|Mary Queen of Scots
Holyrood Castle, Edinburgh February 1539
Seven O'clock in the morning, Sir Ralph Sadler, principal secretary to
King Henry VIII, and ambassador to the Scottish Court has been waiting in
his appointed seat in the Royal Chapel to catch a glimpse of Mary of Guise,
Queen consort of James V of Scotland.
Now she is there kneeling in front of him and to the side, in her pew. He
can see her lips moving to the Latin mass, he can see her eyes flickering as she
stares at the priest who preaches his sermon to her in French. He can see her
top lip protruding slightly.
- Henry has good reason to be jealous. To lay on top of this instead of..
Beautiful and fruitful, this French one– and he cast aside the Spanish. Now
she's here buried away in Scotland. Beaten to the chase by his nephew by
God! At any rate I cant stay here much longer in this half light I shall fall back
to sleep. Will this priest never wind up? She's too beautiful to spend all day
here. A fruitful lip, her belly proves the adage, sex in those protruding teeth. It
stirs princes in the loins that's certain, we can see it , it'll be born in spring. As
cold here as winter. What can a French think of that? Future kings spring out
of her ..and into her. Benedicum benedicat per jesum – now we are ready.
Get her before she sweeps away, I can see her breath its so cold in here, I
can see her breath from inside her body, and I haven’t yet spoken to her.
Stand now so she knows I'm here. Unless she's known all along? Cutting a fine
profile for the Ambassador, leaving her tongue resting on her lower lip,
knowing I am looking.. Salvation through the mass no matter what you do. 37
candles I counted, twice per day so 730, times 4 is 1460...2920 times 10 is
29200 (take away three extra is 2190, how many was the number I had>what
was it, 2900, no 29200, take away 2190 that’s 27,010 candles each year for
this woman to hear mass. Unless they don’t light so much in summer perhaps,
but its dark in here anyway. Not to mention lighting fires....ah she's moving off,
go up to her now. As Sinclair said I should, a decent fellow but a fool,
friendly but..she's seen me. French or English? French.
-Your majesty, my master commends me to you
-Mister Sadler, anything I can do to to further advance the perfect
friendship that exists between my husband and his uncle -
She's smooth. Smooth as her own cheek. She misters me though I am a
knight. Loyal to her own king I can feel it. I wonder if she knows as we do
that he has two mistresses, one at the tollbooth and the Douglas whore at
Lochleven? Even tried to marry that one. Some arse went to see the pope.
She is as tough as leather boots. Smiles only gently, wants to go. She doesn’t
trust me or herself, wants to quit. She hasn’t been coronetted yet. Born to it,
but only a Guise. Heaven help her in this dark savage place, can never go
home. Wonder if she...A true spirit, adrift in this dream we are all in together.
Apparently she has left a son at home. Nursed by some fat titted French
dame. She's floating away now with her French gaggle of geese. What will she
do all day, waiting for the next mass; she's alone here among these crude
Scottish; think only of their families. What is she to them? What are they to
her? She promises to what? Henry would have her, but she is too subtle for
him. I cant see her paddling for him.
Oliver Sinclair, keeper of the Scottish king's purse, seeks out Sir Ralph
Sadler, finds him lingering in the Royal Chapel wondering perhaps at a church
that still has God in it, where kings and queens go on their knees.
He seems to linger to look at the places where they have been.
-Come the King will speak with you now . You like our mass?
-Yes I like it well.
They walk across the stone courtyard dark as if it has a black roof but it
has only the white grey sky.
-You have no sun in Scotland.
Oliver looks up as if he never has before.
Sir Ralph Sadler standing next to the King himself, at a bay window, new
built for secrets and “colloques” like these. The two men are the same; the
same height, the same age, the same subtle, delicate face with fine features,
with lascivious small mouth, as handsome as girls, both seeking and spying
from behind piercing small eyes, seeking women; one is the son of a king
fallen in battle sword in hand, dead at Flodden in the mud up to his hips, the
other the son of a minor official the proud builder and resident of the largest
house in Hackney near London, a neat brick block as good as any home
anywhere. The other, slight body too, stretches his existence across a dozen
castles, riding through the night to arrive at dawn, shrinks his realm by soaring
over it like a winged horse under the moon, his black realm of burns; the wind
howls in his ears sometimes, his tiny frame dressed in red , always in red, and
then great furs and silks, trim hat and beard, gentle as a girl, fierce in his will
like a serpent; both men can hawk and ride exactly as well as the other; like
two young school masters they whisper while fatter lords and cardinals look
on with sideways eyes fearing the dark haired one will work on the red haired
-My master, your uncle, wonders why you don’t expand your exchequer
by taking church lands and properties as he has done? It is a good way, and
just before God and before the people. Especially perhaps, your own people.
-I have no need, for I have the agreement with the church that as I do
not seize their lands they give me 30,000 and 100,000 marks each year.
-They bleed your people with their abuses and drain your kingdom of its
-I am like my uncle strict in my prosecution of abuses.
-The fat one over there keeps a whore and leaps out of his bed each
morning and runs to matins. Your gentlemen have told me so, and we know
him in Paris.
-It is a venal sin and common amongst great men.
-(and well he must believe it).My master asks why you keep sheep.
-Sheep? I keep no sheep, said the farmer of Ballengeich.
(At that moment 1000s of sheep were on Royal lands in Ettrick, owned
and reared by the king himself, but this king was shy about his good
husbandry, little knowing that his uncle had similarly practical reasons for
resenting his nephews interest in wool, it was in case Scotland could provide
an alternative source of the best wool for the Flanders merchants to buy and
send to Italy. )
-My master wonders if it were not more fitting for your majesty to tax
the monks and friars. Their lands stretch from Leith to the Solway and they
send the peasants' pennies to Rome to swell the bellies of the cardinals.
-No, I have no sheep, if there are sheep on my lands they belong to
farmers who rent my lands. I want for nothing. And besides, there is a certain
old French gentleman who will give me whatever I want only for the asking...
-(What is he talking about, what old French gentlemen.?) Ralph Sadler
cannot help but look askance and the King sees it.
-My father in law, the king of France.
Still askance. (His wife isn't the king of France's daughter though he has
stood for her dowry, and not paid it so we hear?)
-My first wife.
(Ah! The sickly little girl who died within two weeks of coming to this
godforsaken place. Dead at 15 from the Scottish ague. Does he really think
her father was so delighted with his daughter's death that he will lend him
money? This king has the mind of an optimistic habitual beggar!) -Yes the
King of France, of course. But - (Best leave it. The list.)
-I have an urgent message from your uncle, which touches your majesty
very near to the matter in hand.(Wont he give me more privacy than this
window?) We have certain letters and papers come into our hands at Dover
showing these priests have conspired to defraud and to make plots against
your majesty with the French.
-What papers? Have you them now?
-A letter from Cardinal David Beton, who stands over there.
-I have seen the copy of it already.
-I have the original here in my breast.
-Give it to me now, as if it is some other paper.
(The fat cardinal is staring at me as we speak, how can I?) Here your
Sir Ralph takes out the paper, the king reads it smiling falsely.
-You see they fear me. I see nothing amiss here. Oliver Sinclair will take
you to your lodgings. We will talk again tomorrow or some other day.
But at dawn the next day the King had left already to go hawking,
thinking and fearing nothing the affront this made to his uncle and his spies
and their intercepted papers.
Long tall Oliver Sinclair keeper of the King;s Purse, and Patrick Lindsay,
escorted Sir Ralph back to his lodgings along the ringing streets of Edinburgh
-Whose house is this?
-It is a fine house, the old Provost's lodging in Kirk O' Field.
There they drank French wines in an array of cups that filled the table
with no food but bread.
-This is like Ivan of Russia's board, bread and fine wines only.
-Yes we hear he blesses himself between each morsel. We aren’t that
-Someone has to bless him. No-one else dares.
They laughed comfortably and drank on.
-What kind is your master? He seems like a bold fellow, said the sly
-I would serve no other, bragged Lindsay.
-He is a man of the common people. He wanders around dressed in
broad cloth and makes up songs and sings them with bakers and bakers
daughters, waxed Sinclair lyrically.
-We say in England that Scotland is brave and true and yet barbaric
How can that be, I see nothing but French finery here.
-Ha ! Ha! Patrick Lindsay nodded knowingly with a vicious smile Don’t
you know we only lick French spittle to hamper the English. We have to serve
someone don’t we Oliver? And he sneers so long and hard at Sinclair that Sir
Ralph wonders at the mystery behind it.
-England is the old enemy, says Oliver , by way of explanation, with an
-But surely, says Sir Ralph, sheltering in the conflict between them, -
Surely if that is the case, she is doomed to misery and obscurity and anarchy?
-You would have us serve England instead?
-Serve Scotland's best interests. The two kingdoms together might fly in
the face of any in the world, including Rome and all her puppy dogs.
-James became a better Catholic when his uncle your master broke from
-And is that a bad thing Lindsay? Oliver says boldly staring into the
brutal face. Lindsay looks right past him, directs his reply to the Englishman.
-We have a lot more to complain of in the church than England ever
had. Here babies and laymen are given benefices; here you had better look out
for the dagger under the cassock. And if you English would leave us alone
we'd throw off the yoke of these clerics all the sooner. Tell your Henry that ,
and see if he believes it or understands it.
Lindsay , so obviously a man of ill-temper, couldn’t be contained by
propriety. Sadler took it as best he could. Many a fool in his cups could be run
through. This one looks like he could kill at a moments notice.
-Well, don’t you have your parliament, don’t you have your Privy
Council? Argue it out there.
-The kings faction holds a parliament, the others keep away.
-What do you expect us to do Oliver, snarls Lindsay. Sadler noticed for
the first time how long his hair was, madly long, slate grey though he is no
more than 25. Filthy, like flat rope, it slid down his back like 100 rats tails,
fleeing from a burning ship.
Oliver though foppish seemed unafraid of the dangerous Lindsay, as if he
knew some reason why he was safe from his bite.
-The chaos and obscurity you detect Sadler, comes not from following
France. On the contrary, it comes from the fact that the lords cannot
countenance a king that is more than just one of themselves. They are jealous.
And if he follows a policy enough of them don’t like then they will steal him
away as if he is no more than a banner they can stick in the mud inside a
castle keep and call themselves kings too, they're all kings, all of them, so there
is no taxation, no revenue , no order.
-What do you know of the state Oliver? You just buy feathers for him,
hats and livery.
-I can think.
-Then think of this; Apart from your prelates who do indeed tax the
people and send it to Rome to fund their profligacy, what other forces stand
behind the king and make him like a dwarf? The northern lands beyond
Scotland, the prehistoric savages, the red shanks. All of them subdued and
marshalled by Huntly and Argyll, in vast unpeopled lands, except for those
savages. - These are your Romish champions, and these are the ones make a
mock of your king and his empty purse that you are the proud holder of, and
his scant soldiery.
-Did you ever see these people, Sadler? says Oliver, swerving away from
Lindsay's point to only make one of passing interest out of it - They speak
their strange tongue no-one can understand anymore; we call them Huntly's
cattle. Some say they are Irish, but they are Scots. Some say they are all
-I have never been so far up into your country.
Both Sinclair and Lindsay laughed together
-And don’t think the king's majesty will ever conduct you so far into the
land, to look at his defences nor let you into Ettrick where he keeps his sheep.
And with that they go, as Sadler is tired, out into the street together very
likely to cut each other's throats.
Paris, the greatest city in the world, three times the size of London,
whose beauty and mystic offhand a-symmetrical grace defies the mind to
believe it is anywhere but in a book of hours, the most graceful and
fantasmagorical fact in the world, with its characteristic stench of sewage of
such foulness and age it is almost sweet like painted Parisian roses, Paris in its
alien glory, makes the muddle of London look like grey small blocks of
chaotic shabbiness, shanties and hovels surrounded by a mass of fields and
carpeted with filth and patrolled by chickens, a backwater of the mind.
In a workshop on the banks of the Seine one of the score of printing
presses in Europe. It's blocks are pages from the Bible, in English, the Great
Bible, commissioned by Thomas Cromwell and authorised by Henry, King of
England and Head of the Church in England. It is a mixture of the work of
William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale.
William Tyndale, whose work makes up four fifths of this bible in
English, in exile for opposing the King's divorce, had been strangled to death
and then his body burnt at the stake, in Brussels by the forces of the Emperor
Charles V, for heresy. He was fifty years old. His last words on this earth were
“May the King of England's eyes be opened!”
Now, three years after his death that king's eyes were opened. The
rebellion in the north of England dubbed the Pilgrimage of Grace, a protest
against the closure of the monasteries and the enclosure of arable fields for
sheep, was in his mind exacerbated by the use of false quotes from scripture,
which traded on the ignorance and superstition of the people, so that the
devout and poor of that strongly catholic part of England were used and
misled by fanatics, heretics, and criminals, of both the old and the new
learning. To remedy this, Thomas Cromwell, the king's Vicar General,
ordered that each parish make a Bible in English available to its parishioners
to read. Hitherto, and in all Roman Catholic countries, it was illegal to read
But here in Paris, where the best printers are, the pages on the blocks
are torn out and scattered on the floor, and the blocks themselves are dashed
to pieces. The officers of the French Inquisition, King François' men move
about the room inspecting and destroying. Outside, the printers themselves are
under arrest and stand by the wall, while soldiers chew bread and spit on the
ground, at their feet.
François, the great patron of the arts in France, in whose arms the great
Leonardo da Vinci had died, has sent his Inquisition to destroy the English
Bible, and burn the French heretics who print it.
Later he will sell the press and the surviving blocks to the English who
will transport it to England to continue its work, the Chained Bible. They will
call it the Chained Bible because it was necessary to chain it to the table in the
churches to stop it from being stolen.