But he could not ride to Edinburgh without sleep, later he planned to rest for just three hours at Kilenworth. The irony of sleeping at Robert Dudley’s old home was not lost on Carey. Like the rest of the major figures of Elizabeth’s reign, Burley, Wasingham, Essex, Norfolk; Dudley had long since departed this world. Only Elizabeth herself managed to clutch on to life.
As he rode he knew he would see much of England -Elizabeth’s England. The England that for the last forty five years the Queen had kept safe from outside influence. She had defeated the marriage plans, the plots, the papists and the Spanish. The people loved her – Gloriana they called her and this was her golden age. Elizabeth seemed untouchable; immortal. At times it seemed that even God himself bowed to her command; the winds blew and they were scattered.
All until 2.30 on this gloomy morning, when Carey’s wife gently dropped the Queen’s ring down to him as he sat patiently on his horse under the window of the privy bedchamber. At that moment, as England slept, the world changed. A momentous event had occurred that even the old Queen with all her cunning and guile could not prevent. Gloriana was dead and there was no time to dally.
Never a particularly fertile family, the house of Tudor was no more, their blood line dried up. Sir Robert Cecil, Secretary of state, had been corresponding in secret code with King James of Scotland for months, preparing the ground for this day. Cecil had the public support of the council; James was the obvious heir, a protestant and, at last, the island would be united. But throughout the court there were conflicting views, other candidates were being considered. Plots were being hatched in dark corners. These would be dangerous times. But Carey took Cecil’s view and he was ambitious enough to put himself forward to the Secretary for this important task. He would be the man to inform James Stuart of his succession to the English Throne and in turn win great favour with the new king.
The time of the Tudors was over; now it was time for the House of Stuart to reign.
But there was no time to dally.
He had rushed to her chamber and begged with her to rest, but she continued to stand, gazing out of the window into nothingness. He pressed her to take to her bed, but like so many times previously she slapped him down.
“You would not take to your bed, if you saw what I saw in mine,” she barked.
Cecil had returned to his office and wrote letter after letter, his extensive network of spies were put on high alert. Information over the coming weeks would be worth more than gold and Cecil knew where to dig. His eyes began to ache from the strain but he did not relent in his writing. His power base, built on the rock that his father had set down before him, would not be crushed, he was determined of that. But he knew that Elizabeth’s time was short, even if she managed another of her mircalcorious recoveries, the Queen could not have long. When she did die, Cecil would be at his most vulnerable. The vultures would circle; but he would be ready. He laid down his quill, sealed the unsigned letter three times with wax and called in the final messenger. Cecil had long since learnt the value of not signing his name, a valuable skill his father had taught him from an early age. His whispered his instructions and the messenger dressed in the Tudor livery left immediately and without question.
Finally after fourteen long hours on her feet the maids persuaded Elizabeth to sink into a pile of soft cushions arranged before the burning fire. But she refused all wine or food. Cecil was summoned again and once more she barked him down.
“Who is Queen in this land, pigmy?” She demanded.
It had been a long time since Elizabeth had used that word in conversation with him. She knew how it made him wince. She had learned to love the son of her most trusted adviser, in her final years she relied heavily on his judgement and his ability to work restlessly. However, when he first came to court she was not taken with him at all, his stature and disfigurement were not like the boyish good looks of her favourites. She took to calling him an elf at the council table and not even his father would dare to reproach her. But over time she came to appreciate his talents and when Burley died, she looked no further than his son to fill his shoes. It turned out that pigmy was the final word that his Mistress ever spoke to him.
Six hours later the maids carried the Queen to bed, her strength was now so diminished that she had not the will to protest. Her pigmy was summoned once more and this time he would not leave till it was almost over.
A day later with the senior nobles present Cecil clutched the hand of the dying Queen and asked her if she wished for James of Scotland to succeed her. There was no response from Elizabeth’s lips but Cecil arose and said in a soft voice that the Queen had squeezed his hand. It was enough for those present and Cecil left the chamber to prepare the declaration of King James of Scotland as King of England.
The ink was barely dry on the document when Cecil was summoned to the presence of his Queen for the final time. She had not issued the command of course, having slipped into a deep sleep. It would not be long now, she would soon join the father she idolised. The maids continued to fuss around her, but there was nothing anyone could do. Her breathing shallowed and finally it ceased altogether. Elizabeth Tudor had left her earthly kingdom. After a moment of collective silent prayer Cecil stepped forward and took the hand of the dead Queen and very gently slid the ring off her little finger. He pressed it to the wife of Robert Carey who immediately went to the window and dropped it into the waiting hands of her husband.
Cecil did not return to his office to write the next batch of correspondence. He did not leave the side of the Queen, the news of her death would not be able to be kept secret for long. But he needed a few hours grace to prepare the ground and fill the vacuum of power that was now left. Message after message left the Queen’s chamber. Outside the inner sanctum the court knew that something was amiss. The conspirators started to gather.
As Cecil looked down at the body of Elizabeth he knew that he could not yet rest. He had to one final task left to do and then he would wait, he would listen and the plotters would revel themselves. He took one final gaze at the old face that still held the signs of the beauty of her radiant youth and then turned and marched away.