Ambassadors: the secret of the green curtain

That’s you, the year is 1533 and you are 29. Your name is Jean de Dinteville. 

Your father is a landlord, noble, but not the prince kind of noble. Your family’s motto is “Memento mori” and it is as much a symbol of the transience of life, as it is an admonition against over-reliance on royal favour. This brooch in the form of a skull on your beret is a constant reminder of who you are:

The king elevated you to the Order of St Michael, the group of 100 nobles (one hundred at any given time) who are loyal servants to the Crown. The medallion you proudly wear is the sign you are a member. 

You believe the king represents God on earth, and you are fiercely loyal to your Francis the First. Your elder brother is also a king’s ambassador, albeit at a place much better in terms of climate: he represents the French king at Papal court in Rome.

You just came to London, and this is your second visit to England. Now is the month of April, and you can’t stop wondering how much everything has changed since you were here last time.

As anywhere across Europe, local courtiers do not like to talk to you, or rather they hate being seen talking to you. Ambassadors are regarded as part-time spies, and rightfully so. Fortunately, you’ve brought a very good cook with you, all the way from France, and great food is the best tongue-loosening recipe. You’ve learnt the English King has secretly married Anne Boleyn, against all the warnings from his closest advisors, and against the agreement that he himself reached with the king of France last winter! Your king promised to talk the Pope into dissolving the English king’s marriage, if Henry keeps the whole affair “under the rug” until Francis I meets the Pope. You had to arrange it all from London. Alas, you are afraid you might have failed without even trying: Henry VIII tied the knot with that pregnant Boleyn girl in January, weeks before you even arrived in London! Just for how long is this affair going to stay clandestine now?

Now it seems your elder brother will be negotiating a different deal with the Pope: France doesn’t side up with England against the Pope, and the Pope wouldn’t object to the French taking over Milan.

What is going to happen now? There are some people saying it’s been 1500 years since the Crucifixion, and the end of the world is coming. No, you don’t believe it. What you believe is that the Catholic church needs to be reformed. Not exchanged for Protestantism, but renovated, repainted, invigorated. For you, for England, for France – everything hangs in a very delicate balance right now. Or imbalance. Validity of Henry’s marriage to his Spanish wife is still being debated. The Pope has not come to a decision. You can’t stop thinking what this decision is going to be, and how the world would change afterwards.

If Pope’s decision is a Yes: Spain will have the Pope by the balls, and it would mean bad news for France, because there’ll be no going into Italy after that. The Spanish king would not want a friend of England to get stronger.

If it is a No: England would go against the Pope openly and may even switch to Protestantism, even though they’ve been hanging Protestants lately. If England and France join forces against the Pope, it would mean the end of Catholic France, and that’s unthinkable. So, will France have to sign up for a coalition with Spain? That’s bad, because Spain will be wrestling for domination, and – after their union with Portugal (through marriage, of course) they may succeed.

There are people at the English court who agree with your views and share your fears. Thomas More – formerly, a second man of importance in England, and now a resigned philosopher, and a few former church officials who are obviously not in favour today. But these people have no influence and no information about the current state of affairs: they have been cut off.  

There’s no internet, telephone, or Skype. No newspapers either. News travel weeks and months. You don’t know how long you are going to stay in London. You are an ambassador, but there’s no permanent embassy. The concept of foreign relationships is not there yet. Marriage is still the most important diplomatic tool. And you pay for your own expenses.

Perhaps, the only good news is that your teenage friend, a bishop whom you met while staying in Paris, came to London! Someone you can trust. Someone, whose thinking is similar to yours.

For now, the world is at peace. England is still a Catholic country, still friends with France, still not at war with Spain or the Pope. You both know this peace is going to blow into everyone’s face any moment now.

You sit down, frown, and think.

a) You are welcome at Henry’s Court but you are getting no information there
b) The world you know today is going to end any moment now, and all the answers are in Rome (“God help you, my brother”)
c) You can’t make this spell of peace last, but you want to remember the last peaceful days of this century. You don’t know what fate or king have in store for you, but you want to look at yourself in the mirror and be proud of yourself. You also want your family to look at you as a rightful and deserving heir to your father’s title and lands.

So, what do you do to satisfy all those needs and wants that torment you?

Click on Page 3 to find out what a brilliant decision you are about to make.


  1. I haven’t had as much time looking at an artwork since my class in Humanities in college. Good Job!

    1. I wonder why I haven’t thanked you for this comment earlier. I am sorry. This is the kind of comment that is the highest praise and motivation for me to continue writing about art. Thank you!

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