Damn those plays! The historical ones weren’t bad, and Burghley had survived the humiliation of having his habits caricatured at Court, but he never knew when he or other members of his family would be mocked on the public stage. He had survived the obvious reference to the robbery at Gad’s Hill in The Famous Victories because the play had been presented anonymously. He had even survived the embarrassment at his daughter’s wedding when Edward revealed the private financial proposals of her rejected suitors in his play, The Merry Courtship of Mistress Anne.
Burghley’s most recent fear was the prospect of being exposed for conniving a consensual, albeit incestuous, union with Anne in a play called Hamlet. He confessed as much to the Queen in a mysterious letter, begging for her royal mercy but leaving his precise crime unnamed. He hoped she wouldn’t recognize his sin entwined in the clever lines of Hamlet, for he was sure Edward had put it there. If so, Burghley knew his career would be over and Edward would have won his revenge.
But the Queen only wanted history plays from Edward now, strictly for political purposes, so perhaps Burghley had nothing more to fear. Historical figures were cut in marble and didn’t inspire the intense scrutiny of the living. Julius Caesar, Pericles and Coriolanus, being mortal men, had outlived their sins as Burghley knew he himself would, when he lay in his grave.
It was unfortunate that the bad blood between himself and Edward, Earl of Oxford, had simmered gradually during his ward’s adolescence and boiled over into his unhappy marriage to Anne. As a royal guardian, Burghley always believed that he had done his best to balance Edward’s needs with England’s wellbeing. If it turned out that the young man’s interests were secondary to maintaining England’s welfare, sacrifices on Edward’s part were mere trifles to be expected.
As if to prove himself correct in his thinking, he turned to his well-worn journal and opened it to the terse entries written at the start of his stormy relationship with the Earl of Oxford.
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