Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  Afterward, she went to her chaplain, Father Alessandro, and asked for his advice.

  “As Dr. de Puebla can confirm,” he said, “it is the wish of the King and Queen your parents that you and Prince Arthur should not be separated; if you are, they will be displeased.”

  Greatly torn, Katherine thought hard about his words, praying for guidance. She wanted to do the right thing—but what was the right thing?

  For four days she fretted, not knowing what to say to the King. Then Prince Arthur came to her.

  “My father wishes to know what you have decided,” he said. “You know it would please me very much if you came to Ludlow with me.” He has been told to say that, Katherine thought.

  “It is for His Grace to decide,” she insisted.

  “But what do you want to do, Katherine?”

  “I wish to do his pleasure and yours in all things.”

  Arthur sighed and went away. At dinner that evening the King, looking sorrowful, bent his head to her ear.

  “It pains me to say this, Katherine, but I have decided that you should go to Ludlow, although there is nothing in the world I regret more.” He shook his head mournfully. “We will miss you, but I must defer to the wishes of the King and Queen your parents, even though allowing you to go might be to the danger of my son.”

  Why should that be? She almost uttered as much. But, of course, the King’s words had been for the benefit of others seated nearby. The pretense had to be kept up.

  “As your Grace pleases,” she said, smiling despite her misgivings. Not only was there Arthur’s health to consider, but she also realized that she felt daunted at the prospect of being alone with him on that distant, freezing border.


  Of course, Doña Elvira made a fuss.

  “Nothing is ready for your Highness’s departure, and I suspect that no provision has been made for you at Ludlow. I suppose we must be grateful that the King is permitting your Spanish servants to accompany you.”

  “That is one blessing,” Katherine said.

  “It is the only one!” fumed the duenna. “Do you know what Don Pedro told me? His Highness has given nothing to Prince Arthur for the furnishing of his house or, would you believe, his table service.” That sounded odd. If it had been known that Arthur was returning to Ludlow, why had his apartments there been stripped? He had not needed his furniture and other household stuff at court, and yet it sounded as if they were returned to the King.

  Doña Elvira was beside herself. “Your Highness will have no choice but to use your plate! Don Pedro says you should give it all—and the jewels—to the King now, to avoid further trouble.”

  “But my parents told me that I must wait until they instruct me to do so,” Katherine protested. “Have they so instructed Don Pedro?”

  Doña Elvira looked evasive. “No, Highness,” she admitted.

  “Then the plate and jewels must be packed,” Katherine ordered.


  Katherine could not remember ever having felt so cold. Privately she had thought all along that it was madness to embark on such a long journey in the middle of a harsh winter, and that the King had taken leave of his senses to send Arthur to Ludlow at this time, but she ventured no protest, and when the time came to make their farewells, she had warmly embraced the King, the Queen, Prince Henry, Princess Margaret, and the Lady Margaret. Queen Elizabeth had clung to Arthur as she kissed him goodbye.

  “God protect you, fair sweet son!” she had prayed as he knelt for her blessing. Then he mounted his horse—insisting on riding in the proper place at the head of his entourage—as Katherine climbed into the waiting litter, shivering inside her furs. And there was Doña Elvira, firmly closing the curtains in the compartment.

  The December landscape was bare and unforgiving, with fields silvered with frost and skeletal trees bending in the bitter winds. The ground was iron-hard and rutted in places, so the going was uncomfortable, and slow, for a train of baggage wagons and packhorses followed behind, and they were lucky if they covered more than ten miles in a day. The feast of Christmas was celebrated in dismal, disjointed fashion in inns and monastic guesthouses along the route.

  Even Maria could find little to cheer her, and Katherine felt wretched. She was cold, cold, cold, to her very bones. She yearned for the interminable journey to be over, and she trembled for Arthur, exposed to that whip-sharp wind on his horse. When she had suggested he join her in the litter, he answered her sharply, so she had kept her peace since.

  Maidenhead, Oxford, Gloucester, Hereford…Pulling aside the curtains when Doña Elvira was looking the other way, or had fallen asleep, she saw that the scenery had changed, and that they were passing through a wild, hilly region. In summer it might be green and beautiful, but it was now bleak and inhospitable, and the little towns and villages seemed largely deserted. Several times she heard the bell tolling in churches and chapels along the way.

  They were traveling north now, parallel with the Welsh border. There was great sickness in the area, she was told. Best to make haste! They spent the last night of the journey in a cheerless castle, and by then Katherine was utterly miserable. One look at Arthur’s fleetingly unguarded face told her that he was feeling infinitely worse. Not long now, she told herself. Only a few more miles and then this nightmare would be over.

  The next day, to her inexpressible relief, they entered Shropshire, and not long afterward she saw Ludlow Castle looming ahead in the morning mist. The massive gray fortress stood sentinel high above the pretty town, and looked dauntingly impregnable, although Arthur, riding beside Katherine, assured her that the Welsh no longer came raiding over the border. Doña Elvira sniffed loudly, conveying to Katherine just what she thought of this place where they had been sent.

  They rode across the drawbridge and through the gatehouse below the keep into the inner bailey, where a gentleman was waiting to receive them. Behind him were drawn up liveried servants and ranks of officers in furred gowns.

  “May I present my chamberlain, Sir Richard Pole,” Arthur said. Sir Richard bowed low as his young master dismounted and offered his hand to be kissed; he made a courteous obeisance to Katherine too, as she alighted stiffly from her litter. His eyes were twinkling and appreciative.

  “Welcome, your Highness! This is a great day for Ludlow.”

  Katherine warmed to him. He was handsome in that blond, English way, and his strong angular features seemed to exude kindliness and humor. She was soon to learn that her first impression had been correct, and that Sir Richard Pole was unfailingly amiable, supportive without being obtrusive, and helpful, anticipating his young master’s every need.

  She followed the chamberlain as he led the way across the bailey toward a high and imposing range of apartments. Behind them the business of unloading the baggage had begun.

  “This is where we will hold our court,” Arthur said, indicating the broad sweep of lordly buildings. “The great hall and the great chamber are there, in the center, and our lodgings are in that building on the left. My rooms are on the upper floor, yours are below it.”

  “What of the tower on the right?” Katherine asked.

  “The Pendover Tower?” Arthur’s drawn face clouded over. “That was occupied by the last Prince of Wales. He was my uncle. I will tell you about him later.”

  Inside, the castle was palatial. Katherine was pleased to find that her rooms had been made welcoming with tapestries, cushions, and fine oak furniture. What she appreciated most was the roaring fire that was already ablaze on the great hearth. At last she could get really warm.

  Waiting in the great chamber to receive her was a tall, fair woman, rather plain, with a narrow, flat face and gentle eyes. The woman sank into a graceful curtsey.

  “I am Lady Pole, your Highness, Sir Richard’s wife,” she introduced herself. “I trust that everything is to your liking.”

  Understanding the gist of her words, Katherine raised her with a smile. “Thank you, Lady Pole. I know I
will be comfortable here.” The woman—she must have been nearing thirty—looked pleased. Katherine liked her immediately, feeling that Lady Pole might prove to be the friend of whom she had great need.

  Doña Elvira bustled in, carrying Katherine’s jewel casket.

  “Who is this, Highness?” she bristled.

  The chamberlain’s wife smiled. “I am Lady Pole, madam, and I am here to see that everything is to Her Highness’s satisfaction. If there is anything that either of you need, just send for me.”

  “Hmm,” sniffed the duenna. “I will see to Her Highness’s needs, thank you, my lady.”

  “Of course,” Margaret Pole said. “I just wanted to make sure that you are all comfortable.”

  Doña Elvira looked about her with an expression that said she would never be comfortable in such a place.

  “We are most grateful for your kindness, Lady Pole,” Katherine said. “Doña Elvira looks after me, but as strangers in England we will both be glad of your guidance and help.” She beamed at the chamberlain’s wife, hoping she had not been offended by Doña Elvira’s antipathy. “Won’t we, Doña Elvira?” she said to the duenna.

  Doña Elvira’s face creaked into what passed for a smile. “Yes, Highness,” she said.

  “I will leave your Grace to settle in,” Margaret Pole said warmly.


  That evening, Katherine descended to the hall and took her place at the high table next to Arthur, gratified to see that the service was of heavy English silver gilt and that her plate had not been plundered.

  Over the roast meats, Arthur, speaking in a mix of English and Latin, and unusually talkative at the head of his own table, told her something of the castle’s past.

  “It was the seat of my ancestors, the Mortimers, and then of my mother’s family, the House of York. Thirty years ago my grandfather, King Edward the Fourth, sent her brother, Prince Edward, to be educated here. It was he who stayed in the Pendover Tower, and it was there that he learned of his father’s death. He was only twelve, yet he was now king, and he had to leave Ludlow for London to be crowned. But he was captured on the way by his uncle, Richard of Gloucester, who imprisoned him in the Tower with his little brother Richard, and made himself king in his stead. Poor Edward was never seen again. King Richard had the boys murdered.”

  Katherine shivered. “How terrible—and how awful for your mother, to lose her brothers in that way.”

  Arthur laid down his knife. Most of his meal lay untouched on his plate. “It was. Some years ago my father was plagued by a pretender who claimed to be Prince Richard, and my mother went through agony wondering if this imposter really was him. Of course he wasn’t, but it was a long time before his claim was proved false.”

  “You are talking about Perkin Warbeck,” Katherine said.

  “Yes. My father was very lenient, and after Warbeck confessed, my father allowed him to live at court under house arrest. But he tried to run away, so he was sent to the Tower. And there he plotted against the King. He brought his fate upon himself.”

  Katherine couldn’t bear to think about the pretender’s end. What she had learned of it, piecing together her father’s censored version of events and the bits of gossip she’d overheard, had haunted her for two years now. Because Warbeck had not been the only one to suffer. There was another prisoner in the Tower, the Earl of Warwick, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth. He was a simple-minded young man, but dangerous on account of having a strong claim to the throne. According to King Ferdinand, as soon as King Henry won the crown at Bosworth, he immured Warwick in the Tower and left him without any books or creature comforts. It must have been a living death for a hapless youth without the wits to understand how he had offended. But what happened to him in the end was far worse…

  “Katherine?” It was Arthur, drawing her back to reality. “You were miles away. I asked if you wanted to hear about our castle ghost.”

  “I’m sorry, I was thinking of how your poor mother must have suffered,” she lied. To speak of Warwick’s fate might be seen as accusing King Henry of the worst kind of crime. Not that her own father’s hands were clean of blood…

  “I’ve seen the ghost myself,” Arthur was saying. “It was last autumn, at dusk. I was walking across the bailey when I saw a strange woman standing on the battlements of Mortimer’s Tower. I asked the guards who she was, and they told me it was the ghost of Marion la Bruyère, a maiden who lived here hundreds of years ago. The story goes that she fell in love with the enemy of the castle’s lord, and one night she lowered down a rope from the tower so he could climb up to meet her. But he betrayed her, and left the rope dangling, enabling his men to get into the castle and capture it. Marion’s love turned to shame and hatred. She grabbed her lover’s sword and stabbed him, then threw herself to her death from the tower. They say that her appearance portends some tragedy, but I’m not sure that I believe it.”

  Sir Richard Pole, sitting at Katherine’s right hand, chuckled. “Forgive me, your Highnesses, but I think that tale is the result of too much ale in the guardroom!”

  “But I did see her,” Arthur said.

  “Many have,” said Sir Richard, “but tragedy hasn’t always followed. It’s an old wives’—or should I say soldiers’—tale, your Highness, and I would take no notice of it!”

  Arthur translated the saying and Katherine smiled.

  Lady Pole leaned forward. “My cousin Edward saw the ghost,” she said.

  “Edward?” Katherine asked.

  “The last Prince of Wales, later King Edward the Fifth,” Arthur explained. “Lady Pole is our kinswoman, Katherine; she is the niece of King Edward and King Richard, and the daughter of my great-uncle, the Duke of Clarence, and sister to the late Earl of Warwick.”

  Katherine sat there shocked, appalled at her own ignorance, although how could she have known that Warwick had a sister? She was horribly embarrassed. It was a miracle that Lady Pole had been civil to her. For it was because of Katherine that Warwick had died.

  But Margaret Pole was behaving as if nothing were amiss.

  “You see this bracelet I wear,” she said, showing Katherine a tiny barrel on a chain. “It is in memory of my father, who was executed by drowning in a butt of Malmsey wine. My mother had died in childbed and he blamed the then-Queen for practicing witchcraft on her. My uncle, King Edward, was furious, and himself condemned his brother to death. I was but four at the time, so I remember nothing of the scandal.”

  But you have had three tragedies in your life, Katherine thought. Mother, father, brother—all dead, two by violence. Do you know your brother died because of me?


  Maria burst into the great chamber, her face glowing, then stopped abruptly as she caught Doña Elvira’s frown. Katherine beckoned her over, eager to hear the latest gossip that her friend always managed to extract from cooks or courtiers. Life at Ludlow had settled down quickly into a routine, and any news brightened their conversation.

  Katherine’s days were spent with Doña Elvira, Maria, her other ladies, and Lady Pole, and they would have been pleasant but for the strangeness of life in England and her persistent homesickness for Spain. It did not help that the duenna was still hostile toward Margaret Pole, and clearly jealous of Katherine’s friendship with her. She would seize every opportunity to belittle Margaret or ignore her. Katherine sometimes resented having been forced into a wearisome role as mediator, almost—she felt—a placater, but she liked Margaret Pole immensely and wanted to make up to her for the terrible tragedy that had overshadowed her life, for which she felt in some way responsible; and she sensed that Margaret understood how hard she was trying to keep the peace. Doña Elvira, on the other hand, seemed concerned only to prevent Margaret from enjoying any influence with her.

  Maria sat down beside Katherine and took up her embroidery, briefly mimicking the duenna’s severe gaze before grinning widely. Katherine struggled to contain her laughter. Maria’s cheerful company was a blessing. She shared Katherine’s
sense of the strangeness of living in Ludlow and was forever complaining of the cold, but for Maria, life was an adventure, and she relished each new day. When Katherine grew tired of Doña Elvira being difficult, Maria was there to offer a sympathetic ear and a rallying jest.

  For the past few weeks they had embroidered endlessly, sung, played music, danced and chatted with others as much as they could, given the language barrier. But Katherine was working hard at learning English, urging her women to do so too, and she was becoming more fluent daily. With prayers in the chapel of St. Mary Magdalene in the inner bailey, and happy hours of play with Margaret Pole’s young children, Henry, Ursula, and Reginald, a solemn infant who had just learned to walk, the winter was slowly passing.

  Katherine had seen little of Arthur. He had returned to his studies with his tutor, the amiable and learned Dr. Linacre, and on some days presided over the Council of the Marches, which met in the lodge by the castle gate. Katherine occasionally stayed there with him, or at Tickenhill, Arthur’s beautiful palace at nearby Bewdley, but he was kept busy most of the time. She suspected that he drove himself in order to live up to his father’s high expectations, but he was still unwell—and still making light of it. Sometimes Katherine noticed Dr. Alcaraz watching the Prince, but he never said anything, and she dared not ask what he was thinking, in case the doctor said something she did not want to hear. Five times she and Arthur had bedded together, for the sake of appearances, but all they did was talk for a while before drifting into sleep. Deep in the night Katherine was invariably awakened by Arthur’s coughing.

  They had few visitors, due to the great sickness that was carrying off so many in these parts. The heir to the throne could not risk contagion. Occasionally a local lord or a member of the Prince’s council had been their guest at dinner, but Katherine would have preferred it if they had stayed at home. She was terrified that Arthur would catch whatever plague it was, for she feared he would have no resistance to it. He was looking almost skeletal these days. His arms and legs were like sticks.

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