The Pilgrimage of Grace

More from The Mirror and the Light:Mary reconciles with her father, and is the great risk to all the rest of England. The two Royal Personages will not kill each other but will kill anyone else, or risk anyone else’s life, for their own ends, because they are royal.

Cardinal Wolsey considers the command to “give all you have to the poor”: ‘So what do you want me to do, Barnes? You want me to leave off the state and ceremony which honours God, and to go in homespun? You want me to keep a miser’s table, and serve pease pudding to ambassadors? You want me to melt down my silver crosses, and give the money to the poor? The poor, which will piss it against the wall?’

Jane is not the brightest: And in gratitude for the gold and precious stones, she smiles slowly and blinks at him, as if she were a lass whose lover has cut her a slice of apple, and offered it to her on the point of his blade.

Hunters, it is said, live longer than other men; they sweat hard and stay lean; when they fall into bed at night they are tired beyond all temptation; and when they die, they go to Heaven.

Richard Riche admires Cromwell: ‘And yet he has a remarkable mind,’ Riche says reverently, ‘remarkable. I think if writing were rubbed out, and all the records of government erased, he would carry them in his head, with all the laws of England, precedent and clause. And I am a fortunate man, to stand his friend, and to have been able to work a little to soothe his temper. Yes, I am glad I was standing by. Praise God,’ says Richard Riche, ‘I learn from him every day.’

They scarcely knew Christophe was in the room. But there he squats in the corner, like a gargoyle fallen off a church. He remembers the boy saying, that day when they rode up to Kimbolton, ‘I will kill a Pole for you. I will kill a Pole when you require it.’

Catholics rebel: On the farms around, labourers see the chance of a holiday. Faces blackened, some wearing women’s attire, they set off to town, picking up any edged tool that could act as a weapon. From the marketplace you can see them coming, kicking up a cloud of dust.

These broils begin the same, and from age to age they end the same. The gentry pardoned, and the poor dangling from trees.

If his informants are correct, the rebels are writing lists of demands, and what they demand – along with the restoration of the Golden Age – are amendments of certain laws that bear on inheritance, how they can dispose of their goods in their wills. These are not the concerns of simple people. What has Hob or Hick to leave behind him, but some bad debts and broken shoes? No: these are the complaints of small landowners, and men who don’t like to pay their taxes. Men who want to be petty kings in their shires, who want the women to curtsey as they pass through the marketplace. I know these paltry gods, he thinks. We had them in Putney. They have them everywhere.

The king’s companions are prepared to march. So scented, the courtiers, so urbane: the rustle of silk, the soundless tread of padded shoes. But slaughter is their trade. Like butchers in the shambles, it is what they were reared for. Peace, to them, is just the interval between wars.

The common folk of England live on songs and tales and alehouse jokes. Spending their pence on candles to burn before holy images, they live in the dark, and in the dark take fright. Let us say a calf is born dead. By the time the tale crosses a field, it is a calf with two heads. Cross a stream, and it is a calf with two heads, chanting backwards in Latin, and some friar is charging a shilling for a charm against it. So it goes, in half a day, from abortion to Antichrist: and somehow, everybody is poorer except the priests. Pastors warn their flock that if they do not send tribute to Rome, trees will walk and crops will blight. They make them dread the fire of Purgatory, which eats to the bone; they ask, can you bear to see your dead folk burning – your helpless old mother, your dead little children, bound in agony and screaming for your prayers?

The king leans forward. ‘The burdens of tax do not rest on the shoulders of labourers, or small husbandmen. Dives, the rich man, knows and has always known how to pass off his interests as the interests of Lazarus, the beggar.’

He foretold a day would come when churches would be flattened and monks forced to marry; where German heathens sat at table with the king, and true noblemen were herded starving from the hall. But of course, Merlin also said that the river Usk would boil, and that bears would hatch out of eggs; that the soil of the future would become so rich that men would leave farm work and spend their days in fornication.

The Pilgrims claim they crusade for the Virgin in her innocence and purity. But knowingly or not, they serve the pride of Gertrude Courtenay and Margaret Pole – the young woman who would like to be queen of England, the old woman who deems she already is.

If any malcontents should penetrate London, they would attack Austin Friars. God knows what they would expect to find. A great heap of treasure: confiscated chalices winking with gems. Precious relics, such as twigs from the burning bush, and a box of the manna that fell on the Israelites in the desert.

Everybody’s agin him and hoping to do him down, filch what’s his. Filch them first, is Walter’s maxim, and that’s how he thrives. He clip-clops through life to the sound of other people grieving: sniffing out weakness, anybody sad or lost, so he can inflict them.

‘The burden of kingship,’ he says, ‘no man can imagine it. All my life, to be a prince: to be observed to be a prince; all eyes to be set on me; to be an exemplar of virtue, of discretion, of excellence in learning; to have a mind young and vigorous yet as wise as Solomon; to take pleasure in what others have designed for my pleasure, or be thought ungrateful; to discipline all my appetites, to unmake myself as a man in order to make myself as a king; to waste not a minute lest I be seen to waste it; for idleness, no excuses; always alert to prove, always to show, that I am worthy of the place God appointed me … When I was a young man I suppose I showed the calf of my leg to an ambassador and said, “There, has your French king a calf as good as that?” And my words were reported, and all Europe laughed at me, a vain idle boy, and no doubt people laugh still.

‘Only a fool sees plots where there are none. Any crime may begin in impulse – a rash man, an angry man, a fool the worse for drink. But an impulse will not sustain rebellion. Nor can anyone rebel alone. It needs forethought. It needs confederacy. By the nature of the thing, there is conspiracy.’

Never enter a contest of wills with the king.

Keep your eyes clear. Remember he is a king first and a man second. This is where Anne went wrong. She began to think he was only a man.

All comments welcome.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.