A Torn Cloth of Gold
a Tudor Romancelet based upon the bare genealogical facts of one of my ancestors chosen at random.
John Clere; of Dedham, Essex, England; b. 1492, d. 1538, wife- June
Source: Sandra J. Miner, Leland Family @2000
A Torn Cloth of Gold
“Monsieur! You are not ill? The storm has everyone else aboard, eh, how you say, il vomite? You Englishmen may be great drinkers, but sailors? Not so much.”
“I was born to be a sailor!” exclaimed the young man standing at the prow of his Excellency the Bishop of Dedham’s transport ship, which was plowing its heavily laden way through the storm-tossed English Channel towards Dover.
“Then perhaps we’ll share a bottle of my country’s finest wine to ease the crossing.” The Frenchman, short and light in stature, his cloak tightly wrapped against the wind and pelting rain, produced a large and open earthen bottle wrapped in flaxen twine and silver thread.
“I stole it from the gifts we’re bringing for your Bishop.” The Frenchman flashed a quick, sly smile from underneath his hood. “I’m sure our Lord won’t mind.”
The Englishman, a simply dressed yeoman from the Bishop’s lands in Dedham, stood with the cloak of his own hood thrown back, his black hair blowing in the wind. Letting loose the rail, the young yeoman, firm and energetic in his mid-twenties, fearless in the face of nature’s bluster, welcomed his new French friend and his expensively wrapped bottle of wine.
“Our Lord is loving, Our Lord is kind. Forgiveness is Our Lord!” He cried lustily, in the manner of the more alcoholically ecstatic priests and friars of both their countries. “My name is John Clere.”
“Ah! Clere. Like your eyes. They are as blue as the ocean. You say you were born to be a sailor?”
“Born in 1492,” John Clere replied, “When Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
“Ah! A poet as well!” The Frenchman flashed another quick smile, more satirical than sly this time. “And have you often been to sea?”
The little Frenchman peered at John Clere from beneath the corner of the tightly drawn hood of his cloak. The young man’s face was square and bold, his expression bright and excited as he leaned into the storm. Salty spray dripped from his unflinchingly high brow, covered his slightly flared cheekbones, ran down the straight, narrow bone to the slightly cleft bulb of his nose, coated his full, firm lips, gathering at last upon the sturdy chin that formed the anchor to his wide and hopeful face.
“This is but my second voyage. The first was just this spring, to France, for this very festival of the Field of the Cloth of Gold. My Bishop attended King Henry in his diplomacy. I attended the Bishop’s attendants. And you? You seem at ease at sea.”
“I am at ease with adventure, and this is an adventure! I attend my Lord in his attendance upon your Bishop. A whole year I am to spend in England. A whole year before I see again my well-loved native land. What am I to do?”
The Frenchman smiled again, this time in open friendship. “Like yours, my name is Jean, pronounced in the French manner, of course.”
“The French manner! Are you certain that there is only one? I have spent a season being entertained in the French Manner, and never twice was the protocol the same!”
“You speak of French diplomats?”
“No,” John Clere laughed, “I speak of French women!”
Jean joined in laughing, and together they finished the bottle of wine.
“It seems a shame to throw away this fine bottle just because the wine is done,” he murmured, eyeing the silver threads wrapped among the flaxen twine.
“Now you’re speaking of French women!” John shouted above the rising wind. “Oh, that I could bring that bottle home and fill it up again!”
“Monsieur! The wine has loosed a naughty tongue, and maybe yet a secret tale. Am I to understand you took a lover from my country?”
“I would have you understand I fell in love!”
“And yet you have left her behind. How sad.” Jean lowered his face, coughed to clear a sudden catch in his voice, and began to worry at the silver threads around the empty bottle.
“It is sad.” John agreed, turning to stare at the foaming water at the bow. “I am brokenhearted.”
“Truly? I had not thought Englishmen so sensitive. More the marauding invader type.” Jean laughed, but stopped when the young Englishman turned to him with salty tears joining the sea spray upon his cheeks. “Pardon me, I don’t mean to make fun. You loved her, truly?”
“Loved her? I love her still. We shall meet again, I swear it.” John looked at Jean, challenging him to disagree. Jean returned the gaze, staring the distraught young lover in the eye for the first time, noting the pain burning through even the effects of the wine. A small empathetic tear formed at the corner of Jean’s own eye, even as a coy smile toyed with the edges of his small, finely formed lips.
“We shall meet again, as well, mon ami. I offer you a token to ensure it.” Jean held up two small hanks of silver thread taken from the wine bottle. “Tie one of these around my finger. I shall tie the other around yours. There may be enough silver in each to buy half a dram of wine. When we meet again, if our fortunes still be lively, we shall join these rings into a whole dram and share it ‘round a fire.”
“’Tis well done!” cried John, “We can truly say we tied one on. This must be the French manner, because my love left me a token as well, and I left one with her; tokens well beyond our threads of silver, tokens which, if discovered by any but our own true love would mean our death.”
“You have my interest, mon ami. I would hope as well, as we are pledged as friends, that I have your trust. Pray tell me, what of this woman, and what tokens have you pledged?” Jean placed a small, fine hand upon John’s chest, to look him in the eye again. John noticed that the Frenchman’s hood was slipping, that blonde hair was showing underneath.
“She was blonde, like you. Her hair was the color of the tents of cloth of gold our kings sat under on the field. Her heart was bold as any king’s, her manner more capable, her divine right more clear, her love more true. Our tokens are of the highest standard; not half a dram, nor half a tun, but half a living, and melded, some besides.”
“Were it discovered, it would mean your life?” Jean tossed the empty earthen bottle, stripped of its silver, and so now nothing but an empty earthen bottle, into the angry waves. “Why risk keeping it? The woman remains in France, you will never see her again.”
“Never to join this token with its mate would mean never to have lived.”
“Truly? She means more to you than life itself?” Jean’s face was fully exposed now, small and fine like his hands. His eyes, like John Clere’s own, shone a brilliant ocean blue. John, his head hung sobbing into his chest, did not see them, nor did he see the long golden strands of hair escaping Jean’s hood.
“Why do you doubt me? Must I show you the token?” John cried angrily, reaching beneath his cloak. “My love and I were bold. We slipped into the King’s Ceremonial Tent on that last night and cut ourselves a worthy piece of the very Cloth of Gold!”
Producing the scrap of cloth, John saw for the first time that his new friend was not a man, was instead a beautiful young maiden, was holding in her hand an identical scrap of the Cloth of Gold.
“Jean?” he faltered, eyes growing wide.
“No, you silly English goose,” she whispered huskily, pulling him close and kissing him in the French manner. “June. Your June. Forever your June.”