BEYOND THE PALE
Sir Robert Cecil, Secretary of State
Cecil arranged a quiet dinner to be held at Theobalds, away from London, rather than hold this meeting too close to the court. It is not a festival or party, simply a satisfactory, unremarkable dinner, one of many he hosts. Banquets and feasts are reserved for foreign dignitaries and occasionally the Queen herself. The Queen celebrates the Christmas season at Whitehall. But today, he and his colleagues must be shielded from prying eyes, especially the Queen’s.
Theobalds, his house, formerly his father’s house, is richly fashioned for the gods. In fact, on many occasions he themes his dinners in Greek or Roman bacchanalia, with buffets of Italian wines, cheeses, wild water fowl and fish shipped in ice from the Ligurian Sea. Exotic barefoot dancers clad in loin cloths wave streaming garlands of flowers with laurel leaf wreaths woven into their hair. They dance to ancient flutes, bare-chested and wild. Unless, of course, his guests are Puritans. On those occasions, he provides the godly with sombre sermons and penitent hymns. It is good for those less fortunate to see his wealth and prosperity as an example to set for their own ambitions. They too can amass great riches if they work hard enough and pray enough, even if they are second sons, small and hump-backed.
Only those whose desires equal his sit at his table: Ralegh, Lord Cobham, Attorney General Coke, Grey, and Lord Admiral Howard. Look how they devour their food, the ways they use their knives and spoons. Are they curious how the peacock was prepared or how it was slaughtered? Do they care whether animals have souls?
Cobham spears a hefty lump of boar from the platter in the centre of the table and stuffs it into his mouth, continuing to speak whilst chewing. ‘If he manages to convince the King of Scots to send troops, Essex will take over the government for James or else take the throne for himself. Either way, we’ll be out.'
Ralegh tosses his knife on the table and wipes his mouth and beard with the back of his hand. ‘But the earl’s gone mad. He’s lost his reason.’
Cecil smiles at Ralegh’s familiar bluntness. ‘Yes, apparently he has.’
Ralegh slaps the palm of his hand on the table which makes a loud bang and points his finger toward him. ‘That makes him dangerous. His madness, combined with his power of persuasion, it’s an annoying gift Essex has. That crazy earl could, I tell you, he could very well convince King James to send an army. Then what do you propose we do, Cecil? King James hates you because of how your father Burghley entrapped his mother, Mary of Scots in the Babington plot and killed her off. If James takes the throne with Essex’s help, where does that leave us? You’re the leader here, so I ask you. What should we do if that were to happen?’
He states as simply as he can. Simple is always best. ‘We prevent it.’