Lord Oxford poured himself another drink and perused the latest letter from his father-in-law. He read it over several times, making sure he understood its perplexing message – the bizarre terms of a proposed match between his wife’s firstborn daughter Elizabeth de Vere and Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton.
With sheer incredulity, he shook the letter as if he fancied that the words might somehow rearrange themselves in a more logical order, or perhaps let the secrets locked within them fall out and scatter across the floor, like links in a broken chain.
He wondered why Burghley would proffer the match now, and what events were happening behind the scenes to encompass it. Just last week, the Queen had summoned Oxford to her side. They were like old friends again, and she complained about her increasing worries and ill health. Although it was against the law to discuss a monarch’s death, she confessed her vulnerability to it. He was taken aback when she quickly agreed to name their secret son as her successor to protect the Tudor regime, and yet she made no mention of the match that Burghley was proposing between Henry and Elizabeth, the daughter Oxford had been compelled to accept as his own. In supporting the match, Burghley would put an end to fifteen years of silence about Oxford’s secret marriage to the Queen, which had been performed to legitimize the child they hoped would one day rule England.
He wondered whether Burghley would also be ready to admit his role in covering up his daughter Anne’s betrayal. After 13 years, Oxford still did not know the name of the scoundrel who had impregnated her while he was in Italy. It had taken him five years to accept Anne and her daughter into his life. If the proposed match were to take place, the true parents of both Elizabeth and Henry must be made known, since revealing only Henry’s story would render it a seemingly incestuous union.
The thought of “incest” made him cringe. Poor Anne, locked away for her madness, with no chance of a cure. No one believed her wild accusations against her father. Lord Burghley was, after all, to most people, an honorable man. Everyone at court, including the Queen, considered it an act of kindness that Burghley had assumed all of the expenses and complete charge of Anne’s care, and they were saddened that her madness made her oblivious to his efforts. The louder Anne raved against her father about incest, the heavier were the chains he forged for her door.
Oxford still hoped to push past the clouds of melancholia that enshrouded her mind and learn the truth from her someday. In the meantime, he had to protect his other living daughters, Bridget and Susan, and the son Edward he had conceived with Lady Vavasor. All of his children shared his distinguished lineage, the very prize Burghley had coveted when he grafted his stalk to Oxford’s family tree. Not only would the blend of the Plantagenet, Lancaster and York lineages strengthen Henry’s Tudor claim to the throne, but Burghley’s own granddaughter would replace her tormented mother as his best hope for a regal future for his descendants.
Then, with that thought, Oxford suddenly understood Burghley’s motive: with his granddaughter marrying the future King of England, he would be elevated to the highest rank a commoner could reach. Oxford imagined the old man in a state of euphoria, paying Shaxper handsomely for a Shake-speare play to commemorate the event!
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