The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir

  “I think we both know, madam, that neither the King nor Parliament would sanction any of those punishments,” she said softly, quivering at her own daring.

  Mary stared at her.

  “You grow too insolent!” she cried. “May I remind you that it is the King who desires this marriage? He will not take kindly to being thwarted. I warn you, Sister, there will be repercussions from this, and if it is in my power, I will choose someone else to succeed me!”

  “Then, madam, I make no doubt that the Duke will no longer find me as desirable a bride!” Elizabeth retorted.

  “You will leave court!” Mary exploded. “Without delay! I cannot bear the sight of you.”

  “I will go to Hatfield then, with your permission,” Elizabeth said evenly. She had begun to feel her power.

  “You may go to Hell for all I care,” Mary flung at her. “And you may rest assured that I will never name you my successor.”

  “Name me or not, that is what I am!” Elizabeth countered, then rose to her feet and curtsied herself out of the room, leaving the Queen speechless with fury.

  Philip was coming back to England!

  Mary’s heart was bursting with jubilation and thankfulness as she sank to her knees in the chapel before the statue of the Virgin and Child. He was returning to her; his household was on its way ahead of him. Soon, they would be reunited, and once again they would enjoy that blessed union that God had ordained for all married couples. And if He was willing, there might yet be some chance of a child, a Catholic heir to succeed her…

  In her joy, she was unable to feel any more rancor toward Elizabeth, had put their quarrel firmly behind her, and was indeed happy to comply with Philip’s request that her sister be summoned to Greenwich for the Christmas festivities, there to await his coming.

  Elizabeth looked up with surprise when Mary, having summoned her back from Hatfield, greeted her graciously and presented her with a fine gift of plate.

  “I am not worthy,” she murmured, astonished at the Queen’s change of heart.

  “You may thank the King’s Majesty,” Mary replied, but there was no real sarcasm in her voice. She was a woman in love, and her beloved was coming, very soon…



  Ruy Gomez, Philip’s great friend and close adviser—but lately arrived in England—stood before the Queen.

  “Your Majesty will have heard that the French have broken their truce with us and attacked Douai,” he said gravely.

  “Indeed I have,” she replied, “and I have demanded of my council that England go to war to support Spain.”

  “Yes, madam, but we have received reports that your councillors have refused their consent,” Gomez said accusingly, almost glaring at her in his stiff, Castilian manner.

  “That is true.” She sighed. “They say that England cannot afford a war, that this war does not concern us, and that we are not bound by treaty to support the King in his wars. I have, of course, declared to them my pleasure.”

  “May I remind Your Majesty that declaring war is the sovereign’s own prerogative?” Gomez asked coldly.

  “I fear to do that without my council’s support,” Mary demurred.

  “Perhaps Your Majesty will act when I say that the King has commanded me to tell you that his coming to England will be dependent on your promise to declare war on France,” Gomez said smoothly.

  Mary’s sharp intake of breath was audible. It was cruel, cruel…but even now, she would not blame Philip. I am on the eve of bankrupting my kingdom or my heart! she thought. But there was no choice.

  “Tell the King that I promise to persuade my council to agree to the war,” she said faintly. “And I pray you, beg him not to be afraid to come here!”

  The bells were pealing and the court en fête for Philip’s arrival at Greenwich. Elizabeth, alighting from her flower-bedecked barge, saw that her sister’s tired face was radiant with expectation, observed her agitation as they waited for the King to disembark, and watched as Mary clung tightly to him, unable to restrain her tears. He, in turn, maintained his usual correct composure, but when he came to raise Elizabeth from her curtsy, he muttered, “Think not that I am come just to persuade this people to war. I am come to conclude your marriage with Savoy, so think not to defy me.”

  Elizabeth bent her head, her cheeks flaming. Did he think to suborn her, with the throne so nearly in her sights? Well, he would find that he had met his match. She was resolved not to marry with Savoy or any other.

  She rode with the King and Queen to Whitehall, through streets packed with cheering citizens, but their shouts were not for Mary and Philip. Sensing the royal couple’s displeasure and resentment, Elizabeth dared not acknowledge the people’s acclaim. She stood fuming at a court reception for the King’s kinswomen, the Duchesses of Parma and Lorraine, who had come to England, it was rumored, to escort Elizabeth to Savoy and her wedding to its Duke.

  When presented to the Duchess of Lorraine, the former Christina of Denmark, whose famed beauty was still apparent, Elizabeth could not resist reminding her of a youthful indiscretion.

  “I am sure Your Grace recalls that you might have been my stepmother,” she said with a smile. “You will remember that my father King Henry asked for your hand.”

  The Duchess’s cheeks flushed pink.

  “I was very young at the time, Highness,” she said.

  “Am I right in saying you told him that if you had two heads, one would be at his disposal?” Elizabeth asked wickedly. The courtiers laughed.

  “I may have done,” the Duchess replied, looking embarrassed and put out.

  “Instead, he married that lady there,” Elizabeth said, pointing across the room to Anna of Cleves, now grown very fat. Anna was not at all well, she had heard; there was talk of a canker in her breast. Suppressing a shiver of concern, Elizabeth bent forward suddenly so that only the Duchess could hear her.

  “I would rather die than submit to this marriage,” she said low.

  The Duchess looked confused, but the King came to her rescue, lifting her hand and kissing it.

  “I trust you are being made welcome, dear cousin,” he said, his eyes locking with the Duchess’s. In that instant, Elizabeth knew that there was more than a bond of kinship between them.

  Mary, watching across the room, had come to the same—for her, sickening—conclusion. Rumors had preceded Philip’s arrival. How could he bring his mistress to England and flaunt her like this? And this marriage they were all clamoring for—could de Noailles be right when he warned that the Duke of Savoy, for all his standing, was poor and effectively stripped of his wealth?

  Jealousy got the better of her. She would not pander to Philip’s schemes, not when he was brazenly flaunting his mistress.

  The next morning, Mary summoned Elizabeth and suggested she return to Hatfield. It was best, she said, that her sister was away from these political intrigues; privately, she did not want Elizabeth witnessing Philip flirting with that hussy his cousin. That Elizabeth should see her betrayed was not to be borne!

  “But this matter of my marriage?” Elizabeth asked. “I had been given to believe that the Duchesses had come to conduct me to Savoy. In truth, madam, I had not realized that matters had progressed so far. I beg Your Majesty—”

  “Have no fear,” Mary interrupted. “Remove yourself from court. Do not return until I summon you. You will not be troubled.”

  Utterly relieved at finding Mary an unexpected ally, Elizabeth departed, her heart lighter, her mind freed for once from anxiety.

  Philip regarded Mary with unconcealed distaste, seeing the wrinkles that had been graven by worry and melancholy, the thin body, the flat chest.

  “I tell you, madam, she must come to court!” he commanded, ignoring her protests. “If I have to force her to take Savoy, then so be it.”

  Mary looked at him sorrowfully.

  “You know my council is against the match,” she reminded him. “And she herself is unwilling.??

  “Then offer to acknowledge her as your successor in return for her consent to the marriage,” he suggested.

  “Even if she agreed, which I doubt, the council would not approve it, of that I am certain. And she cannot marry without the council’s permission.”

  “Am I to understand that you yourself are in agreement with them?” Philip demanded of her, his eyes narrowing.

  “I have heard that the Duke is poor and thus not so great a match as we would wish.”

  “He is willing to come and live in England,” Philip said quickly.

  “What can he offer her, then?” Mary asked.

  “He is a good Catholic and loyal to me,” Philip answered.

  “It is not enough,” Mary said flatly. “Not enough to make me defy my council and override my sister’s objections.”

  “Then you are failing in your duty of obedience to me, your husband,” he accused her.

  “And what of your duty to me as your queen?” Mary reminded him. “You are my consort.”

  “And you are my wife!” he objected hotly. “And as such, subject to my rule.”

  “You forget yourself,” Mary cried, perilously close to weeping. “I am sovereign of this realm, and hold dominion over all my subjects. God knows I have tried to please you in all things, but sometimes the interests of my kingdom must come first. I cannot make Elizabeth marry against her will, nor against the will of my people.”

  “Bah!” sneered Philip. “You must make her do as she is bid. As you value my love.”

  The threat was all too clear. With a breaking heart, Mary summoned Elizabeth from Hatfield.

  “No, madam, I cannot consent to it,” Elizabeth said sorrowfully but resolutely.

  “If you could but see your way…,” Mary cajoled, much against her better instincts.

  “Madam,” Elizabeth cried vehemently, “I assure you, upon my truth and fidelity, that I am not at this time minded to do other than I have declared to you—no, not even were the greatest prince in Europe to offer for me!”

  “Then I must tell the King that you are adamant in your refusal,” Mary said defeatedly. “Although, in truth, I do not blame you for it.”

  “I pray you do that, madam,” Elizabeth begged her.

  “Go back to Hatfield,” the Queen said. “I do not know what the King will do, but it will go better with you if you are not here.”

  Elizabeth needed no second bidding. Later that month, when Mary paid an unexpected visit to Hatfield and the Savoy marriage—along with other contentious subjects—was not mentioned, Elizabeth concluded that the Queen had overruled her husband and that the matter had been quietly dropped.

  During those brief days of the visit, the sisters were for once in harmony. Elizabeth received Mary with all honor, and went to considerable trouble to entertain her. There was a Latin play, a bear baiting, dancing, hawking, a recital given by herself on the virginals, and many other delights. The choicest food was served, and the finest wines. Mary’s enjoyment was unfeigned. It was good to be away from the court and enjoy a peaceful sojourn in the country.

  Elizabeth was hoping that Mary would say something about acknowledging her as her successor, but the Queen did not raise the subject. She was too preoccupied with the war in France.

  “I have at last persuaded the council to send troops,” she said. “I could do no less for my husband’s cause.”

  It is not our cause, Elizabeth thought angrily.

  “The King himself is to take the field.” Mary’s voice was anxious.

  “He is leaving England again?” Elizabeth asked, surprised, then wished she could have bitten out her tongue: Her sister looked so tragic.

  “He is needed on the Continent,” Mary said. “He is waiting for the Spanish fleet to come for him.” She turned anguished eyes to Elizabeth. “Pray for him, I beg of you,” she enjoined. “And for me too. I cannot bear it when he is away.”

  Elizabeth promised to do so. They had little opportunity for further private talk, since so many entertainments had been planned, but relations between them remained cordial, if not warm, and all too soon the visit came to an end.

  The sisters embraced that last morning in the courtyard.

  “God go with you, madam,” Elizabeth said as the horses were led over to the mounting blocks.

  “I thank you again for your excellent hospitality,” Mary called down from the saddle. “Farewell!” As she turned to ride away, Elizabeth and her entire household sank to their knees. The visit had passed off far better than she could ever have expected, Elizabeth thought.

  There was a knock on the door of the royal bedchamber. Philip climbed out of bed, donned a velvet robe over his nakedness, and answered it. There was a brief exchange of muffled conversation; then he returned to his wife.

  “The fleet has been sighted!” he cried, his face lighting up in the glow of the candles. “I must make ready!”

  “Need you go so soon?” Mary whispered, dread in her heart. She had cherished these past nights, had given herself to him without reserve, and had almost managed to convince herself that, when it came to it, he would not leave her.

  “My army is waiting,” he told her, splashing his face with water from the golden basin that stood on the oak chest. She could see that he had gone from her already.

  “I will leave my confessor with you,” he said, “in the hope that he will be able to persuade you how vital it is that Elizabeth marries Savoy.”

  “I thought we had discussed that,” Mary said, dismayed.

  “Well, think again,” he ordered her. “And think what might happen to our alliance if she takes a husband of her own choosing, who might plunge this kingdom into confusion!”

  Mary said nothing. Speech was beyond her. All she could think of was that he was going from her.

  “I must impress upon you the need for haste,” Philip went on, relentless. “If necessary, the marriage can take place in my absence. And there is another thing.”

  Mary looked up miserably. He turned to face her, lacing his hose.

  “It is desirable, nay, imperative, that you name Elizabeth your heir.” If Mary died, he wanted a friend on the English throne to preserve the alliance, and with Elizabeth so beholden to him, he was convinced that he held her in the palm of his hand. Of course, there was also the highly desirable possibility that she might become more than a friend…

  “No,” Mary said, finding her voice and bitterly regretting that her last words to Philip would be words of defiance. “She may be my sister, and mayhap she is loyal to me these days, but she was born of an infamous woman who greatly outraged the Queen my mother and myself.”

  “You must forget that,” Philip told her dismissively. “You must settle this matter of the succession.”

  “God may yet settle it for me,” Mary said, blushing slightly. Anything to give him reason to return to her…

  “You cannot count on that,” Philip replied, losing patience a little. He was convinced that, for all his recent efforts in the marital bed—and a great trial they had been—Mary was too old to conceive. Look what had happened the last time!

  Mary lay back on the pillows, deeply hurt.

  “I am distressed that I cannot please you by naming Elizabeth my heir,” she confessed, “but I have examined my conscience on the matter, and considered your arguments with a true and sincere heart, and still I know I am in the right, for that which my conscience holds it has held these many years. She is a heretic at heart, and I will not leave my throne to her.”

  “Then I am extremely displeased,” Philip told her, his face thunderous.

  He was still angry when, two days later, he bade her farewell on the quayside at Dover. Stony-faced, he dropped a dutiful kiss on her cheek, then strode away to the gangplank and bounded on board his ship. As she watched it being borne away on the waves, Mary bravely fought back tears, convinced she had looked her last on him.

  The letter bore a plain seal. There was no crest. Elizabeth slit it
open and was pleasantly surprised when she saw the signature. Lord Robert Dudley. So they had released him from the Tower at last.

  He had written offering to serve her. He had sold land, he said, and was sending her money by separate courier, as proof of his loyalty. And lest there should be any doubt, he was prepared to die for her if need be.

  Now, there’s a man with an eye to the future, she said to herself, smiling. A man whose mettle matches my own, I shouldn’t wonder. She called to mind his dark Italianate looks—my Gypsy, she thought—the proud bearing and strong, manly physique—and felt the stirring of desire, quickly suppressed. It would not do to cherish carnal thoughts of any man, in her situation. She might appreciate Lord Robert’s admiration and zeal for her and her cause, but that was all, she told herself. She wanted no more from him; she was done with all that, and he was, after all, a married man. She herself had attended his wedding, back in her brother’s time.

  “What do you know of Robert Dudley?” she asked Cecil idly.

  Cecil looked at her suspiciously.

  “A rogue,” he said impishly. “A brave man, but impetuous, and a good Protestant—or was—but a born intriguer. And since his release from prison, a favorite with the ladies too, I hear. Why do you ask?”

  “I have had a letter from him.” She handed it to Cecil.

  “Well, well.” He smiled. “It is good to have friends.”

  “I think I shall like having Lord Robert as a friend,” Elizabeth opined coquettishly, unconsciously holding the letter to her breast. Cecil was thoughtful.

  “I hear he has made a point of befriending members of the King’s household,” he told her. “He could prove useful to you in more ways than one. Cultivate him. A man who sells off land in your cause is one you may surely trust.”

  “I thought you said he was a rogue,” Elizabeth taunted him.

  “Perhaps I misjudge him,” Cecil conceded. “His treason was long ago, after all. Methinks he has grown less hotheaded after that spell in the Tower!”

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