The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir


  “I will keep you company, my Husband,” she said, patting his hand. “We’ll have some quiet revelry in private. You can beat me at cards, as usual—”

  “No, Katherine,” Henry cut in. “Tomorrow, you, Mary, and Elizabeth will go to Greenwich and keep Christmas there in proper fashion. Edward can travel to Ashridge. I don’t want him mingling with lots of people. He might catch something, with all these winter chills that are going about.”

  “But my lord,” the Queen protested, “I would stay with you.”

  “It’s only for the festive season,” he told her. “No, no arguments! It is my will, and you are bound to obey me. Now go, make ready. I would sleep a little. I will see my children before they leave.”

  They stood before him, two slim girls and a child. The fruits, he reflected, of his six marriages. For a moment, it was as if Katherine, Anne, and Jane were in their places: pious Katherine, with her unshakable, irritating devotion; the witch, with her mocking, alluring smile; and sweet, pale Jane, who had given her all to provide him with his heir.

  The images faded. He was wandering in his mind, he knew. Sometimes it seemed as if the past and the present were one. He opened his eyes again, saw Mary, with that same needy and pathetic expression her mother had worn, inscrutable Elizabeth, watching him warily, and the fair, pale boy, his son. He suddenly realized he might never see any of them again.

  “Come here, Edward,” the King commanded. The child stepped forward, reluctant to go too near the bed. He had never seen his father laid low like this, and he was clearly appalled at the sight—and the smell.

  “You are to go to Ashridge for Christmas,” Henry told him. “I daresay Dr. Coxe and Dr. Cheke will devise some seasonal games for you. Be a good boy, and make merry—it is my wish.”

  “Yes, sir,” said Edward meekly. His woeful expression was anything but merry.

  Henry beckoned to his daughters, who drew nearer.

  “You will both go with the Queen to Greenwich,” he croaked.

  “No!” Elizabeth cried before she could stop herself.

  “Please, sir,” Mary faltered, “let us stay with you.”

  Her father shook his head.

  “This is no place for you, my daughters, and besides, I need to rest. I have not been well, as you know. I will summon you back when I am recovered, never fear.”

  Elizabeth did fear. She realized that her father was very ill and might never recover; there was a good chance she might never see him again. But she could not say as much, for it was treason to predict the death of the King. Instead, she knelt with her brother and sister to receive his blessing.

  “May God have you all in His keeping,” Henry intoned. “Follow God’s word, and set a virtuous example to all. Now farewell, and I wish you a safe journey.”

  Edward bowed formally. Mary bent her head as she curtsied, praying Henry would not notice her weeping. But Elizabeth stepped boldly forward, leaned over the diseased body lying in the bed, and kissed her father tenderly on his forehead.

  “It will be my constant prayer that God will soon restore you to health, sir,” she said.

  Henry looked up at her. There were tears in his blue eyes.

  “Look after your little brother,” he murmured, “and your good stepmother.”

  Then he waved them all away.

  CHAPTER 11

  1547

  Elizabeth gazed through the tall, latticed windows at the boats on the Thames and the distant spires of London, looking like stark gray fingers pointing up to the leaden January sky. She then turned back to her book while surreptitiously nibbling on a piece of gilded marchpane left over from Twelfth Night. When Master Grindal entered, she swallowed it quickly.

  “Madam, you are to leave for Enfield at once,” he told her.

  “Enfield?” Elizabeth echoed. “Why?”

  “No reason was given,” the tutor said. “But I imagine that you are summoned once more to share the Prince’s lessons. Mistress Astley is already gathering your things.”

  Elizabeth’s heart began to thud. Why the urgency? Could this mean that her father was better and that life was reverting to normal? Surely the King would not send her away if he were dying?

  Throughout the long, cold journey, she puzzled and fretted. Kat, seated beside her in the chariot, sensed her inner tension and knew better than to probe, instead keeping their conversation light.

  “I shall be glad of a good fire when we get there,” she said. “I like Enfield. It might be a small house, but it’s warm and so beautifully decorated. We shall be comfortable there.”

  Elizabeth smiled weakly.

  When they arrived, it was late afternoon and already nearly dark. Torches, flickering wildly in the wind, lit their progress into the house, and Elizabeth had hardly entered the great hall when, to her surprise, the Prince’s Chamberlain appeared out of the dimness and requested her immediate repair to the presence chamber.

  “Is His Highness my brother here already?” she asked, suspecting that her being summoned here had nothing to do with lessons.

  “He arrived earlier today, madam,” the Chamberlain informed her.

  Elizabeth’s sense of foreboding increased, and she found herself trembling. Resolutely, she constrained herself to calmness, and divesting herself of her cloak, she straightened her hood, smoothed her skirts, and proceeded with measured steps into the presence chamber, chin held high.

  There, standing beside the empty throne on the dais, stood the Prince, looking as perturbed as she herself felt, and with him was his uncle the Lord Hertford. Two other gentlemen—privy councillors, she guessed—were in the room, as well as several household officers and servants.

  As Elizabeth made her obeisance to the Prince, Lord Hertford and the two gentlemen bowed to her.

  “You are welcome, my Lady Elizabeth,” Hertford said quietly.

  As she walked toward the dais, Elizabeth, thoroughly frightened now, braced herself for the worst.

  The Earl swallowed and cleared his throat.

  “It is my heavy duty to announce to you both the death of the late King your father,” he said, his face a mask of sorrow.

  Then he fell to his knees.

  “Sire, allow me to be the first to render homage and fealty to his successor, King Edward the Sixth. The King is dead—long live the King!” So saying, he took Edward’s hand and kissed it.

  For answer, the boy burst into sobs. Elizabeth, stunned into silence by the terrible news, could hardly take it in, but her brother’s distress was all too visible, and impulsively she folded her arms around him and then found herself crying helplessly. At the sight of the weeping children, even the servants began sniffing and dabbing their eyes, while Lord Hertford gulped and blinked rapidly.

  She would never see her father again, Elizabeth realized, nevermore hear that high, imperious voice or thrill to him calling her Bessy. The world would never be the same. It was too much to bear. The shoulder of Edward’s surcoat was soaked with her tears; they seemed to flow from a bottomless well, and she could not stop them. She was motherless, fatherless, an orphan. She wanted her father, as long ago she had wanted her mother…She felt her heart breaking.

  Edward was weeping piteously, and more copiously than at any other time in his life. Hertford, watching him and his sister, became concerned.

  “Calm yourselves, Sire, madam,” he urged, then, when they heeded him not, ventured to enfold both heaving bodies in his arms, and held them there until they were still.

  At length, Edward broke away and stepped toward the empty throne. He regarded it solemnly for a moment, the tears still wet on his cheeks, then slowly sat down on it with a dignity far beyond his nine years. Elizabeth, blowing her nose into her kerchief, watched him for a moment, then collected her thoughts. Her brother was now King of England. She must not forget to pay the honor due to him. Shuddering still from the onslaught of her misery, she sank into a deep curtsy.

  And suddenly, it occurred to her that another, more su
btle, change had taken place in her life. Edward was the King now, she the subject. Never again would their lives be the same.

  CHAPTER 12

  1547

  With Henry’s passing, Elizabeth sensed that her childhood was over and that she must begin to look out for herself in this strange and threatening adult world. She knew that without Henry to safeguard her interests, she was very much on her own, for she guessed she would have little part to play in the schemes of the Seymours, and suspected that she and her sister Mary would soon be marginalized in the rush to seize control of the young King and the government.

  She could not rely on the Queen, she realized. Katherine had borne no sons to the late monarch, and so could wield no further influence in public affairs. And anyway, Katherine would be grieving, and should not be expected to concern herself with Elizabeth’s troubles. No, she must depend on herself and use her wits to survive.

  Thus resolved, she strove for that inner tranquillity that facilitated prayer. Her father, she realized, with an insight born of burgeoning maturity, would have need of her prayers.

  After the lords of the council had sworn fealty to King Edward, Lord Hertford, who had ignored his dead master’s wishes and set himself up as head of that council, wasted no time in preparing to depart for London so that plans could be made for the late King’s funeral and the new King’s coronation.

  “Am I not to go too, my lord?” Elizabeth asked him. Hertford shook his head.

  “I regret, my lady, that his late Majesty expressly asked that none of his children attend his obsequies. And as the King is unmarried, the presence of ladies at the coronation would not be appropriate. I am sorry.”

  Elizabeth felt her anger rising. Who was this man, with his upstart Seymour blood, to order all in her father’s place?

  “Then what am I to do, sir?” she inquired.

  “Remain here for the time being, with Mrs. Astley. I will send word after the King has been crowned.”

  Frustration welled up in Elizabeth, and she clenched her fists. Not even to attend her father’s funeral? The ever-ready tears sprang to her eyes. The Earl cast her a sympathetic look and gratefully produced a parchment from which dangled the Great Seal of England.

  “This is your father’s will, my lady,” he told her, “and in it you have been left three thousand pounds. That makes you a woman of substance, and as rich as any great lord. I am to tell you that, when you marry, you will receive a final payment of ten thousand pounds. I feel I should warn you, however, that if you marry without the council’s approval and consent, then you will be struck out of the succession as if you were dead. The same applies to your sister, the Lady Mary.”

  “I have no wish to marry,” stated Elizabeth, who appeared unmoved by her good fortune. “I should like to accompany my brother to court, though.”

  “That will not be possible, I’m afraid,” the Earl informed her. “At least, not until the King marries. You will continue to live at Hatfield, Ashridge, and your other accustomed residences.”

  “But the Queen is still at court,” Elizabeth pointed out.

  “Not for long. She is in mourning at the moment, of course, but already she has let it be known that she intends to retire to one of her dower properties. The King left her well provided for too.”

  Elizabeth turned away. The consequences of her father’s death were even worse than she had envisaged. She was now wealthy, it was true, but what good were riches if she was barred from the court and left to rot here at Enfield? She could not even say a proper farewell to her father at his burial.

  She fixed Hertford with a regal glare and was gratified to see him wilt slightly under her gaze. Thus she had seen her father do, and it cheered her a little to know that she had inherited something of his formidable will and presence. This was what it was to be royal, she reflected, this mysterious power that could make others tremble; it was something that might prove useful in the future. But what use was the semblance of power without the substance? For when it came down to it, King’s daughter or no, she was just a helpless young orphan, with no choice but to do as she was told.

  “What is there for me?” she cried, with only Kat to hear her. “I am the third lady in the land, and they expect me to become a hermit!”

  “Why not speak to the King?” Kat suggested. “He has ever been very fond of you, and his word might carry some weight.”

  Elizabeth thought about this.

  “You might be right, Kat,” she said. “I will. I’ll go and talk to him now.”

  “My Lady Elizabeth, this is not really convenient,” said Lord Hertford, looming large at the door to the royal apartments.

  “I wish to see my brother the King,” she told him coolly, her tone brooking no argument. There was no mistaking the fact that she was her father’s daughter, the Earl reflected; it would be easier to give way. He was married to the most domineering termagant in the land, and had long since learned that, where women were concerned, giving way made for a quieter life.

  Elizabeth found her brother, resplendent in his jet-encrusted mourning gown, seated at his desk and carefully applying his signature—a spidery EDWARD R.—to a pile of official-looking documents. He looked up and nodded at her as she sank to her knees.

  “You may stand, Sister,” he told her magnanimously.

  “I trust I find Your Majesty in better spirits,” she said.

  “I am, I thank you,” he replied. “And you, my dear Sister—I am sure there is little need for me to console you, because from your learning and piety, you know how to accept God’s will. I can see that, like me, you can already think of our father’s death with a calm mind.”

  “I am trying hard to achieve that calmness, Sire,” Elizabeth answered. “I remind myself that I am proud to be his daughter.”

  “One thing must console us,” the boy replied, with a sanctimoniousness beyond his years, “that he is now in Heaven, and that he has gone out of this miserable world into happy and everlasting blessedness.”

  At his words, Elizabeth felt tears prick her eyelids once more, but Edward’s face remained impassive.

  “Was there something you wanted, Sister?” he asked. “Or did you just come to offer words of comfort?”

  “Your Majesty, I beg of you, let me come to court!” Elizabeth pleaded. “Do not let them leave me here, cut off from the life that matters to me.”

  Edward frowned.

  “Of course you must come to court,” he said. “But not yet. Wait until after I am crowned, then I will send for you. I shall not forget you. You have ever been dear to me.”

  The coronation came and went, and Elizabeth waited hopefully at Enfield, but the promised summonses, from the King and Lord Hertford, never came. What did arrive was a letter from Katherine Parr.

  “It’s from the Queen!” Elizabeth cried, breaking the seal and eagerly scanning the elegant italic script. “She has asked me to go and live with her at Chelsea! And she says the council has agreed! Oh, Kat!”

  Elizabeth’s eyes were shining for the first time in weeks, and Kat could not but rejoice to see it. Inwardly, though, her heart was sinking. For her, this news could hardly have been worse, for she had thought to have seen the last of her rival. But she had been mistaken, grievously mistaken, and as a result, the prospect of removing to the Queen’s new establishment was unwelcome to her. Still, she forced her face into a smile.

  “I am delighted for you,” she said.

  “Her Grace has especially commanded that you head my household,” Elizabeth went on excitedly. “And Master Grindal may come with us—and Master Astley, of course!”

  “I’m flattered,” Kat said, with only a trace of irony.

  “Oh, I am so pleased!” Elizabeth sang. “It will cheer me no end to be with the Queen. She has been like a mother to me, has she not?”

  Kat swallowed.

  “I make no doubt she will be a support to you at this time,” she said begrudgingly. Her charge was too preoccupied to detect he
r resentment.

  “In truth, I have longed to see her,” Elizabeth confessed, sitting down on the settle and spreading her slender fingers across the wide black skirt of her mourning gown, absentmindedly admiring the effect.

  “Does the Queen say when we are to join her?” Kat asked.

  “She expects to take up residence at Chelsea in March, and will send word then. Oh, I feel better already at the thought, dear Kat! And the Queen’s removal to Chelsea explains why I cannot live at court.”

  “Oh, no,” said her governess, “that would not be fitting. There will be no ladies living at court until the King marries, and that won’t be for a few years yet, I’ll warrant.”

  “We must make ready!” Elizabeth said excitedly. Her face set, Kat summoned a porter and bade him fetch the Lady Elizabeth’s traveling chests from the attic.

  The Admiral was back. No sooner had news of King Henry’s death reached him than he had hastened home to England to seize his share of the power and rich pickings that would now be up for grabs by enterprising men.

  The Queen, still in the seclusion that marked the early days of royal widowhood, heard of his return and found her heart leaping with joy and heady anticipation. He had wasted no time, but had come back to claim her! As soon as the first month of mourning was up, he would send word to her, she knew it!

  Lord Hertford, busily asserting his dominance over the council, groaned when his brother turned up at Whitehall, swaggering into the council chamber as if he owned the place.

  “Ned!” Tom cried in his booming, penetrating voice, clapping the Earl on the shoulder. “It is good to be home. I came as soon as I could.”

  “Welcome, Tom,” Hertford replied, trying to feign pleasure while extricating himself from that bear hug. “I did not expect you…”

  “D’you think I’d stay away when I’m needed here?” Tom asked him. “They told me there’s to be a regency council, and I’ve come to take my seat.”

 
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