The King's Secret Matter (2 page)

BOOK: The King's Secret Matter
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atharine, Queen of England, sat at her window looking down on the Palace gardens; her hands lay idly in her lap, her tapestry momentarily neglected. She was now approaching her thirty-fifth birthday, and her once graceful figure had grown somewhat heavy during the years of disappointing pregnancies; yet she had lost none of her dignity; the humiliation she was forced to suffer could not rob her of that serene assurance which reminded all who came into her presence that she was not only the Queen of England but the daughter of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon.

She wore the fashionable five-cornered hood which glittered with jewels, and from it hung a black mantilla, for although it was nineteen years since she had left her own country she still clung to certain customs and fashions of her native land; her gown was of blue velvet trimmed with sable; and as she sat, her feet gracefully crossed, her petticoat of gold-coloured satin was visible; at her throat were rubies, and similar jewels decorated the
belt which encircled her thick waist and fell to her feet.

Now as she gazed out of the window the expression on her regular, though heavy, features was serious in the extreme; and the high forehead was wrinkled in a frown. The woman who was watching her felt compassion welling up within her, for she knew that the Queen was uneasy.

And the reason was obvious, thought Lady Willoughby who, as Maria de Salinas, had come with Katharine to England nineteen years before, and until her marriage to Lord Willoughby had never left her mistress's service; and even now returned to her whenever she found it possible to do so.

Katharine the Queen had anxieties enough.

If there could only be a male child, thought Maria.
male child. Is that too much to ask? Why is it denied her?

They had been so close to each other for so many years that there were occasions when they read each other's thoughts, and the Queen, glancing away from the gardens, caught Maria's pitying look and answered that unspoken thought.

‘I have a feeling that it will never be, Maria,' she said. ‘There have been so many attempts.'

Maria flushed, angry with herself because she had betrayed thoughts which could only bring further pain to her beloved mistress.

‘Your Grace has a charming, healthy daughter.'

Katharine's face became young and almost beautiful as it invariably did when her daughter, the five-year-old Princess Mary, was mentioned.

‘She grows more beautiful as the months pass,' murmured the Queen, smiling to herself. ‘She is so gay, so merry, that she has won her father's heart so certainly that I do believe that when he is with her he forgives her for not being a boy.'

‘No one could wish the Princess Mary to be other than she is,' murmured Maria.

‘No. I would not change her. Is that not strange, Maria? If it were possible to turn her into a boy I would not do so. I would not have her different in any way.' The smile disappeared and she went on: ‘How I wish I could have her more often with me here at Greenwich.'

‘It is because the King is so eager that she shall enjoy the state which is due to her that he insists on her maintaining a separate household.'

The Queen nodded and turned to her tapestry.

‘We shall be leaving for Windsor shortly,' she said; ‘then I shall have her ferried over from Ditton Park. I long to hear how she is progressing with the virginals. Did you ever know a child of five who showed such musical talent?'

‘Never,' answered Maria, thinking: I must keep her mind on Mary, for that will give her a respite from less pleasant matters.

But as she was reminding Katharine of that occasion when the King had carried his daughter down to the state apartments and insisted on the ambassadors of France and Spain paying homage to the little girl's rank and accomplishments, a shout from the grounds diverted the Queen's attention to other matters, and Maria noticed the momentary closing of the eyes which denoted that disgust she felt for what was happening down there.

It was a mistake, Maria told herself, for the Queen to hold aloof from the King's pastimes; and while she sympathised with Katharine and understood her mistress's revulsion, she felt that it was unwise of her to show such feeling. The King was a man who looked for adulation and, because it was almost always unstintingly given, he was quick to perceive when it
was not; and merely by declining to accompany him to the arena, the Queen had doubtless offended him. True, she had pleaded indisposition; but the King, who was himself so rarely indisposed, was apt to regard the illness of others with scepticism and derision.

No, it was unfortunate that while the King, surrounded by his courtiers, was watching a bear being torn to pieces by his ban dogs, which had been kept hungry for hours in order to increase their ferocity, the Queen should be sitting over her tapestry with one faithful friend at her side.

More shouts followed, and the sound of trumpets came through the open window.

Katharine said: ‘The game will have ended. How thankful I am that I was not there to witness the death agony of some poor creature.'

‘We shall never grow accustomed to English sports, I fear,' answered Maria. ‘After all these years we remain Spanish.'

‘Yet we are English now, Maria, by reason of our marriages. We both have English husbands, and Spain seems so very far away; yet I shall never forget the Alhambra and my mother.'

‘You would like to return to Spain, Your Grace?'

Katharine shook her head. ‘I did not want to after she had died. For me she
Spain. I do not think I could have endured life there after she had gone. There would have been too much to remind me. It is so many years since she died . . . yet for me she never died. She lives on in my heart and brings me comfort still. I say to myself, when I think of my own sweet daughter: Katharine of Aragon will be such a mother to the Princess Mary as Isabella of Castile was to Katharine of Aragon.'

‘She was both great and wise.'

‘There are times,' went on Katharine, ‘when I wish with all
my heart that she were here, that she had her apartments in this Palace and that I could go to her, tell her what perplexes me, so that out of her great wisdom she might tell me what to do.'

What could even great Isabella tell her daughter? wondered Maria. How could she advise her to please that wayward husband of hers? She could only say, as so many at Court could say: Give him a son. Then you will be safe.

Katharine looked at the woman who for so long had been her dearest friend. She knows of my troubles, thought the Queen. It would be impossible for her not to know. Who in this Court does not know that the King is persistently unfaithful to his wife, that he is beginning to find her five years seniority distasteful, that he is dissatisfied because, although she has proved herself capable of becoming pregnant, she has also shown herself unable to bear him a healthy male child? Twelve years of marriage had resulted in several miscarriages and only one healthy child – a daughter.

She was not one to ask for sympathy; she knew it was dangerous to confide in others. Yet Maria de Salinas was her very dear friend and she believed there was no one in her life who loved her more. It was a sad admission. Her husband no longer loved her; she was fully conscious of that sad fact. Her mother who had loved her dearly – even as she herself loved Mary – was long since dead. Recently her father, the ambitious, parsimonious Ferdinand, had died; but of course Ferdinand had never had much love to spare for any one person, his possessions taking all the affection he had to give; and to him she had merely been an important counter in the game of politics which was his life. Mary loved her; but Mary was a child.

God grant she never has to suffer as I have, thought the Queen hastily.

But all would be well for Mary who was now heir to the throne, because there was no Salic law in England. If there were no male children born to her parents, and one day she ascended the throne, she would be Queen in her own right, which was a very different matter from being a King's Consort.

Katharine's mother had been a Queen in her own right and, much as she had loved her husband, she had never forgotten it; for although Ferdinand had often been unfaithful – there were several illegitimate children to prove it – although she had accepted this as inevitable, forgiven him and remained his loving and submissive wife, in state matters she had held rigorously to her supremacy.

‘Oh, Maria!' she sighed. ‘I am passing through troublous times, and I feel . . . alone.'

Maria went to Katharine and kneeling, buried her face in the blue velvet. ‘Your Grace, while I live to serve you, you are never alone.'

‘I know it, Maria . . . my very good friend. I love you dearly, as you love me, and to no other would I speak of these matters. But to you I will say this: I despair of getting a male child. There is so little opportunity. The King rarely visits my bed. And since the birth of a son to Elizabeth Blount his manner towards me grows colder.'

‘That sly creature!' Maria said angrily.

‘Nay, do not blame her. She was a shy girl, and he is her King. He said, ‘Come hither' and the girl has no more power to resist than a rabbit facing a stoat. And she has given him this son.'

‘I hear that she no longer pleases him.'

The Queen shrugged her shoulders. ‘He has taken the boy away to be brought up.'

‘In seclusion, Your Grace,' said Maria quickly.

‘But royally. If another woman should give him a son . . .'

Maria knew that the Queen was thinking of that catastrophe which she feared so much that she would not even speak of it. It was summed up in one dangerous word which was whispered throughout the Court: Divorce.

Impossible! Maria assured herself. Even Henry would never dare. How could he when the nephew of the Queen was not only King of Spain but Emperor of Austria, the greatest monarch of them all. No, it was all so much talk. Had the Queen been some humble princess, there might have been cause for fear; but the aunt of the Emperor was surely safe from all such indignities.

The Queen went on: ‘There is this new girl.'

Maria waited.

‘She was in France; he found her during that extravagant frolic. She is of a bad reputation and is known in the court of France as a wanton. I cannot understand him. But I have decided to send for the girl.'

Maria trembled. She wanted to say: Oh . . . no . . . no. It is folly. Let the King have his women, and look the other way.

‘She is the daughter of Thomas Boleyn. I believe he has two girls and a boy. The other girl is in France now and much younger, and is said to be more intelligent than her sister. It is to be hoped this is so. But I shall have something to say to this Boleyn girl.'

‘And His Grace . . .'

‘His Grace was amused by her wantonness . . . as it appears many have been before.'

‘Your Grace, this affair has gone . . .'

‘As far as it is possible to go. It would not surprise me if Mary Boleyn is not already with child . . . perhaps twins. Boys, I'll dare swear.'

It was unlike the Queen to show such feeling, and Maria trembled afresh. Characteristically the Queen noticed the expression in Maria's face and was sobered by it – not because she feared for herself, but because she had troubled her friend.

‘Have no fear, Maria,' she said. ‘I shall dismiss this girl from the Court. I shall know how to deal with such a one. The King has amused himself with her, but she is no Elizabeth Blount. He will do nothing to detain her at Court. He will merely look about him and . . . find another.'

‘But if he will find another . . .'

‘I understand your meaning, Maria. Why dismiss this girl? Simply because her reputation is so light. No, if the King must have a mistress it should be one who has not shared the beds of quite so many. I hear that she even included the King of France among her lovers, briefly, oh very briefly. Elizabeth Blount at least behaved decorously and she was connected with the Mountjoys. These Boleyns, I have heard, have descended from trade.'

‘Is that so, Your Grace? When one considers Thomas Boleyn that is surprising.'

‘Thomas Boleyn gives himself airs, indeed. A very ambitious man, Maria. I wonder he does not take this girl of his and put her into a convent. But I do assure you that I have not been misinformed as to his origins, for when I heard of the King's . . . connection . . . with this girl I had enquiries made. One Geoffrey Boleyn was apprentice to a mercer in London . . . oh, it is a long time ago, I grant you, and he became rich; but he was a tradesman, no more, no less. Becoming Lord Mayor of
London and buying Blickling Hall from Sir John Falstaff, and Hever Castle from the Cobbhams, does not alter that. So this family rose through trade and advantageous marriages. They are connected with the Ormonds, and Thomas's wife is Norfolk's daughter. But this girl . . . this Mary . . . is doubtless a throw-back to the days of trade.'

How bitter she is, thought Maria; and how unlike herself. My poor Queen Katharine, are you becoming a frightened woman?

‘It is a deplorable state of affairs when such people are allowed to come to Court,' went on Katharine.

There was a brief silence and Maria took advantage of it to say that she had heard the Emperor might again visit England, and how she hoped this was true.

‘I hope so too,' said Katharine. ‘I think the King has changed the opinion he once held of my nephew.'

‘All who saw him on his visit to England were impressed by his serious ways and his fondness for Your Grace.'

Katharine smiled tenderly. ‘I could not look on him without sadness, although it gave me so much pleasure to see him. He is indeed worthy of his destiny, but I could not help thinking of my sister.'

Maria winced and wished she had not turned the conversation in this direction. There was so much tragedy in the life of the Queen that it seemed impossible to avoid it. Now in reviving her memories of her nephew's visit she had reminded her of her poor sister Juana, Charles's mother, who was insane and living out her sad life in the castle of Tordesillas and who would have been the ruler of Spain had she not lost her reason.

BOOK: The King's Secret Matter
6.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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