Traitorous Tudor Tales
Written and Published by: Diana Strenka
Year Published: 2015
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Characters and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Table of Contents
“You there!” the man shouted. “By order of the King, you must stop at once!” I picked up the pace, my entire body lit up like a torch. My chest burned with the fury of a thousand suns. Exhausted, I ducked into a nearby alley and hid behind an abandoned cart. I watched in horror as the guards appeared, hovering just inches from my person. My breath, heaving like a horse, would reveal my presence in due time.
“They’re coming,” I informed my family. “We need to leave now.” My papa stuffed several loaves of bread into a scrap of cloth and tied it together. “Okay, family,” he announced. “We don’t have a moment to lose. We will make haste, heading along the river and towards the wooded areas to the south.” The darkness concealed us as we made our way for the horizon like a bunch of common thieves. Our only crime was that we were Protestant. “There they are!” shouted one of the Queen’s guards, holding a torch that burned with scorn. “Run!” Papa yelled, as we fled for the woods. My heart quickened like a fox when I slipped on the thick mud of the river’s edge. The Queen’s guard surrounded me like a hunted animal. Doomed, I thought to myself, as I closed my eyes.
“Selling chickens, one pence apiece!” I shouted. My voice was quickly drowned out by the other vendors looking to move their products. The sun had hidden behind the clouds, and the sky had turn an ashen shade of grey. The sky opened up, releasing buckets upon buckets of water on us all. Other vendors gathered up their products and left. As for me, I had to stay. If I didn’t sell these chickens, then I was going to have to go without food.
“Go fetch some cloth for your mother,” insisted Father. I retrieved the garments in question, soaking them in the water buckets nearby. Would this cloth lower Mother’s fever so she could be well again? I could only pray. Beads of sweat poured down her face as she continued to cry in pain. The sound was deafening, and had been a presence in our home for several days. I sat on the bed beside her, dabbing her face with the cloth. A glint of recognition came over her. “Margaret,” she whispered, squeezing my arm. “Mother,” I said, as tears began to flow from my eyes. I heard a solid knock at our oak door. “That’s the priest,” Father informed us. He left the room quickly, leaving me alone with Mother. “Margaret, take good care of the family for me,” she pleaded. “Mother, don’t say that! You will recover soon.” Mother touched my face, drying the tears from my cheeks. “I love you,” she whispered. “I’ll see you again soon.” The color drained from her face as she took her final breath on this earth. “No! Mother!” I wailed, holding her in my arms. The Black Death had taken yet another victim into its terrible clutches.
We rocked violently as the ocean water slammed into our vessel. “Hold on, lads!” cried our captain. “Bail out the ship!” I grabbed the bucket and desperately tried to empty our ship, which rapidly filled by the second. The thunder roared across the sky like hell itself. Wind struck us from every angle. We were within sight of the New World, and it would be terrible to sink just before reaching our destination. A loud jarring noise knocked several of our crew overboard as the ship readily took on more water. “We’ve struck something! Abandon ship!” I jumped off the edge of the sinking boat and swam for my life. The water was cold, piercing every inch of me. I watched as the men around me clung desperately to the floating cargo. My arms ached, but I pressed on until I had finally reached the shore. I watched the ship’s final gasps as it sank beneath the waves, leaving a trail of cargo and perished men in its wake.
War of the Roses
I lifted the hem of my creamy satin gown and carefully walked up the stone steps to the castle above. I was greeted by smiles and curtsies, but behind their eyes was scorn, malice and contempt. Though it was quite a warm day, the space took on an unbearable chill. I was not the Queen they had wanted. Nay, rather, I was the ambitious upstart who weaseled her way into the King’s fancy. It would be a label I would endure until the end of my days.
After everything I have done, and this is how he repays me? He allows some witch to seize control of his heart, and for me to look like a total fool! How will I do this? How will I clean up the mess that King Edward has left for me? “Lord Warwick, the King has summoned you,” announced a herald. “Do not disturb me, boy!” I roared, knocking over my parchment in frustration. He quickly bowed and exited the room. I sighed, resting my aching forehead in my hands. I had to come up with a plan, fast.
“Edward, they are headed this way!” I called out. “Edward!” The wooden door flattened like a pancake as dozens of soldiers penetrated our last defense. “He is the King of England! Leave at once!” I called out, flinging my body in front of the husband I loved dearly. “Get out-of-the-way, you foolish woman!” a man snorted gruffly, as my body slammed into the wall with a resounding blow. I heard my shoulder pop from the sheer force, followed by a searing pain that spread down to my fingers. “No!” I cried, dragging myself along the cold tile floor. “Take me, instead!” I watched, helplessly, as they carried away King Edward to his impending doom.
The cold winter draft had frozen every corner of Westminster Abbey. I exhaled, watching a puff of air appear and disappear before me. My children huddled together underneath heaps of blankets, like a bunch of field mice. The sound of steps across the tile floors became louder and louder as they approached our sanctuary. Then, the noise abruptly stopped, and the room fell silent once more. “By the order of King Richard, you must surrender the princes!” declared a cruel voice behind the door. My eyes fell on the boys, whose eyes held the horrors of what was to come.
“Lady Neville, it is time,” whispered a voice at the door. I studied my countenance carefully in the mirror. My long red hair hung loosely at my side, curls flowing freely. “Mother, please go fetch the ermine,” I pleaded. The fur of royalty. As she handed me the soft and delicate garment, I wrapped it around my shoulders. I was ready to go encounter the masses, my adoring public. I will be the best queen England has ever seen.
The knock at my bedchamber startled me awake. Rapid, desperate, loud raps at the door signaling something amiss. As I opened the door, my husband stood anxiously before me. Dark black circles hung underneath his eyes like a raccoon. His green eyes, wide like saucers, stared at me hauntingly. “Husband, what is it?” He paced back and forth inside the room, wringing his hands. Then, he grabbed my shoulders suddenly. “They think I did it! They think I killed the princes in the tower!”
“Surely, my Lord, you can assure them this is not so!” I insisted. “They are your beloved nephews!” Richard sat at a chair beside the fireplace, clasping his hands on top of his head. “What do I say to them? I don’t even know where they are!” Whenever Richard was distressed, I knew he just needed a wife’s gentle touch. “My Lord, this too shall pass. Just do not feed the rumors, and they will fall away to nothingness.”
No one would ever know, surely. The sunlight glowed pleasantly through our stained glass windows. Such bitter irony, given that it was a holding place for criminals of the State. I inserted the large iron key into the lock and turned it. The door groaned loudly as I pushed it open. I grimaced, praying no one could hear such a disturbance. My brother turned towards me, his eyes filled with a hope that not even the Tower could erase. “It’s time, Prince Richard,” I reminded him, smiling. “Let’s go.”
“Sister, surely you will be held to account when they find out?” he asked. “Brother, it is a risk I am willing to take!” I heard a commotion down the passageway. “Shh!” I whispered, hiding Richard in an empty cell. “Stay here!” A short and stocky man walked up and down the halls, his sword firmly placed in his belt. “Sir, one of the criminals has escaped! Retrieve him!” I commanded, pointing in the opposite direction of Richard. The guard bowed obediently before dashing away. I returned to my brother, whose face was pale with fright. “Come,” I assured him.
God willed it, and it had finally happened. My son, Henry, was now King! I grasped the rosary beads in my hands. A booming knock disturbed my prayers. “My Lord, what is so important that you must disrupt my devotions?” He bowed deeply. “I apologize, Madam. There has been a rebellion. I thought Your Grace should know.” I clutched the Bible to my heart. “There is a man who claims to be Prince Richard, son of the late King Edward IV.” My legs gave out from underneath me at this news. He caught me and helped me to a chair. “More wine!” I commanded the servants. “Fetch the armies to descend upon him. We shall have no traitors permitted in this Kingdom.” He bowed and stepped outside. I touched the inside of the chalice, thinking back to when my son had ascended the throne. The princes were still alive, locked in the Tower of London. God would never have forgiven me for murdering anyone. So, I freed them with the promise that they would be smuggled to Sweden. But, what if that had never happened? I could only pray this man was in fact a pretender who would be found out in time. I opened my Bible and sighed. I needed God now more than ever.
Queen Anne Boleyn
The riverbed beckoned me closer on this warm summer day. I carefully removed my delicate shoes, trying not to damage their small beads. The cool water welcomed me into its care. I observed as the gentle tide glided over my feet, washing away all my troubles. The church bells echoed in the distance, summoning everyone to Sunday mass. “Anne Boleyn!” snapped my brother George. “Come!” I laughed, jumped out of the water, and put my shoes back on. I reached into my pocket and secured my mother’s pearls around my little neck.
“A letter for you, Anne,” announced my father smugly. When I was presented with the familiar Tudor seal, I cringed inside. The King, despite all my best efforts, was falling in love with me. I crumpled up the letter and threw it under my bed. “Anne, stop,” he commanded. He seized the letter and read it voraciously. “Have you any idea what all of this means for us?” I sighed. “I’ll fetch some parchment and ink for your quill!”
I felt the air escaping my lungs. The sweating sickness had spread, and I had become its woeful victim. “I can’t breathe,” I cried, ripping off my corset. “Help!” I flung open the door and ran outside. “Anne!” called my father, alarmed. I lost balance and collapsed, just as he caught me in his arms. “Anne, what is it?” The tears ran down my face like a stream. “I love you, Father,” I gasped, before everything went black.
“Lady Jane Seymour,” announced the guard. This lady, with her pale complexion and demure demeanor, was trying to steal my position from underneath me. “Madam,” she said innocently, curtsying deeply before me. “Lady Jane, go fetch me some wine,” I commanded, desperate to be rid of her for a time. She bowed before leaving the room. I fled my bedchamber, heading instead for my brother’s apartments. As I walked, everyone bowed before me like a tidal wave. “Let me in. I need to see my brother.” The servant readily opened the door, and I came in, pacing about the room. As was customary, my brother bowed when presented to me. Then, he was less formal. “What is it?” he asked. “Lady Jane. How do I get rid of her?” I asked, rubbing my dress in agitation. “Don’t worry. I’ll think of something. Now go, rest for a while. She’ll be gone soon.”
The ladies’ dresses rested in a folded pile in my arms as I walked down the corridors. The whispers wormed their way into my ears before latching into the memory links in my mind. “Queen Anne put a spell on the King,” one woman whispered. “They put her in the tower.” My stomach twisted like a hammer was spinning around inside of me. Everyone knew that those who ended up in the Tower of London never came out again. What would they do to the Queen? Was she to face her last days alive trapped in a dungeon? I shuddered at the thought. “Mistress, come,” boomed a familiar voice. “You have a new assignment,” she announced, as she seized the garments from my possession. “You are to assist the Queen with the washing and drying of her linens.”
The sensation of my ladies securing my famous black hair soothed my shaking nerves. Today was the big day. I set aside my favorite French hood in favor of the English gable, demonstrating to the world my true allegiance. The smell of wildflowers perfumed the air as I concealed myself with their heavy scent. The Constable’s loud knocks on the door snapped me back into reality. “Lady Anne, it’s time for your trial,” he announced grimly.
I watched from the window as my eldest son, George, rested his head on the block. The jeers of the crowd penetrated deep into my soul. The executioner’s axe glowed in the day’s light as it struck down my son’s neck. My eyes shut tightly, unable to process what had just taken place. I turned away from the window and stared at my Bible. I pushed it away as the horrible, torrential sobs consumed my being. I couldn’t save my own child. And now, somewhere in this tower, my daughter Anne would follow him to the scaffold. It was all my fault.
“Your execution has been postponed to tomorrow morning,” I announced, my face bearing a shield of stone. The Lady Anne, our former queen, collapsed on the floor in tears. Her ladies surrounded her like mother hens, holding her upright and speaking soothing words. Grief and weariness chipped away at my armor. I left the room before it would quickly become apparent as to what I was feeling. It was a dangerous time, and anyone who supported the fallen queen would soon follow her to the scaffold.
Thomas Cromwell, Lord Chancellor
The grey cloud settled over my mind as I approached the King’s private chambers. I had been called to this same room of torture on many occasions, each one producing the same result. I bowed my head as I revealed the disastrous news. “Cromwell, you KNAVE!” he roared, as the crushing blow of a chair slammed against my skull. “You are supposed to CRUSH this rebellion. Do it, or die!” he threatened, balling his hands into a fist. “Your Majesty,” I stammered, kneeling, before he removed me from His most High Presence. It was then that I walked into the lion’s den, with the handful of courtiers who were traversing court. When they saw me, they bowed and whispered among each other as soon as I passed them.” The butcher’s son has made another misstep,” one proclaimed. “It won’t be long until his long-awaited fall from grace.” My face burned with the indignation of all those poor souls who are forever labeled by their conditions of birth. I couldn’t help that I was of low rank in my youth. No matter how hard I tried, all anyone could see me as was a grubby commoner who didn’t deserve the King’s affections. When I returned to my chambers, I inspected the protruding red bump. I touched it gently, trying to soothe the sharpness in my temple. I sighed. Yes, it was a thankless job, but I was in the presence of the King Himself. What could I do but continue to endure the abuse that came with the position I carried?
“Please! I can’t go in there!” I cried, as I was roughly heaved into the tiny prison cell. The smell of mold, dust, and dirt overwhelmed me in this terrible dungeon. The door slammed shut behind me, sealing me into my unknown fate. The squeaks of rats echoed across the walls of the Tower, and the realization of their cohabitation made me feel ill. A pile of crudely-constructed hay in the corner was the new makeshift bed for me, the former Chancellor of England. Now, prisoner. The night was followed by dreadful silence, which I would soon endure if I take the death.
The door creaked open, as the cruel light of day burned its way into my subconscious. “Mister Cromwell, a job for you,” sneered the Duke of Suffolk. He handed me a parchment, feather, and ink quill. Another servant brought in a table and chair which was set down near the only window. “You will tell the King all the full details of the treason you have committed concerning the Lady Anne of Cleves.” Before I could respond, he smiled tauntingly and left me there, scorned and shamed. I turned towards the table, sighed, and picked up the feather. I dipped it into the ink quill and, shakily, formed the first words on the page.
“Please, I need more time,” I pleaded, caught in the midst of my prayers. The guards responded by roughly seizing me about my shoulders and dragging me along the dungeon floors. I quickly gained footing and walked so that I would not be seen in such an undignified manner. I would not be the grubby commoner that the people believed me to be. I was, and will always be, the Lord Chancellor of England.
Queen Catherine Howard
I exhaled as I approached the door labeled “apothecary.” I knocked softly, hoping no one would notice my presence and alert the King. An elderly woman wearing a simple frock opened the door. “May I help you?” she asked, wrinkling her brows as she studied me carefully. I stepped inside the small shop, with its long line of potions and herbs decorating its shelves. “Close the door,” I commanded, lifting my hood. She gasped out loud and dropped to her knees. “Your Majesty,” she whispered.
The lady remained steadfast, staring at the floor as I scrutinized her products. “Madam, I am in need of an herb or potion which will help me become quick with child,” I announced. “It is of the utmost importance.” She nodded from her position on the ground. “Madam, you may rise,” I informed her. “W-well, Your Grace, we have some potions that will help,” she declared, lifting a small, brown bottle from its shelf. I reached into my coin purse, and placed a gold docket into her palm. She gasped and curtsied. “For your…discretion,” I told her. She nodded, and slipped the potion into my hands in exchange. “It should take no more than two to three weeks,” she declared. “Good luck.”
“I will let the King know about your evil deed,” Culpeper threatened. “It is treason to marry the king when you are pre-contracted to someone else.” “Sir, I will do whatever you ask of me. Just please, don’t tell the King!” I cried. As I fell to my knees, I realized that I, as the Queen of England, was now begging to my own subject. I could only pray that word of this humiliation would never spread to the ears of my loving husband. “You will pay me sums of money, in meeting times which I will set in advance,” Culpeper stated coldly. “Do this, and I will keep your wicked little secret.”
It was now or never. I sprinted down the familiar hallway I had once graced as Queen. “Your Majesty! Your Majesty!” I pounded on the steel doorknocker with the taunting Tudor rose emblems on it. “Your Majesty, please!” I collapsed onto the ground, drowning in my own tears. The guards quickly found me there. “Mistress Howard!” they bellowed, as they dragged me away.
“Mistress Howard, your dinner,” announced a guard. They slid a tray of food into my prison cell. The dish was cold and smelled like it had already spoilt. It was a far cry from the splendor I was given when I was Queen of England. I sighed, and pushed it back underneath the door. My corset was getting looser by the day, as I no longer had any sort of appetite. My head spun around like it was a confused sparrow. My husband, Henry, appeared at my door. “Madam, I miss you,” he admitted. “I want you to come back.” I started to cry. “Henry, why have you locked me up here? Release me!” A guard approached my cell door. “Mistress, who are you speaking to?” he asked, looking around. I sighed. “No one. I was speaking to no one.”
I breathed in sharply as the corset pulled the air out of my lungs. My ladies fitted me with a rouge gown, trimmed with lace and decorated with the tiniest of jewels. I opened my palm, sneaking a peek at the delicate HK emblem sewn onto a scrap of cloth. I had secretly obtained it when I learned of my arrest. I kissed it before carefully hiding it among my person. In death, as in life, His Majesty would be mine forever.
Thank you for reading my book. If you enjoyed it, won’t you please take a moment to leave me a review at your favorite retailer? Thanks! Sincerely, Diana Strenka
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