Have you ever wondered what “might have been” in Tudor history? What if Arthur lived? What if Anne had a son? Of course you have! We all have. Sandra took it a step further and has written her ideas down, and I’m here for it. Stories such as this is why I created this website! I’d love to have more alternative history on here, so if you’ve ever thought to write something – send it in!
A note from the author,
I’ve long been intrigued by the idea of Marguerite being Henry’s wife, not least because I genuinely believe she had a lot to do with the way Anne Boleyn turned out. Add that to the fact that she’s much closer in age to Henry than any of his wives, and I was determined to make her Queen in one of my stories one day. I just never quite knew what it might take to do it. I was discussing the matter with others on an online forum the other week, and someone said it would take Arthur surviving a little longer and Marguerite having an older sister to take her place as Alencon’s bride. I was immediately hit by plot bunnies and took the idea and ran with it…
White Flowers of England by Sandra Usselmann
They meet in Calais, the wonderful city that has served as a semi-neutral bulwark between their countries for so long. He is eleven, she barely ten. They are not supposed to find a kinship. Not then, at least. Oh, it is to be hoped for, certainly, but no one really expects it. It doesn’t matter. What matters is his father’s fear, her mother’s triumph. His brother’s frail health, the fever that nearly claimed Arthur’s life scarcely three months ago. The invisible thread, fine as gossamer, that ties her brother to the French throne as King-in-Waiting.
To everyone else, they are simply the personification of the prospective Anglo-French alliance. To each other, however, they are more than that. Later, he will claim it is as though they are two halves of the same soul, bound to meet by destiny. On that bright summer’s day, however, they are both just children.
They are both middle children, to be precise, forever doomed to be overshadowed by siblings both older and younger. Neither the firstborn nor the baby. He is the second son, his father’s namesake Duke of York, healthier by far than his older brother, but doomed by an accident of birth never to be more than his brother’s general or adviser. She, on the other hand, has an older sister, named for her mother, who will always be one step ahead, always shine just that bit brighter, because she is fifteen months the elder.
They both know what it is to feel as though they’re not good enough, will never quite measure up. He buries the feeling in his athleticism, pours himself into sports until he is so out of breath he can barely think. It pays off, in a way. Even at his young age, he is lauded as one of the most promising up-and-coming sportsmen in the land. She escapes to her books, to her scholarly pursuits, sharpening her mind until it is so finely honed that it could be said to cut like a knife.
Different coping strategies, perhaps, but the same motivations. Which is most likely why they recognise a kindred spirit in each other the moment their eyes meet.
He bows, she curtsies and holds out her hand the way she has seen her mother do.
“Henry,” he breathes, “I am Henry.”
“Marguerite,” she answers, “Marguerite.”
They are kept carefully separate for the next few years. No one wants them growing up like brother and sister, given that they are to be man and wife one day. She disappears into his mother’s household, to be raised and trained as befits the second lady of England. He, meanwhile, is sent north with a household of his own, to York, to be nominal President of the Council of the North. They meet only at the big court festivities – Christmas, Easter, a few days here and there on the summer progress. They are always chaperoned at these meetings, carefully watched as they exchange empty courtesies, a dance, and gifts. A bolt of royal blue sarcenet and a spoilt lapdog for her one year, a lavishly embroidered sword belt and a set of hunting spears for him the next.
They write, however, and it is in the letters that they truly come to know each other. Their letters are long, crafted in fluent French, but peppered with quotations in Latin or Greek as the mood takes them. They pour out their hearts to one another, sharing their hopes, their fears, dreams and ambitions in such depth it is often a wonder that they don’t run out of ink.
The effect of these letters is so profound that, when she is finally sent north to join him, when he is fourteen and she just past her thirteenth birthday; when they wed in a glittering ceremony in York Minster, they do not feel like strangers as they take one another’s hands and pledge their lives to one another. Rather, it feels as though they have come home.
“My Margaret,” he whispers to her as he kisses her full on the mouth for the first time, “My pearl.”
“Mon Cher,” she replies in the same undertone. And he, who knows her better than he knows himself, knows how much that endearment means. She has only ever called her brother that before.
“Forever,” he promises, as he tucks her arm into his and leads her up the nave to kneel for their wedding mass.
The new Duchess of York quickens with child by Christmas. There is some worry that she is too young to be a mother, that the birth will end badly for one or the both of them, but the worries seem unfounded, for both come through alive and well. The child is a girl, a russet-haired beauty like the both of them, with her mother’s eyes and her father’s quick temper, liable to melt down into endless screaming fits if the maids and wet nurses don’t jump to meet her demands quickly enough. Her parents dote on her. They call her Elizabeth after Henry’s mother. She is the Lady Elizabeth of York, just as her grandmother once was before her.
In 1507, they welcome their New Year’s Prince. He is an eight-month baby, small enough for the nurses and the physicians’ brows to cloud with worry, for Marguerite and Henry to hover over him, counting his every breath to ensure he never misses one. For all that, though, little Charles, for so they name him, after Marguerite’s father and Henry’s best friend, is a fighter. He lives and he thrives. By the time he is three months old, he seems to have outgrown at least some of his early frailty.
The years in York are not without their clouds. How could they be, when the young Duke is rising sixteen and more of a man with every passing day? One woman will never be enough to satisfy him, particularly not when she is with child and therefore unavailable. Rumours start to fly about his conduct with a Mistress Jane Stanley, a young niece of the Earl of Derby who has attached herself to the Duke and Duchess’s household hoping to rehabilitate her name after her father’s inglorious end for his part in the Warbeck rebellion over a decade ago.
Those who know what is going one watch their young mistress with trepidation. Surely a girl as beautiful and proud as Marguerite of York will never stand for her husband’s philandering. They walk on eggshells, expecting tears and tantrums over the slightest thing, as the nursery staff have come to dread from the young Lady Elizabeth. But Marguerite surprises them all. Wedding ring glinting on her finger, belly swelling for the second time in as many years, she bears her husband’s betrayal placidly enough, knowing full well that, should she succeed in giving him a son, his heart will be hers to command once again.
And when it is, when he lies on her bed in her lying-in chamber, his head in her lap, their tiny son in the crook of his arm, she looks down at him.
“Promise me something, Henry,” she breathes.
“Anything!” he says immediately, and despite herself, she feels something in her stomach unclench at how eager he is to please her, now that she has given him his heart’s desire.
“If you must take a mistress, be discreet. Don’t make me have to deal with her more than I can help. And when the fancy has run its course, come back to me. Come back to me and to our children.”
He opens his mouth to protest, to claim that Jane was a mistake, that she, only she, holds his heart, that he’ll never take a mistress again, but she stops him, her hand against his lips before he can speak.
“Don’t make a promise you can’t keep, mon cher. There’s no point. You’d only end up betraying yourself. Other women will take your eye, I know that. That’s just the kind of man you are. But when they do, when they stir your loins, please don’t let them take your heart. That, Henry, must stay mine. Promise me.”
He pauses, turning her words over in his head for a moment, and then nods, “I promise.”
With those words, peace is restored to the York household. Henry and Marguerite are once more on the same page. As such, when the news comes that autumn that Arthur’s latest chill was more than it first seemed, that it has claimed his life and they are summoned to London to join the rest of the family in mourning the brother who will now never be their King, it takes no more than a few quick glances for each of them to know what the other is thinking.
Marguerite gathers the children and Henry directs their household. They ride into London side by side, he resplendent in a doublet and cape of the deepest black velvet, she making use of her French heritage to glitter in white satin edged with black ribbon. His grandfather’s sun in splendour ripples above his head, bright against the dour sky. It is joined by her emblem of a silver fleur-de-lys ringed around with white flowers. Daisies, she had once whispered to him, for the pet name he is wont to call her in a particularly tender mood.
Behind them, Elizabeth and Charles fidget in their nurses’ arms. The curtains of their litters are drawn back and young as they are, the children sense the energy of the crowds lining the streets to see them. A banner of ostrich feathers flies high from the corner of Charles’s litter.
It is a bold move. Indeed, it is one that has the Countess of Richmond choking at their audacity. Yet, it is also carefully planned. Brazen though it may be, their conduct is just the right side of tasteless. Though it sticks in many a craw, no one can actually find anything on which they could safely challenge the young Duke and Duchess of York, not on this solemn occasion, when the Tudor family must be seen to be united, despite the crippling blow that Prince Arthur’s death has dealt them.
They move to London after Arthur’s death so that Henry can learn from his father how to govern a country, rather than just a duchy. It is a better place for them both. It lets Marguerite refresh her memory of the English Court, to find her feet within its ever-shifting web again. It lets them both get to know the Londoners, who will be their people soon enough.
The King fades quickly after his eldest son passes away, as if the young man had taken much of his father’s vitality with him as well as his own. Neither of them is particularly surprised, therefore, when they are awoken at Durham House, one April morning in 1509, by a bowing messenger, who greets Henry as ‘Your Majesty’.
Henry looks over at her. He exhales, rubs his hand over his face to clear it of his exhaustion, nods, thanks the man and then dismisses him, drawing the curtains around their four-poster to grant them both a last measure of privacy.
“Katherine will have to be dealt with.”
It is all he says, but there is no need for him to say any more. Marguerite nods. Arthur’s widow was raised a Spaniard, mothered by one of the fiercest women in Christendom, Queen Isabella of Castile. Despite her years as Arthur’s bride, Katherine has never become an English Princess in more than name. She has never understood how close this country has come to turmoil, time and time again. She can’t see how a child Queen would only tip it over the edge. By all accounts, she was sick with disappointment when the late King named Henry his heir over her daughter, the Lady Isabella of Wales. No doubt she’ll have started scheming to have the child crowned already. They’re going to have to move fast if they are to outwit her.
Marguerite puts her hand over Henry’s, “You’re doing the right thing, mon cher. It’s what the country needs. It’s what your father would have wanted.”
“I know, truly. But Daisy, Isabella is just a child. My niece. If everything goes as we need it to, I am condemning her -”
“You’re not condemning her to anything. Barking is one of the premier nunneries in the country. It’s only right that you should have your niece raised there to become its Abbess. She’ll be the premier Abbess in the country, just as plenty of Princesses have been before her. And besides, there’s Charles to be thought of. Would you risk his rights as well as your own? Would you risk him being pushed out in favour of a Spanish puppet Queen?”
“No! Of course not!” Predictably, Henry flares up at that suggestion. Marguerite nods and looks at him coolly, her poise equal to that of a woman twice her age, instead of a girl scarcely seventeen.
“I thought not. Then you know what you have to do.”
So saying, she squeezes Henry’s hand for a moment, then rises to her feet. She goes to the door to call her women, but before she does so, she turns back to face him where he is still seated on the bed.
Framed in the doorway, she drops into a curtsy.
“My Lord King.” she says clearly.
Despite himself, Henry laughs and bows back to her as best he can. “My Lady Queen.”
Katherine meets them at the gates of London, supremely gowned in cloth of silver, the three-year-old Isabella of Wales in her arms. At the sight of her, standing tall and proud, barely even dipping her knee as they approach her, Marguerite’s heart clenches. Isabella is only months away from her own Elizabeth in age. In a different world, perhaps the girls could have been raised to be friends. She would have liked that. They were cousins, they’d probably have been good for each other.
Strangely, in a role reversal of this morning, it is Henry who seems to have steeled himself to do what must be done now. Drawing rein, he dismounts and crosses to Katherine, kissing her on both cheeks and stroking little Isabella’s hair, before inviting them to ride to York Place with them, where they are to dine with Cardinal Bainbridge before setting up court at Richmond on the morrow.
After dinner, Henry takes Katherine aside, while Marguerite plays with little Isabella under the watchful eyes of the Cardinal and the little girl’s nursemaid, trying to distract herself from the pain she knows her husband must be putting the Dowager Princess of Wales through.
To Henry’s credit, he is remarkably composed when he returns from his audience with Katherine. He takes Isabella from Marguerite, carries her back into the room he has just been in to see her mother, and then, a few minutes later, brings her out again and hands her to the Cardinal.
“You know what must be done, Your Eminence. I want her on her way to Barking at dawn.”
There is an uneasy light in the Cardinal’s eyes, but he has mentored the young couple since they came to the north. He knows them well; knows they are only doing this because they truly feel it necessary to avoid civil war, which like any good Englishman who has lived through the turmoil of the Cousin’s War, he does not want. He nods.
“As you wish, Your Grace.”
Beckoning to Isabella’s nursemaid, he carries the little girl from the room. Henry and Marguerite watch them go. Neither will admit it, but there is a palpable sense of relief once Isabella’s bright, merry chatter and golden curls can no longer be seen or heard.
The first few years of their reign seem to pass in a golden haze.
First and foremost, their family gets bigger. Their second son is born on St Edward’s feast day in 1510, and so he is named Edward. He is soon followed by a younger sister, Frances, named for her mother’s favourite sibling.
That being said, Edward and his siblings are not their father’s only children. The young King has what feels like every woman in England throwing herself at him in the heady days surrounding his coronation. Henry would like to say that he only has eyes for his Queen, but that isn’t true. His head is turned by his youngest sister’s governess, Lady Boleyn, born Lady Elizabeth Howard. A daughter is born of their liaison. Anne, they call her, for her legal father’s sister. But that, as anyone who looks at the child will know, is but a ruse. She might carry the Boleyn surname and her mother’s mass of blonde curls, but her eyes are pure Tudor, cerulean as the sky on a summer’s day.
There is something of a scandal when the news comes out. After all, how can Lady Boleyn hope to instil virtue into the young Princess Katherine when she herself seems to hold her marriage vows so lightly?
But Marguerite knows Henry well enough to know that to rail at him would do no good; indeed, it would only damage their relationship, perhaps irrevocably. And besides, this object of his fancy is no Mistress Jane Stanley. This is the eldest daughter of the former Duke of Norfolk. She cannot be tossed away as though she is a nobody. So Marguerite turns her head and looks the other way as Princess Katherine is bundled into the care of the Countess of Westmorland, as Sir Thomas Boleyn is ennobled as Viscount Rochford, as little Anne is installed into the royal nursery with Elizabeth, Charles and Edward. What else can she do? At least if the girl is brought up with her half-siblings, she’ll learn to love and respect them as she ought to.
Henry’s sisters, too, grow up into women. They are no longer the girls Marguerite remembers from her early days in Elizabeth of York’s household, but beautiful, spirited young ladies who have droves of suitors beating down their doors. Elizabeth weds first, as would be expected of the eldest, treading a path to Denmark and the court of King Christian, to be his wife and Queen. Katherine, the youngest, is betrothed to the little Duke of Burgundy, Charles, who is only three years older than she is.
Marguerite imagines that the Dowager Princess of Wales would have liked to see her youngest sister by marriage becoming her sister’s daughter by marriage, but Katherine of Aragon is sadly no longer with them by the time of Katherine’s betrothal. She died unexpectedly the year after their coronation. Many suggest the cause of her death was a broken heart, that she was killed by all the betrayals she had met in her short, tragic life. Henry is quick to treat his sister-in-law with all the status she merits, burying her with great fanfare at Chester Cathedral, the seat of his brother’s county, and having Arthur’s corpse transferred to Chester from Worcester so that the two of them can lie together for eternity.
As for Mary, Henry’s favourite sister, she is pledged to marry King Louis of France in 1514. Indeed, she departs from England and gets as far as Calais, a whole miniature court of lords and ladies surrounding her in a blaze of glory, before she balks. Before the news comes back that she has married her escort. Her escort, who just happens to be Henry’s closest friend, the new Duke of Suffolk.
Henry is predictably furious.
“She’s made me a laughing-stock in all of Christendom! How can I hope to rule a country if I can’t even control my own younger sister?! And Brandon, he’s not good enough for her and he knows it, the varlet! That’s why they’re hiding in Calais – he daren’t come home and face me for what he’s done! How could they think to do this? We need this marriage – the Tudors need the validation on the international stage, and Mary knows it. Louis will be furious!”
On and on he rants, until eventually, tired of his rambling anger, Marguerite simply gets up and kisses him.
Stunned, he falls silent for a moment and blinks at her.
“Mary has married for love, mon cher,” she whispers against his mouth, “How can you deny her that, when we ourselves have been so happy all these years? As to the alliance with France being ruined, well, pah! You don’t need to marry Mary off to an old man to get your peace and your honour. My brother will be King there soon enough and then he will embrace you as his brother monarch. He will love you as I do, because I do so. So, slap Mary and Brandon on the wrist for daring to wed without your permission and then bring them back to Court where they belong. All will be well, I swear it.”
Henry hesitates, chews the inside of his cheek in thought for several long moments, but Marguerite knows him well enough to know her words have won him over. It may take a while, but Mary (and Brandon) will be back at Court soon enough.
She is right. Mary is pulled back into the Tudor fold by the following summer, when Henry and Marguerite visit her at her marital home of Bradgate. The young Duchess of Suffolk is mightily relieved that Marguerite spoke in her defence and stemmed the tide of her brother’s anger before it could truly break over her head. So grateful is she, in fact, that when her eldest daughter is born in March 1516, she names her Margaret, in honour of both her sisters.
It is a merry time, those days they spend together, and when Henry and Marguerite welcome their third daughter into the world just a month before her cousin of Suffolk, Henry declares they must name her Mary, for her illustrious aunt.
Mary is born in February and joins her older siblings in the nursery shortly thereafter. Just as she joins it, Charles leaves it, for he is nine now, and Henry has deemed him old enough to have a household of his own, where he can begin to learn to rule as they once did in York. Indeed, Charles is sent north to York, to continue to foster the good relationships his parents have built with the noblemen of the area.
Despite herself, Marguerite can’t help but grieve to see Charles growing up so fast, to see him becoming more of a man than she feels he should be, but the grief is overlaid with pride. She is so proud of her boy, and she knows that she and Henry are lucky. In eleven years of marriage, they have had five children and lost none; not even come close to losing any, unless you count Charles’s early frailty. Not many Kings and Queens, not many men and women, can boast of that.
Once he is ensconced in York, Charles’s first ‘duty’, if one wishes to call it that, is to welcome his aunt Margaret and her infant daughter, Margaret Douglas, as they flee the turmoil north of the border following the death of the Scots King, and seek sanctuary in Margaret’s native land. Charles does stunningly well – Margaret goes so far as to claim that not even her own sons are so chivalrous, and coming from Henry’s haughty older sister, that means more than any amount of fulsome praise could from anyone else.
Henry puts aside his personal dislike of his older sister to help her regain her rightful place in Scotland. It takes a year, but eventually a compromise of sorts is worked out. Margaret may return to Scotland, provided she promises to leave the vast majority of her son’s care to the Regent Albany…and to leave her young daughter, Lady Margaret Douglas, behind in England.
Margaret dislikes this caveat, as any natural mother would, but Albany is implacable and eventually Margaret reasons that her son, the five-year-old King, needs her more. She entrusts little Meg, as they have come to call her, to Marguerite and rides north to Berwick. She never looks back. Others will call her hard-hearted for that, but not Marguerite. She understands that it isn’t lack of feeling that keeps Margaret looking north, but rather the fear that she’ll break down if she doesn’t.
Pasting a smile on her face for the sake of the little girl in her arms, Marguerite takes Meg to the nursery at Windsor, where the toddler is very quickly swept up into the heart of things, where she is doted upon by young Frances, four years her elder, and where, over the years, she forms an almost unholy alliance with her cousins Mary and Margaret.
Marguerite spends a few days with the children, settling Meg in, and it is during this time that she comes to realise what a remarkable child Henry’s natural daughter is becoming. Now six, Anne Boleyn is thick as thieves with Prince Edward, with whom she is of an age, and is, the tutors assure Marguerite, one of the cleverest children they have ever had the pleasure of teaching. The girl is not only clever, though. She also has a peculiar charm about her, one that shines through in such a way that before Marguerite has quite realised it, it has secured her a place in Marguerite’s heart. Marguerite never expected to enjoy her husband’s natural daughter’s company as much as she does her own daughters’, but she does. Before long, she is making plans to bring the child to court and find a good match for her when the time comes. To Oxford’s boy, perhaps. Some would say he’s a little young for her, but the de Veres are loyal to the Tudors. They’d never dream of using Anne’s royal blood against her legitimate half-siblings. Marguerite would feel safe if the bright little girl was tucked safely into their nest. Besides, no one could say that Marguerite hadn’t done right by Anne, if she urged the match, if she made her husband’s daughter a Countess despite the taint of her unlawful birth.
But the prospective partners are still both just children, both younger still even than Henry and Marguerite were when they first met, all those years ago. Nothing can be done now, not with the best will in the world. Marguerite knows that, no matter how much she wishes it weren’t so. She forces herself to put the thoughts aside and join in with the children’s games, laughing and clapping as Edward twirls first Frances and then Anne in a wobbly circle, humming merrily as he does so.
Sometimes when Marguerite stops to think, it seems amazing to her how much time has passed since she and Henry first married. Close to two decades have passed since they took their vows and welcomed their first daughter into the world.
Speaking of their eldest daughter, Elizabeth leaves them in early 1521, aged almost fifteen, to go to Pamplona and marry King Henry II of Navarre. Unlike most Princesses, she does not carry with her a dowry of jewels, but rather one of soldiers and archers. Her marriage is the cornerstone to a treaty pledging England and France to help the beleaguered King of Navarre regain the territory he has lost to repeated Iberian incursions. Their fight is a protracted one, but it is eventually successful, and Elizabeth’s eldest son, Prince Gaston, stands to inherit a kingdom much larger than that of his father. Henry and Marguerite are thrilled for Elizabeth, of course, but in all honesty, they rarely have time to spare their beloved daughter much thought. They know they have raised Elizabeth well. They know she is more than capable of being a Queen in an embattled country, and besides, they have keener problems closer to home.
As the years pass, it becomes very clear that the Prince of Wales has a soft spot for his younger Scottish cousin. It has been obvious for a while, for the young Prince has always thought of himself as Lady Margaret’s knight in shining armour, ever since he welcomed her and her mother to England in his father’s name when they first took sanctuary in 1516.
Despite the obvious allure Meg has for Charles, however, neither Henry nor Marguerite pay the two of them much heed. After all, Meg is a full eight years younger than Charles, and besides, he is sworn to marry the eldest Infanta of Spain and Portugal. He has been sworn to do so almost since Henry took the throne. It was the price the Iberian Peninsula demanded for not pressing Lady Isabella’s claim to the throne.
Unfortunately, however, King Miguel and his Burgundian cousin of a wife Queen Eleanor seem far better at birthing sons than daughters. Three boys in three years, they manage, before their eldest daughter, Infanta Juana, finally enters the world. By this point, Charles is already in his late teens, and Henry is beginning to wonder whether he might not be better off breaking the prospective betrothal anyway.
However, Iberia is too powerful a country for England to really be able to withstand its wrath if they take the refusal the wrong way, especially with the riches flooding in from their colonies in the New World. Henry knows this, and so he hems and haws, unsure quite what to do, until the 23-year-old Charles and the fifteen-year-old Margaret take matters into their own hands.
They marry in secret at Charles’s stronghold of Raglan Castle – he has Welsh lands as well as Northern ones. The first the Court hears of it is when they are announced at the Michaelmas feast of 1530 as ‘His Highness the Prince of Wales’ and ‘Her Highness the Princess of Wales’.
Henry is gobsmacked. He can’t believe his eldest son has been so audacious as to follow his aunt Mary’s lead and wed without permission – and to his Scottish cousin, no less. Things are made worse when it transpires that Charles, eager as he was to ensure his parents didn’t find out about his match, has forgotten to procure a dispensation from the Pope to marry Meg.
However, by this point, Meg’s belly is swelling quite substantially, and so something must be done. They cannot risk the Prince of Wales’s heir being born a bastard. Henry’s favourite cleric, the esteemed Cardinal Wolsey, is sent to Rome post-haste with full pockets and strict instructions to rush the dispensation as best he possibly can – or at least to procure a backdated one, if it becomes necessary.
To everyone’s silent relief, Meg never carries her first pregnancy to term. Instead, for some inexplicable reason, she goes into early labour at the end of the sixth month, birthing a perfectly formed but silent baby girl. Three weeks later, Wolsey returns from Rome, brandishing a papal dispensation.
On the strength of it, Meg and Charles are wed again, this time in a lavish ceremony in Greenwich’s chapel royal, with the Bishop of London presiding. There can be no doubting the legitimacy of their children now.
To appease the Iberians, Princess Mary
is quickly shipped off to Lisbon to marry the young heir to the Iberian throne,
Prince Alfonso. The Prince of Asturias is only a year younger than her, and by
all accounts, they seem to get along well enough. Marguerite can’t help but
breathe a sigh of relief at the news. Little though they like to admit it, she
and Henry are aging now. They are both entering their early forties, and the
past few years have been turbulent enough. She would relish some peace to
return to her books and her family, if she can find it.
Marguerite never does find that peace, sadly. Henry is not a man to slow down, and when, in 1536, the month of April brings the news of two grandchildren for them – a fille de France on the first, daughter of their second daughter Frances and her husband the Dauphin, and the long-awaited Prince Edmund of Wales a week later, he declares that her birthday is now a triple celebration and must be celebrated with a joust.
He rides in her colours – silver and white, as they have always been – and her heart swells to see him galloping towards his opponent, the Duke of Buckingham.
In a moment of excitement, she shouts his name, “Henry!” as she has always done before, cheering him, her beloved Sir Loyal Heart.
Normally, he doesn’t hear her shout, so intent is he upon his goal, but somehow, today he hears her. Today, of all days, he hears her and half-turns his head.
Only for an instant, but by the worst of luck, it is in that instant that his horse, carried forward by its own momentum even as Henry shifts in the saddle, collides with that of His Grace of Buckingham.
Off balance, Henry is flung wide of the saddle in a great curving arc. He slams into the wooden balustrade of the pavilion, his head hitting the boards at full-speed.
An army helm might be able to withstand the pressure of such an impact, but not a jousting one, which is more for show than for anything actually rigorous. The metal crumples before Marguerite’s eyes.
She hears herself scream, finds herself on her feet, shouting for a physician, but it is too late. Skilled though the men are, there is nothing they can do for Henry now.
He lingers just long enough to feel her kiss him one last time, to whisper first Charles’s name and then her own.
“Daisy,” he breathes, and then he is gone. Even as the syllables die away, he is gone.
A sick horror permeates the crowd. No one knows quite what to do. Tears are gathering in Marguerite’s eyes, but she knows she cannot break down, not just yet. She has been this court’s Queen for nearly twenty years, she will not stop being their Queen just because her husband has breathed his last in her arms.
Somehow, after several moments that feel like days and instants all rolled into one, she forces herself to her feet. She turns to Charles, and meets his gaze for one long moment.
Then she drops into a curtsy.
“Mon fils. Mon Roi. My son. My King.”
With those four words, repeated in two languages, she does her duty. She reminds the spectators, she reminds the whole of England, that the Tudors are not dead and gone. She reminds them that, even as one King breathes his last, a new branch of the rosebush takes root upon the throne.
Charles’s face is white, but he manages to nod, to come down from the box and take her arm. He nods to the guards to pick up his father’s stretcher, now his bier, and to precede them into the palace.
Marguerite feels, more than hears, the doors swing shut behind them. There is a finality in the gesture, as though the doors are shutting off more than the tiltyard. It seems to her, as, now that she is alone with her son and finally lets herself shake with the shock and grief she could not show outside, that the doors are shutting off an era. The era of her husband’s reign. The era of the white flowers of England.