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Counterfeit: Part II of The Warbeck Trilogy

Counterfeit: Part II of The Warbeck Trilogy

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Counterfeit: Part II of The Warbeck Trilogy

366 pagine
5 ore
Aug 27, 2013


“An Earl of this realm, the Queen’s cousin, to be impersonated by an ill used, frightened serving man with no flesh on his bones? My lord, it’s insanity!”

July 1554. Perkin Warbeck’s grandson Jan, who has been working as a menial up north to hide his identity, is among a group of Lord Paget’s servants ordered to Winchester to help in the kitchens at Queen Mary’s wedding to Philip of Spain.

When the group is arrested for brawling with Spaniards, Jan’s resemblance to Edward Courtenay, the Plantagenet Earl of Devonshire, is noticed by the mob, and by Lord Chancellor Stephen Gardiner, who seeks to protect the royal Earl from the Spanish.

Despite the misgivings of his former employer John White, now Bishop of Lincoln, Jan is drawn into a conspiracy in which he must feign Courtenay in front of Philip of Spain.

Aug 27, 2013

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Counterfeit - Karen MacLeod




It was freezing, the ladder they pushed Perkin Warbeck up slippery with frost beneath his bare feet, the halter around his neck crusted with ice. His bound hands, ropes painful on wrists raw with chains for seventeen months, trembled with cold as well as fear.

He squinted at the crowd come to see him die, for he had never regained sight in the left eye after his face was clubbed. The crowd pressed forward for a better look at him, trampling on the hurdle which had dragged him through mud and filth and spit to this place of execution.

He was trying to pray. Have pity O Lord, have mercy on my soul. O Lord have pity. In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum. Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit. The hangman was climbing up after him to turn him loose. There was no one in the world to pull on his legs and make sure he died quickly. They were all strangers, grinning up at him. The cold vanished and he was hot with terror as the hangman seized his shoulder and pushed.


Rain pelted the narrow, rutted road to Winchester, turning the way ahead to sludge. It might be a July afternoon, but the sheet of lead above the creaking, jolting carts made Jan doubt he would ever see the sun again. God’s judgement, they said, on Queen Mary’s Spanish marriage.

Jan sat drenched atop the last of the carts, praying they would reach the town before the road became impassable. The horse, stubborn with everyone except him, plodded on, but was tiring with the effort of dragging the cart though this.

It would have helped had stout Emile heaved himself down and walked alongside, but he was sheltering in the cart, pots and pans rattling beside him, swearing at Jan in broken English because rain slid down his neck even under the pungent leather cover. French cooks didn’t get soaked.

Jan’s eyes closed in weariness. They had been days on the road, had set out late and were arriving later. They had started with seven carts and were down to four. The other three in front were even slower, slowing, stopping…

Another hold up. Another broken axle, most likely, but Jan didn’t care. Instead of jumping down to help as he had done all journey, he dropped his golden, rain-plastered head down on his long, sodden arms and went to sleep.

For all of ten seconds. Emile launched a pot at him from behind. It landed on the vertebrae of his neck. He yelped, clutched at the bones with his fingers. Another flying pot nearly broke the fingers.

Jan got down to help.


At Wolvesey, Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor of England, was dozing off in his dark, panelled study hung with arras and heavily furnished with oak. Rain hurled itself against the windows of this rarely visited, ancient pile that was his episcopal palace and he had ordered wax candles lit against the gloom. Now he was falling asleep.

John White, Warden of Winchester College and newly created Bishop of Lincoln, sitting across the parchment-strewn table from Gardiner, suspected that the old man usually had an afternoon nap. Lately, making reluctant preparations for Queen Mary’s arrival and her wedding to Prince Philip of Spain, there hadn’t been time.

‘I’ll see him,’ White murmured to Gardiner’s secretary, who had announced the arrival of the Spanish ambassador. Ambassador Renard was seeking more yet more assurances about security. The Spanish were obsessed with it.


Three carts now, desperately overloaded with the contents of seven. Even Emile had had to give up his perch inside and walk. He was furious. But, through the haze which the rain had created, their destination was in sight at last. Jan, who had once lived there as a servant in the college and been happy, recognised St Giles Hill and the great cathedral. Now, in this year of grace 1554, he had not wanted to return to Winchester, fearing that he would see College in ruins and hear that his former master had been executed, but he had had no choice in the matter.

Nobody with him knew he had been here before. He had neither the energy nor the will to say so – the less he said about himself the better – and none of his companions would have been interested anyway. He trudged on, rain in every crevice of him, leading the horse and trying not to slip, afraid his cart’s contents would spill, because Emile would take it out on him and the horse, not the dreadful road.

There were other travellers, of course, though none of consequence. Perhaps the great of the realm were already in Winchester. They said that the Prince of Spain was sailing to Southampton. The more hopeful said that if it didn’t stop raining, he might take one look at England and sail back to the warmth of his own country. Jan didn’t care about the Queen’s wedding. He was too tired.

There were sentries at the Eastgate, as might be expected, given the unpopularity of the marriage and the rebellion there had been against it in February.

‘Lord Paget’s cook from London!’ Emile bawled at the nearest. ‘For helping with wedding feast!’

The sentry was surly with the rain. ‘Eight cooks?’

‘Some these from Staffordshire, for helping the kitchen, ’ Emile said, rain greasy on his fat, jutting lip. ‘Lord Paget worded us to be coming.’


‘He’s French.’ The under-steward, wiry, carrot headed Bart Smale, from Staffordshire, who was leading the first horse, wiped his nose on his sleeve. ‘He means we’re expected. We’re Lord Paget’s servants, not all cooks, come to help with the wedding feast at Wolvesey Palace.’

The sentry raised his eyes to heaven - as one of the few supporters of the Queen’s marriage Paget had hardly made himself popular – but stood back.

Beyond the Eastgate, below the handsome, half-timbered buildings, Winchester’s High Street was hectic despite the rain. In the four years Jan had lived there, it had never been like this, teeming with men of different badges. Among them, he saw his first Spaniards. They wore red and yellow livery. He could tell they were Spaniards by their dark skins and curious, voluble tongue.

‘Where’s Wolvesey Palace?’ Bart demanded of the sentry.

Jan stayed silent. The sentry pointed left, past the shell of St Mary’s Abbey, and grunted out directions.

Their brief stop had made the horses unwilling to start again. Bart hauled at the bridle of the first, slapped its rump and kicked it. It refused to move.

‘Jan!’ he yelled.

Jan came forward, took the horse’s bridle and coaxed it through the ancient, dripping gateway. ‘I’ll slit bugger’s throat when we get there,’ Bart grumbled, snatching back its bridle. Jan did the same with the second horse, which Nick Stoyte was leading. But his own horse had decided to follow, before he could get back to it. His overloaded cart swung sharply, tilted and disgorged half its contents.

It did so slowly, but the four men holding the spare horses couldn’t reach it in time. Nor could Jan, dashing back frantically. In the end, he had to jump clear, pots, pans and pewter clattering round his feet. The horses reared in fright.

Then, silence, broken only by a last plate skittering on the cobbles. Jan looked down at the mess in horror. The preparations for Queen Mary’s wedding had come to a stop; everyone in Winchester was looking at him. The Spaniards sniggered.

‘Bloody idiot!’ Bart yelled. He couldn’t clout Jan, who was much taller than he was, so he lifted a plate and hurled it at him. Emile was yelling too, but Jan couldn’t make him out.

‘Pick it up! All of it!’ Bart danced round the cart. The horse moved again, disgorging more plate. Jan bent to snatch it up. Bart booted his arse and he went flying forward into the mud.

Emile, meanwhile, had approached the sniggering Spanish, who seemed to understand his furious French. Jan, lying winded on the ground, saw a dagger flash among them.

‘Oi!’ Nick let go his horse and ran over. ‘Bloody dagoes!’ The other men followed him.

With the Spanish being so unpopular, the six Englishmen at least were never going to lack supporters. A brawl broke out in front of Jan’s eyes. More Spanish spilled from a covered wagon. Outnumbered, the Eastgate sentries could only watch, but their captain galloped away for reinforcements.

Six years ago, Jan had been prepared to go to the Tower with his former master, the Warden of Winchester College. Bart Smale inspired no such loyalty. Belatedly, Jan scrambled to his feet and bolted for the Eastgate.

‘No, you don’t…’ Two of the sentries grabbed him, then a third, while a fourth got his hands tied behind his back. They threw him down, one of them standing over him with a halberd.

The English were winning the brawl, cheered on by women and children, except for ragamuffins helping themselves to the contents of Emile’s carts. Nick was kicking into one of the Spaniards. Emile had got hold of the dagger and swiped at its owner with it. The man scuttled for shelter. Bart and Will Tarry swung punches all directions.

A rumbling sound. Horsemen thundering down the High Street. Country tense, authorities nervous, they must have expected trouble and garrisoned troops up at the castle. Women, children and ragamuffins fled. Bart, Emile and the other men, fighting, didn’t see the horsemen until it was too late.


John White was still at Wolvesey when Gardiner’s secretary brought him the news. It was all round the palace.

‘Paget’s cooks?’ White haired, hook nosed Gardiner guffawed. He and Paget were sworn enemies; Paget had originally supported the bid to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne and Gardiner thought him a heretic as well. The two men’s mutual antipathy in Council was one of Queen Mary’s many troubles. ‘And him so keen on the Spanish marriage! Seems his servants have more sense than he has!’

‘He’s mortified, my lord.’ Gardiner’s secretary, Anthony Mydleton, was a smooth, auburn haired courtier, adept at mitigating the effects of the old Chancellor’s tactlessness with others. ‘He wants them hanged.’

‘Hanged? We can’t hang English cooks for brawling with Spaniards!’

‘I meant to say, my lord, one of them is French.’

Gardiner snorted. ‘He will employ foreigners. Well, the Queen won’t want deaths marring her wedding. Have ‘em flogged and let ‘em go.’

‘There’s a complication, my lord.’

Gardiner flopped down in his chair opposite White. ‘Is there now?’

‘There’s a rumour among the citizens that the Earl of Devonshire is one of the English men arrested, my lord.’

Gardiner’s eyebrows, which met in the middle, twitched. Then he sat upright and twisted round. ‘What?’

‘Exactly, my lord, but there is said to be some resemblance.’

‘A cook resemble an earl? Nonsense!’

White, who remained silent, knew such things were possible. Six years earlier, he had witnessed a horrified manservant given the obeisance due a king, but Gardiner knew nothing of that.

‘Apparently he does, my lord,’ Mydleton said. ‘And the people don’t know where the Earl is.’

Gardiner’s eyes met White’s in alarm. He might be seventy, but he still had his political antennae. Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devonshire and Queen Mary’s cousin, had Plantagenet blood and was popular with the people. He had been part of the rebellion in February. The Spanish had wanted him beheaded before their Prince reached England, but Mary Tudor was a merciful woman. Courtenay had been returned to the Tower, then taken to Fotheringay, but after sending an uncharacteristically abject letter to the Queen he was now in Gardiner’s custody here in Wolvesey.

‘I assume someone has checked he’s still under lock and key,’ White said, aware how delicate this could be for Gardiner, who had urged the Queen to marry Courtenay before the rebellion. Courtenay had needed no urging himself.

‘Yes, my lord.’ Mydleton bowed to White.

‘We can display the Earl if we have to,’ Gardiner said, ‘though what the Spaniards would make of that I can’t think.’ He cheered up. ‘Paget wouldn’t like it. The nearly-husband paraded in front of the people days before the real one arrives…’

Mydleton smiled diplomatically at the little joke.

‘Put’ em in the castle instead of the Westgate lockup,’ Gardiner decided. ‘Better security. Out of sight, out of mind.’


The prisoners were being taken to where Ralph was.

From the upstairs window of her sister Ursula’s house near the Westgate, Kate Ayleward watched the eight men, roped together, being marched up the high street to the castle. Crowds followed, jeering the soldiers – Kate recognised the badges of Arundel and Derby – who held rescue attempts at bay with their halberds.

Two of the eight stood out. One, the oldest, was immensely fat. French, Ursula’s servants had already heard. He was protesting loudly at his arrest, though the servants said he had been wielding a dagger. The other, perhaps twenty-five, was barefoot and as emaciated as the Frenchman was fat. He was golden-haired and astonishingly tall, well over six feet. This was the man some were calling the Earl of Devonshire, but there was none of an earl’s swagger about him.

Ursula, rich brown hair heavy around her unusually flushed face, her body heavy with her overdue child, got up to look. But the grim, rain-soaked little procession had passed by the time she was on her feet.

‘They’ll hang them,’ she said, as Kate helped her back into bed. ‘No Spaniards arrested, of course.’ Ursula Phillips was bitter, with reason to be fearful. Neither she nor Kate was as extreme in the new religion as their brother Walter, but they were still Protestant. Queen Mary had been tolerant to Protestants so far, but who knew what would happen once she was married to Philip of Spain?

‘They’ll have to arrest Spaniards too, you’ll see,’ Kate said. ‘It would be too dangerous not to.’

It was what you did with pregnant women. You reassured them, kept unpleasantness from them. And Ursula’s last two pregnancies had ended in miscarriage. But she wasn’t stupid, any more than Kate was, and she knew their family’s future was uncertain. It would have been uncertain even if Kate’s rash young betrothed Ralph Heathcote hadn’t been part of the rebellion in February. He was still held under sentence of death in the castle.

These days, Kate tried not to mention Ralph to Ursula; quarrelling wasn’t good for pregnant women.


The eight men were herded into a rectangular stone room. One by one, they were untied, given two dozen lashes, thrown down steps into a damp, freezing cell. By the time they were all in there, there was scarce room for any of them to lie down.

After that, they could only sit with smarting backs in the dark and squabble about blame. Jan, who hadn’t taken part in the brawl, got most of it, even from Bart and Emile, though Bart had ordered him away from his cart and Emile had approached the Spaniards first. They were all trying to avoid the stink of Emile, who had soiled himself under the lash and cried like a child, so Bart made Jan sit next to him.


It was dusk when John White at last left Wolvesey with his stocky, half-Welsh servant David and rode the short distance home to College. It would not be home much longer. His unexpected elevation to the See of Lincoln, which he had not sought, meant that he must leave soon. They would have to appoint a successor.

He walked through Outer Court, beneath Middle Gate and paused in Chamber Court. Candles were lit around the mellow old quadrangle. He had been here almost twenty years; twenty-four, more than half his life, if he included his years as a scholar. In the previous two reigns, he had fought for College’s survival, imprisoned in the Tower in the time of Queen Mary’s little Protestant brother, Edward VI.

‘I’ll walk in Cloisters tonight,’ he said.

David bowed his head. ‘Yes, my lord.’

The mode of address still startled White. Other men might be bishops, but he was just a schoolmaster.

‘I’ll take the torch myself,’ he said.

‘My lord.’ David went to the spiral staircase which led to White’s chambers, handed out the torch, bowed again and withdrew. If he was aware of White’s melancholy, he was too well trained to remark on it. But David himself was a potential problem. He had brothers and sisters and their families in Winchester and White sensed he was reluctant to go to Lincoln.

The cloisters were all but dark now, the light stone of Chantry gleaming faintly. As he walked, White’s torch chased away bats, their wings the only sound other than the whispering rain.

If that had been Jan taken prisoner in the castle and he’d realised they were calling him the Earl of Devonshire, he’d have been terrified. White stopped walking, trying for the second time that day to reassure himself by considering how unlikely it was. His former servant had sent no word of himself in six years. After addled old Clell confused him for his infamous grandfather Perkin Warbeck, he had meant to get as far away from Winchester as possible.

‘No,’ White thought, ‘it can’t be Jan.’

He would have liked to satisfy himself that it wasn’t. But if the Bishop of Lincoln were to ask to see the prisoner, it would only reinforce the people’s belief that he was Courtenay.


Next day, Courtenay, whose servants had wind of the news that he had apparently escaped and been recaptured barefoot, demanded an interview with Gardiner.

There was a rehearsal of the royal wedding ceremony in the cathedral shortly. Gardiner, pretending it was this which flustered him, used it as an excuse to ask White to see the Earl instead.

White waited half an hour, on purpose, before he went.

As he had anticipated, Edward Courtenay was annoyed by the delay. The Earl had plotted against his sovereign’s life months earlier and should have been tried and beheaded for it, but his elaborate padded doublet of black and silver satin was still fine, while his apartment, though the air stank of wine, was hung with tapestries, purple velvet and a Turkey carpet on which sullen grooms in livery padded about their duties, and far exceeded Gardiner’s own in opulence and comfort.

‘I asked for the Chancellor,’ he snapped.

‘He asked me to see you, my lord,’ White said coldly.

Courtenay flushed with anger. He was twenty-seven, tall and fair with pale blue eyes, though some predicted the pox would soon mar his aristocratic elegance; after his release from the Tower at the start of Queen Mary’s reign, he had all but lived in the Southwark stews.

‘Do you know whom you address?’ he said.

The Queen was descended from the eldest daughter of the Plantagenet King Edward IV. Courtenay was descended from one of the younger daughters. He frequently boasted about it. In the weeks before his arrest, he had made courtiers kneel to him.

‘Time is short, my lord,’ White said. ‘Your message for the Chancellor?’

The silence of hauteur. ‘I demand to speak to the Queen and to display myself to the people,’ Courtenay said at last. ‘I am not a cook.’

It would not lessen his arrogance to tell him there had been demonstrations in his favour this morning. In normally quiet Winchester, a mob had surged to the castle baying for his release. Forty-seven men and women had been arrested. The Westgate lockup was full. White said instead, ‘You do not appear to be in a position to make demands of your sovereign, my lord.’

Courtenay was brick red now. ‘This recalls your discourtesy to me in the Tower, Dr White!’

He had gone to the Tower at twelve, only childhood sparing him in the cull of his family around him. His mother and other noble prisoners, sorry for his captivity at such a young age, had made the fatal mistake of indulging him. Even the gruff, blunt Gardiner had not tried to curb the youth’s boastfulness during his own five years in the Tower. White, in his own months there, had wondered at the folly of it.

‘Was there anything else, my lord?’

‘God’s death! I demand to speak to the Queen!’

White walked to the door, turned, permitted himself an icy nod. ‘She is still in Farnham, but I will tell the Chancellor, my lord.’

‘Put the cook in the stocks and let me show myself to the people!’ Courtenay shouted as White opened the door. ‘They’ll soon see the difference!’


Despite being occupied by eight men, the dank cell in the castle had not grown warmer. They knew by the changing light behind a tiny grill high in the wall that a night had passed.

‘We’ll get out once the silly bitch is married,’ Bart said.

‘Hanged more likely,’ Nick said, ‘once she’s left with her dago prince.’

Emile had finally stopped crying last night, only to start again when he saw daylight through the grill now.

‘Feast ruining,’ he sobbed.

Jan, exhausted, dirty and sore, couldn’t understand why Emile still cared about the Queen’s wedding feast. He was desperately hungry. They hadn’t been fed. Perhaps they wouldn’t be. The last man alive would be left with seven corpses. He tried to cram his long legs into a corner of the cell and didn’t contribute to the conversation.


The cathedral was filling with dignitaries who were to take part in the wedding rehearsal. Meanwhile, though, the vast and sublime holy space echoed infernally with the racket of the carpenters finishing off the stage which would be covered in purple velvet for the ceremony. The work was behind.

‘How was Courtenay?’ Gardiner took White into the Lady Chapel to try to escape the noise of the hammering.

‘He wishes to show himself to the people, and to have the cook displayed in the stocks at the same time.’

Gardiner snorted. ‘To look to even greater advantage. How could a cook not make him more royal?’ He saw White’s face and grimaced. ‘He still hankers after the throne, John.’

White took no pleasure in the old man’s discomfiture. Not that it lasted long. Paget happened to be passing the entrance to the Lady Chapel, talking to Secretary Petre, and Gardiner’s bloodshot eyes lit up like a mischievous schoolboy’s.

‘Cooks, eh? ’he said in a loud, malicious voice.

Paget swung round furiously, long, forked beard quivering. Secretary Petre looked away hastily.

‘My servants no longer!’ Paget shouted.

‘Just as well!’ Gardiner shouted back. ‘Doesn’t do for servants to have more sense than their master!’

‘I see where your sympathies lie, Chancellor!’

I didn’t provide unreliable men!’

‘At least I tried! The Prince will need English servants!’

‘They obviously didn’t fancy serving him!’ Gardiner roared.

‘They hadn’t been told yet!’

‘Because they wouldn’t have come else!’ Gardiner was triumphant.

The bitter little skirmish was audible even above the noise of the hammering and a crowd was gathering. White, who knew Gardiner would have ignored any attempt to calm the situation, moved further into the Lady Chapel, disgusted. Had two College scholars behaved like that, they would have been whipped.

The Lady Chapel with its exquisite wall paintings was a part of the cathedral he had always loved. He had never been aboard a boat himself, but his favourite painting was the one of a shipwreck where the Virgin saved men from drowning. He tried to draw solace from it now.

‘The good ship England, perhaps,’ Secretary Petre murmured at his elbow.

A suspiciously incautious remark from a cautious man. White thought it too dangerous to agree. The tall, cadaverous Petre, though his wife was a staunch Catholic, was too close to Paget. Yet if any man knew why King Edward’s Council had not pursued College to its destruction, it was possibly Petre. An ambiguous man.

‘You have a strange opinion, my lord,’ White said.

A muscle moved in Petre’s long face. ‘I was referring to the previous reign, my lord. One might compare Queen Mary to Our Lord’s mother. She has come to England’s rescue.’

Petre was the sort of man who always had an answer. It was why he had been a Principal Secretary since King Henry’s time and survived.

‘Indeed.’ White bowed coldly and Petre returned the courtesy.

The argument behind them was worsening.

‘So let’s produce him then!’ Gardiner yelled. ‘Produce ‘em both! Let’s show the people Courtenay’s hale and hearty! That’ll stop the demonstrations!’

‘It’ll make them worse!’ Paget roared. ‘You can’t let Courtenay out in public!’

‘Because the Spanish wouldn’t like it, eh?’ Gardiner taunted.

‘And you, my lord, as I recall, wanted him to marry the Queen!’

Beneath his black cap, the fluffy white hair stood up on either side of Gardiner’s face. ‘I’m her Chancellor and he’s in my keeping! If I say produce him, he’ll be produced!’

White glimpsed de Noailles, the French ambassador, smirking at the back of the onlookers. This would on the next boat’s despatches to King Henri II. The Spanish would be angry that de Noailles had seen the tensions among their English allies displayed so openly.


Back at Wolvesey after a rehearsal which had simmered with hostility, the Spanish ambassador Simon Renard demanded an interview with Gardiner and Paget. He had arrived too late to witness their argument himself, but his spies at Queen Mary’s court were numerous.

‘I have written to His Highness already.’ Renard was dark and feline. White, standing beside Gardiner, knew the old Chancellor loathed him for his influence over the Queen. ‘I have told him that your government cannot guarantee his safety.’ Renard lowered his eyelashes silkily. ‘I haven’t despatched it yet.’

‘Of course we can guarantee the Prince’s safety,’ Paget said.

‘While Courtenay and the Lady Elizabeth live?’

‘We’re working on our evidence against them,’ Paget said testily. Mention of the Queen’s bastard half-sister, the hope of the Protestants, always had this effect on him. Not everyone regarded the dangerous young woman as illegitimate and White suspected Paget did not. She was presently under house arrest at Woodstock.

‘And what will your mob do then?’ Renard asked. ‘These insecurities should have been dealt with months ago. Will you execute the people under arrest?’

‘You know perfectly well English executions won’t help the popularity of the marriage,’ Gardiner barked.

‘Well then, how can I guarantee my Prince’s safety?’

We will guarantee it,’ Paget said desperately.

‘So why was Courtenay released from the Tower?’

‘You know why, ambassador. He is the Queen’s cousin, of royal stock. His mother is one of the Queen’s dearest friends.’

‘And any attempt to show him to the mob,’ Renard said softly, ‘will be regarded as treason against His Highness.’

‘The Queen isn’t wed yet!’ Gardiner exploded. ‘In England there can only be treason against the English monarch!’

‘Courtenay won’t be shown to the people,’ Paget

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