Authors: Susan Kay
Tags: #Nonfiction, #History
and depressed, she hurried away to seek a sympathetic ear in the Great
Hall, leaving Mary alone with her black thoughts.
The room was absolutely still when she had gone. Mary stood where
she had left her and clung to her rage for protection. The creeping silence
pressed in upon her, stealing her courage, leaving her defenceless against
a truth which rocked her reason. The Concubine had consented to
annulment, admitted that her marriage was null and void and had never
existed in the eyes of God.
So how could she be executed on the grounds of adultery?
Mary tried to blur the issue in her panic-ridden mind, but a stubborn
streak of resolute honesty dragged before her eyes the unwelcome realisa-
tion that Anne had been murdered. And she looked upon murder as the
ultimate violation of body and soul.
“Murder,” said Katherine’s gentle voice from some long-lost
memory of her childhood, “is always murder, and deserves the just
retribution of God.”
Retribution! The word hummed fearful y in Mary’s head, building terrible
pictures out of the growing shadows. For suppose such a violation should
leave the restless spirit of its victim at liberty in this world—and suppose that
victim to be as cruel y vindictive in death as she had been in life—
The tortured fabrications of her guilty conscience sent her fleeing from
the room. She ran down the Long Gallery until a stabbing stitch in her side
made her stop to catch her breath and realise that she had no idea where
she was running to. There was no one in this house she could turn to for
comfort now that she had driven her only friend away in disgust, no one
in this world who cared whether she lived or died—no one except a child
not yet three, whose precious innocence excluded her from blood feuds
and the savage rivalry of women. Elizabeth’s nursery—home of the only
warmth and light she had known in almost three years of darkness; she
knew suddenly where she was going and what she would find when she
got there. Peace of mind and the sweet, humdrum pattern of normality.
She got up unsteadily and continued more calmly down the gallery,
hearing the soft rustle of straw beneath her feet which seemed to be
the only sound in this strangely deserted house. There was no echo of
laughter from the Great Hall to mock her unhappiness, no servant in sight
to snub her by neglecting to curtsey or address her as “my lady” instead
of “Your Highness.”
She entered Elizabeth’s room with measured dignity, prepared to give
a haughty nod of dismissal to the gossiping nursery-maids, but none was
required; the room was empty. Mary checked in astonishment and felt a
sudden prick of tears behind her eyes, for she knew from experience what
this desertion signified. The King’s heir must be guarded while she slept;
the King’s bastard required less stringent security.
But how heartless of them to leave her alone, tonight of all nights, just
because she no longer mattered. Mary’s face hardened with anger.
if she had woken up and found herself alone for the first time in her life? I shall
speak to Bryan tomorrow—
But, for tonight, it was comforting to have some genuine excuse
At the far side of the room stood a miniature four-poster bed, a little
green-curtained extravagance built on Anne’s personal commission for
the daughter she had dressed like an expensive doll. The spoilt child had
a harem’s wardrobe, but the King was not generous to relatives who lost
his favour. That wardrobe would be outgrown in a few short months and
what would become of Elizabeth’s precocious vanity when the pretty
things came no more?
Mary drew the curtains aside and smiled involuntarily. Always restless,
even in sleep, Elizabeth had kicked off all her covers and lay face down
on the mattress, holding a little doll dressed in black satin. The pillows
were on the floor, in company with an empty comfit box, and the bed
was covered with crumbled marchpane and half-eaten suckets.
Mary brushed the sheets and replaced the pillows, held her breath as
the child stirred and turned over on to her back, breathed easy again as
she lay still, tucked the coverlet around her. Stepping back to pull up
a stool, her foot struck the comfit box and sent it spinning against the
wainscoting. She bit her lip with vexation, bent to retrieve it, thought
what a fool Bryan was, seeing the initials on the empty box, glanced back
at the bed anxiously—and froze.
Two eyes were fixed upon her in an unwavering stare. She knew
those eyes, midnight-black—she had seen them often enough before,
set in a pale, clever oval beneath a crown of raven hair. In the childish
innocence of her sister’s face they had no conceivable right; and yet they
belonged, so wonderfully, so horribly, that even in her moment of terror,
Mary could not have sworn what filled her with such mindless horror.
As suddenly as they had opened, the heavy eyelids fell like shutters and
the suffocating sense of hostility left Mary. She looked at the finely chis-
elled little face on the pillows and felt the numb, uncaring calm of total
despair. She had been warned; in the depth of her superstitious nature,
she accepted that warning with wretched resignation.
She left the room and walked blindly back to her own. The lonely
walls held no terror for her now. Anne’s vengeful soul did not hover
there, nor in the dark winding corridors of any other palace.
It had found a better place to rest.
t t t
That same fateful May, Henry called his bastard son, the young Duke of
Richmond, to his side, threw one arm around his shoulders, and told him
with emotional tears how narrowly he and his sister Mary had escaped
“from that woman who planned your deaths by poison.”
Two months later Richmond was dead, and Henry, mad with grief
and terror, was screaming of witchcraft and curses. Elizabeth was clois-
tered at Hatfield and no one dared to mention her name in the King’s
presence, not even Secretary Cromwell, who received a pitiful letter from
the child’s governess, begging sufficient clothes to cover her decently.
For almost a year Elizabeth lived in a strangely altered world, a world
which seemed reluctant to acknowledge her existence. Her skirts grew
so short that she could see her ankles, the seams of her bodices split, the
pretty little coifs sat so absurdly on the top of her head that she refused
to wear them.
One hot August day she climbed into the window-seat in the Long
Gallery, a puzzled but not unhappy little girl who thought it would be
fun to hide from her attendants. For a long time no one missed her and a
group of ladies gathered around the empty hearth with their embroidery
and their wagging tongues.
“At least it was quick,” someone said morbidly, and in a moment the
thing, which had never been openly discussed, was being chewed over
with that restrained, ghoulish relish with which women discuss a tragedy
that does not directly affect them.
“It’s always clean and quick with a sword—should be, too, for what it
cost to bring that executioner from France. £23.6s.8d.—that’s fair pay for
two minutes’ work.
gave her the best of everything, even in death.”
Somebody sniffed and said sharply, “Pity he didn’t see fit to give her
a coffin. Imagine her lying there all day in a pool of blood till one of her
women found an arrowchest.”
“Yes—all those flies, it was such a hot day! I wonder where she
There was a decent pause as they bent their heads and applied their
needles diligently. Soon they turned their attention to the new Queen,
“What does he see in her?—such a plain, whey-faced little sheep.”
“At least she’ll be faithful to him.”
“She’d better be! Christ’s soul,
wouldn’t share a bed with him to be
Empress of the World.”
“Well, in my opinion, if the Lady Elizabeth had been a boy it would
never have happened. A son for England is all he cares about now, and
he’ll get one sooner or later, if he has to murder a dozen wives in the
Elizabeth sat very still, staring out of the window. An hour later, Lady
Bryan, searching angrily, pulled back the hanging and found her there,
quietly arranging the black satin skirts of her favourite doll. She looked
like any normal three-year-old, absorbed in play, and the doll too was like
any other, save for one small detail.
It was headless.
The painted, black-haired bauble lay at the foot of the window-seat in
an attitude which suggested that it had been thrown there. Bryan picked
it up and turned to look uncertainly at her charge.
“It broke,” said Elizabeth flatly.
“Never mind.” Bryan was brisk, wrestling with a curious feeling of
unease. “Give it to me and we’ll see if Mr. Shelton can mend it for you.”
Elizabeth put the doll behind her back.
“I don’t want Mr. Shelton to mend it.”
She got down from the window and ran out of the gallery, and some
inner instinct warned Bryan not to make an issue of the incident. Clearly,
in spite of her strict instructions, tongues had been wagging carelessly.
She made a mental note to dispose of the wretched doll as soon as the
child was safely in bed, but when she came to look for it later that night,
it was nowhere to be seen.
She considered questioning the maids, then thought better of it; it
would only start a lot of morbidly exaggerated rumours. It was better
to assume that Elizabeth, having lost interest, had dropped the miserable
object and that one of the servants had quietly disposed of it. And if, by
some chance, it should continue to hang about the house in a forgotten
corner, what did it matter anyway? It was only a doll, after all.
he summer of 1537 seemed endless to Jane seymour, dragging
through the sultry days, heavy with the King’s child, and heavier
still with guilt. A shrinking presentiment of death was upon her; Anne’s
death and Anne’s neglected child were like twin millstones round her
thin neck, pulling her down into an abyss of languid despair.
“For Christ’s sake, what ails you?” snapped Henry, and Jane turned
her face away into the pillow.
“My lord—bring Elizabeth back to court and let me show kindness to
her. I am afraid.”
Afraid for his unborn son, he knew it. And with Richmond’s death
still heavy on his heart he too was afraid, afraid of a shadow, a shadow in
He brought Elizabeth back to court, but he could not bear to touch
her. He stalked his palace like a hunted fugitive, fleeing the dreadful
trusting smile of a little girl, but Jane at least was at peace; and her son was
born safely. They called him Edward.
The bells rang, the crowds surged around the palace, singing and
stamping, roaring their delight. Henry roared too, but with rather less
conviction, for he had been through this before. The bells, the crowds,
the gorgeous christening—and two months later a tiny coffin laid to rest.
He woke at every sound, fearful to find them plucking at his arm with
the dreadful news. “
My lord—the little prince—
That beautiful May day when the Tower cannon fired, he had believed
that he rode along the river bank to total freedom. Now he knew that
his haunted sleep would never be free of a jealous presence unless he
accorded it some token of satisfaction. He could not, of course, legitimise
Elizabeth without making himself a public laughing-stock in Europe, but
he could grant her a certain measure of status.
He thought of the christening, traditionally a midnight ceremony and
no place for small children. He would make his public gesture there.
And perhaps then he could close his eyes without seeing a bloody
sword above the neck of his new-born son.
t t t
The Lady Elizabeth was to bear the Prince’s chirstening robe to the front
and be carried there, in the formal procession, by no less a person than the
Queen’s eldest brother, Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford. The announce-
ment produced tittering specualtion about the court and stunned silence
in the nursery.
Lady Bryan sat heavily down by a smoking fire and wondered
why this must happen now, when only another week or so would
have seen her safely installed in the Prince’s nursery. Young Kat
Champernowne, who had been so eager to take her place, should
have borne this awful responsibility.
On the other side of the hearth a fat Welsh nursemaid caught her eye
and smiled knowingly.
“Of course, madam, she might be ill.”
“She’s never ill,” said Bryan glumly. “Never.”