After the Battle of Saint-Quentin
Shortly after our return to England in 1557, old Robsart, Amy’s father, and Robert’s father-in-law, passed away. Since Amy’s father had never been involved in John Dudley’s conspiracy, and Robert had recently been pardoned by Queen Mary, he was allowed to take over the Robsart estate. It was many an envious man who began to view Robert Dudley with a mixture of resentment and calculating friendliness. As for me, all these new lands meant a lot more work and travel, but also a steady income.
Unfortunately, it also meant many an argument with Robert. He had decided to sell several parcels of land on a mere whim, but wouldn’t tell me what the earned monies would be used for: “The only thing of interest to you, Cousin, is the fact that the funds will not be available to be re-invested into the rest of the estate.” His wife, Amy, didn’t believe me when I told her I had no idea what he had planned to do with the proceeds when she ordered me to tell her. She was more than angry when I continued to claim ignorance. Amy was always of a happy nature, but when cold fury gripped her, she did not hesitate to let the rest of the world feel it. Eventually, Robert told us; I believe he wanted me present for this conversation to avoid an argument with his wife. Amy’s father might not have been a high noble born, but he had insisted on a good education for his daughter, and she knew that an argument in front of a third party was considered unseemly.
“The money is for Princess Elizabeth,” said Robert. She crinkled her forehead and my stomach, all of a sudden, felt like it was in knots. The Princess was definitely a potential heiress to the throne of England since it became more and more unlikely that her older sister, Queen Mary, would ever give birth to any child at all, let alone a male heir. Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth were the last living Tudors; there were no other surviving heirs with a direct claim to the throne. Their late brother, Edward had stated in his last will that their cousin, Lady Jane Grey, should be next in line after Mary and Elizabeth, but my cousin, John Dudley made that an impossibility when he tried to install Lady Jane as ruler following young King Edward’s death. Mary Tudor felt more than just slighted by John’s actions, and had both usurpers executed, without further ado. It was said that even Princess Elizabeth was interred in the Tower for her attempts to rob Queen Mary of her rights to the throne, at the same time as the Dudley brothers. It also was no secret that Queen Mary hated her younger half-sister, Elizabeth. “Was it to anyone's surprise?” my wife, Margery used to say. “The Queen lost her mother and indeed her childhood due to Princess Elizabeth’s mother, that whore Anne Boleyn. If the Queen finds out that the recently pardoned Dudley family, and of course by extension our family, support the young Princess, it could mean the end of both families.” I hated to admit it, but Margery was right. If this financial transaction came to light, we could all find ourselves living in the nearest mud puddle, or worse, we could all be accused of treachery once more.
“Elizabeth has a good memory,” Robert insisted, “and she has never abandoned a friend. Moreover, when she is crowned as the next Queen of England, she will not forget who helped her achieve her goal. I know her.” Amy bit her lower lip and looked directly at me with her big, beautiful, and highly expressive eyes. Whether or not she wished me to leave or if she wanted me to point out the potential dangers this scheme entailed, I will never know.
“I know her,” Robert repeated, and I thought about my Cousin Jane, and how proud she had been about the fact that Robert, Guildford, and their younger sisters were allowed to take lessons together with a then young Prince Edward, Princess Elisabeth and the Lady Jane Grey. John Dudley had received permission from old King Henry to have his children attend lessons together. Naturally, John Dudley had plans for his children to make friends with such distinguished persons. He was particularly interested in the young Prince Edward; no one had even an inkling that he would die at so young an age, instead of ruling England for decades to come. However, it never hurt to bind as many members of the Dudley family to the ruling class.
“Princess Elizabeth,” said Amy Dudley finally, without actually leaving the room or speaking out against her husband’s plan, “must have richer, more well-to-do friends to help her. Perhaps not as many friends as she once had, now that many of them have been executed because they have been declared enemies of the state. My dear husband, you have finally been returned to me safely from incarceration and battle. Do you wish to tempt fate yet again by supporting Princess Elizabeth in her scheme? I am sure that Queen Mary will not see it as a gift of friendship when she finds out what you have done but as a new act of treason. Especially since the funds would come from the son of the traitor John Dudley.”
“The Queen will never know,” Robert maintained. “It is an investment in our future.” Robert looked straight at me, not Amy and said: “Trust me.”
Amy was right; the only safe way to the future was to avoid the power games of the ruling class. Of course, the other way would not lead you to the top. Since that day in France, I had never again doubted Cousin Robert when he vowed to climb the ladder of success once more, and I swore to remain by his side. I could not, in good conscience, retreat now at the first sign of difficulty, and so I replied: “I do trust you, My Lord. But I also know that trust and caution make the best pair, and so I beg you to allow me to ensure that your money reaches the Princess. No one but her will ever know where it came from.” With this request, I hoped to not only calm Amy’s concerns but my own as well. However, the look she gave me made it clear that she not only felt betrayed by her husband but also by me and left the room.
I caught myself staring at her, and for a moment, the thought crossed my mind that a touch of anger was very becoming to her. When she first married Robert, she was a very young and gorgeous girl, but in her ever-happy and immature nature, not quite to my taste. Not to mention that she was more interested in what went on at court than pay her respects to members of the Dudley family. Now she was a mature woman. The argument had put a bit of colour into her cheeks, and the way she threw her head back as she walked off, lifted her breasts and showcased her great little figure.
“You have experience being married, Cousin,” Robert ripped me out of my musings. “What do you do when Margery gets angry with you, and yet you are convinced you are doing the right thing?”
He mentioned my wife’s name just in time. I am a man like any other, and I would be lying if I claimed that since our return from France I have not chased after other women besides Margery. But there was a big difference between now and then chasing after a barmaid, a chamber maid or on occasion even her mistress, and having unsuitable thoughts about your cousin’s wife. Granted, Amy had grown from an immature girl to a beautiful woman, but at most this should awaken feelings of a proud uncle within me.
“I pray,” I replied hastily. “What else is there left to do for us men?”
“Lie, Thomas, something you just demonstrated yet again so convincingly!” Robert mocked. I suppose I could have said that absence does make the heart grow fonder, and neither Margery nor I were in the habit of getting into a marital argument when I visit her at home. After my return from France, I had considered taking her and our son with me when business took me to Norfolk, Berkshire or even London, but my wife vehemently declined.
“Thomas,” she explained, “constantly being on the road like a vagabond would not be good for our boy. Not to mention that I am pregnant again, and if Cousin Dudley is successful in obtaining a position at court than we would have to fight for every little bit of space. In the end, we would have to room with the servants. But here, at home, our children will grow up in healthy surroundings, and not be shipped off like luggage from North to South, back and forth. I have nothing more to say on this subject.”
And she didn’t.