WESTMINSTER PALACE, NOVEMBER 30th, 1489
Kingship meant many things.
Kingship, for Henry, had meant the destruction of most of his family. It had meant exile from England, and from his beloved mother. It had meant living on the run, a Pretender in the courts of Europe, finally settling in Brittany thanks to good Duke Francis. Kingship had meant sea voyages in storm, retreat, attack, battle and finally Kingship had meant death; death to Richard and death to Plantagenet.
Then he had won. Stanley had placed the crown on his head (still caked with the dried blood of his murdered predecessor) and once again Lancaster had been ascendant. The Red Roses had come out of hiding, marching behind their hope, and the avenger of Sainted King Henry of Blessed Memory. He had entered London, a celebrated leader and conqueror. He could still remember his coronation, the cheers, the roars, the joy. His mother's face, streaming with tears as years of dreams and plans and danger had culminated in the Archbishop of Canterbury placing the crown on his head, the scepter in his hand and all the peers of the realm beholding their new sovereign, By God's Grace Henry the Seventh, King of England and France, Prince of Wales and Lord of Ireland.
He had married the daughter of the Great King Edward, as he had vowed to do on the floor of Rennes Cathedral, that cold Christmas morning six years prior. Then it had been a pretty notion, suggested by his mother and swooned over by ladies all over Europe. He had heard of Elizabeth's beauty, surely, but for Henry appearances had never stirred him. He could appreciate a fine face, a well made body, sparkling eyes, shiny hair. He was a man, as any man, and felt himself stir with passion at women, but he was a master of his passions, the exact opposite of Elizabeth of York's father.
Though he had been a great King he had ruled as all the Plantagenets had, unpredictably and ruled by his lust and his earthly urges. He had decided then that he might not marry Elizabeth of York at all. If a more prudent match could be found he would have chosen it, Henry Tudor always thought two steps ahead.
Then he had seen her.
Beautiful women were something he had become accustomed to. He had been to courts all over Europe, had seen the beauties of the continent and the beauties of Wales and England. It had not been her beauty (which was abundant) but her eyes that had shocked him to his core. They were blue, like the sky on a summer's day at Pembroke Castle, when he had been a boy and the world had been full of possibility. Her smile warmed him through and through. Just to stare at her face had made him feel at ease, at home, safe.
He had managed to remain respectable and behave himself, but the prospect of marrying Elizabeth had made him feel He had told no one, save his mother, of his fire for her. Margaret Beaufort had been ecstatic. She had been the one, along with the Dowager Queen, to arrange the match. Elizabeth had no say in the matter. She had gone from daughter of the King, to sister of the King, to niece of the King, to bastard and now she was Queen of England.
Of course, he had not married her as quickly as many Yorkists might have liked. That rush of emotions had pleased him, but it had not robbed him of his reason. Men who lost their minds with love belonged in poems and ballads, all well and good for entertainment but not fitting for a King. Henry was a prudent man. He would rule by right of conquest, as William the Conqueror had done, not by right of his wife.
He had struck the bastardy from her and after he had been crowned, he had married the eldest daughter of Edward. She had come to him virgin, the rumors of her relationship with her Uncle had been foolish lies. He could still remember, when the door to his chamber had been shut and they had been alone for the first time. The wedding had been long and tedious and the only part he had enjoyed was being able to kiss her in view of his whole court when their vows had been spoken.
There she'd been, in her night shift, her heavy golden hair hanging down her back. Her face had been so angelic, her lips soft and full. The beauty of her parents had been passed down to her, whereas Henry knew he was no dandy. He was a man of meager looks and she was Venus in the flesh. The outline of her body had been maddening in the firelight and he had felt like a boy, intimidated and frozen with fear. He had lain with two women in his life, only one who he had truly loved, but he had never been as wholly enchanted with one of the creatures as he had been with his young, York wife.
It had been her that had laid her delicate hand on his chest, her eyes brimming with tears.
"I wish to love as my mother loved her husband. I wish to be a good wife to you, Your Grace."
She had given him strength. He had gathered her into his arms and had kissed her softly, brushing the tears from her face and holding her close to him well into the night. They had talked, both of them, of their memories of love and marriage. Elizabeth had told of her mother's secret heartbreak after every one of her father's infidelities. Henry had spoken of the Earl and Countess of Pembroke, who he had watched with wonder as a boy. They had loved each other well and faithfully, and he had hoped to be as good a husband as Lord Walter some day.
They had consummated the marriage and eight months later Arthur Tudor had been born, a merging of their houses and a Prince to end the Cousin's War once and for all. A child created in the beginning of their love, when Henry had felt as if the Lord had blessed him beyond all imagining. He had been very happy with Elizabeth, and he hoped, in the blissfully ignorant way that husbands had, that she was just as happy. He had never asked her, he could not bring himself to. She seemed so. Even when she had been near to her confinement, she had requested his company at least once a day. They had played chess, he had read to her, rubbed her back, brought her foods to quell her ample appetite. He had enjoyed it, taking the time from governance to be a husband to Elizabeth. If he did not have the whole country on his shoulders, he would spend many more days and nights just being her husband.
Unfortunately, he did have a mistress, and that mistress took up nearly all of his time. She was England, and she demanded more and more of him every year. So he had not seen his wife since the morning before, when he had taken Margaret to her baptism. He felt a tinge of guilt, but also remembered the cold greeting he had gotten from his Queen. Elizabeth was always regal, always noble, with a Queenly bearing, but even so she showed Henry warmth and affection. When he'd left her quarters with their children she had been cold and aloof, almost angry. He could count on one hand how many times he had seen Elizabeth angry.
So he had avoided her. His mother had assured him she was resting and spending time with the children while she could. Once she was churched her duties as Queen would call for Arthur and Margaret to return to their nurses and come Spring they would be taken to Eltham Palace, where the royal nursery was located. So Henry had gone about his business, and he had plenty to go about. The War in Brittany was still waging, and while he was a man that abhorred battle, keeping King Charles from annexing Brittany was worth the 6,000 men he had sent. He owed a debt to Brittany, Duke Francis has sheltered him for all those years after all; and it didn't ever hurt to entangle France in one political knot or another. If they worried about Brittany, then they'd leave England well enough alone.
Or so was his hope. He had sent only a small amount of troops and not enough to make much of a difference, but enough to appease his conscience, and he prayed. He ordered his Bishops to pray for Duchess Anne of Brittany. He couldn't say he approved of her plans to marry the Holy Roman Emperor's son and heir, but he had no suitable matches to offer, not in a timely manner at any rate. He had pondered over all the eligible men around him, but none would appeal to the proud Anne of Brittany. So he had shown his support and kept his opinions to himself. The Hapsburg was a problem he could deal with later, now he needed to face his wife.
He had spent most of the morning after Mass receiving gifts from his nobles and giving them to his son. Little Arthur had grown tired, and it was now about three o clock. Dinner with his mother would begin in a few hours. So he had accompanied Arthur's nurse Dame Darcy back to his mother's chambers where he would give Elizabeth some of the gifts that had been presented to him in lieu of the Queen. Henry enjoyed State functions much more when his children or his wife were beside him. He might not have shown the affection and abandon of Edward IV, but none could deny that Henry Tudor was a much happier Sovereign when the royal family was present.
As they approached Elizabeth's chamber, Arthur tugged on Henry's sleeve, looking up at his father with wide eyes. He was three now and growing fast. His cheeks were a bit chubby, like Elizabeth's but his eyes were Tudor. His hair was a golden red, a blending of his mother and father's. He was healthy and strong, if not a little smaller than most boys his age. He had been born a month premature, so Henry thanked the Lord every night that the little Prince had lived this long. His Arthur, the symbol of his triumph, the hope of a Golden England. He leaned down, motioning to the nurse to pause for a moment. Behind him his guard halted. Arthur smiled nervously.
"Will the baby be with Lady Mother?" he lisped, in his childlike voice "I do not like her."
Henry laughed, the sound of it echoing off the walls of the empty corridor. His courtiers rarely heard that sound, but Dame Darcy was well used to it. When the King was alone with his son he was enamored, same with his wife. Elizabeth Darcy believed it would be the same with any babes Elizabeth birthed him. He, who had been taken from his mother, who had been blessed with no siblings, who'd own father had died before he was even born; the King felt blessed in his family above all things. The two things Henry valued and loved most in the world were security and his family.
"And why is that Your Highness?" Henry gathered the boy into his arms "She is your baby sister, a Princess of England. She is our treasure, and we must protect her. We must cherish her and keep her safe, as we do your Lady Mother. Are you not a true Knight Arthur?"
The young boy's face was grave and serious. He crossed his arms and stamped his foot.
"I am a Knight! I am a Knight of the Bath and my Grandmother the Countess says that you will make me a Knight of the Garter when I grow older! Mistress Delacroix says I will be the greatest Knight of the realm! A Knight of Camelot like King Arthur!"
Henry laughed again, placing a gentle kiss on his forehead.
"And she is right," Henry said, shifting through his memory to try and place the name. Elizabeth's maidservant, the Merchant's daughter. He nodded his head with approval and took Arthur's hand "You will be King Arthur and England will be your Camelot. But as a Knight of the round table you must protect all women and children, and most important of all she is your blood, your family. That is all you have Arthur, when the world falls apart it is all any of us have, Kings or no."
Arthur nodded. Henry wasn't sure if he completely understood, but he looked determined. He fixed his father with a stern visage that made Henry smile.
"My Lord Father, I vow to be better thank King Arthur! Mistress Delacroix said he hated his sister!"
This made Henry guffaw and Arthur began to giggle with him. Dame Darcy smiled as well and some of the guards chuckled and nudged each other at their Prince's wit. Henry was pleased. After a moment the sound of a door opening at the end of the hall stopped the reverie and the stiff figure of his mother was before them. Her face was stretched into a smile that she saved only for her grandchildren and her son. Henry walked towards her, little Arthur in tow.
"My son!" she said happily "And my grandson! You're just in time, the Princess is awake. Come, come!"
They followed her in, except his guards who joined the Queen's guards without. Elizabeth and Margaret's ladies bowed low as they made their way towards the window. Elizabeth was up and dressed and looking the picture of health in the afternoon sunlight. She was holding Margaret, who was staring up at the light with wide, curious eyes. Her little hands were waving and little spittle bubbles appeared at the corners of her pink lips. Her eyes were blue, like her mother's, but Arthur's had been the same and now they were brown like Henry's. His mother said most babes eyes were blue at birth. He could see a fuzz of golden red hair on the baby's small scalp. Henry felt himself swell with joy as Arthur hurried towards his mother, who embraced him. Dame Verhille sat by the window, needlepoint in her hand but her eyes staring out the window.
When Henry answered she looked past him expectantly, as she did on many visits as Henry had observed, but was disappointed yet again. She looked down at her needlepoint, a defeated look on her lovely face. He vaguely remembered his mother had been upset at her, something about her not following the Countess's prescribed diet. She looked healthy enough, Henry noted with a quirked eyebrow. Dame Dorothea was beautiful, assuredly, but she held no candle to his Queen.
He felt himself stir as he saw her, passion welling up within him. But he quelled it. He would abstain from lying with her until she was blessed and churched. He was happy she would be free of confinement for the Yuletide festivities. He planned on making it special for her this year, to show his appreciation for his healthy, growing family. Perhaps they would conceive another Prince. He planned on moving the court to Greenwich by the fifteenth of December, where they would stay till right before Shrove Tuesday. Henry always had the courts route picked out all year, where they would travel while certain castles were cleaned and sweetened. This summer they would go on progress again, unless Elizabeth were to be found with child again, then he would go and she would stay behind in the capital with his mother. Not governing of course, but comfortable and under Margaret Beaufort's watchful eye.
Margaret stood behind Henry now, smiling sweetly at her daughter in law and grandchildren. She loved Elizabeth, who she had plotted with Elizabeth Woodville and risked her neck under Richard to bring to his marriage bed. She had always spoken highly of King Edward's children and in some strange way she was fond of Elizabeth Woodville. She wanted royal blood for Henry's children, the future of their dynasty. Hadn't she told him their dynasty would reign for a thousand years as a boy? He had said much of the same when he became King. Margaret Beaufort had been right in everything else, including Elizabeth, so why should Henry doubt her degree. A Tudor millennium, it painted quite the lovely picture.
If you can hold the throne... and old familiar voice of doubt whispered for there are many who would see you fall.
It was true, he had won his throne in battle and kept it through cunning. His marriage to Elizabeth had helped him, but on his own terms. He knew that while he didn't necessarily have the bloodline to make him rightful King, he had the will of the almighty God behind him, and a grand vision for a golden age in England. They would praise him, despite the rocky start. He was sure Lambert Simnel would be the last of his worries in that respect. God willing the reign of King Henry the Seventh would be a glorious one, with no more war and only prosperity.
"That is a grand gown." He said as he surveyed his young wife, there was mischief in his eyes. "And how much will it tax the royal coffers Your Grace."
"Very little." Elizabeth said shortly "It was one of my mother's, refurbished by her woman, Dame Delacroix. She has a gift for such things."
Henry frowned. Arthur was fingering the sheer lace hanging from his mother's veil and staring up at her with adoration. The Princess cooed, Elizabeth smiled down at her. There were no smiles for him.
"Arthur, give your mother her gifts." He said, his vice raising an octave "And then My Lady Mother and Dame Verhille will take them to the nursery. I would speak with the Queen, alone."
So the Prince happily gave his mother the baubles and bolts of cloth and even a new silver mirror, big enough to hang on the wall. She smiled and praised him for his memory of each gift and each courtier that had given it. In French, she called him her special boy and again in French Arthur called her his dear mother and asked that God bless her. Henry quirked an eyebrow.
When everyone had cleared the room he turned to her.
"You have been teaching him French?"
She shook her head and moved to the window, staring down at the river Thames, her countenance grim.
"No Your Grace, my woman, Mistress Delacroix. She is often with him, she insists the earlier he learns his languages the more adept he will be."
"And how many languages does a mere merchant's daughter speak?" He said dismissively "Her sister is Margaret's wet nurse is she not?"
Elizabeth's face grew red and anger flashed in her sky blue eyes. That was odd, he noted it and stood back, his feet planted apart and his arms crossed in front of him. He tried not to appear amused.
"She can speak French, Flemish and English. She has some Greek and Latin as well. Yes, Dame Dorothea is her elder sister. Both are daughters of Dame Delacroix."
He waved his hand and nodded, walking towards her desk. He knew Mistress Delacroix's handwriting, her page was often sent away and young Magdalena tended to dictate many of the Queen's correspondences. He had known her to be lettered, but not accomplished. She was a scholar it seemed, like his mother.
"It would seem she's been giving our son a thorough education in Le Morte de Arthur. I was only mentioning that I approve of the subject matter. His formal schooling will begin soon, it's never too early to prepare a Prince to be a learned man."
Her face pinched and Henry felt a wave of exasperation. He had hoped to dismiss everyone but the Queen and the children, to spend a precious hour in the company of his family. Now he was cross. Why would his wife pick such a day as this to be a shrew? Henry stiffened.
"My lady you are sullen and it does not flatter you, I must admit."
She turned slowly, the look of anger melting into a cool, serene, courtly mask. She smiled at him and bowed her head.
"Forgive me Your Grace, your mother says it is only that my humors are imbalanced, I will be bled tonight and have a hot bath. I beg your pardon."
She bowed her head and was once again the good, submissive wife. Henry found himself upset for a moment. He wished sometimes her were just another man. He would have closed the distance between them, taken her in his arms and demanded a true answer. She was a Princess of the blood, a master at dissembling and if it caused him discomfort, she was quick to hide it. In a Queen these were wonderful qualities, in a wife they could be maddening. He took a deep breath, deciding he would get some work done instead of spending the day in the Queen's chambers. But she would not have the children's company, if he could not enjoy hers.
"It is forgotten. I must go now. I wish for you to get some rest. My mother will arrange the rest of the children's days. Have these shades drawn and help the Queen into more comfortable attire. You will rest until your leeching and your bath. I will send for Mistress Delacroix to read to you."
"I have given her leave of the palace." Elizabeth said dully "Call for my maid of honor, the Blount girl her voice is sweet enough, if it please you my Lord."
"Very well." he said, his fingers running along the lining of her wooden desk. She had turned back to the river. Henry sighed and shook his head, heading towards the door. He called for Elizabeth's servant and turned once more to her "I am glad to see you well, wife."
"Give thanks to the Lord God, and the mere merchant's daughter."
In spite of himself he laughed and left her chambers. He would retreat, and return on a more auspicious occasion.