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The Fatal Fashione: An Elizabeth I Mystery (Elizabeth I Mysteries)

Karen Harper

  Table of Contents

  Title Page



  Chapter the First

  Chapter the Second

  Chapter the Third

  Chapter the Fourth

  Chapter the Fifth

  Chapter the Sixth

  Chapter the Seventh

  Chapter the Eighth

  Chapter the Ninth

  Chapter the Tenth

  Chapter the Eleventh

  Chapter the Twelfth

  Chapter the Thirteenth

  Chapter the Fourteenth

  Chapter the Fifteenth

  Chapter the Sixteenth

  Chapter the Seventeenth


  Earlier Events in Elizabeth’s Life

  Elizabeth I Mysteries by KAREN HARPER



  Teaser chapter


  Copyright Page

  To Don

  for help in visiting London

  and the English countryside again

  And to Linda Fildew,

  the only person I know who lives in Mortlake,

  for the tour of the ruins of Richmond Palace

  And hereby it appeareth that no people in the world are so curiouse in new fangles as they of England be.


  The Anatomie of Abuses

  Oh, how much cost is bestowed nowadays upon our bodies, and how little upon our souls!


  Description of England



  OCTOBER 21, 1566

  “IF THE MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT ARE HERE, THEY may cool their heels for a while!” Elizabeth Tudor announced the moment William Cecil, her trusted secretary of state, was admitted to her withdrawing room. “They have come to urge me to marriage and motherhood, but I know what they are thinking even beyond that impertinence.”

  “That if—when—you refuse,” Cecil said, “they will urge you to name your cousin Queen Mary of Scots as your heir, even if she is a Catholic?”

  “Exactly. And I’ll not play into their hands.”

  “They do await your presence, Your Grace. But you sent for me?”

  Though she had been attired in her bedchamber, her ladies were still arranging her large neck ruff and long strands of pearls. She’d wanted to see Cecil before she faced down the men who forever tried to tell her how to govern. At least Cecil merely advised.

  “I cannot abide their audacity,” Elizabeth went on, flinging gestures despite her women’s attempted ministrations. “They think, because my cousin Queen Mary of Scots has wed again and produced a son, that I must wed posthaste and go to breeding, too. They believe they have me trapped. For if I choose not to wed and do name Mary my successor, I risk my safety, because my death would place her on the throne.’S blood, my Catholic shires to the north could rise in open rebellion. And my Parliament is one step from that, I swear they are!”

  “Yes, Your Grace, but I believe their concerns about the succession have some validity and merit, and their words to you—”

  “Were rude and rash so far.” She took the last loop of pearls from Lady Rosie’s hands—Rosie always panicked when her queen raised her voice—and finished the job herself. Leaving her ladies behind, she strode toward Cecil with her huge black satin skirts swishing.

  “You saw what they dared write to me!” she told him. “‘It sets a fatal fashion if a young queen does not wed, and endangers the realm.’ I set the fashions here, my lord, not only for garments and ornament, such as what they are calling these ‘pearls of the virgin’ set off against my favorite black, but for manners, behavior—even morals.”

  “I understand, Your Grace.”

  “Do they think I am some green girl or schoolroom dunce to be lectured and set aright? I’ll not be preached to about suitors, foreign or domestic, nor about who should get my throne if I departed this earth. For I do not plan to do that for years, God willing!”

  He seemed to have no retort to that, or else he realized she needed to vent her ire and would calm down if he but listened. Yes, she and Cecil knew each other well after all these years working together, first to attain the throne and then to preserve and use it well for her people. Elizabeth knew she had been the cause of most of the lines on his long face and the gray hairs in his shovel-shaped beard, which made him look older than his forty-six years.

  She heaved a sigh and turned to glance into her new Venetian looking glass. Good—her appearance was startling, even stark, with the black bodice and skirt and the huge white satin and gold-embroidered sleeves. Her starched neck ruff was so stiff and large it almost looked as if her red, bejeweled head were on a platter—which her enemies, and there were many, would love to see.

  With a decisive nod to Cecil, the queen preceded him out. The two yeomen guards at the door fell in behind. She might be a woman, Elizabeth thought, a mere female as her father had said more than once, but she still—thanks to a good and gracious God—looked young and strong at age thirty-three after eight years on England’s throne. Graceful, tall for a woman, and slim, with sharp dark eyes and gold-red hair, she was still what her court favorite, Robin Dudley, called “fetching”.

  Yet, though she never told even her closest friends and advisors such, not even Robin or Cecil, she intended to live and die unwed, but for her marriage to her country, of course. From her toddling days, she’d seen at too close range what dreadful things men could do to women, even their wives—even queens.

  Flanked by her crimson-clad guards, Elizabeth Tudor stood beneath the scarlet canopy of state on the dais before her throne, facing sixty parliamentarians, thirty from the House of Lords and thirty from the House of Commons. The nobility had donned their best attire for the occasion; even the others wore their best. The few Puritan members, led by Hosea Cantwell, were in their somber black and white, as if following her fashion, when in truth all they did was carp about it.

  She had expressly forbidden the speakers of the two houses of Parliament to attend, for she meant to do the speaking on this day. If they thought her so-called weaker sex would make her entreat or retreat, they were much mistaken. Did they not know she had learned—though sometimes from afar and under fire—from her sire, Henry VIII, that talented builder and terrible destroyer?

  “Lords and men of England,” she began, in turn staring directly at each man in the front row. “You write to me of my ‘fatal fashion’ of not wedding and pronounce it dangerous to crown and kingdom. And so you try to coerce and force your queen to obey your will.”

  She leveled a straight arm and finger at them in a slow arc. The northern earls Northumberland and Derby, both covert Catholics who could raise a rebellion, stood next to her dear Robin, Earl of Leicester. All visibly braced themselves and flared their nostrils as if they were stags scenting a wolf on the wind. A frown furrowing his brow, Hosea Cantwell from the Commons glared back at her.

  “How have I governed?” she plunged on, clasping a fist of dangling pearls in her free hand. “I need not say much, for my deeds speak for me. And do not use the words ‘fatal fashion’ to me. Fatal fashions are treasons, greed and lust, adultery and murder—and rebellions—in my kingdom. England must take a stand for justice. You must see to the proper punishment of lawbreakers and even to your own sins. Best tend to the safety of your country and your queen—and not by trying to force her to wed and bed, but by helping her, not hindering.�

  More than one man shifted his weight or shuffled his feet. Several turned their caps about in their hands. This utter refusal was obviously not what they had expected.’S blood, did they not know her yet?

  “Some of you have whispered that I fear death in childbirth. Oh, yes, I know your thoughts, that and others,” she added, looking directly at the northern earls whose shires bordered Scotland. “I do not fear death, for all men are mortal, and though I be a woman, yet I have as good a courage as ever my father had. I am your anointed queen. I will never be by violence constrained to do anything. I thank God I am endowed with such qualities that if I were turned out of the realm in my petticoat, I would be able to live in any place in Christendom.”

  Robin looked amused by the petticoat point, yet her stare wiped the smile from that handsome face. Cecil seemed almost smug, while the others stood stunned by her defiance. No doubt those who’d had to settle for the back of the crowd now blessed their good fortune.

  Elizabeth of England said no more but stood for several moments, as if daring them to gainsay her. She only prayed no one guessed that her pulse pounded and the velvet neckband of her cartwheel ruff was soaked with sweat.

  She glanced at the massive portrait of her father, hanging behind her audience. They probably thought she nodded to them before she turned and strode from the chamber. She thanked God they could not see that, beneath her skirts, her silk-stockinged legs shook like a child’s.

  Chapter the First

  “JUST EVERYONE IN THE CITY IS TALKING ABOUT what you said to the deputation from Parliament, Your Grace,” Meg Milligrew told the queen the next morning. As Her Majesty’s strewing herb mistress of the privy chamber, Meg scented the draperies and bedclothes with fresh, fragrant herbs each day.

  They were more than queen and servant, for Meg had been with Elizabeth in the difficult days before the throne was hers. Now, with select others, she sometimes helped Her Majesty in dangerous situations that had to be kept private. The young woman resembled her monarch, and that had served the queen’s purpose more than once.

  Meg had recently returned from a week at Hampstead Heath, a rural area just north of London. She had gone to gather autumn herbs, but also to see her ten-year-old daughter, Sally. Years before, though Meg had been told by her now deceased husband that their only child had died of the small pox, he had actually given the baby away to a country couple. Later Meg learned that her child lived, though her little face was horribly scarred. Meg visited Sally at her family’s small farm several times a year, laden with gifts from the queen so that the child would know, as Elizabeth had said in a note to her, “that you are special to us.”

  “Then what are they saying about me today?” the queen asked, looking up from the letter she was writing.

  “That you are as strong as your sire, old King Henry, even if you are one-tenth of his size, that’s what I heard the bargeman say.”

  Elizabeth shouted a laugh. “I like that. What else?”

  “That no matter if the Scots queen has a son, they prefer their virgin queen since she is pure English.”

  Elizabeth threw down her quill and stood. “Their virgin queen is pure English,” she echoed as Meg began to rub the bed curtains with sweet cicely and woodruff. “I’d wager my people are pleased I am pure English because of all the foreigners coming to our shores these days. Our island is becoming quite a stew of strangers and their ways.”

  “But that means new fripperies and fancies,” Meg said, as she sneezed at her own scented dust. She jammed a finger under her nose and spoke nasally. “I’ve smelled that new nicotine smoke the sailors inhale from their pipes, ‘drinking tobacco’ as they call it. Others are trying it, too, though I don’t s’pose it will ever catch on with proper people.”

  “You never know about the passion for fashion, my Meg.”

  “Like the Dutch ladies started with their starch. Oh, by the way, Your Grace, I brought back baskets of cuckoo-pint roots for Hannah von Hoven’s starch. I’m grateful you let me sell to her, as it gives me extra money to send to Sally’s family. I’m hoping to harvest enough of the roots next year to visit your other starcher and see if she’ll buy some, too. Hannah’s been arguing with me about the prices lately, saying the cost is too dear, when I work hard to find and dig up those roots. Still, what would she do without starch, and what would we all do without the Dutch ladies bringing in their secrets of it?”

  “What indeed? Keep to our limp little ruffs or start a new trend, I warrant. But as for fancy foreign imports, I draw the line at French cooking. They actually eat frog legs,” Elizabeth said with a shudder, “and who knows what else they try to hide under all those strange sauces. The Earl of Leicester’s looking for a Frenchie cook, and I told him I don’t trust one of them worth a fig in a kitchen I’m eating from.”

  “But won’t there be French stuffs to buy at the shops in Sir Thomas Gresham’s new mercantile exchange when it’s finished? That’s what else is on everyone’s lips in London, how your money man, as they call him, looks like he’s building a place bigger even than his house on Bishopsgate. After he’s lived abroad in Antwerp all these years, they say he’s building a barn house just like the Flemish built there.”

  “Not a barn house, my Meg—a bourse.”

  “That’s right—a bourse, just like the foreign one.”

  Frowning, Elizabeth leaned on an elbow into a recessed window overlooking the Thames. She pushed the mullioned pane farther ajar to catch the crisp breeze off the river. The autumn sun felt fine, but with it in her eyes, even leaning out a bit, she couldn’t see far in the direction where Gresham’s great endeavor was under way.

  “Sir Thomas Gresham’s new financial and shopping establishment,” the queen said, “may be inspired by the mercantile exchange in Antwerp, but it is to be an English exchange house, with shops to sell our goods as well as some of the finer imported ones. But predominantly English, not foreign, for that belief has always undergirded his philosophy even when he’s lived abroad.”

  Sir Thomas Gresham was her chief financial advisor and one of the new breed she was relying on in her reign: men of exceptional talent, not necessarily of noble birth; men like William Cecil himself, who had been Thomas Gresham’s mentor. Brilliant and adept in international finance, Gresham had risen fast and far under her brother, King Edward. Elizabeth’s sister, Queen Mary, had dismissed him because he was not Catholic, but Hugh Dauntsey, the man Mary had put in charge, made such a botch of England’s foreign financial affairs that she had eaten royal crow and brought Gresham swiftly back.

  In Elizabeth’s reign, Thomas had helped her pay off foreign debts at good rates and strengthened English coinage, which her father had debased with all his wild spending. Gresham had been her eyes and ears abroad, living in Antwerp in Flanders but traveling widely. She admired and relied on him so heavily she had knighted him. Even though her lord treasurer, William Paulet, who had served the Tudors even longer than Gresham had, often spoke against the younger man as rash and too freethinking, she would bet her kingdom on Gresham. More than once, when it came to the fashions of finance, she already had.

  “Meg, when you go out, have the guards send a secretary and a rider to me. I believe I will inform Sir Thomas that I will come myself to see this new wonder of our age.”

  The queen set out that afternoon garbed like a prosperous merchant’s wife in a sturdy, dark worsted gown, the hood of a cloak pulled over her red head. With three others, she went by unmarked barge to the river steps at Dowgate Street. Lady Rosie Radcliffe, likewise attired, attended Elizabeth with two plainly dressed, armed guards. These were her most trusted yeoman, Clifford, and her longtime protector, Stephen Jenks.

  Sir Thomas Gresham, with two of his men waiting with horses, met the incognito party at the landing. He was dressed in somber black, not in mourning for his son or to match the current style but because he always wore that practical, businesslike hue.

  Gresham at forty-seven was beginning to sho
w his age. Furrows lined his brow, and crow’s-feet perched at the corners of his gray-blue eyes. His taut lips were framed by a trimmed silvered beard. Thinner than usual, almost gaunt, he leaned on a walking stick and limped markedly from being thrown and nearly crushed to death by his horse six years ago.

  The queen realized her money man had also been aged by grief. Two years ago he had lost his only son and heir at age twenty from malignant fever. Thomas and his wife, Anne, had a young daughter they had adopted in Antwerp, but she could hardly inherit the massive Gresham fortune. So Sir Thomas had decided to spend part of his wealth on his huge building project to help his homeland and perpetuate his name.

  “Thomas, I am pleased you recognize me without the fabulous pearls you brought me,” she jested as they huddled together at the windy watergate. “I thought it best you give me a tour without a lot of to-do and hangers-on.”

  “I am honored, Your Majesty. I believe this exchange will be a star in the crown of your capital city, and I am proud to show it to its crowned queen, even in fledgling form as it is. And, I must say, this project has begun a building boom in other parts of the city.”

  The mutual admiration between the financial genius and his queen ran deeper than many knew; theirs was a meeting not only of minds but of memories. Thomas had been one of the first to pledge allegiance to Elizabeth when she became queen, and he had served on her first council. He, too, had lost his mother when he was but three and knew what it was to have a stepmother. Like the queen, he’d had a powerful father, albeit a commoner, in whose footsteps he walked: His sire had been high sheriff and lord mayor of London as well as founder of the Gresham family fortune through trade with the Merchant Adventurers.

  Jenks cupped his hands to give Elizabeth a boost up to her mount, and she lifted her knee over the horn of the sidesaddle to settle herself. With a guard before and behind her, the party strung out along Dowgate, heading north toward Cornhill in the most mercantile part of town, crowded with shops and livery company halls. This late in the day, the hawkers’ cries were few, as many were already home. By now goodwives or servants had purchased whatever would grace the tables of London this evening before darkness fell.