Read Ambition's Queen: A Novel of Tudor England Online

Authors: V. E. Lynne

Tags: #Fiction - History, #16th Century, #England/Great Britain, #Royalty

Ambition's Queen: A Novel of Tudor England

BOOK: Ambition's Queen: A Novel of Tudor England
4.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


A novel of Tudor England

(Bridget Manning: Book 1)


2013 by V. E. Lynne

All rights reserved


When the Tower is white,

And another place green,

Then shall be burned two or three bishops

And a Queen

And after all this be passed,

We shall have a merry world”

-- The Abbot of Garadon


Rivers Abbey

Norfolk, England, 1522

The man hammered on the great abbey door, the sound of his fist striking the wood echoing in the deep silence. He pulled the hood of his cloak further over his head and nestled the little girl wrapped in his arms closer against his chest. She stirred and opened her eyes. “Where are we, Father?” she asked. “Why are we not at home? Where is Mother?”

The man felt himself weakening as he looked into the dark pools of his daughter’s eyes, so like her mother’s had been. He clenched his jaw against the wave of longing that swept over him. He must not think about Judith; she was gone even though their little girl, the only one of their children that God had allowed them to keep, did not realise it. She was four years old and did not yet comprehend the finality of death.
But I do
, the man thought.
I have seen it take almost everyone I love, and now I feel its inexorable approach deep in my own bones.
As if on cue, a knifing pain tore through his guts, and he bit his lip to stop a cry of agony. With an effort that was nearly beyond him, he renewed his assault upon the unyielding, iron-strapped door.

Finally, after what seemed like an age, the man could clearly hear the sound of footsteps approaching from within. A small, bent-over nun, with a sharp nose and a scowling visage, opened the door, the rush of night air very nearly extinguishing the candle she carried in her talon-like hand. Without preamble, she announced, “It is late. We have no food, so return in the morning.” She began to close the door.

“I do not need food, Sister,” the man replied, his palm firmly braced against the door so it could not be shut in his face. “My name is John Manning. My wife was Judith; she died last month.” A spark of recognition jumped in the nun’s eyes. “My wife was a relation of the abbess, and that is who I am here to see. I have a child . . .” He indicated to the bundle in his arms. “Her name is Bridget. She is all I have in the world, but I cannot take care of her. Sister, I am unwell, and I need the abbess’s help. There is such weakness in my limbs that I can no longer work. I have barely enough food to last through the winter. Please, will you tell the abbess that I am here? Will you help me?”

The elderly nun, unmoved by his plea, began to remonstrate with him, the lateness of the hour being to the forefront of her complaints, until a firm hand placed upon her shoulder stopped her in full flow. “Sister Agatha, that is enough. I realise that the hour is most inconvenient, but I have been expecting this visitor. You are welcome here, John Manning. As are you Bridget.”

At the sound of her name, the child looked up and smiled sleepily. John sighed in relief, and rested his forehead against the cool of the outer stonework.

“You may retire, Sister Agatha,” the Abbess said. “I need no further assistance here.” The nun shot a last look of disapproval at John before she stumped grumpily away into the depths of the abbey.

The abbess regarded John Manning with a deep sadness. He was still a young man, about thirty summers old, she reckoned, and yet it was evident even in the gloom of the archway that he would not see another. His cheeks were hollowed out, the sallow skin stretched tightly across his once-handsome features. There were dark shadows under his eyes, and his body, formerly sturdy and muscular, seemed to be shrinking in on itself. Judith had been gone such a short time, taken by the childbed fever as so many women were, and now her husband was clearly going to follow her in short order to the grave.

Judith had been a connection of hers, albeit not a close one, who had married for love, much to her family’s dismay. She had been a great beauty in her youth of whom much had been hoped; perhaps even a position at court and an advantageous marriage would not have been beyond her grasp. But she had chosen to ally herself to the good-looking, hardworking, kind-hearted baseborn John Manning, and her family had cut her off without another word. They had washed their hands of her, in the manner of Pilate, and left her to her fate.
Well, Fate was a cruel mistress,
the abbess thought, as she so often proved to be. Before her last confinement, Judith had asked her to take Bridget if she did not survive her ordeal. “John is sick,” Judith had said. “He has been for some time. He thinks I do not know, but I see how tired he is, I see the pain in his eyes. Please, if aught should happen to me, look after my daughter. Bring her up at the abbey and make sure she is educated. She is a special girl, she will go far with the right guidance, and she will have the life that I did not. If you help her, she will not disappoint you, I promise.”

The abbess took a long look at the child. She was a pretty, little thing, with her father’s blond hair and her mother’s ebony eyes. She appeared to be about four years old and seemed a healthy and robust girl. She was young enough to be able to adapt to both the loss of her parents and to a change of home environment. She would grow up in the abbey and take orders one day—perhaps not the life her mother had originally wanted for her when she was born, but a fine existence all the same. The abbess herself had entered the church at a young age; she had been intended for nothing else, and she had never resented it. She saw no reason this child ever would. Notwithstanding such considerations, she had a duty to this girl, and she had given her word to Judith. Truly, there was no real decision to be made.

“You are here to give the child to me?” the abbess asked, more of a statement really than a question.

John nodded, his mournful eyes bright with unshed tears. He clasped his daughter fiercely to him and whispered, “Good-bye, my sweetheart,” into her small ear. She looked at him in sudden confusion, and grabbed at his sleeve as he passed her across the threshold into the abbess’s waiting arms. “I know you will be kind to her, Mother,” he said and, with a regretful last look at Bridget, he walked hurriedly away.

The little girl called out to him, but he did not turn back. She burst into tears and struggled to escape the abbess’s arms. “Shh, do not cry, child,” the older woman whispered. “You are safe here. Rivers Abbey is the safest place in the world. We will take care of you now. There is no need for tears.”

She dried the girl’s eyes and watched until the figure of John Manning had walked painfully down the path and was lost to sight. Then, as winter storm clouds broke over the abbey rooftops, she hugged Bridget tightly, stepped back into the shadows, and closed the door.

Chapter One

January 1536

“Make haste, you two, the queen is waiting! Her Majesty does not like to be kept waiting!” Bridget picked up her skirts and, taking Joanna by the hand, hurried through the winding passageways of Greenwich Palace behind the furiously bustling figure of Mistress Marshall, the Mother of the Maids. They had arrived only that morning and already they were about to meet their new mistress, Queen Anne. Bridget could hardly believe they were here at all, in the king’s beautiful pleasure palace by the Thames, on the verge of entering the queen’s household as her new, young maids of honour. Her life had been so tranquil and so ordered for most of her eighteen years, but now, as if by magic, she found herself living inside a whirlwind. One day, she was a novice at Rivers Abbey in remote Norfolk. Today, she was a member of the court of King Henry VIII and his infamous consort, Anne Boleyn. The change that had been wrought in her circumstances was a wondrous and not altogether welcome one.

She loved the abbey and her life there. She especially loved the abbess, Joan De Brett, who was really like a mother to her. Bridget had lost her own mother at an early age. She had only one true memory of her real mother, a hazy image that existed, dreamlike, right on the edges of her mind. She remembered a pretty woman with dark eyes, like her own, saying good night to her. She could also vaguely recall the night she died, but she did not like to think about that. She remembered a little more of her father, particularly the night he had taken her to the abbey. Both her parents had died by the time she was four, and from then on she had been brought up at the abbey, along with Joanna De Brett, the abbess’s niece, who was also joining the queen’s household with her today. Both should have become nuns by now, but the abbess had been reluctant for them to take their final vows. Perhaps she had had a premonition that their life at the abbey was not to last. If so, she was right. It had not just been ended but completely extinguished, swept away on an unexpected tide of reform. The king had decided that some of the smaller and more impecunious religious houses should be closed down, their lands and contents taken by the Crown. Rivers Abbey had been amongst the first to go.

Bridget shuddered at the memory of the day that Cromwell’s men had arrived, a line of rough carts trailing behind them. The agents of the king’s minister had stripped the abbey of all its valuables and all its beauty, smashing windows and throwing relics, previously revered as holy, onto the rubbish tip. The abbess had pleaded for help from the queen, but none had been forthcoming. The queen had, however, been sympathetic to their plight and had offered to place Bridget and Joanna in her household. The abbess had jumped at the chance and had packed them off to Greenwich at the earliest opportunity, lest the queen change her mind. And so, here they were, two girls from the middle of nowhere, with not much to recommend them about to enter court life. Mistress Marshall had inspected them and given them as thorough a preparation as she could in the short time available. She seemed unimpressed by the new additions, but as she said herself, “This is what the queen wants and she is not to be gainsaid.” Bridget swallowed nervously at the thought of being in the presence of such a powerful lady.

Presently, they reached a set of great double doors. The guards let Mistress Marshall through without a word, and the two girls followed dutifully in her wake. They entered a large, airy chamber with a huge fireplace, hung all about with brightly coloured tapestries. There were several people milling around, and nobody paid very much attention to the little trio as they crossed the rush-strewn floor. Mistress Marshall knocked loudly at a less impressive door and was quickly let through. The room they entered was on a smaller scale but was more richly furnished and somehow more intimate than the one they had just left.

“Wait here,” Mistress Marshall instructed them, as she crossed the chamber and approached a woman standing on the opposite side, surrounded by a tightly knit group of courtiers.
That must be the queen,
Bridget thought, and immediately she started to grow anxious. The woman regarded Mistress Marshall with equanimity and bid her to rise from her curtsey. Bridget could see that they were talking, and then the woman, most definitely the queen, looked over at them and smiled. Bridget immediately felt a cold sweat break out over every inch of her skin.

“Come here,” Mistress Marshall ordered and, on trembling legs, Bridget and Joanna obeyed.

“So, this is Mistress Bridget Manning! Come here, my girl, and let me look at you,” the queen said.

Bridget took a deep breath, smoothed her skirt, and made herself step forward. The chamber was completely hushed as she approached her new mistress, the Queen of England. Bridget got a hold of her nerves and repeated over and over in her mind,
do not make a mistake
. It was important that she give a good account of herself and not just for her own sake. The abbess had been so good to her that she wanted to represent her, to make her proud. She also wanted to honour the memory of her parents, even though she had hardly known them. Being an only child, she was the last of her line, and she did not want to let anyone down, alive or dead.

BOOK: Ambition's Queen: A Novel of Tudor England
4.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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