The King's Secret Matter (8 page)

BOOK: The King's Secret Matter
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‘What is this talk of marriage?'

‘I am in love, Your Grace, with Will Carey. He is a younger son, and my father does not find him a good enough match for me. He has . . . forbidden us . . .'

‘I see. So this young man is willing to marry you in spite of the scandal you have brought on yourself.'

‘There would be no more scandal, Your Grace, if only I could marry Will. I want none but Will, and he wants none but me. If Your Grace would speak for us . . .'

A strange state of affairs, pondered the Queen. I send for her to reprimand her for her lewd conduct with the King, and she asks me to help her to marry with a young man whom she says she loves.

Yet there was something lovable about the girl. Katharine had never thought that she could feel a slight degree of tenderness towards any of her husband's mistresses, but she was finding that this could be so. Mary with her plump bosom that seemed to resent being restrained within that laced bodice, her tiny waist and her flaring hips, had the air of a wanton even when she was distressed as she was at this moment; and there was also a look of the slattern about her; and yet that gentleness, that desire to please, that certain helplessness was appealing.

How could he deceive me with such a one? Katharine asked herself. Elizabeth Blount had been different – a young and beautiful virgin when he had first seen her; and their
had been conducted with decorum. But Katharine was certain that the King had not been this girl's first lover.

And for many nights he had not visited his wife because the creature had claimed his attention. This slut had been preferred to a princess of Spain; the daughter of Thomas Boleyn – who
for all his airs had his roots in trade – had been preferred to the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand!

There were so many questions she wanted to ask. She was jealous of this girl, because she knew that there would be such passion between her and the King as there never had been between the King and his wife. How did you manage to attract him? she wanted to ask. How did you manage to keep him? He went to you in spite of his conscience, in spite of the scandal which he hates. Yet he cannot bring himself to come to me when it is right and proper that he should, and it is his duty to give me the chance of bearing a son.

She ought to hate the girl, but it was impossible to hate her when she stood there, an occasional sob still shaking her body.

The Queen said: ‘So you have spoken to your father of this marriage?'

‘Yes, Your Grace. He is against it.'

‘Why so?'

‘Because Will is only a younger son.'

‘And do
not think that you might look higher?'

‘I could not look higher, Your Grace, than the man I love.'

Katharine was shaken. She had expected to find a calculating mind beneath that voluptuous exterior; but the girl's looks did not lie. She was indeed soft and loving.

‘That is a worthy sentiment,' murmured the Queen. ‘When I sent for you I had thought of dismissing you from the Court, of sending you back to your father's castle at Hever.' The Queen half closed her eyes, visualising the scene with Henry if she had dared to do this. ‘But,' she went on, ‘since you speak to me of your love for this young man, and speak of it with sincerity, I feel that I should like to help you.'

‘Your Grace!' The babyish mouth was slightly open; the dark tearful eyes wide.

‘Yes,' said the Queen. ‘I can see that you need to be married. Your husband will then keep you out of mischief.'

‘And Your Grace will . . .'

‘I will arrange for your marriage to Will Carey. The ceremony shall be here at Court and I myself will attend.'

‘Your Grace!'

There was no mistaking the joy in the girl's face.

Katharine held out her hand, Mary took it and pressed a damp hot face against it.

‘You may go now,' said the Queen graciously, and watched the girl depart.

A slut, she thought. And no virgin when he found her. Yet he desired her as he never did his wife.

Why should this be? Katharine asked herself passionately. Is there no hope left to me? What is the use of praying for a son when the King has given up all hope of begetting one? How can there be a son when he never comes to me, when he spends his manhood on girls such as Mary Boleyn?

There were isolated moments in life, thought Katharine, which were sheer happiness; and what had happened in the past and what the future held could not touch them. As she sat watching her daughter Mary leaning against her father's knee while he instructed her in playing the lute, she assured herself that this was one of them.

The King's face was flushed and he was smiling; there was rare tenderness about his mouth; he dearly loved children, and he would have been a contented man if, instead of one small
girl in the nursery, there were half a dozen – and more than one lusty boy among them.

But in this happy moment he was well pleased with his little daughter.

How enchanting she is! thought Katharine. How dainty! How healthy with that flush in her cheeks and her long hair falling about her shoulders! Why am I ever sad while I have my Mary?

‘Ha!' boomed the King, ‘you are going to be a musician, my daughter. There is no doubt of that.' He turned, smiling to Katharine. ‘Did you hear that? She shall have the best teacher in the land.'

‘She already has that,' said Katharine meaningfully, and she went to the pair and laid her hand lightly on the King's shoulder. He patted that hand affectionately.

Holy Mother of God, the Queen prayed silently, if we had only one son, all would be well between us. Who would believe, witnessing this scene of domestic felicity, that he continually betrays me and that . . .

But she would not allow herself to say it even to herself. It was impossible. Only her enemies had whispered it because they hated her. They must have forgotten that she was of the House of Spain and that the Emperor was her own sister's son.

‘Henry,' went on Katharine, ‘I want to discuss her general education with you. I wish her to receive tuition in languages, history and all subjects which will be of use to her in later life.'

‘It shall be so,' agreed Henry.

‘I have been talking to Thomas More on this subject.'

‘A good fellow, Thomas More,' murmured the King, ‘and none could give you better advice.'

‘His daughters, I have heard, are the best educated in England. He firmly believes that there should be no difference between the education of girls and boys.'

The King's look of contentment faded; his lower lip protruded in an expression of discontent.

I should not have said that, thought Katharine. I have reminded him that while Thomas More has a son, he, the King, has none – at least not a legitimate son.

These pitfalls appeared on every occasion. Was there no escaping them?

The King was staring at Mary's brown curls, and she knew that he was thinking to himself: Why was this girl not a boy?

The little girl was extremely sensitive and this was not the first time that she had been aware of the discontent she aroused in her father. She lowered her eyes and stared at the lute in his hands. He frightened her, this big and glittering father, who would sometimes pick her up in his arms and expect her to shout with glee because he noticed her. She did shout, because Mary always tried to do what was expected of her, but the glee was assumed, and in her father's presence the child was never completely free from apprehension.

She longed to please him and applied an almost feverish concentration on her lessons, and in particular her music; and because she knew that he liked to boast of her abilities, she was terrified that she would fall short of his expectation.

Those occasions when he smothered her with his exuberant affection were almost as alarming as when he showed his displeasure in her sex.

She had begun to ask herself: ‘Where did I fail? What could I have done to have made myself be born a boy?'

She took a swift glance at her mother. How glad she was
that the Queen was present, for in the company of her mother she felt safer. If she could have had her wish they would have been together always; she would have liked to sleep in her mother's chamber, and stay with her the whole day long. Whenever she was afraid, she thought of her mother; and when they were alone together she was completely happy.

Now she raised her eyes and found her mother's gaze upon her. The Queen smiled reassuringly because she immediately sensed her little daughter's disquiet.

We must never show our differences in the child's presence, thought Katharine. But how long can I protect her from rumour? She already knows that her father constantly rages against the fate which made her a girl and not a boy.

The Queen said quickly: ‘Now that you have the lute in your hands, Henry, play us one of your songs, and sing to us.'

The frown lifted from the King's brow. He was still boyish enough to be drawn from discontent by a treat. It was like offering a child a sweetmeat, and compliments were the sweetmeats Henry most desired.

‘Since you ask me, Katharine, I will sing for you. And what of my daughter? Does she wish to hear her father sing?'

The little girl was alert. She said in a shy voice: ‘Yes, Your Grace.'

‘You do not sound quite certain,' he growled.

The Queen put in hastily: ‘Mary is all eagerness, but a little shy of showing her pleasure.' She held out her hand to the Princess who immediately ran to her.

Oh the comfort of those velvet skirts, the joy of hiding her face momentarily in them, of feeling that gentle, protective hand on her head! The Princess Mary looked up at her mother with adoration shining in her eyes.

The Queen smiled and held that head against her skirts once more. It would not be wise for her father to see that the love she had for her mother was greater than that which she had for him. Mary did not understand that he demanded always to be the most admired, the best loved.

‘I do not look for shyness in my daughter,' murmured the King. But his fingers were already plucking at the lute and he was singing his favourite song in a pleasant tenor voice.

The Queen settled herself in her chair and kept her arm about her daughter.

Snuggling up to her Mary prayed: ‘Please, Holy Mother of God, let me stay with my mother . . . always.'

The song came to an end and the King stared before him, his eyes glazed with the pleasure he found in his own creation, while the Queen clapped her hands and signed to her daughter to do the same. Thus the King was appeased.

When their daughter had been returned to her governess, Katharine said to the King: ‘Mary Boleyn has been to see me to plead for permission to marry.'

The King did not speak for a moment. Then he said: ‘Is that so?'

‘Yes. It seems that she wishes to marry a certain William Carey, who is a younger son and I fancy not to her father's liking.'

‘Thomas Boleyn wants a better match for the girl, I'll warrant.'

‘Thomas Boleyn is an ambitious man. I have promised to help the girl.'

The King shrugged his shoulders. ‘The matter is in your hands.'

‘I had thought in the circumstances . . .'

He swung round on her, his eyes narrowed. What was she hinting? Was she reproaching him because he had found the girl attractive?

‘In what circumstances?' he demanded.

She saw that she had strayed into one of those pitfalls which it was always so necessary to avoid. She should have murmured that, as the girl was of the Court and her father stood high in the King's favour, she had believed that she should first ask for the King's approval before consenting to her marriage.

But her natural dignity revolted. Was she not, after all, a daughter of the House of Spain? Should she allow herself to be treated as a woman of no importance? The recent interview with her daughter had reminded her of her own mother, and she believed that little Mary felt for her the same devotion that she herself had felt for Isabella of Castile. Isabella would never have lost her dignity over one of her husband's mistresses.

Katharine said coldly: ‘In view of the fact that the girl is – or was – your paramour . . .'

The King's face darkened. In his eyes sins seemed blacker when they were openly referred to. He might placate his conscience to some extent (‘I am but a man. The girl was more than willing. My wife is sickly and after each pregnancy she grows more so. Providence sends me these willing girls, who, by God, lose nothing through the affair, that I may save my wife discomfort') but when his wife actually spoke of the matter with that smouldering resentment in her eyes she emphasised the unworthiness of his conduct. Therefore if he had been dissatisfied with her a moment before, as soon as she uttered those words he hated her.

‘You forget to whom you speak, Madam,' he said.

‘Why should you think that? Is the girl then the mistress of others? I must say it does not surprise me.'

BOOK: The King's Secret Matter
3.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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