I was woken in the dark of the night by people yelling and bells clanging. I gasped and reached for my clothes. It must be a fire, nothing else could cause such alarm.
I struggled into my clothes, too anxious to seek for a flint to light my taper.
Swift foot steps echoed outside and then the door was flung open.
‘Alice?’ came an anxious voice.
‘Is that you, Lucy?’
‘Yes.’ I heard the rustle of clothes and then a warm body flung itself into my arms.
‘What is happening, Alice? Is it the French? Have they stormed the Palace?’
‘Don’t be so foolish,’ I said. ‘I think it may be a fire.’
‘Then we shall be burned alive,’ Lucy gasped. ‘Quickly, we must fly.’
I squeezed her arm to give her courage.
‘Hush, Lucy, do not fear, I’ll look after you.’
A moment later Susan Dunster hurried into the room. She held a candle in her hand; it was just like her to have thought of lighting one. She had clearly dressed as swiftly as I had for her clothes were all awry. But her face was bright with excitement.
‘I’d rather it was the French than a fire,’ she said. ‘Think about those handsome soldiers.’
I glanced outside and saw a light to my left. It was moving in the air, up and down, up and down and getting closer all the time.
‘Arise, arise,’ shouted a voice. ‘A son is born, a son is born.’
Susan and I exchanged glances. Poor Jane had been in labour now for three days and two nights. We had thought that the child would not be brought alive into the world.
The light grew larger and I saw that it was a torch held aloft by one of the King’s servants.
He pushed a lit candle into my hand.
‘Go to the chapel to pray for the babe,’ he said. He hurried on his way, chanting at the top of his voice while bells rang out in wild exultation.
‘The Kingdom is saved,’ Lucy said. ‘The King has an heir.’
‘Let us pray the boy lives,’ I said. ‘Only his daughters seem intent on surviving.’
‘His bastard, Fitzroy, survived until a youth,’ Susan said.
‘The Kingdom needs more than a bastard youth who gives up the ghost at seventeen,’ I said. I wondered what the King would be doing at this moment.
‘It’s a miracle Jane Seymour has produced a son,’ Susan said. ‘She is dry and bitter as a quince.’
‘Susan Dunster,’ I exclaimed. ‘How can you say such a thing?’ Then I giggled and pinched her arm playfully.
‘I say what everyone of us is thinking,’ she said. ‘You included.’ She paused. ‘How do you think the King will react?’
‘How should I know?’
Susan touched me upon the arm. ‘You know why I think this, Alice.’
I sighed. ‘The King and I discuss poetry and music, nothing more.’
‘Then that little is far more than any other lady of the court,’ she said. ‘Your conduct is whispered off, Alice, and not just by the Queen’s Ladies.’
‘I cannot help the whispers,’ I said. ‘I only obey his Majesty’s commands.’
‘And that is what the gossip is about, Alice. What exactly are his commands?’
I held her hands in mine. ‘I tell you truth, Susan. We read only poetry and discuss things of the mind. Nothing more.’
In the flickering light of the candle I saw her smile. If I could not convince my friend how could I hope to convince my enemies? Lucy, sweet thing, looked puzzled by our conversation.
I took a breath and put my arm through theirs. ‘Come, we must away to the Chapel. It would not do if we arrive late.’
This extract tells of the birth of the future King Edward, VI, the only legitimate son of Henry VIII to survive. He became King at the age of nine but died aged fifteen. His mother, Jane Seymour, never recovered from her labour and died twelve days after giving birth to him.
This passage shows how crucial it was for Henry to produce a male heir. The Tudors were one of the most successful of English Dynasties but it may not have felt like this at the time. Henry’s father had won the Crown in battle and memories of the terrible Wars of the Roses must still have worried the King and his advisers. Henry was one of the most powerful and despotic Kings this country has ever known but many of his actions can be explained by his desperate desire to produce an heir.
Courtiers would have been almost as pleased as the King at news of his heir. The last thing anybody wished for was political unrest.
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