Authors: Alison Prince
London, England 1501
4th November 1501
I hardly like to make a mark on the beautiful, blank pages of this book, but I must. Mama gave it to me as a parting present so that I could write about this journey from Spain to England. “Don't waste it,” she said. “Just write the important things. The big ones.”
That was three months ago. It was August when we sailed from Corunna â but how could I write in that terrible storm? We had hardly been at sea for two days when it struck us. People were weeping and praying and being thrown about like dried peas in a baby's rattle. One of our ships sank. I came up to get some air because the smell below decks was so awful, and I saw her roll over helpless as a dead thing, and then the towering waves swallowed her. We were driven back to the Basque coast, with broken masts and rigging washed overboard, and it was a month before the repairs were done and we could start out again. Even then, we were tempest-tossed, but at last we landed in Plymouth.
People came aboard to meet us, and Catherine received them with truly royal dignity. Although she is my childhood friend, I have always known she was a princess â but until that day, I hadn't realized how perfectly she can play the part. The English were delighted with her, and seemed impressed that she asked to go to a church to give thanks for our safe arrival, even before we could change our clothes or have something to eat. She is not yet sixteen but she has great self-possession.
Would Mama think these were big things? I'm sure she would be impressed by the great procession in which we have slowly made our way from the West Country to London. Horses and carriages, litters and baggage-waggons and attendants, soldiers, courtiers, ladies, pages, jesters â and Catherine herself, Catherine of Aragon, on her way to wed Prince Arthur, eldest son of the King of England.
But there have been little things as well, yellow leaves on the trees that stand everywhere, and skies full of birdsong. Grass and tall weeds, rain and mud. Oh, the mud! Mama warned me that England was a wet place, but I never imagined such mud. Perhaps it will be better in London, but so far the journey has been heavy going. The horses have floundered knee-deep sometimes, struggling to get a foothold, and the carriages lurch and splash, and sometimes we have had to stop because of a broken axle or lost wheel. We've all been grateful for an occasional dry day of autumn sunshine.
I have been wretchedly homesick sometimes, longing for warmth and the smell of Spanish cooking. And Mama. When will I see her again? But at least Uncle Rodrigo is in London. When I was small, I used to call him Uncle Rod, but Mama warned me not to use that pet name in front of the courtiers. To them he is Doctor Rodrigo Gonsalez De Puebla, ambassador to England from Catherine's parents, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. He has a son whom I have never met, called Gonsalvo, so at least I will have some sort of family in this strange land.
Tonight we are lodged at the manor house of some lord, not far from London. It is cold in this room although a smoky fire burns in the hearth. The candle flame gutters in the wind that blows in through the glassless windows. Our windows in Spain are not glazed, either, but it is different for us. Wrought-iron grilles keep thieves out and let in whatever air there is to cool our sun-hot walls and floors. These English are a mystery to me. How do they endure the cold? It is dirty, too. The floors are strewn with rushes, fresh ones being scattered over the filth and dropped food of the previous day, and although the dishes are of gold or silver plate, the noblemen do not always bother to go outside or to the retiring room when they need to relieve themselves. They behave, it seems to me, very much as the dogs do which skulk round the tables and snatch at thrown scraps of meat.
Perhaps it is as well that I write my diary in Spanish! It has a hasp and lock on its leather cover, too, so it is safe, I hope, from prying eyes. I could equally well write in English if I chose. That is why I am here, for my skill as an interpreter. The Queen would not have sent me simply as Catherine's childhood friend, or because we share a love of embroidery. Mama is the chief embroideress at the Spanish court, and is necessarily quite close to the Queen, but Isabella has no use for sentiment, except when it comes to the passion she feels for her religion. “Isabella the Catholic”, they call her, perhaps in fear as much as in admiration. When Catherine and I were small, she rode against the Moors in full armour at the head of her troops, and she will tolerate no wavering from what she considers the true Church.
These things are not for me to comment on. My place here has nothing to do with embroidery or friendship, though both of these will be useful. I serve as Catherine's interpreter, and stand close by her when the important and gorgeously dressed nobles present themselves, murmuring the meaning of what they say so that only she can hear. That way, at least she can smile or look grave as is suitable, and trot out her few English phrases in the right place. “YesÂ â¦ noÂ â¦ thank you.” Poor Catherine.
What am I saying? How absurd to call her poor when she is a princess of Castile, her mother's youngest and favourite daughter! Yet I do pity her, somehow. She seems so young, though she is only six months behind me, her birthday on December 16th, mine on the tenth day of June. We look very different, though. She is all honey and cream, with skin the colour of a just-ripening peach, while I am as dark as an olive. Papa was a scholar and teacher, and I take after him in many ways. I still miss him, though it is three years since he died. I inherited his bookishness and love of learning â though nothing else, for he was never a rich man â and I think the Queen considered me a good influence on her frivolous-minded daughter.
Catherine always wanted to be active, and lessons bored her. She would sit pouting over her Latin grammar (though goodness knows Latin is easy enough, being so close to Spanish), twisting a strand of her honey-gold hair round her finger, and if voices sounded from the courtyard below she would jump up at once to see who it was, and then laugh and wave from the window. She should have been a boy, I think. She was much happier with the practical subjects which her mother insisted on, riding and shooting, falconry and archery. She even quite liked the domestic skills of baking and weaving and spinning. And she loves embroidery. My mother taught us our needlework. We used to sit outside sometimes, in the shade of the feathery pepper trees, stitching our designs of leaves and tendrils and curving arabesques while we chattered of whatever we fancied.
Mostly, we used only one colour â black or dark red â which stood out on the white cloth, but from what I have seen here, the English delight in a riot of scarlets and purples, blues and gold. I think they see things differently. In the burning sun of Spain, one sees through eyes half-shut against the glare. Things are silhouetted: the curls of wrought iron, the intricate droop of the acacia tree. One never need narrow the eyes here. The light is gentle, the colours a constant shifting of greens, blues and greys highlighted by bright berries and sky-reflecting water.
These are little things â Mama would scold me. The candle is almost burned down, I must go to bed.
5th November 1501
We have come to a place called Dogmersfield, and hardly had we entered the house when in rushed a Spanish ambassador â not my uncle, but a man called Don Pedro de Ayala â to warn us that the King himself was outside, demanding to meet with Catherine.
DoÃ±a Elvira was horrified. She is Catherine's duenna (a sort of governess), ferocious at the best of times â and this was not the best. Poor thing, she is bruised black and blue from being jolted about in a carriage. I'm so glad I'm young enough to ride! Anyway, DoÃ±a Elvira heaved herself to her feet and went out grumbling, and we heard her protests being translated for the King. “No, Your Majesty, it is not possible to see the princess. It is not the custom for a bride to be seen by the groom or his father before the wedding day.” It was a polite translation â her Spanish was a lot more forthright. Don Pedro explained that the princess was resting, but the King cut in, “I don't care if she's in her bed asleep. I am coming in to see her.”
DoÃ±a Elvira came back with her face as red as a peony â she is not used to being argued with. And behind her came King Henry himself â King Henry VII of England â a lean, determined man with a mouth set like a trap.
Catherine was not in the least flustered. She swept him a low curtsey, and his rat-trap mouth relaxed into a smile as he kissed her hand then stood back to look at her. Carefully, he noted her trim figure and the dancer's grace with which she stands and moves, her small hands and feet, her creamy skin and clear grey eyes. His own eyes ran down the long flow of her honey-coloured hair and his smile broadened. He looked, I thought, like a horse trader, well-pleased by the thoroughbred filly he has bought.
He and Catherine conversed (if one can call it that) in Latin, neither of them knowing a word of the other's language, and DoÃ±a Elvira stood with folded arms and a thunderous face. Half an hour later, Prince Arthur himself arrived with a large entourage, and he, too, came in to inspect his bride.
Catherine looked at him, then carefully avoided meeting my gaze. I knew why. Arthur, at fourteen, is a slender boy, little more than a child. He has great charm and sweetness, but his shoulders are narrow and any emotion brings a blush to his pale cheeks. He is as tall as Catherine, but looks much less strong. Everyone was scrupulously courteous, and if Catherine is disappointed, she will never, ever say so.
7th November 1501
Tonight we are in the city of London, lodged at the Bishop's Palace. There is glass in the windows here, for which I am grateful.
We were escorted into the city by a great cohort of the Duke of Buckingham's men. They were dressed in scarlet and black so that they looked like glowing coals, and the long red banners above them flickered like flames. And at St George's Fields we all came to a halt, for another troop of men was approaching. And at their head rode young Henry Tudor, brother of Prince Arthur, sent by his father to greet us.
What a boy! Only ten years old, but already as tall as his older brother, and far stronger and more confident. He swung himself from his horse, tossed the reins to a servant whom he did not even look at, then advanced towards us with a smile on his handsome face, doffed his feathered cap and bowed low. One of our ladies murmured quietly in Spanish, “A pity this boy is not the elder.” Several of the others nodded and Catherine, curtseying to young Harry, as they call him, looked up to meet his gaze and could not look away.
Shivers ran down my back. In that moment, the pair of them seemed to belong together, young though Prince Harry is â but of course, the children of royalty are not free to follow the wishes of their hearts. In just a week from now, Catherine will marry the older brother, Arthur, and nothing will alter that.
Evidently the people of London are all set for a great fiesta. Flags and banners fly everywhere, and fantastic arches have been built across the streets, painted to look like bridges or castles, and wherever I look there are elaborate designs that link the arms of England with the crimson pomegranate of Granada. It's all very exciting â and I'm so proud of Uncle Rod. I know from his letters to Mama, who is his niece, how hard he has worked for many years to bring about this marriage between England and Spain. I look forward so much to seeing him.
9th November 1501
At last! Uncle Rod came to the Bishop's Palace today. He is much older than I remember him, and somehow not as big. I used to think he was a tall man, but I suppose that was because I was only small. He is barely my height now, and rather dumpy in shape, with his coat buttons not quite meeting across his tummy. Properly speaking, he is my
uncle, of course, but I had never thought of that before. His son, Gonsalvo, came as well, a dark-haired man much older than me, together with his wife, Bianca, and their baby son, Miguel. Gonsalvo is a lawyer, like Uncle Rod, but he shook his head when I asked if he was at court, and said he would rather deal with the rogues of the street than such a parcel of monkeys. Uncle Rod frowned at him and told me to take no notice.
Both of them are much annoyed that Don Pedro de Ayala has come to London. His job was supposed to be in Scotland, arranging a marriage between the Scottish king, James IV, and another of King Henry's children, Princess Margaret. Gonsalvo says Don Pedro probably finds it more comfortable here than in the rough, cold court of Scotland. Can it really be colder than it is here? I tremble to think of it.
12th November 1501
People stare at us wherever we go. I suppose it is because we look different from the tall, pale English. I heard a man murmur to his companion that we looked like “pigmei Ethiopes”. He spoke in Latin, but did he imagine we were too uncivilized to understand? “Pygmy Ethiopians” indeed! How rude! I asked who the man was, and learned that his name is Thomas More. It makes me wonder what the King, for all his courtesies, really thinks of us.
We met Prince Arthur's sisters this afternoon, and I liked them both. Margaret, who is to marry James of Scotland, is twelve. She's a merry girl, more like her brother Harry than the slender Arthur, but little Mary is quite different. She's only six, a very pretty child with curling fair hair, but very serious. “I will sing for you,” she said. And she did, amazingly well, her little voice true and sweet. They say she will marry the Duke of Milan's son when she is old enough â unless, of course, they've found someone more important by that time.
I'm glad I was not born a royal child. It must be hard to grow up knowing you will be given to a husband you have never met and may not even like â and at such an early age, too. I heard yesterday that King Henry's mother was only twelve years old when he was born, and she was so injured in having him that she was never able to bear another child. The woman who told me shook her head, not so much in pity as in disapproval. “Spoiled,” she said, as if a queen is only valued for the children she produces. How odd that they are laden with jewels and fine clothes and yet their function is no different from that of the cow in the farmyard!