The old man sat back and tapped his fingers against the table. He recalled that he’d been able to make good use of the Queen’s passion for Oxford while it had thrived. He crossed the room and opened his own personal journal, the one he’d written shortly before the execution of Oxford’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk.
1571 – Oxford’s foolhardy attempt to rescue Norfolk thwarted. The Queen has announced that I will be titled Baron Burghley when Edward marries my daughter. I will reap high honors for my work, all or most of it done in secret . . .
There had been so many secrets, and Burghley had kept track of them all. He noted how many times the Queen had jailed Norfolk for treason and then suddenly released him, thanks to Oxford’s gentle persuasion. Apparently, a few flattering sonnets went a long way in softening her heart. Almost immediately after Leicester, her former favorite, fell from grace, Oxford, the Queen’s new favorite, found that entertaining in the royal bedchamber had its rewards. Burghley had grown nervous as his daughter’s wedding day approached. It seemed clear that the Queen intended to keep the Earl of Oxford tightly gripped in her talons.
July 1571 – H.M. has proclaimed it, according to plan; Anne is to have a husband, a star beyond her reach. Let the jealous vixens at Court weep with envy! She will wed my former ward within a month. We will be showered with riches and glory for her sake, and she will become Countess of Oxford.
Remembering what happened next, he found a corresponding entry in his journal about Lord Oxford.
August 1571 – There will be no wedding. The rascal has abandoned my sweet girl at the altar! He will be arrested and forced under pressure to reconsider his priorities.
The Queen had feared that her lover Oxford had met with some danger; what else, she thought, could have prevented him from taking his marriage vows to Anne? It was a ridiculous notion, but such were her delusions. When the errant bridegroom was found escaping to France, the Queen ordered his return and placed him under house arrest, where he could be watched at all times. She plied him with some delicious promises and vowed to love him forever. He trusted her word, and the wedding was rescheduled to take place after Christmas. Anne was a radiant bride. Burghley cast his eyes over his bittersweet recollections.
December 1571 – Westminster Abbey was lavishly decorated at the bridegroom’s expense. He offered one of his comedies called The Merry Courtship of Mistress Anne, by way of an entertainment. Dr. Caius of Cambridge was insulted at being portrayed as one of Anne’s rejected suitors. A character named Slender was done up like Philip Sidney, and the secret details of his proposal to my daughter were revealed to the whole world! My wife and I were shocked, Sidney was angry . . . and the Queen was much amused.
My youngest son Robert acted the part of a pageboy quite well. He made the Queen laugh and since then, she has called him her Dwarf. I wonder, was she laughing at his words or at his deformity? Damn the wretched nurse who dropped him down the stairs and caused his crooked back! But my Robert loves his new brother-in-law Edward and would do anything in the world to please him.
Oxford’s marriage will be consummated in three years, when Anne turns 18.
Burghley had known that hot-blooded Oxford couldn’t wait for Anne, and that the Queen’s unbridled passion wouldn’t wait either. Her Majesty hid their affair behind the reticent and lovesick girl, offering the glittering marriage as a reward. Burghley wondered, had he really sacrificed his daughter at age 15 while publicly stating that marriages arranged in childhood always ended badly? Absolutely not! He was a caring and thoughtful father who had arranged the best possible match for his plain, unassertive daughter, and he was thankful the Queen supported it.
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