Read My Enemy, the Queen Online
Authors: Victoria Holt
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Historical, #Medieval, #Victorian
| |My Enemy The Queen_Holt, Victoria _ ____________ |
The Old Lady of Drayton Basset
Blame not my Lute! for he must sound
Of this or that as liketh me;
For lack of wit the Lute is bound
To give such tunes as pleaseth me;
Though my songs be somewhat strange,
And speak such words as touch thy change,
Blame not my Lute.
Sir Thomas Wyatt
I never go to Court now. I stay in my house at Drayton Basset. I am getting old, and it is permissible for old women to sit and dream. They say: y lady goes on. How old is she? Few have reached her age. It seems my lady will live forever.
I sometimes think that too. How many people now alive can remember that November day in the year 1558 when Queen Mary hom people had begun to call Bloody Maryied, causing no great sorrow to her people except to those supporters who had feared what her passing would mean to them? How many can remember when my kinswoman, Elizabeth, was proclaimed Queen throughout the land? Yet I remember it well. We were in Germany then. My father had thought fit to flee the country when Mary came to the throne, for life could be dangerous to those who by nature of their birth and religion looked to the young Elizabeth.
We were all summoned together and made to kneel and thank God, for my father was a very religious man. Moreover my mother was Elizabeth cousino the new reign should bring good to our family.
I was just past seventeen at the time. I had heard a great deal about Elizabeth and her mother, Queen Anne Boleyn. After all, my mother mother was Mary Boleyn, Anne sister, and stories of our brilliant, fascinating kinswoman Anne were part of our family legends. When I saw Elizabeth I knew what that brilliance meant because she possessed it toon a different way from her mother, but it was there all the same. Elizabeth had other qualities also. She would never have suffered from the executioner sword. She was too clever for that; she had shown even during her early life a genius for self-preservation. But, for all her coquetry and dazzling adjuncts to beauty, she lacked the essential appeal which her mother must have had, and which my grandmother, Mary Boleynho had had the good sense to be the King mistress and not bargain for a crownad possessed in great measure; and if I am to write truthfully, I must not impede myself with false modesty and must say that I had inherited this appeal from my grandmother. Elizabeth was to discover thishere was little she did not discovernd she hated me for it.
When she came to the throne, she was full of good intentions, which I have to admit she tried to keep. Elizabeth had one important love affair in her life, and that was with the crown. She allowed herself a little dalliance, though; she liked to play with fire, but in the first year of her reign she was so badly scorched that I believed she was forever after determined it should never happen again. Never would she be unfaithful to the greatest love of her lifehe glorious, glittering symbol of her powerhe crown.
I could never resist taunting Robert with this even during our most passionate encountersnd there were many of those. He would become violently angry with me then; but I had the satisfaction of knowing that I was more important to him than she was. Apart from her crown.
There were the three of us challenge to fate. Those two who strutted across the stage were the two most brilliant, awe-inspiring figures of their time. I, the third member of the trio, was often kept in the background of their lives, yet I never failed to make my presence felt. Try as she might, Elizabeth never succeeded in shutting me out completely. In due course there was no one at Court whom the Queen hated as she hated me; no other woman so aroused that overwhelming jealousy. She had wanted Robert, and he became mine of his own free will; and the three of us knew that although she might have given him the crownnd he was as passionately in love with it as Elizabeth herselfet I was the woman he wanted.
I often dream I am back in those days. I feel the exhilaration, the excitement creeping over me, and I forget that I am an old woman, and I long to make love with Robert again and do battle with Elizabeth.
But they are in their graves long since and only I live on.
So my consolation is to ponder on the past, and I live it all again, and sometimes I wonder how much of it I dreamed and how much was real.
I am reformed nowhe Lady of the Manor. Some go to convents when they have lived lives such as I have; they repent their sins and pray twenty times a day for forgiveness in the hope that their last-minute piety will assure them a place in heaven. I have devoted myself to good works. I am the bountiful lady. My children die, but I live on; and now it has struck me that I will write it down as it happened, and that will be the best way to live it all again.
I shall try to be honest. It is the only way I can relive the past. I shall try to see us as we really were brilliant triangle, for any must be brilliant with those two scintillating at two points, so brightly often as to obscure the vision. And myself there too, as important to themor all their powers they were to me. What emotions shook that triangle: Robert love for me, which made me the Queen rival; her hatred of me born of jealousy and the knowledge that I could please him as she never could; those rages of hers which somehow never allowed her to lose sight of her own advantage. How she loathed me, calling me hat She-Wolf,which others imitated rather to please her than out of contempt for me. Yet Inly If all the women in her life was to cost her so much in jealousy and anguishnd only she would cost me so much. We were in conflict, and she had the advantage. It was her power against my beautynd Robert, being the man he was, was drawn this way and that between the two of us.
Perhaps she was the winner. Who shall say? Sometimes I am not sure. I took him from her, but then she took him from meand death cheated us both.
She had her revenge on me and it was a bitter oneut I still have the fire and the passion left to me, old as I am, to tell our story. I want to convince myself of the way it happened. I want to tell the truth about myself about the Queen and the two men we loved.
While the city is covered with gibbets and the public buildings so crowded with the heads of the bravest men in the kingdom, the Princess Elizabeth, for whom no better fate is foreseen, is lying ill about seven or eight miles from hence, so swollen and disfigured, that her death is expected.
Antoine de Noailles, the French Ambassador, commenting on one of Elizabeth avourableillnesses at the time of the Wyatt Rebellion.
I was born in the year 1541, five years after Elizabeth mother had been executed. Elizabeth herself was eight years old. It was the year after the King had married another kinswoman of mine, Catherine Howard. Poor child, the following year a fate similar to that of Anne Boleyn overtook her, and Catherine too was beheaded at the King command.
I had been christened Letitia after my paternal grandmother, but I was always known as Lettice. We were a large family, for I had seven brothers and three sisters. My parents were affectionate and often stern, though only for our own good, as we were often reminded.
My early years were spent in the country at Rotherfield Greys, which the King recognition of my father good services had secured for him some three years before I was born. The estate had come to my father through his, but the King had a habit of taking for his own any country mansion he fanciedampton Court was the outstanding example of this royal avariceo that it was comforting to know that he accepted my father claim to his own property.
My father was away from home a good deal on the King business, but my mother rarely went to Court. It might well have been that her close connection to the King second wife could have aroused memories in Henry mind which he would have preferred to be without. It could hardly be expected that a member of the Boleyn family would be welcome. So we lived quietly, and in the days of my childhood I was content enough; it was only as I grew older that I became restive and impatient to escape.
There were what seemed to me interminable lessons in the schoolroom with its leaded windows and deep window seats, its long table at which we bent over our laborious tasks. My mother often came to the schoolroom to see us with our tutors and she would go through our books and listen to reports on our progress. If they were bad or even indifferent, we would be summoned to the solarium, where we would take up our needlework and listen to a lecture on the importance of education to people of our rank. Our brothers did not join us in the schoolroom. After the custom of the day they were to go to the houses of illustrious families and were brought up there until the time came for them to go to Oxford or Cambridge. Henry had already left home; the others, William, Edward, Robert, Richard and Francis, were as yet too young. As for Thomas, he was but a baby.
It was during those lectures that I and my sisters, Cecilia, Catharine and Anne, were made aware of Elizabeth. y first cousin,my mother explained proudly. Elizabeth, we were told, was a model for us all to follow. At the age of five, it seemed, she was almost a Latin scholar, and as familiar with Greek as she was with the English tongue, besides being fluent in French and Italian. How different from her Knollys cousins, whose minds strayed from these important matters and who gazed out of the windows when their eyes should have been on their books so that their good tutors had no alternative but to complain to their mother of their inaptitude and inattention.
I was noted for saying the first thing which came into my mind, so I declared: lizabeth sounds dull. I dareswear that if she knows Latin and all those other languages she knows little else.
forbid you to speak of the Lady Elizabeth in that way again,cried my mother. o you know who she is?
he is the daughter of the King and Queen Anne Boleyn. You have told us often enough.
on you understand what that means? She is of royal blood, and it is not impossible that she could be Queen one day.
We listened because our mother could easily be led to forget the purpose of our presence in the solarium and to talk of the days of her childhood; and of course that was more entertaining to us girls than a lecture on the need to apply ourselves to our lessons; and when she was thus enthralled she would not notice that our hands lay idle in our laps.
How young we were! How innocent of the world! I must have been six years old when I first began to take notice, and by then we were in the last stages of the old King reign.
My mother talked not of the present time, which could have been dangerous, but of the past glories at Hever when as a child she had been taken to the castle to visit her grandparents. Those were the days of glory when the Boleynsfortunes were rising fast, which was natural because they had a queen in the family.
saw her once or twice,said my mother. shall never forget her. There was a certain wildness in her then. It was after the birth of Elizabeth and Anne had been desperately hoping for a son. Only a male heir could have saved her then. My uncle George was there at Heverne of the handsomest men I ever saw.There was sadness in her voice; we did not press her to tell us of Uncle George. We knew from experience that such a request might put an end to the narrative and remind her that she was talking to young children of matters beyond their understanding. In due course we discovered that handsome Uncle George was executed at the same time as his sisterccused of committing incest with her. Falsely accused, of course, because the King wished to be rid of Anne in order to marry Jane Seymour.
I often remarked to Cecilia that it was exciting belonging to a family like ours. Death was something we accepted in the nursery. Childrennd particularly children of our stationhought lightly of it. When one looked at the family portraits it was said: his one lost his head. He disagreed with the King.That heads were very precariously held on the place intended for them was a fact of life.
But in the solarium our mother made us see Hever again with its moat and portcullis and the courtyard and the hall where the King had often dined and the long gallery where he had courted our famous relative, the enchanting Anne. Our mother used to sing the songs which had been sung by the minstrels thereome composed by the King himselfnd when she strummed on her lute, her eyes would grow glazed with the memories of the brief and dazzling glory of the Boleyns.
Now great-grandfather Thomas Boleyn lay buried in the church at Hever, but our grandmother Mary came to see us now and then. We were all fond of our grandmother. It was sometimes hard to imagine that she had once been the old King mistress. She was not exactly beautiful, but she had that certain quality which I have mentioned before and which she had passed on to me. I very quickly learned that I possessed it and it delighted me, for I knew it would bring me much of what I wanted. It was indefinable certain appeal to the opposite sex which they found irresistible. In my grandmother Mary it had been a softness, a promise of easy yielding; not so with me. I would be calculating, watchful for advantage. Yet it was there in both of us.
In time we learned of that sad May day at the Greenwich joust when Anne had been taken to the Tower with her brother and her friends, and from which she had only emerged to be led to the scaffold. We knew of the King immediate marriage thereafter to Jane Seymour and the birth of the King only legitimate son, Edward, who became our King in the year 1547.
Poor Jane Seymour, dying in childbirth, had no chance to enjoy her triumph, but the little Prince lived and was the hope of the nation. Then had followed the King brief marriage with Anne of Cleves, and after its abrupt dissolution the ill-fated union with Catherine Howard. Only his last wife, Katharine Parr, survived him and it was said she would have gone the same way as Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard if she had not been such a good nurse and the King ulcerous leg so painful and he too far gone in years to care much for women.
So we entered a new reignhat of Edward VI. Our young King was only ten years old at the time of his accessionot much older than I; and the paragon, Elizabeth, was four years his senior. I remember my father coming down to Rotherfield Greys, rather pleased with the turn of events. Edward Seymour, the young King uncle, had been made Protector of the Realm, the title of Duke of Somerset having been bestowed on him; and this now all-important gentleman was a Protestant who would instill the new faith into his young nephew.