If you are an Aegean Wall Lizard and a viper gets your tail in its vice like grip, there is only one course of action.
Shed your tail, and skidaddle.
One must feel bereft without one’s tail. But when there’s a viper about you don’t mess about. Ditch the tail, reptile, and vamousse.
Which explains neatly why Cardinal Wolsey handed over a fabulous Thames-side palace, built in the latest classical style to the floorplan of a Renaissance cardinal’s palace, to bluff King Hal.
Because Hal was a viper.
He was as deadly as they come: one who wields absolute power and has the power to kill on a whim.
So: when he, or his actor equivalent, came walking through the gardens of Hampton Court Palace yesterday, my children – a son, a daughter and a niece: – deserted their picnic and fled.
They took one look at the vast monarch and shot off past the clipped yews and ornamental lawns to become specks on the horizon.
They have had some experience of the actor who plays Henry VIII.
On a school trip, Henry tried to seduce their blonde Disney-princess of a class teacher. The children did not approve. “Miss Rush already has a boyfriend,” protested Felix indignantly, “and anyway he’s far too old and fat for her.”
So there I was with a Marie-Celeste of a picnic, as Henry approached, eyeing ghost-spaces where children should be and me with my large vat of chopped fruit in my hand.
I recollect stuffing a lot of fruit into my mouth in a very short time as an emergency measure.
“You have a strange effect on children, My Lord. They appear to have all run away,” I remarked, as he strolled past.
He nodded slightly in acknowledgement, and enquired Tudorly after my health. I was as well as could be expected, I answered. Getting into a conversation with a monarch was not necessarily something I had bargained for. I stuffed a couple of melon pieces in to join the rest of the fruit.
“Are you fit?” asked Henry, which seemed rather a liberty. “I am,my Lord, ” I retorted robustly: “and yourself?”
Well, we all know the answer to that, don’t we? We recall those early suits of armour, six-foot three tall and with tidy waistline; and then remember tales of the four unfortunate men it took to lift his sedan chair towards the end.
The prospect of being a wife of his must have changed over time: his portly form less odious to prospective brides than his tendency to chop off their heads.
Before lunch we had walked through a series of portrait-stories, an exhibition about Henry’s early dashing feats on the field of battle. We admired the young blood who led England through a series of European squabbles with Katherine of Aragon at his side.
But his personal life was a mess everyone else must clear up, starting with Anne Boleyn and her pretty head.
Henry The Actor strolled on, and away from me and the deserted picnic, and was spotted by Felix later off-shift in the cafe. Our day was full and fabulous: but I had one last sight to see before we trailed home.
When he executed Anne on the lawns of the Tower of London he had his masons remove any trace of her. All the lavish monograms interlinking his initials and hers were removed.
But it was a rush job.
He missed one, and I have never seen it until yesterday. But there it was: a testament to a viper who did not have an eye for detail. Anne and Henry, tied together with a lover’s knot, 476 years after the mother of Queen Elizabeth I was executed.
Even vipers die.
And it is good to see that this one missed a bit.