The Taming of the Queen
away from my face and tucks it behind my ear. His touch is gentle, assured. ‘I want you to be happy, Kate. I married you to make you happy, not just for myself. I am not thinking just of myself, I am thinking of my children, I am thinking of my country, I am thinking of you.’
    ‘Thank you,’ I say quietly.
    ‘Is there anything else you would like?’ he asks. ‘If you command me, you command all of England. You can have samphire from the cliffs of Dover, you can have oysters from Whitstable. You can have gold from the Tower and cannonballs from the Minories. What would you like? Anything. You can have anything.’
    I hesitate.
    At once he takes my hand. ‘Don’t be afraid of me,’ he says tenderly. ‘I imagine that people will have told you all sorts of things about me. You will think yourself a Saint Tryphine, married to a monster.’
    I give a little choke as he names my dream.
    He is watching me closely. ‘My love,’ he says. ‘My last and only love. Please know this. What people will tell you about my marriages is completely wrong. I’ll tell you the truth. Only I know the truth, and I never speak of it. But I will tell you. I was married when I was a boy to a woman who was not free to marry me. I didn’t know it till God harrowed me with grief. Baby after baby was taken from us. It nearly killed her, it broke my heart. I had to let her go to spare her further pain. I had to release her from a marriage that was cursed. It was the hardest thing I ever did. But if I were to have a son for England I had to let her go. I sent Katherine of Aragon away, the finest princess that Spain ever raised, and it broke my heart to do so. But I had to do it.
    ‘And then, God forgive me, I was seduced by a woman whose only desire was ambition. She was a poisoner, a witch and a seductress. I should have known better, but I was a young man, longing for love. I learned my lesson late. Thank God I saved my children from her. She would have killed us all. I had to put a stop to her and I found the courage to do so.
    ‘Jane Seymour – my choice, the only wife I freely chose for myself – was my only true wife, and she gave me a son. She was like an angel, an angel, you know? And God took her back. I cannot complain for she left me with a son and His wisdom is infinite. The Cleves woman was an arranged marriage brought to me against my wishes by bad advisors. The Howard girl . . .’ His face crumples into rolls of fat. ‘God forgive the Howards for putting a whore in my bed,’ he gulps. ‘They deceived me, she deceived them, we were all blinded by her whorish prettiness. Kate, I swear, you will be a good wife to me indeed if you can make me forget the pain that she caused me.’
    ‘I will if I can,’ I say quickly. ‘Please don’t distress yourself.’
    ‘I have been heartbroken,’ he says honestly. ‘More than once. I have been betrayed – more than once. And I have been blessed by the true love of a good woman.’ He carries my hand to his lips. ‘Twice, I hope. I hope you will be my second and my last good angel. I hope you will love me as Jane did. I know that I love you.’
    ‘If I can,’ I say softly. I am genuinely moved to tenderness. ‘If I can, I will.’
    ‘So you can command me,’ he says gently. ‘I will do anything that you want. You just have to say.’
    I trust him. I think that I will dare to name the favour that I want. ‘It’s my rooms at Hampton Court,’ I start. ‘Please don’t think me ungrateful, I know they are the finest rooms and Hampton Court is—’
    He waves away my words. ‘It’s the most beautiful palace in England, but it is nothing to me if you don’t like it. I shall demolish it if you wish. What displeases you? I will have it altered at once.’
    It is the ghosts in every corner, it is the initials of dead women on the stone bosses, it is the flags where their feet walked. ‘The smell,’ I say. ‘From the kitchens below.’
    ‘Of course!’ he exclaims.

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