Abduction of the Scots QueenSetting out to capture the infant Queen of Scots and bring her to England to marry King Henry's son, Matho Spirston falls foul of the king's niece, Meg Douglas. Her trickery forces him to use hitherto unsuspected wits in order to survive in the brutal world of sixteenth century political intrigue.
Marie de Guise, the recently widowed Scots Queen, hears rumours of impending danger and anxiously watches over her only surviving child in Stirling, the strongest castle in Scotland, as the year turns toward winter in 1543.
Some of the Characters who take part in the story:
Sir Thomas Wharton
Ralph Sadler, English Ambassador in Scotland
Lady Margaret Douglas, half English, half Scots
Marie de Guise, widow of James V of Scotland and Dowager Queen of Scotland
Marie Stewart, their daughter, Queen of Scots, aged ten months
*Jonet Dean, maid to Meg Douglas
Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, Meg’s father
Margaret Maxwell, his third wife
Sir George Douglas, his brother
Mathew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox
Patrick Hepburn, 3rdEarl of Bothwell
David Beton, Cardinal and Archbishop of St Andrews
James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran
Will Cunningham, 4th Earl of Glencairn, nephew of Archibald Douglas
Robert Maxwell, 5th Earl of Maxwell
Hugh Somerville, 4th Lord Somerville
‘You remember the Treaty of Greenwich?’ Harry demanded.
‘Aye,’ Matho replied. ‘It’s the treaty the Scots signed back in July. The one that says Queen Mary will marry Henry’s son when she’s ten years old.’ His upper lip lifted in a brief sneer. ‘If ye ask me, it’ll never happen.’
Harry’s sigh smacked of resignation. ‘You’re right. Henry doesn’t want to wait. He wants the children to marry now.’
‘There’s nee way the Queen Dowager of Scotland will agree to that.’
‘She doesn’t know yet. Very few do.’ The third man in the chamber, Sir Thomas Wharton, Deputy Warden of the English West March and Harry’s father, sat behind a stout wooden table littered with ledgers, leather satchels and papers backed up and overflowing two pewter inkwells. Six fat candles in a holder stood at his elbow and lit his tough, craggy face and silver hair.
Matho guessed what was coming next. ‘The king fears a Catholic army is about to land in Scotland, doesn’t he?’
The taverns had been full of the Holy Roman Emperor’s threat to invade England and return the population to Catholic ways. Matho waited for Sir Thomas’s reply, but it was Harry who spoke. ‘If they land at Leith it’s only a three-day march south into England. Henry cannot permit that.’
‘So he thinks if he marries his son to the little Queen,’ Matho said, ‘he can rule Scotland in their names and close the ports to any foreign invasion.’
Sir Thomas sat forward in his carved chair, placed his palms carefully together and surveyed Matho and his son over steepled fingers. ‘Unfortunately, the king goes beyond diplomacy in this. He demands we snatch the little Queen with all haste. If stealth fails, I am authorised to take her by force.’
‘What?’ Shocked unease churned Matho’s stomach. ‘We know where that will lead.’ War was all too common in the borderlands between England and Scotland. His sympathy lay with the poor folk, constantly overrun by opposing armies, their crops trampled underfoot, livestock stolen and stores raided to feed men and horses. They received little in the way of recompense. The last decade had seen many families starve to death during the warfare between Scotland and England.
‘The king has let it be known he will reward any man who brings the little Queen to him,’ Wharton continued. ‘I fear Harry considers it his opportunity for advancement.’
‘So I suggested,’ Harry said, a wide grin lighting his face, ‘that you and I will bring her south.’
Jesu! Matho’s innards spasmed. He gaped at them both in turn and then turned to Harry. ‘Do you want to get us both killed?’ he said. ‘That’s what it will mean if we meddle in this.’
‘But if we succeed,’ Harry said in the patient tones of a schoolmaster with a dullard, ‘the king will be delighted and therefore generous with his reward. There will be enough for you and me, and Father will be the man of the hour once more.’
Matho scowled. It wouldn’t be Harry’s father risking his neck in Scotland. ‘But she’s nowt but a bairn,’ he blurted. ‘She won’t be off the teat yet.’
Harry snorted with laughter. Heat rose under Matho’s collar. Wharton’s bent head suggested he hid a smile. Damn them both, Matho thought. He wasn’t going to get himself killed in order to please either of them. He ought to walk out of here now, while he still had a head on his shoulders.
He opened his mouth to protest, and then paused. He’d borrowed a horse from Harry to ride west expecting nothing more lucrative than messenger work, which was hard on the backside but not particularly dangerous. Wharton’s summons had freed him from duties as Carnaby’s guard for the whole of one month; now he saw that the way had been prepared for this venture. Matho shifted from foot to foot. He’d been hoping for a chance to prove himself since going into service with the Carnaby family. What if this was it? He’d be a fool to back away from it. Lord knows he was tired of living on bread and ale.
‘What is she?’ he asked, anxious to retrieve lost ground. ‘Almost a year old? I suppose she can survive on pottage for a day or two, like the rest of us.’
Harry’s eyes lit up. ‘Then you’ll give it a go?’
Matho regarded him with a sour glance. That was Harry for you. Offer him a handful of grain and he would assume he could take the entire sack. ‘There must be safer ways of earning gold.’
Harry dragged off his cap and flipped the green velvet across the room to land with a soft thud on the hutch table against the wall. ‘To be blunt, Matho, it’s been almost a year since Solway Moss, and the king’s grip on the purse strings is tighter than ever.’
Everyone knew Henry Tudor was tight-fisted. It sounded as if Wharton had received nothing for routing the Scots when they tried to invade England last November. Looking at the man’s pained expression Matho guessed he would have preferred to keep his money problems under wraps and out of sight at the back of the beer cellar. It was Matho’s turn to smile. ‘Sounds to me like there’s little hope we’d get the reward even if we did bring her south.’
Harry groaned. ‘Matho, Matho.’
‘I think a cup of ale is required, Harry,’ Wharton’s gruff voice silenced whatever Harry had been about to add. ‘Take a seat, Spirston.’
Matho pressed his old, hand-me-down sword flat against his thigh and approached the stools before the oak table that stood like a challenge across the chamber. Pewter chinked cheerily behind him. He took the mug Harry offered, and sipped. The drink sweet and freshly brewed. He took a deeper draught.
‘Get your backside off my table, Harry. Pull up a stool like everyone else.’
Matho snorted in amusement, and Harry, with an air of martyred resignation, abandoned his perch and used his foot to hook a stool toward him. For Matho, the day had taken on an air of unreality. Unimpressed by the faded tapestry of some Biblical scene on the wall behind Sir Thomas, he looked round for something that would convince him that he really was proposing to go north and abduct the little Queen of Scots. Sunlight through a high round window on his left illuminated a map of the north of England gracing the opposite wall. Coloured inks marked towns and the routes between them. He soon found Corbridge on the River Tyne and wondered if the tiny dot to the north might indicate Aydon.
‘Much as it pains me to admit the state of my finances, my son has the truth of it.’ Wharton’s sideways glance suggested Harry would receive a telling off at some later date. ‘We all need gold. But his brave offer is risky. No.’ He held up his hand as Harry opened his mouth. ‘Life in King Henry’s courts is no recommendation for the sort of action you envisage.’
Harry made a sound of disgust, slouched lower in his chair and stared at his boots. Matho waited, puzzled. He’d almost persuaded himself that the idea of going north was a good one, and now it looked as if Wharton was going to veto it.
‘The venture has distinct possibilities,’ Wharton continued. ‘But there is certainly danger attached to it. Spirston, how would you gauge your chances?’
Affronted, Harry surged upright. ‘Why ask him? His position as Carnaby’s Guard Captain is hardly the pinnacle of military success.’
A jibe from Harry was rare, and stung all the harder for that.
‘Aye,’ Matho retorted. ‘But there’s a trick or two to handling yersel’ wi’ men and weapons. Ye need a steady nerve to stand guard duty through the winter nights an’ it doesna come from dancing wi’ court ladies.’ He caught his anger and speech at the same time. ‘How do I rate our chances, sir? About the same as a duckling chased by a fox.’
‘Thanks for the support.’ Harry sank his chin on his chest and folded his arms.
Matho glanced at him and regretted his harsh words. Wharton was no foppish lord in lace and satin, but a commander in the roughest area in the country. The man sent his reports direct to the King of England. The stiff leather jack of every Border male hung on a peg but a stride away, and the tip of a serviceable sword scabbard showed below it. Putting Harry down in front of his father had been unkind, and hardly the action of a friend.
Unless he redeemed himself quickly, the cold bath in the river and the money he’d spent on a decent haircut to impress Sir Thomas had been for nothing. He’d thrown it all away with one careless sentence. He shifted on his stool. ‘Aye, well, how hard can it be to capture a queen? Not much worse than plucking a daft girl from a gang of reivers.’
As Wharton well knew, Matho had saved Harry’s life while rescuing Alina Carnaby this summer, and the girl was now Harry’s wife. The adventure had brought them together and sealed their friendship. Harry acknowledged the words with a slow smile, and then turned to his father. ‘I think you should allow us to make the attempt, sir. Matho and I work well together.’
Harry’s generosity shamed Matho. He offered him a lop-sided smile.
Wharton surveyed them, his pale eyes sharp and bright under grey brows, and appeared to come to a decision. ‘I would remind you that this is no local affair. You will be in a foreign country, and subject to their laws. I will not be able to help you.’ His fingers beat a soft tattoo on the sheet of paper beneath his hand.
‘We understand that,’ Harry said.
The silence grew. Matho noted the cracked red sealing wax spattered about Wharton’s correspondence. Sir Thomas had ripped open a letter instead of employing his paper-knife. When he rapped his knuckles on the table, wax fragments leapt about the papers. ‘I hoped the king would see reason. Such harsh measures as these will make your task more difficult.’ Wharton shook his head and pushed his papers to one side. ‘However, we must deal with the hand we have been given. It is the first week of October. If you two are to attempt this, you must set off today. I estimate you have two weeks before Scotland and England will be on a war footing.’
Harry’s face lit with energy. ‘In three days, we can be in Stirling.’
The companionable hiss and whine of the fire filled the sudden silence. Matho’s stomach rippled with unease, but he knew he would do well to copy Harry’s example. Show any hint of doubt, and his big chance would vanish.
Already Harry curled his lip and shot a narrow-eyed glance at him. Matho could guess his thought: For God’s sake, Matho, show you’re interested. Help me convince him we can do it.
Matho cleared his throat, shuffled his feet and looked at Sir Thomas. ‘We’ll need paperwork. Passes that’ll get us into places like Edinburgh. And information. Where they keep the queen, and who guards her. That kind of thing.’
Harry turned back to his father. ‘Plus expenses, of course.’
Wharton nodded. ‘Passes I can supply, plus a letter of introduction to Ralph Sadler. He was sent north in the spring as England’s ambassador in Scotland. If anyone knows the situation there, he will. As for information, I can tell you what I know.’ His hand strayed to the ledgers beside him. ‘But first, let me find Sadler’s direction.’
It seemed they were going north after all. Unsure of his feelings, Matho distracted himself by reading the spines on the ledgers stacked on Wharton’s table. Correspondence, Accounts, Receipts. Leather satchels hung from wall pegs beside the latticed window overlooking the Outer Ward and he knew they were used by accredited messengers. Sunlight caught the painted metal badges on the leather flap and made them glow. Wharton seized a quill, scrawled a few words on a slip of paper and handed it to Harry. ‘You began service with Sir Reynold Carnaby at Aydon, I think, Spirston?’
Matho jumped at the question. ‘Aye, as Captain of his guard, sir. Since his death this summer, I serve his brother, Cuthbert. In the same capacity.’
It sounded grand, but Wharton would know the reality of his post. Aydon Township was nothing more than a dismal clutch of cots and cabins that housed the folk who served the Carnaby family. Matho had squabbled and fought his way to undisputed leadership of the rough gang of children who played in the hay barns and farm yards until his father had taken him, aged fourteen, to Sir Reynold.
The same dart of eagerness and uncertainty he had experienced that day eight years ago pricked him now. He wanted to see more of life and new places, and what better way to do it than at King Henry’s expense? Nothing held him back. His father had died six years ago, his mother this last spring. There were no siblings to protect, no girls who expected anything of him. Had he not promised his mother he would make something of himself? And she had known better than he, that he would not do it by sitting at home telling his beads.
‘I take it you two appreciate the unhappy state of Scotland since the defeat at Solway Moss?’ The gruff voice cut across Matho’s thoughts. ‘The country is riven by factions of one kind or another. The whole country,’ Wharton went on, ‘is a miserable midden of frustrated men who think any one of them could fill the rôle of monarch better than a woman. Regent Arran, the Queen Dowager and Cardinal Beton favour an alliance with France rather than England.’
Matho grimaced. ‘The Scots always favour France. Then they wonder why we hammer them into the ground.’
Jesu! He’d said it aloud. Alarmed, he waited for a rebuke.
‘Quite. Since we number five times Scotland’s manpower, it beggars belief that they continually wage war against us.’
Wharton had accepted his comment. Surprised pleasure glowed in Matho’s belly.
‘Well, at least the Assured Lords are on our side,’ Harry said cheerfully.
Matho knew that reference, too. Imprisoned Scots lords taken at Solway Moss had gained their freedom by a simple oath of agreement to promote the marriage between Mary Stewart and Henry’s son, Edward. Matho was in no doubt about what they would do. ‘Once across the border, they’ll not hold to their pledge.’
‘If I understand the Scottish lords,’ Wharton replied, ‘they’ll do only as much as turns a profit for them. Henry’s greatest hope is Archibald Douglas, the Earl of Angus. He went north in January and reports he has done much to persuade Scots lords to aid England. Personally, I beg leave to doubt him.’
A line of silver acorns graced the front of Wharton’s grey doublet. They winked in the firelight and held Matho’s attention as the man delivered information in concise, orderly chunks. By the time he stopped speaking Matho was convinced the Scottish lords were as shifty as the traders at the quayside market in Newcastle.
Wharton hesitated and then drew in a breath so deep all the acorns stood to attention.
‘Spirston, you’ve dealt with forays of Scots across the fells to steal a few cattle and sheep. You know men don’t always return from a raid or a trod. This persuades me the pair of you may have a chance of success. But don’t take this task lightly, either of you.’ He cast a warning glance at his son. ‘It could cost you your lives.’
‘Aye.’ On a wave of confidence, Matho flicked his fingers against Harry’s green velvet sleeve. ‘You’d best get out of those fancy duds, Harry. They’ll give you away in a trice. Splurge some money on a less gaudy set of clothes, man.’
‘Quite.’ Humour lit Wharton’s eyes. ‘I dare say Harry will be loath to shed his favourite boots. He is ever light-hearted about too many things, Spirston. I’m relying on you to talk sense into him.’
Matho’s glance fell to the boots in question. While he had never begrudged Harry his expensive clothes, his time at court nor his chantry school education, he stared at the fine brown leather boots with red, turn-down cuffs embossed with tiny gold flowers, and promised himself he would own a similar pair before the year turned. Either that or he wouldn’t be worrying about boots at all.
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