GREENWICH, ELTHAM PALACE, APRIL 20TH, 1490
The morning rose bright and sunny and the Queen of England rose in just as bright a temper. Her children had spent the whole of Lent at Eltham while her husband and their Court had stayed at Sheen, fasting, praying and contemplating their mortal souls. Now, they had come to Eltham, where Henry had deigned the children would be reared. They would spend Easter together, throwing off the gloom of the Lenten season and letting the Spring in.
In two moons they would leave for Summer progress through the South of the country. The King’s Mother would stay behind in London, which pleased Elizabeth to no end. She would be the Lady of the Court without the eye of Margaret Beaufort upon her. She would be Queen with no impediment, if but for a few glorious months. She was secretly grateful for both that and the fact that she was not yet with child, which would have kept her behind in Margaret’s clutches.
“A party approaches Your Grace.” Maggie’s voice chimed from the window seat nearest the Queen. “The banners are Ermine and the Fleur de Lis.”
She paused for a moment, unsure of the bearers. Elizabeth neared the window, with the rest of her Ladies in tow.
“They are envoys, from the Duchess of Brittany.” the Marchioness of Dorset, fair Lady Cecily murmured “Your Uncle Dorset, spoke to me of them only a few nights ago.”
The whole Court had heard of the Duchesses desperate state. Her lands were coveted by the King of France, who wished to thwart her father’s wishes. Francis of Brittany had died some two years hence, and his daughter sought to rule in her own right, to keep Brittany’s sovereignty in the face of annexation into the Kingdom of France. Henry had spoken a bit of these matters. In January, anne had declared that anyone in her lands who would ally with King Charles would be named a traitor.
Henry felt he owed loyalty to the House of the man who had given him succor and sanctuary during his long years of exile, and to thwart the French worked only to his benefit; but to send his troops into war, that was a decision he would not take lightly. Henry did not love battle, he avoided it at all costs, but these envoys would beg that very thing, soldiers, arms, funds, aide. he had sent six thousand men already. What other help might he lend?
“They have kept the French at bay so far, but it is said the King of France seeks to take the Lady as his bride.” Elizabeth’s Aunt, the Duchess of Suffolk, looked up from her embroidery. “He would make her Queen of France, for the price of her Duchy.”
“No small price!” Marchioness Cecily responded, standing on her tiptoes to peer out at the men as they gathered in the courtyard. “Her father named her his lawful Heir. She seeks to rule her people in her own right. The men of Brittany are said to be fiercely loyal to her.”
The Countess of Surrey rolled her eyes.
“What does the loyalty of Britons mean, when the armies of France lie in wait at your border?” she laughed “The girl would do well to take the crown and save her countrywomen from widowhood.”
Elizabeth stepped back from the window. She wanted nothing of politics and war. It was Easter. she hoped these envoys would conclude their business quickly.
“Brittany shields us from the French.” the Princess Anne said very softly “If the King of France were to take it, he would be that much more able to launch an attack on English shores.”
“Ah, Your highness, were King Charles to set his sights on England he would try to take it with or without Brittany.” their Aunt Elizabeth smiled at her younger niece “Never fear, His Grace King Henry shall keep us all safe from harm.”
“Surely it is so.” Anne responded, giving a weak smile in return.
The Queen smoothed a curl from Anne’s brow as their mother had done when they were girls.
“No more talk of these tidings.” she said with the most serene smile she could muster. “Come, Aunt, help me with my headdress.”
The Duchess of Bedford stepped forward and did just that. A deep purple velvet gown had been made for her to match Henry’s garments and the children’s as well. They would hear mass and then the court would go hunting in the Great Park. Often, as children, they would go on hunts in the King’s park and hawking, shining as the jewels of their parent’s court. Because of these fond memories, Elizabeth was eager to take to her horse and hunt with her husband when he allowed it.
Her mind was on these excursions all through the grand Easter services. The King’s Mother watched her closely and Elizabeth kept her eyes downcast, but her heart was out in the sunshine, with the wind on her face. It was a lovely day, without a cloud in the sky. The whole of the Summer stretched out before them.
She could not help but feel giddy as if she were a young girl again. If only Bridget and her mother could have come. But Arthur was being allowed to go with them, and that was gift enough.
Henry was to create Arthur Warden of the Northern Marches soon, a customary title held by the Prince of Wales. The father of Princess Anne’s prospective bridegroom, the Earl of Surrey, would be made his Deputy.
The Earl was a Howard, and with this appointment he was one step closer to the hereditary title held by his family for generations, the Dukedom of Norfolk. His wife, the Countess Elizabeth had been particularly ingratiating since the news had been madr public, Elizabeth presumed she hoped that the Queen would use her influence to bring about young Thomas Howard’s wedding to Anne, which was the next logical step in her husband’s plan to regain those lands, grants and titles.
She wished she could tell the Countess, boldfaced, that her husband would hear none of her council. She would have better luck with the Countess of Derby.
Instead she smiled and simpered and made a mental note to speak to Henry of it. He seemed in a jovial enough mood, as was the rest of the court. Magdalena, however, was not. When they returned from Mass to ready for the hunt she was listless and sullen. Elizabeth called her to the side.
“Help me pick which riding gloves to wear Maggie.” she said, her pearly white teeth peeking out in an infectious grin “Do you still have the dark blue ones I gifted you for Yuletide? We could match.”
Maggie did not smile in return. She shook her head and swallowed.
“I had hoped your Majesty would excuse me for the rest of the afternoon.”
Elizabeth huffed. From the other side of the room, she could see Dorothea’s eyes on them. When she caught the Queen staring she turned away to talk again with Elizabeth’s half sister Grace.
“What nonsense is this? I have it from a reliable source that Sir Lionel will be in attendance. He and my cousin Henry will be departing for the Earl of Essex’s seat when the court leaves for Summer progress. I would have thought you’d be anxious to see him while you can.”
Maggie was silent still. Elizabeth frowned.
“Magdalena.” she tried not to sound frustrated “What ails you?′
After a few more moments Maggie let out a long sigh and clasped her hands together in front of her. She met the Queen’s eyes.
“Your Grace, I am afraid I can no longer be so cruel to Sir Lionel. I have given him too much hope, it is unkind.”
Elizabeth knew that Lionel of Cambridge had pushed his suit recently and nothing had come of it. Phillipa had left for Bermondsey with her mother and Maggie had not spoken of it again.
She had been seen less and less in Lionel’s company and it pained her royal mistress. Maggie deserved her own happiness and a Knight of the Realm, a servant of an Earl, was nothing to shake a stick at.
If Lionel gained Henry’s favor he could gain the world and Magdalena could be a Lady as his wife. She didn’t care for such trappings, but as a Queen it was Elizabeth’s duty to secure better futures for her Ladies. She also knew that Maggie was smitten with the man. Seeing them together had done her heart a good turn.
“Nonsense! I think he would disagree. Why do you retreat when you should advance? Foolish girl!” she laughed. “You will go and ready yourself for the hunt. Wear the blue gloves”
She gave Maggie’s hand a squeeze and shooed her away. Her Ladies bustled about her, and she smiled to herself. The distraught look on Maggie’s face did not dissuade her. Elizabeth knew what was best, and in her opinion Magdalena just needed a little prodding in that direction.
When she was ready to greet her husband’s hunting party in the courtyard she made her way from her apartments. Henry looked handsome in forest green, a smile on his slim face, a bounce in his step.
He enjoyed hunting and all the physical demands that came with it. He was an active man, his body as eager to perform as his mind. She greeted him with a demure kiss on his cheek. Most of the court smiled and cheered in response.
They would ride at the head of their party. She turned to see Sir Lionel, dashing in red and black, his long golden hair tied back in a string. He was approaching Maggie, who stood apart from her noble counterparts, her eyes downcast and her face stony.
When he approached, he reached out as if to graze her shoulder but hesitated. Elizabeth could not hear them, but Maggie’s words seemed clipped and perfunctory. She frowned. Henry had followed her gaze. He let out a chuckle.
“My matchmaking Queen. I have had word from her mother, Dame Delacroix. She has granted permission for Sir Lionel to wed your Merchant’s daughter.” he nodded in their direction “Yet I have heard no petition from either party. It is rather peculiar, don’t you agree?”
She stood silent for a moment and then nodded.
“The girl is stubborn and willful. She dreads the married state. Even wedlock with a man of her choosing does not please her.”
Marrying for love was a luxury that they did not have. They had been lucky, finding the love they had within their bonds of matrimony, but most members of their court would never experience such a thing.
“Mayhap she holds out for better prospects? A Viscount or a Baron perhaps? Her dowry is rather enticing. I’m sure the are riper suitors about.” he laughed again “You know her best. What do you think?”
“She cares not for titles or advancement. She would be happy to serve me the whole of her days, I know this to be true. But I know she is capable of love, of passion. I believe she is frightened of it, frightened of being wronged. There was one who very nearly lead her astray, a man Sir Lionel calls cousin.”
Henry cocked his head to the side, his eyes sweeping the company to try and find who she spoke of. He was a shrewd man, he knew the names, titles and characters of most of the men in his court. When his eyes landed on John of Gloucester she knew he had made the connection.
Quite a few people knew of Maggie’s humiliation at his hand, Elizabeth had often thought Dorothea had spread the gossip to wound her younger sister. She had no proof, only suspicion, but it did not help Dame Verhille in her esteem.
They had grown up together, but she had never seen Dorthy as a kindred spirit. She was grateful that she had stepped down from her position in the royal nursery. She was a spiteful woman, and if rumor had it right, a wanton one. Such a woman suckling her precious baby Margaret seemed wrong, but she had endured it for the sake of Magdalena and Phillipa. When Dorothea had been replaced it was as if God had answered her prayers.
“Ah, the snares of young love. Come, we hunt. You can worry about you woman’s marriage prospects when we return. We must be back for Nones, Mother’s orders.”
She nodded and smiled and let him help her onto her horse. She looked ahead to the gate, beyond that the path to the park, where their dinner awaited them. Venison stew was a favorite of hers. She shook her shoulders and waited for Henry’s signal. With a hue and cry and the blare of trumpets the King’s party made their way to the hunt.
As they made their way through the gates she looked about them. They were far enough ahead that only the guards were within earshot, and the guards, unlike most servants, rarely repeated anything. Henry trusted them with their lives and so she felt confident in their semi-private conversation.
“I had hoped to speak of something with you. It would seem you see fit to grant the Earl of Surrey with sundry honors of late.” Henry’s smile faded a bit. She smiled wider in response. “His Countess alludes that it means you will wed the Princess Anne to his son, Thomas.”
“What of it? Does Elizabeth Howard presume to know my mind on this issue? I have not yet decided.”
His tone was final and she could sense his annoyance. She was annoyed herself, that such a trivial question would irk him so. This Progress would achieve nothing if he was sour to all her overtures about anything touching on matters of State; even if that matter was the marriage of her younger sister!
“It seems that my Anne is quite taken with the idea.” She tried to keep her tone sweet and took a deep breath. Shows of temper and emotion did nothing but turn his blood cold and causr him to avoid her. “She believes the youth to be her destined, her beloved.”
“Childish talk, that. Tell her not to get her hopes up just yet. There are many things to consider and she is young still. Tell no such thing to the Countess of Surrey. Tell her only I speak favorably of her husband and do so often.” He met her eyes “Now, we hunt. We’ve enough time for talk of romance after we’ve caught a buck or two, my a Lady.”
She laughed at the desire in his eyes and closed her own for a breif second as a warm breeze caressed her cheek, bringing with it the sweet smells of Spring. He galloped ahead and she pursued, the braying of the hounds filling her ears along with the sound of her laughter.
She mused later that it had been a hopeful start to what would prove be a magical Summer.