Chapter 1.

Charles rarely congratulated himself. In his experience, almost everything was problematic; problems caused difficulties, difficulties caused crises; crises caused at least emergencies and at worst disaster. God be praised, he had so far managed to avoid the latter. He was surely the greatest ruler in the world: Charles the fifth of Spain, Holy Roman Emperor, master of a large proportion of Europe, and lands from the recently discovered far west to the furthest east; still in his twenties, still with a lurking suspicion that the cloister would have suited him far better than a throne. Even so, his was the greatest secular throne on earth; it was his beyond doubt, and there were, in spite of many difficulties, moments to be savoured. As now.
He looked across to the other side of the fireplace. The man standing there was some years older than himself; dark, handsome and tall, with an air of authority and distinction. Charles smiled. Sometimes an error of judgement sent the wrong man on a mission; sometimes, the choice was so limited that whoever one sent would be wrong, one way or another. But not this time.
‘Chapuys, we are alone – we can dispense with formality. I have much to say, and you might as well be comfortable. You may sit.’
He noticed with approval the astonishment, gone so swiftly that eyes less keen would have missed it altogether.
‘Chapuys, for some time our representative in England has been Don Inigo de Mendoza. A great Spaniard. . .but not quite the man I need.’
He paused. There was no interruption, no movement. The dark eyes were placid but attentive.
‘As Queen of England, my aunt Katherine has been unfortunate. Her son died a few weeks after birth, and her only remaining child is Princess Mary. Beautiful, they say, and clever, but not the prince her father desires.’
Again he paused, and this time Chapuys spoke.
‘Sire – there is no law against Queens regnant – not in England, surely?’
Charles’ tone was dry. ‘No. No law. Just King Henry’s desires, but they override all else. He has actually had the temerity to suggest divorce. . .from the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella’. . .
‘Queen Katherine will need protection, Sire.’
‘Protection, advice, and constant vigilance. She is proud, as becomes a princess of Spain. There will be many problems, but as Emperor I cannot be certain of dealing with them. If I were merely King of Spain, perhaps. As Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, with vast domains – unlikely. Yet I must give that lady all the protection I can.’
He paused, and looked at Chapuys.
‘I have to send someone whose wit is sharper than that of King Henry; someone of whose swift intelligence I have no shred of doubt; a man who will understand, when he demands help and I am unable to give it; a man able to watch over Queen Katherine because I, her kinsman, cannot. Someone in whose faithfulness, ability and care I have complete confidence. Eustachio Chapuys.’

* * *

There were other matters, of course; many other important affairs to be considered. More than an hour had passed before the Emperor dismissed him. As Imperial ambassador to England, Chapuys would be concerned with many things, and all had been reviewed. All were important, but he was left in no doubt about his main preoccupation. No doubt at all.
Truth to tell, he was puzzled. Though he had, of course, not allowed it to show. . .of course?. . .Charles was a young king, a very young emperor; yet those eyes – by our Lady, it would be near-impossible to deceive him. Breeding counted, every time; generation upon generation of royal blood and noble aspiration lay behind him. He was a king to his fingertips, an emperor to the innermost recesses of his soul. Chapuys, whose paternal ancestors only a generation ago had been merely bourgeois, was now most highly honoured; the Emperor had summoned him to a private interview and ordered him to take the place of Don Inigo de Mendoza, one of Spain’s greatest nobles, the Imperial Ambassador in England. Most particularly, he was to watch over that hard-pressed lady Katherine of Aragon, Princess of Spain, wife of Henry the eighth of England, and mother of the princess Mary. . .Chapuys wondered again. That long interview had dealt with many matters, all of them weighty, yet he was left no doubt as to which was foremost in the Emperor’s mind.
Concern for an ageing aunt.
Strange, he thought. Henry’s threat of divorce must surely have been flung out in a moment of extreme annoyance – Don Inigo’s hauteur could be exacerbating, to say the least. Put him face to face with Henry of England, and sparks might well fly. Such a threat – divorce? – from a daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella? It was never, surely, to be taken seriously. Henry of England would never dare to display such contempt for the Emperor. The man was just a merchant of self-display, one of Europe’s lesser monarchs; a minor ruler, trying rather hopelessly to boost his reputation. Well: the Emperor had chosen him, Chapuys, to protect Queen Katherine and to control Henry of England. It would be done.
Chapuys chuckled. He was looking forward to meeting this strutting, petty king. Don Inigo, he suspected, might well have given the Emperor an exaggerated description of Henry and his ways, merely to boost his own reputation. He, Chapuys, would send a more precise picture. Queen Katherine would come to no harm. All would be well.

* * *

The Emperor sat back in his chair and gave thanks; not for the first time. This chair, deep, with winged, concealing sides, was his during Mass; it sheltered his Majesty’s moments of high solemnity, of his contact with the hosts of Heaven; those moments when Majesty conferred with beings of the next world, beings of holiness beyond the comprehension of ordinary mortals. More, it was housed within a side chapel wherein no other mortal might venture without invitation; one of the few places on this earth where Majesty might hope for privacy. And if Majesty seized that comparatively brief opportunity to think; deeply, seriously, taking into account everything he had as yet observed; pondering the extremely intricate matters of state which presented themselves daily – by the dozen! He thought wryly – well, the Lord knew how puzzling and how many they were; the multitude of problems of this world for which he was expected to supply the answers. So he prayed: Lord, forgive me for using this time to ponder, to think through, to solve problems which Court folk expect me to solve in the blinking of an eye; to pacify, to comfort, to punish justly without those terrible mistakes which only later prove to have been crass injustice. . .even so. . .Thanks be to God for helping me to choose Chapuys today, the right choice with no doubt in my mind whatsoever. Praise the Lord.
Chapuys. The name had loomed large in his thoughts since those dispatches arrived in the early months of that year. He had been apprehensive, on reading the letter in January; there was another in February, and a third in March. All of them from his ambassador in England; Don Inigo de Mendoza, Bishop of Burgos; a great Spanish nobleman of the highest rank, who knew his privileged position; he knew the respect and service due to him from most other human beings apart from a few even more senior churchmen – and of course the Emperor. And somehow, it seemed that Don Inigo de Mendoza had placed King Henry of England securely upon the longer list; King Henry of England, a law unto himself, not at all inclined to allow a mere Spaniard to prescribe protocol, and for whom a cursory bow was totally inadequate as an indication of due respect. That King needed – indeed, demanded – a totally different approach, and the Emperor, convinced that he had received an answer to his prayers, rejoiced. Don Inigo was complaining of indisposition, of being physically unfit for his office. The Emperor knew that it was probably weariness of England, a desire to return to Spanish sunlight, to his own lavish estates; no matter, the man was complaining of illness. For about three years, he had left behind him a trail of irritation or worse; not the accomplished statesmanship needed in such a divided world. Now, he could be replaced without loss of face, and Charles had seen a great opportunity and grasped it, though as yet Mendoza was unaware. When he discovered who was to replace him, he would doubtless be furious. The son of a notary. . .?
So Charles himself would have been proud to have a son like Chapuys. His mother was from one of the oldest families of Savoy – unsurpassed in honour, if not in wealth. Chapuys had all the polish of such ancestry, plus the brain of that canny paternal side. Charles had observed him; unobserved himself, for few expected so youthful an Emperor to be quite so full of wisdom; it was good to be able to boast of one’s Emperor, but few yet realised just how brilliant, just how acute was the brain behind that rather plain appearance. That brain had noticed a young man in the service of the Duke of Savoy; the Duke had occasionally sent him to Spain – a minor representative, but his usefulness and common sense were outstanding. Not that anyone remarked upon it – naturally one did not notice a person of lesser origins – but Charles was a law unto himself. Like his counterpart in England.
The Emperor sat back in his chair, and gave thanks. Unlike his counterpart in England.