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Authors: Ann Rinaldi

Tags: #16th Century, #Royalty, #England/Great Britian, #Tudors, #Fiction - Historical

The Redheaded Princess: A Novel

BOOK: The Redheaded Princess: A Novel
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The Redheaded Princess

Ann Rinaldi

 

The year is 1542. Young Elizabeth, the second daughter of King Henry VIII of England, is only nine years old. She is living at Hatfield, one of her father's estates, which is modern, commodious, lovely with gardens and a deer park, and only twenty miles from London. Her nanny, Catherine "Cat" Ashley, and her "household" live with her. Her household consists of knights, squires, those who tend and keep the gardens and animals, housemaids, and tutors, as well as those who manage her estate. She has always known that at her birth she was declared heir to the Crown. But she has been living in exile from her father, who removed her from the line of succession and endorsed an act of Parliament declaring both her and her half-sister, Mary, illegitimate. Since she was three years old, Elizabeth has feared death.

Death is all around her all the time. And the person who most represents that is her father, who had her mother, Anne Boleyn, beheaded when Elizabeth was three years old, as well as his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. Elizabeth has witnessed the "sweating sickness," which can come in an instant and wipe out a whole village. Life is tenuous at best, she decides. She is always afraid. But she is also brave, industrious, and scholarly. At four she learned Latin from Cat Ashley. She has world-renowned tutors who teach her Italian, French, Hebrew, all about Rome and Cicero, Aesop's fables, science, and penmanship.

Her dearest childhood friend is Robert "Robin" Dudley, son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who is of prominence in her father's court. She and Robin have long talks and ride horses together, and he is her sworn friend for all of her life. Elizabeth has fair skin, dark eyes, and exquisite reddish hair, as well as beautiful hands with slender, long fingers. She resembles her father, not her mother. Always she is aware that she is being groomed to rule England someday, even though the idea of a female on the throne is repugnant to many, and up to now she has been in disgrace because of her mother.

Her father's one misery is that he did not have more sons. He cast aside his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, because she gave him only a daughter (Elizabeth's half-sister, Mary). Breaking from Rome and the Roman Catholic Church, in an unprecedented action, he started his own Church of England and divorced Catherine to marry Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn. Then he had her beheaded for adultery. His third wife was Jane Seymour, who gave him a son, Edward, born in 1537. Jane died soon after childbirth, and King Henry contracted to marry Anne of Cleves, whom he imported to be his fourth wife. But he "liked her not" and very soon set her aside too, and ever after treated her like a sister. Next he wed Catherine Howard, a cousin of Ann Boleyn's. Like her cousin, Catherine was beheaded for adultery.

He is now about to marry Katharine Parr, the daughter of Sir Thomas Parr, the master of his household. Katharine Parr is determined to bring Elizabeth, Mary, and Edward--all the king's children--together so they may act as a family. Elizabeth trusts no one. She may want to, but she has learned not to. But although she is wary of marriage, seeing all her father's marriages fail, she keeps an open mind about Katharine Parr. As for her father, she is confused about him, aspiring to be like him one minute and afraid of him the next. She wants to be Queen someday, yet there are so many obstacles in her pathway. Now comes the summons she most fears and hopes for. Her father, the King, wants her to come to the palace.

***PROLOGUE

One thing I have learned in this life: It is never good when you hear a horse galloping up to your home in the middle of the day or night. Night is worse, of course. Everything is worse at night, especially when you have no mother. The nights are filled with terror anyway, if you have no mother. The rider who gallops the horse means you no good. Good news can always wait, I have discovered. Bad news must be delivered instantly, lest it consume the messenger, who fears for his life just because he is bringing it. That's the way all the bad news in my life came to me. Such as the news that my mother was executed, when I was only three, though there are those who say I cannot recollect that. The news when I was nine that I was no longer to be called Princess Elizabeth, but Lady Elizabeth, because my father had practically disowned me. All brought by messengers on galloping horses in the middle of the night.

When I am Queen someday, I would tell myself, when I am Queen I will allow no more of these messengers to come in the middle of the night. If they must come, they must wait until morning, when the sun is out and shining, so their long faces don't look so dark and their black, musty clothes don't look so threatening. Or better yet, when I am Queen there will be no more bad news. Ever.

***CHAPTER ONE

Of course I knew I couldn't be Queen. No woman could ever rule over men in England. I had known that since I was three years old. But for days on end, I would sometimes pretend I was Queen. I would order about the rest of my household in what everyone knew was a game. I'd order about my knights, James and Richard Vernon, who were sons of a local squire, and Sir John Chertsey, a young knight of the shire. They were most faithful to me and, out of earshot of my nurse, Cat Ashley, would call me Your Highness.

If Cat Ashley caught me, she would scold. "Pretending you are Queen is a dangerous game," she'd say, and then to the knights who were kneeling about me, "and you should know better than to encourage her." So I'd pretend I was a witch. They say my mother, Anne Boleyn, was a witch. She had the tiniest hint of a sixth finger on her left hand, truly the sign of a witch. And she had special long sleeves attached to her gowns to try to hide it. So it became a fashion to have such a gown and the whole palace of women wanted such. And then there is the way they say she bewitched my father, not wanting to become his mistress like every other woman in court, but staying distant enough to drive him mad while she held out for marriage.

When Cat Ashley caught me at that game, she decided I should have lessons in behavior in case I was summoned to court. I must learn to kneel at my father's feet, to look him square in the eye, to show him I was fearless, yet be respectful at the same time. "He hates cowardly children," she told me. Besides my dear friend Robin Dudley, whom I saw only on occasion, I didn't have many playmates. There was my half-brother, Edward, to be sure, but he was still a baby. Cousin Jane Grey was a mousy little creature, always reading her Bible and praying. She shirked at playing archery or quoits or any outdoor game at all. She hated horseback riding, which I loved.

My half-sister, Mary, was seventeen years older than I and was appointed to attend me for a while because she and her mother (who had been put aside for my mother) were out of favor. But that was a royal failure. There Mary was, at seventeen, and her household was broken up around her and she was brought to Hatfield to wait upon me. What followed I do not much recall, but they tell me she refused to call me Princess or curtsey to me. She refused to eat. She spent hours in her room crying. Our father, in turn, took away her jewels. But with determination worthy of our lionhearted father, she won. She would wait on me and play with me, but she won because she never called me Princess and never curtseyed to me. Finally she was relieved of her job, and things have never been the same between us since.

Only Robin Dudley was my true friend. Oh, the rides we have had together! Even at nine we were both experts with horses. He was frequently allowed to visit me at Hatfield, and the few times I went to court he was there, smoothing the way of things for me. My clothing, while I was growing up at Hatfield, was on the shabby side. My father never sent fabrics for proper attire. Frequently Cat Ashley would write to court to beg an allowance or some fabric to dress me as I was supposed to be dressed. But there was never any response, and she had to make do with what she had. Somehow she always kept a special dress for me for in case I was summoned to court. Many were outgrown before they were used. But we always had to be ready. I had been to court as a baby, I was told, and then again when I was four for the christening of my brother, Edward. At that time I was too young to take part in the procession and had to be carried by Sir Thomas Seymour.

Sir Thomas was brother to Jane Seymour, who was my Brother Edward's mother. He was so dashing, so handsome. Every woman at court was in love with him. Even at four, I was too. I sensed this man was special, a courtier for all seasons. I have been in love with him ever since, and every time I go to court I hope to see him, but I am not always so fortunate. Here is a puzzle. They are saying that Sir Thomas is in love with Katharine Parr, who is now to wed my father. But once my father claimed his right with her, Sir Thomas wouldn't even dance with her at court anymore. Not because he was angry, but because they were both afraid the King would suspect their love. Sir Thomas knows he has no rights to Katharine Parr while the King claims her, so he keeps his distance. Oh, isn't that a romantic story? It gives me the chills.

When I was seven, I went back to court again, for my father married Catherine Howard, my cousin, who was just eighteen. I loved Catherine. Her clothes were in the French fashion and my father gave her many jewels. She was young and frivolous and my father was besotted with her. And she spoiled me and gave me many presents.

But one day, when she and her ladies were practicing dancing, the guards came and told her: "It is no more time to dance." And they took her away. Because my father had been told she had committed adultery. It is her beheading that haunts me more than my mother's. When my mother was beheaded, I was too young even to know what it meant. Or what a horrible way it was to die. I remember being told how Catherine fought her guards when she was bundled into the boat to be taken to the Tower of London to await execution. They said she wore a black velvet dress and on the way to the Tower the boat passed London Bridge, where the heads of two of her young male lovers were impaled.

Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper had both "played the King false" with her. They had suffered much, being tortured before death. It was February 1542, cold and bone chilling when she went to the block. Robin told me about it. Robin hugged me when I cried. For I was crying for my mother as well as Catherine Howard. The summons came when I was nine to go to court again loved the journey to Whitehall Palace. I traveled in a litter surrounded by my people, yeomen of the guard, my knights, my serving maids, Cat Ashley, and Mr. Parry, keeper of my monies.

The most we made was six miles a day and the people came out all along the way to see us pass, to throw kisses and flowers, to see the horses dressed so magnificently, the wagons with my supplies, and me. These were the local people, the poor farming people, the people who suffered when the plague of sweating sickness came, the people who knew what a bad harvest or a war could do to them. They saw hope in me, I suppose. They saw my flaming red hair. They knew I looked like my father. They prayed I would be like him. And that someday I would be Queen. They were not like the upper classes, who saw a woman on the throne as an aberration against nature, who thought that a woman's mind was not good enough to think as a ruler, who thought that the first thing a woman should do on becoming Queen was to marry some prince to rule in her stead. These people wanted nothing to do with a man ruling who was not born to it. Likely they were counting on the fact that if I ever became Queen, I would not wed a foreign prince. They knew the House of Tudor, to which I belonged, had ruled England successfully since 1485, when Henry Tudor had invaded England. To them this was not history. It was their life story, and they saw it continuing on in the form of a little girl with flaming red hair.

“God save you, Princess Elizabeth," they cried. And they came as close as my knights allowed, offering cakes and sweetmeats and singing songs’ was not supposed to be called Princess. If they knew it they didn't care. Or mayhap they knew it and wanted me to know I was their Princess anyway.

And so we traveled. From Hatfield to Eastcote, from Wild Hill to Woodside, from Bell Bar to Waterend, from Mimms Street to Green Street. Whitehall! The largest palace in Europe! Thanks to my father, who had seized it when it was known as York Place from Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York, and made it his London home. It covered twenty-three acres on the Thames River. To build it, my father had to have hundreds of smaller homes demolished. It has gardens, courts, galleries. On the east side are the royal apartments. My mother had been the first one to occupy the Queen's apartments. And now here came I. But in no royal presence. By the time we got to Whitehall, the day's darkness had fallen and I was asleep. I awoke to Cat's soft murmurings, to see lighted torches all around me and the Royal Guard lined up in their red coats, to hear my knights giving orders, to feel the sniffings and licks of the palace dogs. Then Richard Vernon took my hand to help me out of the litter and whispered, "Come along, Princess; you belong here." I was both awed and frightened. The hugeness of the place belittled me. I feared my father and all these trappings of power. The great windows of the palace were ablaze with light.

BOOK: The Redheaded Princess: A Novel
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