The Queen is Dead!: Katherine of Aragon dies in 1518

Section CXLI - October 1523
  • Fontainebleu, October 1523
    “Annabelle? This came off the boat for you.”

    Marguerite held out a slim packet of parchment to her young favourite. Anne curtsied and took it, turning it over and over in her hands. Suddenly, she stifled a gasp, successfully enough that none of Marguerite’s other ladies noticed, but not successfully enough for Marguerite not to raise her head curiously.

    “What is it, cherie?”

    “It’s from King Henry.”

    “King Henry? What does he want now?”
    Marguerite raised her eyebrows and Anne shrugged, reaching for a letter opener and slitting open the packet. She spread the parchment wide and scanned it with her sparkling onyx eyes.

    “He wants Harry and I to go back to England. He writes that my sister is once again with child and he wants Harry and I on hand to help her.”

    “Annabelle...”
    Marguerite put out a hand to her, “If you would rather not go, you don’t have to. We can make up some excuse.”

    “With all due respect, Madame, I think we do.”

    “Annabelle, it could be a trap. Remember how angry he was when you fled? What if he’s just trying to get you back into England so that he can punish you?”

    “I don’t think subtlety like that is Henry Tudor’s game, Madame. I doubt that he would write that this was the little Dauphine's idea unless it truly was. Besides, he writes also that my sister is having a very hard time of it with this pregnancy. If that’s true, then I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t go back to help her. Non, Madame. I thank you for your concern and your hospitality all these months; your willingness to be a sanctuary for my family for a long as we needed it, but I believe it is time we went home.”

    “But little Margaret? Will she not suffer from the journey?”


    Anne’s face clouded for an instant, but then she shook her head, “I don’t think so, Madame. Not if we’re careful. If we take the journey slowly. She’s four months old now, don’t forget. Your Grace’s nieces and nephews have been sent clear across France at a younger age than that. If we’re careful, Maggie should come to no harm.”

    Marguerite sighed, “Your mind’s made up, isn’t it, ma petite Boleynette? Very well. I’d be lying if I said I was happy about letting you go, but nonetheless, you have my blessing.”

    “Merci, Madame! Merci Beaucoup!”
    Anne gasped, kneeling by her mistress’s feet and bowing her lustrous ebony head in gratitude. Marguerite placed a hand on the raven curls where they peeped out from beneath the ruby-encrusted hood.

    “May God bless you and keep you, ma petite,” she murmured, “May He keep you safe, now and forever.”
     
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    Section CXLII - November 1523
  • Richmond, November 1523
    The slow water of the Thames drifted beneath the barge as it was rowed upstream to Richmond. Anne stood by the prow, her hands clenched around the golden rail. She stared into the early November fog, thanking God that the journey had been relatively smooth thus far, given the time of year and trying not to admit how scared she was.

    What on Earth had she been thinking, insisting on coming back? And bringing Harry and Maggie with her? She had no idea what she was walking into. Why hadn’t she followed King François’s advice and left them in France, where King Henry wouldn’t be able to get to them if he was still angry at what she and Harry had done?

    “Annabelle? Are you all right, love?”

    Harry’s murmur broke into her reverie and she turned, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips as she saw her husband approaching her across the deck, their almost five-month-old daughter wriggling in the crook of his arm. Momentarily, she debated pretending she was fine, but she could never lie to Harry. He knew her too well.

    “I’m just scared,” she admitted, “I just don’t know how King Henry’s going to react to having us back. I know he invited us, but he’s so unpredictable. Who knows if he’s changed his mind? And we’ve Maggie to fear for now. It’s not just us anymore.”

    “Then we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Right now, we are here to help your sister. Let’s not forget that.”

    “Hmm,” Anne murmured, resting her dark head on his shoulder as he slipped his free arm around her waist.

    Yet, when they arrived at the Palace steps, their fears were dispelled in an instant.

    King Henry met them straight off the boat, waving away their obeisance with a jovial hand.

    “Rise, Harry. Annie. All is forgiven now. Indeed, I apologise for making you wait so long to be wed. Your impatience was understandable and I plead forgiveness for my harsh reaction. Please, accept a gift in recompense.”

    “Sire?”

    “I’m going to name you Marquis of Lancaster to show that all is truly forgiven between us,” Henry clapped Harry on the shoulder, and the younger man gaped.

    Anne gasped, falling to her knees in gratitude, “Thank you, Sire!”

    King Henry laughed, “You have nothing to thank me for, Annie dearest. And how many times must I remind you? I would not have you be so formal with your older brother.”

    Helping her up, he kissed her, glanced quickly at Maggie and patted her downy head, “She’s a charming little thing. You’ve done well, little sister. Now, run along and find Marie while I talk to Lord Lancaster here. She’s dying of boredom and she’ll be very glad to see you.”

    “Majesty,” Anne curtsied again, took Maggie out of Harry’s arms and hurried out of the courtyard, knowing better than to protest at being dismissed as easily as a child. King Henry couldn’t stop thinking of her as a child. In a way, she could almost understand it. She was a full generation younger than him, after all. And he was the King. Hate it though she did, there was nothing she could do.

    She hurried through the palace to her sister’s rooms, shifting Maggie in her arms to make it easier to knock.

    Sarah, her sister’s other favourite, opened the door.

    “Anne, thank goodness! You’re all right!” she pulled the younger woman into her embrace, then fussed briefly over little Maggie before letting Anne step into the room.

    “Are we glad to see you! You might be able to ease your sister’s heart a little.”

    “Is it a difficult pregnancy?”

    “Marie’s trying to be as patient as possible, but it’s not easy for her. This pregnancy is a lot harder than either of the other two.”

    As if on cue, an anguished groan came from her sister’s privy chamber, “Ugh! I need another pillow! My back aches as though I’ve got a poker rammed up it!”

    Sarah glanced at Anne, “Go on. You take it in. She’ll be delighted to see you.”

    Anne nodded, snatched up the nearest silken pillow and balanced Maggie in her other arm before ducking through the door into the next room. Marie didn’t see her at first, so she had a chance to pause and observe her older sister. Marie sat on a large velvet divan, propped up by at least a score of feather pillows, a deep scowl of discomfort marring her usually pretty features. Anne almost had to bite back a laugh. She’d never seen her sister look so spoilt in her life. Then she caught sight of just how huge Marie’s belly actually was.

    “Good God, Marie, how far along are you?!” she exclaimed, hurrying forward to tuck another pillow into the small of her sister’s back.

    “Annie!” Marie gasped, pleasure lighting up her beautiful blue eyes, “You’re back! And this must be little Margaret. Oh, she’s gorgeous!”

    Anne laughed, leaning over to give her sister a one-armed hug, “I’m Lady Lancaster now. Henry bestowed Harry with the title of Marquis of Lancaster the moment we stepped off the boat.”

    Marie made to gasp with pleasure, but Anne held up a hand, “It’s not official yet! Your husband has to dissolve the Duchy first! But that shouldn't take too long, it's not as if he can't afford it, with Normandy firmly in his clutches. I'd say everything will be in place by Christmas. Until then, I’d rather talk about you. Are you really only three months along? You look like you could be six or seven at least.”

    “No, just three. Dr Linacre has predicted a multiple birth, though until the babies quicken, there’s no way to be sure. But anyway, can I hold my niece, please?”

    “Of course!" Anne arranged Maggie in her sister’s arms and perched on the other end of the divan.

    Maggie, however, was nowhere near as content with the new state of affairs as her mother and aunt were. Never one to lie completely still anyway, she began to squirm ferociously in Marie’s arms before setting up a raucous wail of protest. Marie tried bouncing her and shushing her, but she was having none of it.

    Anne watched, knowing precisely what was wrong with her little girl and smirking as she watched her older sister struggle to figure it out. Eventually, she took pity on them both – and on her own eardrums – and took Maggie back into her own arms.

    “Have you forgotten everything Mother ever taught you about babies, sister?” she chuckled, “Maggie’s just windy, that’s all. It always happens, because she never stays still long enough to eat, do you, precious? You need to learn to be more patient.”

    So saying, she patted her little girl’s back firmly, eliciting a huge burp from her.

    “You vixen! You were enjoying watching me struggle with her, weren’t you?” Marie cried, blushing furiously.

    Anne shrugged, “You needed something to distract you from yourself.”

    Marie moved to swat her, then sighed, “You’re lucky. I can’t be bothered. Now give me my niece back. I need to get used to having a baby in my arms again.”

    Anne laughed and tapped Maggie’s nose, “You be good for your aunt now, you hear? She’s the Queen of England so we have to keep her happy.”

    As the last word left her mouth, she deposited a much more content Maggie into Marie’s arms.
     
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    Section CXLIII - November 1523
  • York Place, November 1523
    York Place rang with howls. Howls emanating from the rooms high above the central courtyard, where Honour was writhing in the throes of childbirth. No longer the fresh-faced beauty the King had fallen for, she was clammy with sweat and groaning fearfully – anguished groans, which, as another wave of pain knifed her already cramping belly – turned to a dreadful scream.

    “Goodness, Lady Honour. That was near loud enough to wake the dead,” the midwife clucked, fussing over her, “Not to worry though. It’ll soon be over.”

    “You’ve been saying that for hours, you old hag!” Honour roared, jolting upright in the bed, intent on attacking the old woman, before another contraction ripped into her and she slumped back into her pillows weak and listless in its aftermath, “Just get it out of me,” she begged, tears rolling down her cheeks.

    “I can’t, love. I can’t. But it really won’t be long now. I promise,” her midwife soothed, wiping her brow with a cool cloth, a note of pity creeping into her voice.

    Luckily for Honour, the older woman was right and her labour really didn’t last that much longer, though it felt as though it went on for an eternity. Within the hour, a new-born’s thin, insistent wail pierced the air.

    “A healthy baby girl, Lady Honour!” the midwife said cheerfully, “I’ll just clean you both up and then you can get to know each other, all right?”

    Honour nodded, simply too exhausted to speak. It wasn’t until she had her new-born daughter in her arms that she found her voice again.

    “Grace,” she breathed, stroking the smooth brow tenderly, “I shall call her Grace because it was the King who, in his grace, saw fit to bless me with her.”

    “That’s a beautiful name, Madam,” the other woman murmured, tucking the swans-down blanket carefully around the radiant young mother and her child to keep them safe from the November chill. She saw Honour comfortable and made sure Grace had been taken up to her wet-nurse to feed before she went to write to the King to inform him that he had a new daughter.
     
    Section CXLIV - November 1523
  • Richmond, November 1523
    “Charles. Come and play cards with me.”

    Charles knew the apparent invitation was really more of an order, so said nothing, just stood up and followed his brother-in-law into the small antechamber Harry often reserved for playing cards.

    “Piquet?”

    Charles nodded, “As you wish.”

    He took the proffered deck of cards from his oldest friend and shuffled and dealt. He could tell Harry had something on his mind from the way his jaw was working furiously, so it was no surprise when, a couple of hands later, Harry blurted, “Lady Honour’s given birth to a healthy girl. Grace, she’s calling her, apparently.”

    “Congratulations,” Charles inclined his head, “You must be delighted.”

    “I’m pleased they’re both alive and well, yes. It bodes well for the future. I think the Tudor curse might well and truly be broken now.”

    “But...”

    “How is this going to impact my relationship with Marie? You’ve seen how fragile she is at the moment, Charles. The slightest thing sets her off in tears. She’s not going to like me paying any attention to Honour and little Grace, not in her current state. And the Princes have to take priority.”

    “Of course they do. But you do intend to acknowledge Lady Honour’s girl?”

    “I don’t see that I’ve any choice. I wasn’t exactly discreet about my relationship with Honour, and she’s got too fine a character to have betrayed me like that. And I didn’t think to marry her off first, so I can’t even take shelter behind her husband. Little Grace will have to be a Fitzroy. Why didn’t I marry Honour off?”

    “Well, it’s too late now. You can’t exactly go back to the spring and sort everything out the way you know would be best. But whatever you decide to do, I don’t think you should place your newest bastard at Eltham the way you did Hal. Marie’s already been so forgiving of the boy, allowing him to be raised alongside her children now that his mother’s dead. I don’t think you ought to push your luck too far.”

    “I know.”

    “May I suggest a course of action?”

    “By all means. I’d welcome your advice.”

    “I think your best course of action is to bestow some low-ranking title upon your daughter, maybe an Irish one, given her heritage, and pay Honour off with a kind of widows’ pension. Then no one can say you haven’t acted honourably towards them, but you don’t risk setting the lass up as a rival to Marie’s children either. Pack them off to some Irish estates, maybe under Lord Ormonde or Lord Pembroke’s guardianship and then forget about them. You needn’t see the girl for years, if you don’t want to.”

    Harry considered for a moment, then his face cleared, “I knew you’d have the answer, Charles. I’ll make Honour’s girl a Baroness and send them both back to Ireland. Lord Pembroke and Lord Ormonde will be able to keep them loyal and stop England from having to suffer another she-wolf like Lady Tailboys. The Ossory title’s vacant, maybe I should bestow that on Grace. Yes. Lady Grace Fitzroy, Baroness of Upper Ossory. How does that sound?”

    “I think it sounds like a very good idea indeed,” Charles smiled, pleased to see his best friend jovial once more.
     
    Section CXLV - January 1524
  • Greenwich, January 1524
    Anne’s prediction that her brother-in-law would have the Duchy of Lancaster dissolved by Christmas was out, but only by a week. Harry Percy was ennobled as Marquis of Lancaster in a lavish ceremony on the feast of Twelfth Night. He wore sea-green velvet, his royal brother-in-law sumptuous cloth of gold, and the new Lady Lancaster was resplendent at Harry’s side in yards and yards of silver damask, glittering with happiness. As the King placed the coronet of estate on Harry’s head and the ermine-trimmed robes about his shoulders, she could hardly restrain a laugh of pure delight.

    It was Princess Maria who really stole the show, however. As her mother felt too unwell to attend the ceremony and her father wished to underline the fact that she and her brother Lionel were his true heirs and he would never doubt that, even if he was now ennobling her younger half-sister as a Baroness, Henry had decided to let the little Dauphine help him ennoble her new uncle.

    “Arise, Lord Lancaster, and receive the patent of your nobility.”

    Her young voice rang through the hall, melting every heart with its affected gravity.

    Harry rose from his knees and solemnly took the beribboned scroll out of her small hands, kissing her formally on both cheeks.

    “Thank you, Madame,” he replied, “I am greatly honoured by the trust you and your father place in me by bestowing this title upon me. I shall endeavour to be worthy of it.”

    “I’m pleased,” Maria answered, “Will Maggie be a part of my household now?”

    “Maria!” Henry chided, shocked at his oldest daughter’s boldness and worried she had ruined the ceremony. At seven, she really should have known better than to speak out of turn like that.

    Anne, however, laughed and held out her hands to Maria, “Maybe when she’s older, Your Highness. But if you have a little sister, it might be easier for Maggie to share a household with her instead. After all, you’re a big girl now. You won’t want your baby cousin tagging along after you for long.”

    “I suppose,” Maria considered, cocking her head. The surrounding courtiers oohed and ahhed at the brief exchange between aunt and niece and Henry softened. Perhaps Maria’s impulsiveness wasn’t so bad after all. She seemed to charm the people, which was always important. He patted her head.

    “Well done, sweetheart. You did very well. Mama will be very proud when she hears about this. Now, off you go with Aunt Anne and Uncle Harry.”

    The three obeyed his wishes, bowing and curtsying once more before retreating down the centre of the hall, Maria trotting happily between her aunt and uncle and drawing many an adoring look as she went.

    Henry watched her go, a wistful smile on his face, before he shook himself, turned back to his throne and nodded to the herald to call in Honour and their two-month-old daughter, Lady Grace Fitzroy.

    “Just one more ceremony,” he thought, “Just one more ceremony and then I can get on with rebuilding my life with Marie and the children.”
     
    Section CXLVI - April 1524
  • Baynard's Castle, April 1524
    By early March, the weight of Marie’s belly was so great, she could no longer walk unassisted. By April, when she was confined to her lying-in chamber, she was bloated to such terrible proportions that nothing but loose silken wraps would even fit her any more, leaving her bitterly cold in the draughty halls of the palace, even with half a dozen eiderdowns spread over the great mound of her belly.

    By now, there was no longer any doubt that she would be having at least twins. She was too big and the child too restless for it to be anything other than a multiple birth.

    Dr Linacre had been worried and had wanted her to retire to her chamber much earlier, but Marie, with an uncharacteristic touch of the Boleyn steel, had categorically refused.

    “I hate taking to my chamber, sir. It is deathly dull and I never have anything to do but fret over every new twinge of pain. I am not entering that room a single day earlier than propriety says I must, do you hear?”

    Unwilling to distress her further because of the children she carried, Dr Linacre had not pressed the point. However, by the first of April, Marie could not delay the dreaded day any longer, so into her chamber she went, processing there with great stately pomp, pomp she ruined on the threshold by clinging to her husband and weeping piteously.

    “Don’t leave me, Henry, please! I’m scared! Don’t leave me, please!”

    “I must, darling,” Henry, knowing Marie was only behaving like this because of the children inside her playing havoc with her emotions, kept his voice unusually patient and reassuring, “I must, but don’t you fret. I’ll come and visit you regularly. Anyway, it won’t be long now and you’ll have our strapping boys in your arms. Won’t that be something? Prince Edward and Prince George, hmm? After good St George and your brother, what do you say?”

    Marie nodded tearfully, letting her husband calm her with kisses and caresses. Then she pulled herself together and retreated into her chambers, most of her household clustered around her. Henry turned to her mother and sister, who had hung back.

    “Lady Lancaster, Lady Ormonde, I leave the Queen in your charge. Keep her safe, keep her healthy and keep her happy if you can. In short, take great care of her, for she and the children in her womb are currently England’s greatest earthly treasure.”

    “We will, Sire,” the women chorused, kneeling for his blessing.

    He gave it to them and then they too followed their mistress into her rooms. The door banged shut behind them with a thud of finality.
     
    Section CXLVII - April 1524
  • Baynard's Castle - April 1524
    Keeping Marie safe and healthy was one thing. Keeping her happy was quite another. The babies were far too restless to let her sleep properly and, without sleep, she became far more irritable than usual. Not even Anne, Kathy, Sarah, Joanna or Elizabeth could soothe her ruffled temper, which lashed out at the slightest provocation.

    She could settle to nothing; she would call for her lute, but as soon as the string broke, which one often did, for she was too impatient to play properly, she would hurl it aside with a sigh, forcing the nearest lady to catch it before it fell to the floor and broke or else was dashed against the wall. Embroidery only held her attention for about as long as it took to sew a couple of needlefuls of thread and sometimes not even that long – if she dropped a stitch, she would snarl in frustration and shout for it to be taken away. If it hadn’t been for her far more patient ladies, the children’s layettes would never have been finished in time. Cards was out of the question – she could barely sit through the deal, much less a full hand.

    Reading or being read to or possibly having musicians play for her held her attention for a little longer, for they took her mind off her suffering a fraction better, but even then, she would often be fidgeting and groaning for more pillows for her back. Rubbing her back sometimes allowed her to sleep, but never for long – either the babies would start kicking or else she would be hit with the other great difficulty that besets pregnant women.

    With a squirm of realisation, an anguished wail would leave her pouting lips, and the nearest lady would have to jump up and rapidly fetch the chamber pot. She would be helped to arrange herself upon it with a great flurry and rustle of fabric, proceed to relieve herself with a splatter of urine and a guttural groan of relief and then have to be assisted back to her former position.

    The whole rigmarole would repeat itself not twenty minutes later, for she needed to relieve herself at least twice an hour.

    “It’s like taking care of an overgrown toddler,” Anne sighed in private to her husband. “I’ve never known Marie to be so capricious. She’s always been the easy-going one of the three of us, yet now, nothing anyone does is good enough for her. She nearly threw her lute at the King’s head yesterday. I’m not surprised he hasn’t come back.”

    “You know she’s not doing it on purpose, don’t you?”

    “Of course! I know pregnancy’s not easy and Marie’s got it harder than most because she’s carrying more than one child, but that doesn’t mean her fickle-mindedness isn’t tiring. You know she reduced both Mistress Seymour and Mistress Parr to tears today? Both of them experienced, patient courtiers and she reduced them to tears.”

    “No! Why?”

    “Mistress Seymour had put an inch of lace in the wrong place on one of the babies’ shirts. It was a mistake that would have taken half a minute to fix, especially for a skilled seamstress like her, but Marie harangued her for a good quarter of an hour over it. And when Mistress Parr suggested that she was overtired and ought to rest, Marie screamed “Do you think the blasted babies will let me!” and actually slapped her.”

    “Slapped her?”

    “Slapped her! Full in the face! And then she demanded that Mistress Parr fulfil her every wish for the rest of the afternoon and I swear she was deliberately difficult. She sent her dinner alone back three times and blamed Mistress Parr for getting her requests wrong every time, even though I know she repeated them faithfully.”

    “That doesn’t sound like your sister.”

    “I swear, I don’t even know her anymore. I just hope the babies come soon. I’m not sure how much more of this we can all take.”

    Fortunately for Anne, the stress only lasted another week or so before Joanna woke her one morning with the news that Marie had gone into labour. Although she sent the older woman back to her sister’s rooms with a promise to dress and be right behind her, Anne lay back in bed for a few seconds, savouring the rare peace as Harry slumbered on beside her.

    “Thank God,” she thought, “It won’t be long now.”
     
    Section CXLVIII - April 1524
  • Baynard's Castle, April 1524
    Not long was a relative term, for the labour lasted a full day and a night, but George was woken in the early hours of the second morning by the joyful boom of a cannon.

    Tiredness gone in an instant, he sprang to his feet and threw on a rather crumpled shirt. He raced down the corridor, crashing into Anne as he turned the corner.

    “England has a Duke of York, then?” he laughed.

    “And two bonny Ladies into the bargain!” Anne was swaying on her feet with exhaustion, but she was beaming brilliantly, even as George put a hand out to steady her.

    “How’s our sister?”

    “Surprisingly, she seems well enough. She’s absolutely shattered and no wonder, but you know what she’s like. She’s insisted on holding them all.”

    “She needs to rest.”

    “She needs food first. The King’s with her now and then I’ll try to get her to eat and sleep for a while before I fall into bed myself.”

    “Good girl,” George clapped Anne on the shoulder and then drew back. The siblings looked at each other for a moment. George laughed uncertainly.

    “She’s done it, Annie. Our sister’s done it. She’s secured the Succession and put us Boleyns so high we can never fall.”

    Anne paused, but as George’s words sank in, she too laughed breathlessly, “Oh, brother! We are on the edge of a golden world!”
     
    Section CXLIX - April 1524
  • Okay, okay, okay... I've decided to be nice and put you all out of your misery. @curlyhairedhippie and @BlueFlowwer, you're going to be very happy in a minute....

    Baynard's Castle, April 1524
    Marie, they’re beautiful!” Henry breathed, balancing his newest son in his arms as he perched on her bed, where she sat, propped up by a mountain of pillows and with a daughter in the crook of each arm.

    “You’re not...not disappointed that they’re not all boys?” she quavered.

    “Of course not!” he exclaimed, scandalised. How could she ever think she’d disappointed him when she’d made him the happiest man in Christendom? “We have our Duke of York, sweetheart, so the Succession is secure, our daughters will be just as beautiful as their mother, and you are all safe and well. How can I be anything other than delighted?” He kissed her temple firmly, leaving his lips against her skin for far longer than was truly necessary, “Now, what shall we name these precious jewels?”

    “I thought Katharine for our oldest daughter,” Marie ventured, “I thought it might be nice to honour Maria’s mother.”

    Suddenly, Henry found it hard to swallow past the lump in his throat. He nodded.

    “That would be lovely, darling,” he choked, “She shall be our little Caitlin. Our pure little angel.”

    He leaned over and brushed their oldest daughter’s nose with a fingertip, before turning his attention to the boy in his arms, “This one came out roaring like a lion, apparently, just like his brother. We should give him a name that befits a warrior, don’t you think?

    “Richard,” Marie whispered.

    “After the Plantagenet usurper? I don’t think so,” Henry frowned.

    “No, no. Not after Richard III. After the first Richard. The Lionheart. For if Lionel is to be England’s King one day, then surely this little boy must be a lionheart of a general for his brother; a lionheart in his country’s defence.”

    Henry held up his free hand, “How can I ever say no to you now, love? Richard, Duke of York and Normandy it is.”

    “That just leaves our little girl.”

    “We should name her for an ancestress, don’t you think?”

    “Yes, but not Mary or Margaret. We’ve already got enough of those.”

    “I agree, sweetheart. What about Elizabeth, after both our mothers?”

    Marie considered for a moment, then made a moue of disagreement. “I like your thinking, but she doesn’t look like an Elizabeth. Not to me.”

    “No... Cecily?”

    Marie shook her head, “Martha possibly. Or Blanche. She’s so blonde.”

    “She could darken with age, darling. I know my sister Mary did.”

    Silence lapsed between the two as they sat gazing at their youngest daughter and trying various names out in their heads. Having exhausted the Tudor names, Marie started on the Yorkist ones, scrolling back through the generations in her head. And then it hit her like a snowball in the face.

    “Jacquetta.”

    “Jacquetta?”

    “It’s perfect for her.”

    “Perhaps, but why...”

    “Your great-grandmother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg. She was both a Lancastrian and a Yorkist, remember? And this little girl has both Lancastrian and Yorkist blood in her veins. Wouldn’t it be nice to honour that by naming her for an ancestress who had to balance her allegiances? Besides, Jacquetta’s the female form of Jacob.”

    “She’s the youngest, just like Jacob was.”

    Marie nodded, then fell silent as her husband mulled it over. She saw his lips moving as he bent his head over their youngest child, clearly trying out various names. At last, he looked up.

    “I’d rather have an English name for her but you’ve trapped me, darling. It’ll have to be Jacquetta. I can’t get any other name to fit her now.”

    “Lord Richard, Duke of York and Normandy, Lady Katharine and Lady Jacquetta. That sounds perfect,” Marie murmured, stifling a yawn.

    Alert to her every move, Henry whisked the girls out of her arms, calling for Lady Bryan before she could protest. He pulled the blankets up around her shoulders and helped her settle herself, sighing with relief at how much lighter she felt already.

    “Rest, love. You deserve it,” he whispered.

    Marie tried to respond, but her exhaustion was already pulling her under. Within seconds, she had succumbed to the welcome peace of oblivion.
     
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    Section CL - April 1524
  • The promised Scottish reaction is coming, but first, the new father's plans for the immediate future... :)
    Baynard's Castle, April 1524
    Henry left Marie’s rooms grinning from ear to ear. Three children at once! Three healthy children! If he hadn’t known he was blessed by God before, he knew it now for certain. No other woman in Christendom could have done what his Marie had done for him and lived to tell the tale! True, she was weak, and exhausted, and would likely be quite volatile in her emotions for some time to come, but what did that matter, when she lived, and every one of the children lived too?

    His mind was full of whirling possibilities and he beamed at Charles as the other man came racing towards him and clapped him on the shoulder, protocol forgotten.

    “Mary told me! Congratulations, Harry! I don’t think there’s a man and woman in England who’s done what you and Marie have managed today!”

    “You’ll be sponsor, of course?” Henry asked laughingly, “Mary stood up for Lionel at his baptism, it would give me great pleasure if you were to stand up for Richard.”

    “Richard?” Charles echoed, eyes wide.

    “Our Duke of York. Marie insisted on the name, and it seemed little enough to grant her, given the circumstances. His sisters are to be the Lady Katharine and the Lady Jacquetta.”

    “Katharine…” Charles said softly, face clouding for an instant, before he reached out and put a hand on Henry’s arm, “She’d be honoured, Harry.”

    “I hope so,” Henry murmured, before shaking himself slightly. He wasn’t going to let himself be mired in grief. Not today, of all days.

    “Anyway,” he said brightly, “I thought of asking young Lord Pembroke and Lord Lancaster to be godfathers alongside you. Lord Lancaster can stand with you for Richard, and Lord Pembroke will do nicely for Lady Katharine. Who else shall we ask?”

    “Lord Derby for Lady Jacquetta, perhaps?”

    “Lord Derby? He’s only sixteen.”

    “That’s as may be, but he is your ward and distant cousin. Nothing could be more suitable than for him to stand up at the font as your daughter’s godfather.”

    Henry mulled the thought over for a moment or two, and then nodded. He wouldn’t have thought of that, but he liked the idea, “Lord Derby it is. And the godmothers. Any ideas for those?”

    Charles paused. He had a very good idea who might like to be Lady Katharine’s godmother, but he wasn’t certain Henry would approve.

    “What about asking Lady Willoughby to be Lady Katharine’s?” he said tentatively, “She was her namesake’s closest friend, after all. I’m sure she’d be honoured to be entrusted with the spiritual upbringing of another Lady Katharine.”

    Henry would never have admitted it, but tears pricked at the corners of his eyes at his oldest friend’s suggestion. Of course he had to ask Lady Willoughby to be Caitlin’s godmother. It would honour the years of service she had given to him, to little Maria, and to Katherine herself. Not daring to voice his agreement, for fear his voice would break, he simply nodded and swallowed hard, as he continued.

    “Marie will want Lady Pembroke and Lady Lancaster for another two godparents. Lady Lancaster for Richard, I think, and Lady Pembroke for Lady Katharine’s other godmother. That just leaves us to find two godmothers for Lady Jacquetta.”

    “There is always the option of asking the Dowager Queen of Scots, or Lady Ormonde,” Charles shrugged, After all, you’re already entrusting the spiritual guidance of these children to the Queen’s sisters and brothers, and her father is one of Lionel’s godfathers. Why not make it a full set and ask her mother as well?”

    “Why not indeed?” Henry nodded jovially, instantly taken with the idea, “Lady Ormonde it is. But I’ll not have my sister Margaret as godmother, not when she’s never asked me to be godfather to any of her children. She’d be crowing for weeks, if I went cap in hand to her like that.”

    “The Scots may see it as a slight, if Your Grace chooses myself and all the Queen’s relations to stand up for the new arrivals, and not their Queen Dowager, especially since Mary is already Lionel’s godmother.” Charles couldn’t keep the warning out of his voice.

    “Not if I ask Margaret’s daughter instead.”

    “Meg?”

    “Why not?” Henry shrugged, “She’s old enough and, as one of Maria’s companions, she’ll be around Jacquetta a lot, so she’ll be able to guide her, as any good godmother should.”

    Charles looked at Henry carefully, trying to gauge his mood. There was no doubt the inclusion of young Meg Douglas among the chosen few had been an impulsive decision, born of Henry’s wish to defend his refusal to name his sister Margaret – whom he’d always had a tempestuous relationship with, to say the least – as godmother to his youngest daughter. But Charles knew Henry well enough to know that challenging his impulsive decisions only made him more likely to want to stick to them. Besides, it wasn’t as though he and Mary had any room to talk about Lady Meg being too young. Not after they’d named Maria godmother to her cousin Frances at only seventeen months old.

    He held up his hands in mock surrender, “As you wish. Myself and Lord and Lady Lancaster for Lord Richard, the Pembrokes and Lady Willoughby for Lady Katharine, and Lord Derby, Lady Ormonde and little Lady Meg Douglas for the Lady Jacquetta. I doubt anyone could disapprove of those choices, Sire.”

    “Excellent,” Henry beamed, glad to have the matter settled, “Now, since you’re on a roll today, my friend, have you any suggestions who I might be able to appoint as Lionel’s new governor?”

    “New governor?” Charles raised an eyebrow, “You’re going to give him a household of his own already? Isn’t he a little young to be taken out of the governance of women?”

    Henry held up a hand, “Ordinarily, I’d agree, but I rather think that Lady Bryan and Lady Salisbury are going to have their hands full with three new arrivals, particularly since they’re all small and will need especial care taking of them. I’d rather give Lionel a household of his own early than overburden the good ladies. So, any suggestions? I had intended to ask Anthony, but from what I gather, his marriage to Lady Lovell is far from harmonious, and I won’t have my precious Lionel put in the middle of that. Not after I’ve seen what damage having an unstable woman in charge of a household can do.”

    Charles hesitated, falling into step beside his sovereign as Henry continued down the passageway. He ran through the various gentlemen at Court, trying to think who he deemed suitable to trust with the raising of the Prince of Wales…and who might meet with Henry and Marie’s approval.

    “What about Sir Henry Wyatt?” he asked at last, “He’s been loyal to both you and your father since the beginning, and he’s well-travelled. He’s got connections in Scotland and in France, so he could use those to his benefit in raising Lionel. Moreover, wasn’t he neighbours with Lord Ormonde when the Queen was young? Didn’t she and her siblings play with Tom and Margaret Wyatt as children? Indeed, I’m sure I’ve seen Margaret Wyatt in close conference with both the Queen and Lady Lancaster before now.”

    “Which means Marie ought to be more than happy to entrust her son to their father’s keeping,” Henry exclaimed, “Charles, that is a capital idea. I shall write to Allington at once!”

    Clapping Charles on the back in appreciation, Henry spun on his heel and strode down the halls to his own rooms, more eager than ever to start putting his ideas for the future into action.
     
    Section CLI - April 1524
  • Baynard’s Castle, April 1524

    Kate Parr stood to one side of the hall, watching as Maria whirled around the dance floor hand in hand with her uncle, Lord Pembroke. The younger girl’s hood had come off at some point during the celebrations and her strawberry-blonde waves swung out around her as she was spun down the line of dancers, her high, pealing laughter audible even over the pipes and lutes of the musicians.

    “Mistress, might I have the honour of the next dance?”

    Kate started, drawn away from her contemplation of the younger girl by a tall, well-turned out young man with sandy hair and deep grey-blue eyes who bowed over her hand.

    "I regret to say, Sir, that I only dance with those I have been introduced to", Kate replied primly, firmly quashing the sudden flutter in her chest. She was the daughter of Thomas Parr of Kendal, companion to the Princess Mary and named for one of the greatest Queens England had ever known. Young though she was, she wasn’t a girl to have her head turned by the first young gentleman to speak pretty words to her.

    The young man before her laughed, “Very wise indeed, mistress. But dare I say it, you know who I am. Or at least you ought to after today.”

    Kate hesitated, peering more closely at the young man’s features through the flickering candlelight. All of a sudden, recognition dawned. She’d seen him today, following behind Lady Ormonde in the baptismal procession.

    “You’re Edward Stanley. The Earl of Derby. Lady Jacquetta’s godfather.”

    “Indeed I am. And you’re Mistress Kate, the Princess Mary’s favourite companion.”

    “Katheryn,” Kate chuckled, brushing a lock of hair out of her eyes, “I’m Katheryn, really. It’s only Her Highness who insists on Kate. She doesn’t like long names, apparently. And I don’t know about favourite companion. Her Highness much prefers the company of Lady Margaret, if I’m honest. Mind, I can hardly blame her. They’re much more of an age than Her Highness and I.”

    “Well, take it from me, Mistress Katheryn, there are those at Court who believe the Princess views you almost as a sister,” Lord Derby assured her, his eyes flashing with amusement, before bowing over her hand again as the music came to an end.

    “There,” he breathed, his breath warm against her skin, “We are introduced properly. Now may we dance, do you think?"

    "Of course, Lord Derby. With pleasure."

    Kate laid her hand on his slashed brocade sleeve and let him lead her out to dance, unable, despite herself, to stop the colour rising in her cheeks as she did so.
     
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    Section CLII - April 1524
  • Stirling, April 1524
    “I don’t believe my brother!” Margaret snarled, clenching her fist around the missive from England, so that it crumpled and tore beneath her hold.

    “My Lady?” Catherine Erskine, one of Margaret’s teenage attendants, glanced up, brow furrowed in confusion.

    “That’s two sons and three daughters he has now! Five living children! Five! And yet not one of them bar his eldest bears a Tudor name! Has he forgotten that he owes his very throne to our mother’s blood, our father’s strength and our grandmother’s scheming? You’d think one of them, at the very least, would merit being a namesake to the next generation. But no. As ever, Harry has to know better.”

    The colour flooded Margaret’s cheeks as she prowled her chamber, temper flaring in her blood at this blatant slight to her heritage.

    Catherine watched her mistress warily, mulling over the tirade as she did so. Suddenly, she blanched.

    “Did you say King Henry has five living children, My Lady?”

    “Yes,” Margaret tossed her head impatiently. Catherine crossed herself.

    “But that means Queen Mary birthed three babes at once!” The young girl’s jaw dropped, “I thought that was impossible!”

    “Clearly not. But then, my brother’s Boleyn girl has always proven herself as fertile as a bitch in heat. She was with child before Harry had even ridden off to war in her honour, for God’s sake! Besides, the multiple birth only makes my brother’s slight to our family all the greater. I’ve never seen such hubris. Five living children and only one of them bears a Tudor name. Oh, Lionel’s passable, I suppose, but the others! The others! He’s named one for his dead Queen, another for a Duchess who was accused of bewitching our grandfather, and his newest son for the Plantagenet usurper. The usurper!”

    Saying the words out loud was the final straw. Too shocked to keep herself upright any longer, Margaret collapsed into the window seat and clicked her fingers for a goblet of wine.

    Catherine brought it to her obediently, chewing the inside of her cheek surreptitiously.

    “I think it’s romantic that King Henry has named his new daughter for the late Queen Katherine,” she said tentatively, “Surely it shows that he still loves her and wants to honour her memory, even after all these years?”

    Margaret’s head snapped up at her words. She fixed Catherine with a gimlet stare.

    “Need I remind you, Mistress Erskine, that very same Queen was responsible for the forces that slew our King at Flodden Field? The very same woman who wanted to send my brother my husband’s cleaved off head and had to be talked out of it – by her generals no less? Forgive me if I do not exactly mourn the woman or delight in her memory being honoured. Even if Harry didn’t deem myself or my grandmother to be suitable namesakes for my new niece, what’s wrong with Elizabeth, I ask you? Why, it would even have honoured both sides of the child’s family, for Lady Ormonde is an Elizabeth too. But no, Harry had to go with Katharine, didn’t he? Katharine and Jacquetta. Jacquetta of all names! It’s not even English!”

    Exhaling, Margaret flopped back in her seat, taking advantage of the privacy of her own rooms to behave as she pleased rather than as decorum demanded.

    Silence reigned for several seconds.

    “Still, to father three children at once is a remarkable statement of King Henry’s virility, especially since Her Grace Queen Mary seems to have come through the birth unscathed as well. And to have conquered and held such a swathe of France with the ease that His Grace has…Why, I’d almost say it smacks of Your Grace’s family being blessed by God.”

    Something in Catherine’s tone brought Margaret up short. She glanced across at her handmaiden. Catherine had picked the message from England up from where it had fallen when Margaret released it as she collapsed on to the window seat and was smoothing it between her hands. Sly mischief gleamed in her blue eyes.

    For a moment, Margaret wondered what Catherine was implying. As it sank in, however, a sly smile spread across her own face as well.

    Setting her wine aside, she sprang to her feet and clapped her hands for her household’s attention, startling the lot of them.

    “Prepare yourselves, ladies! We go to the Chapel at once, to give thanks for the safe arrival of my nieces and nephew, the Lord Richard, Lady Katharine and Lady Jacquetta!”

    As she sailed forth at the head of her train a few minutes later, she couldn’t stop a smirk coming to her lips. Angus might have her son, her precious James, in his control, but what he did not have was royal blood in his veins. Let him see her praising God for her brother’s children, for his victories in France, and tremble at the thought of what Margaret’s connections might do to him, if she only asked it of them.
     
    Section CLIII - May 1524
  • Baynard's Castle, May 1524
    George was jolted out of sleep by Kathy’s scream.

    Scarcely pausing to throw back the bedclothes, he rushed into her chamber to see the sheets of her bed awash with blood.

    Kathy was curled in a foetal position, almost insensible with pain and grief. Her hands were pressed between her legs in a feeble attempt to stem the bleeding.

    George’s heart tore. He swore under his breath and whirled on his heel, intent on finding a midwife, a physician, anyone who might be able to help.

    As he turned, however, his shadow fell on the bed, the change in light doing more to alert Kathy to his presence than any noise he might have made would have done.

    She raised her head, “George.”

    The raspy plea stopped him in his tracks. He glanced back, and Kathy locked anguished eyes with his dark gaze.

    She shook her head slightly. “Stay. I want you here. Please.”

    “But – Kathy, darling…”

    “Please!” The word came out brokenly, and she squeezed her eyes shut, obviously fighting tears.

    In the face of her pitiful bravery, George was utterly powerless.

    Heedless of the fact that he would ruin his nightshirt, heedless of the fact that his father would scorn him for doing such a thing, he climbed on to the bed and pulled Kathy into his arms, capturing her hands in his as he did so.

    “Shh, love, shh. There’s nothing you can do. Just let it happen. Let it happen. Shh, shh.”

    He held her and rocked her, murmuring soothing nonsense into her damp chestnut brown hair. Kathy buried her face in his shoulder, weeping, flinching every time another wave of pain crested over her.

    They lay like that for several hours, as the dawn light crept in through the window, until it was quite clear that there was nothing left of the child they hadn’t even told anyone they were expecting.
     
    Section CLIV - May 1524
  • Baynard's Castle, May 1524

    Dr Linacre finished his examination and replaced the linen sheet over Kathy’s legs.

    “Well, you confound me, Lady Pembroke, I must say. I can find nothing physical that might explain why you miscarried, particularly not so brutally or so swiftly. I can only conclude that the cause of the miscarriage must have been emotional. Have you found yourself overwrought in the past few weeks and months?”

    Kathy chewed the inside of her cheek, trying to think. She hadn’t thought herself particularly stressed, but then she had been trying to keep herself under control for the sake of Marie and the babies while her sister-in-law was in confinement….and she had had a prominent place in the Christening festivities, being Lady Katherine’s godmother.

    “Well, I was in attendance on Her Majesty throughout her confinement…” she began, and Dr Linacre’s lips curved into a wry smile. He, as well as any man, knew how demanding a triple pregnancy had made Marie.

    “That would do it, especially if you had no idea you were with child, and therefore took no care for yourself,” he said softly, shooting an apologetic look at George for seeming to criticise his sister as the younger man closed his hand over Kathy’s shoulder.

    “That’s all very well, Sir Thomas,” he said, not overly harshly, “But I rather think that rehashing the whys and wherefores of this particular miscarriage is unlikely to get us anywhere. Although I will admit that to hear there was no obvious physical cause for this miscarriage heartens me. I take it, therefore, that Lady Pembroke need not fear any lasting damage?”

    “Oh, heavens, no!” Dr Linacre exclaimed, “I’d refrain from sharing a bed for a few weeks, give Lady Pembroke time to heal, but you’re both young and healthy. A miscarriage is a dreadful thing, but it is not unnatural for a woman to have one – or even more than one – during her childbearing years. I see no reason, why, as long as you take greater care over the next child, you shouldn’t be parents again within the year.”

    The physician presumed so far as to clap George on the shoulder jovially as he spoke. George let it happen, sharing a soft, encouraging smile with Kathy, before releasing her shoulder and crossing the room to the bag of coins he had left on one of her travelling chests.

    “Thank you, Sir Thomas,” he answered, relief clear in his tone, pressing the velvet purse into the older man’s hand, “That is a great blessing to hear. Take this for your trouble…and if I might presume on your discretion? It’s only that Lady Pembroke and I hadn’t told anyone yet, and I wouldn’t want the Queen to blame herself if she heard my wife had lost a child. You know how fragile Her Grace can be at the moment.”

    “Of course,” Dr Linacre nodded, “You may rely on me, Lord Pembroke. This will go no further; I give you my oath on that.”

    “Thank you,” George nodded, before Dr Linacre bowed his way out. No sooner had the doors swung shut behind him than George spun round and caught Kathy in his arms.

    She clung to him just as tightly, the emotional bond between them saying, in that moment, what words could not.

    “I’m sending you back to Raglan, as soon as it’s safe for you to travel,” George choked into her hair, “I don’t want you to have to deal with our nieces and nephews. Not now, not while all of this is still so fresh.”

    A wave of gratitude strong enough to rob Kathy of words filled her at George’s promise. All she could do in return was nod.
     
    Section CLV - May 1524
  • Baynard's Castle, May 1524
    The English royal nursery had never been so challenged as it was in those first weeks after the triplets’ birth. Experienced nurses though Lady Bryan and Lady Salisbury were, the introduction of three new charges at once, all with such different levels of need, stretched even their abilities to oversee the royal children to the limit.

    Like his brother Lionel had been before him, Richard was loud, demanding and predictable. It was easy to guess what he wanted when he cried, for his little body was like a clock...Food, fresh small-clothes, sleep, in that order, over and over again in regular two to three-hour cycles.

    Lady Katharine, or Caitlin, as her father had christened her, was just as demanding as her brother, but more unpredictable in the order in which she would want things. However, Lady Bryan very quickly realised that the worst thing one could do for Caitlin was to let her get overstimulated and/or over-tired. If she missed a nap, or slept poorly, which, given she had two other triplets in her nursery and two older siblings and their companions who didn’t always succeed in staying quiet when the babies were sleeping, happened more often than her Lady Governess would have liked, she would spend the next portion of her awake time wailing and miserable, no matter how people shushed her. Still, at least there was a reasonably simple solution to the issue. Keeping Caitlin on a stable routine, and putting her down for more naps than might otherwise have seemed necessary, minimised that risk and thus kept her manageable.

    It was her sister Jacquetta who was the real struggle.

    The youngest and frailest of the triplets, she had always promised to be problematic from the very first day, when her parents had had trouble naming her. This only proved all the truer as she grew, for she cried almost constantly, a thin, piercing wail that broke the hearts of all who heard it. She spent more time in anyone’s arms than on her back in a cradle, for walking around with her seemed the only way to calm her, unlike either of her siblings, who flailed and kicked for freedom if held for too long. Moreover, she struggled to feed, only ever latching on to her wet nurse’s breast for a few sucks at a time before either falling asleep or bobbing off the breast, whimpering and refusing to suckle. Lady Bryan spent more time than she cared to admit holding a soaked linen cloth to Jacquetta’s lips, trying to tease her into taking some milk.

    One day, about a month after the triplets had been born, Lady Bryan pulled Lady Salisbury aside as they went back to the nursery after Mass, the Princess Mary having been swept away by her father to dine with him and her mother in Marie’s apartments.

    In the privacy of a half-hidden window embrasure, she locked eyes with the other woman.

    “When are we going to admit it, Margaret? The Lady Jacquetta is not gaining in health and strength as we’d both hoped she would.”

    “No,” Lady Salisbury pressed her lips together, “She is not. Though, before you ask, I don’t see what else we can do for her than what we, and the rest of her household, already are doing. Other than pray, of course.”

    “Do we need to -” Lady Bryan hesitated, knowing her next words could well be seen as treasonous, but fearing for what might happen if she didn’t say them anyway, “Do we need to seek to warn Their Majesties that they might well lose the Lady Jacquetta as they lost His Highness Lord William?”

    “Margaret!” Lady Salisbury gasped in horror, her hand flying to her mouth, “Did you just say -?”

    “You and I both know that Lady Jacquetta will burn up like a candle the moment she gets even a touch of an infantile fever, to say nothing of anything more serious. I am asking you as a colleague and as a friend, do we need to warn Their Majesties?”

    “The Queen won’t hear a word of it,” Lady Salisbury shook her head, “Do you know what my daughter overheard Her Grace say to her sister Lady Lancaster the other day? That it was in the Lady Jacquetta’s blood to be difficult and that we should count ourselves lucky we had at least one easy-going charge in Lord Richard! No, Queen Mary is too much of an optimist. She’ll not allow herself to imagine her little daughter cold in the grave. Not for an instant. Telling her would only distress her and do no good at all.”

    “Then what do we do?”

    “What we’ve always done. We do our duties as best we can and we offer up our prayers. I suggest special prayers to St Nicholas and St Gerard, in the hope that they might intervene with the Saviour for our poor Lady Jacquetta. Now, come, before Prince Lionel starts calling for us.”

    Lady Salisbury squeezed Lady Bryan’s shoulder in comfort as she passed, before the two of them fell back into a matching pace, each step bearing them closer to their duties in the nursery.
     
    Section CLVI - May 1524
  • Baynard's Castle, May 1524
    True to Lady Salisbury’s concerns, Marie only chuckled when Anne reported Lady Bryan’s worries over the nursery later that week, “I’ve told you before, Jackie is half Boleyn, half Tudor! How was she ever meant to be anything other than difficult? Lady Bryan should be grateful she’s got at least one easy-going charge.”

    “I don’t think any of them can be called easy-going, sister!” Anne chuckled, plumping Marie’s many cushions up again to make her sister more comfortable.

    “Well, predictable, then,” Marie sulked, pouting like a child as her sister contradicted her. Anne shrugged her shoulders and said nothing more on the subject, knowing Marie was still emotionally fragile and liable to lash out over the smallest of things, even a month after the triplets’ birth. That being said, two weeks before her churching, she had at least become able to present a more or less stable picture to her surprisingly still-doting husband, the King, who was desperate to ensure she continued healing well physically.

    “Annie?” Marie’s voice broke into Anne’s musings, and she started, “Yes, sister?”

    “I wanted to ask you a favour.”

    “Hmm?”

    “I’ve just had a letter from Horsham. It appears Aunt Jocasta has died from an ague.”

    “God rest her soul,” Anne murmured, crossing herself quickly, as propriety demanded.

    “God rest her soul,” Marie repeated before continuing, “She’s left several young children behind her and Uncle Edmund’s too busy in Calais to look after them.”

    “So you’d like Harry and I to take them in,” Anne, with her usual quick brain, was already well aware of where all her sister’s prevarication was leading.

    “Just the one,” Marie hastened to assure her, “The youngest girl. I’m taking in two of them as maids of honour and I’ll find other homes for the others, but the youngest is only about two years older than your Maggie.”

    “It’s a big responsibility,” Anne hedged. Marie looked at her imploringly.

    “Please, Annie. She’ll have to go to our grandmother the Dowager Duchess if you don’t take her in.”

    “And that’s no place for a little girl,” Anne grimaced, “Oh, all right then. I suppose you leave me little choice. What’s her name?”

    “You’re not going to believe this. It’s Katheryn.”

    “Not another one!”

    “I’m afraid so. But apparently, they call her Kitty, so we won’t get too confused.”

    Anne groaned. Sometimes it felt as though every girl in the country was named Katherine or a variation thereof.

    “Very well, let me speak to Harry and then I’ll ride to Horsham and fetch her. I suppose it’s about time Harry and I got Maggie settled in our new house at Sizergh anyway.”

    “Bless you, Annie. Take as much time as you need,” Marie pressed her younger sister’s hand and Anne kissed her.

    “How could I refuse to do something that would make you happy, sister, after everything? Everything you’ve done for this family?”

    She knelt by the bed and pressed her forehead to Marie’s. For a second, she was silent, just listening to their hearts beat in unison. Then she breathed, so softly that Marie had to strain to hear her, “Thanks to you, we Boleyns are living in a golden world.”
     
    Section CLVII - June 1524
  • Baynard's Castle, June 1524
    “Queen Mary. Queen Mary,” Sir Henry Wyatt said softly, brushing Marie’s knuckles with his lips as he bowed over her hand. His eyes were soft, warm with an almost paternal pride, “I knew your father had grand plans for you all. He made that clear enough when he sent you to France and Annie to the Archduchess Margaret, but I don’t think even he dreamed of this. How things have changed since you and George were running through the fields at Allington with Tom and Peggy, little Annie toddling behind, calling to you to wait for her.”

    “Little Annie, as you call her, is Lady Lancaster now,” Marie chided, though her voice was sweet with suppressed laughter, as she waved Sir Henry to a seat and motioned to Joanna, “I’d have had her here to greet you, but I’m afraid I’ve sent her and Lord Lancaster north to get to know their new estates. But she’ll be gratified to know you remembered her. She must have been little older than six when you last saw her, after all.”

    “I’m sure she’s grown into quite a beauty. The Boleyn girls always do,” Sir Henry smiled and Marie’s cheeks tinted pink,

    “That’s kind of you to say, Uncle Henry, although I am not sure it is always as true as the ambassadors would have me believe.” She paused, “I can still call you ‘Uncle Henry, can’t I?”

    “Of course, Your Grace. I’d be honoured,” Sir Henry dipped his head and Marie smiled briefly.

    “Anne’s a mother now, I’ll have you know. Her daughter is a Margaret too, although they call her Maggie. And I’m afraid she named her for the Duchess of Alencon, not your Peggy! Now, you’ll take some wine, won’t you? Or would you rather have mead? I seem to remember you being rather fond of that drink when you came to dine with Papa in the summers.”

    “You have a good memory, My Lady. Mead would be wonderful, thank you.”

    Sir Henry reached for the cup Joanna handed him, and Marie took a draught of her own, before nodding and waving Joanna away. When she turned back to Sir Henry, her lips tightened just a fraction.

    “I didn’t bring you here to talk of Anne’s children, however. I’m sure you’re only too aware that while the King and I have kept the children with us for several months so that we could celebrate Easter, May Day and His Majesty’s birthday together as a family, Their Highnesses will be returning to Eltham at the end of the month. I know the King has spoken to you of the fact that he would like you to accompany them and take up the position of Prince Lionel’s governor. I would like to add my own urging to that. It would give me great pleasure to see my son in your charge."

    “And it would give me great pleasure to have the Prince entrusted to me,” Sir Henry hurried to assure her. Marie raised a hand in acknowledgement.

    “I’m pleased to hear you say it, Uncle Henry. However, there is one matter I need to discuss with you first. You would not just be taking care of the Prince. Lady Bryan and Lady Salisbury have been raising Lord Richmond alongside the royal children since his mother’s… demise. I expect you to follow suit.”

    The speed at which Sir Henry purpled would have been amusing, Marie thought, had the matter not been one of such import. The older man spluttered spectacularly, and had to take several seconds to recover before he could speak again.

    “You want me to raise a bastard? And a madwoman’s bastard at that? Alongside the most precious boy in the Kingdom? Your Grace…”

    “I want you to raise the King’s son.” Marie cut him off. Leaving that to sink in for a moment, she leaned across and placed a hand on his arm, “Lady Tailboys was a madwoman, you’re right. And while nobody has told me the exact details of how she died, I’ve pieced together enough from the rumours to know it wasn’t pretty. If nothing else, my husband is a man of war. If her death was enough to turn even his stomach, well…then I’m not sure I want to know any more than I already do. But Lord Richmond is not his mother. He’s an innocent child, who got caught up in her schemes simply because of the blood that ran through his veins. Lady Tailboys was raising him to be a threat to Prince Lionel, but now we have a chance to make things right. We have a chance to raise the boys as friends rather than rivals. And I would like to think, Uncle Henry, that you are too good a man to blame a child for the sins of his mother. That you are too loyal a subject to the King to allow any child in your care to become a lightning rod for the disaffected in the realm.”

    There was a beat of silence. Marie locked eyes with the older man, forcing him to meet her keen gaze. She had never looked so like her younger sister – or her father – than she did in those few moments.

    “Am I right?” She said at last.

    Sir Henry nodded slowly, realising as he did so the import of the moment, “You are, Your Grace.”

    “So will you do it? Will you give me your word that you will raise the boys together, as fairly as you can, as befits their respective status?”

    Marie didn’t say, as she waited for Sir Henry’s response, that if he refused, she’d go to Henry and ask him to choose another governor for Lionel. She didn’t need to. It was there in the fire in her eyes, in the iron poker in her spine. Sir Henry knew better than to refuse the Queen who had the King eating out of the palm of her hand.

    “I give you my word, Madam. Queen Mary.”

    “Good.” Marie leaned back in her seat, her face lighting up in a smile as the tension left her shoulders, “Then let’s go and visit the nursery so that you can meet your new charges. Come.”

    So saying, she pushed herself to her feet, waving away Sir Henry’s proffered hand, and clapped her hands for her ladies to form up around them.

    Sir Henry watched her do it, admiration warring with shock inside him. When had the sweet-natured girl he remembered become such an effortlessly regal Queen?
     
    Section CLVIII - July 1524
  • Horsham, July 1524

    Anne nearly burst out into indecorous laughter at the shock written all over the housekeeper’s face when the woman opened the door to see her standing in the courtyard, Harry’s banner of a blue Percy lion quartered with the red rose of Lancaster rippling in the summer breeze behind her.

    “Lady-Lady Lancaster, it is an honour. What brings – what brings you to our door?” The woman stuttered.

    “The Queen has heard of our aunt Jocasta’s death, God rest her soul, and worries for the children without a mother to guide them. Her Grace wishes to take Margaret and Mary into her own charge, to be maids for her daughters when the time comes, and has chosen to entrust Mistress Katheryn to myself and Lord Lancaster, Mistress Paston,” Anne swept past her, head high. Motherhood might have softened Anne’s sharp edges, but she was still a Boleyn. She was still Howard to the bone. She knew how to put on a show when she needed to cow someone.

    “I know Horsham well enough to show myself to the solar. I assume Mistress Isabel has taken charge of the household following her mother’s death? Let her know I am here and why and send Mistress Katheryn to me.”

    So saying, Anne flicked her riding cloak dismissively, and retreated to the solar without giving Mistress Paston a chance to reply.

    Her cousin Isabel bustled in a few moments later, stout and harried, though she made a more credible stab at greeting Anne than Mistress Paston had managed, curtsying deeply in acknowledgement of Anne’s higher rank, before wiping her hands on the apron she wore and brushing Anne’s cheek with her lips.

    “Cousin Anne, or should I say Lady Lancaster? We are honoured to have you here, in our small little corner of East Anglia.”

    “Cousin Isabel. I am sorry to come unannounced like this, but I thought it only right to come on the family’s behalf and do what I can to ease your sudden burden. I see I catch you busy?”

    “Oh, only with the churning, the butter spoils so easily in this heat, so I am having to make more. And of course, there are six children under the age of nine who need tending to and mothering.”

    Isabel was too well-bred to show her exasperation, but Anne knew herself how well she would take to such a sudden responsibility being thrust upon her shoulders, and made a moue of sympathy, reaching out to touch the other woman’s hand.

    “Well, I may be able to help you there. Margaret and Mary are old enough to be wards of Court. My sister intends to take them into her household and raise them to be maids to Lady Katharine and Lady Jacquetta when the time comes, so I have come to fetch them to London. I have also been given the wardship of your youngest sister Katheryn, and intend to take her north to join my household at Sizergh. That will leave you just the boys to care for until Uncle Edmund returns from Calais and decides what to do regarding their education.”

    Relief flashed across Isabel’s face at Anne’s words, “Cousin Anne, I…”

    “Say no more,” Anne smiled, “The Howards have always stood together, come what may. This is no different.”

    Their hesitant rapport was disturbed by a commotion outside the solar door: a child whining in distress, followed by a nurse’s frustrated snarl, “No, Mistress Katheryn. You can’t have your brother. Lady Lancaster hasn’t asked for Master Charles. You’re a big girl now, you don’t need your brother all the time. Now go in and greet your cousin nicely.”

    “But Ida, Kitty’s scared! You know I help her feel better, can’t I,”

    Isabel rolled her eyes at the noise, “Kitty does insist on Charles going everywhere with her. I’ll fetch her.”

    “No,” Anne held up a hand, “Let them both come in.”

    Before Isabel could question her indulgence of the little girl, Anne shrugged, “I remember only too well how much I adored having my older brother with me as a child.”

    Isabel lifted her shoulders carelessly, “As you wish.”

    She opened the door and beckoned the children in.

    “Kitty, Charles, this is your cousin, Lady Lancaster. Greet her nicely now.”

    Charles bowed deeply and Kitty bobbed in what was clearly meant to be a curtsy.

    Anne smiled and slid off the divan she was sitting on to be closer to their heights.

    “There’s no need for that,” She crouched in front of them, “Cousin Anne will do. Now, Katheryn, I hear you prefer being Kitty, is that right?”

    Katheryn glanced up to her older brother, who, Anne realised with a pang, had exactly the same dark hair as her brother had had as a child. He looked down at her and nodded, squeezing their clasped hands encouragingly so that she nodded, her soft strawberry-blonde ringlets bouncing.

    “Ess.”

    “Kitty, it is then,” Anne smiled, “Now, Kitty. I have a very important question to ask you. I am here because my big sister the Queen has asked me to look after you while your Papa is in Calais keeping it safe for the King. She wants me to take you north with me, to my house, where I can teach you your lessons and you can play with my little girl. Would you like that, do you think?”

    Kitty pouted in thought, her little face screwing up in concentration.

    “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Kitty!” Isabel snapped, “You’re a lucky girl to get such a chance. Of course you’re going!”

    “Isabel. Stop.” Anne held up a hand in warning, and then looked down at Kitty again, “What do you think, little one? Would you like to come north with me and meet my little girl?”

    “Can – Can C’arls’ come?”

    The question was quiet, almost too quiet to be heard. Isabel gasped at her youngest sister’s audacity. How dare she ask for even more than Lady Lancaster was offering? But then, Katheryn had always been one to seek attention, clambering into anyone’s lap and tugging on every gown.

    Before she could scold her, however, something flickered in Lady Lancaster’s eyes, as she glanced between Kitty and Charles, taking in the way the little girl leaned into her older brother, and how his arm curved around her protectively, his free hand linking with hers.

    “There’s something special about having an older brother at your side, isn’t there, Kitty? Very well, if Charles would like to come, I don’t see why not, if it would make the move easier for you. What do you say, Master Charles? Would you like to come to Sizergh with me, and support my husband in a house full of females?”

    Stifling a giggle and drawing himself upright as Anne treated him as a young gentleman, Charles nodded solemnly, “Yes, please, Lady – I mean, Cousin Anne.”

    “Good,” Anne touched his shoulder, “I’m glad to hear it. Run along and ask the nurses to pack your bags. And tell Margaret and Mary they’re coming with us. We ride for London in the morning.”

    Charles nodded and tugged Kitty’s hand. They shot out of the room like bullets, giggling madly, leaving Anne to the mercies of her exasperated and impatient cousin Isabel.
     
    Section CLIX - October 1524
  • Greenwich, October 1524

    Henry was strolling in the gardens when he suddenly came face-to-face with Anthony Knivert. Startling slightly – he hadn’t known Anthony was back from Middleham – he gave a great bellow of joy.

    “Anthony! What a pleasant surprise! Have the pleasures of Yorkshire palled at last?”

    Anthony shrugged, “Well, you know me, Sire. I prefer to be doing things. The life of a northern gentleman will never be for me. And may I offer belated personal congratulations on the recent additions to your family. Lord Richard, Lady Katharine and Lady Jacquetta will be the treasures of the country as they grow, I have no doubt.”

    “Indeed, indeed. They already are!” Henry said jovially, his face lighting up at the thought of the three young children who, if Lady Bryan’s missives were to be believed, enjoyed wreaking havoc in the nursery at Eltham. He clapped Anthony on the back, laughing.

    “You’ll understand when you’re a father yourself. There’s no sign of a young Knivert yet?”

    “Sadly, Your Majesty, no. I fear Lady Lovell and myself would need to be rather fonder of each other than we are for there to be any chance of that.”

    Anthony tried to laugh the matter off, but Henry fixed him with a beady eye.

    “What’s this? Is Lady Lovell still too proud a minx to do her marital duties?”

    Anthony spread his hands, “Suffice it to say, Sire, that she prefers to spend her time in whichever one of our manors I am not currently residing in.”

    Then, before Henry could press him any further, he laughed, “But. What does that matter, now that I am back at Court and have left her to the mercies of Yorkshire? Court can’t have changed that much. There must be half a dozen young hussies ready and waiting to throw themselves in my direction for the sake of a few trinkets and a well-turned calf. And if the rumours are true and Your Grace has given up any hope of sowing wild oats, why, then, there’s only all the more for me!”

    Henry felt a frisson of distaste run down his spine at Anthony’s careless words, but he shrugged it off. His friend wouldn’t be the first man to seek solace from an unhappy marriage in another woman’s bed. Besides, seeing Anthony had given him an idea.

    He slung his arm over Anthony’s shoulders.

    “Scores, my old friend,” he said brightly, “But I fear you may have to find them in Rouen, rather than London!”

    “Sire?” Anthony glanced sideways at him, queries written all over his gaze.

    “You say you wish to be doing things. How would you like to lead a force of men to Normandy for me? I’ve plans to invest Lord Richard as Duke of Normandy, which means King Francis won’t be getting Avranches as part of my daughter’s dowry. The cockerel’s bound to be annoyed by it. I wouldn’t put it past him to try and seize them back by force so I want to pre-empt that. Take a force of 2000 men and hold the borders for me.” Seeing Anthony about to say something, Henry held up a hand, “I want it to be a show of strength, no more, but even that should be enough to make the French stripling think twice about poking the sleeping lion. What do you say? Will you do it?”

    Anthony’s heart leapt at the thought of returning to military duties. He’d always been a man of action. Moreover, the fact that those duties would take him abroad would mean that no one would think twice about his leaving his young wife behind for however long they took.

    Careful to hide the delight in his eyes behind a mask of solemnity, he bowed at the waist.

    “Your wish is my command, My Lord.”
     
    Section CLX - October 1524
  • Woodstock, October 1524

    “Maria? Come in here a moment, darling.”

    Maria paused as Papa called to her from his Privy Chamber after Mass. She glanced behind her, and dismissed Kate and Meg with a wave of her hand.

    “Go on, Kate. Go and find Lord Derby,” she teased. Kate went red at the mention of the young Earl and Meg giggled behind her hand.

    Maria exchanged glances with her cousin as the older girl hurried off, before turning and skipping into Papa’s chamber, curtsying to him.

    “Good morning, Papa.”

    “Good morning, sweetheart,” he returned her curtsy with a quick half-bow before bending to kiss her and pull her jewelled cap off so that he could run his hand through her hair.

    “What was that I heard about Lord Derby?” he asked, as he put a hand on her shoulder and steered her into the centre of the room, nodding to the silent pages to shut the door behind them.

    “Kate likes him,” Maria answered, tossing her head, “She thinks Meg and I can’t tell, because we’re younger than she is, but we can. She danced with no one else last night – well, except her brother.”

    “Does she now?” Papa smiled, his eyes twinkling, “Well, she is twelve. Old enough to be thinking of marriage, and Edward’s a fine boy not much older than her. I’m not surprised she’s taken a fancy to him. And what do you think? Do you think they could be happy together?”

    Maria blinked. What was Papa asking her that for?

    “I don’t know! I don’t know Edward at all. How would I know whether he and Kate could be happy together?”

    “Well, I suggest you watch them, Maria. You’re getting to the age now where people will be expecting you to start having an opinion on whether your ladies marry and who they’ll marry if they do. There’s no great rush with Kate and Edward, Kate has only just turned twelve, after all, but think about it. Watch them together for a bit, talk to Kate and if you think their match could work, let me know and I’ll make it clear to Lady Parr that I’d be most pleased if she would consider taking my ward as her son-in-law. All right?”

    Papa looked down at her, his eyes unusually solemn. She nodded, feeling the weight of responsibility settle around her shoulders like a cloak as she did so.

    “Good girl,” Papa patted her shoulder, “Now, I didn’t call you in here to talk about Kate and Edward, pleasant though our diversion has been. I brought you in here because we need to talk about your lands in France. You remember Lord Hastings, don’t you?”

    Papa waved across the table and Maria jolted slightly, only then realising that there was another man in the room. Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment and she dipped into a brief curtsy to hide the way her skin was burning, “Lord Hastings.”

    “Madame la Dauphine,” he bowed, coming around the table to kiss her hand, his breath warm against her fingers for the briefest of instants.

    “Lord Hastings is to be Dickon’s governor and tutor when he’s old enough, Maria. It only makes sense that our Governor of Normandy should also raise its future Duke, does it not?”

    “Yes, Papa,” Maria agreed obediently, before pausing, “Did you say…”

    “I did. I intend to officially invest Dickon as Duke of York and Normandy as soon as he’s old enough to play a part in the ceremony. And there we hit the snag. The lands I invested you with as Countess of Avranches are a huge swathe of Normandy. If Dickon is truly to be Duke of Normandy, then they should be his, not yours.”

    “Oh, but he can have them!” Maria laughed. Was that all that was troubling Papa? What did she care for some small towns and damp fields in France that she’d never even seen? Dickon could have them and welcome! “I don’t mind. Honest, I don’t.”

    “Really?” Papa’s shoulders relaxed and he smiled, “Would you sign a document officially handing them over to me so that I can grant them back to Dickon when he’s older?”

    “Of course I will, Papa. Send for ink and parchment and I’ll do it now.”

    To prove how willing she was, Maria sank down on to a stool by the table and picked up a discarded quill. She looked up at Papa expectantly and he gave a great bellow of laughter.

    “That’s my pearl. Every bit a delightful daughter!”

    He clapped his hands, and a page scurried forward with a heavy scroll, “Sign this for me, my darling, and those lands will be Dickon’s just as soon as ever they can. You’d better use your Avranches title, just to make it official.”

    “Yes, Papa,” Needing no encouragement, Maria drew the quill through the bold strokes of the signature Lady Bury had drilled into her from the moment they had begun formal lessons together: Maria, Countess of Avranches.

    When she pushed the stool back and stood up, Papa beamed down at her, “Thank you, my darling. You needn’t worry about losing any income. I’ll see you rewarded for this,” As Lord Hastings bent over the parchment to sign as witness, he suddenly lifted her up into his arms, as he hadn’t done for ages, “How would you like to be My Lady of Clarence? I’ll give you the Irish Clarence lands in exchange for these.”

    Maria shrugged. She didn’t mind what lands she had to call her own. Not when Papa was beaming down at her and lifting her into his arms as though she was as light as a feather. Big girl though she was now, Papa’s approval was still all the reward she really needed.

     
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