It had been simple, back then, when all eyes shone with approval; when she was the young bride of the Queen’s Champion, Sir Philip Sidney. This daughter of the ‘Sworn’, – the inner cabal of those who had vowed to lay down their lives, without question, in the defence of their embattled queen – could do no wrong.
He should be here, she thought, fighting back the mist that threatened to undo the mask of determined perfection she wore. Philip, help me…use that old magic to help me from beyond your premature grave, my love… You knew her so well.
Her shoulders dropped at the uselessness of the thought. Philip Sydney, Queen’s Champion, and the monarch’s most intellectual challenger, had died in battle four years ago – his life wasted in a minor skirmish – and Frances had had scant time to grow into the might of his intellect, his inner nobility, nor the ancient and magical arts he practiced alongside his renowned poetry.
The Queen noticed the shift in her mood, indicated by a slight shift in her stance. How does she do that? Frances thought, turning to nod, subtly, her only acknowledgement to the women at whose feet she had learned the craft of living with royalty. Nothing less than complete honesty of gesture would be tolerated… especially now…
What is she doing with us? thought Frances. Here in this chamber, carefully crafted for this, and possibly only this, occasion. She thought of her father, dying only an hour’s ride away from NonSuch – lying in his bed, untended. Father, forgive me, she thought. I had no choice but to obey her. You, above all men, would understand that!
And he would, she knew; would shine with pride that the line of his blood continued to defend the woman they had secretly called The Birth. She thought she knew what that meant, but neither William Cecil, Queen’s first minister and her father’s constant companion in their secret dealings, nor her irascible parent would ever say…
She looked around the marble floor, with its stark black and white squares – pure in its pristine readiness – and suppressed a shudder. ‘A welcome’ it said in the private invitation, a ‘homecoming for Dr Dee’, former astrologer to Her Grace, mathematician, and cartographer of maps now used to guide the expanding Navy: the glorious English navy that had defeated the mighty Spanish Armada, giving Elizabeth’s England legendary status.
She has nothing to prove! she thought. Why this. Why now?
On the far side of the dais, beyond the Queen, Robert Cecil shuffled from foot to foot in the way that eased the pressure on his deformed spine. The shoes he had inherited were too big for him, Frances thought, with a smile, and he does not trust women…Whereas his illustrious father, William, had befriended and adored the company of many intelligent women, learning, perhaps, from his lifelong service with the Queen.
She let her eyes glance at the woman beside her. I know… she thought, quietly, I know the arrangement you came to with his father: take the blame, be scolded, humiliated, be driven out of office for my sake; and, in return, I will protect your estate, and your capable son may inherit your role…
No-one dared speak of the death, the Scottish Queen. For a queen to kill a queen meant that queens could be killed–and Elizabeth was a queen, too. So, someone else, someone beyond corruption, had to trigger that blow, and then the screaming Queen of England would beat her breast at the injustice of a killed queen under her protection – plotter or no.
Her eyes would betray her, so she sought softer gazes in the faces turned to the royal party. Robert my love, her heart whispered to the young Second Earl of Essex, standing, calm and still, to her left. This will be hard. Lend me your strength… But, behind the comfort, darker emotions boiled. His furtive eyes never left her soft face as she read his look.. She will rage at us, but love is an anointing of freedom.
More than that – and she wondered if he knew – the very blood that now pulsed with his passion carried the seeds of a line that would engender more than rage in the Queen. in fact, if known, it might be the gravest danger she had ever faced.
The solid oak door to the Chamber of Questioning opened and three people entered. The tall man in the front of the party was familiar and a friend: Sir Walter Raleigh filled a room with his presence.
Frances could feel the Queen’s eyes appraising her former beau. She dared not check, but could sense the smile with which the royal eyes appraised him: beyond her reach, now; belonging to another.
But the Queen did not know that Essex was, too…
The two men Raleigh was escorting into the chamber were less familiar. With a shock, she realised the one on her right was Dr John Dee… How he had aged! She would not have known that his bent figure had been the glorious champion of knowledge of her youth. What had befallen him to reduce the man of learning to this state?
Welcome him home? I don’t think so, my Queen!
The other man wore a simple robe. Its colour triggered the inner call to danger that her father had forced her to learn at his side. With a disguised gesture, she laid her hand over the concealed slit in her robe and felt for the presence of the ever-present dagger.
She had killed two men with it. The first by a dark London dock when a man attempted to rob her. The other, in the presence of her father, an act of execution forced by him in, a rite of passage, as the paralysing illness began to take his strength.
Her eyes, wise and deadly as those of a serpent, fixed themselves on the Jesuit cross hanging around the stranger’s neck…
In our five-act mystical story, when the company arrives at Elizabeth’s NonSuch palace, they are shown into a newly-prepared room, one in which a deadly search for the truths of the age will be played out on many levels: intellectual, emotional, religious and magical. Outside of the Queen’s own mind, no-one else in the room is aware of what is to follow.
What confronts the participants in the centre of the space is a huge game board consisting of black and white squares…
Each side of the board has its own symbolism and its own champion. In our five-act magical drama, Frances Walsingham has a very special relationship with the Queen, but also with several of the other figures in the Court. Four years after the death of her beloved husband, Sir Philip Sidney, she has begun a relationship with the Queen’s current favourite, the Second Earl of Essex – Robert Devereux, whose name is to become infamous. Can Walsingham’s daughter maintain her objective judgement?
The Silent Eye’s spring workshop, April 2018 is: “The Jewel in the Claw’. The jewel is the emerging spirit of humanism and tolerance that Elizabeth, the self-styled virgin-queen, engendered; the claw is the nature of the forces of ignorance that still plague us in the twenty-first century every bit as much as they did in 1588, the year that the mighty Spanish Armada was defeated by a combination of English naval courage and our equally fabled weather; and Elizabeth I finally achieved a degree of security.
The Silent Eye has produced dramatic mystical workshops since its inception in 2013, but this is a break from tradition, and will stick closely to the formula of an actual Elizabethan production, letting the acts of the play tell the deeper story. There is no formal audience, of course. We, the players, play to each other, and in doing so invoke the desired depth of psychological and spiritual interaction.
If you’ve never been to such an event before, don’t be over-faced by this heady agenda. There are always new people joining us, and we take great care to ensure they are comfortable. We do not expect our ‘actors’ to learn their lines! We all read from scripts – as though doing a final rehearsal, but the atmosphere is truly electric and you will find yourself working to bring your character to the greatest life you can give them! You will also find they stay with you for years afterwards…
Above all else it is always fun; and every year, come the Sunday farewell lunch, those attending do not want to go home and end that living link with a body of experience and aspiration that they have helped create…
We can honestly say that the workshops become a living thing, formed and sustained in the minds and hearts of those attending. Come and join our ‘merry band’ and you’ll want to come back.
Places are still available for ‘The Jewel in the Claw’. 20-22 April, 2018. The average price is approximately £250, fully inclusive of all meals and accommodation. You will struggle to find a better value weekend, anywhere.
The weekend workshop will be held at the lovely Nightingale Centre, Great Hucklow, near Buxton, in the heart of the Derbyshire Dales at a wonderful time of year – the spring.
You can download the pricing and booking form here:
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For more information email us on email@example.com
Banner Image: Composite of original artwork by the author plus a portrait of Frances Walsingham, courtesy of Wikipedia, CC by 3.0, Public Domain.
Images in background montages by the author – own photography.
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost supervised correspondence courses.
His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com