The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir

  But later, as she lay listless on her pillows, the tears did come.

  “She weeps for King Philip,” the ladies said.

  “No,” came the weak voice from the bed. “Not only that. I weep for my greatest failure. When I am dead, you shall find the word Calais lying in my heart.” Mary’s face was twisted in pain.

  Throughout the long November night, she felt her life ebbing away.

  “Send to my sister Elizabeth,” she urged, with all her failing strength. “Exhort her to preserve the Roman faith!”

  “We will, dear madam,” her attendants promised. Then they saw that she had faded into slumber again.

  And still they came to Hatfield. The Great North Road was congested for miles with horses, litters, and sumpter mules as the courtiers and other notables flocked to the heir to the throne. And Elizabeth, for all her gratification at their coming, was shocked to see it.

  The Queen still lives, she thought. Their first duty is to her. But no, they have seemingly forgotten that: In the race to seek favor with their future sovereign, they have abandoned their mistress to die alone. Well, it is a lesson well learned, she told herself. When it comes to the succession, I shall never reveal my hand. I shall keep them guessing!

  As soon as the dawn had risen, Mass had been celebrated again, and Mary had made her responses in a clear voice. At the elevation of the Host, those with her saw her tremble as she bent her weary head in devotion.

  Afterward, as her women bustled around the bedchamber, making all tidy, she fell asleep. But later, when they looked again, they saw that sleep had deepened into death, and that, gentle as a lamb, she had made her passage.

  It was a crisp November day with a chilly breeze, but that had never stopped Elizabeth before. Soon after breaking her fast, she was out in the fresh air, pacing across the park at Hatfield, exhilarated at being by herself for once, and relieved to have left behind her the teeming, expectant household.

  Some while later, she was seated under a great oak tree, wrapped in her heavy cloak, and reading her New Testament in Greek, when she heard the distant sound of galloping horses’ hooves. Nearer and nearer they approached until she could see three riders making their way through the park toward the house. She shrugged and went back to her book. More place-seekers arriving, she thought dismissively. But then it became obvious that the riders had espied her, for they were turning their steeds and advancing in her direction. As they came nearer, she recognized the Earls of Arundel and Pembroke, sitting importantly in their saddles, and Throckmorton—yes, Throckmorton!—between them.

  Her heart began to pound as she rose to her feet. Her hour was upon her, she was certain, and it seemed to her, as she endured those endless final moments of waiting, that Destiny and Providence had been preparing her all her life for it, and keeping her safe and secure. All the troubles, terrors, and obstacles that had beset her—her bastardy, her mother’s execution, her precarious childhood, the scandal of the Admiral, the perils of religion and of being too close to the throne, her imprisonment in the Tower and subsequent house arrest, Mary’s mistrust and the unwelcome schemes to marry her off against her will…She had survived them all, and to this purpose. What else could this be but God’s will?

  The lords were dismounting, falling to their knees on the damp grass before her.

  “The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen!” they cried jubilantly. Then Throckmorton rose and pressed into her hand the token he had promised to bring her—Mary’s coronation ring.

  Elizabeth wanted to shout her triumph and gratitude to the skies, but the words would not come—she could not speak, so overwhelmed was she with emotion. Breathlessly, she sank to the ground, her heart bursting with thankfulness.

  “This is the Lord’s doing,” she declared, finding her voice at last. “It is marvelous in our eyes!”

  Then, collecting herself, she rose and gave the kneeling men—her subjects now—her hand to kiss, and bade them attend her back to the house, striding through the park, her chin high, her shoulders proud, looking every inch the queen. This is my kingdom, she thought, looking about her at the vast sweeps of grassland, the tall stately trees, the distant cottages and the great house before her—my England! And thus—the lords following behind leading their horses—she arrived at Hatfield to receive the acclaim of her people. And there, waiting in the courtyard, magnificent on his white charger, was Lord Robert Dudley, doffing his plumed cap and bowing low in the saddle, his eyes warm and twinkling.

  Author’s Note

  In telling this story of Elizabeth I’s early life, I have endeavored to keep as far as possible to the known facts. Most of the characters and events in this book are a matter of historical record, and much of the dialogue—although slightly modernized in places—is based on the actual words of people who lived at the time (sometimes transposed to another character for the purpose of putting across a point of view). However, I have nevertheless taken some dramatic license, and telescoped events here and there, particularly in the latter sections of the book. For example, I have dealt with certain issues in just one conversation when there might have been two or three that were relevant, and I have omitted one or two unimportant episodes in the interests of avoiding repetition, since they merely echo what has gone before.

  I make no apology for the fact that, for dramatic purposes, I have woven into my story a tale that goes against all my instincts as a historian! Indeed, I have argued many times in the past, in print, in lectures, and on radio and television, why I firmly believe that Elizabeth I was the Virgin Queen she claimed to be, since the historical evidence would appear to support that. Yet we can never know for certain what happens in a person’s private life. There were rumors and there were legends, and upon them I have based the highly controversial aspect of this novel, Elizabeth’s pregnancy. I am not, as a historian, saying that it could have happened; but as a novelist, I enjoy the heady freedom to ask: What if it had?

  It is on record that in 1548 there were rumors about Elizabeth miscarrying Seymour’s child. It was noted that she “was first sick about midsummer,” about a month after arriving at Cheshunt, and the illness lasted until late autumn; during it, according to Mrs. Astley, Elizabeth had not gone more than a mile from the house. The very paucity of information about this illness could have been the result of a cover-up on the part of those who were anxious to avoid scandal.

  The gossip about Elizabeth and the Admiral continued well into 1549. Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria—a friend of Mary Tudor and therefore not unbiased—recalled many years later how a country midwife was visited by a mysterious gentleman in the middle of the night. He made her ride blindfolded with him, and took her to a mansion she had never seen before, to attend to “a very fair young lady” who was in labor. As soon as her child had been born, the man brutally had it “miserably destroyed.” The midwife talked, and word soon got about that the young lady had been Elizabeth, no less, although the woman had not been sure about that. These are the original sources on which I have based this part of the novel, although, as a historian, I should like to stress that there is no reliable evidence that Elizabeth had a miscarriage, and that the theory rests on rumor and supposition alone.

  The accounts of Admiral Seymour’s morning romps with Elizabeth, and the shocking episode when her dress was cut to ribbons, are all based on fact. But it occurred to me during the course of writing this book that the traditional view of Elizabeth’s governess, Kat Astley, as simply a loving and protective mother figure just does not fit in with what is known of her behavior with regard to the Thomas Seymour affair. Hence I have spun a subplot about her motives, which explains what possibly drove her to act as she did. It is on record that, immediately after Queen Katherine’s death, Kat began pressing Elizabeth to marry Seymour.

  Mary’s suspicions as to Elizabeth’s paternity are a matter of historical record—and unlike this story, they were never resolved—as are her increasingly difficult relations with Elizabeth. Modern readers may
find the child Elizabeth unduly precocious; I make no apology for that, because she was exceptionally advanced for her years, as well as being formidably intelligent and sharp, and in this novel her precocity is based largely on that famous quote made to her governor when she was not yet three—“Why, governor, how hath it, yesterday Lady Princess, and today but Lady Elizabeth?”—and on her early letters, such as the one on chapter 5, as well as my own experiences as both mother and teacher of children.

  Elizabeth’s admiration for her father and reverence for his memory are also well attested. However, we have virtually no evidence for her feelings about her mother, and no means of knowing if she believed Anne Boleyn to be innocent or guilty. I suspect that the grim details of her mother’s fate were too terrible to be disclosed in full to so young a child, and that she would only have found them out gradually. Nor do we know why Henry VIII banished Elizabeth from court in 1544; I have offered my own imagined version of events here. The supernatural scenes are fictional, but they are based on something that my mother experienced many years ago.

  I have referred to Traitors’ Gate as the watergate throughout, for it was not known as Traitors’ Gate until the seventeenth century. There is no historical evidence to support the long-standing tradition that Elizabeth and Robert Dudley met, and perhaps were first attracted to each other, while they were prisoners in the Tower, but I have contrived one encounter!

  Elizabeth’s story has all the elements of high drama: suspense, tragedy, intrigue, and the dynamics that exist between strong and vivid characters. The sources I have consulted would be too numerous to mention here, and I would do better to refer any interested reader to the extensive bibliographies in my books The Six Wives of Henry VIII, The Children of Henry VIII, and The Life of Elizabeth I.

  Above all, I have tried to remain true to Elizabeth, the greatest of all queens, and to portray her in character, from early childhood onward. She was a truly remarkable woman, and it has been sheer joy being able to write about her once more.


  First, I wish to acknowledge my huge debt of gratitude to Anthony Whittome, my commissioning editor at Hutchinson, for suggesting this project and inspiring me to write with renewed enthusiasm about Elizabeth. I should also like to thank him for his expert and sensitive editorial suggestions, and to express my gratitude also to my line editor, the author Kirsty Crawford, whose own books I have so greatly enjoyed, and to the editorial teams at Hutchinson, Arrow, and Ballantine, in particular Kate Elton, James Nightingale, Mandy Greenfield, and Shona McCarthy.

  I want to say a special thank-you to my agent, Julian Alexander, who has been tremendously supportive throughout, as ever, and whose invaluable creative suggestions have informed this novel. And I should like to thank Susanna Porter, my editor at Ballantine in the United States, for her enthusiastic and very helpful contributions, and Lisa Barnes, my American publicist.

  I wish to convey my gratitude to Jeff Cottenden and Richard Ogle for producing another stunning jacket. I should also like to thank all the publishing teams in marketing, publicity, and sales for the excellent, but often unacknowledged, work that they do.

  I cannot sufficiently express my appreciation to the historian Sarah Gristwood, author of Elizabeth and Leicester, for taking time out from a busy schedule to read my manuscript and offer her professional and much-valued observations. I wish also to say a huge thank-you to all the other kind people who have helped and supported me in various ways throughout the writing of this book, notably the historian Tracy Borman, who is herself currently researching a book on Elizabeth I; and also, in no particular order, my mother, Doreen Cullen; my son, John Weir; my daughter, Kate Weir; my cousin, Christine Armour; John and Jo Marston; Peter and Karen Marston; David and Catherine Marston; Samantha Brown at Historic Royal Palaces; Siobhan Clarke, Ann Morrice, Leza Mitchell, Lesley Ronaldson, Sarah Levine, and Kathleen Carroll at Hampton Court; David Crothers and Richard Stubbings at Kultureshock; Alison Montgomerie and Roger England; Jean and Nick Hubbard; Richard Foreman; Ian Franklin; Kerry Gill-Pryde; Father Luke at Holy Cross, Carshalton; Laurel Joseph at Whitehall, Cheam; Roger Katz and Karin Scherer at Hatchards; Gary and Barbara Leeds; Patricia Macleod and Anita Myatt at Sutton Library; Heather Macleod; Ian Robinson, for web design and management; Shelley and Burnell Tucker; Jane Robins; Jessie Childs; Nicola Tallis; Martha Whittome; Christopher Warwick; Kate Williams; Pete Taylor; Jo Young; Richard McPaul; Linda Collins.

  Last, as always, my loving thanks go to Rankin, my husband. Without your constant devoted support, this book wouldn’t exist!

  Read on for an excerpt from Alison Weir’s

  Mary Boleyn


  The Eldest Daughter

  Blickling Hall, one of England’s greatest Jacobean showpiece mansions, lies not two miles northwest of Aylsham in Norfolk. It is a beautiful place, surrounded by woods, farms, sweeping parkland and gardens—gardens that were old in the fifteenth century, and which once surrounded the fifteenth century moated manor house of the Boleyn family, the predecessor of the present building. That house is long gone, but it was in its day the cradle of a remarkable dynasty; and here, in those ancient gardens, and within the mellow, red-brick gabled house, in the dawning years of the sixteenth century, the three children who were its brightest scions once played in the spacious and halcyon summers of their early childhood, long before they made their dramatic debut on the stage of history: Anne Boleyn, who would one day become Queen of England; her brother George Boleyn, who would also court fame and glory, but who would ultimately share his sister’s tragic and brutal fate; and their sister Mary Boleyn, who would become the mistress of kings, and gain a notoriety that is almost certainly undeserved.

  Blickling was where the Boleyn siblings’ lives probably began, the protective setting for their infant years, nestling in the broad, rolling landscape of Norfolk, circled by a wilderness of woodland sprinkled with myriad flowers such as bluebells, meadowsweet, loosestrife, and marsh orchids, and swept by the eastern winds. Norfolk was the land that shaped them, that remote corner of England that had grown prosperous through the wool-cloth trade, its chief city, Norwich—which lay just a few miles to the south—being second in size only to London in the Boleyns’ time. Norfolk also boasted more churches than any other English shire, miles of beautiful coastline and a countryside and waterways teeming with a wealth of wildlife. Here, at Blickling, nine miles from the sea, the Boleyn children took their first steps, learned early on that they had been born into an important and rising family, and began their first lessons.

  Anne and George Boleyn were to take center-stage roles in the play of England’s history. By comparison, Mary was left in the wings, with fame and fortune always eluding her. Instead, she is remembered as an infamous whore. And yet, of those three Boleyn siblings, she was ultimately the luckiest, and the most happy.

  This is Mary’s story.

  Mary Boleyn has aptly been described as “a young lady of both breeding and lineage.”1 She was born of a prosperous landed Norfolk family of the knightly class. The Boleyns, whom Anne Boleyn claimed were originally of French extraction, were settled at Salle, near Aylsham, before 1283, when the register of Walsingham Abbey records a John Boleyne living there,2 but the family can be traced in Norfolk back to the reign of Henry II (1154–89).3 The earliest Boleyn inscription in the Salle church is to John’s great-great-grandson, Thomas Boleyn, who died in 1411; he was the son of another John Boleyn and related to Ralph Boleyn, who was living in 1402. Several other early members of the family, including Mary’s great-great-grandparents, Geoffrey and Alice Boleyn, were buried in the Salle church, which is like a small cathedral, rising tall and stately in its perpendicular splendor in the flat Norfolk landscape. The prosperous village it once served, which thrived upon the profitable wool trade with the Low Countries, has mostly disappeared.

  The surname Boleyn was spelled in several ways, there being no uniformity in spelling in former times, when it was given as
Boleyn, Boleyne, Bolleyne, Bollegne, Boleigne, Bolen, Bullen, Boulen, Boullant, or Boullan, the French form. The bulls’ heads on the family coat of arms are a pun on the name. In adult life Anne Boleyn used the modern form adopted in this text. Unfortunately, we don’t know how Mary Boleyn spelt her surname, as only two letters of hers survive, both signed with her married name.

  The Boleyn family had once been tenant farmers, but the source of their wealth and standing was trade. Thomas’s grandson, Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, made his fortune in the City of London as a member and then Master of the Worshipful Company of Mercers (1454); he was Sheriff of London from 1446–47; MP for London in 1449; and an alderman of the City of London from 1452 (an office he held for eleven years). In 1457 he was elected Lord Mayor.4 By then he had made his fortune; his wealth had enabled him to marry into the nobility, his wife being Anne, daughter and co-heiress of Thomas, Lord Hoo and Hastings, and she brought him great estates. Stow records that Sir Geoffrey “gave liberally to the prisons, hospitals and lazar houses, besides a thousand pounds to poor householders in London, and two hundred pounds to [those] in Norfolk.” He was knighted by Henry VI before 1461.

  In 1452 (or 1450), Geoffrey had purchased the manor of Blickling in Norfolk from his friend and patron, Sir John Fastolf.5 The manor had once been the property of the eleventh century Saxon king, Harold Godwineson,6 and the original manor house on the site had been built in the 1390s by Sir Nicholas Dagworth, but it was evidently outdated or in poor repair, because—as has recently been discovered—it was rebuilt as Blickling Hall, “a fair house” of red brick, by Geoffrey Boleyn.7 Geoffrey also built the chapel of St. Thomas in Blickling church, and adorned it with beautiful stained glass incorporating the heraldic arms of himself and his wife, which still survives today; in his will, he asked to be buried there if he departed this life at Blickling. In the event, he died in London.

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