Fools and Kings and Fighting Men by Dorothy Davies

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EXTRACT FOR
Fools and Kings and Fighting Men 
(Dorothy Davies)


Fools and Kings and Fighting Men

Part 1 - Fools

 

Chapter One

 

The only sound in the room was the sighing of ash as it fell from the log into the embers.  Such utter silence was unusual in a palace normally thronging with people: servants, courtiers, counsellors, physicians, clerics … an ever changing, ever demanding array of people.  To be so silent, so alone, was strange and disconcerting to the man who lounged, clutching a goblet of wine, in a thickly upholstered chair before the hearth.

The flickering candle flame shone on his long dark hair, his pointed trimmed beard and his slender frame.  It did not reach his shadowed sorrow-laden eyes and it did not even begin to lighten his thoughts.

I am a king with a Fool.

The transient image of tiny Jeffery Hudson flashed through Charles’ mind, followed closely by his deep regret that the Fool was not with him this lonely night, when he might have been temporarily uplifted by the man’s acute sense of humour, someone who had entertained him for so long, who was now entertaining or at least accompanying Charles’ beloved wife in another country. 

“What will happen to Jeffrey?” he asked aloud, more to break the silence than anything.  “Loyal, devoted in a way few men are – he fought for me when others turned against me – I am wondering, worrying almost, what will happen to him when this time is done.  Will Henrietta Maria keep him with her?” Even as he asked the question, he knew the answer.  The little man was safe if he was with Henrietta Maria’s entourage.  She had a tremendous affection for Jeffrey Hudson, above the others who had entertained her over the years, the giant Welshman and the two other dwarves.

The silence wrapped itself around him again.  He tried once more. “I would so like him to be here, but he had to go with Henrietta Maria. I would not beg him to return, that is not for a king to do and I am king to the moment of death, am I not?  And, if I know this rightly and I think I do, my body even when no more than a skeleton, remains a king.  I will always be King Charles I. Always.  It is a thought to hold on to.”

A stray tear escaped his left eye and began a slow journey down his face.  He dashed it away with an impatient gesture of his free hand.  What stupidity made him think he wanted any thoughts to hold on to, when the end was so close?

A surge of acid came up in his throat and he gagged on it.  Bitter, bitter as my thoughts.  “Am I blaming others for my downfall?” he asked aloud.  The silence retreated to the hangings at the black-as-death windows and there hovered, waiting for him to stop speaking again.  The wood in the hearth sighed and deposited more ash on the embers.  He stirred, put the goblet down and sat up straight, grasping the carved arms of the chair, feeling the shape of the wood under his fingers. 

“Do I lay blame and recriminations at my father’s feet?  Or Villiers, Cromwell and others?  If so, I must release it, for I do not wish to go to my grave carrying cruelty, bitterness and resentment in my heart.  I must go shriven and penitent to my God. 

“Let me consider this:

“I am a king who has an extensive kingdom. I have great wealth and I am entitled by the grace of God to wear a crown.  What and who will govern this land when this time is done is in God’s hands but I fear for the country and my fellow countrymen.  I fear they face a time of limited liberties, something they do not yet appreciate.  I feel a sense of ‘out with the old and in with the new’ without regard of what the ‘new’ may bring them in the way of difficulties.  Thanks be to God, it will be no concern of mine.

“I am a king with a court full of courtiers who even now bow to me and call me ‘Your Majesty’ whilst they await the final day and then – I know not will become of them.  In truth, right now I find I do not have it within me to care.  I know well each of them was there just to feather their own nest in any way they could. 

“I am a king who had a court full of women who curtsied to me and called me Your Majesty.  I saw them but never once gave way to their slyness and their flirtatiousness, no matter how hard they tried to capture my affections.  I know not where they are gone, back to their homes and their masters, no doubt. In truth, right now I find I do not have it within me to care. 

“I am a king who once had a populace which came to line the sides of the roads when I rode by, to remove their headgear and to stare at me in my rich clothes, at my pennants, my banners, my men at arms, my servants and my glory. Sometimes they even shouted greetings as I rode by.  I thought they cared for me.  What now are they thinking of me, those who know the result of the trial, those who know my life is about to end?  Do they care?  Am I anything now but an exhibit they will remember for the remainder of their benighted lives?  Will they come to see my demise?

I am a king who once had a confidant and friend who held the title of the duke of Buckingham, who was struck down by an assassin in the prime of his life – and of mine. 

“I am a king who had a loving but quarrelsome queen whom I adore beyond all reason, a queen who has been separated from me, along with my children, because of the circumstances in which we found ourselves.  To what depths of sorrow and despair can one man be brought and still be living?

“There were many days and nights during my kingship when I repeated to myself; I am a king with a kingdom, the land is mine to rule and dictate and direct and govern.  I repeated this to myself for one reason; I never thought it would ever be mine.  If this seems strange to you, whoever I am directing these thoughts to this sad, lonely endless but inevitably ticking onward night, then follow my thoughts, for the path I walked seemed as inevitable to me as the ticking of the time which will bring the dawn and the end of life as I know it.”

He stopped speaking, wondering why he was bothering, who was there to hear, or care, what he thought at this stage of his life? 

He took a deep swallow of the wine and looked round for someone to refill the goblet, before remembering he was alone.  For someone used to being attended every waking moment of his life and secure in the knowledge that there were guards at his door when he slept, this emptiness, this alone-ness, was as terrifying as the prospect of the morning to come.

But who sent everyone away?  Who gave the orders that no one, not one living person, should enter his solitude this last night of his life? 

“I would be alone this night,” he told them, over their protests and their cries of despair. “I have many prayers to get through.”

But he was not praying. This lonely heartbroken king was not communing with his God, as prayers had deserted him. It felt almost as if God had deserted him but this he knew was not so – God never deserted anyone, it was that person who shut God out. In his misery he had done just that.

Instead he had chosen to do something far more difficult … to go back over his life, stage by stage, from Then to Now, to see if he could find out just where his foot had slipped and he had lost the path he knew he should have walked. To work out how he was projected from innocent illness-ridden childhood through growing years and growing times, impatient times, sad times and mourning times, aware of indifference from his father and over attention from those who were commissioned to care for him and seek to influence him and make him what he now was and initiate, almost by default, what he had done. None of this was as easy as it seemed when he first proposed it in his mind, as a man will, that he go back and back and then forward and back until all memory is in place and in good order and in good light of the Lord God’s great visage. 

But then, truthfully, what else was there to do as he sat alone in the quiet of the room in St James’ Palace, a room he knew well and which he much admired. 

His thoughts rambled in all directions.  He knew those around him sought to elevate themselves, sought riches and power.  Ah, but who does not seek power in this age of enlightenment!  He sought it still and yet he had it, but did he? Was he able to control all that he wished to control? Was he ever strong enough in mind and heart to take on the dissenters, the outsiders, the rebels, the independent minded ones who would not listen to what he considered to be his voice of reason or the churchmen with whom he could so easily dispute God’s words? 

It would seem that this time he was spending alone was to be lost in a torment of mixed thoughts, that nothing seemed as clear and right as it should be. 

Was this not the loneliest position anyone could aspire to?  Was there any person in England at this time who could understand how lonely it was to be king?  It was well and it was good to tell himself he was the king, that he could do as he wished – to some degree - but he had to admit that beneath the trappings of kingship, the castles and the crown, there beat the single heart of a man who at times wished it could not be so.

 

It sounded easy when first said, but immediately the conditions arose in his mind, he would not, for fear of walking on the thorns of memory that prick so hard they can draw tears, look back into his childhood.

That condition, that stipulation, blocked the worst of the memories, he thought.  What else could say about that time, other than he was cosseted and cared for, that despite the care he had poor health, limited physical ability, chronic lack of self-confidence and a stutter.  That alone would be enough for any man to carry in the way of burdens, but add on the one thing which crippled most royalty, the fact he was a second son, and the burden became intolerable. A second son was a useless appendage created to ensure continuity in the event of God striking down the firstborn.  If that did not happen, the second son remained a useless appendage and so he saw himself for many a long year.

It resulted in him repeating to himself, once the crown had been attained, ‘I am a king with a kingdom, with wealth, with a crown.’ And knew that all his life he had longed for the day when he believed in himself enough not to have the need to remind himself of who he was.

It was almost a shock to find himself totally alone on the last night of his life.  He looked around the heavily shadowed room, wondering what shades lingered there and who would be waiting for him when he was no longer in this life.  The thought sent violent shudders down his spine and he confessed to himself that he was mortally afraid of that moment, and all that went before it, too.  What if he should lose his dignity, what if he lost control of his body, what if he broke down and gave way to his emotions?

“I DON’T WANT TO DIE!”

The words, almost a scream, rebounded from the panelled walls and came back to assault his senses.  “Fool!” he berated himself.  “It matters not what I want, it is what they want, what they have schemed and planned and brought about. It is not my doing!”

The shadows retreated under the force of his voice and emotions, but then crept back as he subsided in his chair. 

‘I am alone this night, the last night of my life.   Should any man be alone on such a night, left with no more than his thoughts, regrets and sorrows?  Whoever ordained this, I say their cruelty is beyond belief.  There are so many regrets, so many sorrows, so many heart-breaking moments to recall. 

But recalling such sorrows – ah, forget not the happy times too! – is better than being in earnest endless prayer to the Lord God, who knows well what is to come, He is waiting for me.’

He reached out for the wine bottle and poured some for himself, noting how odd it felt and at the same time, how satisfying.  Perhaps, he thought, I should have done more for myself before this time, not find out at this very late stage of my life that there is satisfaction in doing things with my own hands, rather than letting someone do it for me. How strange are the ways of life!

Tomorrow there would be the one thing he had to do for himself, walk with dignity and stoicism to his execution.  This, he vowed, he would do carrying the full weight of majesty and pride that he had shown throughout his reign.  He would not let the monarchy down by failing this last test.  He would show them all what it meant to be king.  In any event, he mused, the time will be small for it is a short journey to take and it will soon all be over.

The wine was good, it warmed him more than the dying log was doing. It released some of his inhibitions in walking the pathway of memory, helped him begin the task of reliving his past whether he truly wished it or not. 

He brooded for some time on how the wine had loosened his thoughts as it would loosen the tongues of some men and the morals of some women.  Then he wondered why he was thinking that way, as the last thing he wanted was the loose tongue of someone who was there because they felt they had to be, not because they wanted to be, or the companionship of some woman, for he would have found that distasteful.  No one, no one measured up to Henrietta Maria in his eyes, mind and heart.

The Palace was virtually silent.  The occasional, very occasional, clash of arms as guards were changed was the only sound he heard.  And why, he asked himself, were there guards? Were they afraid he would try to escape again? As if he could go anywhere, at this point of his life, and be safe?  Alternatively, who would want to rescue him, for the same reason?  Guards.  Well, palaces had to have guards, he supposed, but it seemed a foolish thing, thinking on it.

Charles I. The very first English king to carry that name.  Of all the Henrys, Edwards, Richards, Williams, endless names, endless titles, he was the very first Charles.  I may be small in stature, he mused, but my reputation will continue: I claim a permanent place in history for being what I am, King Charles I. 

He never thought he would be king.  Despite knowing his history, knowing how many times a second son became king, witness the great Henry VIII, second son, great king, he thought, he never believed it would happen to him. His brother Henry was strong, powerful, confident and much favoured by his parents.  Charles had long since believed he would be Prince of Wales to Henry IX, there was no question of it.  And then, the sudden devastating fever that none could control or cure, which had the sweat pouring from him and his skin turning bright red and hot to touch, striking fear into their hearts.  His father stayed away, citing a fear of disease and waited in his chamber for news, his mother, knowing how bad it was, taking to her chamber and becoming consumed with grief, all of which meant no one was there to comfort and support Charles himself.  He wandered the corridors of the palace, alone, lonely, grieving before the event because, young as he was, he knew that Death was inevitable. And indeed it was.  The proud young handsome Henry was dead and that meant, inevitable as the sun rising the next day, one day he would be king.

The prospect was terrifying.  Strange indeed were the ways of the Lord God, that He should strike the older son down with an illness none could cure and create a place for the younger, ill-equipped son to take his place, who right then was wearing the robes, the titles and the crown his brother had vacated to occupy his place in the tomb, the cold empty lonely tomb. It would not be before he too occupied his own place in a cold empty tomb. In a surge of emotion Charles thought, all this is in the hands of the same Lord God, to whom all praise be given for elevating me to the status of king.

He was acutely aware of the honour he had been given in his kingship. He was aware of it and before God was suitably humble and gave Him thanks for all he had.  Only before God did he stand in humility, before all others, he was king.

It was as if he had waited a lifetime to put these thoughts together and yet, and yet, it was no more than a summer’s afternoon in time.  What was there to say of the time he spent with Villiers, of the time he spent learning to be more than that second son, of the time he spent learning – to be husband and to be king? 

It was time to go back.

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