I, Jane: In The Court of Henry VIII (4 page)

She stared at her shoes. “Yes.”

“You defy me wantonly and with clear disregard, as if you were the self-indulgent son of a Seymour, not a daughter! Do you suppose defiance was how I came to be so celebrated in my day?
Do you?
How I came to be written about and admired, when shy reserve is the only thing of value in a virtuous girl?”

“Margery, for the love of all the saints, you know perfectly well our Jane is no rat, but as quiet and gentle as a church mouse, just as you long have taught her to be.”

“Well, at the moment she
looks
like a cellar rat. And I shall not tolerate disobedience from any daughter of mine! If you mean to behave like a boy, Jane, mayhap you should resemble one!”

“I bid you, do not take this too far, wife. Reprimand the child if you will, but be done with it.”

Margery’s eyes were wild now, glazed with fury. “Your daughter has no beauty, no obvious virtue, and clearly no regard for me, though she would do well to make me her role model! Yet you expect me to swat the back of her hand, then let go of this affair? Better to vanquish the folly bound up in the heart of a child, not soothe it,” she declared crisply, her anger fading only slightly behind her iron resolve. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right!”

Margery Wentworth Seymour was the true power behind the family, and she was fond of quoting scripture shortly before meting out some punishment or other to her children.

Jane studied the black braid on her shoes, pushing away the fear, but it flared hotly again when her mother gripped her arm, slowing the flow of blood through the soaking-wet fabric. She drew her forward toward the paneled library—a cold, forbidding room dominated by a portrait of the new young king. It was a copy, painted in Bruges, and not the best likeness. Yet John Seymour hung it prominently above the stone hearth anyway. It was his hope that he and Jane’s mother might receive the king at Wolf Hall on his yearly progress someday. Then seeing it, King Henry might show favor on a faithful warrior and servant in the far reaches of Wiltshire—one who had shown loyalty to the Crown with every drawn breath, every hopeful court dance learned, every crossbow drawn or sonnet read in preparation for such a meeting. “Miracles do occasionally happen,” Jane’s father always said with his gentle, wry smile.

After all, his own distant cousin, Sir Francis Bryan, was at court,
now a companion of the king. John Seymour had spent his life preparing for even one small opportunity of his own, like the one Francis had received, and of which he was now making the most. At least that was the way he explained it to his children every time he saw any of them gazing up at the king’s image.

The scissors Margery had picked up and now clutched with vengeful determination were sharp, the handles etched silver. Her father had followed the two of them from the entry hall, but Jane could not see him. For a moment, she could only hear his labored breathing as her mother shoved Jane onto her knees with a force that lacked all maternal understanding. Jane fell before the fireplace hearth and the portrait of the king, her mother gazing down at her with what Jane always thought was a silly, mocking smile.

“From Colossians,” her mother commanded. “What is it?”

On her order, their tutor, the family cleric, recently had made the children memorize a translated portion of the New Testament, which Erasmus was about to publish in Greek with a parallel Latin translation. He was said to be working on a full version, including the Old Testament, so while a few copies had been printed, the public awaited the full publication. But Margery did not see the value in waiting to mold young minds and souls.

“Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord,” Jane sputtered.

“Now Proverbs.”

As her tears began to mingle with the water still dripping from her hair and into her eyes, she thought instead,
And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you
, but she dared not say that.

She drew a small breath to steady her trembling and to minimize the thin, horrifying trickle of urine she suddenly felt between her
legs. “The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.”

Margery favored that passage, Jane knew only too well, for the frightening imagery that terrified her children and thus kept them compliant. It was meant to make them all envision hell and the fiery pit there. It served to distance her heart, even at the age of eight, from a mother obsessed with rules and the projection of perfection, in herself and those around her, at all costs.

Jane did not feel the first snip; rather she heard the slice of the scissors. The clump of wet hair fell before her eyes like feathers from a Yuletide goose; brown, shapeless, damp. The second chunk was bigger, making it more difficult to cut. She could hear the blades of the scissors working back and forth, so close to her ear that it felt deafening. If, in her anger, her mother’s hand should slip even an inch, she could cut off the tip of her ear. All that blood, Jane thought, and she really would be like a Christmas goose! Or one of the sheep out in the pasture being sheared for summer. Yes, that was what Jane felt like, held down now, powerless, her hair falling to the ground with each snip.

“Margery, ’tis madness!” her father shouted impotently.

“Or folly! Either way, a daughter who behaves like our sons shall resemble one of them, at least until she gains a grain of humility! Thanks be to our dear Lord that Elizabeth is nothing like you! You must remember in the future that you are a Seymour and a Wentworth. A small drop of royal blood flows through your veins. Yet it is enough of the honeyed elixir for me to do all that I can to train you up, if not in my image, then at least to revere it!”

The process lasted only a minute more, but it was a span of seconds that changed Jane’s life. She focused on the tall clock near
the library door, willing herself not to weep, nor run from the room until her punishment was complete. Jane could not imagine how spiteful girls like Lucy Hill or Cecily Strathmore would torment her if they knew she was being shorn of that single bit of feminine identity that set a plain little girl apart from her brothers.

She had never wanted to dislike her mother or to be different from the great beauty that was Margery Wentworth Seymour. A child’s instinct to love her mother did battle with the urge to yell a defiant obscenity. Jane felt the two sensations roiling, fighting, wearing deeply within her as she glanced up then and saw Thomas and Elizabeth at the corner of the doorway, peeking inside. Jane saw their horrified expressions as the last wet clump of Jane’s girlish identity hit the floor beside one of her father’s dogs, who sat now beneath the trestle table watching her and wagging his tail.

Chapter Two

September 1514

Wiltshire, England

T
he first bit of good news from Sir Francis Bryan at the court of King Henry VIII came by courier, ushered in on the same warm September wind that blew golden leaves across the courtyard. It was a month since Jane’s incident in Savernake Forest and two days since she had been let out of confinement in her chamber above the granary. Now the liveried messenger stood in the courtyard, his sleek face covered in a sheen of perspiration as the elegant green plume of his hat fluttered in the breeze. He removed his leather riding gloves while John read the newsy missive aloud.

Details were at last finalized. The king’s younger sister, Mary, was to become the bride of France’s aged sovereign, Louis XII. The match was a coup for England and France against their political enemies. A massive train was being assembled to escort the young beauty to the arms of her brother’s rival-turned-friend, which would formally bond the two countries politically. Members of Henry’s court, his royal guard, ladies-in-waiting, maids of honor, and pages of honor were being named by the dozen—all from the best families, according to Sir Francis. The country was alive with the gossip of
who would be chosen. Also in the missive, Francis boasted that he had been selected to help the king’s sister decide on the group who would have closest access to her, as his personal standing with the royal family had risen quite high. Excitement all across England had quickly reached a fever pitch.

The second bit of news to further improve Margery Seymour’s disposition came later that same day. She and her husband had been invited to a banquet to be given by Sir Robert and Lady Dormer, held at the impressive Idsworth House. It was their first invitation. Guests were coming across rutted roads from as far away as Newbury, they were told, to celebrate the Dormers’ thirteen-year-old son William’s invitation to attend the Princess Mary as a young page of honor in the princess’s train to France.

The honor for the family was massive, the scale of award beyond measure.

With envy for his own eldest son rising above his sense of dignity, John Seymour inquired of the Dormer groom if Edward might have the opportunity to reunite with his friend young William at the banquet.

He knew that pleading would be unseemly. But once the Dormer family returned to their even larger estates in Buckinghamshire, the opportunity would be lost to increase his own family’s standing enough for Sir Francis Bryan to take notice. A friendship with the prominent Dormers was essential, so he had to cleverly seize the moment.

“Having once met the king myself on the battlefield at Tournai, and having been knighted personally by our previous sovereign,” John said boastfully, rocking back on his heels, “mayhap I could offer young Master Dormer a word of advice on how to impress His Majesty’s favorite sister with this most magnificent opportunity before him.”

In truth, John Seymour’s only actual meeting with Henry VIII had amounted to his anonymous presence among a battery of bloodied, mud-drenched, and weary soldiers on a sodden field in France. They had all bowed to a very tall, copper-haired man on the back of a great warrior bay riding at the head of a train of a dozen other elegantly armored soldiers. The young king had held up his hand to them in collective thanks as he rode off to the comfort of a massive tent, a hot meal, good French wine, and more than a few pretty girls from the town of Thérouanne as John slept in the mud with the others.

But those were details of no consequence, as far as he was concerned now, and John Seymour was not above a bit of prevarication to further elevate his family.

If it was the only way to keep content his Margery—a beautiful woman who might have married so much better—he resolved to do it.

Jane’s father knew perfectly well the invitation for Edward that miraculously arrived the next day had been extended grudgingly. He had seen the subtly rolled eyes of the groom at the moment of its delivery. It was only slightly worse than the condescending look of the first groom when he had proposed it.

Unseemly,
this second rather arrogant servant’s expression seemed to be saying.

To the devil with you!
John thought in response.
I shall see my family rise as you settle for service, if it must be with my final breath.

Power was an elusive thing. In a time when knights and sheriffs were as plentiful and unimpressive as peddlers, John’s former position as sheriff of Wiltshire never brought him anywhere near court. He had to do what he could to better life for his son. Edward deserved it. The boy was handsome and smart and he would have a brilliant future if John could only create a small foothold for him
through their one connection to the court. What Edward did with it after that, by God’s grace, would be up to him.

But Edward Seymour was the family’s only real hope of advancement.

“She is quite a haughty woman, you know,” Margery remarked, speaking from what she had heard of Lady Dormer’s reputation. “While she is to be congratulated for her determination, I can only wonder how she managed to get that son of hers to attend the king’s sister in France—and what great strings she had to pull.”

“I suspect
you
will be the one to find out,” John Seymour said blandly as he sat beside her in the room where they dressed. His groom, a tottering old man with coarse silver hair and a prominent wart on the tip of his chin, stood behind him, smelling of camphor and combing the master’s hair with a wide-tooth tortoiseshell comb.

Margery sat beside him as her muffin-capped maid carefully wove a string of blue beads into the silk fall over her hair. He patted her arm with a hint of condescension so that she sniffed at him.

“Mayhap I shall.”

“Oh, you shall, my dear. It has been a good many years since I have seen anyone get the better of you.”

“I want Edward in that train to France.”

“As do I,” he agreed, both of them at last voicing what they had desired since hearing about the good fortune of Dormer’s son.

“It could mean the world to the standing of this family if the boy were to go and make an impression.”

“Agreed. But I cannot simply suggest to Sir Dormer that he find a way to see Edward invited along with his son.”

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