A surprise Sunday post! And for good reason! Today I’m sharing with you the prologue to Janet Wertmans book, Jane the Quene. Why today? Well, its the third anniversary of the book! For this special occasion, Janet is offering the book for 0.99 on Amazon! You can click here for her blog post, with links for purchase!
Also important to note, Janet will be speaking at TudorCon, and I, for one, am excited to meet her! Tickets for TudorCon are currently on sale as well! Get your ticket 🙂
Jane the Quene
June 9, 1525 … 10:30 p.m.
Eighteen-year-old Jane Seymour paused at the entrance to the Queen’s Presence Chamber, the formal public room in the royal suite of apartments. She breathed a quick prayer and smoothed the kirtle that peeked out from the red damask gown onto which she had painstakingly sewn two-dozen seed pearls. It was the most opulent dress she’d known, and its beauty soothed her nerves. Finally she nodded to her brother Edward, who signaled the page to open the double doors so Jane could be formally presented to her new mistress and begin the charmed life of a woman of the court.
The quiet dark of the hallway gave way to bustling light. The scene before Jane was grander than anything she had ever seen. She had arrived at court too late in the night before to get any kind of tour, something that would have prepared her for this moment. Now, the sights, sounds, and smells assailed her. Soaring leaded windows, carved wood paneling, and gilt edging surrounded her; incense and a heavy medley of perfumes stung her nostrils; and two musicians plucked at her nerves with each note of the soft hymn they strummed on their lutes.
Catherine of Aragon, saintly wife of Henry VIII of England, was in the center of the room, glowing on a raised chair of estate upholstered in rich arras. Seeing her there in quiet command calmed Jane, reassured her of order amid the madness. Like an oak among mushrooms, the Queen was surrounded by women on footstools who sat in small groups chatting among themselves. That will be me soon, Jane told herself. Her family had secured her a place in the Queen’s household, as one of several companions who attended to Her Majesty’s every need and saw to her every diversion. For now, Jane would be a simple maid of honor, happily living at the mercy of the Queen. Once Jane found a husband, which hopefully would happen soon, she would rise to the level of lady-in-waiting with far greater status and freedom.
The page rapped his stave and announced them. “Edward Seymour and Jane Seymour.”
The Queen turned her attention to the door and inclined her head for them to proceed. She looked to be covered entirely in gold, from the cloth of her elaborately embroidered gown to the thick strands of her heavy rope necklace, to the solid frame of her tall gable hood. She was magnificent, and Jane was filled with a sense of inadequacy over her own gown that suddenly seemed far too simple.
Jane forced her legs to move forward despite their trembling. As she walked with Edward, she fixed her gaze on the Queen, whose own eyes were kind but lined and tired. Jane immediately thought of the cilice, the punishing haircloth shirt which the Queen, like Carthusian monks, was known to wear under her rich clothes; pain would certainly explain such a look. Edward, unkindly, had gossiped that it was to atone for whatever sin had caused God to withhold a son from her. Jane preferred to think it was a noble antidote to the ostentation of the Queen’s life.
Three paces before the dais, Edward stopped and Jane did likewise. “My sister Jane, Your Majesty,” Edward said as he bowed.
The Queen smiled. “You may greet us, Mistress Jane,” she said in a voice tinged with her heritage as a proud princess of Spain.
Jane sank to the ground with a reverence she had practiced more than a thousand times. “Thank you for accepting me,” she said. “I am honored.”
“Rise, my child,” said the Queen. “You are welcome.”
The Queen settled back and resumed her needlework. It was an altar cloth, and Jane could see even from her distance that the stitching was exquisite. Jane had always been proud of her own skill at embroidery, but again she felt inadequate against this unexpected new standard.
“You will join your cousins, I believe.” Catherine waved her needle in the direction of Anne and Mary Boleyn, who bobbed a quick curtsy to Jane.
Jane looked over at the familiar faces of her second cousins, so different from each other – one slim and dark and exotic, the other soft and blonde and voluptuous. She was not thrilled to see them. The Boleyn girls had always been flighty things who thought themselves so much better than Jane. Now they were both in disgrace and Jane did not want to be too closely associated with them.
Jane turned back to the Queen, and was about to voice additional thanks when she saw the Queen’s face light up. Jane turned to see what had caused that reaction.
A girl of around ten had just entered the Presence Chamber. She had flowing auburn tresses and was dressed almost as richly as the Queen. Jane knew immediately this was the Princess Mary, the royal couple’s only surviving child. Mary would be heir to the throne unless she were supplanted by a brother, an unlikely event since the Queen was over forty and seven years past her last pregnancy. Indeed, Mary had been named Princess of Wales to reflect her status, and before the end of the year would leave for Wales to practice the art of governing.
Edward grabbed Jane’s arm and pulled her to the side so Mary could approach her mother. The girl flashed them a sweet smile of thanks as she advanced with confidence. With impeccable decorum she paused before the Queen, curtsied, then spoke. “His Majesty has sent me to request your presence in his library. He is meeting with the Spanish Ambassador, who begs to greet you.”
“I should be glad to attend.”
Catherine rose and placed her needlework on her chair, descended the three steps of her dais, and gave her hand to Jane to kiss. “You will take your oath of office when I return. For now, your cousins will acquaint you with my apartments, and your brother will escort me to the King.”
Edward bowed and Jane followed his lead with a curtsy. She stood in her spot as the rest of the room emptied out, then turned to the two sisters, who did not look happy with the turn of events. “I thank you both for your kindness,” said Jane.
“The Queen ordered it,” Anne replied.
“And truthfully, it was more a punishment for us than a kindness for you,” said Mary. “She doesn’t want to let me anywhere near the King. Not that she can stop me.”
Jane said nothing, though of course she knew of the affair. And tried not to revel overmuch in Mary’s disgrace.
All Jane’s life, her mother had measured Jane against her similarly-aged Boleyn cousins. And found Jane wanting. Jane’s resentment had reached its peak when Sir Thomas Boleyn managed to place both his daughters in the household of the French Queen, but jealousy faded as Mary developed the reputation of una grandissima ribalda, infame sopra tutte, “a great whore, infamous above all others.” Then Anne had returned to England, and had tried to marry above her station by seducing Henry Percy, heir to the Earldom of Northumberland. She had been cut down and shamed for that by Cardinal Wolsey himself. Which had turned a vindicated Jane into the cousin to emulate. Finally.
Jane tried to imagine Lady Boleyn saying “Be more like Jane” to her own daughters. It strained Jane’s imagination, but it was a lovely scene.
“Would that someone could,” said Anne, and her voice was sharp.
“Stop pretending that I have a choice. You cannot refuse a king, and why would you want to?”
“It’s about time you refused someone,” said Anne.
Jane kept her face impassive. Mary and Anne had a long history of jealous rivalry and Jane did not want to get in the middle of their argument. She just wanted to get along with them as best as she could. And largely ignore them.
Jane had big plans for herself, after all.
She had been brought up to be just like Queen Catherine: sober and discreet, pious and pure. The ideal woman. It should be everything Jane needed to shine at this court.
She took a deep breath. Life was wonderful. She might be starting late, but that would just make her reward all the more sweet.
She was sure of it.