Title: The Price
Summary: "Who knows... perhaps one day, this little girl will preside over empires."
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to 'The Tudors' and am not responsible for the creation of any of the characters that appeared on the show.
Author's Note: I'm not entirely sure how this story happened. It was going to be a light one-shot inspired by my Vision of Gloriana Challenge, which was quite insistent about me writing something for it and wouldn't give me any peace but, somehow, it became much darker than the story I had intended to write. I was in two minds about whether or not I should post it, but I decided to give it a try, to see what people thought of it.
WARNING: This is the first story of mine that I have rated as M. It contains references to certain things that readers may find disturbing or offensive, including murder and abortion. If this is likely to offend or upset you, please do not read any further.
"Obsession can change the world."
The first time he saw it, he was drunk.
He told Anne that they would make no public announcement; they would not say that they had lost a child or give anybody the chance to say that the loss was God's punishment for them, but everybody at court had seen her swollen belly and heard the hints that they had both dropped about the happily anticipated event. Everybody at court was counting the weeks until they could expect a prince so they would all know that she had lost the baby, and they would all wonder what it was that they were supposed to do, what they were supposed to say, whether they should offer some words of consolation, expressing their confidence that it would work out next time, or if it was best for them to remain silent and pretend that nothing amiss had happened.
He didn't want to be comforted. He didn't want anybody to try to assure him that this was just a setback, a temporary one, that many women suffered miscarriages and still went on to bear strong sons and that Anne was young and healthy and that she would surely conceive again soon, and give him the son he wanted within the year, but he also did not want to hear snide remarks from Katherine's supporters that, after all the trouble and after the way he pitted himself against the Emperor and the Bishop of Rome, Anne had proven incapable of bearing a son and that he had gained nothing from setting Katherine aside and taking another as his wife, and pointed hints that he would be better off returning to her and resigning himself to the idea of leaving Mary as his heir, if that was God's will, that to do so would win him the friendship of Katherine's powerful kin and allow him to reconcile the English Church with Rome.
He just wanted to drink, to forget.
Then he saw it.
It was as though the scene played out before him; he saw a lovely, poised young woman, who was weighed down with heavy coronation robes but who held her head high as she walked slowly down the carpeted length of Westminster Abbey to the altar and the throne there, beside which a bishop was waiting to crown her with St. Edward's crown. She smiled confidently, knowing that her ascension to the throne was welcomed by the people she would govern. Anne's eyes glittered in a pale pointed face crowned with a wealth of red-gold hair that gleamed even more brightly than the crown that was set on her head, crowning her as Queen of England, Ireland and France.
As the sceptre and the orb were placed in her outstretched hands, she looked up and her gaze pierced Henry, as though she was not just looking at him but looking into him, and the smile that graced her lips was for him alone, a knowing smile that told him that she recognized him and knew that he knew what it was he was watching.
He recognized her at once, which seemed strange in many ways, as the young woman he watched bore only the vaguest of resemblances to the baby daughter he visited on occasion, but he although he knew in his heart that he was looking at his little Elizabeth, many years from now when she was a woman grown, another name called out to him, whispering in his ears.
The soft syllables resonated in his mind's ear, like music, and as he watched his daughter crowned, his heart was full of pride.
It was later that it occurred to him that, if he was watching Elizabeth being crowned as Queen of England, it could only mean that he and Anne were never able to give her a brother to supplant her as heir to the throne and that, after all the time and effort and struggle it had cost him to make Anne his wife instead of his mistress, so that their children might be born legitimate, entitled to succeed him, she would never be able to give him a living son but, oddly, it did not come as a disappointment, as he would have expected it to. Instead, he was proud of Elizabeth, of Gloriana, and certain that she would overcome the handicap of being born female, allowing her to rule England as well as any King and better than any of her predecessors, himself included, had.
In a way, he found himself feeling sorry that he would not see it for himself, as he would have to die for his vision to come to pass and for Elizabeth to become the great Queen she was born to be.
He would have liked to watch her coronation in truth, not just in a vision.
When he woke, he told himself that it must have been a dream, a reaction to the disappointment Anne's miscarriage had caused him or his mind's way of consoling him for the loss of the child by reminding him of the other child Anne had given him, their beautiful daughter, and to the wine he drank to console himself for that disappointment and loss but he couldn't convince himself that it wasn't real, and when he next visited Hatfield and held baby Elizabeth in his arms, seeing her look up at him with her bright, intelligent eyes, he was certain that he had been allowed to catch a glimpse of the glorious future that would one day be hers.
He remembered the words he had spoken to Lady Bryan, Elizabeth's governess, the last time he paid a visit: "Perhaps one day, this little girl will preside over Empires."
The first time he spoke those words, he spoke them half in jest.
Although he was then making moves to secure Elizabeth's place as his legitimate heir, and to ensure that nobody would seek to challenge the claim of his bastard daughter, Mary, ahead of that of the rightful princess, his child by his true Queen, he had not seriously considered the idea that Elizabeth might succeed him. That his first child with Anne was a girl was a disappointment to him, he would have been a liar if he had attempted to deny that, but at least Elizabeth was a strong, healthy baby, worthy of the Tudor blood that flowed through her veins, and he was certain when he held her and spoke the words that, within a matter of months, Elizabeth's baby brother would be joining her at Hatfield and he would be the one to succeed his father as ruler of England.
Anne might have failed the first time but her failure was not a total one; she had conceived easily and borne a healthy daughter, so there was no reason why she would not bear a healthy son.
If a day ever came when Elizabeth presided over empires, she would do it as the consort of another monarch, when he made a fine match for her, and not as Queen in her own right.
Or so he had thought.
After the vision, when he held Elizabeth in his arms and looked down at her tiny, alert face, he was certain that God had been trying to tell him that, instead of Elizabeth's sex and Anne's miscarriage being a punishment for him, a sign that he had displeased the Almighty in some way, or perhaps even that God did not approve of his marriage to Anne in the first place, they were instead the means by which His plan for England would come to pass. This was why God had not allowed him to have living male issue with Katherine, this was why He had led Henry to set Katherine aside and to proclaim Mary a bastard and this was why He had led his gaze to fall on Anne, knowing that Henry would fall in love with her and that the child born of their love was marked for glory.
Henry might never be the father of a son but the daughter he had sired would be a mighty prince one day, a mightier prince than any son he could have sired on Katherine, Anne or any other woman could ever hope to be, and certainly a greater ruler than the Lady Mary would ever be, for all that she was the granddaughter of Isabella of Castile. Mary's womanly weaknesses would never allow her to be an effective ruler, the ruler that England would need when Henry was gone, but Elizabeth was different, Elizabeth was special.
She would bring glory to the Tudor dynasty and a Golden Age to England.
Through him, and through his line, England would become truly great.
That thought was adequate compensation for his lack of a son and, as he cradled Elizabeth close, he whispered in her tiny ear, telling her not to be afraid. He knew what she was destined for and he would see to it that she was able to achieve it. He would protect her against anybody who sought to harm her and he would ensure that her path to the throne would be clear of obstacles.
Elizabeth would be Queen of England.
She would be Gloriana.
He vowed that every man, woman and child in England would accept that Elizabeth was the rightful heir to the throne, and those who refused to do so, those who cleaved to Katherine and her daughter and who rejected Anne and Elizabeth, his Gloriana, would pay the price for their refusal. He could not allow Elizabeth's destiny to be hampered by their foolishness and obstinacy, anymore than he could allow the English people, his beloved subjects, to be robbed of the Queen who would bring a reign of unprecedented prosperity and peace to their country because of a few fools who refused to recognize that it was God's will that Elizabeth should succeed him.
When he left Elizabeth, when he returned to the palace, he visited Anne, for the first time since she miscarried their baby. Once she lost a child, courtiers quickly began to speculate about whether she might be set aside now that she had failed, for the second time, to give him a son, especially as she was unable even to soften her failure by presenting him with a living daughter this time. It was no secret that he kept mistresses, from time to time, and they speculated about whether Anne's hold was failing at last and, if it did, what was to keep Henry from setting her aside and opting to return to Katherine, something the vast majority of his subjects longed to see him do? What was to keep him from reinstating Mary as Princess, preferring to have a young woman in her teens, ripe for marriage and for childbearing, as his heir instead of an infant?
If Elizabeth was to be Queen, then he could not allow there to be the slightest shadow of doubt hanging over her rights as a legitimate princess, or any hint that he might consider the idea of casting her or her mother aside, so he needed to ensure that his marriage to Anne could not be undermined, not by the people who openly refused the Oath of Succession and not by the courtiers who would pounce on any sign of weakness or turmoil in the royal marriage, in the hopes of advancing their own agenda.
His vision had wakened a renewed tenderness and appreciation for Anne in his heart; Elizabeth was her daughter as much as his, after all, and he could sense from his vision that their daughter had inherited many of her mother's qualities, qualities that combined with those she had inherited from him to make the remarkable young monarch he saw.
Without Anne, Gloriana would never have been born.
She wept in his arms when he visited her, soothing her with kind, gentle words of consolation, words he had practiced half a dozen times or more, when Katherine lost her children, and caressing her awkwardly, promising her that he didn't blame her for the loss, that it was God's will, that he loved her as much as ever, if not more and that no power on Earth would ever induce him to forsake her. He vowed that even if Elizabeth remained their only child, she would be more than enough for him, and the only heir he would want to leave.
He didn't mention Mary but he was sure that Anne understood his unspoken implication, and knew that he would not be soft with the girl or contemplate her restoration ahead of Elizabeth.
When Anne recovered from her miscarriage, enough to allow her to leave her bed and to rejoin the court, he was constantly by her side, showering her with affection and behaving with the solicitousness expected of a devoted and loving husband. They walked through the court with his arm threaded through hers in a manner that was not only protective but also a gesture of solidarity, a sign to the courtiers that his marriage to Anne was still strong, that she was still Queen in his heart and that he would not welcome any hint that he might set her aside after her miscarriage. His manner towards her gave Anne confidence, assuring her that she was forgiven and loved and that she did not need to harbour any fears about whether she and Elizabeth might be cast aside and she was much calmer and happier for it.
He had to remind himself to smile each time she promised that, next time, she would give him a son.
The second time he saw it was the night before More's trial.
Of all the men in England who stood against him, Henry wished that More was not one of them. He was not only respected and liked by the people, he was also a clever lawyer and a man with a justly earned reputation for honesty. There was little that Henry would not have given to have More's backing for his Great Matter, his marriage to Anne, his role as Supreme Head of the Church of England and Elizabeth's succession ahead of Mary.
If he could have pointed to More as an ally, if he was able to say that Sir Thomas More, one of the wisest men in England and certainly the most honest, had read the arguments and that he agreed that the marriage to Katherine was invalid and had had to be annulled, while the marriage to Anne was a true union in the sight of God and the law, then More's example would have encouraged others, ordinary people who were not well-versed in the legal and theological issues at play but who backed Katherine because she was the only Queen they had known for a long time and because the idea of Anne taking her place was one they found unpleasant and uncomfortable, to accept that Anne was their rightful Queen and Elizabeth the lawful heir to the throne.
But More remained obdurate.
He had offered, as a compromise of sorts, as he had no desire to die, to swear an oath that he recognized Anne as the Queen of England and Elizabeth as heir to the throne but what good was that when he denied Henry's status as Supreme Head of the Church of England?
If Henry's rights as Supreme Head of the Church of England were denied, then it could only mean that the Bishop of Rome was viewed as a superior authority on religious matters, and the Bishop of Rome had found for Katherine, denying the validity of Henry's marriage to Anne and commanding that Henry should reinstate Katherine as his wife and Queen and send Anne away from his court, ordering that he should restore Mary as Princess and as heir to the throne and disinherit little Elizabeth, threatening excommunication if he refused. The Bishop of Rome insisted that the children born from his marriage to Anne were bastards, while the Lady Mary was his sole legitimate issue and his rightful heir.
More might have thought that he was being very clever by refusing to openly deny Henry's supremacy over the Church of England when he was called upon to take the Oath and when he was questioned about the reasons for his refusal, and by offering a compromise as a sop, but Henry was not fooled by his suggestion and he refused to accept it.
Even if More pretended to accept that Anne was Queen and Elizabeth the lawful heir to the throne, and to acknowledge the provisions of the Act of Succession, what use was that if he refused to accept Henry as Supreme Head of the Church? If he believed that the pope's verdict was a true one, then it surely followed that he believed that Katherine was Henry's true wife, even if Anne was crowned and anointed as Queen, and confirmed as such by Parliament, just as he must believe that Mary was legitimate and that, rather than asserting Elizabeth's rights as heir, the Act of Succession sought to set aside a trueborn heir in favour of a bastard.
Even if More was prepared to profess himself willing to defend Elizabeth's rights as the lawful heir to the throne now, how could Henry dismiss the possibility that, should a situation ever arise when More would be called upon to fulfil that promise, he would refuse to do so, insisting that his conscience would not allow him to support Elizabeth ahead of Mary, despite his oath?
Henry had known that he could not accept such half-measures but, at the same time, he was worried about what the consequences might be for Elizabeth if it was seen that a man as respected and well-liked as Sir Thomas More was sent to the scaffold for her sake, in defence of her position as Princess, a position that those who foolishly cleaved to Mary denied her.
In his visions, Gloriana was welcomed by the people, and beloved by them.
More's execution would be a bitter inheritance for her, one that might forever jeopardize her chances of winning the love of her future subjects, but the man could not be allowed to remain free to speak and to write against Henry's marriage to Anne, or to speak in Katherine's favour, challenging Elizabeth's right to be heir ahead of Mary and urging others to do the same, as he had before, despite his promise that he would not publicly speak of Henry's Great Matter.
When he spoke to More the night before the trial was scheduled to begin, he knew when he saw him that his former friend did not want to die. He had a family whom he dearly loved, a family who would be left destitute and disgraced if he was executed as a traitor, his property forfeited to the Crown, and, if it was possible for him to save his life and secure his freedom without having to take the Oath that he believed would damn his soul, he would do so.
The terms of the alternative oath Henry offered to him were much more palatable to him.
He did not ask him to swear that he acknowledged him as Supreme Head of the Church of England, he did not ask him to swear that he recognized that Katherine was not and had never been Henry's wife or Queen and was merely the Dowager Princess of Wales, the woman who had lived in sin with her husband's brother for many years, and he did not ask him to swear that he recognized Mary as the bastard she was and knew that the girl had no possible claim to a place in the line of succession, or to the title of Princess. He was realistic enough to see that not even the threat of execution would be enough to make an impression on More once his mind – or, in this case, his conscience – was made up and there was no point in pressing him on that front.
All he asked of him was the very thing that More once promised him: his silence.
To walk out of the Tower as a free man, all More needed to do was to swear a solemn oath, on his honour and on his immortal soul, that he would never speak or write anything about Anne's place as Queen, Elizabeth's place as heir, Henry's role as Head of the Church or anything connected to the Great Matter or the Oath of Succession, not in public and not even within the privacy of his own family. If he would make this promise, Henry would sign a pardon at once, and More would be on a barge bound for his family's home with the next tide.
When More accepted, he probably believed that this apparent change of heart on Henry's part, coming as it did at the eleventh hour, the night before the trial that More had no hope of winning, was a testament to the friendship they had shared, and that while Henry might have wanted him to take the Oath, might have been willing to exert considerable pressure on him in order to induce him to take it, the memory of their long-standing friendship, coupled with More's long years of diligent service, meant that he would not be willing to send him to the scaffold for his refusal.
Henry did not even ask him to swear in the presence of witnesses.
He knew More, and he was acquainted with the other man's conscience. If he gave his word, swearing before God that he would remain silent henceforth, then he would keep his word, even if Henry was the only other living soul to know of his promise. Henry had no need for witnesses or a signature or a public declaration to ensure that he would stand by his oath. Once More placed his hand on the Bible and swore, his oath would keep his lips forever sealed and his pen forever stilled as far as the relevant issues were concerned.
He would never need to worry about the possibility that More would go back on his solemn word, he knew that he would never compromise his honour with such an act, and so he could send him on his way with a light heart, secure in the knowledge that he would not breathe or write a single word that might compromise Elizabeth.
When Cromwell learned of this the next morning, when Henry calmly told him to cancel the planned trial as he and More had come to an alternative arrangement, he could see from the expression on his face that his Lord Chancellor was aghast at the thought that More, whose refusal to take the Oath was now public knowledge, had been set free, fearing that if Henry was known to have yielded when one man defied him, others might seek to follow More's example. However, once he had taken the time to digest the news, once his wily mind had a chance to ponder the full implications of Henry's choice and the reasons he gave for it, he congratulated him on his shrewdness in dealing with so pressing an issue.
They made no public announcement about the reason why More was released, and More's oath ensured that he would not be the one to speak of it.
The crowds who began to gather around the courtroom before the sun dawned, jostling and shoving so that they might find the best seats available to the common people, were astounded to learn that the trial had been cancelled, as there was no longer a need for it, and even more astonished about the fact that no explanation was given for why More was set free.
As Henry half-expected, and as he prayed would be the case, they came up with their own explanation, reaching the conclusion he wished them to.
When he made a point of inviting More to court, and of granting him all of his property back, along with a couple of new estates, this confirmed the people's suspicions.
He had initially intended to have Cromwell pay men to circulate the rumours he wanted circulated but there was no need for him to do that. The people were already thinking along those lines, without any prompting from Cromwell's agents; with men being executed throughout England for refusing to take the Oath, it was inconceivable that, after arresting him and even going so far as to order a trial, Henry would simply let him off the hook, setting him free without requiring that he take the Oath. More would surely not be allowed to defy his King without being punished for it, and he would certainly never be treated with such marked favour for his defiance.
Within a matter of days, rumours were flying through London that Sir Thomas More had taken the Oath privately, in the King's presence, agreeing to do so as long as his swearing never became public knowledge and, as the King once counted him as a dear friend, he agreed to allow this concession, so that he might save face in public, asking only that More swear the Oath in his presence, not caring if it remained their secret as long as he swore.
Within a matter of weeks, most of the English people, including those at court, were utterly convinced that More had taken the Oath, after refusing for so long, once it became plain to him that he would pay for his refusal with his life and that he could not hope for mercy if he continued in his defiance, and there were many in Europe who agreed with them.
Cromwell's agents in Rome had confirmed that even some of the highest-ranking clergymen in Rome believed that More had finally agreed to swear rather than dying as a martyr.
Because he had sworn to remain silent, More could not deny those rumours.
Henry felt certain that he had not even told his daughter Meg the truth.
The conscience that had kept him from taking the Oath of Succession would keep him from breaking his vow to Henry by denying that he had.
When Anne came to him and told him that she was with child once more, vowing that this time, she would take every precaution, that she would rest, eat well and follow Dr Linacre's instructions to the letter, to ensure that she would be able to present him with a strong son, Henry knew that he had to smile. This was the news that he was supposed to have been waiting for, after all, and one of the reasons that he had remarried but, even as he hugged Anne gently, kissing her and speaking the appropriate words of congratulations, he felt a sinking dread in his heart.
That night, he did not see the vision.
That night, there was only blackness, a void where the glorious future he had foreseen once was.
He called out her name, he called for Elizabeth, for Gloriana, but there was no answer.
She was gone.
The future was gone, and he knew why.
If Anne bore him a son, then Elizabeth would never rule.
England would never know the joy and prosperity that the reign of Gloriana would bring them.
A son was supposed to be his dearest hope, the one thing he wanted above anything else. Even if he said something, even if he confided in Brandon, his dear friend, or Anne, his beloved wife and told them that the last thing he wanted was for a prince to be born to supplant Elizabeth as heir, nobody would believe that he saw the impending birth of a son as something to be dreaded, something to be avoided if possible, not something that should be joyfully anticipated.
Elizabeth was the only one to whom he could speak, a toddler not yet two years old but with an intelligence and an understanding that belied her tender years, an intelligence that promised that, when she was a woman grown, she would possess an astute mind, one that would enable her to deal with any problems she faced and would make her a formidable politician and diplomat. When he confided in her that he did not truly want to see her have a baby brother, that he would much rather that she would be Queen when he died rather than her brother becoming his heir, she listened in solemn silence, neither dismissing his words or judging him for them, her beautiful eyes filled with understanding as he confided in her, as he could not confide in any other soul.
When he promised that he would make sure that she would reign as Queen, she smiled at him.
It was easier to keep his promise than he thought it would be.
He had always been interested in herbs and cures, brewing his own tonics and remedies, and he owned several books describing the properties – and the dangers – of various plants and herbs.
Rue and pennyroyal, with honey and juices pressed from apples to disguise the bitter taste.
Considering the importance of Anne's pregnancy, it was hardly surprising that she would make every effort to safeguard the tiny, fragile life growing in her womb, determined to do all in her power to ensure that the child she carried would be born safely and when Henry offered her the tonics he brewed to strengthen her and the child, she accepted them without hesitation.
A son was supposed to be what he wanted, after all, so she had no reason to think twice about it before she accepted his tonics and downed them, thanking him for his care of her.
It took a couple of weeks of trial and error, changing quantities and experimenting with different additions to the mixture before he found the right combination and, once the bloodied sheets and garments were removed to be disposed of, while the midwives dealt with the tiny remains of the baby that should have been the Prince of Wales, he held Anne close once more, murmuring the same reassurances he had before, reassurances that came more easily this time, and inwardly reminding himself that he should make a note of the successful recipe and keep it safe.
He couldn't know when he might need it again.
That night, the vision came to him again, clearer, brighter and more magnificent than ever.
He knew that he needed Mary to take the Oath.
Some might make the mistake of thinking that Katherine was the one whose spirit needed to be broken most urgently and believed that Henry should focus his efforts in that direction, that if he could get the mother to yield to his will, the daughter would quickly follow her example, but Henry knew better. He knew that, while it would be of great help to him, to Anne and to little Elizabeth, if Katherine could be convinced to cease insisting that she was Queen and to acknowledge that Anne was the one who was truly entitled to that title, it was more important that Mary should admit that she was a bastard while Elizabeth was the rightful Princess of England.
Katherine was an old woman, in body if not in years, and Mary was young.
Katherine claimed the title of Queen of England but it was on the strength of her fraudulent marriage to him rather than because she could claim it by blood but Mary claimed to be the Princess of Wales in her own right, by virtue of her Tudor blood and her pretended status as his legitimate child and rightful heir. Katherine would admit that her claim to the title of Queen of England would die with Henry, but once he was dead, Mary would proclaim herself the rightful Queen and seek to usurp Elizabeth's throne, preventing the reign of Gloriana.
Even if Katherine could be coaxed or bullied into acknowledging that she was not, and never had been Henry's wife or Queen, even if she publicly admitted that she should never have tried to claim those titles and acknowledged that she was just the Dowager Princess of Wales, Arthur's widow, that would not be enough to convince Mary that she too must give in, even though she loved her mother dearly and would not want to stand against her. Mary would tell herself, and others, that the admission was forced from Katherine and that they should therefore pay it no mind and she would continue to insist that she was the Princess while Elizabeth was a bastard.
He needed her to cease to make the claims that threatened Elizabeth's future.
He tried to win Mary with kindness first.
He knew that Anne had tried to persuade Mary to accept her as Queen – something that would have been tantamount to an admission that Elizabeth was the Princess, even if Mary could not bring herself to actually say the words – and promised that, in return, she would welcome Mary back to court and reconcile her with him. Mary had refused, and it did not surprise him to hear that. The girl was proud and stubborn, too much so for her own good and, as she viewed Anne as her enemy, she would be the last person whose overtures of friendship Mary would be willing to accept. She would rather remain at Hatfield, even as a servant to little Elizabeth, than return to court where she would be treated with honour, if the latter was Anne's gift to her.
He was so sure that it would be different when he was the one to approach Mary.
He remembered the sweet, loving little girl who adored her Papa and who was always so eager to please him. Being exiled from the court and from her father would have been painful for Mary, and he was sure that if he was the one to speak to her, making his case in a reasonable manner and explaining to her that, while she was illegitimate, he still loved her dearly and wanted to be able to welcome her back to court, where his daughter belonged, she would respond to his overtures.
He paid a visit to Hatfield and, after he visited little Elizabeth, playing with her and showing her the toys, gowns and dainty caps that Anne had sent for her, instead of leaving as soon as Lady Bryan bore a sleepy toddler away for her afternoon nap, ignoring the fact that his other daughter also resided at Hatfield and making no move to greet her or to see her, as was usually his custom, he surprised the governess by instructing her to see to it that the Lady Mary was sent down to greet him at once, ordering that he and his elder daughter should be left to speak privately, without even having any servants present.
He wanted to speak to Mary as a father to his daughter, not as a King to his erring subject.
When he saw Mary, he was taken aback by how much she had grown. He had seen her once since she came to Hatfield, the first time he came to see Elizabeth, but he only saw her from the courtyard then, as she stood on the balcony looking down at him, a mournful expression on her face, and he didn't get a good look at her then. It came a surprise when she was ushered in to see him and he saw that the little girl he had sent to live at Ludlow years ago, when his love for Anne was just beginning to blossom, had grown into a young woman. Mary's black gown and cap were austere, almost akin to the garb of a nun but she carried herself proudly, her head high, as a princess' would be, and the curtsey she made to him was a graceful one.
Her tone was affectionate and her usually solemn face was wreathed with a smile as he greeted her, kissing her cheek and telling her how pretty she had grown, but the smile vanished and Mary's young features quickly hardened when he explained the purpose of his visit.
He tried to be gentle, he truly did.
He reminded himself of how difficult and how painful it must have been for Mary to learn that she was illegitimate and he was kind when he explained that all he wanted from her was that she should take the Oath and admit that Elizabeth was the true Princess, and that if she would do this one thing for him, her service in Elizabeth's household would end as soon as she did, and she could come back to court with him today if she wished. He promised to see to it that she would be treated with all honour, as his daughter, and that but for the fact that she would have no claim to the title, she would enjoy much the same privileges as she had when she was called a Princess, and that she would be the first lady at court after Anne and Elizabeth.
It was a very generous offer – too generous an offer to be made to a royal bastard, at least under ordinary circumstances – but Mary refused it as soon as he spoke the words.
The way she reacted, anybody would have thought that his words were a physical blow, or an unforgivable insult to her, even a betrayal on his part.
She refused to listen to what he had to say, and he was both appalled and angered by the outbursts from the daughter he remembered as sweet and gentle, as she pleaded with him to remember the love he once held for her and for her mother and begged him, for the sake of that love, to restore them to what she dared to term their rightful places, accusing Anne of bewitching him in almost the same breath, telling him that she could not believe that he was the one who had wished to see them downgraded and cast aside, and that Anne's spell over him was to blame.
Even if it grieved him to think that his daughter, along with the woman he had cared for as his wife for so many years, were unhappy, he knew that there were more important things at stake and he became impatient with Mary's peevish insistence that she could not jeopardize her immortal soul by going along with what he wanted, not when she knew that it was against the law of God and that, even if he could claim that he was acting as his conscience dictated, she would win no Heavenly mercy for following him into sin.
She was entirely her mother's creature, so much so that, for a moment, it was as if Katherine stood before him in Mary's place, defying him, as she had for so many years before he tired of waiting and decided to set her aside, with or without the approval of the Bishop of Rome.
Since gentleness failed, he was sharp with Mary when he told her that she was a wicked, undutiful and disloyal daughter and, as such, he would no longer regard her as any child of his and he would no longer offer the love or protection of a father to a daughter, or of a King to a true, loyal subject. If she insisted on defying him, she did not have the right to expect him to shield her from the consequences of doing so.
He could hear Mary begin to weep as he walked away from her, quietly at first and then more noisily, but he did not turn back or make any move to comfort her, as she undoubtedly expected.
He could not allow himself to soften towards the girl, not if he wanted Gloriana to reign.
Mary had made her choice and, by doing so, she left him with only one course of action.
He stole into the nursery before he left, moving as silently as he could so that he did not wake his sleeping child, and he knelt by the head of Elizabeth's bed, leaning down so that he could kiss the soft, sleep-flushed cheek and stroke the rumpled curls that framed her face, marvelling once more at the idea that somebody as small and as childish as Elizabeth would grow to be the great Queen he had foreseen.
Elizabeth was truly a miracle and, for her sake and for the sake of Gloriana's reign, no price was too high to pay.
Mary was often ill.
She had never been strong – and though there were some who tried to claim that it was her grief over the dissolution of Henry's marriage to her mother, along with her distress and her shame at having to endure the indignity of waiting on Elizabeth that had destroyed her health, he could remember that she was always a sickly child, one who never enjoyed Elizabeth's robust health and who had caused her parents great anxiety during her infancy and early childhood, when her frequent illnesses gave them cause to fear that their only living child might be snatched away from them – and he was frequently bombarded with claims that she was ill, and with pleas that she might be allowed to go to Katherine, so that she might be nursed by her mother.
The next time Ambassador Chapuys came to him with a message to that effect, he responded with all the concern one would expect of a loving father, even one whose once cherished child was banished from his sight. He would not allow Mary to go to her mother, of course, and he suspected that Chapuys had not been so optimistic as to expect that he would, but he promised that Mary would be temporarily excused from her duties as Elizabeth's attendant while she was ill, and moved from Hatfield to one of the royal manors, where she would be more comfortable.
He didn't need to speak to Anne to know that this concession was one that made her uncomfortable, and that made her fear that if he was treating Mary with more favour than he had since they married and Elizabeth was born, it could not bode well for her or for Elizabeth but he couldn't reassure her that she was worrying needlessly, much less tell her that Mary's removal was as much, if not more, for her sake than it was for Mary's; if something happened to Mary while she was at Hatfield, under the supervision of a household staffed with people that Anne had helped to handpick, she would be the natural suspect. He had to protect her from that.
Gloriana could not have a mother who was a suspected murderess.
As well as promising that he would send Mary to a manor to recuperate, he also promised that he would send a skilled physician to treat her, one in whom he had absolute confidence.
Generous bribes ensured that the physician he found, and charged with the task of going to Mary and carrying out his orders, would obey him and keep his mouth shut afterwards.
Mary was seriously ill to begin with, ill enough to cause the doctors who examined her at Hatfield serious concern, especially as they feared that they might be blamed for negligence, or worse, if the girl died while she was under their care. Mary was running high fevers, and could keep no food down.
She would probably have died anyway.
The court went into mourning for her, of course, and Henry's touching displays of grief over the death of his natural daughter ensured that his people did not suspect him of having any involvement in her death and, in time, even the rumours that Anne might have been involved fizzled out. In the absence of her elder sister, Elizabeth was more widely accepted as the rightful heir to the throne, and Henry made sure to show his beautiful little princess off in front of the people as often as he could, bringing her to court at every possible opportunity.
Mary's funeral was a dignified one, attended by the members of the royal family, even little Elizabeth, and by most of the court.
The marble slab placed over her final resting place bore the title that she had persistently refused to accept in life: Lady Mary, the King's Daughter.
He would have allowed Katherine to attend the funeral, but she died just two days after she was given the news of Mary's death.
People said she died of a broken heart.
It was easy to see a vision but so much more difficult to see to it that it would come to pass.
Eighteen years ago today, he saw the vision, a vision that had come to him many times, filling him with hope for the future and with a renewed determination to ensure that Gloriana would reign, and that was withheld whenever something threatened Elizabeth's future as Queen, only returning once Henry dealt with the threat and ensured that his daughter's path to the throne was clear.
Sometimes, when he could not see it, he felt as though he was going mad and that his sanity would not be restored until he was allowed to see Gloriana once more.
He would do anything.
In recent years, the vision had come to vary from time to time; sometimes, instead of witnessing the coronation, he could see Gloriana out among her people, whose love and devotion for her was written all over their faces, and once he saw her don armour and ride out among the men who were armed and ready to defend England from invaders, vowing that, in the heat of battle, she was resolved to fight and die amongst them.
He stood by her side, watching with her as the invading Spanish ships were destroyed.
Each vision gave him the strength he needed to keep to the path he and Elizabeth were on, ensuring that he would never grow complacent or slip into his old ways.
Those who had been at court during the early years of his reign must have marvelled to see the way he lived after the vision.
Instead of spending his time indulging in the pastimes he most enjoyed, sating his appetite on prodigious amounts of food and drink, he lived more frugally than he ever would have imagined living – though he ensured that his court was still a lavish one, loathing the idea that he might be scorned as a miser, as his father used to be, with visiting ambassadors sending reports to their masters about the impoverished English court – and he devoted his time to the business of managing the country, unwilling to entrust his work to anybody, not even Cromwell.
He knew that if he wanted to keep Elizabeth's place as his heir secure, it would take a lot of work on his part. He was fairly confident that Charles Brandon was loyal to him but his friend's son was his nephew, his sister Margaret's son, and who was to say that young Edward might not grow to cherish hopes of becoming King one day, hopes that might lead him to try to claim that Elizabeth was illegitimate and had no right to succeed to the throne, so that he might supplant her?
He knew that some were surprised by the fact that the King of England did not invite his own nephew to court, or bestow any royal title on him, even though he was the only living grandson of Henry the Seventh, but he was not willing to take any chance that his courtiers or even the common people might draw comparisons between his daughter and Margaret's son and think that the latter might be preferable as their next monarch.
Edward Brandon was kept away from court but Elizabeth was always there, with a ready smile for the people who called to her, won over by her beauty and her infectious charm.
They were never allowed to think that there was an alternative.
He had to make sure that the people were prepared, so that when the time came, they would accept Elizabeth as Queen without daring to fight her succession and without the idea that they might be able to do so even occurring to them but, at the same time, it was also important that they should want her as their Queen. He hated the idea that his subjects, who had greeted his ascension with such frantic joy, would be happy to see him die but he could reconcile himself to the idea, as long as it meant that they would look to Elizabeth's ascension with joyful expectation.
When his father died, the people were happy to be able to look to him as their new King, confident that he would be the glorious monarch they longed to have, a monarch more like his grandfather, Edward the Fourth, than like his father so perhaps it was fitting that, as he neared the end of his own life, his people would long for the day when they could call Elizabeth their Queen.
Most of his nobles would support Elizabeth.
He had seen to it that those whose support truly mattered had gained enough from the dissolution of the monasteries to ensure that the last thing they would want would be to see England return to Rome, as they would then be obliged to surrender the church property he had granted them. They were also well aware of the troubles that civil war could bring to a country, and even if some of them cherished secret doubts about the validity of Henry's marriage to Anne, and about the legitimacy of their daughter, despite the solemn oaths they swore, insisting that they recognized the marriage and Elizabeth's rights, they would rather see Elizabeth sitting on the throne than to risk that the country would be torn apart by civil war, with rival pretenders vying for the Crown.
Elizabeth did a great deal to help her own cause.
The first time he told her of the vision was the day of her seventh birthday, the day she reached the age of reason, and when he told her, he was pleased to see that she recognized how important it was that they should make sure that God's will was done and that they saw to it that she would be Queen one day, the magnificent Queen he saw in his vision.
When they were alone, he sometimes called her Gloriana.
They never told Anne about the vision.
Perhaps, if they had, she would have understood its importance and she would certainly believe that Elizabeth would be a great Queen, as she knew how intelligent she was, but after a series of miscarriages before Dr Linacre finally plucked up the courage to tell Henry that he feared for Anne's health if she continued to try to bear children, giving him an excuse to forsake the marriage bed and allowing him to ensure that there would be no chance that she could bear a rival for Elizabeth, she was sensitive about the fact that Elizabeth was their only child, though she loved their daughter fiercely and was devoted to her, and he did not want to rub salt into her wounds.
There were times when he truly felt sorry for Anne; she believed that she had failed him when she could not give him a son, little realizing that she had already given him the greatest gift of all but there were also times when he envied her, as she would be able to witness Elizabeth's coronation in the flesh, something that he would never be able to do, and she would see for herself the great Queen that their daughter would become.
Perhaps then she would truly be able to accept that she had not failed him.
At least she had always been able to comfort herself with the knowledge that he was faithful to her, never taking mistresses after her first miscarriage or even visiting a brothel.
Although he was often tempted when beautiful women came to court and made it clear, with smiles and with coy glances, that they would welcome advances from their King, even after it became clear to all of the court that he would never set Anne aside, even if she had failed to give him a son, and that neither they nor their family could hope that they might become Queen, he never yielded to that temptation. He could not take the risk that he might sire a bastard on one of them, knowing that if that bastard was a comely son, and if his mother's family were ambitious enough, they might seek to champion him as a potential contender for the throne ahead of Elizabeth, especially when her legitimacy was still doubtful in some eyes.
He would not risk robbing his people of the benefits of Gloriana's reign in order to satisfy his lust!
He did not feel like an old man, even now that he lay in his bed, knowing that he would never rise from it again, but a part of him felt that, under other circumstances, had he not lived so much more abstemiously in his middle age than he had in his youth, he would have been dead long ago. He had lived in a healthier manner, however, and but for the fact that he was stricken by the lung complaints that had plagued his father, he would have had years left.
He had had so much work to do in order to pave the way for Gloriana that it had kept him busy, and kept him from the vices that might have shortened his life.
Gloriana had become his obsession, just as Anne once was.
He could not die until England was ready for her.
He had done all of the work now. The ties between England and Rome were completely severed now, and the Church of England was strong. He had built a strong alliance with France, the two countries standing united against the power of the Emperor. Virtually all of those who were powerful enough to pose a threat to Elizabeth were either subdued or, if they would not surrender, eliminated. His treasury was full and he had built a strong navy, so that should the Spanish dare to attack England's shores, Gloriana would have the resources to deal with them.
It was safe for him to go.
England would be safe in Gloriana's hands.
The price he paid would be worth it.
His wife and his daughter sat on either side of him, each of them holding one of his hands in theirs, both knowing that it would not be long before he was called to God. Anne was crying quietly, tears streaming down her cheeks, unchecked, but Elizabeth was dry-eyed. She knew what it was that she was meant to do and she was ready to fulfil the destiny she was born for. She would not weep, even though she loved him dearly and would grieve to see him go. She was to be the Queen of England, she was to be Gloriana, and Gloriana did not weep.
Henry didn't think that it was possible for any parent to feel prouder of any child than he was of his daughter.
When he spoke to her, she leaned closer so that she could hear his words, and when he exhorted her to take care of her mother, she nodded in response, silently pledging that she would.
Despite Henry's hope that, given time, the English people would grow to love Anne, he didn't think that they had ever fully taken her into their hearts. Her charity works were respected, even appreciated but, like him, she was blamed for any perceived ills in England, and she could never hope to be popular. While he lived, he could protect her but, once he was gone and Anne became Queen Dowager, it would fall to Elizabeth to see to it that she was safe.
Elizabeth was almost nineteen now, a young woman, of an age to rule England by herself, without needing a Regent or a Lord Protector to govern on her behalf. The people loved her and she understood full well how important it was for her to cultivate their love.
If they loved her, that was her best safeguard. If they loved her, they would not be moved by the dire threats of the Bishop of Rome that they would be damned for all eternity if they obeyed a monarch that he didn't see fit to acknowledge as a rightful heir. If they loved her, then when they Spanish came, they would fight and die in order to defend her and England from them.
"It's alright, Papa." Elizabeth's voice was soft, but rich with confidence. "I am ready."
He could feel it in his bones, as though God was whispering to him that he had played his part, and his time was finished. Gloriana's time was just beginning.
It was time for him to go.
He summoned his strength to smile at Anne, drawing her hand to his lips to kiss it, but it was at Elizabeth he looked as he drew in his last, painful breaths, holding her gaze as long as he could, before the effort of keeping his eyes open became too much for him.
He tried to call her by her other name but only an inaudible murmur escaped his lips.
He couldn't stay any longer.
He prayed that, before he died, he might be allowed to see his vision again.
One more time.