rose

What do you know, Joan Bulmer?
Written by and copyright Stephen Yellin

 

Characters (in order of appearance)

Joan Bulmer – late teens, homely in appearance. Friend and lady-in-waiting to Kitty.

Katherine “Kitty” Howard – Queen of England, married to Henry VIII. Also late teens. Currently under arrest for treason.

Sir Richard Rich – advisor to King Henry, head of the investigation into Katherine’s actions. Mid-30s. Warmly dressed, with a gold chain around his neck.

Time and Place

A prison cell in the Tower of London, November 1541. It is cold and dank.

Lights up on 2 separate
spotlights – Kitty standing to
the side, Joan seated center
stage. They are shivering,
frightened.

KITTY

Joan, you mustn’t tell.

Joan looks at Kitty, eyes filled with terror.

You mustn’t tell them anything. If they find out, they’ll kill us. They’ll kill us, you understand? Us.

JOAN

Kitty – I’m not – not going to –

Gulps.

Betray you. I couldn’t. We’ve known each other – God, I’d rather lose half of myself first.

Looks around her, shivers.

This cell – is this where you are now? Or something like it?

KITTY

Mine is worse – there’s more space. Nothing but a void.

JOAN

Are we going to die in the Tower? I don’t want to die –

KITTY

Nor do I. And if we’re strong, we won’t. They need a confession – remember that. Just stick to the story –

Sound of keys rattling, of a door
being unlatched.

JOAN

They’re coming. Oh God –

KITTY

Don’t be afraid – please!

Spotlight on Kitty dims. Lights up
on Joan’s cell. It has a table, another
chair, and a small cot.

Enter Rich at a deliberate pace, like
a cat confident of catching the
mouse. He carries a small satchel
containing paper, pen, ink and a pair
of thumbscrews (or similar torture
device)

JOAN

…Sir?

Silence. Rich slowly places paper,
pen and ink on table, keeping eyes
on Joan at all times. He sits.

Are you here to…to question me?

RICH

Not at all. Merely here to take in the wretched smell of rusty chains and moldering stones. Of course I’m here to ask you questions. His Majesty’s council is convinced you have answers worth giving. 

JOAN

Answers to what?

RICH

Bring your chair over to me. If you want to live, that is.

Joan moves her chair to the table, sits opposite Rich.

You stand accused of treason, Miss Bulmer. Now, I’d rather not believe it’s true, since that would mean you would have to – well, die for it.

Leans in, menace in his voice.

As I see it, the only way you will die is if you don’t tell me the truth. You wouldn’t lie to me, would you?

JOAN

What do you want to know?

RICH

Good girl. That’s what I want to hear. Now to begin…

Starts writing.

“I, Sir Richard Rich, hereby ask certain questions of Miss Joan Bulmer, regarding the conduct of Queen Katherine, in re charge of treason.” You’ll need to answer some questions I’ve prepared in advance. Shall we begin?

Joan nods.

Kitty enters, sits on cot.

Rich never notices her presence or exchanges with Joan.

How long have you known Katherine Howard?

JOAN

We have been friends since – well, since she came to live at her grandmother’s dormitory with me.

Rich jots this down. Silence

I suppose she – she must have been 10 or so. She’s a year younger –

RICH

So 7 years. And you were her roommate at the dormitory?

Joan nods.

Have you ever met or heard of a man called Manox? Henry Manox?

Joan looks over to Kitty.

KITTY

You can talk about Manox – it’s not treason.

RICH

Miss Bulmer –

JOAN

Yes. Yes, I knew Henry Manox. He was our music teacher – Kitty’s and mine, I mean.

RICH

By “Kitty”…

JOAN

The Queen, I mean – forgive me, sir.

RICH

What was Manox’s relationship with – we’ll call her Kitty, for familiarity’s sake – with her?

JOAN

He…he wanted to sleep with her. She was only 13 at the time, he was older –

Rich jots this down as he speaks.

RICH

But not to marry her?

JOAN

I told him he couldn’t do that – she was far too above him in rank. He said “My intentions aren’t to marry her, wench. I just want to – “

Her voice drops to an embarrassed whisper.

“F*ck her”.

RICH

What did you say? Hmm?

JOAN

He wanted to f*ck her. To take her virginity.

RICH

We’ll just say he wanted her maidenhead.

A grim smile. He jots it down.

Did he – get – her maidenhead?

JOAN

No, sir. He tried for – well, about a year or so, but then he gave up. He left a month later.

KITTY

That’s good.

RICH

That’s what Mr. Manox claimed as well. Good. Now, Manox also claimed that he was replaced in Queen Kath – in Kitty’s affections, I mean – by a certain gentleman who paid visits to the dormitory fairly frequently.

JOAN

Many men did, sir –

RICH

And was one of them named Francis Dereham?

Joan looks to Kitty.

Miss Bulmer…

KITTY

There was nothing between us after I married the King. The rest is – we won’t die for it.

JOAN

But you promised him –

RICH

Joan Bulmer!

Joan snaps her head back to Rich. Kitty leans in, far more intently than before.

The wall, madam isn’t asking you questions. I am.

JOAN

I am sorry, my lord. Please continue.

RICH

Was one of the gentlemen who visited Kitty at her grandmother’s named Francis Dereham?

JOAN

Yes, he was.

RICH

Did he and Kitty know each other?

JOAN

Carnally?

RICH

I was curious about their shared love of gardening – yes, of course carnally.

JOAN

He had sex with her –

RICH

How many times?

JOAN

6 or 7.

RICH

Oddly specific of you.

JOAN

I was there. In the next bed over.

RICH

Ah.

Jots that down.

The dowager Duchess ordered the doors to the dormitory closed every night. How, then, did he get in?

JOAN

There was an entrance through the back – a little staircase, windy. She didn’t know about it. We left it unlocked –

RICH

We?

JOAN

The other girls and I.

RICH

Did Dereham visit often at night?

JOAN

As frequently as he ought to have.

RICH

Ought?

JOAN

They were married, my lord, so it made –

KITTY

Well done, Joan! Almost safe…

RICH

Married?! How do you know this?

JOAN

They had a ceremony in the Duchess’ chapel, the winter before she came here.  No priest, of course – just a solemn vow between them.

RICH

Yet still legal. Were there any witnesses to this?

JOAN

Myself and Mary Hall. Also Anne Carey.

Rich jots all this down.

RICH

The Council will have to reexamine those two – they didn’t mention this in their testimony.

KITTY

That’s what they get for tattling!

RICH

Now, Dereham left for Ireland a short time before Kitty moved to court to serve Anne of Cleves. Why did he do this if he was married?

JOAN

He was going to earn some income, sir, get some property there. He said he’d come back after that and claim Kitty publicly.

Rich jots this down, nodding as if satisfied.

KITTY

Because we were married, the King can’t kill me for adultery. Just stick to that and we’re free.

JOAN

Smiling for the first time.

I will.

RICH

Looking up.

I will -?

JOAN

I was talking to myself, my lord.

RICH

The Tower can do that to its prisoners.

JOAN

Do what, sir?

RICH

Make them go mad. Their minds wander, go over every little step they took, each little mistake they made, talking themselves into – but what do they know, Joan? For all they know, the people they talk to are real.

His tone is quite cheery.

Well, I believe that’s all I had to ask you. Thank you, Miss Bulmer.

Gets up to go, collecting the pen, ink and paper.

JOAN

I am glad I could help you. When might I be released?

RICH

Soon, I’m sure.

He is halfway out the door when…

Ah, yes – I forgot. My apologies, Miss Bulmer, but I forgot a question.

JOAN

Of course sir. Please, go ahead and ask.

Rich sits, takes out materials again (minus the thumbscrews).

RICH

Now, let’s see, what was it…? Ah, yes – when did Thomas Culpeper begin visiting the Queen at night?

KITTY

Oh God. Oh God, no –

JOAN

What – I’m, err – sir?

RICH

Measuring each word.

When did Thomas Culpeper begin visiting the Queen at night?

KITTY

Joan, say nothing, say you know nothing!

RICH

Are you listening to me, girl? I asked if you know when Culpeper started prowling her bedchamber at night.

JOAN

Sir, I…sir…

KITTY

Please.

Rich stands up, irritated to the point of anger.

RICH

Dereham told us about Culpeper, how he pushed him out of the way in the Queen’s affections. What did Culpeper do with that affection? What did he do with her?

JOAN

Kitty, I…Kitty…

Rich pulls out thumbscrews from the bag.

Oh God.

RICH

You’re not being cooperative, Miss Bulmer. I’m not gentle with traitors who aren’t cooperative, you hear?

Rich pulls Joan’s hand to table, opens the device, and places it on her thumb.

If you don’t know what this is, you will in a moment. When I start twisting the handle, you’ll feel a terrible pain shooting up your hand. That’s because all the bones in your thumb are being crushed, the fingernail being torn out – listen to me! This is what we call torture.

Joan, wild with terror, looks straight at Rich.

Kitty stands next to cot, helpless.

If you won’t tell about Culpeper, even after this, I have other methods. There’s a rack downstairs – we stretch you on it until you can never walk again. We can pull out your teeth one by one. Or I could kill William –

JOAN

Stop.

RICH

I know you’re fond of him. I also know he’s sitting in my house my right, under lock and key –

JOAN

Stop!

RICH

If need be, we’ll drag him in here and poke him with some irons. Red-hot ones, I mean. It’ll hurt a little, I imagine –

JOAN

Oh God, please stop –

RICH

Screaming.

What do you know, Joan Bulmer? What do you know?

JOAN

I’ll – I’ll tell you. Everything.

Rich takes the thumbscrews away, sits back down.

KITTY

Joan!

Running towards Joan.

Joan shoves her to the ground.

JOAN

I don’t have a choice.

KITTY

This will kill me – they’ll kill me for certain –

JOAN

What do you want to me to do? They know, Kitty, don’t you see? It’s all a game. What good is it if I suffer for nothing? When you’re going to die no matter what?

KITTY

Face to face.

Joan, please –

JOAN

If they don’t get it out of me, Thomas will talk. Or Mary, or Francis. They’ll figure it out. They may have figured it out already. I don’t want to die, you see? Not for this.

KITTY

I trusted you! I told you my secrets, shared my thoughts –

JOAN

How well I know. And now I have to tell him all about them.

KITTY

You might as well be my executioner.

Joan has no reply.

RICH

Having listened to Joan yelling towards the wall.

This place does make people talk. I was merely jesting, mind you.

Joan turns to Rich again.

KITTY

Joan…

JOAN

I am here, sir. What do you want to know about Kitty – the Queen – and Master Culpeper?

RICH

Very good. I knew you had some sense.

Kitty slinks off into the darkness as conversation continues.

When Master Culpeper visited the Queen –

JOAN

They would frequently make love, sir. Lady Rochford would guard the door. My job was to stand in the stairwell with a torch, to make sure no one was coming.

RICH

And were these trysts at Greenwich?

JOAN

No, sir. They also occurred on the King’s trip to the North – Lincoln, Pontefract and York.

RICH

This matches Lady Rochford’s testimony – before she went mad, that is.

Jots it all down.

Very good. Well, that finishes what I need to know. Thank you, Miss Bulmer for your time. I fear we may not meet again.

Collects his items and gets up to go.

JOAN

Why do you say that?

RICH

I don’t plan on being locked up in the Tower for the rest of my life.

Joan lets out a scream of horror, chases after Rich.

He swats her away, knocking her to the ground.

I promised you your life, you stupid girl. I never promised you freedom.

Rich exits, sound of keys rattling.

Joan lies on the ground, crying and wailing.

Slow blackout.

End