Greene’s expression suddenly changed from besotted amusement to complete seriousness. He leaned forward and whispered.
“A few years ago, His Lordship drove the Queen into a violent fury, and he had the gall to put it on stage for all the world to see.”
“What happened? What did he do?”
“He was sent to the Tower for fathering a bastard with one of the Queen’s ladies.”
“By Heavens! Is that a crime?”
“No, but the Queen is ruled by a jealous heart. Lord Oxford was the first of her courtiers to suffer such a consequence.”
“And what became of the lady and her child?”
“She and her newborn were also immediately imprisoned in the Tower. It was a terrible time for all of them, but if you ask Lord Oxford about it, he’ll tell you the Queen was quite merciful.”
“Merciful? How merciful can such dark imprisonment be?”
“It seems that the royal mercy rains differently on some than on others. The Queen allowed Lord Oxford to have pen, ink and paper in his cell, that he should not go mad, as he feared, with the tedious passage of time. He wrote about the ordeal and it became an anonymous piece for the playhouses. I’ve always said that he was lucky the Queen didn’t discover his authorship, or else she would have chopped off his head measure by measure and spiked it on London Bridge, to the delight of the crows that feast on traitors’ meat.”
William knew this penalty was far more gruesome than being forced to marry Anne Hathaway, who’d been pregnant with his child.
“Noblemen father bastards every day and never go to prison for it,” Greene snickered. “And despite her peculiar mercy, the Queen made Lord Oxford suffer for his errant romance. When she learned that he and his mistress had exchanged secret vows to marry after he was granted the divorce from his adulterous wife, the Queen denied it to him. She had no desire to see Catholicism persist in any of England’s noble families, and since Lord Oxford’s mistress was Catholic, he was forced to abandon her and return to his Protestant wife. Within days after he did so, all were freed from the Tower, but the lady and her kinsmen were enraged by Lord Oxford’s breach of promise. A blood feud erupted between the two households. Knife fights spilled out onto the streets, and even the Queen was powerless to stop them. And then came the dreadful night Lord Oxford was stabbed in an alley behind Blackfriars.”
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