Author's Note: Welcome back! Thanks to everybody who reviewed last chapter- always so nice to get your support, and special thanks to all those guest reviewers who I couldn't reply to! This is an extra-long one, my Christmas/Holiday present to all of you, so I hope you enjoy it. Just a side note: This chapter is not going to include Jane and Brandon's wedding. I will be waiting a few more chapters to do that, due to a plot point I want to bring up. Hope you all enjoy!
Disclaimer: These characters belong to Showtime and history. I claim no copyright. Just a fair warning, I mess with more history than just England's in this chapter. Hopefully you can all excuse my canon.
Special thank you to ReganX, without her, this story would not have been possible.
Without further ado, please read, review and enjoy! :)
February 27, 1530
Wolsey was still weary of his relationship with the Duchess of York.
She was friendly towards him always, inviting him to dine with her and the Duke so often, more so than he was used to, even at his early days at Hampton when Henry was still very happy about the recent gift to him, and she even would dine with him and walk with him in the gardens without Henry's company. If Henry was hesitant or suspicious of his wife's sudden affection towards him, he made no hint towards it, and Anne was more affable than ever, as each day passed, he could swear the Duchess was more thrilled about their friendship, even as her father sent her worried and angry looks each time she sought out his conversation in plain sight.
He could not tell if she was sincere or not, which worried him, because he had spent most of his public life and most of his career determining the sincerity of those around him, to gauge their feelings towards him and how it could suit him. He knew the old King's Mother, Margaret Beaufort, was well-disposed towards him, as well as the old King Henry, and Queen Elizabeth did not seem to have an opinion towards him, which was well enough to him, because she was overshadowed by the men in her life. Queen Katherine had no affection towards him; something he had not realized would have a large impact until he was denied the Chancellorship- and he did not want to make that mistake again when it came time for Queen Anne to ascend.
If her friendship was sincere, that would be good for him, without a doubt, and would strengthen his ties with the York family even more. He never had any reason to think she disliked him- he had given her Hampton as well, baptized all three of her children, and advised Henry towards a French alliance, something she wanted as well. Yet, Thomas Boleyn hated him openly, as well as the Duke of Norfolk, despite what he had done for their daughter and niece, and he knew he would have cause to regret it if Anne began to feel the same way as her male relatives. He was used to a lot of men disliking him, and he was confident he could maneuver around them, as he was aware that they grumbled that he was an upstart with too much influence, but when a woman disliked him, when they could use the allure of their flesh to destroy him, he knew that he would lose.
He was determined to keep Anne's friendship, despite what it could cost him, because he knew the reward would outweigh such concerns. She saw the sense in having him installed as Pope, and now that she was getting closer to the King and her influence over her husband was at an all-time high now that Jane Seymour had been sent from court and betrothed to Charles Brandon, ensuring that Henry would not openly court her anymore even if their physical relationship continued, she was going to be more willing to pressure those two men to support him monetarily. If she was also willing to arrange beneficial marriage alliances for her children, that would secure him the French vote, as well as part of the Imperial one if she was serious about a possible marriage between Lord Edward and one of the Emperor's daughters.
Wolsey had come to the conclusion that he needed Anne's support if he ever wanted to fulfill his ultimate ambition- and now that he thought he had it, no matter the sincerity of it, he was not willing to lose it.
He had presented her daughter, the Lady Elizabeth, at her birthday a copy of one of the many beautiful illuminated Latin bibles at his disposal as both a Cardinal and the Archbishop of York, and despite her tender age of five years old and the parade of gowns and jewels she had already received, he overheard her telling her mother that it was one of her favorite gifts, despite her troubles with Latin. Surely Anne would have preferred she would have gotten an English bible, but not even Wolsey was willing to take it so far, but the bible in her daughter's possession was worth some considerable amount, and Anne was not stupid enough to forget that.
He also regularly visited Lord Edward, often giving him trinkets that he knew the boy did not need but would have enjoyed, and since he was one of the boy's godfathers (the other being the King) he knew it was best to cultivate his friendship. Baby William was too young to be able to receive him, but he knew that once he was older, he would surely make his presence known. The Duchess loved her children more than life itself, and Wolsey knew the way to keep her friendship was to show that he was devoted to their best interests, and would continue to be once he was named Pope.
Yet, he needed her to like him too, and know that no matter what her reformist beliefs could mean, and how much he personally found them distasteful, that he would not hinder them. He could not be seen to harbor a heretic and hope to be elected Pope, but he knew Anne was far from it. She was concerned about the corruption of the Church, something he too could commiserate with, and if she could see him as an ally, it would prevent Henry and Anne from straying from the Church, and would keep him in her good graces. He hoped that the man walking a few paces behind him could achieve that for him.
Thomas Cromwell had been in his service for a few years, as loyal a page as he could have hoped, yet he knew that the man was not entirely the Church's most devoted servant, even if he was a Cardinal's. Wolsey had never heard Cromwell speak openly, but on more than one occasion, he had intercepted his letters on accident, his personal ones, speaking to his wife about his religious beliefs. Cromwell was a bit more fevered than the Duchess, but Wolsey was still not unduly concerned about uniting them. Anne would be grateful, and would view his support of her deeper than face value, and would also respect that he was treating her as a ruler in her own right, even if her power technically came from her husband.
Queen Katherine had changed the nature of the game for women in politics and in the royal family, and he knew Anne would appreciate it if Wolsey viewed her as continuing that legacy.
Cromwell, for his part, did not seem dismayed to be (hopefully) appointed as the Duchess of York's personal secretary. The man was hard to read to begin with, but he could recognize his ambition, so similar to his own- so he was likely to read through the outward appointment as secretary to the second lady in the kingdom, not yet Queen and recently humiliated publically by her husband, as not a bad thing, but one full of opportunity and promise. Anne had not relied on the use of a secretary beforehand, he knew that she wrote her letters by hand, as she was not involved in many matters of official state business, instead mostly with the nursery just a few doors down from her at Hampton, so she did not need one. Yet, Wolsey hoped that she would soon be more involved with the political landscape of Europe, with the help of her children. She would need somebody she could trust to help her with such things, and Wolsey trusted Cromwell enough to do it, as well as he knew it would be useful to have Cromwell in her household, instead of having to rely solely on the reports of the two maids he had paid in her household.
Anne would not trust him right away, of course, and would be careful about what to say around him, as she was with the ladies of her household that were not her sister, Madge Sheldon, or Nan Seville, but he hoped once Cromwell was open with her about his religion, and once he proved himself loyal to her, she would be more open with him, and Wolsey would have another tool to use in benefit of his pursuit for Pope. Cromwell seemed to be aware of this plan, and Wolsey trusted the man to make good use of his talents, and perhaps even endear himself to the Boleyn family at large, including the cold Earl of Ormonde, who would never care for Wolsey, but perhaps could come to care for Thomas Cromwell, his daughter's secretary, which would help him be aware of Boleyn's movements more than he was currently.
He was admitted into Anne's chambers by her sister, who greeted him with a smile. Wolsey had noticed that Anne had been happier over the past month, now that her sister Mary had come back to join them, and her husband was knighted. Wolsey thought Mary Stafford had acted foolishly, considering how far she could have risen with her sister at the pinnacle of royal favor, but he favored her with an amiable smile, knowing that whomever Anne favored, he would have to as well. "Lady Stafford, I was hoping to catch her grace unoccupied," Wolsey explained. Cromwell shifted uncomfortably behind him, now that they had reached the Duchess' apartments, Wolsey could sense his nervousness but it did not worry him.
"The Lady Elizabeth and Lord Henry are with her, but I am certain she could spare a few moments for your eminence, as well as your companion," Mary remarked, trying not to infuse surprise into her comments. Anne had been with her stepson, who she favored as her own, and her beloved daughter, all morning, since they were free from lessons that day while Edward was stuck in the nursery with his elementary lessons, and was not expecting visitors. Yet she knew her sister had been close with the Cardinal for months, despite the way that her father looked so terribly put out each time her sister singled out Wolsey at court.
Mary beckoned them to follow her, pulling the curtain separating her sister from her attendants and smiling at the sight of her on her knees with Elizabeth on her back while Hal pretended to lead Anne like a pony with her long necklace. It was not dignified behavior for a Duchess and the future Queen of England, but nobody would dare rebuke Anne these days, she was nearly untouchable with the support of the full royal family behind her, wanting her to succeed.
Still, she flushed scarlet red when she noticed Wolsey was standing at her doorway, with a man she did not recognize. "Darling, up now," she whispered, making sure Lisbeth had slid off safely before accepting Wolsey's outstretched arm to pull herself from the ground. "Your eminence, an unexpected pleasure," Anne greeted with a sincere smile on her face, holding her hand out for him to kiss. She had not expected to enjoy the Cardinal's company as she conspired to make him Pope nor had expected to become fond of him, even though he knew the overtures he made towards her and her children were motivated out of ambition than actual kindness, but she had been the head of her own court for long enough that there were few men who cultivated her friendship out of sole interest in her company.
"I trust I am not interrupting anything too important?" Wolsey asked, smiling as to inform the children that he was jesting. Anne's children, and Henry's bastard, were well-behaved and polite, almost to a fault. His own children brought him so much joy, and so he could never find it in his heart to be annoyed by any child, but even so, the Duke's children were not hard to like, and he often enjoyed the few times he had dined with the Duke, Duchess, Lady Elizabeth and Lord Henry, or as he liked to be called, Hal. His children and their mother would never be asked to join, of course, that would cause a scandal despite the fact that Joan was common knowledge. Still, he hoped that his children could be advanced in court, at some point.
"I must thank your eminence for my bible, it is far more interesting and pretty to look at than the normal, boring translation books," little Elizabeth interjected, beaming up at Wolsey and jumping into the conversation before her mother could answer. Cardinal Wolsey had been around her mama much more lately, and he had presented her with such a glorious gift at her birthday. At first she was not so excited to receive something in Latin, but upon further inspection, it was the prettiest book she ever laid eyes on, and her papa was so impressed and so was her mama, so she knew it was special, and she had gotten it over her stupid brothers. It was a sign that the learned Cardinal, who was her papa's tutor when he was her age, thought she was worthy enough for that gift, even though she knew that she was less important because she was a girl. She ranked above her brother Hal, because he was not her mama's son, but she was below her two brothers, even though she knew she was smarter.
The Cardinal knew that, and wanted to honor her that way, and for that, she knew he was friend and not foe.
"I am so happy, my lady, and it so nice to see you Lord Hal. I swear you have grown so many inches since the Lady Elizabeth's birthday!" Wolsey exclaimed, ruffling his dark hair, admiring how much the boy favored Henry. Baby William was still too young to apprise which parent he looked like, but out of all of Henry's children, Hal favored him the most. Little Lisbeth favored her grandmother and namesake and Edward looked more Boleyn than Tudor, but the boy who favored his father would be lucky to receive a peerage once his father became King, while his brothers would be honored as Princes.
Still, Henry was determined to honor the little boy as his son and the Duchess loved him like a natural mother, and as such, he still cultivated the friendship of the boy, who at nine was slowly approaching his stepmother in height and would prove to be as handsome as his father. Wolsey imagined he would marry well, and continue to enjoy the patronage of Anne once she became Queen.
Both children smiled at his praise, but Anne did not want them in the room for what she hoped would be a brief conversation with Wolsey. It was so rare she had the whole day with them, and she was already expecting Arthur's visit later in the day, where he insisted that her children join him this time for the whole visit, now that things with her marriage were getting better. Still, she wanted as much time with them as possible, and did not want to scheme with Wolsey this afternoon.
She put her arms around both of them, still flushed from their playing, and noticed that Hal was sweaty and that both of their fine clothing had been crumpled, as she should have expected. She did not want them to look poor for the King, and it was a good excuse to send them away, "Hal, Lisbeth, why don't you go back up to your rooms and change your clothes, so when his majesty comes you look your best," Anne smiled as she dismissed them, making sure Mary had lead them out of the room before turning her attention to her two male visitors. "What can I help you with this afternoon, your eminence?"
"I was hoping to present you to my page, Master Thomas Cromwell, and offer his services to you as your grace's private secretary," Wolsey smoothly explained, beckoning Cromwell to come forward and smiling at the sight of his well-practiced bow. He knew the man was a former solider, a mercenary by all accounts, but he had made himself into a convincing courtier. It was a talent that Wolsey admired, and recognized, and he was certain Anne would as well.
Anne had not thought to engage a secretary, and was curious as to why Wolsey was brining Cromwell to her now. Yet, she knew that things in Europe were changing drastically. Pope Clement was an old man now, and did not enjoy the ruddiest health. His kinsman, Catherine Medici was promised to King Francis second son, Henri, the Duke of Orléans, but the Pope had failed to provide the dowry that was promised, and it was possible that the marriage would not go through. Lisbeth was only six years younger than him, and it was possible that a failure to provide the dowry could push her into negotiations for a marriage, something she would prefer over his third son, despite the fact that young Charles was closer in age to her daughter.
She would never dare voice it out loud, for fear it would be ill-wishing a King by all regards she was quite fond of, but King Francis' eldest son could die before producing an heir, or even before he became King. King Arthur had nearly died in his youth, and Henry and Anne's own inheritance was assured due to the childlessness of the royal couple. Her greatest wish above all was to see her daughter secured in a French marriage- but if she were to someday become Queen of France, which would please her more than words could describe, and that possibility would be more likely if the Medici family failed to produce the dowry they promised, hopefully forcing Francis to renege on the betrothal and consider her daughter.
Naturally, if this were to occur, she would not be the one in the frontlines of the negotiations- it would be Arthur and Henry, with Wolsey likely acting as the diplomat traveling to France to see to it that the marriage arrangement was done in good faith. Her daughter was five, and she was anxious to see her locked into an agreement. With Elizabeth taken care of, with Arthur's backing, signaling that he saw Henry and Anne as his successors, Edward's marriage could be seen to safely, with hopefully arranging a marriage to the Emperor's daughter. Yet, she was hoping Katherine would champion the match, even though she wanted Elizabeth to marry the Emperor's Prince Philip, hopefully she would accept such arrangement, as it would bring another Spanish princess over to be Queen of England.
Perhaps, if she championed such a marriage, she would be able to entertain her nephew at court, which Anne remembered from her time as lady-in-waiting, she was never able to do, due to the way that the elder Princess Mary jilted him.
Wolsey wanted to be Pope, he wanted to use her children to achieve it, but it was beneficial for her if he used his diplomatic strengths to arrange matches that would make her husband's reign secure in the eyes of Europe, as well as her son's, when the time came. She did not know how much longer King Arthur would be alive, and it was likely that he would live long enough so that her children would not have the title Prince and Princess when their marriages would be arranged. She needed Wolsey's help, and despite her hesitance about meddling with the affairs of Rome, she wanted him to be Pope. He was not a young man, but he was not an old one either, and if he lived long enough for Henry to become King, it would be so useful for them.
Things were changing, and she knew Katherine engaged the services of a secretary as well. It could do her no harm to accept Wolsey's appointment, and to have this Thomas Cromwell as another ally. It was a good sign; it showed Wolsey appreciated her as a figure in her own right, as much as she could be. He clearly appreciated her ties to France, and her ability to win him delegates, when in the next few years he went to Rome to press his suit as Pope once Clement took his leave of the earth. Perhaps Cromwell was being brought to her because Wolsey wanted him to be Lord Chancellor when he left England to press his suit- she did not want to see More in the position and Wolsey had promised he would present her with a suitable replacement for himself if he was elected Pope.
Realizing she had yet to give Wolsey an answer, she extended her hand out for Cromwell to kiss, "Master Cromwell, I would be delighted to have you in my household. I hope it will be helpful for the future of my family," Anne expressed, motioning for him to rise.
Cromwell, for the first time, spoke, "It is my pleasure to service your grace in any way that I can." For his part, he was excited about serving the Duchess. Her reputation was high amongst most men at court, who said she was beautiful and sharp minded, with the ability to do get men to do her bidding. He felt that she was a good lady to have as an ally, and a way for him to rise. Cardinal Wolsey seemed fond of her, despite the fact that he knew she was devoted to Church reform. She was perhaps not as radical as him, as she seemed to be content with leaving the Catholic Church standing, but perhaps with her influence, its hold over people in England would be diluted. Even though she was scheming with Wolsey to make him Pope, it was likely that she was doing that for the benefit of her children, and not because she viewed the papacy as a good, moral institution.
Anne smiled at him and appraised him for a few moments, thinking she could trust him, at least marginally. "Your eminence, may I have a moment alone with Master Cromwell? I have a few things to discuss with him and I know how busy you are," Anne asked. She trusted Wolsey as much as she was going to, and while she enjoyed his friendship, she wanted to test Cromwell's loyalties. Was he Wolsey's man, but easily converted into her man? Was he Wolsey's spy, and he was paying him more than she could dream of? Or was he simply his own man, willing to sell out his allies for his own good? She knew one conversation would not decide it, but he hoped that she could start to piece together why Wolsey choose this man as her secretary.
Once Wolsey left, Anne beckoned Cromwell to her outer chamber and motioned for Madge to bring them both wine as she invited him to sit in the comfortable chairs next to her fireplace. February had been colder than usual and now that she was not playing with Hal and Lisbeth, she was shivering in the cold of the palace. "Master Cromwell, were you coerced into being the secretary of a poor woman such as myself, or did you volunteer?" Anne questioned, a wry smile playing on her lips.
Cromwell looked taken aback, but answered smoothly after a few moments pause, "His eminence believes your grace should have a secretary, and he felt you would feel the same way, considering that your grace's messages so far have been confined to Hampton Court or Whitehall, to their majesties. Surely your grace's correspondence will be needed elsewhere, in the near future." He was so anxious that she would approve his appointment, even though Wolsey should have consulted her first. He did not want to tell her outright that Wolsey hoped that he would be Lord Chancellor someday, as long as the Duke of York grew to like him. He would start in the Duchess' service, and then maybe work his way to the Duke's, or his wife would speak so fondly of him that he would be put in a position to usurp Wolsey's role in his life.
Wolsey also expressed that even though the Duchess was an intelligent, sharp-minded woman, who had proved herself capable of running her children's household as if they were already princes and princesses, she would still need a professional secretary to make sure that her interests were being protected once she entered into the politics of Europe, which Wolsey feared she was ignorant to.
"Of course," Anne responded by route. "Naturally I will see that your wage is increased, and that you have more suitable lodgings here, closer to my apartment. Have you a wife, Master Cromwell?" Anne asked. She could gauge that Cromwell was ambitious, probably the replacement that Wolsey was thinking of, potentially capable of being groomed towards the Lord Chancellorship. He would probably want to be presented to Henry at the closest possible opportunity, and it would be appropriate if his wife was present if they were to dine together.
"Yes your grace," Cromwell answered, "Her name is Elizabeth and we have a son, Gregory."
"Perhaps, sometime soon, she and your son can be brought to Hampton, for a visit. I'd so love to dine privately with you and your family, to get to know you better," Anne expressed. She noticed that his eyes were wandering over to her bible, which was unmarked, unlike the beautiful Latin copy in Katherine's suite. She smiled in praise at his curiosity, even though it was normally considered rude to ignore her requests in such a manner. "Master Cromwell, I take it you recognize my bible?"
Her Tyndale bible was unmarked, with a plain green cover, even though the inside pages were copied to perfection and it was the largest and best copy available in England. She would never gaudily display her bible, because it was not approved. She knew it was risky to have an open display of heresy in her room, but nobody ever remarked on it, and when the women in her service took an oath of loyalty towards her, that they would behave as befitting their stations, she was far more comfortable having the bible in English. When she was in confinement for her pregnancy, it was the only time the women ever read it out loud, and she knew even the girls with a poor education, who only knew the common prayers said in Mass in Latin, were able to understand it. It was so wrong for the Pope to keep them all in ignorance!
As long as the King and Queen said nothing of it, as well as Henry, she would not take it away.
"I admire your grace for your bravery, and for the spiritual nourishment you supply to your household," Cromwell said fervently, walking over the bible and opening it. "This is by far the finest copy I've seen." His own copy was well-worn, after his wife and him had poured over it countless times in the privacy of their home. Since he went to court, he kept his copy concealed safely under his pillow, in case the man he shared his chamber with was more loyal to the Church, a possibility since they both served a Cardinal. He was envious, and admiring, of the Duchess' clear support for a new religion.
"I believe we understand each other, Master Cromwell," Anne responded, smiling. She did not know if Wolsey knew the true nature of his former page, but she felt like the fates had aligned, giving her a man who was as disposed to reform as she was, if not more so. If he became devoted towards her, admiring of her, then of course he would advance her interests. "I look forward to our partnership in the coming months. I believe we will be the best of friends, Master Cromwell."
When Arthur came to Hampton Court this time, he came without as heavy a heart.
He knew that Henry and Anne were working on the kinks in their marriage, and that Henry had abandoned the company of other women and was devoted only to his wife, as was proper. The children, at least during little Lisbeth's birthday, seemed very happy, and Henry doted on them, as usual. Anne was resigned to attending Jane Seymour's wedding, and expressed that she could dance with a light heart if it meant making her into Jane Brandon, and kept her out of her husband's bed. And she was making allies at court, and her father was apparently treating her with more respect, and she had replaced Jane Seymour with a Howard girl, meaning that she would feel more secure and trusting of her household.
Arthur, for his part, would not be staying long this particular afternoon. It was a short barge ride over, and he had other business to attend to. Preparations for his and Katherine's summer progress were taking up a majority of his time. He did not go on progress as much as other monarchs, but Katherine desperately wanted to get away, and he did not have the heart to refuse such a request, considering that this was the first summer where he felt like it was feasible. He did not know how many more summers they would have together, and it would be nice to get away, and take only a few members with them- Anne, Henry, Hal was old enough to behave himself and handle the traveling, as well as his mother, More, and some other members of his Privy Council, including Anne's family.
He had not left Whitehall often to stay at other palaces, but it would be nice for a change of scenery, to have the good weather and his closest friends and courtiers with him. However, it did take a bit of preparation, more than he was used to dealing with, since he had shrugged off some of his responsibilities onto his Council and his wife, yielding to her pressure out of concern for his health. Still, he wanted to make time for Anne, and he wanted to see Lisbeth, Hal, and hopefully Edward. They were his heirs, after all, with the exception of Hal, who was still his nephew and would likely be a prominent member of court, considering the way Henry had always honored him.
Anne greeted him with a kiss and a warm hug, and wasted no time in explaining what she had hoped their afternoon would be like. "I was hoping we could all spend time in Lisbeth's rooms today- she is so eager for you to see them now that the renovations are complete," Anne gushed, pausing for a moment, as if to disremember Hal's bare suite as compared to his half-sister's opulent designed chambers, fit for a future Princess of England. "She reminds me so much of myself at that age, except with the funds to keep her poor servants running," Anne laughed. She would have made a lot of trouble for the servants at Hever if she was as rich as she currently was.
"As a future Princess ought to be," Arthur expressed, with a beaming smile, trying to conceal his own sense of sadness. He tried not to think of his daughter often, she had been dead for what seemed like ages, even though it would be only seven years in August. Yet his daughter would have been a married young lady now, almost fourteen, living at Ludlow with her husband and training to be the Queen of England after his death; and Anne's daughter would still live finely, but not at Hampton Court, with her own household- she would be a good friend to his daughter, he was sure of it, and Mary would have doted on her, as if they were sisters.
Anne and Henry would have posed a threat to her, of course, but after they came to recognize his daughter's considerable talents and ability, they would have relented and supported Mary, and she would have been secure. To keep the tears from flowing, thinking about how things could have been, he smiled widely at Anne, trying to think of the girl living who would be a Princess and not his daughter, he allowed Anne to escort him to her daughter's rooms.
He gasped when he saw them. If Anne had not told him that Lisbeth was put in charge of decorating her rooms alone, he never would have believed it possible that a little girl, newly five, would have been able to put together such a fine suite, truly befitting her station. He admired the plush purple carpet beneath his feet, and the presence chamber that he was standing it, richly furnished with Italian tapestries, clearly having inherited her mother's taste. The furniture was clearly imported as well, perhaps French, or more Italian, but it was certainly not English craftsmanship. It did not seem like a little girl, the daughter of his brother, was living here, but he remembered Henry at her age. He was pompous and stubborn, spoiled by their mother's affection, but not capable of having such a fine chamber. Their father had not wanted him to be built up as a potential heir, and a boy going into the Church would not require a Princely chamber, not like his elder brother. But he would have done the same thing at Elizabeth's age, to ensure that all those knew how great he would become.
If anything, Lisbeth was her father's daughter, even if Anne was the more present figure in her life. She was fiercely intelligent, dedicated to gaining a princely education, and acutely aware of her status as subordinated to her brothers, and to her, it was undeservedly so. She may have favored her grandmother and namesake greatly, but she was nothing like the docile woman who had been his father's queen. Arthur knew, like his daughter at once been, she would be capable of building, or destroying, empires if given the chance. His Mary was very much Isabella of Castile and Henry the Seventh's granddaughter, sweet and loving, innocent as well, but he could see the spirit within her. Lisbeth was a part of that legacy, even if she was not Katherine's daughter.
He waited patiently in her opulent presence chamber, listening with half an ear as Anne quizzed Lisbeth's governess about how their household was holding up, if she was enjoying her gifts and attentively seeing to her lessons. She needn't have asked, of course, but he was enjoying hearing about the little girl's attention to her studies, even if he was more curious about young Edward's- or at least he would be in a few years, when he was engaged with a proper tutor. He doubted that Anne would engage the Spanish tutor Mary had employed for Henry's heir; it was likely it would be a man loyal to the Howards, or one that Henry had found from Wolsey or some other source. Even so, he would still want to be kept updated, and continue his visits, and hopefully help arrange the marriage alliances.
Lisbeth came out of her rooms after a few more moments, and she dropped into a pretty, dignified curtsey when she recognized her visitor, even though it was sloppy and clearly revealed her ill-concealed excitement. "Your majesty," she addressed Arthur first, and then turned to her mother next, "your grace," she said loudly and clearly, giving her mother a slightly smaller curtsey, and then ran into her mother's outstretched arms. "Mama," she whispered in her mother's arms. Even though she had just seen her mama a few hours ago, she was always so excited to see her. After her mama released her, she ran into her uncle's outstretched arms, laughing wildly as he picked her up and spun her.
"How are you, my favorite niece?" Arthur asked, beaming at her as he set her down. He never would have said such a thing if little Frances was around, but she was in the nursery with little Edward. Her brother, Eddy as she called him, usually took his lessons with Hal but he still lived in the nursery with her- he was not willing to leave his baby sister, the last memory of his mother. Arthur did not visit them as often as he visited Anne's children, but he took care to send them gifts on both of their birthdays and stop by the nursery every once in a while.
Lisbeth gave him a glare, which was equal parts admiration and indignation. "Frances would not be happy to hear you say that," she replied, with a giggle.
"Can you keep a secret, my lady?" he asked, in a conspiring tone. At Lisbeth's nod, he gave her a kiss on the cheek and rewarded her with a sweetmeat, as he often kept in his pockets when he visited the children at Hampton Court.
Hal declined to visit with them that afternoon, and when Anne received the message from one of the young boy's household staff, she stiffened and frowned but said nothing else on the matter. Despite her best efforts, Hal's opinion of himself and his status was not as high as it should have been, and she wished that she could convince Arthur to give Hal a peerage, even if he was allowed to style himself lord. She knew she could not ask though- Henry would be cross with her for stepping over him and using his brother to advance his son, and it would be dangerous. Edward was the future King of England, and there should not be signals from anybody that Hal, due to his advanced age, would be the better choice.
Henry was a young man, sure to be King for a while, and there would be no impediment to their son inheriting. She regretted only one thing about her marriage, and that is how deeply her children's presence highlighted Hal's weakened status. Being around his King would only reinforce that, likely why he declined.
She was determined to make sure the King had a nice visit, and so the three of them went into Lisbeth's private chamber and dismissed all of their attendants. Arthur was the first one to speak, after Lisbeth had settled herself comfortably in her mother's lap. "I have a present for you, both of you. I forget it at Whitehall for your birthday celebrations, but then I remembered I have a part for your mother too," Arthur explained. He had kept them in the inside breast of his jacket, and he was grateful that the pouches they were in were both kept secure.
He handed the smaller one to Lisbeth first, watching her eyes light up as she opened it. It was a diamond necklace, likely the most beautiful piece the little girl had her already growing collection despite her age, but as he slyly presented the second pouch to Anne, revealing a matching necklace, slightly heavier and larger. He used to bestow such gifts on Mary and Katherine all of the time- it pleased him to see them matching from head to toe, highlighting both of their colors and beauties. Anne did not look much like her daughter, except for Lisbeth's dark eyes, which Henry had called bewitching when referring to his wife, but he felt that the piece he had given both of them would match their styles and would please them.
Lisbeth was the first respond, clamoring that her mother put it on and then she walked over the mirror and admired her reflection for a few moments, before throwing her arms around her uncle. "This is the best present, thank you Uncle Arthur," she cooed, kissing her uncle's cheek, retracting her earlier statement about Wolsey's bible. "Now I can look like Mama!" she exclaimed, the prospect pleasing her very much.
Her mama was the most beautiful woman at court, in her opinion, and she thought it was stupid for her papa to look at other ladies, and treat them the same as her mama. She did not know much about the lady that her mama and her papa fought over, nor could she remember seeing her, but Hal told her that he was a plain lady, who did not "sparkle" the way their mama did. Not even the Queen, who Lisbeth knew was much older than her mama but also was the only woman who outranked her, looked nicer than her mama.
Her mama was special and perfect and her papa should have never forgotten! At least her Uncle Arthur was fond of her mama, and she smiled at the sight of her uncle putting the necklace around her mama's neck, expressing that she looked beautiful. She saw tears well in her mama's eyes, which her uncle was quick to brush away. She remembered how her Uncle George used to come by, call her a beautiful princess, and comfort her mama when she was sad. If mama's real brother wasn't doing it, at least her papa's brother, and the King, was willing to make her feel better.
"Next time you come to Whitehall, you'll have to wear these, so the whole court will be jealous," Arthur stressed, watching with a paternal smile on his face as Anne began to remerge through Lisbeth's immense wardrobe, picking out gowns that would suite her new piece of jewelry and beginning to draw out sketches for some new ones that she could wear when Henry had his birthday celebrations.
"Mama, do I like pretty? Like a princess?" Lisbeth asked, and Arthur could not even bear to hear the response.
Unbidden, Arthur was struck by a memory.
Mary had not been at court for long, and Arthur regretted how limited things had been due to his sister's betrayal. He had not gotten a chance to spend much time with his daughter, due to the business of smoothing over diplomatic relations. Now that his sister was gone from court, and Mary's birthday celebrations were fast approaching, Katherine had been lighter, happier. He walked into his daughter's set of rooms, delighted by the scene unfolding before him.
Katherine was finishing the last laces on their daughter's gown, a small miniature of the one his wife was wearing. It was the first time they were going to dine in the Great Hall, and Arthur knew his wife was making sure that their daughter looked regal and poised, the true heir to the throne and nobody else, despite what her aunt had done earlier that month. He was shocked by how beautiful his little girl looked, as if she had grown up and he did not even realize it.
"Ladies," he greeted, kissing both of them, standing back as the two women he loved more than life itself continued to ready themselves in the mirror. He heard Katherine whisper something in Spanish to Mary, too low for him to hear, and his daughter beamed and smiled.
She took his outstretched arm on his left, while Katherine took his right. Before they left, she turned to him, "Papa, am I always going to your special girl, your princess?"
"Yes my darling. There is no girl in the whole of England, born or unborn, that could ever overshadow you."
Two weeks later, Mary was dead.
It was unseemly to weep in front of his subjects, so Arthur did not. He held in his tears and his sadness like he had been trained to do, even if Anne was his sister by marriage and Lisbeth was his niece, they were still his subjects and they were still not supposed to see his weakness. He had never shown his weakness in front of Katherine either, he was not allowed to, not in front of his brother, or his mother, his beloved mother who surely would have understood. And he felt wrong thinking of Mary when the lively girl in front of him was so excited about the life ahead of her, as she should have been.
The mother and daughter in front of him were very much alive, looking forward to years of banquets, matching jewelry, gowns, plotting marriage arrangements and admiring each other's reflections. Mary and Katherine never had the chance. Katherine laid the blame at her own door, the women he had loved for over twenty years was unbearably sad because she thought she had killed their daughter. Anne was more fortunate than she would know. She would never be burdened with that kind of sadness, and Arthur would always pray that Henry and Anne were spared from the pain that he and Katherine felt daily.
His heirs did not come from him; they were not created by him. They were his blood but they were not his. His only child, his only true heir, had brought him so much joy and was so perfect, even though she wasn't; she was frail and weak because she was his.
His blood, his seed, it killed their children. If his duty as King was to provide the country, to provide his wife, with children, with heirs that he could train and groom and perfect into the King he wanted. He had provided England with a weak, sickly- but bright, sharp, charming daughter in place of the strapping son that he was supposed to give them. He had failed. Katherine bore the shame of their failure, but it was not her fault.
He had never told her. He had allowed her to blame herself for so many years.
He never wanted to feel this way when spending time with his niece and his nephews. He wanted to feel joy, promise and hope for the future. He wanted to feel the same way he felt when he looked at Mary. Lisbeth was a girl and therefore would never inherit, not like her younger brothers, and perhaps that's why he did not feel so badly spending time with them. But Lisbeth was a daughter, the apple of her mother's eye and before Henry betrayed both of them, Henry and Lisbeth had the same relationship he had enjoyed once with Mary.
It had all gone wrong and Anne and her daughter would never fill the hole that his impotency had created within him, as hard as he tried.
He had to leave. He would not cry in front of them. He stayed for a brief dinner, acting as if nothing had disturbed him, as if a simple question asked in front of a mirror to her mother had not created a deep disturbance within him, and then he left, grateful that the sound of the drums on the barge that carried him were loud enough to drown out his muffled sobs.
Katherine knew there was something wrong with Arthur did not come to her chambers, as he usually did, to spend the night.
Sometimes she would sleep in his, but he always joked that he preferred her bed, even though she knew what he truly preferred was that Maria was often the only one attending her once it was generally time to retire, and she was the first one in the mornings, affording the couple privacy that they had not been always able to enjoy. Some may have marveled that her husband continued to share her bed even though there was clearly no hope of any more children, and Katherine was wise enough to hear those grumblings at court, but she took comfort in that. Theirs was a true marriage that not many couples could boost, not even Henry and Anne, who married for love.
So when he did not come to her at night, she knew something had happened.
She constantly feared his illness, waiting for the day when she would be barred from his chamber and never allowed back in, and that he would die without being able to say goodbye or without making the proper arrangements, or without one last exchange where they could be alone and be Katherine and Arthur. Yet, she knew that since he had begun to absence himself from Council meetings, sending her in his steed and trusting in Henry's ability to run the meetings as President, and he limited himself to more manageable tasks- she noticed his health had improved and she was truly grateful that the physician's advice had been worth something this time.
She also knew he had started to visit Hampton Court more, which did not worry Katherine, despite the cold weather being adverse to his health. She had not had as much time to visit with Anne since after Christmas, the affairs of state had become more unsteady since Pope Clement took ill and Thomas More began his persecution of secret Lutherans, and so she was glad that Arthur was there to provide her the comfort she was lacking due to Henry's coldness. He did not tell her he was visiting, but she knew why- he did not want to hear her protests about his health, protests she could not promise she wouldn't make even if she approved of the nature of the visits.
She just prayed that he had not taken ill again. She did not want to be a widow yet, and she knew God would not be that cruel, not after taking her poor children, her poor Mary, away from her.
She rushed to his chambers and was admitted swiftly, squashing her fears and doubts. She was relieved to see him at his chair, so much so that she did not hear his soft weeping. She just ran over to her husband and threw her arms around him, placing a smacking kiss on his lips. "Oh my darling, my love, I thought that you were ill. Thank god!" she devoutly proclaimed, and when she pulled away she noticed his face was wet with tears. "What on earth is the matter, my poor husband? Was it Anne, the children?!" she asked, concerned.
She had hoped that the reports were truthful, that Anne and Henry were getting on better these days that Jane Seymour was still languishing at Wolf Hall, waiting for her spring wedding to a simple gentleman, even if Brandon was the former husband of a Princess of England. She had every reason to believe that they were, if anything, her mother-in-law had a talent for dramatics and not for downplaying the events at Hampton Court and within the York family. Even so, Henry was capable of cruelty, or perhaps the children had taken ill, which would be too painful for her to bear. Hadn't this family lost enough already?
"No," he choked; moving to get away from her, as if the sight of her was painful to him.
Katherine felt a ripple of hurt move through her. What had she done to upset him? She had been attending the meetings like he had asked; she had not overstepped her limits, said or done anything to Henry. He had not reacted so coldly to her presence in years, not since before Henry and Anne were married. She felt herself grow cold as well; she would not let him get to her. "Well, what is the matter then?" she asked sharply.
"How many times throughout the day do you think of her?" Arthur asked calmly, not betraying any signs of hurt at her tone. Tears were still streaming down his face, but he looked at his wife calmly, not bothering to clarify when she looked at him confused. "I didn't about her for a long time. Years. I thought if I forgot about it the pain would go away and it would be okay. But it isn't."
Katherine, finally understood his meaning, and she did not cry, not right away. Arthur was suffering and she would not force him to be strong to comfort her, like he had throughout their entire marriage. He had been strong for her while she hurt, but it was his dreams he had given up too, it was his kingdom he wanted their child to inherit. She had been selfish but she would not give up on him now, she would allow him to be upset, just for once, about their Mary.
"I think of her when I wake up and realize I cannot expect a letter from her or about her, or when I look at your still sleeping face and it reminds of hers. I think of her at each meal, especially when they serve her favorite dish, and how she used to pout when they'd give her fish. I think of her when we retire, when we say our prayers, and how she used to stumble over the sign of the cross. I think of her when I live every piece of my day because I know there's no hope I will see her, like I used to, and I have to remind myself of that," Katherine answered, keeping the pain out of her voice, with some difficultly. Yet they were thoughts she had for years, and she had them every day, that it was no trouble to repeat them by route.
Arthur looked up at her, a stunned expression around his worn features. He looked too old for how young he was, burdened with years of not only rule but of having to hide his feelings. Katherine regretted that she had been so difficult when their daughter was alive, and afterwards. She was always the one grieving, when she stopped bleeding, and everything was lost, all of their dreams, it was she who had cried on his shoulder. Her husband was burdened with sadness, but he did not feel like he could unburden himself, not the same way she could. Mary was dead and she missed her terribly, missed what could have been, but she allowed her to become a pleasant memory of her life, and wanted to remember what was so wonderful about hers and Arthur's daughter. In a way, it was a blessing she could remember her so clearly- it showed that she had truly spent as much time as possible with her precious darling.
"Today was the first time I had thought about her. She would have been fourteen soon, in a few months. I would have commissioned Holbein to paint a portrait of all of us, and she'd come to court, and then bundle up to Ludlow a few weeks later," he paused, taking a sharp intake of breath. "I tried not to think about her because I thought Henry's children could become my children. Then today I looked at little Elizabeth today and thought; I'd love to have a daughter who favored my mother like that, like Mary favored you. But it hit me that we never would and that we'd never have a son that we could speculate what kind of ruler he would become," he continued, getting up to pace, when another thought struck him, painfully, "We spent all of Mary's life securing her position as heir when our son would have been uncontested. I would have named him George, like Saint George, and he would have had your hair and my eyes, and perhaps my brother's spirit. We could have been a proper family, with Mary making a fine royal match and our son becoming the Prince of Wales."
Katherine had thought about that too, since she had married Arthur, what her son would have look liked, been named; the future King of England, a half-Spanish, half-English King, like her mother would have always wanted. She let that thought pass after Mary was born, focused all of her energies on her, and when Mary died; she began to focus her attention on Anne, grooming her to be the monarch she knew that her daughter could have been. She did not like to focus on what-ifs, the tangibles were always better, but Arthur did not want to hear that. What he needed to hear what she had been telling herself since it became clear that any child they had would have been compromised immediately by illness, because God had almost struck down her husband but kept him around, leaving them with no children but always with each other.
They were meant to be the King and Queen of England, God had made that clear, and they were meant to love each other deeply, and she knew that she was blessed to have a husband, even if she was childless. Her Mary had brought her joy for seven blessed years, and she knew she would rather have the memories of her Princess of Wales instead of never having a child. Their hardship strengthened their bond and allowed them to move forward to the task of grooming Arthur's brother, his wife, and their children. She stopped blaming herself and continued to strive to make England better, as was her goal in life. She hoped that the approval that Mary had garnered in her short life was a step towards making it more acceptable for a King to leave behind a female heiress- and if that was her daughter's contribution to England, she would have been pleased with that legacy.
She moved over to him, glad when he did not pull away from her embrace, and she walked him over to his bed, rubbing her hands through his hair, like she would have done if Mary was sick. "My love, it is God's will, our hardship has made us stronger, and we have been better because of it. We have no children but we have each other, and you have always said that is more than enough, and I believe that now, as must you. If you do not, your sorrow will consume you," Katherine reasoned, distressed to see him this way. He had always been the strong one, always so secure in everything, in their love they shared. She did not know what she would do if he allowed his sorrow to define him, as he had never done before.
They had lived too long, been through too much together, to regret this way, to let the ghosts of their daughter and all of their nameless, dead children hang over their marriage.
The next words he spoke were so soft Katherine had to strain to hear them, but when she did, they disturbed her, "It is my fault. It is my entire fault and I let you take the blame. It is my fault we could never have children, it is my fault Mary died, and yet you are filled with sorrow and poisoned memories and I have pretended that my brother's children could fill a void."
Katherine spun up from the bed at once, staring down her husband with bloodshot eyes, tears that wanted to come out but she would not allow. Her voice was firm and unyielding when she spoke next, "No. I burden myself because I was raised to be the mother of England heirs, but you were raised to be King, and you have always done that and done it well. There is nobody you can blame." She would not let him do this, after so many years. He had been strong and it was his defense and he was better for it.
"It is my fault!" he shouted, rising to meet her eyes. Katherine did not let herself flinch at his tone, it was not towards her, but towards God, for letting him live but taking his virility. Knowing he needed to unburden himself, she did not interrupt him. He continued, his breathing turning rapid, "Mary never had a chance; we should have begun our goodbyes the moment she was born. All of those babies, boys and girls, you carried for five months only to cause you pain and humiliation, and for you to have guilt. I should have freed you from this marriage so you could be a mother, and not have to watch my brother and his wife parade their fertility and plan the future for our kingdom. That is my burden and mine alone."
Katherine stood up and pulled his collar forward so he was facing her. She forced him to look at her, her next words coming clearly and firmly, leaving no room for argument, "You are a fool if you truly believe that," she began, ignoring his protest. "From the beginning, it was us two, we were partners. Those heirs were ours, regardless of the blame; the loss was both of ours and we bore that together. I will not let you sully our marriage and drag it down because of your guilt. We are better than that, we are stronger than that. It is God's will that it just the both of us and I will be damned if I let my husband lose sight of that!"
Arthur put his hands through her hair, admiring the strand of it before kissing her forehead. "You ought to hate me. I let you grieve for Mary as if you were the one who killed her, for all of those children as if it was your fault. What I should have done, instead of hold you and tell you next time would be better, is say I'm sorry. And I am. I am so sorry," he wept, not even noticing when Katherine pulled him into her. "My love, please forgive me. My coldness, my formality, my father's traits, and my impotency I am so sorry. It was me, it was me I should have reminded you daily, and I'm sorry for failing you."
Denial would do her no good. Clearly her husband would only be assuaged if she forgave him for the imagined fault. He could not be blamed for the childlessness, of course, no more than she could be. They were not blessed that way and they had to stay strong because of it, while his brother abused his wife because he was unfaithful and she confronted him. Even with three children, Anne would not be happier than Katherine, she was sure of it, which is why she needed to make sure she was protected and trained for the challenges she would face. Katherine would have relished the opportunity to have Mary in her life, but she had to move forward, and help her sister by law with whatever she needed, for Anne was the only hope she had left of making sure England was ruled, at least in part, by what Arthur and her had worked for.
"I love you," Katherine expressed, kissing him and explaining. "Since I was a girl I always knew I was going to be the Princess of Wales and the Queen of England. My mother told me it was my duty to provide you with children, for England, for Spain, for my husband. If I did not, it was my failure, and I should expect nothing from you." He opened his mouth to protest, and she silenced it with her finger. "I cannot forgive you for a fault that is truly not one. Another Prince would have blamed me, ruined me, and tried to set me aside. You made our daughter your heiress, when it would have been easier to make your brother your heir, and you have always, always bore me the type of love I never expected to have from anybody. Real, faithful, and true love which I would not trade for Anne's nursery if it meant having a prince like Henry for a husband."
"My love was enough for you to be childless? Because yours has always been enough for me but I would not hold you to the same standard, and I should have asked, and I will regret that, just as I regret that I do not think of Mary and feel the same pain you do," Arthur stated, trying to smile, to stay strong for her but he felt so full of heavy burden, not the same kind he was used to. Perhaps visiting Hampton Court so often was a mistake, made him think of things he perhaps should have left buried with his daughter. When Katherine nodded, smiling at him through watery tears, he knew that all was well on that score. "I am sorry you have had to deal with this alone. We should have mourned together and now I am seven years late."
Katherine shook her head, knowing that Arthur was better off not feeling the way she had for years. "I do not think you should envy me my memories, darling. I am resigned to them, Mary is a happy memory for me which does not sadden me, but it took me a long time to feel this way," she explained. Better that Arthur continue to keep himself stoic about the death of their daughter. He was the one that was supposed to be strong, and he always had been. While she locked herself away in her rooms for months after their daughter's death, he planned for the future. If he had not done that, she did not know where things would be now.
Anne and Henry were going to marry without their blessing, so it was better to give it to them instead of deny it. Arthur saw the wise measure in planning a grand wedding, signaling that he was their heirs and their children would be as well, and that they were to take the place of their daughter. It was not easy for him, she was sure, and she would not have been able to put her mind to it the same way he did, but that is why they worked so well together. It had taken a while for her to come around, but when she did, when Elizabeth of York pointed her in the right direction, she knew that her place was with Anne, mentoring her and getting to know her children. The children knew her as their aunt, and they loved her, filling the void in her heart- but Arthur was just now getting to know Anne the same way Katherine had come to love her. Henry's slap at awoken a part of her husband that she had not seen before, or at least in many years, and her husband was now determined to protect the only sister he had left.
Of course, these things came at a price, and now he was facing down feelings he had clearly repressed about their daughter. He could be strong for Anne but now that things were okay, he had to face constantly that Anne was the mother of England's heirs, and not his own wife, not her. As much as that once hurt Katherine, she could imagine the acute failure he felt was just as bad, if not worse, considering his attitude beforehand. Arthur had been able to stay busy, but Katherine was not willing to lose him if the affairs of State would prematurely kill him. Her husband, her King, he was far too precious to lose on that. He would just need to be strong like he had always been, but now for himself and not for her.
Arthur's voice, not quite as sad and helpless as just moments earlier, roused her from her thoughts, "I should not envy many people, should I? I have you as my Queen, and clearly, you are the most adapt to deal with your oddly-timed grieving husband," Arthur joked lightly. "I just miss her, and what she represented for us- she was our hope, and our future. She's gone and I have to accept it, as you have, my strong lady."
"I would not have accepted it if not for you," Katherine protested as Arthur sat back down on the bed, holding his arms out for her to fall into. She put herself on his knee, sighing contently as he moved her hair to her right side and breathed a kiss on her neck.
After a few more moments, after both of them had clearly relaxed, Katherine had a thought strike her. "You know, I gave Anne Mary's christening gown, the one that you were also christened in. It was my signal that I accepted her as my successor, and her son as yours, and it gave me closure that Mary was truly gone. Perhaps you should do something for Anne that proves you view her as not only your sister officially, but as your heiress?" Katherine mused. Arthur had protected Anne and guided her in many ways, and while Henry was more his heir, his brother had always enjoyed princely status, had always been a part of his family, and bore a royal title. Anne was his wife and was not entitled to the same things, independent of her marriage. It was on the tip of her tongue to suggest that he take a few pieces from the official jewels of the Queen of England to give to her early, but her husband had a better idea.
"My mother and you were both deeded estates when you were crowned. If Anne is to be a true lady of this family, I think I will give her Richmond, which my mother just turned over to me, as her London residence if she needs to quit her husband for a few days and in the country…" Arthur trailed off for a few moments. He had thousands of unused estates had his disposal but he did not want to make the decision lightly. Anne needed to know that this was his way of welcoming her, even though it has been six years since she married his brother, and he had already signaled that their children were his heirs. His anger was renewed when Henry asked to make Brandon Duke of Suffolk, so he could marry her to his cast off mistress. If any husband had dared to treat Mary in such a way, he would have made his displeasure known. "I will give her the estates generally given to the Duke of Suffolk. The peerage has been vacant for quite some time now, and they are suitably far enough away in London, and it will give her an allowance separate from Henry's."
Katherine smiled, thinking the idea suitable, as she should have received those at her marriage ceremony but Arthur had commissioned jewels instead, and Katherine had given Anne some silks from Florence that she could make into the gowns of her choice. She felt silly for overlooking such a thing, but now Arthur could remedy it, and it would be coming at a good time, when she still felt unsure in her marriage. "It will unburden your conscience, I promise," Katherine stated as an afterthought, leaning more into his embrace, giggling as she felt his hands slide underneath her laces.
When they were first married, Arthur remembered that they used to profess, before they made love, that they were going to make their Prince of Wales- and after Mary, they were going to give her a baby brother or sister to play with. Afterwards, they would lie in bed and discuss names- boys' names, as if not to jinx themselves- and they did not allow themselves to lose hope even when it seemed bleak. It was their duty but it was their passion as well. They had not said anything of the sort since Katherine had told him she had stop bleeding, the day Edward was born, but they did not stop their passion.
Tonight, Katherine surprised him, stripping off his doublet and whispering in his ear, "For us, my King, and for nobody else." Arthur grinned widely and began to unlace her gown with urgency, thoughts of their infertility banishing with her kisses.
It was the first true smile he had worn all day, and Katherine was relieved to see it. If it was just going to be her and her husband for the rest of their lives, she knew that God had truly sent her the right man.
A Few Days Later
Anne was not aware that there was a visitor in the nursery, as she had just left her mother-in-law after they had knitted a new gown for William together and her husband was at Whitehall and Brandon had gone to visit his mother in preparation for his wedding. She was not informed of the King and Queen coming to visit; usually they sent a message or came to greet her first. She was sure it had to be her sister, coming to visit her newly settled children, but she was surprised when Lady Bryan revealed the identity of the visitor.
"Mistress Seymour came to see Lord Edward and Lady Frances Brandon this morning, your grace. She had sent a message a few days ago, alerting me of her visit, if your grace objects…" Lady Bryan began, knowing that Mistress Seymour had been the Duke of York's mistress, but that she was going to marry Charles Brandon, and she did not see harm in letting their new stepmother come to visit them early, but if the Duchess objected, she would waste no time in bustling Mistress Seymour out of the servants entrance so the Duchess could visit her sons unmolested, even if Mistress Seymour was in a different part of the nursery. Due to the Earl of Kendal's status, he was in a more opulent apartment, but there was a general presence chamber, where Mistress Seymour was currently visiting with the children that would soon be hers by marriage. The Duchess could easily visit with her Edward in his apartments, but she would not force the Duchess to do such a thing. The nursery was hers and she visited at her leisure.
"No, that is quite alright Lady Bryan, thank you," Anne replied quickly, not wanting a confrontation. She did not want to see Mistress Seymour until she became Mistress Brandon, but she would not force the woman out of the nursery. Frances certainly needed a mother, and while she wanted a more honorable lady to serve this purpose for her beloved niece, she knew that the situation could not be altered. She would have to get used to her presence, in any case, as she would not bar the woman from her stepchildren- that would cause more of a disturbance for the motherless children. "You may leave us for now," Anne dismissed, as certainly the governess was used to.
Lady Bryan had served as Elizabeth's governess before Edward was born, when she was transferred to him and Elizabeth now had Lady Salisbury, the Princess Mary's former governess, at Katherine's suggestion. Lady Bryan was Anne's kinsman and she trusted her more than Salisbury, but so far, both governesses had proved to care deeply for their little charges, and were capable of dealing with Anne's daily visits to them, and Henry's regular ones, as well as the Queen, and recently, the King's frequent visits. Lady Bryan at Anne's request, as she expected, busied herself with some other task, as Anne was more than capable of fetching her sons.
She waited to enter the large, open presence chamber, listening quietly from beyond the curtain to hear what Jane was saying to her niece and nephew. She knew once she entered that Jane would scramble up into a curtsey, and things would turn awkward. She wanted to know what she was doing beforehand.
"So you will be my new mama?" Frances asked, and Anne was sure that Jane had a pained look on her face, the same one she always wore when Anne so much as glanced in her direction while she was in her household. She had never seen Jane around small children, so she had no idea how she would react to marrying into not only an infamous adulterer, but also two small children with royal blood coursing through their veins, the same amount her own children had. Anne knew her sister-in-law, if she were still alive, would have judged Jane Seymour to be unworthy of her time, but would have been happy to know that her daughter now had a mother, after she prayed so badly for a daughter to love. Charles had become a good father to his children, at last, but she knew Frances wanted a mother, as she had no memories of hers.
"Well, Frances, your mother is your mother, and I know she loved you, and you as well Eddy, very much," Jane began, and Anne held in her scoff. Jane knew nothing of her sister-in-law, but she held her tongue, curious as to what she would say. "But your papa and I are going to get married which means that I will be your mother by law. So I hope that we can be friends, and that someday, we can be a family."
"How did you meet my papa?" Eddy asked. Anne held her breath, nervous for the answer.
Jane, for her part, knew that she was not going to tell her new son the unorthodox circumstances of her marriage, to happen in April, which she had begun to reconcile herself to. Her brother Edward was thrilled that her children would be in the inner-circle, hopefully, along with her stepchildren, and that through them, the Seymour family could rise very high. Charles Brandon was likely to be an honored member of King Henry the Eighth's court, and as a result, Jane's brothers and father could be invited to court as his bequest, perhaps gaining favor that way. It is what they wanted out of her affair, and they were pleased.
She missed Henry. She missed him so desperately that she would often curl up alone in her bedroom in Wolf Hall and cry all night. She blamed Anne for finally getting into Henry's head, convincing him that Jane needed to be married off. There was still hope that after she was married that he would want her again, but Jane was told to refuse his advances, and she knew there was sense in that. There was no future for her and the Duke of York, and it was better that her husband come to love her and appreciate her, and that they have a family of their own. Perhaps the Duchess would stop hating her, and she could be a good mother to Brandon's children, and he could perhaps someday come to love her, although she was not the type of woman that would typical be able to keep up with a man like him.
If she was not going to be with Henry she would have preferred a quiet life in the country, with a man who did not have any ambition, but that would have made her brother and father so angry- they told her it was better this way and she thought it could be. She wanted Charles Brandon to respect her despite the fact that she had openly lived as his best friend's mistress, and certainly Anne had poisoned his mind against her, saying that Jane was probably unworthy to be his wife or the mother to his children. She just prayed that Brandon would not be cruel to her, and know that what she did was because of how she felt about Henry and because her family told her to.
At least that's what she would tell him when they were wed, when he had to lie with her even though she was not a virgin any longer and not worthy of having such a fine match. But Brandon loved his best friend, and certainly would know that any woman that his friend could love, Brandon could find room in his heart to welcome her as well- especially if his children warmed up to her, even before they were married. Even if that meant sharing space with Anne every once in a while, she would accept that as the price to pay so that her new husband could care for her, advance her family, and keep her at court.
"When I was a lady to your aunt, The Duchess of York, your papa was often in her rooms, and although we did not know each other very well, I am a good friend to your uncle, the Duke, and he thought I would make a good husband to his friend and brother, and that I would make a good mama to you two," Jane explained with a honey smile. It was partly the truth, but the children were likely to catch the implication that "friend" held, especially when she herself did not catch it right away.
Anne was pleased with the way she had handled herself in response to the children's question, and when Frances clamored for Jane to read them a story, Jane did not hesitate to walk over to the bookshelf and sit down with her soon to be stepchildren and read them a story, the legend of King Arthur, after confirming that this legend did not deal with their uncle, but with the Arthur that came before him.
Anne knew that Jane's arranged marriage had not been easy for her, at least she could imagine. Anne knew she was fortunate to be married to the man that she wanted, to have Hampton Court and her children and the King and Queen as her brother and sister and to expect a future as the Queen of England- and to gain back a mother, a concept that she thought she had lost. Brandon's mother was a kind woman, but very aged, so much that Jane would be unlikely to meet her, and Brandon had no siblings to speak of. She would be isolated, dependent on the kindness of her new husband and his children, who were royalty. She could imagine that Jane was very frightened by the prospect, knowing little about her bridegroom, and having no other choice, in order to save her reputation.
Jane had acted foolishly and Anne could not feel sorry for her, but regardless, she thought it was admirable for her to try to get to know the children and to make the best out of it. She would never like the woman who usurped her husband's affection, but like her sister said, there was no woman alive who could take away her victory. Jane would never steal Henry completely and she had lost him. Anne found it hard to like her, to be that gracious in her victory, because looking at her placid face just inspired anger in her still, but she knew she needed to be cordial towards her, for the sake of their children, and their husbands.
If she was not, her court, her home, which she had worked six years to make perfect, would be compromised, and she would not let Jane Seymour win in that way.
Anne felt herself hesitant to break up the idyll, but she did come to see her sons, and so walked in the room, kneeling down as Frances and Eddy ran into her arms. "How are, my darlings?" she asked, accepting their sloppy kisses. "Is Mistress Seymour doing a good job of entertaining you this afternoon?" Anne asked, sparing a smile at Jane, who had curtsied before her, and she motioned for her to rise. She looked as she remembered her, perhaps a bit sadder and more tired, but still open, pale, and with a slight beauty that he knew had attracted her husband to her in the first place. She held back her anger and focused back on her niece and nephew.
"Yes auntie," Eddy replied politely, grasping Frances' hand. His sister was happy and excited for their papa to get married, but he was still weary of it. It had just been the three of them since his mama died, and Frances never knew their wonderful mama. He could never replace his mama in his heart, and he still prayed to her every day, but for Frances's sake, he would try very hard to be kind to Jane, knowing that even if he did not need a new mama, his sister did. "Are you here to see William and Edward?" he asked. It was usually very confusing for them to have two Edwards in the nursery, but he knew his cousin was more important than him, so he was Edward and he was Eddy, and Frances loved the nickname anyway.
"I am, I hope that they have not been giving their older cousin too much trouble," Anne said with a jesting smile. She had offered to move Eddy out of the nursery, close to Hal in less large apartments, but he had declined. He did not want to leave his sister, and as a result, he was much older than the other children, until Katherine Carey came, that is. She was glad that her sister's children had adjusted so well to the others, and she knew that once they got older, William and Annie would also become the best of friends.
She was glad the nursery at Hampton was so large, or else they may have had to move the children to Hatfield, too far away for her liking. She was so used to visiting them every day; she could not bear the thought of them being so far away, even if Hatfield was where Katherine's daughter had stayed before moving to her establishment at Ludlow. Her children's place was at court with her and Henry, and she hoped that their cousins could be close as well, even if it meant possibly having to share the nursery with Jane and Brandon's children- since Henry thought so highly of his friend, and she knew it would be cruel to separate siblings.
"No, they are good," Eddy replied, even if they did sometimes get on his nerves, as Edward could be so pompous and silly, he still loved them.
Anne chatted with them for a few more moments before heading to Edward's rooms. Anne was going to leave the Brandon children and their future stepmother alone in the living room, but she was also uncomfortable with the idea of hiding away in Edward's apartments with her two sons. William was still a baby, nearly seven months old, but he was old enough to sit with her as Jane read a story. Her voice was pleasant enough, she supposed, and she needed to know that Anne was here daily, and that this was her nursery, under her control, and she would be a visitor only. No better way of sending that message than sitting out with them.
She greeted Edward first, laughing as she scooped him into a hug and tickled his belly. "How is my precious boy?" she asked. After feeding him a sweetmeat and asking him a few more questions about his day, she opened her palm so he would hold her hand, and then walked over into where the cribs were. William and Annie currently shared the part of the nursery set aside so their crying would not disturb the other children, but once William turned one he would be given a room like his brother's. For now, she gingerly lifted him out of his crib, smiling as he wrapped his finger around hers and gave her a gummy smile.
Jane seemed shocked when she lead her children out into the large presence chamber, but curtsied once more, once to Anne, once to Edward, and then lastly to the baby in her arms. "Would you like to join our story, your grace?" Jane asked, knowing that it was generally out of place to ask, but that she knew that if this was going to work, she needed to treat Anne kindly. She knew that they would never be friends, nor did she ever want to be friends with such a woman! But if Brandon was to like her, she needed to cultivate a more cordial relationship with her former mistress. If things had worked out differently, if she had been brought to court before Anne, she knew it would be the other way around, but she could not go back in time and change things.
"Thank you, Mistress Seymour, I think we'd like that," Anne replied with a smile, sitting down on the ground with the four children and her former rival, as they all became entranced in the story of King Arthur, interjecting with questions for Jane or Anne at opportune moments.
Anne knew that if she could be this way with Mistress Seymour, able to stand in the same room with her and find common ground, then she knew that it was time for her to open up to Henry, and truly forgive him.
It had gone on long enough.
Now would be the time that their ban would have ended, and Anne missed him. She missed the way she felt when she was with him, in bed, and she missed the way he used to look at her.
If she could open up her mind to Jane, to have Jane in her life again, and that she could tolerate her presence for a few hours, then she knew that regardless of what had happened with Henry in the past- he had been trying, making a true and loud effort, then she needed to be a full wife to him again. She could only keep him waiting for so long; it had been almost a year, almost as long as it had been when they were waiting to get married. It was foolish for her to continue to hold out on him, and dangerous.
He was not the same man anymore, and she needed to be with him again. If she did not, she may have to hold her tongue and entertain another mistress in her nursery, or perhaps next time he won't even have enough respect to end it for their marriage, he may take away her control of the nursery, her almost sole control over her children's tutors and attendants, and perhaps share it with a live-in mistress. She was sure Jane would have done such a thing, and since she was no longer in favor, perhaps another one of the pretty girls at Hampton could take her place, marry well, and have their children in the nursery and have some control.
If it was a Howard, her uncle or father would never blink an eyelash or try to get Henry back to her. They would support it, now that she had Edward and he thrived and he would be King someday and she would be Queen- that's all they needed from her. Her father may have feared her losing favor with her husband but she knew that he would be no worse if it was another member of their family, and now that Arthur was planning on ennobling her father further, he would not need her anymore.
She tried to gather her allies but all she had was herself at the end of the day, and this marriage, and this marriage needed to be passionate and loving as it used to be. If it was not, she could lose everything. She knew her husband loved her and things had not gotten nearly that bad, but if she denied him her bed, he would not force himself on her, he would go elsewhere soon enough. She knew that she was not the last ambitious girl at court, either at Whitehall or Hampton, and there would be plenty waiting to get to her husband- she wasn't sure that the Seymours would stop now that Jane was to be married.
Even if she gave him another child, that would certainly be to her benefit, even if she did have to be in confinement. He always loved her when she was with child, always so excited and attentive to her and if she had not needed to go in confinement early with William certainly things would not have needed to go so sour so fast. She needed to gain the upper hand in their marriage, because she knew that his current concern would only last so long, before he grew impatient and angry.
She was scared, she knew it. She was scared of him still, but she knew what she had to do. She was angry at him, but she knew that she could have Jane around her without flying into a rage or a depression. She was scared of what the future held, but she would soon have put into motion a set of advisors that Henry thought he was picking, but really that she had patronized. She knew that her influence was high now, and that she was safe now. She did not need to fear now, but she had reason to fear for the future, so she needed to secure it.
His grooms were dismissed; she had planned on staying in his rooms tonight anyway. She crossed the threshold into his bedroom and before he spoke she took off her nightgown at the doorway and invited her husband back into her life.
Author's Note: The dialogue in this is long and monologue-y, but I needed this chapter to hammer some things out. Next chapter will probably be another long one, and will likely include Brandon and Jane's wedding. This one I do not consider filler, so I hope you enjoyed it, and I really hope that you all a) Have a very safe and fun holiday and b) review :) until next time, thanks for reading- Marissa