Well! I know this post is a day late, but better late than never, hey? It’s been a busy time lately with work and life stuff! But I’m back with part two of The Bakers Daughter! If you haven’t read part one, click here! My favourite part of this is how well she writes everyone’s point of view. What are your thoughts? Write them in the comments!
If you’re interested in checking out more of Bonnys’ Tudor books, visit her website by clicking here.
The Bakers Daughter [Chapter] Part Two
London, July 1533
Henry stared at the scroll in his hands with disbelieving eyes. In the distance he could hear the faint sounds of the clank of metal on metal and the intermittent roar of the crowds as a jouster was unhorsed, or was victorious. He also perceived the sound of birds singing in the trees just outside his window. These were sounds that he heard almost without realizing that he heard them. But the sound of Brandon’s broken sobs were something that he had never heard before and, just as his eyes refused to take in the words on the parchment before him, his ears refused to believe that his friend was weeping.
Henry rose wearily, laid the scroll on the desk before him, and walked slowly to where Brandon sat in the great leather chair in front of the hearth. There was no fire there today; it was July and very hot. The hearth was spotlessly clean, but it still conveyed to his nostrils the slightly musty odor of cold, dead ashes. He shuddered. Cold and dead. These words now applied to his beloved sister, Mary. It was simply unfathomable.
Brandon’s shoulders shook and his breath came in jagged sounds like ripping cloth. Then Henry did something that he had never done before. He raised his friend and brother-in-law and embraced him, holding him close until his breathing became more even.
But then a surprising thing happened. As Brandon’s sobs subsided, Henry felt the tears well up warm and wet in his own eyes. Suddenly grief flowed over him like waves on the shore at the beach, and once that happened there was no holding back the tide. His friend in turn held him in his great grief.
The thoughts came into Henry’s brain like lightning bolts, flashing, each as vivid as the day, the moment, it had occurred. He saw his sister in her cradle the first time he had ever laid eyes upon her; she had a tuft of flaxen hair, the slate-blue eyes of the newborn, her skin the delicate pink of the inside of a shell. Then suddenly she had looked at him, reaching her tiny starfish hand out to grasp his finger. He remembered the surprising strength of her grip. Then he saw his sister as a small child, her pale little hand trembling in his, the day their sister Margaret married the King of Scots. Then he saw a vision of her running in a green gown across a green field to him at Barking the day she had returned from her lost adventure to France. She thought that he hadn’t seen her coming, but he had. He had watched her long, pale hair flying behind her as she ran, then quickly looked down at his bowling pins. When he looked up again, Mary stood before him, smiling hopefully, holding out to him a bleached white beechwood ball in her delicate hands, which were beringed and flashing with jewels.
These were all such happy memories, but they were quickly overcome by the recollection of the last two times he had seen his sister. She had been ill and pinched with the pain that gnawed at her insides, but she had been beautiful still. He had spoken sharp words to her both times because she would not bend to his will where Anne was concerned. They had parted in anger three months before, after her daughter Frances’ wedding to the Marquis of Dorset. And now he would never have an opportunity to tell her that he was sorry, to tell her that despite her stubbornness he loved her anyway. At that thought, he sobbed all the harder.
“Your Grace,” whispered Brandon, as he held fast to Henry and they mingled their tears for a beloved wife, a beloved sister. “You must not grieve so. She would not have wanted that.”
That, he knew, was true. His sister, like himself, had possessed the Tudor temper in full measure, but unlike him, she was a forgiving person, a happy person at heart, and one who rarely held a grudge. He was certain that Mary would have forgiven him their last quarrels, and would wish him not to grieve.
How different his sister had been from his daughter and her namesake, the Princess Mary! No, he chided himself, his daughter Mary was a princess no more, merely his bastard, begotten by him in the ignorance of sin on his brother Arthur’s widow. Hadn’t the whole issue of his break with Katharine been the very substance of the quarrel with his beloved sister? Yes, that, of course; but more than that, Mary had resented his marriage to Anne, with or without the blessing of Holy Church. Mary could never stomach the idea that her former lady-in-waiting was the new queen of England.
And what, in the end, was it all for? He had Anne now; she carried in her belly the prince and the heir to England for whose sake he had broken the hearts of the three women who heretofore had always mattered most to him in the world; his wife, his sister, and his daughter. But what cruel fate had made his heart harden against Anne, for whom he had given up so much? Would these demons never stop torturing him?
Finally, Henry let out a ragged sigh, pulled away from Brandon and wiped his eyes with his fingers. It was no use; he tried wiping his sleeve across his face, but it was jewel-encrusted and the jewels scratched his skin. In frustration he used the heels of his hands to clear the tears from his eyes.
Brandon sat down with a thump in the leather chair from which Henry had raised him a few moments before. “What shall I do?” he asked broken-heartedly. “Whatever am I going to do without her?”
To Brandon’s great surprise, Henry said, “You must marry again, man, and soon. That is the only way.”
Brandon looked up in complete surprise. He was a good soldier, but never much of a courtier. His way was not to feign shock and surprise, to say no when he really meant yes. So Henry knew that his friend’s astonishment was genuine. Brandon shook his head as if he had not heard aright. He had been wondering how to broach with his brother-in-law, his king, the subject of his desire to marry the Lady Catherine Willoughby as soon as possible, without waiting the customary year of mourning.
“You would allow such a thing?” asked Brandon. “What of the court?”
Henry waved a derisive hand. “What of them? Let them think what they wish. I loved my sister, Brandon. Mary was the only person in the world, I begin to believe, who ever truly understood me. Wolsey thought he did, but his love was always tainted with self-interest. You have been my true friend, and have loved me despite my faults; indeed, I believe that you are blissfully unaware of them.” The king laughed. “That makes you the very best of friends, I trow!” The laughter ceased as abruptly as it had begun, and then Henry appeared to brood for a few moments. Finally he heaved a heavy sigh and said, “Mary was of my blood, Charles. She and I were as close as it is possible for two human beings to be. I shall miss her sorely. But do you even begin to think that I would expect you to waste a year of your life, at your age, simply to observe a meaningless propriety? No. You must wed Lady Catherine forthwith. As soon as the arrangements can be made, in fact. You have only one son, man. You must marry and beget more.”
Brandon looked up miserably at the king. “I…couldn’t. Could I?” He sat in the chair, wringing his hands. He was a straightforward man; rarely indecisive. But how could he bed Catherine, as much as he wanted to, when Mary wasn’t even yet in her grave?
“Of course you could,” said Henry forcefully. “God’s teeth, man, you are nearing fifty. Some men do not live as long as that! See here, this will be our plan.” Henry glanced at the letter from his niece Frances, officially informing her royal uncle of the death of her mother. “Mary’s obsequies will be observed in late July. As soon as that is over, we shall call the banns. You and Lady Catherine can be married the last week in August or the first week in September.”
Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, stared at his friend round-eyed. Except on the field of battle, he was much more comfortable when someone else made the decisions and said what must be done. “Say you so, then?” A shadow crossed his face. “That is very near the queen’s time, though, is it not?”
Henry thought for a moment then he replied, “Well, what of that? Then we will have two joyous events to celebrate. I tell you this, you must not delay. See what delay has done for me!”
Brandon searched his friend’s face. He knew that Henry was bitter over the whole debacle with Anne. Henry had loved her, had wanted her for so long; he had literally moved heaven and earth to have her. And when he finally had her he found he no longer wanted her. But Henry was a king; he must save his royal face. He would not admit that the thing which had seemed to glitter so brightly from afar was not the gold and diamonds he had taken it for, but was only base metal and glass. What Henry did not realize, and what Brandon could not bring himself to tell him, was that by his actions the king told all and sundry that Anne was no longer his beloved.
Brandon thought about Lady Catherine. She had been his ward since she was a young girl, and was betrothed to his own son and heir, Henry, Earl of Lincoln. But it had become clear that Catherine wanted himself and not his callow youth of a son. But her dreams of him would never have been anything more than dreams had it not been known to all how sick his wife was. When it became obvious that Mary had not long to live, Catherine had openly declared herself to him. It came as no surprise; the girl had long made her feelings plain, but propriety had kept her from verbalizing her intentions until Mary’s death was imminent.
The rub was that Mary had known all along. She was a woman, and another woman’s heart was as clear as glass to her. For years the three of them had kept the open secret. But towards the end Mary, in her great physical pain and agony, had not been able to contain her mental anguish at the thought that when she died, Brandon would remarry, and that his wife would be the girl Mary had always regarded as her son’s fiancé.
Brandon sighed. “I feel as if I will be betraying Mary,” he said, shaking his head.
Henry laid a sympathetic hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Nonsense. Get you a new wife, man, and get you some more boys on her. You are Duke of Suffolk, man, not some yokel with nothing but a donkey and a plow to leave behind you when you die.”
Brandon laid his hand upon the king’s. “I suppose you are right,” he said. “Yes, I am certain of it. And Lady Catherine will be so pleased.”
Henry winked. “And you will be nothing loath, eh, my friend? They say that the best thing to do after falling from one’s horse is to remount. Go and mount your new mare and have no regrets. My sister was a royal princess and a queen. Whilst the woman in her may not have been able to stomach your remarriage with the lady, the queen in her would have understood. Do this with a glad heart, Brandon, and worry no more.”
The practical soldier in Brandon knew that the king was right. But he knew a fleeting moment of regret for the bereaved husband.
Ampthill, Bedfordshire, July 1533
Katharine bit down hard upon the leather strap between her teeth as Dr. de la Sa made the incision into the tender flesh of her foot. As he did so, she felt through the grinding pain a strange sensation and heard a sound almost like a pig’s bladder deflating. Yes, that was it; she remembered being a small child, playing with her sister Maria in the dusty streets of Santa Fe. The two little princesses had blown up a pig’s bladder and were knocking it back and forth with their sticks when suddenly it burst, making a sound much like that which Katharine had just heard emanate from her painful, swollen foot.
Dr. de la Sa stood up and wiped the sweat from his brow. “Your Grace is most fortunate,” he said. “The wound had festered. The incision will allow the poison to drain. I…I am sorry for the pain I caused you. Your Grace was very brave, if I may say it.”
Several thoughts flashed through Katharine’s mind at that moment. Dr. de la Sa, who had been her personal physician for years, still addressed her as Your Grace and would never be able, she knew, to do any differently. She hoped that this stubborn adherence to the past would not someday cost him his life.
Then she thought about what he had said about her bravery, and once again her mind flashed back to the hot, dusty streets of Santa Fe in Granada in southern Spain, where her mother, Queen Isabella, had been engaged in a ten-year struggle to drive the Moors from their last stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula. Her mother had built Santa Fe, the City of Faith, in order to house in more comfort the Spanish soldiers fighting her religious war, and to send a strong message to the enemy in their shining white Moorish fortress of Granada; Spain is here to stay. During their years in the little impromptu city, the Spanish princesses had seen, had lived with, the ravages of war. Katharine recalled the many times that she watched wide-eyed as a soldier endured an amputation with little more than a measure of whiskey and a leather strap, similar to the one she had just removed from her mouth, to help him through it.
Katharine held the strap out and regarded the deep impressions that her teeth had made in the soft leather. Would that she could purge the pain in her heart by such a simple expedient as a little nick with a knife!
“I am not so brave,” she replied. “And had it not been that I wished not to summon forth Dona Maria, I would have howled like a banshee!”
Dr. de la Sa rolled his eyes. The difficult personality of the queen’s formidable lady-in-waiting, Maria de Moreto, was beyond even his patient ability to cope. “I know what Your Grace means,” he said with a conspiratorial grin.
The queen had lost her sewing needle and then found it a few days later sticking up between the floor boards. Unfortunately, she had found it with her bare foot. Wishing not to make a fuss, Katharine said nothing until her foot had become so swollen and red that she could not walk upon it. Maria fussed, as was her wont, and tried remedy after remedy to no avail. Finally admitting defeat, Maria called upon the doctor to try his hand. Katharine had wisely chosen a time for Dr. de la Sa to come when Maria would be absent, to avoid any further ministrations from her determined lady-in-waiting.
Dr. de la Sa was just binding up the wound when Maria came hurrying in. “Your Grace, what is this? Why did you not call me? I could have attended you and helped the doctor.” Without giving either Dr. de la Sa or Katharine a chance to reply, she placed a plump hand to her heaving chest (she was very fat and had run all the way from the courtyard) and said, “His Excellency the Imperial ambassador has just arrived. He will be here momentarily.”
“What deplorable timing the man has,” said Katharine, almost to herself. “Maria, give me my good shawl, if you please.” Henry had never overtly refused her nephew’s ambassador’s requests to attend upon her, but ever since Henry married Anne, he had insisted that the ambassador delay his visit to Katharine upon one excuse or another. Katharine wondered what had made the king relent.
She winced as Dr. de la Sa gently placed her foot upon a cushioned footstool. “Your Grace, it would be wise for you to stay off of the foot for as long as possible,” he said.
“Yes, I will do that,” she replied, eyeing her foot. The swelling had already abated considerably. Then she smiled her sweet smile and said, “I am certain that it will mend more quickly now. Thank you, Dr. de la Sa. Maria, remove those soiled cloths and show the ambassador in.”
Eustache de Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador, bowed low as he entered the room, looking over his shoulder towards the open door as he did so. “Your Highness,” he said, rather more loudly than necessary. His eyes darted to her bandaged foot. “I hope I do not find Your Highness indisposed?”
She waved a derisive hand. “A mere trifle,” she replied. Her foot was throbbing painfully, and felt much worse than the dull ache that had accompanied the swollen, festering wound. But it would heal cleanly now that she had submitted to the knife. “If you cannot address me properly, Your Excellency, I am afraid that I must dispense with your company, as much as that would pain me.” Katharine liked and respected her imperial nephew’s ambassador to the English court. She knew Chapuys to be an ardent supporter of her cause. But he was first a diplomat.
Casually, Chapuys strolled back to the heavy oak door and gave it a substantial push with his foot. It swung silently on oiled hinges, closing with a soft thud. When he replied, his voice came out in barely a whisper. “Begging Your Grace’s pardon, but even the walls have ears. One cannot be too careful.”
Katharine sighed. She refused absolutely, on principle, to engage in discussions with anyone who would not recognize her status as queen. Having the courage of her convictions had led to some very difficult situations, not the least of which was the animosity between herself and her keepers at Ampthill. The members of her household were under strict orders to address her as Her Highness, the Princess Dowager of Wales, and, except for her Spanish attendants, they all refused utterly to use her rightful title, Her Grace, the queen of England. She would therefore have no truck with them. She communicated with her keepers, for to her they were nothing more than such, only through intermediaries such as Maria de Moreto, Dr. de la Sa, and her sewerer, Francisco Filipez. This annoyed her guardians considerably, and they treated her accordingly.
Katharine composed her features into a mask of a smile and said, “To what do I owe this visit, Your Excellency? It has been long since I have had the pleasure of seeing you.”
Chapuys was a man of action, for all his polished diplomacy. He came straight to the point. “The Lady Mary is ill and asking for you.”
The mother in Katharine longed to cry out at this news, to ask what the matter was. But the queen said coldly, “Indeed. I know of no such person.”
Chapuys glanced nervously at the door. Lowering his voice to a barely audible whisper, he said, “Your Grace, my apologies. I feel these days as if I am leading a double life! I refer of course to the Princess Mary.”
Katharine nodded. “What ails her? Is she all right?”
“It is the same malady that seems to strike Her Grace every fall when the weather turns. The princess’s bowels are in distress, and she has…female problems. The court physicians believe that the early onset of illness this year may perhaps be due to the princess’s extreme distress over the recent proclamation depriving her of her status. She also grieves most sorely over her aunt’s death, and for her separation from yourself.”
At the thought of her sister-in-law, tears welled up in Katharine’s eyes. She, too, missed Henry’s sister Mary most sorely. The French Queen, as Mary Tudor had been known due to her brief tenure as queen of France, had been Katharine’s best friend ever since she was fifteen, when Katharine arrived from Spain to marry Prince Arthur.
Mary Tudor was the only person besides Katharine herself, and her daughter Mary, who had dared to openly defy the king over his attempt to displace his wife and daughter with Anne Boleyn and her bastard. Well, that was not quite true, she mused; Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher had also done so, the former covertly and the latter openly, to their great peril. And Reginald Pole still languished on the continent because of his refusal to accept Henry’s stubborn blustering on his “Great Matter”. But what were these few against so many willing to say anything, do anything, to keep the king’s favor, and to keep their heads upon their shoulders?
Katharine sighed. “What do the princess’s doctors say?”
Chapuys, who had been musing to himself during Katharine’s silence, looked up in confusion and said, “Forgive me, Your Grace?”
“About Mary. What do the doctors say about my daughter? How ill is she?”
Chapuys shrugged. “She is not so very ill. The king has kept you from each other for many a long day, but now His Grace is willing to move the princess closer to you, and to allow Dr. de la Sa to attend her, if the two of you will but recognize Cranmer’s decree.”
“I see.” Katharine narrowed her eyes. All I need do, she thought, is deny my marriage, agree to brand myself a whore and my daughter a bastard in the eyes of the world, and I will be able to do what any common farmwife has the right to do; attend her sick child. Still, it was tempting. Why continue to fight? The English people loved her and despised Anne; they were firmly on her side. But the people were as powerless as she was herself. The people who could really help her, Pope Clement and her nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, had no intention of doing so. Too many other issues were at stake. She believed, indeed, everyone believed, that her situation was hopeless and that she was to be denied justice. So why stand so stubbornly upon a principle? Why not just give in and retain Henry’s support, if not his love or his person, get her daughter back, live in the comfort that the king’s widowed sister-in-law had every right to expect?
She realized that her foot was almost asleep and sought to shift it on the footstool upon which Dr. de la Sa had placed it. As she did so, a jarring pain gripped her. The thought of the soldiers at Santa Fe flitted once again through her mind. She saw her mother’s face, not in armor on her horse, as the legends told, but praying before the makeshift altar in her quarters at Santa Fe, which were not much more comfortable than the meanest soldier’s. Would her mother have given up in face of opposition? She would not.
“I am sorry,” said Katharine with a sigh. “But I cannot concede on any point, even if it means that I would be able to see my daughter again. But tell me, good Chapuys, why now? Why does the king choose this time to yield? The princess has been ill many times since this whole tragedy began.”
Chapuys shifted uneasily in his chair. Katharine was a smart woman; he could not help thinking that she was far too clever by half. The king, alas, could deny her, make her unhappy, mistreat her; but he had never been able to win an argument with her. “It is this, Your Grace. The king is desperate for your capitulation before the qu…the concubine delivers her child. If you would but give way now and recognize the divorce, it would pave the way for many others to accept the situation, and for them to recognize the coming child as heir to the throne of England.”
Exactly that which she had been trying to avoid! Katharine struggled to keep her face unreadable and her demeanor calm. “And you, Your Excellency? What is your counsel?”
“Need I even say it?” Chapuys replied. “Your situation is desperate, madam, and no mistake. Among other things, there are rumors that the king plans to force the princess into a convent. If such benign threats will not suffice, the king will try to implicate you in this unfortunate business of the Nun of Kent.”
Katharine guffawed. “That horse will not gallop and Henry knows it. He has already tried to implicate Fisher and More, and was unable to do so. Thinks he that I am stupid? I have never laid eyes upon the woman, I refused her correspondence, and I have publicly denounced her as a fraud.”
“True, true,” Chapuys replied. “But if such roundabout tactics fail, the king will have no choice but to attack you frontally. He will accuse you of inciting the people with your blatant disobedience. If that does not work, he will seek to undermine you through attacks on your servants and…others whom you love.”
Again Katharine snorted derisively. “The fact that he blusters and threatens such things only further brings to light his desperation. When my mother was fighting the moors when I was a child, she said once that she knew that the end was near when her spies started reporting the absence of the sounds of dogs barking and horses neighing inside the fortress. Figuratively speaking, His Grace is preparing to eat his horses. I assure you that I shall do nothing to stop him!”
Chapuys looked at her in wide-eyed shock. “But Your Grace, do you not fear what His Grace might do if…if pushed too far? The princess fears being poisoned, even as I know you do. And that is the least of what could befall you!”
“Do I fear these things?” she repeated thoughtfully. “No, I do not. Shall I tell you why? It is because my conscience is clear. The validity of my marriage and the legitimacy of my daughter are issues that only God Himself can decide. Pope Clement is Christ’s vicar on this earth, and so these decisions must be made by him, and only him. Henry cannot decide these matters, nor can I express any opinion that would have any value at all on Henry’s misguided proclamations. I can only ask that you beg His Grace on my behalf not to do anything that would sully his own conscience any further.”
Chapuys winced. “Do you mean you fear that the king might go so far as to irrevocably harm you, or the princess?”
“Let us not mince words, Chapuys. You are asking, do I fear execution? Again I must say, no, I do not. I fear no one who has power only over the body. I fear only He who has power over my immortal soul.”
Chapuys regarded the queen, really looking at her as if seeing her for the first time. She was haggard, and her skin was pale. Her eyes were hollow with lack of sleep, and there were dark circles underneath them. Her nose seemed pinched; she was probably not eating well due to the very real threat of the poison he knew that the Princess Mary also feared.
But no one, not even the lady herself, could deny that she was brave. He was glad that he was not in the king’s position. As powerless as she was, Katharine was an adversary to be reckoned with. Chapuys knew a fleeting moment of contempt for his master, the Holy Roman Emperor and this courageous woman’s blood nephew. But even as his anger flared it died. Charles was pragmatic enough to realize that he could not throw caution, and peace, to the winds on his aging aunt’s behalf, as much as her neglect might pain him. It was indeed a very sorry situation.
“Do not distress yourself, Your Excellency,” said Katharine kindly. “You have done all that you can to help me, this I know, and I understand my nephew’s position, truly I do. But I must just go on being stalwart here in England, even if it is to no avail. I must trust to the king’s good mercy not to harm myself or the princess, or to suffer others to harm us. In my heart of hearts, I know Henry to be incapable of doing so.” She smiled. “Perhaps that is why I am so brave in my defiance!”
“Oh, Your Grace…” said Chapuys with a catch in his throat. “Would that I could…”
“No, my good, good man,” she said, laying her hand atop his. “Do nothing. Do as your master bids you. Say what you must and do what you must. I shall be all right, I assure you.” But despite her reassurances, Chapuys would not meet her eyes. “What is it?” she asked.
“His Grace bade me say that if you would not agree to his terms, you were to be moved back to Buckden.”
“Jesu,” she said. “That unhealthy place. Perhaps you are right, perhaps he does mean to do me an injury. But nothing so obvious as public execution! He wishes me to die slowly, as if it were no fault of his own. Very well.”
“Your Grace,” he said. “I will speak with your imperial nephew. Surely he…”
“No,” said Katharine. “Do not make things any harder for Charles. When I said that I understand his position, I meant it. I do understand. There is more at stake here than you realize.” Once more the fleeting vision of the bleeding men, the dead and dying soldiers at Santa Fe appeared in her mind’s eye. She could not save Henry’s immortal soul; that was beyond her now. And incite war, to better her own lot or Mary’s, she would not. “Tell my nephew to do nothing on my behalf,” she said. “Tell him that he has my unquestioning love and forgiveness.”
Chapuys wiped a tear from his eye. “I will tell him, Your Grace.”
Greenwich Palace, September 1533
The music seemed slightly out of tune and over-loud for the small chamber. But then these days, nothing seemed right. Anne caught her brother George’s eyes from across the room; she raised an eyebrow for the briefest of moments, and he responded by starting across the room to her.
He took her hands in his, searched her eyes and said, “What ails you, sister?”
Anne patted the cushioned settle. “Sit beside me for a while,” she said with a smile. Then her expression darkened and she said, “What does not ail me? This bulk discomfits me. I cannot dance. I cannot even play my lute, for where would I put it?” She looked down in distress at her distended belly. Before George could draw breath to respond, she continued. “The king’s eye begins to wander. Father will not even speak to me for Lord only knows what reason, Mother follows his lead, and our Uncle Norfolk, I am certain, plots my destruction. And as if all that were not enough, I look like an inflated pig’s bladder, with these swollen hands and feet, and this puffy face! And what if…”
George put his fingers gently to her lips. “Do not say it. The child will be a prince. All the prognosticators have predicted that it will be so. Besides, it cannot be long now,” he said soothingly. “Isn’t that so?”
Anne stared at her beringed fingers. “I suppose so,” she said. “Certainly this misery and the exile it entails cannot go on forever!”
George snorted. “You are lucky that you are not any more closely confined than this,” he said, looking about the room at the gaily dressed courtiers. “In the days of that old termagant, the Countess of Richmond, you would have been placed in a dark chamber for weeks, and would not have been allowed out until long after you’d whelped!”
Anne smirked. “What a great comfort you are! If that is the best you can do to cheer me, I pray you go back and make pastime with your wife!” She shifted uncomfortably, taking hold of the precious burden that was the cause of all her misery at the moment, and yet was at the same time her only hope of salvation. “Those men will say anything to please the king. You know that, brother. What man, or woman, would dare to step forward and predict that I shall deliver a princess, not a prince, and that the king shall once again be denied a male heir? No one who wished not to say farewell to his head!”
George chucked her under the chin. “Do not worry,” he said. “Such excessive melancholy is bad for you. Look forward to the day when your burden shall be shed, a fair prince shall doze in his gilded cradle, and you can once again partner me in the dance.” With that he slipped away and joined in the dancing.
Anne noticed that he partnered not his wife Jane, but one of Anne’s other ladies-in-waiting, Elizabeth Holland. Elizabeth was only fifteen, and still had the dew of youth upon her flower-petal skin. The pink plumpness of her face, her blue eyes and her pale tresses were all exemplary of the epitome of beauty popular at the English court. Henry had once admired her own olive skin, black eyes and dark hair. But now it seemed that the scales had been lifted from the king’s eyes, and he no longer found her dark looks attractive.
Just as this thought flitted through her mind, the king came into view among the dancers whirling and twirling about the solar. Damn and blast, thought Anne, another of those young, fresh-faced, milk-maid type girls had caught the king’s eye; but this time it was her own cousin, Madge Shelton. Whereas Anne and George took after the Boleyn side of the family with their dark hair and eyes, Madge was the spit of the Sheltons, with her strawberry blonde hair and intriguing yellow-greenish eyes. She could hear Madge’s tinkling laugh as Henry lifted her high into the air. Just as he used to do with me, she thought bitterly.
Among the twirling couples Anne spotted Charles Brandon and his newly made bride, Lady Catherine Willoughby, now the new Duchess of Suffolk. What extraordinary luck the girl had! Lady Catherine had been the ward of the Duke and former Duchess of Suffolk, none other than Mary Tudor, Henry’s sister. Lady Catherine had been betrothed to their son Henry, the first Earl of Lincoln. Henry Brandon was a callow youth, and while not sickly, he always seemed pale and undersized next to his robust father. No wonder Lady Catherine’s desire had unsheathed its claws and snared the duke instead!
All would have been for naught, however, if Mary Tudor had not had the grace, not to mention the good timing, to die at thirty-eight from the misery in her gut. There was no love lost between Anne and her former sister-in-law, she who had done all in her power to snub Anne and all her relations. And now Lady Catherine, the new Duchess of Suffolk, sat, looking smug, between the king and her new husband, on the settle on the opposite side of the room. The couple had been married just that day in a quiet ceremony at the Chapel of the Observant Franciscans, and this afternoon’s celebration attended by just a few of the king’s intimates was in their honor.
Anne’s eyes filled with tears. She did not often allow herself the luxury of even thinking about her lost love, Harry Percy. It was too painful. But watching Lady Catherine, so obviously in love with Charles Brandon, Anne could not help feeling bitter, and jealous of the girl’s happiness. A wave of self-pity such as she had not allowed herself to feel for years swept over her.
Suddenly Henry arose and said, “Good friends, it is time to bid our happy couple adieux for the evening. Let us escort them to their bed, for which they have waited long enough, I trow!” With that Henry held his arm out to the first lady to catch his eye, which just happened to be Madge Shelton.
So! thought Anne. The signs were all there. If Henry had not yet seduced her cousin, he soon would. Many whispered that the girl, as young and fair as she was, was Bessie Blount all over again. Anne rose abruptly and said, “My Gracious Lord, will you not accompany your good wife to see the duke and duchess off to their marriage bed?” Her black eyes threw the challenge at him, daring him to refuse.
Henry laughed. “My good wife,” he said, with just an ever-so-slight emphasis upon the word wife, “you should not even be present at such a gathering as this, and are here only upon my sufferance and willingness to flout custom. I pray you, madam, retire to your rooms and await my pleasure. I will wait upon you anon.”
In a flash, the whole room seemed to turn red, and a hot mist seemed to sting Anne’s eyes. “After you have had your way with yon maiden, you mean! I will not retire to my rooms and “await your pleasure” whilst you debauch yet another of my house!”
Henry regarded her coldly, while the little party held its collective breath. Everyone knew that all was not well between the king and queen. Anne’s hopeful rivals crossed their fingers, while those who simply hated her licked their lips. Others in the room who truly loved and cared about her longed to urge her to keep her temper. Her brother, George, Harry Norris, Francis Weston, William Brereton, even Brandon, all felt helpless as they saw her flashing eyes. They knew what Anne’s haughty expression meant, and so did the king.
All were braced for a show of the fiery Tudor temper, so they were surprised when the king finally spoke. They had to strain their ears to hear him.
“Madam,” he said coldly. “I pray you remember that I am the king and your sovereign, and that I can lower you at any time as much as I have raised you. You must needs learn to shut your eyes and endure, as your betters did before you.” With that, he turned on his heel and walked calmly from the room, with a wide-eyed Madge hanging on his royal arm.
Those who hated Anne and wished her ill longed to stay and watch her reaction, but must follow the king out the door. The hearts of those who loved her went out to her, but they also had to follow the entourage which would escort Brandon and his new duchess to their bed.
When all had filed out, Anne sat back down on the settle. A public breach! The very worst thing that could have happened. Why, oh why, she thought, can I not contain my ire? Suddenly a stabbing pain ripped through her abdomen, and she cried out. It passed, but when she made to rise another pain seized her.
Oh, dear God, she thought, it is the child. What delicious irony that while she lay in childbed, Henry would be making love to another woman! For she knew that was what he planned to do, if only to spite her, as soon as the door closed upon Brandon and Lady Catherine. I will find a way to make him pay, she resolved. He will pay for publicly insulting me. But then the pain speared her again like a sword thrust, and it was all she could do to get from the solar to her privy chamber, where her confinement was to take place.
The steely-eyed midwife met her at the door, reproach evident in her stiff bearing and in every line of her face. Making merry with a party of people when she should be resting in bed! The babe would probably be born dead, and everyone would blame the midwife! The king might even execute her, especially if the child was a boy. This was the queen’s first child, and she went into her ordeal in ignorance. The midwife resolved in that moment that she would not soothe Anne with any of the remedies she knew that would ease the pain of childbirth.