The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir


  “She is very well learned,” Kat had said on learning that the King was to marry Katherine.

  “I feel sorry for her,” Elizabeth had opined. “Married to two old husbands, one after the other—I should have hated it.”

  “I heard she was not so much a wife to them as a nurse,” Kat observed. And I suspect, she thought, that the King knew something of this and foresaw her playing a similar role in future. For Henry’s health had declined steadily since Katherine Howard’s execution. Even in his wedding finery, one could see his bandaged, ulcerous legs beneath the fine white hose, notice the fleeting wince of pain as he limped around the room, leaning heavily on his cane, and count the white hairs in his red beard. He had grown fat too; at court, there were covert jokes that three men could fit inside his doublet.

  Elizabeth hated hearing such things, could not bear to think of her father as being mortal. He was Great Harry, Emperor in his own realm, Supreme Head of the Church and Defender of the Faith, and England needed him. She needed him. He would get better soon, he must.

  Queen Katherine would help him, she was sure. Katherine was a good woman, a kind woman—he could not have chosen better.

  “At least she is no giddy girl like the last one,” Mary had said on her recent visit to Hatfield. “Although I fear she harbors suspect views on religion.”

  “That lady is a true lover of the Gospel,” Dr. Coxe had declared in the schoolroom at Hertford. “She will be a friend to all who wish to see the Church reformed from within.”

  “The ladies she has chosen for her household are all of that persuasion,” Mary had sniffed. “Be very wary, Elizabeth. You must not become infected with such ideas.”

  “You could do no better than follow her example,” Dr. Coxe had told Elizabeth. “She will guide you in sound principles.”

  Elizabeth had decided she would make up her own mind. Already, Katherine Parr had shown a motherly interest in her, summoning her to court as soon as the forthcoming wedding had been announced. It had been long months since Elizabeth had been there, and she was highly excited when she arrived and was brought to her future stepmother.

  “My Lady Elizabeth!” the widowed Lady Latimer—as she had then been—exclaimed, making a respectful curtsy and then holding out both hands, clasping Elizabeth’s, and kissing her unaffectedly.

  “Welcome to court!” she said warmly. “It is an honor to meet you, my Lady Elizabeth.”

  She smiled at the Lady Mary, who had been sitting with her when Elizabeth entered the chamber. Elizabeth noticed that the room was filled with the heady scent of summer flowers, which were arranged in pots and bowls all around the apartment. Clearly, Lady Latimer loved flowers. She noticed too Katherine’s beautiful velvet shoes, embroidered with gold, peeping out from beneath her scarlet silk skirt.

  Mary, hitherto disapproving of Katherine, was—to Elizabeth’s surprise—smiling at her with overt friendliness.

  “Lady Latimer has just been reminding me that her mother once served mine,” she said.

  “She was devoted to Queen Katherine,” Lady Latimer said. “But that was long years ago, my Lady Elizabeth, and you and my Lady Mary here have suffered great misfortunes in your lives. It is my sincere hope that you will both come to regard me as a loving stepmother who is willing to do you all the service that she can.”

  Elizabeth was amazed to see Mary’s eyes fill with tears and her sister suddenly lean forward and hugged Katherine.

  “I am sure we will become loving friends,” Mary declared.

  “And you, Elizabeth,” said Katherine, holding out her arm. “You are a child still and need a mother’s love and guidance. I know you have the excellent Katherine Champernowne as your governess, but I hope you will think of me as your mother, and come to me if you need any help or advice. It will be my pleasure rather than my duty to assist you.”

  “I will, madam,” Elizabeth said fervently. Her eyes were shining.

  A light banquet was being served as the guests mingled, and Elizabeth took care to help herself to as many sweetmeats and comfits as she could eat, for the grown-ups were too preoccupied with their wine and their talk to notice a greedy girl overstuffing herself.

  The King and his new Queen were circulating, greeting their guests in turn.

  “My congratulations, Sire,” Lord Hertford was saying. “Your Majesty is a very lucky man.” He bowed courteously to Katherine.

  Elizabeth looked with interest at the King’s former brother-in-law, a sober-looking man with a thin face, large nose, and thick russet beard, who, after the death of his sister, Queen Jane, had managed to stay close to the throne by virtue of being the young Prince’s uncle and a man of some political astuteness.

  “We are indeed, my lord!” Henry clapped him on the back, winking at Katherine. “It’s about time I took myself a wife again, for the sake of my realm, and to be a comfort in my old age.”

  “You’re hardly in your dotage yet, sir.” Katherine smiled. As the King beamed broadly, she went on, “How does the Prince, my Lord Hertford?”

  “My nephew is in good health, madam, and excelling at his studies. It is a comfort to know he now has a caring stepmother at last.”

  “I wish he could come to court,” she said. “Sir, could we not have him with us? After all, his sisters are here.”

  The King shook his head.

  “There is little I would deny you, Kate,” he told her, “but the Prince’s health must be my priority. The court can be a hotbed of contagion, as you know, and if he were to be exposed to that…The prospect is too terrible to think on, for his life is all that stands between mine and civil war.”

  “Of course, sir, I would not press you,” she agreed hastily.

  “But if, in due course, we have a son, Kate,” Henry went on, his eyes narrowing lustfully, “then I would not need to be so protective of Edward’s safety.”

  “I shall pray for it, my lord,” Katherine assured him calmly without a trace of a blush.

  “Pray on,” muttered John Dudley, Viscount Lisle, who was standing nearby, to Henry’s niece, Lady Margaret Douglas; Elizabeth, stealing another candied plum behind them, could hear every word. “She’ll need nothing more than a miracle to achieve that!”

  Anna of Cleves, invited to the wedding as the King’s dear sister, joined the little group.

  “Lady Margaret, my Lord Lisle,” she greeted them, then cast a glance toward the newlyweds.

  “A fine burden madam has taken upon herself,” she murmured.

  “From what I heard,” said Lady Margaret in a low voice, “our new queen would have preferred to wed elsewhere.”

  “Hertford’s little brother, Sir Thomas Seymour,” Dudley supplied.

  “Really? Well, he is very handsome,” observed Anna. Elizabeth could agree with that; she had seen him often about the court.

  “He’s a rogue,” smiled the Lady Margaret, “and by all reports she was in love with him. But the King, my good uncle, sent him packing. I hear he has gone to Brussels.”

  “A convenient diplomatic mission,” Dudley added. “We’ll not see him back for some time, I’ll warrant.”

  “Well, I heard,” whispered Anna, “that when the King proposed marriage to the lady, she said she would rather be his mistress than his wife.”

  “Can you blame her?” asked Margaret Douglas. “Remember Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard! And what he did to me. I was twice in the Tower, and just because I fell in love with men he didn’t approve of.”

  Elizabeth, listening unashamedly to this fascinating conversation, felt some alarm on hearing that the new Queen had been in love with another man. She wanted desperately to warn Katherine to take care, for terrible things could happen to a lady who was married to the King but loved someone else, or was merely accused of loving someone else. Elizabeth herself, more than most people, had good reason to know that.

  Then too, having heard of the punishments meted out to Margaret Douglas, she was beginning to realize to her dismay that,
if and when the time came, she might not be so successful after all in defying her father over the matter of her marrying. That was a worrying thought.

  “Why, it is the Lady Elizabeth!” cried the Princess of Cleves, noticing who was standing nearby, and Elizabeth found herself enveloped in a hearty embrace, which made her feel just a little better. Dudley shot a wary look at the Lady Margaret, and the little group dispersed, the Princess leading the child back to the laden table. But somehow the sweetmeats that Anna pressed on her seemed to have lost their appeal.

  Later, as Kat was helping her to disrobe, Elizabeth repeated what she had overheard.

  “It’s a good thing the King didn’t hear them,” Kat observed with an anxious look on her face, “otherwise the Lady Margaret might have found herself in the Tower a third time!”

  “Do you think it’s true, that the Queen was in love with Thomas Seymour before my father asked her to marry him?” Elizabeth asked, sitting down so that Kat could brush her hair.

  “There was some talk of that,” Kat replied, “but it may just be court gossip. Things get garbled. By all accounts, she is very fond of your father.”

  “Well, I’m glad he has married her,” Elizabeth said. “I think she will be a very good queen. And a kind and loving stepmother. I have always dreamed of having such a stepmother.”

  Kat could not help feeling a dart of jealousy. To all intents and purposes, she had been a mother to Elizabeth, and virtually the center of her world for many years now. She had thought her position invincible. True, she was glad that the new queen was so well disposed toward her charge, but she was also inwardly fearful that Katherine Parr might prove a rival for Elizabeth’s devotion. The German Princess and that giddy girl, Katherine Howard, had neither of them seemed to pose so much of a threat to Kat’s position as did this charming widow with her very genuine concern for the girl’s welfare, and the power to do all manner of good things for her.

  But Kat was determined to ensure that no one should ever usurp her place in Elizabeth’s life—not even the Queen of England.

  “I have something to tell you that I think will please you, Elizabeth,” the Queen said. “I have approached the King, and he has agreed that you should now have permanent lodgings at court, like the Lady Mary. And he has consented to both of you being appointed my chief ladies-in-waiting.”

  “Oh, madam!” cried Elizabeth ecstatically. She was already greatly fond of her new stepmother, and now she had so much more for which to be beholden to her. “I am so grateful! I am sure I do not deserve such kindness.”

  “Nonsense! I knew you would be pleased.” Katherine beamed, and herself insisted on showing Elizabeth to her new apartments.

  “They are right next to mine, overlooking the river,” she told her, leading the way along the gallery, “as they will be at Whitehall too. I have sent orders there.”

  “Your Majesty is so kind to me,” Elizabeth exclaimed, almost skipping with joy. “I could not wait to come here, to be with you—I have long sighed for such happiness. And these rooms, they are so beautiful.” Her admiring gaze took in the vivid tapestries, the Turkish carpets, the polished, carved furniture and bright curtains. All for her!

  “I asked for your table to be set in the window embrasure,” the Queen said, “so that you get the best light for your studies.”

  “I cannot thank you enough, madam.” Kat, already installed and unpacking clothes, felt the resentful tears prick as Elizabeth, never a child to show much affection, ran to her stepmother and spontaneously hugged and kissed her.

  “I promise,” the child vowed, “that you will never have cause to complain of me, and that I will be diligent in showing you obedience and respect.”

  “I have no doubt of that.” The Queen smiled. “Now you will assist in tidying away your belongings, and then attend me after dinner in my privy chamber.” She kissed her stepdaughter on both cheeks; then, with a kindly nod at Kat, she was gone.

  “Come and sit by me,” Katherine invited, and Elizabeth knelt at her feet.

  “Leave us, please, Mistress Champernowne,” the Queen commanded, and Kat went stiffly away.

  “You really are very pretty, you know, with that striking coloring,” Elizabeth’s stepmother said. “We will have to order you some new gowns, seeing you are now living at court.”

  “Oh, that would be wonderful!” the child breathed.

  “We’ll do that tomorrow,” Katherine said. “For now, I want to talk about your education. The King and I have marked that you are a wise and intelligent girl. You must therefore be aware that Mistress Champernowne, learned as she is, can teach you very little more. The King tells me you have been sharing some of your brother’s lessons, but now that you are growing up, and lodging at court, it is meet and seemly that you have your own tutor. Your father, in his great wisdom, wants you to have every opportunity to become an example of virtuous womanhood and an ornament to the House of Tudor, and with this in mind, he entrusted me with making inquiries as to someone suitable to instruct you. I’m happy to tell you I have found such a man. His name is William Grindal, and he is a famous Greek scholar.”

  “Greek? You mean I am to be taught Greek, madam?” Elizabeth cried.

  “And many other things besides,” the Queen told her, patting her head.

  “I am all impatience!” the child declared eagerly. “I cannot wait to begin.”

  The grizzly-haired William Grindal was no longer young, but he was very learned, and he had a quiet, tranquil way with him. On the first day, he produced a timetable of lessons and handed it to his pupil.

  “If it please Your Grace, we will study languages in the mornings, when the mind is at its most retentive,” he began, in his calm, authoritative voice. “You already know some Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish, I understand.”

  “And some Welsh, sir,” Elizabeth interrupted.

  “Indeed. That is interesting. Very good. Well, you will of course continue with those languages, and you will also learn Greek, for Greek is essential for the study of the New Testament, and such works of the ancients as Sophocles’ tragedies and Isocrates’ orations. Thus you will acquire the skills to become a great orator yourself.”

  “I hope I will not disappoint you, sir,” Elizabeth said humbly. This was all she had hoped for, and more, and she could not cease blessing her father and stepmother for making it possible.

  “For three hours each afternoon, we will read history,” Master Grindal continued. “That is a good habit to establish. Through the study of history we learn more about our own civilization. Then we will look at philosophies ancient and modern. And, of course, you must practice your calligraphy and your needlework with Mistress Champernowne. The accomplished Master Battista Castiglione will attend twice a week to instruct you in Italian, and I understand that the Queen has engaged not only a new music master to further your skill on the lute, the virginals, and the viol, but also”—he sighed—“a dancing master, such is the vanity of this world; yet if you are to adorn princely courts, then you must know how to comport yourself. Her Majesty wishes you take the air each day, and walk and ride regularly, which she tells me you enjoy. Oh, and the King has specifically requested that you be given some instruction in using a crossbow. He thought that you might like to try your hand at shooting, seeing you are so good at fencing.” This was accompanied by a wry smile. “It is not for me to question His Majesty’s wisdom,” Grindal added.

  “I should like that very much!” Elizabeth told him excitedly.

  Kat had received the news of Master Grindal’s appointment equably enough, but inside she was boiling. So she was being relegated to teaching just calligraphy and needlework, was she? Clearly, her role as governess was being usurped, and there was nothing she could do about it. An honest woman, she admitted to herself that, no, there was not a lot more that she could teach Elizabeth; yet still she felt slighted and hurt.

  Of course, she knew whom she had to blame. This was one more notch in the tally agai
nst her rival for Elizabeth’s affection.

  When Elizabeth arrived at Ashridge on Edward’s sixth birthday, she was impressed to see him out of long skirts and breeched.

  “That’s a fine suit of manly clothes you have, Brother!” she complimented the little boy as he stood, feet apart, one hand on his hip, the other clasping the hilt of his dagger, looking for all the world like a miniature imitation of their father. He doffed his feathered bonnet in acknowledgment of her curtsy.

  “I thank you, sweet Sister,” he replied. “It was high time I left off those silly skirts.”

  Dr. Coxe came forward to greet Elizabeth.

  “His Highness looks every inch the prince now,” he declared, smiling.

  “Dr. Coxe is now my governor,” Edward explained proudly. “From today, I will no longer be under the governance of women. Lady Bryan and Mistress Penn have already left.”

  He spoke dispassionately, as if this were as inconsequential a matter as the weather. Elizabeth tried to imagine how she would feel if her beloved Kat left her. Her brother’s coolness disconcerted her.

  “Are you not sad?” she asked. “Those ladies have looked after you from birth. You will miss them sorely.”

  “It is not fitting that the heir to the throne be subject to petticoat rule,” Edward said haughtily, obviously reciting words he must have heard several times in recent days, and dismissing the subject. “Come and meet the young gentlemen whom our father has appointed to share my education and be my playfellows.”

  He turned to a waiting line of more than a dozen young boys, all aristocrats by birth, and presented each in turn to Elizabeth.

  “Henry Brandon, son to the Duke of Suffolk…Henry, Lord Hastings…” Each boy bowed low in turn as Elizabeth progressed along the line.

  “Robert Dudley, son to the Viscount Lisle.”

  Elizabeth’s eyes met the saucy fellow’s bold gaze and recognized a kindred spirit. Robert Dudley was about her age, she guessed; he looked like a gypsy or satyr with his dark, Italianate coloring and foxy face, and he had a mischievous glint in his eyes. The bow he swept was almost insultingly exaggerated, and certainly designed to draw attention to himself. I shall have to watch this one, thought Elizabeth. And I should like to teach him some manners…

 
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