WESTMINSTER PALACE, NOVEMBER 28th, 1489
The room was dark, as it had been for the past four moons. Darkness, as Saint Margaret, the King's mother had commanded. Henry Tudor's children were both born in darkness, but Magdalena Delacroix would save them from the shadows. She watched with pride as the Queen cried out and travailed in childbirth. She was proud and strong and beautiful, a Plantagenet sacrifice on the alter of Tudor. She wiped her Mistresses brow and hummed a slow tune, the cool cloth soft beneath her fingers.
"Mary, Mother of God, hear us now in our hour of need. Protect Her Grace Queen Elizabeth and provide England with another healthy Prince." Her quiet Latin was nearly unheard next to the hustle and bustle of Elizabeth's chambers. This was a woman's world, no male would be permitted entry until the birth was finished, even the King.
"Hush now Your grace, he is on his way."
The Queen was lovely, even in her pain and exhaustion. Her golden hair was soaked with sweat and sticking to her skin, but it was thick and shiny and caught the light of the torches like reflections on a clear, calm pool of water. Her skin was milky pale and clear, her lips red, her cheeks flushed. She was strong, her blue eyes alight with determination. Elizabeth was every inch a Queen.
She watched as her fellow midwives ready themselves for the imminent birth. They had all attended Elizabeth for the birth of Prince Arthur, all except Magdalena's mother Phillipa, who had been taking the Dowager Queen Elizabeth to Bermondsey Abbey three years earlier.
They were both here now, unlike Winchester. Henry had sent Elizabeth there to birth his heir, to tie him back to the Camelot legend he had spun, wrapping his Reign up in it like a swaddling babe. His son, the new Arthur, come to usher in a new golden age. The Tudor was shrewd, how else would he have overthrown the mighty House of Plantagenet?
Magdalena looked over in the corner where both of this child's grandmothers stood. Her mother was attending them, Phillipa Delacroix was still beautiful at forty eight, her head of deep auburn hair untouched by grey. She had served the Woodville Queen and her mother before her, Jaquetta.
Jacquetta had been the Countess Rivers, and before that the Duchess of Bedford. She had come from Luxembourg, a young widow newly married to a simple Knight and had brought a young genteel couple from her homeland in her service. That couple had born only one daughter, and on English soil at that. Phillipa had been born at Grafton, some years after Jacquetta's eldest daughter Elizabeth and had been apart of their household ever since. Magdalena watched her, and watched the King's mother squirm. She hated Elizabeth's foreign serving woman, and always had.
"Maggie." Bess's voice made her turn around and face her own mistress "He's coming."
Elizabeth squeezed her hand and let out a deep sound, almost like a growl. Magdalena stood and began pulling up the sleeves of her simple woolen gown. She held onto Elizabeth's thigh and watched as Mary, another midwife, positioned herself between the Queen's legs.
"Sarah gave birth in a tent, in the middle of a scorching desert. Mary gave birth in a stable full of beasts. You have this feather bed and you have me. You will deliver your Prince safely Your Grace, now push."
It was over quickly after that. The babe came forth in a torrent of blood and mucus. Mary caught it and turned it on his stomach, patting its back and wiping it with a cloth. The little royal babe screamed, a loud healthy wail. Elizabeth smiled and collapsed back on her pillows as the women cut the baby's cord. When Mary flipped the baby back, Maggie saw it was a girl. She sucked in a breath and reached for her. The little bundle was fat, with chubby cheeks and wide blue eyes. Her screams had quieted to small cries, and as Maggie wrapped her up in a clean linen swaddle, Elizabeth looked up.
"Is he whole? Is he healthy."
"She...is beautiful. A perfect Tudor Princess."
At twenty three, Elizabeth had spent her whole life amidst a sea of sisters. Her parents had conceived little Plantagenet roses time and time again. Magdalena knew she had secretly dreamed of a baby girl. With Arthur healthy and scheduled to be created Prince of Wales on the morrow, the fear of Henry's scorn at a daughter was not something she'd have to be troubled by.
They had all called the baby a Prince when she was in the womb, but now that they knew she was born the truth was plain. She was the first daughter of the red rose and the white. But if she had been born first, things might not have been so peaceful in the Queen's chambers.
"What will you call her Your Grace?" Maggie asked, putting the babe into Elizabeth's waiting arms.
The King's Mother bristled at Maggie's familiarity and fixed her with a withering glance. She didn't like the Delacroix women in the least. Maggie smiled at the crone and then at the Dowager Queen, who she loved almost as dearly as her own mother. Elizabeth Woodville was the picture of beauty and poise but finally she was aging and the years since her husband's death had been hard on her.
She had gone from the Queen of England, to a concubine, to the mother of two dead Princes and finally to the mother of the Queen of England. Considering that she had begun her life as the daughter of a Knight, her life so far had been extraordinary.
"Jaquetta perhaps?" Elizabeth said cheekily, looking down at her daughter with a wide smile. Margaret Stanley stiffened and Bess had to suppress a giggle.
"We will name her after Saint Margaret, and our Lady Mother. Margaret Tudor."
Magdalena smiled and gave the group of women an acceptable curtsy before moving back into the shadows. She never lingered long when the Countess of Richmond and Derby was near.
She began helping the other women tidy up the room. She would need to go to her and Dorothea's room for the rest of her tinctures. Some to ease the pain, others to help the Queen sleep and heal. Midwifery and herb lore went hand in hand, and Magdalena's mother had taught her well. Phillipa stood over her shoulder as she began packing her things.
"Shepherd's Purse, wise thinking child. Her bleeding was much more violent with Arthur, if I remember correctly from your letters." Phillipa said, giving her youngest daughter a smile of approval "Where is Dorothea?"
Magdalena shrugged, gritting her teeth at the mention of her wayward elder sister. She had been the one to inherit their mother's beauty, but none of her sense. She motioned to Cathy, a straw haired maid covered in freckles.
"Fetch Dame Verhille please." She said softly "Tell her the Princess has been delivered and to report to the Queen's chambers immediately."
Cathy nodded and gave a quick curtsy. Most of the common girls did that. The majority of the Queen's noble Ladies-in-waiting and her younger Maids of Honor looked at Maggie like an outsider, some up jumped girl from the Woodville reign who didn't know her place. The lowly maids, laundresses and various staff of the royal castles often bowed and scraped as if she were a Lady.
Though Maggie was not noble, she had been born luckier than most, that was true enough. Her grandfather's family had ties to Jacquetta Woodville's family, the Counts of Saint Pol, going back centuries. Her grandmother's family were landed gentry on the continent as well, the once wealthy Baronial Brunforte family, and her mother was a wealthy heiress to substantial lands in Luxembourg, France and the Netherlands.
Her father had been a man named Raymond Delacroix. He'd had no notable family to speak of, he'd only been a young mercenary. But after he lost his left leg in a battle for the King of France he'd settled into his family business of the wool and tapestry trade in Tournai. He had come to England after years at sea and made himself richer than he'd ever imagined. He had died wealthy and Lord of her mother's various castles and lands in Europe.
Her parents had married for love, and had been prosperous together. They had escaped the Cousin's War relatively unscathed and seen their daughters grow to adulthood, but Raymond had died of consumption four years before, only a few weeks after Bosworth Field. He had left his wife a vastly more wealthy widow than she had come to him as a bride and both his daughters were heiresses as well.
All the decisions on their marriages and inheritances had been left up to Phillipa. Maggie had neither grandfather nor uncle nor any brothers to steal it or sell her as a bride some grasping courtier. She was able to exert control over her own life, and she thanked God for it everyday.
The priests would call that sinful, the willful, malicious curse of a woman, but God had given her a mind and she had never taken that gift for granted. Phillipa had not raised a fool. She trusted her youngest daughter to make her own decisions, albeit behind closed doors.
She and her mother both knew it was best to keep quiet, know your place and keep a strict confidence. The Tudor court was a den of snakes, just as the Plantagenet courts had been before it.
Dorothea imagined she was Elizabeth Woodville come again, and maybe she was, but Magdalena thought both of them mad. Elizabeth had triumphed for a brief, shining, moment before all her dreams collapsed and she'd earned the hatred of both the nobility and the common people. Her daughter was Queen, but after she was churched the Dowager Queen would be shipped back to Bermondsey Abbey. Phillipa entreated that the Queen had chosen this, but the decision had come so close after the Lambert Simnel rebellion, there had been plenty of talk of treason. Dorothea should look to that, she should see her powerful idol brought so low and tremble at her own grasping ambition.
Magdalena straightened herself up and backed out towards the door. The King's Mother was holding Princess Margaret now. Soon Henry would arrive, to meet his daughter. That made Magdalena hurry along. Being in close quarters with Margaret Beaufort was hard enough, but sharing them with the Tudor was near hell.
She hurried through the privy chamber, which was empty. Had the Queen not been in confinement it would have been full of her ladies and servants, but it was silent. Just outside she could hear the buzz of aristocratic conversation.
When she exited to the presence chamber there was a sea of courtiers outside, dressed in their finest. They wanted news of the birth, to have the King witness their attendance at such a pivotal moment.
The Queen's Aunt Catherine, the Duchess of Bedford, and her sister Cecily, Viscountess Welles approached Maggie and she gave a quick curtsy. Catherine Woodville had been the Duchess of Buckingham before she had married Jasper Tudor, her first husband, had been killed by Richard III in the tumultuous days before King Henry took the throne. Now she was the Duchess of Bedford, wife to Henry's Tudor Uncle, the son of Catherine of Valois.
Cecily had married Margaret Beaufort's half brother John de Welles, also the King's Uncle. The Countess of Derby adored Cecily of York, she wasn't overly fond of her former brother in law's wife however. Maggie believed the Lancastrian woman loved Jasper Tudor, the man who had cared for her when she was but thirteen and heavy with dead Edmund Tudor's son. Whatever her reasons, the King's Mother avoided Catherine as much as possible, but kept Cecily close.
Baron Welles was a good Lancastrian, a royal favorite and a member of the Privy Council. Henry hadn't left the comely Cecily on the marriage market for long when he'd come to power. He had married her into his own family as quickly as possible. Cecily seemed happy enough. She had never been an ambitious one, always a thoughtful, selfless Princess with a ready laugh and a kind word. Margaret Beaufort always held her up as an example of a good, Godly woman.
Duchess Catherine was bold, intelligent and self sufficient, like Woodville women were wont to be. She didn't care what Saint Margaret thought of her, and Maggie admired that. She loved the Duchess of Bedford as much as she did the Dowager Queen.
Queen Elizabeth's sister Anne was present as well. Anne was melancholy, always sighing and morose. She loved sad ballads and tragic literature and was always moody and gloomy. Today she looked almost anxious and when she saw Maggie approaching she hurried to greet her with her sister and aunt.
"Will we join my Lady Mother and attend the Queen now?" She asked expectantly "I wish for her to see the gown I made for the babe. Now that we know she is a Princess I will embroider her name into the cloth and may hap some roses, red, white and green of course."
She was babbling, Anne always did when she was nervous or excited. At fourteen she was a beauty, just like the rest of her sisters. She was slim as a reed and her voice was melodic and sweet. Catherine shushed her and took Maggie's hand.
"Is she well? I know that the babe brings her much joy. Finally, a Princess of her own."
Catherine had four surviving children by the late Duke of Buckingham. Edward, Elizabeth, Henry and Anne. She was not as attentive a mother as Elizabeth Woodville, but she loved her children and her family deeply. She very much wanted the Queen to be happy.
"Her Grace is well, thanks be to God. I must find Dame Verhille for the Princess, the Queen bade me request Your Grace's presence as soon as you can attend her, she has much to speak of. Their Highnesses her sisters as well, especially My Lady, the Princess Bridget."
Maggie had known Catherine Woodville the whole of her life, but amidst the entire court one upheld protocol. She kept her eyes downcast and addressed everyone with their proper titles. The slightest failure to follow the complicated, superfluous traditions and unspoken rules of the Royal Court made people take notice of you. Magdalena wanted nothing of that. The less these vicious nobles saw of her the better.
"Thank you Mistress Delacroix, for seeing my sister through her travail. May God Bless you. I hope you will attend me soon, to sing for me and play your harp."
Catherine was smiling broadly, she gave Maggie's hand a squeeze and turned to leave, passing through the sea of courtiers who had been leaning in to hear their conversation. Maggie waited until the three women had left the Presence Chamber and then turned to leave. There, her search for her sister ended.
Dorothea was beautiful, that was a fact Magdalena had lived with since she was old enough to know what the word meant. Her skin was creamy and clear, her figure supple and lithe. She had plump lips and small, pearly teeth. Her hair was thick and shiny, with rich shades of red and brown shot through. She looked just like their mother, her father had always said so.
She dressed lavishly, always swooning over new fashions and spending her allowance on clothes and creams and perfumes. As a married woman she was expected to cover her thick hair with veils or hoods, but a few wavy tendrils always seemed to come loose, framing her heart shaped face or snaking down her slender neck.
Envy was a sin Magdalena confessed every time she saw her confessor. It was an unwanted emotion, left over from her girlhood when she had prayed every night that God would make her grow into a beauty. She was thin, with a small bosom and slender hips. The womanly curves Dorothea possessed were gifts the good lord had denied her. She had inherited her father's jet black hair and dull grey eyes and his love of knowledge, along with her mother's wit and cunning. Her father had always told her she had a beautiful mind, but he had never patronized her and praised her beautiful face.
Maggie wasn't graceful or charming. Her conversational skills were lackluster at best and she often found herself embarrassing herself in the presence of the glittering courtiers.
They had grown up in the royal nursery, playmates to Edward IV's children, and where Maggie felt like an outsider it had given Dorothea considerable airs. She carried herself like a Princes, not a merchant's daughter, not like a royal servant.
"Maggie don't look so glum, we must be merry, for a Tudor Princess is born." Dorothy cooed as Magdalena approached her.
She was arm in arm with Grace Plantagenet. Both were twenty four, but one was the bastard daughter of Edward IV.
Grace had been in Elizabeth Woodville's service till the Dowager had gone to Bermondsey. Now she served in her half sister's household, and she and Dorothea were thick as thieves once again.
Grace was a delicate girl with a calm temperament, but Dorothy was a horrible influence. She always wanted to be the center of attention, and since most of the Duchesses, Countesses, Baronesses and Ladies at court didn't pay her any notice, she cherished any friends she was able to acquire. Grace was the daughter of a King, even if it was on the wrong side of the blanket, and that was a heady thing for Dorothea.
She had dreamed of marrying Grace's older brother Arthur (another bastard) to become a real and true Plantagenet, but a dream was all it had been, and Dorothea had squashed any plans of a marriage of her choice when she'd gotten with child nearly two years before. Phillipa had married her off to one of their father's merchant associates after the scandal, much to her eldest daughter's horror.
Willem Verhille was handsome, wealthy, young and kind, a lucky husband for any girl. He traveled the world selling wool, cloth and tapestries, a trade he had learned from Magdalena's father. He now managed the rents and properties of both her parents and assisted Phillipa with her husband's businesses in Tournai.
Maggie thought he was a wonderful man, and loved when he came to visit court. Dorothea loathed him, she thought herself above his station, as he was only a merchant (albeit a wealthy one). He had claimed Dorothy's girl, even though he knew she wasn't his. Magdalena didn't even know who little Adela's sire was, but in the eyes of the law she was no bastard and Dorothea was an honest woman.
"Yes, celebrations are in order, but first Her Highness must be fed." Maggie said curtly "I do wonder why you are out here amongst the visitors when you should be attending Her Grace the Queen."
Maggie was irritable from a long night with no sleep and eager to depart before the King arrived to greet his newborn daughter. Grace rolled her eyes and Dorthy laughed. The two of them had always called her Little Peck because she was such a "mother hen" and Magdalena always chafed at their jests. They called her Little Peck, Petite Grandmere, Mother Abbess and anything else they could think of to ridicule her. At nineteen the barbs still stung as much as they did when Maggie had been a girl.
"Well then Peck, I'll hurry on before you get your feathers all flustered. Lady Grace, would you care to accompany me. We must meet your niece together."
She might have been a bastard but Grace's ties to King Edward's court and the Yorks were strong, Maggie would have advised her not to speak of her kinship to the Princess in such close quarters with so much of the nobility of England, but such warnings would prove fruitless. Watching Dorothy lead her into the Queen's chambers, Maggie could hear her fathers voice echoing in her head, full of sadness.
"A case of the blind leading the blind poppet, and their blunders can be thunderous."
He had been speaking of Richard III, one of the last lucid conversations Maggie had enjoyed with the ailing Raymond before he succumb to his death the next year. Richard had not been blind, quite the opposite actually. Maggie's mother had believed Gloucester to be the most cunning of his three brothers, but her husband had loved Edward Plantagenet with the whole of his scoundrel heart, and he had hated Richard until his last breath for his usurpation.
As if spirited in by her old memories, she caught the eye of John of Gloucester as he entered the mob of peers. Another bastard, born before Richard had married his beloved Anne Neville, by some obscure northern woman named Katherine Haute.
The Plantagenets sowed many a wild seed, while the Tudor had no bastards and no mistresses. Elizabeth had recited such facts when her wedding night to the conqueror King had loomed large and while it was true that Henry was a faithful man, he ran cold as winter. He was not a man of lust but of logic, where John ran hot like a true son of York.
He had seen much, having been made Captain of Calais at fifteen, at the height of his father's power. When Henry slew Richard's force at Bosworth, his bright future had been torn from him. His youth bought him mercy from Henry, but the Earldom he had envisioned and the beautiful heiresses and rich lands were out of his reach. Henry was a greedy man, down to every last shilling, he had nothing for Richard's bastard but twenty pounds a year. Willem had urged him to go to the continent with him, to learn the business and make a life away from the poisons of a royal court. He had pledged himself to Henry's service instead.
"Mistress Delacroix." He greeted her warmly.
People said he looked more like his mother, the common Katherine, than his royal father. He had inherited her long chestnut brown hair and smattering of freckles. He was well built, with a broad chest and shapely legs. His nose was long and a little large for his face, but he was otherwise handsome.
"My Lord." She smiled in response, unable keep her features smooth and emotionless as she was wont to do in front of courtiers. "You have returned from visiting your mother! I am glad to see you back at court. How do you fare?"
He would have embraced her, had they been alone. He would have called her Lena and regaled her with funny tales from his travels to Gloucester where his mother had settled. There were rumors she was ill, gravely so, but he would't speak of that. He endeavored to always be cheerful. He joked to disguise his sadness, which was vast. He was a relic of her childhood, of York ascendant, but he was also her friend. They had been young together in a world briefly without war when Edward was King and life held so much promise for them both.
"It was and long and tedious. I would much rather spend my winter penned up here with you. What is a country life compared to the heart of England?" He winked and pressed a brief kiss to her knuckles. "And the heart of Sheeba?"
She stiffened and her smile began to fade back into the courtly mask. John sensed the spell was broken and frowned. Had they been alone he would have sworn. He had hoped to dredge up memories of before, of a time they could never grasp again. She felt her anger return along with the familiar, desperate desire to be away from the machinations of court. It reduced old friends into leverage and old lovers into deadly dangers. Maggie gave a perfunctory curtsy and finally was able to flee. When she returned to the Queen's chambers would be peaceful and mercifully empty. She was aware of some snickers from the crowd but ignored them and rushed through the doors.
She sped down the corridor, away from the gentry and the nobles and the royals and the myriad of bastards. Magdalena was suddenly exhausted. As she turned a corner towards the stairwell that lead to her chamber, she heard the blare of trumpets and the herald's voice echoing down the halls as they announced the King. She crossed herself and sent up a whispered prayer for baby Margaret.
"Saint Mary, Queen of Heaven, let her father love her. Let the Tudor love her as Raymond Delacroix loved his daughters. And God save Queen Elizabeth."
Then she hurried up the stairs to her room, to find what she needed for her mistress...