Henry VIII’S sev­enth wife An­to­nia Fraser

An­to­nia Fraser wrote a best­seller about his first six wives. Now she’s com­posed a com­edy about the last one, a rav­ish­ing femme fa­tale

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

Ever since I read that mas­ter­piece by W C Sel­lar and R J Yeat­man, 1066 and All That, as a child, I have seen the charm of His­tory Light. Who can for­get their prob­ing anal­y­sis of the English Civil War: the Cava­liers ‘Wrong but Wro­man­tic’, the Round­heads ‘Right but Repul­sive’ – and who can be ab­so­lutely sure they’ve done bet­ter? These two very short plays – from a se­ries of five I have writ­ten – are a mod­est of­fer­ing in that di­rec­tion.

Like all five plays, these two fea­ture char­ac­ters about whom I have writ­ten books: The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) and Mary Queen of Scots (1969).

I have cho­sen to ded­i­cate my His­tory Light to Ed­ward Gib­bon. This was the his­to­rian who in­spired me so long ago with his ac­count of the bare­foot monks singing ves­pers in Rome amid the ru­ins of the Capi­tol, which led to him writ­ing The De­cline and Fall of the Ro­man Em­pire. I hope that he, or at least the monks, would have seen the joke.

The Sev­enth Wife

Cast Harry a bloated old man in a hospi­tal bed Sep­tima a beau­ti­ful young wo­man Courtier shad­owy fig­ure

Scene Ma­jes­tic scenery, plenty of crim­son vel­vet and gold; in con­trast to the stark sight of the hospi­tal bed. Harry Where is she? Where’s Kate? Sep­tima Ssshh, Harry. Kate is not here. Harry What have you done with her, what have you done with Kate?

Beats his fists on the white cov­er­let.

Sep­tima Sssh, I said. Pause. Harry con­tin­ues to beat. Any­way, which Kate do you have in mind? You were mar­ried to three peo­ple called Cather­ine. You must re­mem­ber that. Harry My Kate. My lit­tle Kate, my sweetie. Sep­tima That’s def­i­nitely not that stuck-up Hab­s­burg bitch, so proud of her nephew the Em­peror, on and on and on about him un­til we could all scream. Harry sud­denly looks puz­zled. But you were too young... Sep­tima My Mum told me. Changes the sub­ject. It’s not the old nurse ei­ther,

is it, Katie Parr? How could she have let you get into this state? Just as well she died be­fore you did. It must be the lit­tle whore Katie Howard. Enough of that – and her. Harry Be­gins again. I want Kate. Then changes tune. I want An­nie. Where is she? My sweet lit­tle Nan – she’s the one I loved. Such fun – I was never too ex­hausted. Sep­tima Jeal­ously: You mean that fear­ful Ger­man An­nie. You told me that you could never do it with her – so you threw her out for be­ing too ugly. You said you were al­ways too ex­hausted. Harry More beat­ing of fists. No. I mean An­nie, my sweet lit­tle Nan Bo­leyn. Her sis­ter was not half bad but An­nie was ter­rific, the best I ever had. Sep­tima She slept with her brother – among oth­ers. So you got rid of her. Vi­ciously: You had her ex­e­cuted, ac­tu­ally.

Harry Vaguely: I don’t re­mem­ber any of that. I’m a life­long op­po­nent of cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment – every­one knows that – ex­cept, of course, for rea­sons of dire ne­ces­sity, rea­sons of state... I’m a gen­uine, heart­felt lib­eral. Ex­cept for rea­sons of state… Voice trails away.

Sep­tima There, there. Think how much you loved your sweet Jane, the mother of lit­tle Ed­die.

Harry She wasn’t much fun. Now An­nie, lit­tle Nan Bo­leyn...

Sep­tima Who only gave you a daugh­ter, Betsy, that tire­some red-haired child, not pretty enough to get a proper hus­band. She’ll re­main a spin­ster, I’ll bet you. At least Span­ish Molly keeps her mouth shut.

Harry To her quite clearly: An­nie, do you know, some­times I wish I could just die in your arms, just af­ter... you know…

Courtier steps for­ward from the shad­ows. He makes a sign to Sep­tima.

Courtier A good note to end on.

Dark­ness falls on stage, as the crim­son vel­vet cur­tains fall and hide the bed. When the light goes up, it is in­vis­i­ble.

Sep­tima De­claims: I did it for all us women. And es­pe­cially for the other six. I did it to make all women free, es­pe­cially wives.

Courtier Now that you are free, along with all other women, may I have the hon­our of be­ing your sec­ond hus­band? Sep­tima Looks amused. Oh no, dar­ling. Let’s not rush into things. I’ve booked you for my sev­enth. Courtier Your sev­enth hus­band?

Sep­tima Still amused. Cer­tainly not. I had quite enough of be­ing a wo­man be­ing mar­ried to Harry the Eighth; so I had my­self trans­formed into a man by the doc­tor. Why don’t you make a move the other way? You will be my sev­enth wife.

Molly Stu­art and Betsy Tu­dor

Cast Molly Stu­art Aka Mary, Queen of Scots Tall, mid­dle-aged, beau­ti­ful. Betsy Tu­dor Queen of Eng­land, aka El­iz­a­beth I. Mid­dle-aged wo­man, shorter, flam­ing red hair.

Scene Among clouds

Molly and Betsy dressed as school­girls, dart­ing about, teas­ing and dar­ing each other.

Molly Yah, gin­ger. Betsy Yah, bean­pole. Molly Yah, Vir­gin. Betsy That’s not fair. Molly Why not?

Betsy I thought we agreed not to talk about sex.

Molly That’s be­cause you never did it. Yah, Vir­gin, Vir­gin Queen.

Betsy Of course I did it. Bobby Le­ices­ter – he was great. The French prince – wow! That silly Es­sex boy…

Molly Then why did you say we shouldn’t talk about it…

Betsy Air­ily: Oh, I thought you might be em­bar­rassed.

Molly Em­bar­rassed, moi? I was a femme fa­tale. Every­one knows that. You can hardly blame me: Darn­ley was a wimp.

Betsy No, I was think­ing about all that

busi­ness with the Cas­ket Twit­ters, Jimmy Both­well, all the stuff in the Daily Mail.

Molly Nostal­gi­cally: Ah, Jimmy Both­well – that doesn’t count. He was what they used to call Rough Trade be­fore it was made gen­der neu­tral, which spoilt ev­ery­thing. All the same, I re­mem­ber Dun­bar, that cas­tle... Hastily: He car­ried me off by the way, ab­so­lutely no con­sen­sual sex. Betsy While we’re on the sub­ject of your hus­bands, how about killing the first one, how about killing Darn­ley? You can’t kill a man for be­ing a wimp. And poor lit­tle Rizzio – you can’t kill a man for be­ing a sec­ond-rate mu­si­cian ei­ther. Molly Betsy Tu­dor! How dare you raise the sub­ject of killing, when, as all the world knows, YOU killed ME!

Clouds blacken and scene goes dark. When the clouds light up, both women are dressed iden­ti­cally as queens. Betsy You’re quite sure, Molly dar­ling, that we want to take part in this Rein­car­na­tion Pro­gramme? Think of the sort of peo­ple one might come across. And worse still, find one­self BE­ING.

Molly Oh dar­ling, I don’t think you need worry about that. Didn’t I tell you – I’ve ar­ranged a straight swap? You will come back as Queen of Scot­land and I will come back as Queen of Eng­land. We’re go­ing to re­run the whole thing.

Betsy Uncer­tainly: El­iz­a­beth, Queen of Scots, sounds good... just one lit­tle de­tail, dar­ling. You’re al­ways so wise about this kind of thing, now we’ve re­ally got to be friends in the clouds. You know what they used to say about the Vir­gin Queen and all that rub­bish. Well, ac­tu­ally, it wasn’t rub­bish. It was true. You were right; I never did do it. So could you per­haps ex­plain it all to me. Be­cause I might not get away with the rub­bish sec­ond time round. Molly Oh sure. Aside. Mary, Queen of Eng­land! Just what I’ve al­ways wanted. And this time, I might have to get rid of her if she proved a nui­sance, as the Scots so of­ten do. Af­ter all, as she pointed out, I’ve got a cer­tain ex­pe­ri­ence in that di­rec­tion. Now talk­ing to her. Dar­ling Betsy, I’ll do any­thing for you. But you know what they al­ways say, bet­ter show than tell. So I won­der what hap­pened to Jimmy Both­well...

First there were six: (top) Cather­ine of Aragon, di­vorced; Anne Bo­leyn, be­headed; Jane Sey­mour, died; (below) Anne of Cleves, di­vorced; Cather­ine Howard, be­headed; Cather­ine Parr, sur­vived

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