17th February 1561: Whitehall Palace, England
"Her Majesty, Catherine Culpeper, formerly Tudor, nee Howard, Dowager Queen of England, Ireland and France, Viscountess Culpeper!"
The double ingress swung open, and Catherine Howard, Dowager Queen of England, strode into the room with her head held high. Catherine, who had just been a girl of twenty one at the time of King Henry's death, had now blossomed into an attractive woman, who had just entered her fourty-first year. Reaching the throne, on which sat her step-daughter, she dropped into a curtsey.
Queen Elizabeth, now firmly settled on the throne, glanced down to her step-mother. Most people were certain that Queen Catherine had caused the death of King Henry VIII and, for a while, gossip had spread around court about that matter. Though she would never admit it, Queen Elizabeth sincerly hoped that Queen Catherine had been behind the death of her father, for at the death of her father, she and Mary had been free - though Mary had been forced into a difficult position under the reign of Edward - who had succeeded after their father.
Extending a hand, Queen Elizabeth held out her engagement ring for Catherine to kiss, which, sweeping into a curtsey, she did.
"Dear sweat, step-mother," Began Queen Elizabeth as Catherine rose from the curtsey "You must come to court more often. Your presence is a welcome one here at court - especially since you have not been to court in ten years. You remember my daughter, Princess Elizabeth, I assume?"
"Your Highness," Catherine dipped into a curtsey and gave a nod of her head in the direction of Princess Bessie "I have not seen you since you were a toddler - and a precocious toddler at that."
Princess Bessie smiled, dipped a curtsey back and said "Thank you, Your Majesty. It is a pleasure to see you again after so long."
"It is a pleasure to see you as well, Your Highness," Replied Catherine, smiling as she dipped into another curtsey.
"Please," Began Queen Elizabeth, interrupting the two women and gesturing to the nearby chair that had been prepared for Catherine's return to the court that she had once reigned over as Queen Consort "Sit."
Catherine sat on the chair offered to her by her step-daughter and smiled as Princess Bessie took her seat as well. Why the other members of the Royal Family were not here, Catherine did not know, but she had heard, from several sources, that Princess Bessie was betrothed to France and would, shortly after her twelfth birthday, be married to the Duke of Orléans, whom was in England so that he and his betrothed could get to know each other before they were married.
18th February 1561: Whitehall Palace, England: The Royal Nursery
"I have never met Queen Catherine," Began Prince John, from his seat on the window, where he was reading a book on Latin translations "What is she like?"
"She has changed from when I was a toddler," Replied Princess Bessie from her position on the floor, where she was sat with Prince Richard, who was watching his siblings intently "When I was a toddler Queen Catherine was merely a girl; she was naive and flighty and married with a son. Now, she is still married, and still has a son, but is older and less naive."
"She sounds like Mama," Noted Prince Edward. He was laying on his plump stomach and his book, also on Latin translations, was propped up against the wall.
"Mama is not naive," Corrected Princess Anne. She, like Bessie, was sat on the floor with little Prince Richard, who, now playing with a small toy, began to laugh happily.
"But, she must have been when she was younger," Interrupted Princess Katherine, who, like her two elder siblings, was sat on another window seat "For everyone is."
Princess Mary, aged three, did not join in the discussion as she was not yet betrothed and wouldn't be for several years. She turned to the pouting Prince Richard and began to play with him, causing him to stop pouting.
"I assume that Annie's marriage was discussed, Bessie?" Questioned Edward "After all, Bessie and I are betrothed, so why shouldn't you be?"
"Annie's marriage was not discussed," Replied Bessie "And do not forget, Edward, that you are not betrothed yet. Mama and Papa have not decided on who you are to be married to yet."
Edward pouted, his round face momentarily going red as he looked away from Anne and Bessie and stared out of the window as a single tear - which was quickly wiped away - dropped down his cheek.
19th February 1561: Whitehall Palace, England: Prince Edward's Chambers
"Is something wrong, Edward?" John asked as he sat opposite his brother and caught sight of the thoughtful look on his brother's round face.
"No," Replied Edward, glancing up to his brother and giving a small smile.
"You don't think that father is planning to scold you again, do you?" Questioned John, as he leaned across the table for a moment.
"Probably, but that's not important now." Edward replied and John sighed "As you know, Johnnie, I am to be married. You won't tell anyone who doesn't need to know will you?"
"Of course not." John replied, smiling "Are congratulations in order?"
"No, they certainly are not," Edward moaned, momentarily placing his head in his hand
"Who's the Princess they have chosen then?" John asked, wonderingly.
"I don't know, Johnnie," Edward stated.
"Will Mama and Papa just tell you who you're going to marry?" John asked, confused
"Not quite as crude as that," Edward informed his brother, smiling slightly at his brother's lack of knowledge on marriage "They make a selection, and I have the final choice. Only the choice is incredibly limited."
He trailed off as one of his servants placed a small glass of wine in front of him and another in front of John. Edward picked it up and said "I don't know why I drink this stuff, it makes my waistline grow more than food already does, and it makes father moan more than usual."
"It sounds as if you're going to need it." John chuckled, as he emptied his glass in one gulp
"They've scoured the Royal Families and come up with only six Princesses who have the right ancestors." Edward informed his brother "The first, Princess Elisabeth of France, is betrothed to the Spanish, so she's out as people still remember our Aunt Mary, and her evil Catholic and Spanish ways; the second, a Swedish Princess is only three, so thank heavens she's out, and the third, Lucrezia de' Medici, has got consumption." Edward reached inside his doublet and pulled out three small portraits "So that leaves three. Three French Princesses... and that's the choice."
He placed the three portraits onto the table between him and his brother.
John picked up the three portraits and looked over each one. He looked indifferent at the portrait of the almost eight year old Princess Margaret of France, but burst out laughing at the portraits of her sisters, the almost five year old Princess Joan of France and her twin, Princess Victoria of France.
"If you must laugh," Began Edward, his voice betraying his annoyance "Kindly do it in a decorous manner."
"Sorry," Blushed John.
"Well, Johnnie," Began Edward, glancing to his brother "What would you do if you had to marry one of them?"
"Frankly, Edward, I'd rather be sent to the tower." Replied John, laughing.
"So would I, Johnnie," Edward replied, gesturing for another glass of wine and lifting it up, before saying "So would I." and emptying the glass in one gulp.
To Be Continued