norfolk’s fall had been cleverly manipulated.


“What say you, John Dudley?” Roch-ford asked after the reading of the charges.


“My Lord Chancellor,” North-umberland responded, rising. His dark eyes, always alive with intelligence beneath the highly arched brows, looked at each juror in turn, and Dominic felt an unexpected grief at the imminent loss of this bright and capable man. “My lords all,” he continued, “I say that my faults have ever only been those of a father. I acknowledge my pride and ambition, and humbly confess that those sins have led me to a state I do greatly regret. But I have not and could never compass a desire to wish or inflict harm upon His Most Gracious Majesty. My acts were those of a desperate father to a willful son. Guildford’s death is greatly to be lamented, but I do desire nothing more at this time than to be reconciled to my king and his government.”


The presentation of evidence lasted only forty minutes; then North-umberland was led out of the hall and the jury retired to discuss their verdict. It took far less time than Dominic was comfortable with, and the outcome was never in doubt. Roch-ford and the twenty-year-old Duke of Norfolk (grandson of the man who had died in a false state of treasonable disgrace) were the most vehement of North-umberland’s enemies, but every other lord on the jury had cause to resent the duke’s arrogance and ambition. And as Dominic studied each man there, he was keenly aware of an undercurrent of fear, deeply hidden perhaps, but real. There was not a single peer present whose family title went further back than Henry VII’s reign, and most of them had been ennobled by Henry VIII or William himself. The Tudors had broken the back of the old hereditary nobility, raising instead men whose power resulted from their personal loyalty and royal usefulness. It was true of Dominic himself—the grandson of a king’s daughter, perhaps, but in more practical terms only a son of a younger son with no land or title at all until William had granted them to him.


Or consider Roch-ford, Dominic thought, who might have been only a talented diplomat or secretary if his sister had not been queen.


The problem with being raised up by personal loyalty was that one could as easily be unmade. And thus it was today—the jury would find North-umberland guilty because William wished it as much as because it was right. And after all, Dominic would vote guilty without more than a slight qualm, for he had ridden through the midst of North-umberland’s army last autumn and knew that it had been but a hairbreadth of pride and fear from open battle against the king.


They returned to the hall and North-umberland stood to face the jury as, one after another, each member personally delivered his verdict. Dominic saw the glint of tears in North-umberland’s eyes as Roch-ford pronounced the traditional sentence of a traitor—to be hung, drawn, and quartered—and concluded with, “May God have mercy on your soul.”


There was open triumph in George Boleyn’s voice.


Elizabeth was with her brother when Dominic and Roch-ford returned to Richmond to report on North-umberland’s trial. They met the two dukes in the palace library, a chamber William would once have overlooked. Not that he wasn’t well-read and intellectually curious, but before the smallpox that had nearly killed him at Christmas, William would more likely have been found playing cards or dice or tennis or riding through the royal park. Solitude and lassitude were new habits of the king.


Elizabeth studied her younger brother, noting worriedly that he had still not regained all the weight lost during his illness. William had always been tall and lean, but the hollows in his face were new, as was the paleness that could not be ascribed entirely to winter. The pallor of his face was accented by the carefully trimmed dark beard that made him look rather rakish in some lights. The beard was also new since the illness.


The library was not entirely empty of others, but the half-dozen quiet attendants in the chamber were there in case of sudden need, not as entertainment. They kept to themselves at one end of the library, giving the royal siblings plenty of privacy.


And of course, there was Minuette—though these days one hardly needed to specify her presence. Wherever William might be, Minuette was at his side. The only place she didn’t follow the king was his bed at night, and Elizabeth wondered how long that restraint would last. Since his illness, William’s devotion to the childhood friend he’d secretly betrothed had grown perilously near to obsession.


When Roch-ford and Dominic entered the library, the Lord Chancellor dismissed the attendants, then offered his official report of North-umberland’s conviction. William, seated beneath the col-ourful canopy of estate, received the news in frozen silence. Another lingering effect: his characteristic restlessness was often submerged beneath lengthy periods of stillness. When Roch-ford handed the king the execution order to sign, William took it without a word, almost as though he had no interest in the matter.


It was Elizabeth who said, “Thank you, Uncle.”


That stirred her brother enough to say flatly, “You may go. Lord Exeter will return the order to you shortly.”


Roch-ford gave them all a long, hard look—lingering with disapproval on Minuette seated so near the king that she was almost beneath the royal canopy of estate. As William intended her to be. There was a time when Minuette would have looked uneasy at Roch-ford’s fierce attention, but today she merely matched the chancellor’s stare with one of her own. It almost made Elizabeth smile. Minuette might look demure and innocent—in her gown of white and amber and with her honey-gold hair artfully arranged with jeweled combs—but her devotion to William was absolute. She would not be cowed from doing what she thought best.


And Roch-ford, for all his concern, was not ready to bring his discontent to open argument. Elizabeth knew it was coming—this inner circle of just the four of them could not be allowed to last much longer—but for today the Lord Chancellor held his tongue. He left them alone.


They had always been exceptionally close: the “Holy Quartet,” Robert Dudley had named them. But since his brush with death, William had kept his sister, his love, and his friend even tighter around him. Was it for comfort? Elizabeth wondered. Or protection?


Alone with those few he trusted absolutely, William stretched out his long legs in a gesture that made the tightness in Elizabeth’s shoulders ease. She rejoiced with every moment that spoke of William as he had been before.


“Sentenced to be hanged, disemboweled, and quartered,” William said to Dominic, of North-umberland’s fate. “I’ll commute that to beheading, of course.”


“Of course.”


“You have nothing to plead else?”


Elizabeth tightened again. They had not told William of Robert Dudley’s plea to see her, of his claim that another man had as much to do with North-umberland’s fall as his own actions. But despite their silence, William knew Dominic very well. Clearly he sensed there was more than just the usual caution behind his friend’s reserve.


But Dominic did not hesitate. “North-umberland held Elizabeth and Minuette against their will in Dudley Castle. He raised an army that could only have been meant to be used against you. I have nothing to plead for him.”


William nodded, then stood and crossed to the table where pen and ink waited. The Duke of North-umberland must die. The three of them watched as he signed in swift, bold strokes—Henry Rex. His father’s name. His ruling name.


He handed the signed order to Dominic, as always entrusti...

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