Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  They kissed good night, and Katherine sought—in vain—for oblivion. But she was still awake when the dawn broke, and when she looked across at Henry, who had his back to her, she could see, in the dim light from the mullioned window, that his shoulders were quietly heaving.


  The new horses were superb. Henry and Katherine watched in admiration as the two mares, gifts from the Marquis of Mantua, were put through their paces by their master in the stables courtyard at Greenwich.

  “Bravo!” Henry called, shielding his eyes against the harsh June sunlight.

  “And now, your Graces, they will give a display of horsemanship in the Spanish manner, as a compliment to Her Grace,” the Italian envoy announced. Katherine watched, captivated, memories of her father and brother flooding back. They had been expert horsemen.

  The display ended with the horses making obeisances to her and Henry.

  “I send a thousand thanks to His Grace of Mantua for his kind gift,” Henry said, and he and his sister Mary went over to pat the horses and give them titbits.

  “What think you, my Lord Duke?” Henry asked, turning to one of the lords in attendance. It was the French Duc de Longueville, who had been taken prisoner at the Battle of the Spurs and held hostage ever since. He was a handsome man in his mid-thirties, with a dark spade beard and high cheekbones, dressed in an ash-colored short gown with great puffed sleeves. He had spent the first months of his captivity comfortably lodged in the Tower of London, on Katherine’s orders, but when Henry returned in the autumn, he summoned Longueville to court, liked him and kept him there. The Duc was treated with great honor and enjoyed everything the court had to offer, but it was a gilded cage nonetheless, and he would be confined within it until the exorbitant ransom demanded by Henry was paid.

  But it seemed he was in no hurry to go home, for it was apparent to all that he had found consolation with Jane Popincourt. Katherine frowned to see Jane standing near him, when she should be attending her mistress. But it was the woman herself who was the mistress now, by all accounts. She made a mental note to warn Jane that her behavior was causing scandal. Already there had been gossip, and that reflected on her, the Queen!

  “They are the finest steeds I have ever seen, your Grace,” Longueville said in his perfect English, which—God knew—he’d had enough leisure to perfect. But his eyes were lingering on Jane rather than on the horses.

  “Your Grace did say that I might attend you to discuss the affairs of Mantua,” the envoy said.

  “Not now,” Henry told him. “Let us speak another time. We are late for dinner already, and there is to be dancing afterward.”

  The Italian looked put out. Katherine hid her disquiet at yet another example of Henry’s lack of diligence in attending to state business. And after the envoy had traveled all this way with such handsome presents! No doubt Wolsey would end up doing the honors, as usual.

  They walked back to the palace together. Katherine held her peace. At the moment she had other priorities. She was fretting about the coming confrontation with Jane Popincourt, and wondering if now was the time to tell Henry her own wonderful news, then thought better of it. Brandon, Compton, and those rakes Nicholas Carew and Francis Bryan were not far behind. As usual, Brandon was with the Princess Mary, hanging on her every word. It was another thing weighing on Katherine’s mind. Brandon was old enough to know better, yet he was making no secret of his amorous interest, and Mary was encouraging him, for all that she was to be the bride of the Archduke Charles.

  Katherine wanted to make Henry understand how worried she was about Mary. She had voiced her concerns to him twice now, but he had made light of them.

  “It’s a harmless flirtation,” he had said. “Mary knows her duty. By all accounts the Archduke is a serious boy. Let her have her fun while she may.”

  “But Henry, she loves Brandon—it is as plain as day.”

  “She knows he is not for her.”

  “Ask him to stay away, please.”

  Henry had gotten impatient with her then. He could refuse Brandon nothing, it seemed. “All they do is laugh and jest. Brandon has never touched her. He would not dare.” His voice had grown testy. “You are worrying about nothing, Kate.”

  After five years of wedlock she knew when to hold her peace, and she would hold it now, despite her fears for that headstrong girl, because she knew that Henry would not welcome her advice. Then the thought came unbidden: what if Wolsey had said it?

  The ever-increasing influence of Wolsey continued to disturb her. She did not like or trust him. The former almoner was now Bishop of Lincoln, now Archbishop of York. The rich revenues from his sees enabled him to support a lavish household that rivaled that of his royal master, and he was forever engaged on building projects. York Place, his episcopal residence, was well on the way to becoming the greatest house in London after Lambeth Palace; even the royal residences looked diminished beside it. And now he had started building himself a palace, Hampton Court, by the Thames in Surrey.

  It was not right, Katherine thought, for a humble butcher’s son—and a man in holy orders—to have so much, nor was it right for him to exploit his high rank in the Church to enrich himself. He was insincere, too complacent, too smoothly spoken, and singularly lacking in the humility desirable in a prince of the Church. Worse than that, she remained convinced that Wolsey had too great a love for the French, if only to counterbalance her own influence, for certainly he resented that. She could not understand why Henry, who considered himself the rightful King of France, should allow himself to be persuaded to formulate foreign policies that favored England’s ancient enemy, and—never forget it—Spain’s too!

  She should have continued to hold her tongue, but there was too much at stake. That night, after Henry had made love to her, she judged that he would be in a receptive mood and ready to heed her, just as he always had. She was certain that after she had told him her news, he would be ready to agree with everything she said.

  “Maybe we should not have loved tonight, my Henry,” she murmured against the rough skin of his cheek.

  “Mmm? Darling, are you not well?” he asked, smiling down at her and kissing her temple.

  “I am perfectly well,” she said, gazing up at him, “as well as befits a woman in my condition!”

  Henry’s blue eyes widened. “God be praised, Kate! Are you certain?”

  “It’s three months now. I did not like to tell you before. I wanted to be sure. But I am now, and I am so happy!”

  Henry’s arms tightened around her and he kissed her joyously. “That’s the best news I’ve had since the Spurs! Darling, I am so pleased. I told you that God had not forsaken us. This time, all will be well—I know it! When will it be?”

  “At Christmas, I think.”

  They lay there, talking of the prince he was sure she had in her belly, the household he would have, the jousts that would celebrate his birth.

  “Wolsey must be godfather,” Henry said.

  “I should prefer not,” Katherine ventured, knowing that she must speak now.

  “Why ever not?”

  “I fear that Wolsey loves our enemies the French too much. I think he resents my influence and he seems to work constantly against the interests of Spain.”

  She felt Henry stiffen in her arms.

  “I do not think so,” he said at length. “He is completely loyal, and a pragmatist when it comes to foreign policy. I would trust him with my life and my kingdom.”

  “That is what he wants! To rule here, while you play at being king.” Immediately she wished the words unsaid.

  “Is that what you think, Kate?”

  “Henry, while you spend your time in sport and revelry, Wolsey is making himself indispensable, and usurping the power that is rightfully yours as an anointed king. It is not just what I think—Wolsey is resented by many of your nobles.”

  Henry lay back on the pillow. “They are just jealous. None of them can hold a candle to him.”
br />   “Henry, your lords should be your natural counselors. They are born to it, of ancient families with long records of service to the crown.”

  Henry rounded on her. “Kate, from time immemorial churchmen have wielded influence in this realm, much as they do in Spain. Did not your mother rely on the monk, Torquemada, who made her found the Inquisition? You have no right to criticize me. And before you say more, remember that in my court it is ability that now counts, not lineage. The days of overmighty subjects are gone. I prefer new men to the older nobility—men like Brandon, Boleyn, Compton, and Wolsey—and I am ready to reward good service above long pedigrees.”

  “But Wolsey serves you ill! How can a man who favors your enemy be relied upon? And what devout churchman amasses such wealth?”

  “You sound like Warham, forever bleating on about Wolsey’s riches. If only he served me so well! As for Wolsey influencing my foreign policy—and, believe me, he does not favor the French—you must allow me to be the judge of that. These are matters for men.”

  It was as if he had slapped her. Never had he spoken so dismissively; until now he had heeded her advice, spoken as if he valued it, yet in an instant he had made her feel as if her opinions counted for nothing. And it was all Wolsey’s fault. Wolsey, that clever, subtle, unscrupulous fellow, was ousting her from her rightful place in the King’s counsels, and Henry would not, or could not, see it. How could she protect Spain’s interests if her husband would not listen to her? What of the trust that had built up between them?

  “I am sorry if I have offended you, my lord,” she said, turning her back on Henry and pulling the covers over herself.

  “You are forgiven, Kate,” Henry said kindly, as if it was she who was at fault. “I understand that you have fancies at this time. Forget about Wolsey and state matters—you have more important things to think about now, like preparing for the birth of our son.” He patted her shoulder, rose from the bed, put on his nightgown, cap, and slippers, and padded to the door.

  “Good night, Kate,” he said softly, and departed.


  The next she heard was that he was ill. With long faces his physicians came to her with the dread news that it was smallpox, and she swayed as if she would faint. They sat her down, opened the window, brought wine, and assured her there was nothing to worry about.

  “His Grace has a strong constitution,” they told her. “He will recover soon.” Yes, she wondered, but would all that red-gold manly beauty be marked for life? She begged to see him.

  “It is out of the question, madam, especially in your condition. The risk of infection is too great.”

  So she had perforce to wait in agony for news, wondering what was going on behind the closed doors of Henry’s privy chamber, and hoping that bad news was not being kept from her. She could not bear to think of what might happen if he died. She would lose her king, her lover, and her protector, and England would be without an heir until the child beneath her girdle was born. There might even be a civil war, for Heaven knew there remained enough descendants of the old royal line who might decide to press their debatable claims to the throne. So she prayed, and prayed again, for Henry’s recovery. And God answered her prayers. Within a week he was up again, full of his usual boundless energy and happily planning his next campaign against France.


  Katherine had put off speaking to Jane Popincourt because of Henry’s illness, but now she summoned her, and kept her standing.

  “There is talk of your having become too close to the Duc de Longueville,” she said. “Do you know that he is a married man?”

  Jane colored. “Yes, madam, but unhappy in his marriage.”

  Katherine sighed. “That is no excuse. My maids must be above reproach. And rumor has it that you are his mistress, and not just in the courtly sense.”

  Suddenly Jane’s customary control broke and she threw herself on her knees before Katherine. “I love him, madam! I live for him. And I know he feels the same about me.”

  Katherine pitied her. She knew what it was to love someone while knowing that any chance of happiness with them was as far away as the moon.

  “It is not just a matter of love,” she said gently. “It is a matter of what is acceptable behavior, which you should know, having lived at court for sixteen years.”

  Jane was weeping, her shoulders heaving. “What shall I do?” she sobbed. “I cannot give him up!”

  Katherine laid a hand on her head. “The game and play of love is one thing, and I have no objection at all to that. But anything more is a sin in the eyes of God. Flirt with your lover, enjoy his company, keep things lighthearted and honest—but do not put your reputation, and mine, at risk.”

  Jane seized Katherine’s hands and kissed them. “Oh, thank you, madam—I will, I will, I promise!”


  The Princess Mary was glowing, all brilliant red hair and sparkling green eyes, as she seated herself next to Katherine in the gallery at the side of the tennis court. Henry and Brandon were stripped to their shirts and drawers, ready to play, and Mary could not take her eyes off the amiable Brandon. Listening to the men discussing strategies, and Mary, with the bloom of youth on her, chiming in admiringly, Katherine, still upset about Henry’s rejection of her advice, felt as if she were on the outside looking in. Her preoccupations were so far removed from theirs, and beside them she felt old and staid—a sad reflection upon one who was not yet twenty-nine! Yet she knew she had gained flesh in the five years since her marriage, and that next to Mary she paled by comparison. God be thanked that Henry did not seem to see her any differently.

  When the men had taken up their positions on the court, Katherine took the opportunity of speaking to Mary as they watched the game, which was fast and furious. She loved to see Henry play, his fair skin glowing through his fine-textured shirt. But today she was preoccupied.

  “Good sister,” she said, laying her hand on Mary’s, “I have noticed that you and Brandon are good friends.”

  Mary flushed. “I love him,” she whispered. “And he loves me.”

  “You must not say that!” Katherine chided her softly, sorry that her concern over the girl had been so accurate. “You are betrothed to the Archduke. Princesses like ourselves have no choice in these matters.”

  “It’s all very well for your Grace,” Mary retorted. “You married my brother, and you love each other. But by all reports the Archduke is a cold fish. They say his jaw is so misshapen that he cannot even close his mouth properly.”

  “That’s mere gossip,” Katherine reproved. “I have not heard anything like it, and he is my nephew. And if he is reserved, he is deserving of your sympathy, for his father died when he was six, and his mother is mad and shut up in a convent. It will be your duty to love him and heal those hurts.”

  “Yes, madam,” Mary said, looking doubtful. She was not an ill-natured girl, just one whose heart had succumbed to the wrong man. Katherine’s own heart bled for her.

  “I do understand how you feel,” she assured Mary. “But for your own sake, try to distance yourself from Brandon and spend less time in his company. Otherwise it will go harder for you when the time comes for you to go to Brussels.”

  “I may never go!” Mary burst out. “No date has been set.”

  “It cannot be long, I’m sure. Under the terms of the treaty made by your father, you will be married this year. The King your brother has written to ask the Council of Flanders if they are ready to receive you as the Archduke’s bride. We await their reply.”

  Mary swallowed. “Pray for me!” she whispered.

  “You may depend on it,” Katherine promised, then rose smiling to clap for Henry, who had bested his friend and was standing there flushed with victory, pulling on his black velvet tennis coat.


  Henry’s face was red with rage.

  “Your father has deceived me!” he roared, erupting into Katherine’s chamber and scattering her women with one fierce glare.

  “I will not believe it!” she cried. “My father loves you.”

  “Hah! You are an innocent, Kate—or so you pretend! I have been duped, and made a fool of in the eyes of Christendom. Hear this: Ferdinand and Maximilian, who are supposed to be my allies, have signed secret treaties with King Louis, leaving me to fight France alone. No, hold your peace, you will hear me out before you spring to your father’s defense, for it is clear now that neither of them ever had any intention of helping me to win the French crown. Those victories I had at Thérouanne and Tournai benefited only Maximilian, and the worst of it is that Louis agreed with him and your father beforehand that I should be allowed to win them, so I would go home satisfied and leave them all to pursue their devilish ends.”

  “But why would they do that?” But she knew, she knew…She had indeed been an innocent, had allowed hope to cloud judgment, for it was now as clear as day that neither of those seasoned princes would ever seriously have agreed to help Henry become King of France. Why would they do that when they might carve it up for themselves? But if Henry had been duped, so had she, for her father had cozened her too with fair words and promises…

  She could not speak for shame, but it made no difference, for Henry was not interested in hearing what she had to say. He was beside himself with righteous anger.

  “Now the Council of Flanders has refused to accept Mary as a bride for the Archduke Charles! Maximilian has broken the treaty, and you may depend on it that your father had a hand in it. How those two could prate about the perfect love we had as allies, when they were deceiving me all the time, is beyond belief! It is an appalling betrayal, and it exposes me as a fool for having trusted them. I do not see any faith in the world save in me only, and God knows that!”

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