Easter Sunday, 1536 – a momentous day for Jane Seymour. It was the day that Eustace Chapuys bowed to Anne Boleyn as Queen at mass. Paradoxically, that was the gesture that paved the way for Henry to leave his wife. And now it’s a momentous day for me – the day my first book, Jane the Quene, opens for preorders.
I have been working on the book for more than thirty years, though in different incarnations. It was really in the last three years that I got serious and embarked on a long-term journey. The transformation happened when I got the idea to consider a trilogy, since the story of the Seymours is itself a three-act play. It hit me immediately that this was the lesson that my karate sensei had hammered into me: if you want to break a board, you don’t aim at it, you aim beyond it. Aiming at a single book never worked, but aiming at a trilogy gave me a target beyond the board.
In honor of the moment, I thought it appropriate to offer an excerpt. The book is structured, like my blog, around specific days. The excerpt I have chosen comes halfway through the book, and while I hate to divulge any “spoilers,” this is part of the entry for today (the actual dates are off, but Easter Sunday is Easter Sunday!) and therefore the only way to go. I hope you enjoy!
April 18, 1536…1 p.m.
Easter Sunday. The court was at Greenwich Palace, the favorite choice for important holy days because of the magnificence of its Chapel Royal, larger than many churches, with pompous marble and gilt softened by light filtered through massive stained glass windows. The King and Queen proceeded down the corridor, their gentlemen and ladies following behind. They walked slowly and formally, her hand on top of his. He had chosen cloth of gold for his coat; she had selected the same fabric for her pleated gown. It was clear that they had planned their outfits together. Indeed, when the King arrived in the Queen’s apartments that morning to fetch her for the parade to the chapel, he whispered a quiet “perfect” before kissing her hand. He hadn’t even noticed Jane, at least he hadn’t paid her any notice. Several ladies stole glances at her, but Jane ignored them. She understood.
The King and Queen entered the vestry, then paused. Lady Rochford was waiting for them. She curtsied, then nodded. The King looked at his wife and took a deep breath before nodding back. Lady Rochford opened the door to the chapel and the royal couple entered. The ladies began to follow, but the Queen stopped suddenly and turned around. She curtsied. All eyes went to the recipient of the reverence, Eustace Chapuys.
This was the carefully planned moment. The King had explained its significance to Jane the other day, the day Jane had returned to court. Flanked by Edward, she had gone to greet the King in his library. He got down briefly on one knee and kissed her hand, to apologize for the unintended insult of his gift of money and to thank her for returning. The gesture stunned her and she could not respond.
He rose to his feet to put her at ease and called for wine for all of them. When each had a glass, he raised his, and they did likewise. “To new beginnings.”
They engaged in innocuous conversation for a short time, then Cromwell arrived. “Ah, Sir Edward,” he said after the initial greetings. “You will be interested in this. Thomas Cranmer recently gifted the King a magnificent volume. The illustrations are inspiring.”
“Ah? Thank you.”
Cromwell turned briefly to the King. “Will you excuse us for a moment?” Cromwell asked. Without waiting for an answer, he took hold of Edward’s elbow and guided him over to the other side of the room.
The King in turn guided Jane over to the window seat and they made themselves comfortable. He began talking almost immediately, telling her about the court gossip she had missed, about the latest blooms that graced the gardens. He announced his desire to create a new rockery at Windsor, and the two of them spent almost an hour planning it before the King called to Cromwell and Edward to return from their corner. The conversation quickly became serious.
“Earlier I toasted to new beginnings. This Sunday will be an important new beginning for England.”
Jane managed to keep her gaze on the King, but felt Edward steal a glance at her.
“It is the day that Chapuys will bow to my wife or cause a war with England. Cromwell has worked out a scheme.”
Jane’s insides churned. What sort of new beginning was this? First he told Edward that he valued her virtue, now he was working to advance his wife? Did this mean that he accepted Jane’s resolve and respected it? That henceforth he would be happy with his wife? New beginnings. Jane had overplayed her hand and she had lost everything…
“And then I can leave her.”
Jane’s stomach flipped again. “Your pardon, Sire? I do not understand.”
The King looked her deep in the eyes. “I have come to understand that my marriage contravenes God’s rules. It should be as if it never was. When that is done, I shall sue for your hand, Mistress.”
Jane was stunned. She still didn’t understand why Chapuys needed to bow for this to happen, but she pushed that thought aside. Henry had said it. He wanted to marry her. He intended to marry her.
The King turned to Edward. “With your permission, of course. And your father’s.”
Edward opened his mouth but no sound came out. He just nodded his head while he looked for words to speak.
The King gestured for wine. Cromwell brought the flagon, refilling all their glasses with a small smile on his face.
“All of England will celebrate on our wedding day, all the world too. But before that happens, I must have Spain accept the choice I made and my right to make it, however ill-advised it may have been.”
Another flip. “You wish them to deny the Pope and accept you as Supreme Head of the Church?” Jane tried to keep her dismay off her face. They would never do that.
Cromwell broke in. “We do not ask them to deny the Bishop of Rome, only to accept the King’s authority in England. That is an important distinction. All Chapuys needs to do is bow to the Queen.”
Edward found his voice. “Chapuys has refused to do so for nigh on three years. Surely he will not do so now.”
Cromwell smiled. “Ah, but Chapuys has managed to avoid the Queen thus far. If we arrange a confrontation, he will have no choice.”
“Pardon me, Master Cromwell, but he could still refuse,” Jane said.
“That would be an inexcusable breach of protocol, Mistress Jane,” Cromwell said. “It would escalate the situation, even require an apology from Charles to avoid war. Chapuys is too cautious and smart to force his master into such a position.”
“By God, I hope you are right,” said Edward.
“We shall find out on Sunday. They will come face to face at Easter Mass.”
Did you love the excerpt? Let me know in the comments…and preorder here!