The first of May arrived; and though destined to set in darkness and despair, it arose in sunshine and smiles.
All were astir at an early hour within the castle, and preparations were made for the approaching show. Lists were erected in the upper quadrangle, and the whole of the vast area was strewn with sand. In front of the royal lodgings was raised a gallery, the centre of which, being set apart for the queen and her dames, was covered with cloth of gold and crimson velvet, on which the royal arms were gorgeously emblazoned. The two wings were likewise richly decorated, and adorned with scutcheons and pennons, while from the battlements of the eastern side of the court were hung a couple of long flags.
As soon as these preparations were completed, a throng of pages, esquires, armourers, archers, and henchmen, entered it from the Norman gateway, and took up positions within the barriers, the space without the pales being kept by a double line of halberdiers. Next came the trumpeters, mounted on richly caparisoned horses, and having their clarions decorated with silken bandrols, fringed with gold. Stationing themselves at the principal entrance of the lists, they were speedily joined by the heralds, pursuivants, and other officers of the tilt-yard.
Presently afterwards, the Duke of Suffolk, who was appointed judge of the lists, appeared, and rode round the arena to see that all was in order. Apparently well satisfied with the survey, he dismounted, and proceeded to the gallery.
Meanwhile, the crowd within the court was increased by a great influx of the different members of the household, amongst whom were Shoreditch, Paddington, and Hector Cutbeard.
"Marry, this promises to be a splendid sight!" said the clerk of the kitchen; "the king will, no doubt, do his devoir gallantly for the sake of the bright eyes that will look upon him."
"You mean the queen's, of course? "said Shoreditch.
"I mean hers who may be queen," replied Cutbeard; "Mistress Jane Seymour."
"May be queen!" exclaimed Shoreditch. "You surely do not think the king will divorce his present consort?"
"Stranger things have happened," replied Cutbeard significantly. "If I am not greatly out of my reckoning," he added, " these are the last jousts Queen Anne will behold."
"The saints forefend!" cried Shoreditch; "what reason have you for thinking so?"
"That I may not declare," replied Cutbeard; "but before the jousts are over you will see whether I have been rightly informed or not."
"Hush!" exclaimed Shoreditch."There is a tall monk eyeing us strangely; and I am not certain that he has not overheard what you have said."
"He is welcome to the intelligence," replied Cutbeard; "the end will prove its truth."
Though this was uttered in a confident tone, he nevertheless glanced with some misgiving at the monk, who stood behind Paddington. The object of the investigation was a very tall man, with a cowl drawn over his brow. He had a ragged black beard, fierce dark eyes, and a complexion like bronze. Seeing Cutboard's glance anxiously fixed upon him, he advanced towards him, and said in a low tone -
"You have nothing to fear from me; but talk not so loud if you value your head."
"So saying he proceeded to another part of the lists.
"Who is that tall monk?" asked Paddington.
"Devil knows!" answered Cutbeard; "I never saw him before. But he has a villainous cut-throat look."
Soon afterwards a flourish of trumpets was heard, and amid their joyous bruit the queen, sumptuously arrayed in cloth of gold and ermine, and having a small crown upon her brow, entered the gallery, and took her seat within it. Never had she looked more beautiful than on this fatal morning, and in the eyes of all the beholders she completely eclipsed her rival, Jane Seymour. The latter, who stood on her right hard, and was exquisitely attired, had a thoughtful and anxious air, as if some grave matter weighed upon her
While the queen's attendants were taking their places, Lord Rochford, accompanied by Sir Henry Norris and the Earls of Surrey and Essex, entered the lists. The four knights were completely armed, and mounted on powerful steeds barded with rich cloth of gold, embroidered with silver letters. Each had a great crimson plume in his helmet. They rode singly round the arena, and bowed as they passed the royal gallery, Norris bending almost to his saddle-bow while performing his salutation to the queen.
The field being thus taken by the challengers, who retired to the upper end of the court, a trumpet was thrice sounded by a herald, and an answer was immediately made by another herald stationed opposite Henry the Seventh's buildings. When the clamour ceased, the king fully armed, and followed by the Marquis of Dorset, Sir Thomas Wyat, and the Lord Clifford, rode into the lists.
Henry was equipped in a superb suit of armour, inlaid with gold, and having a breastplate of the globose form, then in vogue; his helmet was decorated with a large snow-white plume. The trappings of his steed were of crimson velvet, embroidered with the royal arms, and edged with great letters of massive gold bullion, full of pearls and precious stones. He was attended by a hundred gentlemen, armourers, and other officers, arrayed in white velvet.
Having ridden round the court like the others, and addressed his salutation exclusively to Jane Seymour, Henry took his station with his companions near the base of the Round Tower, the summit of which was covered with spectators, as were the towers and battlements around.
A trumpet was now sounded, and the king and the Lord Rochford having each taken a lance from his esquire, awaited the signal to start from the Duke of Suffolk, who was seated in the left wing of the royal gallery. It was not long delayed. As the clarion sounded clearly and loudly for the third time, he called out that the champions might go.