As promised in Mondays post, here is another piece from Bonny G Smiths book, The Nymph from Heaven! If you’re interested in Bonnys Tudor Chronicle series, click here! Fair warning, this is a longer post! Typically with chapters I would split it into two, but with the prologue, I figured I’d just do the chapter as a stand alone. Any thoughts on this? Let me know!
The Nymph from Heaven
“Her beauty exceeds description.” – Lorenzo Pasqualigo, Venetian merchant and jeweler to Henry VIII
Richmond Palace, January, 1502
The winter wind gusted outside, and every now and then one could feel a draft blow in through a chink in a wind-eye. The palace of Richmond was new, stoutly built, and beautiful, but its glazing was not proof against the high winds on that cold, blustery January day. A corner of the splendid cloth of gold canopy held over her head, and that of her brother Prince Henry, and the King and Queen standing on the dais behind them, lifted slightly in the breeze, catching Mary’s eye, but her gaze did not waver. The crowded room was silent; the moment had come at last.
Hidden by their voluminous sleeves, Mary’s hand sought Henry’s. He, too, kept his eyes trained on the crowd, his head tilted slightly upwards in a manner not haughty, exactly, but that left no room for doubt that he was his father’s son, and a prince of England. He gave Mary’s hand a reassuring squeeze.
The tension was now almost unbearable. Without moving her head, Mary allowed her gaze to scan the mass of people within her range of vision. All were dressed in their finest clothes. Silks and satins, velvets and brocades, in rich, deep red, dark blue, green and royal purple; shimmering cloth of gold and silver; all trimmed with fur and stiff with jewels, adorned every person in the crowded room. Mary had heard some of the queen’s ladies say that many people had borrowed money and spent great sums on their clothes for today’s ceremony, in order to impress the Scots for the sake of England’s, and the King’s, pride. To Mary, more used to the schoolroom, it certainly seemed a glittering affair.
Suddenly, in one swift movement, the trumpeters lifted their shining instruments. Every one of the long metal tubes was hung with a banner displaying either the arms of England or those of Scotland. A diplomatic touch, and very appropriate. Even at the age of six, Her Grace the Princess Mary was very much aware of the importance of pageantry, display and protocol; this whole ceremony, down to the detail of banner arms, had been carefully planned by her grandmother Beaufort.
Even though Mary was expecting the fanfare, when the blast came from eighteen trumpets at such close quarters, she jumped. Henry’s hand gripped hers and she straightened, hoping no one had noticed.
No one had, for all eyes were upon the procession entering the Queen’s Great Chamber. The Bishops of Glasgow and Moray, followed by the Earl of Bothwell, entered the room slowly and sedately. The Scots had changed into garments even more sumptuous than those in which they had celebrated High Mass earlier that morning.
A buzz of anticipation had arisen during the clarion call, but now all was awestruck silence as the Princess Margaret paused ever so briefly in the archway. Tall for her age at twelve, wearing a white cloth of gold gown under a gold brocade kirtle, Margaret entered the room. Her red-gold hair streamed over her shoulders and rippled down her back to below her waist as a symbol of her innocence and purity. A gold and pearl diadem sat atop her head. Her green eyes looked over-bright. Mary wondered what her sister must be feeling, and if she were frightened of speaking before this august assembly.
Margaret stopped just in front of the royal dais, taking her place beside the Earl of Bothwell, who would stand proxy for her betrothed, King James IV of Scotland. Without further ado, the Bishop of Glasgow’s voice, raised as if for High Mass, rang out, reading the pope’s dispensation.
The dispensation had been easily obtained. Princess Margaret, assisted by the King, her father, and her grandmother Beaufort, had herself written the letter to Pope Alexander VI requesting it. The Borgia pope had granted the dispensation swiftly and without reservation, hoping that the marriage of a princess of England into the royal house of Scotland would secure peace in those two lands. The pope marveled that two countries sharing the same island should be so different, and so prone to argument and warfare. He had little faith in such marriages, as they so often came to naught, resulting in divided loyalties for the bride and continued bloodshed. There was example of such even in this dispensation; James IV’s great-grandmother was Joan Beaufort, a relative he had in common with the Tudor children, including of course, Margaret, his betrothed.
Grandmother Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, was a great-grandchild of John of Gaunt, father of Joan Beaufort, who was her great-aunt; hence the need for a dispensation for the marriage between James and Margaret, their relationship being within the forbidden degrees set by the church.
The real rub was that the Beaufort line had begun as the illegitimate offspring of John of Gaunt, patriarch of the House of Lancaster, third son of Edward III, and his mistress, Catherine Swynford. In time, John of Gaunt’s Beaufort children had all been legitimized, and the Scots did not seem to mind a bit of blood from the wrong side of the blanket. But the English did mind, and it was this taint that had almost cost her dear son Henry his throne. Even as late as Mary’s birth year of 1495, Yorkist pretenders had still been plaguing them. Grandmother Beaufort, or Lady Margaret as she was known to the court, always bristled visibly if anyone dared to mention the illegitimacy of the Beaufort line.
The archbishop concluded his reading of the dispensation and faced King Henry. He asked in a loud, clear voice, “Doth Your Grace know of any impediment other than there is dispensed withal? Doth the Queen likewise?”
King Henry replied, “There is none,” and Queen Elizabeth of York nodded her head in agreement.
The Archbishop of Glasgow bowed to them and then turned to the Earl of Bothwell. “Is it the very will and mind of the King of Scotland that the said Earl of Bothwell should in his name assure the said Princess?”
“It is,” replied the earl.
The archbishop turned then to Princess Margaret and asked, “Are you content without compulsion, and of your own free will?”
Mary held her breath, but without pause Margaret replied, her voice clear and sure with no hint of wavering or nervousness, “If it please my lord and father the King and my Lady Mother the Queen, I am content.”
“It is my will and pleasure,” said the King, and Margaret knelt for her parents’ blessing.
The blessing given, Lord Bothwell raised her up, and still holding Margaret by the hand, the archbishop led him through his vows on behalf of King James. When these were complete, it was Margaret’s turn.
In a firm voice and without hesitation, she declared, “I, Margaret, the first begotten daughter of the right excellent, right high and mighty Prince and Princess, Henry by the grace of God, King of England and Elizabeth, Queen of the same, wittingly and of deliberate mind having twelve years complete in age in the month of November last, contract matrimony with the right high and mighty Prince, James, King of Scotland unto and for my husband and spouse and all others for him forsake.”
There was a moment so silent and still that one could have heard a pin fall, and then the trumpets blew and the minstrels struck up and the people cheered. It was done.
Queen Elizabeth then stepped forward and took her daughter, now the Queen of Scotland, by the hand, and led her, followed by all the royal party, to the wedding feast. Mary walked beside her brother Prince Henry, her hand on his arm. She stole a look at him, and saw that Grandmother Beaufort, who was walking ahead of them arm in arm with their father the king, looking over her shoulder, was doing the same. Their grandmother had Henry fixed with a gimlet eye, and Mary knew why. A stickler for the strictest court protocol, Grandmother Beaufort had briefed the royal family and the prelates on the order in which everyone was to speak, walk, stand and process, for this memorable occasion. When she had reviewed the recessional order for after the service, and Prince Henry realized that he was now to give way to his sister Margaret, he was indignant.
“But I am a prince!” he had cried, his face red with anger. “I have always taken precedence over the princesses!”
Lady Margaret had eyed him coolly and replied, “On that day your sister Margaret will no longer be a princess. She will be a queen.”
Henry knew better than to argue with his grandmother. He bowed stiffly and said no more. But Mary knew that he was annoyed. He had always chafed at being the second son, destined for the church. Practically his only pleasure was lording it over his sisters, especially since their brother Arthur had married Katharine of Aragon and moved to their principality of Wales, there to learn to rule. Until Margaret’s wedding, Prince Henry had been the most important person at court behind the king and queen. The thought of Margaret, haughty, competitive Margaret, his elder by two years, as a queen and with a right to precede him in all things, was unbearable. Had she been going away to Scotland immediately, perhaps it would not have been so bad. But Grandmother Beaufort, fearing for Margaret’s tender years, had decreed that she was to stay at the English court for another full year before going to her husband. Henry was not certain how he was going to cope with Margaret as a queen for a whole year.
Mary knew all of this and was determined to try to ease her brother’s lot as much as possible. She adored him, and he knew it. From the moment that Henry had first laid eyes upon his baby sister in her cradle, draped with the finest gauze, in the nursery at Eltham Palace, he had determined to make her his own. He had been disarmed by her tight grip when she had taken one of his fingers into her tiny, starfish hand, and then put it into her mouth to suck. That grip was belied by her sheer smallness and seeming fragility. Henry had felt a fierce protectiveness towards his tiny little sister in that moment that was to last her lifetime. Only four years separated Henry and Mary, and he was her older brother; two years separated Henry and Margaret, and she was his elder sister. The six-year gap between Margaret and Mary did not make for closeness, so Mary naturally gravitated towards Henry, and tended to take his part in nursery quarrels. The love between them was sure and strong. Mary always knew when Henry was hurting or upset, and she always acted as balm to his sores. For this he loved her dearly.
The wind had died down and the day was perfect, with its winter blue sky and puffy white clouds, for the jousts in celebration of the Scottish marriage. Mary surveyed the colorful scene, glad that she had been allowed to sit in the royal stand, and not forced to bide with the nursery staff, on this special occasion. Margaret, now Queen of Scotland, sat with the king and queen and Grandmother Beaufort under the royal canopy of estate. Mary and Henry, along with other young people of the court, sat lower in the stand, the ladies waving their ribands and throwing flowers onto the tiltyard when their favorite knights rode by to take their places for the competition.
“Oh, Mary, look!” cried Henry. “There’s Buckingham!” The Duke of Buckingham was known for his penchant for display at these affairs, and he never failed to dazzle the eye. His horse was bedecked in blue and crimson velvet, embroidered in golden threads with the insignia of the Order of the Garter. His armor glinted in the sun. He made his charger cavort as he passed the royal stand, and the flowers fell from the stands in a shower of color, as the bedazzled ladies demonstrated their approval of his antics.
But Mary’s attention was arrested by the man riding just behind Buckingham. His horse was modestly bedecked in plain cloth of blue chequered with tawny, and he held his helmet under his arm as he cantered just behind Buckingham. His blue eyes matched the sky, and his sandy blonde hair shone as bright as his armor. “Henry,” she said, “Who is that?”
“Our Uncle Courtenay, of course,” Henry replied, not taking his eyes off of Buckingham.
“No, the one just there,” said Mary, nodding her head and trying not to point, lest Grandmother Beaufort’s eagle eye should be upon her.
Henry tore his eyes away from Buckingham’s glorious presentation for just one moment, and then homed back again. “Know you not? He is Charles Brandon, nephew to our Lord Father’s Master of the Horse.”
“Why have I…we…not seen him before?” Mary was willing the young man to look at her with all her concentration, but he rode respectfully behind Buckingham, looking neither to left nor right.
“I know not,” said Henry. “Perhaps because he has had no formal presentation to the court. His father was our Lord Father’s standard bearer, he who was killed by Richard III’s own hand at Bosworth. When Brandon first came to court he was attached to Arthur’s household.”
The trumpets blared and the tourney was ready to begin. Charge after charge was made, lance after lance was broken, but for once Mary had no interest in the games unless Charles Brandon was taking a turn. If he was attached to Arthur’s household, that explained why she had never seen him before; as Prince of Wales, Arthur had always, at least for as long as Mary could remember, had his own establishment, and it was not always where the court happened to be. The court was like a city within a city; hundreds of people jockeying for position, going hither and thither on their own important business, or the king’s. One could be at court for years and never cross paths with another unless one really tried to.
“But why, then, did he not go to Wales with Arthur and Katharine?”
Henry, intent upon the current course being run between Buckingham and Courtenay, took so long to reply that Mary thought he might not have heard her. Just as she was about to repeat her question he said, absently, “I know not.” This was the joust for the championship; Buckingham was unseated and gave way graciously to Courtenay. The crowd roared their approval for both the victor and the vanquished. The crowd waited while the three champions regrouped and made their way to the stands to receive their prizes.
Mary felt a gentle hand upon her arm and looked over at Jane, who was seated on her other side. “He is a commoner,” she said, in a whisper so low that Mary could barely hear her words.
Mary’s temper flared. “I marvel much that you should say that, as you are common, too,” she retorted. How dare Jane say such a thing about…about the man…she loved? Was it possible? Could one love a man one had seen for the first time only today, and with whom one had never exchanged so much as a glance, a single word, a thought, or an idea? Mary raised her eyes to Jane’s, which, like her own, were a soft dove gray, and felt the sympathy they conveyed.
Jane Poppincourt was the orphan of a French prisoner from one of the interminable petty wars between England and France, and a Fleming woman. Mary’s senior by just a year, King Henry had offered her a place at court as Mary’s companion, hoping the girl would, through the painless process of daily conversation, teach Mary to speak French. So far all that had been accomplished was Jane’s near-perfect English, and a deep friendship between the two girls that would last a lifetime. Mary laid a contrite hand upon Jane’s arm. “You are right,” Mary said. “I am sorry.” Jane’s lips curved in her warm, gentle smile and she turned her attention back to the joust.
Jane’s subtle admonishment was not lost on Mary. If Jane could detect Mary’s feelings for Charles Brandon with only such flimsy, gossamer evidence, then other, sharper eyes could do so. She would have to be careful.
Prince Henry did not have long to chafe under the newly-made Queen Margaret’s condescending attitude. Early in April, the looked-for, longed-for messenger arrived from Ludlow Castle. But when King Henry met the messenger’s mournful eyes, he knew that the news he carried was not the eagerly awaited announcement that the Princess of Wales was at last with child.
The king was distraught and would not be consoled over the untimely death of his first-born son and heir. The Queen was called and they mingled their tears. “Two of my three precious sons are dead,” he moaned. “What have I done to displease God so?”
Queen Elizabeth, herself weighed down with grief at their loss, sought to comfort her husband. “You have done nothing to displease God,” she said gently. “For a long time, this land was torn by war and misery; you are a good king, my lord, who has healed the country and made it prosperous once again. We still have Prince Henry, and a more robust, lively prince, England never saw.” She used a linen square embroidered with blue forget-me-nots to blot her tears. Then, in a whisper so low that he almost did not hear her, she said, “God is where he was, Henry, and we are young enough.”
Henry raised tear-filled eyes to his queen. Theirs had been a dynastic marriage, vital to the fragile peace he had forged after seizing the crown from his cousin Richard at Bosworth Field. He was a scion of the House of Lancaster, the symbol of which was the red rose; she was the daughter of the House of York, the symbol of which was the white rose. He was descended from the third son of Edward the Third, but through an illegitimate line later made good; she was descended from the fourth son of Edward the Third. There being no law in England barring female succession, such as the Salic law in France, some believed Elizabeth Plantagenet’s claim to the throne was better than his own. He had promptly settled all that by marrying her when the war was over. Their children were the very embodiment of the peace that had reigned over the land since red rose had wed with white. The symbol of the new Tudor dynasty was the Tudor rose, a red rose with a white rose at its heart. A sycophantic gardener had even successfully bred a real red and white rose. But the symbolism was, for once, borne out in very truth; king and queen had grown to love each other over the years of their marriage.
“You are right,” he sighed on a ragged breath. But in his heart he was concerned for her. She was young still, yes, but she had already borne him six children, three of whom were now dead. “Go now,” he said. “You must rest. I will come to you.”
The days took on a surreal quality. The euphoria over Margaret’s betrothal to the King of Scotland was squelched by the death of her brother Arthur, and the court was plunged into mourning.
The death of the Prince of Wales, heir to the throne, had other ramifications. Prince Henry, as second son once destined for the church, was the new heir and Prince of Wales. As the Queen of Scotland his sister still took precedence, but as the new heir to the throne of England, barring any last minute announcement that the Dowager Princess of Wales was with child, Henry’s importance had increased immeasurably, and the focus was shifted from Margaret to him. This made Margaret deplore even more the delay in setting out for her new husband and kingdom.
The court knew a brief moment of gaiety in May when the queen announced that she was again with child. Her Grace seemed serene enough, but King Henry, who knew her well, could sense her apprehension. Perhaps she had taken his words too much to heart; perhaps he should have been content with Prince Henry. But it was the function of kings and queens to produce heirs, and it was useless to regret the queen’s condition. Children died every day, and young Henry was a reckless sort into the bargain. Another prince would be welcome, and might someday be a necessity.
Queen Elizabeth, wisely sensing the depressed state of the court, allowed minor celebrations in honor of her news. She even ordered some white and orange sarcenet sleeves to relieve the tedium of the stark black mourning Margaret and Mary had been wearing for their brother Arthur.
Life settled back into its pattern over the summer and into the fall. The anniversary of Margaret’s birthday in November was celebrated quietly. This she understood because of the continued mourning for Arthur, but she was dismayed to learn that her last Christmas at home was to be the most subdued in memory. She had been briefed as to the state of fiscal affairs in her adoptive kingdom of Scotland, and she knew that such celebrations there would not compare to Christmas at the English court. King Henry, who knew how to make tuppence do the work of a groat, always gave a lavish Christmas court. Margaret was disappointed, but forbore expressing her feelings out of respect for her mother’s condition.
The royal children spent little time with their parents as a rule; it simply was not the custom for the members of royal families to live under each other’s noses. Arthur, as heir, had been given his own establishment at an early age; the others had spent most of their time in the care of nurses, governors and governesses, and tutors in the royal nursery at Eltham. The king and queen made their unceasing rounds between Westminster, Windsor, Greenwich and Sheen, and later, after Richmond Palace had risen like a phoenix from the ashes of Sheen, they had spent a great deal of time there. The children were sent for on certain state occasions, and at their parents’ pleasure.
Even so, Elizabeth had sought her children out as often as her royal duties allowed, and spent money constantly from her own privy purse to fulfill not just their needs but their desires. Games and miniature weapons for Henry, and the clothes and accessories they loved for the girls, were a constant drain on her funds. Her children knew her as a kind and loving mother who always smiled at them and smelled sweetly and who shed a few tactful, royal tears whenever they were to be separated for long periods.
Now that Margaret was formally betrothed she was considered adult, and was to spend this last year entirely in her mother’s company. They went to mass together, ate together, and spent long hours talking of the past and of Margaret’s future. Margaret came to know her mother better than she ever had before, and to love her all the more, during these months.
Elizabeth wished fervently that she had not been pregnant during this time, the last she might spend with her daughter for quite a while. But perhaps even that was for the best. The girl had been kept back a year from her husband for fear of getting her with child too soon. But she would be expected to produce an heir promptly once she arrived in Scotland. It was better for her to learn about these things from her mother.
One day as they sat together on the sunny window seat stitching an altar cloth, Margaret asked, “Were you and my lord father terribly disappointed because I was a girl?”
“Gracious, no,” smiled the Queen. “We had Arthur. And princesses are always…”
“Useful?” said Margaret.
“I was going to say, “welcome.”
Margaret’s eyes flashed. “Welcome, perhaps, because they are useful.”
The queen’s eyes searched her daughter’s. “Are you so bitter, then?”
“Not bitter,” Margaret replied. “I am just being practical. I understand the role that royal princesses play. More so now than ever. I am willing to fulfill my duty.” Her eyes strayed to Elizabeth’s now swollen belly.
“You must not be afraid,” said the Queen. “It is the lot of all women, high and low, to bear children.”
“I am not afraid,” said Margaret, whose outthrust chin reminded the Queen so much of her own mother at that moment that she almost laughed. “I do not want to disappoint Scotland by failing to produce a son.”
“You will have many sons, Margaret. Doubt it not. God knows what is best and will provide.”
Less than a month later, on a bleak winter’s day in early February, the Queen and her ladies made ready to retire to the Tower for her confinement. Lady Margaret Beaufort had decreed which ladies were to attend the queen, and had supervised every detail down to the thickness and number of candles, and the design of the wall hangings in the confinement chamber.
The night before the queen was to travel the short distance from the Palace of Westminster to the Tower, she summoned her family to her.
“Margaret,” she said.
“Yes, my lady,” Margaret replied with wide eyes. As the queen’s second eldest child, she could remember two other of the Queen’s confinements, those of Mary, and of Edmund, now dead. But she had not felt as closely linked to her mother at those times, nor had she had been facing shortly a similar ordeal.
“Margaret, it will be all right. You must trust me on this. Now, listen to me. Always obey your father the king. And after him, your brother, Henry. And remember; although you are their queen, you go to Scotland as an Englishwoman.”
“But does not Holy Writ say “Forsaking all others” and “A woman shall cleave”?”
Elizabeth closed weary eyes and stifled a smile. There was no need to worry about clever Margaret, then. She had a quick wit, and if only she could learn to curb her tongue and her wild impulses, she would make a fine queen. “Yes. But that is for ordinary people, not for queens. Remember England always.”
“I will, Mother,” Margaret replied gravely. But she could not get it out of her mind that her mother’s words sounded so final. It was as if she expected them never to talk again. “My Lady, are you well enough?”
“Of course,” blustered the queen. “There is one other thing.”
Margaret inclined her auburn head. “Yes, My Lady?”
“You have not always gotten on well with Henry. Oh, I know that childhood rivalries are normal. But if there is any real rift between you, you must settle it before you go away. You will need Henry someday, Margaret, more than you can realize or appreciate right now. He will be king for a long time.”
“I will make my peace with Henry, My Lady, on that you have my word.”
“That is as well, then. Now send Henry to me.” Margaret kissed her mother’s brow and tried not to let her see the fear in her own eyes, but when she stole a last look, she saw her own fears reflected there. “I will pray for you, My Lady.”
Elizabeth nodded, afraid to speak lest she betray her emotion.
A moment later the door creaked and there was her great, golden boy. “I see that Margaret takes precedence over me even in family matters,” said Henry gruffly. But the tender kiss he planted on his mother’s pale, outstretched hand told another story.
Queen Elizabeth looked into the cold blue eyes. Henry would make a good king. “My dear son, I am seeing you in order of your ages, and Margaret, whatever else she is, will always be your elder sister. She goes to a difficult situation in Scotland, Henry. You will be king someday, and must work with her for the good of this island. Do you understand?”
“Of course, My Lady. I will do my best.”
“I know you will,” she said. “There is another matter.”
Henry was silent, so she continued. “Mary is headstrong. Her future is uncertain. It may well be that you will have to settle things for her. Be kind to her, as far as you are able.”
“You are talking of Mary but your words speak of death,” said Henry. His eyes searched hers.
The queen looked him in the eye. “For women, death in childbed is always a possibility. Remember that when the Spanish princess needs for you to remember it.”
Henry sucked in his breath; so it was true. He knew that his father wanted desperately to keep Katharine’s dowry in England. The only way to do that was to marry her to the new Prince of Wales. But his brother’s wife…that needed thinking on. “Dear Lady,” said Henry, “may God and all the saints keep you. When next I see you I hope to also behold my new brother…or sister.”
Elizabeth almost laughed out loud at her son’s words. He wanted no competition. Henry kissed her hand again and when she opened her eyes next, Mary was standing before her. Her beautiful golden child. Elizabeth held out her arms to her young daughter in a way that Margaret and Henry’s royal reserve had not invited her to do. Those two were both too aware of their own dignity. Not so Mary…not yet. Mary sat on the bed and held her mother in her arms.
How frail she seems, thought Mary.
“Mary, dear child,” said the queen, her eyes shining. “Of all my children you remind me the most of my own dear mother. She was a great beauty, you know.” Mary’s hair was truly golden, without the red highlights of Margaret’s russet or Henry’s carrot top.
Mary had heard the stories of her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Woodville; about how the stunning commoner had enchanted her handsome grandfather, King Edward IV. The woman had been anything but beloved, but by all the saints, she had been beautiful. Mary had inherited the astonishing good looks of both of them. Although it was not yet evident at her young age, Mary would get her striking height and charm of manner from her grandfather, her graceful demeanor from her grandmother, and the dazzling golden beauty that both had possessed in great measure. There was not much of the Tudors about Mary; she was pure Plantagenet.
“Mary,” said the queen. “You must obey your father in all things. But you are young, and Henry is young. It may be that someday there may be just the two of you left. You must always be guided by the king, my child, be he father or brother. Both will know what is best for you, and what is best for England.” Elizabeth was good at mincing words, at the subtle hint; but Mary was too young to conceive her insinuations, and too young as yet for Elizabeth to be too frank with her. God willing, she would be there to guide Mary for many years to come. But somehow she thought not, and of all the people she would leave behind, now or at some distant time, this child was her greatest concern. The queen had observed how Mary’s eyes followed Charles Brandon constantly, whether at the joust, at a banquet, or at a state occasion. She always found some excuse to seek him out, and to ask him a question. A spoiled, yes, admit it, spoiled, willful child, royal, privileged and indulged, and a commoner one step above a servant, was, or could be, a disastrous combination. Mary was too young to understand; perhaps she should discuss this matter not directly with her, but with Mother Beaufort. But that would be a betrayal of Mary, whom after all, she only suspected…
“Lady, are you listening to me?” asked Mary. She had snuggled up to her mother and was lifting strands of her honey-colored hair, winding them around her finger, and then letting the thick spring thus made uncoil of its own accord.
“Of course,” said the queen. “But I think it is time that you went with Margaret and Henry. I am weary.”
Mary kissed her mother and went with the other royal children to York Place to await news of the queen’s safe delivery.
* * *
The next day, no cannon boomed to announce the birth of a prince. The queen had been delivered of a princess, but both were ailing. King Henry hurried to York Place to be with his children and to await further news of the queen. A hasty christening, never a good sign, was arranged for the baby, Katherine, named after the queen’s own sister, and for Katharine, the Dowager Princess of Wales. While her family watched and waited, the queen’s condition worsened, and she passed away on the eleventh of February, the day of her thirty-eighth birthday. The little Princess Katherine survived her by only a few weeks. The court was once again plunged into deep mourning.
No one was more stunned by the queen’s death than the members of her family, but all London mourned the gracious lady. Torches lined the streets, tapers burned in all the churches, and the people wept openly. Finally, the eerily life-like effigy was ready and, clad in the queen’s own royal robes of state, sat atop her mourning cart as the funeral cortège made its doleful way from the Tower to her final resting place at Westminster Abbey. The king, too distraught to do otherwise, retired to the country to mourn his beloved queen in solitude.
Grandmother Beaufort, as usual, took up the reins of royal responsibility, part of which was continuing to prepare Margaret for her new role as Queen of Scotland. But she was made of sterner stuff than the gentle queen had been, and it was not an easy time.
It was originally agreed that Margaret would not set out for Scotland until a year after her betrothal, however, since that had taken place in January the year before, there was a tacit agreement that her departure would actually be delayed a few more months until the spring. Winter travel was never advisable, always hazardous and uncomfortable and, in some cases, such as in the far north, might prove impossible.
The queen’s death meant another official mourning and even more delay, so that it was early July before Margaret finally set out for Scotland. It was arranged that she would make the journey in slow, easy stages, being feted all along the way, but first she would stay for a while at Collyweston, Grandmother Beaufort’s estate in Northamptonshire, before beginning her journey in earnest.
At the last Margaret was absolutely anxious to be gone. Mary sensed this and tried to cling more than ever to Henry, but being the new Prince of Wales meant more responsibility for him, and Henry often had no time for her. She sometimes walked the gardens of whatever castle or palace they happened to be in during that time, a pale little ghost mourning her mother and worshipping Charles Brandon from afar.
Colleyweston, July 1503
One day in the summer of 1503, shortly before Margaret was due to begin the final stages of her progress northwards into Scotland, Mary was praying with Grandmother Beaufort at her prie dieu. She was finding it difficult to concentrate, and must have fidgeted more than usual, because she glanced over to see her grandmother’s disapproving eye appraising her. But when Lady Margaret spoke, her voice was soft. “What ails you, child?”
Tears welled up in Mary’s eyes. “I miss the queen, my mother,” she said in a whisper. “And I shall miss Margaret.”
Grandmother Beaufort raised herself up painfully from her knees and, taking Mary by the hand, led her to the window seat. Her gardens at Collyweston, of which she was very proud, were a riot of color, and the warm scent of gilly flowers rose up through the window. “I know you will,” she replied. “But what else is bothering you?”
Mary sighed. It seemed as if everyone could read her thoughts. “Margaret does not seem displeased to be going. She seems to want to go away and leave us.”
Lady Beaufort took a waxy-looking finger and placed it under Mary’s chin, raising Mary’s face to hers. “If that is so, child, then you ought to rejoice for her. Do not take it as a sign that Margaret does not love us. It is the fate of princesses to leave their homes. If one can go with a glad heart that is better in the long run.”
“But will she not be homesick? Will she not miss us?” Mary’s travels had been limited to the royal palaces and hunting lodges up and down the Thames around London; the trip to Collyweston had astounded her. She had no idea that the world was so big. And Margaret was going further still. The progress to Scotland would take many more days of traveling; it must be very far away.
“Margaret has a royal destiny, Mary, one that she has embraced with all her heart, and I am glad for her that this is so. If it were otherwise, she would be sunk in misery, and that is no way to go to one’s husband. Also,” Lady Beaufort hesitated, and then continued. “I believe that she misses your Lady Mother the Queen, just as you do. I think she is glad to be gone from all of the reminders.”
The tears that had been brimming Mary’s eyes spilled over. The child even cries beautifully, Lady Margaret remarked to herself. This golden child took after the Yorkist side; her Yorkist grandparents had been reckoned the most elegantly beautiful people of their generation. With her beauty and charm of manner, Mary would accomplish much if she could keep her temper in check. Oh, yes, Lady Margaret had noticed those flashing eyes, the sometimes acerbic remarks. What would become known as the Tudor temper was not really a Tudor trait at all; it was the legacy of hundreds of years of the famous Plantagenet family temper that had occasionally resulted in some of its more afflicted members chewing the tapestries or throwing themselves onto the floor and gnawing the dirty rushes when in a rage. This was conduct that princes and kings, a queen-regnant, perhaps, could indulge in with impunity; but it was not behavior becoming to a demure princess.
“Mary, listen to me,” said Lady Margaret. She took both of Mary’s hands in hers, and her black eyes bore into the child’s. “You are a child as yet, but not so young that you cannot be made to understand who you are, and what is expected of you. You are a royal princess, Mary. God has placed you in a position of great power and grave responsibility. It is a chance vouchsafed to few, my dear, and you must acknowledge, yea, you must embrace this, as both a God-given opportunity and a sacred duty. You may believe that the wealth you enjoy and the great privileges bestowed upon you are your right as the daughter of a king and queen. To a certain extent, that is true. I realize that you know no other life. But for your dear father, such was not always so. He grew up poor, on the run, always having to borrow, to beg the indulgence of others who would support his cause. He has known great privation. Those who would call him miser now, which is both unfair and untrue, do not understand what it is to be penniless. And your father was poor in the worst way; he had a position to maintain. But I digress, child, an evil habit that you will have to forgive an old woman.” Lady Margaret shifted on the velvet cushions, and raised a hand to smooth back a stray strand of Mary’s moonbeam hair.
“It is the fate of princesses, Mary, to leave their homes and go to foreign lands and unknown husbands. You ask why Margaret seems anxious to leave us. One reason is that Margaret craves power. She is queen of Scotland, but she goes to her new land as an ambassador of England. It is up to her to convince her husband, the king, to forge policies favorable to her homeland. She will become Scottish; her children, the heirs to the throne of Scotland, will be Scottish; but in her heart she will always be English, and it is her responsibility to ensure that what Scotland does favors England.”
“But to leave one’s home…to live amongst strangers…” Mary gulped. “I had hoped to marry…an English gentleman, and stay here with…everyone that I love.”
Lady Margaret sighed. “Would that it could be so, Mary, but it cannot. Royal children do not belong to their parents, you see. They do not even belong to themselves. They belong to their country. Your purpose on this earth, Mary, is to do your duty and serve your country. But I tell you this. It would be so even if you were the daughter of the meanest villein. Every man craves a son, Mary, but not all men get one. And even the lowest of the low want a son, or a son-in-law, to inherit their old donkey and plow when they die and leave this earth. Women, high and low, Mary, must do the bidding of their menfolk. First it is a father, or absent him, a brother; then it is a husband, and absent him, a son. Women do not choose their own way, Mary. Their way is chosen for them.”
“But…you chose your own way. You choose your way even now, do you not?”
Lady Margaret shifted once more on the velvet cushion. “I have been singularly fortunate in my later life, Mary. But it was not always so. I was married at twelve, was a mother to your dear father at thirteen, and a widow at fourteen. I was too young, and my womb was ruined. But I had no choice but to do as I was bidden…” She had a faraway look in her eyes and her voice trailed off. Suddenly she straightened her spine and focused her gaze back onto the enthralled young girl who was her granddaughter. “There is one ray of hope, though, Mary, and I offer it to you. Use it well. If once you marry for state reasons, you have the right to ask to choose your second husband yourself, if that opportunity affords itself. You may choose for love, or you may choose for money and position. If you are lucky, all three may present themselves to you in one opportunity.” She smiled. “I fear me that this is the only bit of hope I can offer you, and one that may not ever present itself to you, since…”
“Since what?” asked Mary.
“Since…” Lady Margaret had made one of her rare tactical errors. But, after all, the child would have to know sometime. “Your marriage has already been mooted at least twice, Mary.”
Mary’s eyes went wide. “It has?”
“Indeed, yes.” Lady Margaret assumed her authoritative air once again. “The Doge of Venice wanted you for his son when you were three. And that is late, Mary. Some royal princesses are betrothed in their very cradles. But your Lord Father felt that such an agreement was premature. And, indeed, it proved to be so. The Tudor rule was still young and unproven at that time. Even in the very year of your birth, Mary, Yorkist pretenders were still plaguing us. But things have quietened over the last few years. Your Lord Father has proved his abilities. The country prospers and is at peace. That is why the Catholic Kings, Isabella and Ferdinand, finally allowed Katharine to come and marry Arthur, God rest his soul.” She crossed herself and continued on. “The King of Aragon and the Queen of Castile have another daughter, you know. Joanna.”
“Yes,” said Mary. “I have heard Katharine speak of her.”
“Joanna was married, the year after your birth, Mary, to Philip of Austria, son of Maximilian, the Holy Roman Emperor. By the time you were four, Mary, and that is not so very long ago, they had a son, Charles. Charles is heir not only to the Empire, but, through Joanna, his mother, to united Spain as well. You would agree, I am certain, that this is a much more glittering match than Venice. If you were to marry Charles you would be not just a queen, Mary. You would be an empress.”
Mary caught her breath. “And this has been agreed? That I am to marry this…Charles?” How unfortunate that he had the same name as her beloved. I will simply stop thinking of him as Charles, she vowed. From now on I will think of him as Brandon.
Lady Margaret shrugged. “No, nothing is agreed, and nothing is ever certain until it happens. But it is an example, Mary, of where your fate lies. In fact, King Louis XII of France has recently promised his little daughter Claude to Charles. Claude will inherit Brittany through her mother, the French Queen, Anne of Brittany. This makes her a more valuable match than you, Mary, as you have no such lands to offer. But mark my words, things will change again before anything definite happens. It is the way the world works, my dear.” She laughed her rare laugh. “I fear me, Mary, that we are all very much like the pieces on a chess board.”
And I am just a pawn, thought Mary. She sat with sagging shoulders. So it might already have been too late, but she had been saved by Claude with her glittering dowry of Brittany. Still, it seemed that she was doomed to exile in a foreign land, just like Margaret. If not today, then tomorrow mayhap. But unlike Margaret, Mary did not crave power. She wanted only to stay in England, with her brother, Henry, who, after all, would one day be king. But it seemed that this was not to be. And if they married her to one younger than herself, what hope had she of outliving him? “What is this Charles like?” she asked.
“I know not,” replied Lady Margaret. “I have never seen him.” It was an astute question, though. Although by all accounts his mother was a great beauty and his father was known as Philip the Handsome, rumor had it that shovel-jawed Charles had inherited the unfortunate Hapsburg facial structure. “But let us not concern ourselves with details now, Mary, since there are none of any account to moot. I just wished you to understand that it is a good thing that Margaret looks forward to her future in Scotland, and you should rejoice for her.”
“I do rejoice for her,” said Mary. “I shall go and tell her so.”
“Yes, child, that would be a sisterly thing to do. Once she is gone from here, it may be many years before you behold her face again.”
Mary shuddered, thinking that someday, such might apply to her.