This week I’m happy to share with you a chapter from a book written by Bonny Smith, called The Bakers Daughter. Honestly, when I started reading this, I was hooked, I love her style and how it truly feels like she gets into the head of the people in the story. If you’re interested in purchasing this book, or checking out more of Bonnys’ books, click here.
Come back Friday to read the second half!
A note from the author,
The Baker’s Daughter is about Queen Mary Tudor. The title comes from a broadsheet circulating London at the time of Mary’s betrothal to Philip of Spain. “The baker’s daughter in her russet gown, better than Queen Mary without her crown.” It was a cruel taunt meant to show the peoples’ displeasure with the idea of a Spanish Catholic king of England. Events proved them correct.
The Bakers Daughter
“Mary has ever been judged too harshly….” – Frederic Madden, “The Privy Purse Expenses of the Princess Mary”
New Hall, Essex, May 1533
The steady thunk-scrape, thunk-scrape of the hoes in the garden outside
her window resounded hollowly in the pit of Mary’s stomach. The sound seemed to
emphasize the pounding of her heartbeat in her ears. The room began to waiver
and spin; the letter from the Imperial ambassador fluttered to the floor
unheeded, like a wounded dove. I will not cry, she thought. What was it that her
mother had told her? Oh, yes…it was that tears weakened one, and right now, she
needed all her strength. She was alone in the room but still she battled for
calm, and fought back the tears.
Then just as suddenly as they had come upon her, the tears ceased. Mary straightened her back, an unconscious movement she made when she was resolved about something. It was a subtle gesture, but one that did not escape the notice of those who knew her well. She bent to retrieve the letter from the floor, eyeing it distastefully. For on its buff pages the black ink made letters, made words, which declared that she was a princess no more, words that styled her a bastard, with the full approval of, indeed, at the instigation of, her own father and sovereign lord. It was incredible. But was it really? Hadn’t the past six years been like something out of a nightmare? This was but the logical result of all that had gone before.
What, she wondered, had Pope Clement been thinking of, confirming that pathetic lickspittle, Thomas Cranmer, to the See of Canterbury? How could he fail to know that Cranmer was her father’s creature, and that once given the power of the premier prelate in England, he would nullify forthwith the king’s marriage to her mother and ratify the sham, secret marriage that her father had made with Anne Boleyn? For that matter, what in the name of Saint Michael and all His angels had God Himself been thinking of to allow such a thing? Mary gasped aloud at the blasphemy of such thoughts, and quickly crossed herself. See to what a sane person, a pious person, could be driven by the madness of this world!
And what had happened to force the issue? Mary shuddered at the thought of it, and all that the thought implied. Anne was pregnant with her father’s bastard…yes, his bastard, she thought, and the tears threatened again. Oh, to be sure, she had thus far led the life of a sheltered princess, but one would have had to be deaf, dumb and blind not to know what went on between men and women in a royal court, or anywhere for that matter. And the thought of her father, naked and sweating, grunting and pushing, atop that common whore was a thought that disgusted her beyond belief. And yet she could not banish the image of it from her mind. Another shudder racked her.
And now, that common whore was called Queen of England; at least her father had declared it so, and one must bend to that or die, it seemed. Mary glanced once again at the missive she held in her hand. This time she dashed it to the floor as if it had been a poisonous snake. She arose and began rapidly pacing the length of the room, another habit in which she indulged when she was troubled.
Anne was no more royal, she thought, than the common villeins who were tilling the soil outside her window! She stopped her pacing abruptly when she reached the end of the room, turned and sighed. She must be fair, she must be honest with herself, despite her loathing for the woman. Anne Boleyn had been gently, if not nobly born, and had been reared at the French royal court. Through her Mowbray ancestors, she could trace her descent from the Plantagenet line. But that did not, in fact, nothing would or ever could, make her royal. One had to be born royal, as she herself had been. Breeding, like truth, would out, and Anne’s unseemly behavior over the past six years had more than amply demonstrated to all and sundry her common blood.
Mary eyed Chapuys’ letter again, this time with a studied indifference as she picked it up and tossed it into the fire. Whereas all the blustering on the part of her royal father and all the posturing on behalf of the Lady could not make Anne queen in the eyes of either the world or of God, so a mere bit of parchment with some words scrawled upon it could not make her, a royal princess born, a bastard. She would, she must, cling to that. She watched as the paper blackened, curled, writhed as if with a life of its own under the unrelenting blue and orange flame; then it glowed bright red for a brief moment before it dissolved into soft, dove-gray ashes before her eyes. A sudden gust of wind down the chimney scattered the ashes and the letter was gone. Would that what it said, and its consequences for herself, could as easily be gotten rid of!
Mary gazed out of the window, past the men working in the rich dirt, to the distant hills beyond the manse. In the distance, the purple hills looked slightly unreal in the watery sun, still partially shrouded as they were in a morning mist that had not yet fully dissipated. Suddenly she strode, man-like, to the door of the room, pulled it open and shouted, “My horse! Saddle my horse!” The terse command sent her page scrambling. A good, hard ride was what she needed right now. Only the violence of it could drive these demons from her heart.
“My Lady!” cried a voice, seemingly from out of nowhere. “What is amiss? Where do you ride? Shall I…”
Mary’s eyes softened for a moment as she regarded Lady Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury, who was her governess. At seventeen, Mary was still small for her age, and the countess, like almost everyone else, towered above her. But the countess had always seemed larger than life to Mary. Mary’s mother, Queen Katharine of Aragon, trusted the countess implicitly with her daughter’s welfare. Indeed the countess, who was also Mary’s godmother, was like a second mother to her.
“It is all right, Mother Pole,” Mary said. “I do but ride to yon hills. You have heard the news?”
Lady Margaret’s eyes smoldered. “Aye,” she said. “I have heard of it. Go, then. But be careful…” She knew her charge well enough not to argue or to try to dissuade her. She knew that Mary’s servants and grooms would follow her at an acceptable distance to ensure that no harm befell her. It was the best that could be done. Mary was a Tudor, and had a mind of her own. Lady Margaret had learned long since that all of that family would go their own way. All one could do was one’s best to see that they came to no harm despite their recklessness, and to see to their hurts when they tumbled and fell, despite one’s best efforts to protect them. But it was not physical mishap that the countess feared where Mary was concerned; it was the emotional damage being inflicted upon her.
Mary stood still for a moment, then began wringing her hands, a faraway look in her eyes. “How I wish Reginald were here!” she cried, almost on a sob.
The countess gave an inelegant snort. “Amen to that,” she replied dryly. It was not safe for any Plantagenet male to remain too close to a Tudor king. The execution of the duke of Buckingham, the king’s own kinsman, had proved that. The countess’s own uncle had been King Edward the Fourth, grandfather to the present king, who was her cousin. So when her son Reginald had defied his king, flight was the only safe option for him. Reginald had refused Henry’s offer of the See of York upon Cardinal Wolsey’s death, and had stated plainly that his conscience would not allow him to support his royal cousin’s divorce from Queen Katharine. Voluntary exile to the continent was his only alternative and King Henry, wishing to avoid further unpleasantness with his relative, had graciously allowed his cousin to leave England. But just now, both women could have used Reginald’s comfort and wise council.
Despite herself, the tears welled up once again in Mary’s eyes. “Why does he do it, Pole? Fitzroy was indisputably born a bastard in the sight of all the world, and yet he has always been styled prince, and has had royal honors heaped upon him! Does my father hate me so much that I, a royal princess born, should be branded bastard without like consideration?”
Lady Margaret placed a reassuring arm around Mary’s shoulders. “The king does not hate you,” she said. “He loves you, much more, in fact, than he knows. It is his quarrel with the queen, your mother, that makes him do these things.”
What could one say to that? Without another word, Mary turned on her heel and fled to the only refuge she had ever known besides her prayers, her governess, and the arms of her loving mother, now denied her; the out-of-doors. She departed, leaving Lady Margaret watching her worriedly as she strode off in the direction of the stables.
London, June 1533
Anne awoke to the strident cawing of the Tower ravens. It was a raw, lonely, frightening sound. It must have been they who had inspired the nightmare from which she had just awakened, trembling from head to toe. In her dream she had been dressed in her white coronation robes and had been embarking from Tower Wharf for Westminster Abbey, where the ceremony of her crowning was to take place that very day. But that was absurd; she was to ride to Westminster in her beautiful, satin-swathed litter, not sail on the Thames in her barge. But that was the way dreams were, she supposed; they never made sense.
In her nightmare, as she passed under Tower Bridge, the persistent calling of the ravens made her look up and there, in the dazzling white brilliance of the sun, she had seen the heads of her brother George and several of her friends, mounted on pikes. Their faces were pale and expressionless, and they were all dripping with blood, as if the axe had only just fallen upon their necks. The ravens were busily plucking out their eyes. Suddenly blood was dripping down upon her white gown, her face, her pale hands, glaring red and stark against so much whiteness. “No!” she had screamed. The scene unnerved her so that she forced herself to awaken. The nightmare vanished, but the unsettling sound of the cawing ravens persisted even now outside her window. How she loathed the Tower! Besides, why should she have such a dream? What had she to fear now? She would be crowned Queen of England on this very day; she carried the heir to England in her belly. The nightmare of the past years was, she hoped, finally ended.
Wearily, she swung her feet around and sat up on the edge of the bed. This was an inauspicious manner in which to embark upon that which she had been waiting for six long years; her coronation. Hers had been a dangerous road to the crown, fraught with anxiety and fear. At times it had not seemed worth the trouble to fight to be queen, or even a desirable thing to have happen. But as the years slipped by and it became apparent that there was no other path she could follow, she had embraced the idea. And yet now that the event was upon her, she shrank from it.
Henry had seemed oddly dissatisfied with her after she had finally taken him to her bed. She knew full well that he suspected she did not love him; perhaps he could tell that she barely tolerated his love-making. Or perhaps the answer to the riddle of his newfound indifference to her was far less complicated than she imagined. Perhaps it was simply that as long as he had cherished her as an unattainable ideal, Henry had been in a fever to possess her, body and soul. But now that he had realized his ambition, he no longer wanted her, no longer found her desirable. If that were true, God help her; it meant that her own head was in grave danger of landing on a pike. But what was she to do?
Unconsciously she ran her hands over her slightly distended belly. She knew what she had to do. She had to deliver to Henry, to England, the long-awaited, longed-for prince when her time came in September. Then all would be well.
A discreet tap sounded upon her door. “It is time, My Lady,” said a muffled voice.
So it was to begin.
Anne barely remembered her ladies dressing her, could hardly recall the long walk down the myriad narrow passageways and winding staircases to the waiting litter. As she walked from the shadows over the stone threshold into the brilliant sunshine, she felt a cold shiver travel down her spine, even though the day was already promising the warmth of spring. She loathed the Tower, with its ominous ravens and its dark, labyrinthine corridors. She had wished every day of the three days she spent there that biding in the Tower was not part of the coronation ritual. She was not sorry to leave the dreaded place, and climbed eagerly into the white-swathed litter with its canopy of cloth of silver. Even the horses were white, their jingling silver harness glinting in the sun.
When the litter reached the gates a sound met her ear that was more roaring than cheering. But what had she expected? She knew that the people did not love her; far from it. The common folk viewed her as a wanton who had broken up the king’s happy marriage and displaced the rightful queen. It was ironic that she herself would rather, at that moment, have been anywhere than in the swaying litter on her way to Westminster to be crowned. Had she asked to be queen? She had not. She had said many times to her astonished relatives that she would rather have been Harry Percy’s countess than Henry Tudor’s queen. An image of Harry’s face flitted through her mind at that thought, but she quickly banished it. The past was dead. She tried in vain to ignore the painful twisting of her heart.
Despite the fact that she was expecting it, the sudden thunderous booming of the Tower cannon to announce her departure for Westminster Abbey, which was answered by the report of the warships moored at Greenwich, made her jump like a skittish horse. She could feel each detonation in the very core of her being which was, in an odd sort of way, frightening. But at least the cacophony drowned out the angry shouts of the mob.
Anne was tempted to glance at the crowds, but thought better of it. She kept her face expressionless and fixed her gaze upon a point just above the horizon. Judging from the people’s reception of her, she would be fortunate to arrive at the abbey in one piece. And she must go alone. Alone, that was, except for the hundreds of churchmen, peers, nobles and servants of the crown who comprised her escort. But except for a select few, the people of her escort hated her as much, or more, than did the common folk. Yes, she was indeed alone. And where was Henry? He had accompanied Katharine when she was crowned all those years ago. But then, that had been a joint coronation. The king had told her that he wanted this to be her day, without the people being distracted by his presence, but she did not believe him. She believed instead that he had known she would be jeered and that he did not want to be jeered along with her.
It was all so unfair! She should have been smiling and waving, not gazing haughtily above the heads of the crowd, trying to pretend that they weren’t even there. And even if the people shouted “Whore!” at her and declared for the millionth time that they wanted no Nan Bullen, and there were constant cries of “God save Queen Katharine!” “God save the Princess Mary!”, that did not change the fact that her Uncle Norlfok had paid the people to cheer for her, so why did they not do so? Perhaps, she thought wryly, the free wine flowing in the conduits would change their tune as the hours passed. At that thought she felt a wave of nausea flow through her; she was to be trapped for hours in the swaying litter, surrounded by hostile onlookers who wished her ill. As the day wore on, the heat would intensify. And now they were laughing at her! Taking as their cue the entwined H’s and A’s painted in gilt letters above her crest on the sides of her elaborate litter, the cries of “HA! HA! HA!” sounded incessantly in her ears. How was she to bear it all?
Shading her eyes, Anne looked up as a shadow crossed over the cloth of silver canopy of the litter. Wheeling high above her she saw a large black bird. From his dizzying height in the crystal blue sky, she reflected, this must look like a fairytale scene, with herself all robed in white brocade and ermine, glittering with jewels in the white and silver litter, drawn by the perfectly matched white horses. But the reality was far different.
Anne shifted her eyes and glanced quickly around her. The scene looked and sounded festive and gay enough; the music of all manner of instruments seemed to float upon the air, and pennons fluttered in the breeze in gaudy colors, and in bright cloth of silver and gold. The windows of the houses along her route were all hung with tapestries, and garlands of spring flowers were draped from window to window. But, in contrast, the rancid odor of stale cooking issued forth from various of the dwellings to mingle with the perfume of the blossoms, forming a sickly-sweet combination that made her want to gag. On the king’s orders all of the offal had been swept from the streets, but wafting over her on the warm breeze came the rotten smell of the offal heaps that lay just out of sight down the winding alleyways. The foul reek of too many long-unwashed bodies pressed together in the heat was rank in her nostrils. On top of it all, the fetid, ever-present sewer-like stench of the river pervaded. Anne held her spice-scented pomander to her nose, but it only seemed to add to the miasma.
Suddenly she felt her gorge rise, perceived the sour taste of bitter bile in her throat, and fought it back down. She would not give the people the satisfaction of seeing her discomfiture.
On and on the litter made its slow way from Fenchurch Street to Gracechurch Street, to Leadenhall Street, and thence to Ludgate, where she traded the reek of the Thames for that of the Fleet River. Would this journey never end? Finally she reached The Strand, along which pageants had been set up for her amusement and approval, many with Saint Anne as their theme. Children dressed as angels sang her praises. The pageants that did not have religious themes displayed her own device of the crowned white falcon clutching a scepter, perched atop a posy of red and white roses. But as she approached the city limits of Westminster, the pageant of the Imperial embassy ostentatiously sported the Hapsburg eagle, a direct insult. The crowd was larger here and the people, feeling more anonymous than those in the narrower streets, shouted epithets at her that at any other time would have been an occasion for them to have been seized and have their tongues cut out, or at least nailed to the pillory.
Finally, at long last, the massive abbey came into view, and Anne heaved a sigh of relief. There was not much further to go now. The last of the delegations approached her, this one from the Mayor of London on behalf of the city itself. Why, she wondered, had he not presented the Coronation Purse of gold coins to her at the boundary between the cities of London and Westminster? Suddenly she realized why; the people of London had protested vehemently at having to provide the traditional purse of coins to her, as, despite all of Henry’s new acts of Parliament, they still refused steadfastly to accept her as their queen. Had the purse been presented within sight of the Londoners, a riot may well have ensued.
Anne reached out her bejeweled hand with a tentative smile to take the proffered velvet bag, but her expression changed as she regarded the mayor’s grim face. Very well, then, she thought. If they so heartily begrudged her this token, then she would not make the traditional gesture of promptly distributing the coins as largesse among those present. To the utter astonishment of the mayor and his escort, Anne thrust the purse into her lap without even acknowledging its receipt and plopped back down into the litter with a thump. The jolt made the horses leap forward and within a few moments she was at the steps of the abbey.
The cool of the abbey’s vestibule after the sweltering heat of her journey felt inviting, but if she had cherished thoughts of the abbey offering refuge from the hostile crowds, she was disappointed. The abbey was full to bursting, and almost every eye she met glittered with malice. Her father, Lord Thomas Boleyn, was waiting to escort her down the length of the nave to the Chapel of St. Edward the Confessor, where the coronation ritual was to take place. At first she was glad of his arm, expecting that he would provide her the welcome support she needed; but it was not to be.
Suddenly the trumpets sounded clear and true. As the sharpness of their clarion call died on the air, the melodious strains of the great organ began as a small sound, only to rise to a throbbing crescendo until the great spaces of the massive abbey were filled with it. Anne felt a thrill of excitement creep along her skin, and she shuddered.
At her sudden movement her father suddenly remembered his purpose and pulled his daughter forward with a jerk. Anne looked at him questioningly as the two of them proceeded slowly behind Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, who carried the golden, gem-studded crown that Henry himself had designed for this occasion. It lay upon a velvet cushion sewn in her stunning new livery of blue and purple. Henry had designed the crown, and chosen her colors, which ironically included purple, the color of royalty, not so much for her aggrandizement as for his own. The king sought now, constantly, in many subtle ways and in ways not so subtle, to support the concept of her royalty. But Anne knew the truth; she was no longer the object of his desire or affection, but a vessel, the carrier of the king’s royal seed, of that precious being who was to justify all of his unpopular actions over the past few years, of which her coronation today would be the culmination.
Anne almost snorted aloud as she recalled that Henry had also chosen her motto, La Plus Heureuse. The Most Happy, indeed! What had she to be happy about?
She started at the sound of her father’s hissing whisper.
“Do not stumble and fall under the weight of yon crown, daughter,” said the earl venomously.
At first Anne took her father’s comment literally; perhaps he was worried that in her condition, she was, after all, six months pregnant, she would not be able to bear the weight of the heavy crown through the lengthy ceremony. But one quick glance at his dour expression told a different story. What he really meant, she realized, was that she should be careful lest she fail in her task of delivering a prince to the king, and in so doing, take her family down with her in the inevitable fall from grace that such a calamity must entail. As understanding dawned, anger flared up in her.
“If I am in danger of stumbling, whose fault is that?” she hissed back. “I have done all that you and my Uncle Norfolk would have me do, against my own will and desire. Do you now think to judge me?”
“Yes,” he whispered vehemently. “I do. You have stupidly managed to lose the king’s affection with your unseemly displays of temper and your greed. When you plummet from your lofty height, you will pull us all down with you!”
“My greed? My stupidity? How dare you say such things to me! Everything I’ve said, everything I’ve done, everything I’ve asked of the king, has been at your and Norfolk’s behest!” Anne’s jaw ached with the effort to subdue her temper and not to shriek her words for all to hear, and the effort to speak through her clenched teeth made her eyes flash their anger all the more.
“For the love of God, lower your voice,” said her father coldly. “Do you want all and sundry to hear you railing like a fishwife on your way to the throne of England?” His eyes dropped disdainfully to her belly. “You are hysterical,” he said derisively.
“If I am so, you are to blame for it,” she retorted. “Because of you and your ambition, everything has gone wrong for me! And now you have the gall to be angry with me for it! I held out against the king’s lust and desire because you told me I had to! And when I finally surrendered to him, I did so because it was the only course left open to me to exploit! How can you blame me now if things are not as you would wish them to be? You have ruined my life!”
They arrived in the chapel area, where the Chair of Estate waited for Anne. The Duchess of Norfolk, Anne’s aunt-by-marriage, stopped Anne’s progress with a jerk of the long train of the ermine-trimmed purple coronation robe into which Anne had hurriedly changed in the abbey vestibule. Another of her judgmental, ungrateful relatives, the duchess had hated her ever since she had taken unwarranted precedence over her at the Christmas revels.
Anne turned to glare at her aunt, and as she did so, the thought crossed her mind that she wished she had thought to insist that her uncle take his wife with him on the diplomatic mission that had taken him to France just in time to cause him to miss her coronation. Henry had balked at Anne’s wish that her uncle not attend the ceremony; the Duke of Norfolk was, after all, the first peer of the realm. But Henry, not wishing to upset the delicate container of his seed, had acquiesced, and off Norfolk had gone to confer with King François over some meaningless bit of foreign policy.
As Anne swung the heavy robe around so that she might sit upon the ancient throne and face the congregation, she regarded her father and her aunt with steely eyes. Yes, perhaps being queen would be a good thing after all. She added their names to the mental list of people who would feel her wrath once she was queen indeed.