This story is set on Founders Day which is held in September every year in the Parish Church – now called the Croydon Minster———————————————————————–‘Yes the choir are wearing veils Serena, it’s not funny so you can stop nudging your friends, and if you snigger one more time you can have a detention. Your choice!’ Hissed Miss Armitage down the pew at the giggling group of third years.
Karen was sitting in the Parish church on Founder’s Day and had just been wondering whose bright idea it had been to put the orchestra in the gap between the choir stalls when they knew the Archbishop wanted to walk through that way after he had given his address. It might have looked good on paper for him to sweep out past the high altar and into the vestry, but it meant all the girls on the end of the rows had to stand up and stack their chairs ‘with the minimum of fuss’ which meant in reality that no-one could hear the choir singing over the sound of scraping chairs and dropped cellos.
They had all met the Archbishop of Canterbury when he was invited to speak at the annual founder’s day service for Old Palace – renewing the centuries old relationship between the palace and its former owners. He was such a sweet man with a gentle manner and a word or smile for everyone.
As she watched him leave and they stood to sing the final song together her mind wandered to the research she had been doing into one of the former Archbishops during the time of Elizabeth I. The Queen had appointed her mother’s chaplain Matthew Parker to be spiritual leader of the Church of England – the church that her father had so famously declared himself as head of, partly in order to marry her mother.
Parker was the subject of a story that Karen had found from latter part of 1573 – partly in court records and also in some excerpts from letters and a diary preserved from the time. She already knew from her research that he was a reluctant Archbishop – having hoped to return to his studies when Elizabeth came to the throne. Unusually for those times he had also been married: to a remarkable woman called Margaret who appeared to have won the queen round from her initial belief that all clergy should remain celibate.
He appeared to have earned the respect of his peers and was well-educated and admired. But then she had found a bit in the diary suggesting that he had a secret shared with one of the women who worked at the palace. Was there more to him than people had first thought?
First of all there was an entry in the journal of Kathryn Fettiman – one of two sisters that she had been looking into in 1573. It was a bit of gossip she’d been told by her sister who had heard it from another woman, who’d got it from a groom that he had it on good authority that one of the ladies of the court was misbehaving outrageously every evening in the stables.
Then there were a couple of diary entries by a woman called Mary Parker who Karen had found out quite a bit about – she was a sweet-natured woman who always tried to look after new members of the household and show them the ropes. There were lots of anecdotes about how kind she was, and in her diary she mentioned how thrilled she was by all the gifts she had got from them. She also seemed to be a fount of knowledge of all that was going on at court – who was walking out with whom, who was doing things they shouldn’t. Karen wished she could have met her, she sounded like a kindred spirit!
‘I have discovered something quite scandalous!’ said the diary entry for October 23rd 1573. ‘Young Miss Eleanor is regularly to be found with her skirts over her head in the stables – with a boy who can be heard making noises usually only heard when a mare is covered!’ Karen had laughed at that – some of the girls who thought History was boring would love those kind of juicy details, but on second thoughts maybe not, their raging hormones really didn’t need any encouragement.
Then there was another one later in 1574 hinting that Eleanor had moved on from getting her jollies with lowly grooms and soldiers.
‘I have discovered that the snitch window in the chapel where the archbishop gives his blessing is an excellent place to listen and learn completely unobserved. I heard a curious conversation between the Archbishop and Little Miss Trollop. As I entered silently and crouched by the window, he was saying: “Eleanor how could you have been so reckless? You said you knew how to prevent such things.”
“You promised you would help me – you can’t let me down Matthew!” ‘Well, well! As I smiled knowingly to myself, he then told her to speak to no-one else and promised that he would take care of her. Very interesting Your Grace – I may turn that information to my advantage.’
That didn’t sound like Mary. She was always so gentle and caring; and the gossip was usually just a bit naughty – not malicious; Karen was surprised. So the Archbishop had got someone in the family way – and didn’t seem too keen to do the decent thing.
Then she had uncovered a letter from Archbishop Parker to the master of his old college at Cambridge who was obviously a trusted friend. Maybe here she would find out what he intended to do and perhaps learn how the problem was solved. After about half a page asking after his friend’s frail bones and thanking him for the gift of books – he changed the subject abruptly:
‘My friend I fear you are the only person I can share this burden with. It is in these moments I confess that I miss my beloved Margaret more than ever. Her wisdom and common sense would have comforted me at this time. It seems so long ago that we were young men at Cambridge but they are ties that bind.
The daughter of our dear friend George finds herself in the worst kind of trouble. I promised him before he died that I would watch over her; and I fear I have been found wanting. Young people are a mystery to me – they never listen to the counsel of those who are wiser, eternally believing they know best.’
Karen didn’t know the man obviously, but she found herself quite relieved that he wasn’t the nasty piece of work that she had begun to think. He was trying to watch out for the precious only daughter of an old university friend. Mary had only heard half the conversation and got the wrong idea.
The last document she’d unearthed was part of a letter from the younger sister Ellen Fettiman to Kate, who had recently left the court in preparation to her marriage to a French diplomat.
‘…still my precious girl, enough about Henri and your forthcoming wedding, I must finish soon if this letter is to go with the dispatches to Portsmouth. You won’t have heard our little bit of gossip. Mary tried to blackmail the Archbishop! She thought she had discovered that it was him who was the father of Lady Eleanor’s baby, you remember what we all used to think about her? Well Mary tried to convince him to pay for her silence! All her lies and duplicity were discovered. I had my suspicions that she was still stealing and you know how she listens at doors – but I had hoped it was just harmless fun. Lady Anne is considering what she must do – she’s inclined to clemency, but I think she has no choice but to dismiss Mary – the Queen cannot have anyone in her service that could prove so untrustworthy. A sad ending my love, I look forward to happier days when I attend your wedding. Every blessing my sweet Kat, I miss you more than you can imagine.’
Things really hadn’t been as she’d first thought after all. At least she could tick off the remaining few names on her list. She felt she knew them all so well now.
Karen and the girls queued up to leave the Parish church and then they walked the short distance through the gardens to the connecting gate that they used to get back into school. She looked up at the walls of the building she had grown to love. It was hard to believe so much had happened behind those ancient bricks.