I wanted to explore some of the religious tensions of the late 1530s, so this is set at the spectacular event that was the christening of the future Edward VI. It's told from Archbishop Cranmer's point of view, and foreshadows his eventual martyrdom under the regime of Mary Tudor in 1556. Mary never really forgave Cranmer for his role in her father's divorce proceedings and the Royal Supremacy, and I wanted to explore their relationship a bit.
Hampton Court Palace, 15th October 1537
The ceremony has been a splendid affair, Cranmer thinks. He indulges in a rare moment of whimsy and admires the decadence of the hall. Walls of panelled wood, glowing deep crimson in the candlelight, encase a throng of aristocrats, churchmen and gentlemen wrapped in their finest silks and furs. All had come to witness the baptism of the Prince of Wales, who by now had been carried back to his mother. The little prince could never hope to comprehend the attention he receives, nor the treasure trove of gifts that have been left for him in one of the window alcoves. The archbishop himself has donated a golden cup. He thinks it symbolic, since he has just brought his baby godson into communion with Christ, where he will one day drink of His cup in Holy Communion. It is a shame he cannot get away with offering the wooden cup of a carpenter; that would be the truest chalice for the Blood of Christ.
(Not that it is really Christ’s blood, in the papist sense. He has long ago concluded that transubstantiation is a lie.)
Beside his cup is the gift offered by Lady Mary: two silver bowls, beautifully if simplistically engraved. The lady herself is standing close by him, dressed in the same silver but spun delicately into thread. He watches her carefully as she speaks with the Countess of Salisbury. Red hair is visible from under a silver hood, a juxtaposing combination of fire and ice, of passion and fury and coldness that she has been given every reason to exhibit. His eyes drift to admire the ceiling, where heraldic ornaments bloom from beam to beam in red and white. They bring home the importance of this ceremony; he has, after all, anointed the next Tudor King of England.
But still he shies away from the glory and spectacle of the occasion. He has changed out of his fine archiepiscopal robes, embroidered with gold and encrusted with jewels, and replaced them with his usual white rochet and black chimere. He feels like a shadow with so little colour, and it feels strange for one of the principal actors in this royal performance to be wearing nothing more elaborate than a fur stole.
Truth be told, he dislikes all the pomp and ceremony that this day has brought. There is nothing in Scripture to support the superstitions they have enacted. Where is the simplicity of the early Church as God Almighty intended? Certainly John the Baptist had never concerned himself with such ceremony.
But then, he supposes, John the Baptist had never crowned an heir to the English throne.
The rest of the room snaps back into focus as he looks down.
“Lady Mary.” A polite nod of the head.
“The ceremony was well done.”
He blinks in surprise. She never compliments him. She hates him. “Thank you, my lady.”
“It was how every christening should be done. I dare say a textbook example.”
Further words of thanks hang on his lips, but he quickly draws them in again. Mary does not smile as she speaks, but instead stares at him pointedly. Her eyes are bright blue, piercingly so, and he averts his gaze like a child who has spent too long staring at the sun.
He senses that she is not praising him at all. She is praising the ceremony itself; the incense, the salts for the exorcism, the sung litany, the Latin liturgy, everything popish that he had spent years trying to dissemble, only for the King to reinstate it with a click of his fingers. Cranmer hopes for Edward to rule one day over a reformed Church of England, yet he has today been welcomed into a Church that it decidedly similar to Rome’s.
“I fear you are too complimentary, madam,” he says somewhat cryptically. He could be referring to himself or the ceremony.
She elevates her chin, apparently finished with social niceties. “Doctor Cranmer, I would deign to speak with you in private.”
“Oh.” He blinks again. “Oh, of course, yes. Very well.”
He indicates to the right, allowing her to go first. They cross the threshold back into the chapel. Half of the candles have been extinguished. Their smoke drifts across the painted stars on the ceiling, as though they are clouds masking the glory of the night sky. “This is assuming, of course,” he says, “that you are comfortable with discussing politics and the like on consecrated ground.”
“We are not discussing politics, but religious matters.”
“In any case, I assumed it was your sort who disregard the sanctity of churches.”
Your sort. He winces. “You confuse me with heretics, madam.”
“That is only because you decided to redefine what an heretic is.” She takes a seat at the front of the nave in the closest pew. She looks up at the font, still stacked high up on its octagonal platform, waiting for Cranmer to join her. Only then does she turn to him and say with deepest conviction: “I hope you understand that I mean to fulfil my duties as godmother with the utmost sincerity.”
“I would expect nothing less of you, madam.”
“I love my brother with all mine heart. I would not abandon him.”
“I know you to be a man of great loyalty, Archbishop. Surely I can expect the same from you?”
“You can, madam.”
She stands and walks forward to the platform; a pale hand rises to trace a detail of its patterns and carvings. She lowers it again, clasping both hands together at her waist, and she turns to face him. Even when standing, she does not hope to dominate him, so short of stature is she. This does not make him feel superior. He cannot feel superior when she can look him directly in the eye.
“And surely I am not the only one who can see an immediate issue with that.”
He bites his lip. It was not one of the King’s best decisions, appointing both an evangelical and a closet papist as godparents. Cranmer hopes it will not matter; that the King’s word will be law, and the law will support the new faith. “I am willing to compromise.”
“I am not.” She moves round to his left. “I am not willing to compromise, but I expect I shall have to.”
“It is our duty as Christians to serve the Ki-“
“The King, Doctor Cranmer, is not God, as you seem to believe.” She sighs, and goes to lean against the platform again. “I do not mean to attack you, Archbishop. I am merely concerned for my brother’s soul.”
He nods. Hands are turned over, palms up in offering. “That is my chief concern also. If we can mend old wounds between us, for the prince’s sake…”
“No.” She does not raise her voice, but it is forceful. “No, I cannot do that. I cannot forgive you for what you have done.”
There is nothing to forgive, he thinks. Everything I did was justified. I carried out the King’s will; I helped to rectify twenty years of error; I have helped bring the English Church back to its apostolic glory. He cannot say this aloud. His hands come together now, and he fiddles anxiously with the ring on his finger, colourfully emblazoned with his coat of arms. He looks down at it as he speaks. “No… No, I expect not.”
“But I will work with you” – tolerate you, he thinks she means – “for Edward’s sake. Only for Edward’s sake.”
“I understand, madam.”
“Because believe me, Doctor Cranmer, were Edward not here, I would never wish to speak to you.”
With that, she bows to the crucifix, crosses herself, and sweeps from the chapel. He thinks he can hear cannon firing salutes in the City up the Thames, marking her exit with a sound like a clap of thunder. He is left to sit and ponder her words, looking up at the painted sky awash with candle-smoke. It is to this cloudy sky, rather than the crucifix, to which he addresses his prayer. “If it be thy will, O Lord, send Prince Edward long to reign over us,” he murmurs, “for the preservation of thy true religion, and the protection of thy servant Thomas.”
He does not cross himself as he leaves.