Disclaimer: I own neither history nor the Tudors, and I'm making no profit.
Summary: Henry VIII's early death in November of 1541 throws his two daughters together, with far-reaching consequences for the Tudor dynasty.
Against the Wind
The King was dead, and his daughters were not wanted at court. The Dowager Queen was in her element, suddenly free of her diseased and lecherous husband, and delighting in the male attention and courtiers vying to use her influence with her young stepson. Katherine Howard had no time for her too-serious (and older than she!) stepdaughter Mary, and little idea what to do with young Elizabeth. She was happy to leave them in their own households as she danced and flirted, just as she was happy to leave the Earl of Hertford and the Duke of Norfolk to battle for control of four year old Edward's regency council.
Katherine loved her uncle, of course, and was usually willing to obey his advice in all things. Norfolk, in turn, was wise enough to leave her to her masques and celebrations while he settled in to conduct the serious business of running the country. His shrewd mind deduced that his niece would not be a power as the Dowager Queen; she was only seventeen and frivolous, and had no interest in politics. She wanted to enjoy life, not spend her hours cooped up in dull Regency Council meetings. Politics were boring, the young Dowager Queen had been heard to say on more than one occasion. Others, unfortunately, did not feel the same way, and some of them were closely related to the young King and not so easily disposed of.
Norfolk and Hertford's tug of war lasted for almost a year before they brokered a power-sharing agreement. Neither seemed concerned that they almost plunged the country into civil war as they fought for control of Edward VI, only that they carved out as much influence as possible. Their differences were not merely political, either. With one a devout Catholic and the other a reformer, many expected the issue of religion to be a divisive one, but much to everyone's surprise, the Church of England remained in place—still independent, but largely Catholic in form and practice. Above all else, both Norfolk and Hertford were pragmatic politicians, and when they finally reached an agreement, neither wanted to upset the applecart with religion. Edward was too young to care, at any rate; the King was only four, and had little time to form religious opinions of his own.
Young Elizabeth, languishing at Enfield, knew none of this, of course. The tutors chosen for her by the Council were surprisingly secular, as were the King's, and at seven years old, she was more concerned with her loneliness than her religion. Forgotten by her cousin the Dowager Queen and not old enough to be a factor in the political games afoot, she was left only with her own small household, a deserted island in the midst of upheaval and strife.
And then Mary came.
Not quite defying the express orders of the Council—for she had never bothered asking for permission—the daughter of Katherine of Aragon came to the rescue of Anne Boleyn's little girl. Ignoring Norfolk and Hertford's protests, she brought Elizabeth into her household at Beaulieu. By the time either of those nobles had the attention to spare for the wayward (and bastard) princesses, the deal was done. Twenty-five year old Mary and seven year old Elizabeth were inseparable.
Their mothers had been bitter enemies, but Mary's own loneliness overcame any lasting resentment she felt towards Anne Boleyn. She could not forgive Katherine Howard for her fripperies or her foolishness, but Elizabeth was an innocent, and she was her sister. Staring at a future full of spinsterhood and yet yearning for a family of her own, Mary poured all of her desperate affection into the little girl. She had no one else. The princess-turned-bastard had been friendless for years, enduring a succession of four stepmothers and an indifferent father, completely lost and without a family she could truly call her own. She burned for something better, needing desperately to matter to someone.
For the first time since her mother's death, someone returned that love unreservedly and in full, and Mary's world changed forever.
Years slipped by, and as the balance of power settled out, the King's sisters visited court more often. Yet they had been isolated for so long that neither knew what to do without the other, despite the differences in their ages. Together they formed a counterweight to the unruly reformer faction at court; whereas Elizabeth was more inclined towards religious tolerance than Mary, her education had been equally Catholic. The Howards and the Seymours remained at loggerheads over that same issue, anyway, with Norfolk encouraging the young King to heal the breach with Rome and Hertford wanting to widen it still further.
By Edward's fourteenth birthday, they had both successfully fended off the advances of Tom Seymour and had weathered the introduction of a new party to power, John Dudley, the Earl of Warwick. Still, the triumvirate controlling Edward kept the country in relative peace, even allowing Mary to entertain marriage offers and acknowledging both girls as princesses once more. Except…as months passed, it became increasingly evident that no one on the council intended for Mary to actually accept any of those offers. Although Warwick pressed for her to marry his eldest son and Norfolk mentioned the still-imprisoned Henry Courtenay, none of the nobility were prepared to allow Mary to produce an heir before her brother the king had a chance to do so.
"I am thirty-five years and an old maid!" Mary wailed to Elizabeth at Hunsdon in May of 1551. "All I want is to have children, and these fools will see me die before they allow me to marry!"
"Mary, please—" She reached out for her sister, only to have the elder Tudor girl tear away, pacing away from the window and slamming a chest of drawers shut in her fury.
"No! I hate them all! They don't care about either of us, only about holding onto power through Edward!" she snarled, stalking back to the window and glaring out at the brewing storm. "And they don't care about him, either! They only pay lip service to our brother, King or no. Someday, I swear I will—"
"Don't say that." Elizabeth finally managed to wrap her arms around her sister from behind, stopping Mary's furious pacing. "It's only politics. It isn't personal. Please—"
"I hate them all," Mary repeated, but there was no strength in it. She slumped against Elizabeth as the eighteen year old held her tightly, and Elizabeth could tell she was trying not to cry.
A moment passed before Elizabeth dared to suggest:
"You could always ask the Dowager Queen to intervene for you," she said hesitantly. "Queen Katherine knows what it is like to want—"
"I will not go crawling to that girl for help!"
"Girl or not, Mary, she is probably your best chance!" Elizabeth finally snapped, unable to rein her temper back further. "Norfolk listens to her…sometimes. Or at least he pretends to respect her, anyway. So does Warwick."
Mary snorted. "She's still under a cloud for marrying Culpepper without the Council's permission."
"Can you blame her?" Elizabeth whispered, settling her head on her sister's shoulder. "It had been seven years, and she was lonely."
"Doesn't my loneliness matter? Or yours?" Mary whispered brokenly.
"In politics?" Now it was Elizabeth's turn to snort. "Never. We're the daughters of Henry VIII, and nowhere near as free as his widow."
Mary twisted to face her sister, her sadness melting into a slight smile. "What about you and Warwick's son?" she countered. "I saw you at court last Christmas."
"That was nothing." Still, she felt her cheeks warming. "A kiss, nothing more. Nothing can come of it, anyway. We both know that."
"He's one of Edward's closer friends. You could always ask him, Bess. He might even say yes."
"Not while they won't let you marry," she replied, meaning every word. Besides which, Elizabeth had watched her sister come perilously close to heartbreak a thousand times, and she was not necessarily prepared to walk down that road herself. And even though Mary was smiling now, the expression was tinged with sorrow, no matter how sincere her offer had been. "I'd rather stay with you."
She liked Robert—really, she did—but Elizabeth had always known that nothing could come of that affection. Robert's father was a power-hungry politician who would use each of his children to further his own ambitions, and although he'd be delighted if one of them could truly catch the eye of a princess, he'd never count on such a relationship lasting. And Mary was more important to Elizabeth than any man could ever be; her sister had been her only family almost as long as she could remember. It had been Mary who had convinced Jane Seymour to bring her rival's daughter to court. It had been Mary who had ensured that her younger sister's household was funded after Jane's death, and it had been Mary who had given her a home and an education after their father's death. Much though Elizabeth loved their younger brother, and felt guilty for admitting it even in the privacy of her own thoughts, if she had had to choose one of them, Mary would have always won.
So, neither princess pressed the issue of marriage, and together they stayed. Over the next two years, they did spend much of their time at court, but when they went home, it was always together. Elizabeth's feelings for Robert Dudley grew, as did Mary's loneliness and grief, but there seemed to be nothing that could tear them apart—and even when Warwick suggested that young Robert officially court Elizabeth, she refused if it meant remaining at court while her sister was packed back off to the country. She almost lost Robert in doing so, to a heiress by the name of Amy Rosbart, but Warwick cancelled that betrothal at the last moment, clearly having his eyes on a larger prize.
And when Edward mentioned the possibility of a foreign marriage for his younger sister, she always deferred to Mary, reminding the King sharply that he should look out for both sisters, and not simply the one whom foreign princes preferred to woo (based on her age only, Elizabeth was quick to reassure Mary). He relented, but only because the council was busy arranging Edward's own betrothal to Princess Elisabeth of Valois...and his health, never good, was failing again.
No one, even Elizabeth, was foolish enough to mention how very in love Edward was with their cousin Jane Grey, who had been Mary and Elizabeth's sometime companion at their various residences. Jane's parents were determined to marry her to one of Robert's many brothers, although why they would turn their back on the possibility of marriage to the King in favor of an Earl's younger son continued to mystify Elizabeth. Poor Jane wanted nothing to do with Guilford Dudley, however, and from what Robert told Elizabeth, Guilford was not entirely keen on the match, either. Yet married they were, and then whisked off to the country, much to Edward's annoyance.
But by July of 1553, Edward was ailing once more, leading Mary and Elizabeth to make preparations to return to court. Lacking the Council's permission to do so, the sisters waited restlessly at Hunsdon, wondering if this was a time to defy their brother's "advisors" and go anyway. They were on the verge of riding out when everything happened at once.
First, the Council's official answer to their petition arrived, in the form of a haughty messenger who referred to the sisters as the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth, informing them that they were not welcome at court and that the Council would send for them when appropriate. There was no mention whatsoever of Edward in that response, Elizabeth noticed. Mary delivered the required tongue lashing as Elizabeth took note of Sir John Gates' posture, watching his body language carefully.
Even when Mary sent him ingloriously packing, Gates' arrogant expression did not waver, despite the fact that his rudeness ensured he'd have to overnight at some dirty inn rather than in the comfort of Hunsdon.
"How dare he?" Mary spat as Gates finally left. Her sister was especially sensitive to anyone hinting at her previous status as a bastard, Elizabeth knew, and Gates hadn't exactly been subtle. "We are both Princesses of England! How dare Gates imply otherwise?"
By mutual agreement, neither sister ever mentioned that, legally speaking, at least one of them should have been a bastard, given the circumstances of Elizabeth's birth. But they had both come to terms with their own bizarre situation years before. They never spoke of how much their mothers had hated one another, instead focusing their mutual ire on the father who had bastardized them both after abandoning two women who had loved him.
She wondered idly if Gates had been trying to drive them apart with that remark, but only shrugged in response to Mary's question. Her sister wasn't really looking for an answer, anyway.
"Something has happened," she said pensively, pacing across the reception room. "Something must have happened. I worry for Edward, Mary."
"Do you think I don't?" her sister demanded, gesturing furiously. "But now the Council has decreed that we are not worthy to be by our brother's side when he is ill! Oh, if I had a chance, I would make them regret every insult they have thrown our way…"
She trailed off, clearly too angry to even verbalize the threat. Elizabeth, however, answered quietly:
"You may soon have that chance."
Her words shocked them both into silence, and a moment passed before the elder Tudor girl spun to glare at her sister.
"Don't say that, Bess!" Her shock led her to use the childhood nickname, the one Elizabeth had shed years before. "Don't even think it. Edward—Edward will be fine. I know it."
"I don't think so, Mary." She hated to say the words almost as much as her sister hated to hear them; despite her differences with the Regency Council, Mary adored Edward. They both did, and had Elizabeth been anything other than the daughter of a King, she might well have been weeping at the thought of losing her little brother.
But as Mary had said, they were both Princesses, and they had to be made of sterner stuff than that.
"I have to believe—" Mary started, only to be cut off by her steward's sudden arrival.
"Your Highnesses, there is a messenger here for you." He sketched a quick bow, but the shock on his face made it very short. "And Lord Robert is here!"
Elizabeth whirled around, the words escaping before she could stop them. "My Robert?" she demanded.
"Elizabeth!" Well bred princess that she was, Mary shot her a scandalized look—but Elizabeth spotted the twinkle in her eyes, too. Mary knew how Elizabeth felt about Robert, always had. Yet Mary always insisted on observing proprieties. So she turned to the steward and commanded: "Send the messenger in, and see that Lord Robert is made comfortable and offered refreshments."
She shot her sister a glare but did not bother arguing as she moved back to Mary's side. By rights, they should have received Robert first; as the son of an earl, he outranked a mere messenger. However, an unexpected messenger could signify something extremely important…and they both knew that Robert would wait. He'd always said that one smile from Elizabeth was all the apology he ever needed, and just thinking about the way she could affect him made her twenty year old heart flutter.
Focus, Elizabeth! she told herself firmly as the steward led the messenger in. You are a Princess of England, and have larger concerns than youthful infatuations!
The messenger was a young man, handsome and suave enough to occupy Elizabeth's thoughts had her mind not already been full of Robert Dudley. He swept the pair of them a dramatic bow, and she could tell that his polite manner soothed Mary's ruffled feathers a bit. His voice was smooth, respectful:
"Your Highnesses," he greeted both princesses. "Thank you for receiving me."
"We are glad to receive you." Mary offered her hand to kiss, and was followed in due course by Elizabeth. "Master…?"
"Ainsworth, Your Grace. I am a man-at-arms for His Grace, the Duke of Norfolk."
That name made Elizabeth perk up; of the triumvirate holding power over Edward, Norfolk was undoubtedly their strongest supporter. He was related to Elizabeth by blood (which he never permitted her to forget), and tied to Mary through their shared love of the Catholic Church. Aging though he was, Norfolk was still the head of the vast Howard clan and a power to be reckoned with, particularly in the North. Neither Warwick nor Hertford crossed him lightly—but that did not explain why his man-at-arms arrived hard on the heels of the Council's refusal to allow their return to court. Norfolk was one of the heads of the Council, Elizabeth knew, which meant that Ainsworth's impeccable manners might pleasing and yet mean nothing at all.
"And what message does the Duke of Norfolk send us in such a hurry?" Mary inquired delicately, making Elizabeth start slightly. She hadn't quite noticed before, but Ainsworth's clothes were dusty and he smelled slightly of horse. He had clearly come straight to them from London, probably without stopping for long.
"Your Grace, I fear I have not beaten the Council's messenger, but the Duke cautions you not to believe everything they tell you. The King is seriously ill, and the Council is split—but you do have friends at court. My Lord suggests moving to one of your London houses, so that you might be close at hand for…whatever the situation may require."
It was treason to speculate about the King's death, but the words hung unspoken in the air.
Mary swallowed visibly.
"How is our brother the King?" the elder Tudor girl asked quietly when Elizabeth could not bring herself to. She knew the answer, but she did not want to hear it. She missed Edward desperately, missed the wonderful years they had spent together as children.
"Ill, My Lady, and worsening quickly," Ainsworth replied bluntly. Mary blanched at that, and Elizabeth forced herself to step in.
"Thank you for coming to us, Master Ainsworth," she said, speaking for the first time. "My sister and I would be honored if you would remain overnight with us at Hundson—unless, of course, My Lord the Duke requires your immediate return."
"It is best I not remain here, Your Highness," Ainsworth confirmed her suspicions immediately, but Elizabeth was more interested in the other message he conveyed, all without speaking a word. Ainsworth had addressed both of them as princesses, which could not have been an accident. Despite the Council's decision to verbally downgrade us, Norfolk wants us to know that he still views us as princesses, and as Edward's legal heirs.
"Then we shall regret your absence," Mary picked up again. "My steward will see to any needs you may have before departing."
Ainsworth bowed his thanks and was led out; however, the sisters barely had a chance to exchange glances before Robert Dudley barged in, making the steward yelp in surprise. Elizabeth spun to face him, shocked at the breach of Robert's usually impeccable manners, and then she noticed how disheveled he looked. If Ainsworth had appeared dusty and road-weary, Robert was downright filthy, with sweat and mud staining his fine clothing. He looked horrible, without any of the polish Elizabeth was accustomed to seeing from him.
A cold feeling swept over her, sinking deep into her stomach and making her shiver. Something was wrong. Elizabeth knew Robert as well as she knew herself, and she could read his expression like a book. He was exhausted, but Robert was worried, too. His strides were quick and long, eating up the distance between them rapidly as he crossed the hall.
"Lord Robert," Mary chided him with a smile, not seeing the signs as well as Elizabeth. "I understand that you have the King's permission to visit Princess Elizabeth, but—"
"Forgive me, Your Grace, but the King is dead," Robert interrupted, dropping to his knees in front of the two princesses.
Elizabeth's stomach dropped out.
"What?" Mary squeaked.
Neither knew who reached for the other, only that the sisters were suddenly holding hands, gripping one another so tightly that it hurt.
"The King died late this afternoon, Your Grace—Your Majesty," Robert corrected himself, his eyes focused on Mary. But Elizabeth's sister did not notice the compassion in his voice as she reared back angrily.
"Why has the Council not—"
"Mary," Elizabeth interjected gently, cutting off the furious demand. Yes, the Council should have sent someone—someone Robert clearly was not, if Elizabeth was reading his expression correctly—but something else was going on. "Why are you here, Robert?"
His gaze flicked to her, and Elizabeth could feel the pain and shame spilling out of his bottomless brown eyes. Then he steeled himself and looked back at Mary.
"My father intends to declare Lady Jane Grey Queen, on the basis of you both having been declared bastards by the late King Henry," he said quietly.
"Because she is married to your brother." Elizabeth could not keep back the sad comment. Poor Jane. She had always been a pawn in her domineering mother's hands, and now it looked as if her father-in-law was treating her the same way.
Their eyes met; Robert looked away first. "Yes, Princess."
Something had changed between them, and it broke Elizabeth's heart. But she was the heir to the throne now, and nothing would ever be the same again. She was the heir, and her sister was the Queen, the first ruling Queen since the days Empress Matilda had lost the throne.
The same thought was hitting Mary, and Elizabeth drove it home by sinking to her knees at her sister's feet. "Your Majesty," she whispered, still holding Mary's hand.
Mary blinked, and Elizabeth thought she might have seen tears in her eyes. But the hand that squeezed Elizabeth's fingers was firm, and Mary sounded positively regal when she spoke. "Rise, sister. And you, also, Lord Robert."
Shocking Elizabeth, Mary reached out to briefly take Robert's hand in her own, giving him a grateful smile.
"And we thank you for coming, Robert, even though it puts you at odds with your family. I will not forget this."
"I could not do otherwise, Your Majesty," Robert replied, his honesty manifest. His eyes, however, flicked to Elizabeth once more, and she felt herself color slightly. But Robert cleared his throat and continued: "If I may be so bold, Your Majesty, you need to act quickly. Jane and Guilford aren't yet in London—if you beat them there, you may not have to fight at all."
"You suggest I race them for the throne." Mary scowled.
"Yes, Your Grace. I suppose I do."
Elizabeth could see that the thought of entering London in anything less than glittering triumph grieved Mary deeply; her sister had always imagined herself as a beloved and accepted Queen, welcomed to the throne by the people of England. But they were both too aware of how politics could destroy such girlish dreams. They would fight for their rights if they had to.
"We had best get moving then, oughtn't we?" Elizabeth said to her sister with a broad smile. "Your Majesty."
Mary finally smiled, a true smile that filled her eyes with joy. "Nothing in our lives has been easy, I suppose. I should not expect this to be any different," she said philosophically. "You will come with us to London, of course, Lord Robert."
"I would be honored, Majesty." Robert straightened, his eyes shining.
Elizabeth shot Mary a grateful look. Every courtier dreamed of such an opportunity, and Mary just put her seal of favor on Robert Dudley, despite his father's treason. I love him, Elizabeth realized suddenly, despairingly. He's risked everything for us, and by God, I love this man.
But there was no time for love, only for hard work and a race to the throne.
Mary's coronation was three weeks later, and the threat of Jane Grey and Guilford Dudley faded into nothingness. The sudden appearance of King Henry's daughters in London brought the populace out in support, and the nobility deserted Warwick in droves. Norfolk came out immediately to champion Mary as Hertford drove a carefully neutral middle road, leaving Robert's father with only Henry Grey, the Duke of Suffolk, in his corner. Both were quickly captured and sent to the Tower, while Jane, Guilford, and Robert's other brothers swore allegiance to Mary. Elizabeth was there for everything, including the day Jane came to Mary in tears, telling her how she had tried to resist Warwick's plans, and how she wanted nothing more than to be Mary's friend and loyal servant.
Two days after the traitors lost their heads, Mary made Jane Grey the Marchioness of Dorset, and promised that her (future) first born son would inherit the title of Jane's late grandfather, the Duke of Suffolk. At the same time, Mary created Robert as Marquis of Northampton and Earl of Leicester, allowing his elder brother to inherit the Warwick earldom, but elevating Robert above all of his siblings and most of the court as a reward for his continued loyalty. Ecstatic, Elizabeth found every possible excuse to dance with the new Marquis at the banquet celebrating his elevation, and tried to tell herself that she did not love him.
The effort was doomed to failure.
The first few months were full of glorious celebrations, as Mary mended fences with all and sundry, reaching out to both political foes inside of England and to foreign powers long unsettled by their father's actions. The triumvirate controlling Edward had not done much aside from battle with one another and preserve the status quo, particularly in an international sense (aside from repeatedly repelling Scottish raids, but those attacks were merely considered a fact of life). Mary, however, immediately set out to reaffirm England's place in the international community…and, of course, reached out to the cousin who had supported her and her mother for so long.
The Emperor immediately proposed marriage between Mary and his son, Prince Philip, and the offer's arrival neatly coincided with the Privy Council's outspoken belief that Mary should be wed as soon as possible. Truth be told, Elizabeth knew that Mary desperately wanted a husband and children of her own, so the idea was not exactly a hardship for her sister—but Elizabeth was wary.
"Must it be a foreigner?" she asked the new Queen in December of 1553, the first year of Mary's reign.
She had waited until they were finally alone, given how sensitive the subject was, but time was pressing; the marriage negotiations had already begun. But now that Mary was Queen, the two sisters had far less time to spend solely with one another. So many responsibilities and duties demanded Mary's attention, not to mention the dozens of advisors and courtiers vying for a few moments of her day. At the same time, Elizabeth found herself at the center of a glittering court where gaining her favor was one of the swiftest routes into Mary's good graces, and she found the entire situation more than a little heady. She loved every moment, adored being the center of attention, but thanked her lucky stars that her sister and her governess had raised her to understand how fickle and bloodthirsty the court could be.
"It's how royalty must marry, Elizabeth," Mary sighed. "Especially Queens. Besides, why shouldn't I marry a foreign prince?"
"A foreign prince will see himself as your equal," Elizabeth pointed out, but Mary countered with a content laugh.
"As well he should! I want a partner, not a subordinate."
What Mary meant was that she believed a partner would be the best outcome she could find in a royal marriage, but then, the entire Council kept talking about how Mary needed a husband to rule for her, so Elizabeth supposed she should not have been surprised. Still, she shot a glare at the gorgeous portrait of Prince Philip that Mary had been mooning over.
"He's going to think he can rule you," she said stubbornly. "And England through you."
"An English nobleman would be no different."
Elizabeth snorted. "Only if you pick the wrong one."
"Men are men, sister," Mary laughed. "They all think they can rule us, but at least one born royally will be bred to understand the responsibilities of ruling."
Much though she wanted to, Elizabeth could hardly argue with either of those points, particularly given that she knew which example of an arrogant English nobleman Mary was going to bring up. Foolish Tom Seymour, who had tried to court both sisters at once and who had wound up with neither—and then had been stripped of most of his titles and honors by a vengeful Duke of Norfolk, with the Earl of Hertford's full cooperation. And yet Elizabeth could not shake the feeling that Prince Philip would be a terrible match for her beloved sister, handsome though he was.
"We both know how our people view foreigners, Mary. They won't put up with what they see as a foreign monarch, not happily," she argued. "At least if you elevate an Englishman as your consort, he'll always remember that you can tear him down once again."
Even Mary cringed at that, moving to wrap an arm around her younger sister. "Oh, Bess," she breathed. "It doesn't have to be like that. It won't be like that. Not for me, and not for you."
"You still should be prepared. I'm not saying he was right, but we are our father's daughters."
How dispassionate her own voice sounded surprised Elizabeth, because the same memory weight on both their minds. Elizabeth was too young to remember and Mary had been banished from court at the time, but both knew what words Henry VIII had been rumored to say to Anne Boleyn. "I raised you to where you are, and I can tear you down again just as quickly!" The thought of her poor mother hearing that had always made Elizabeth shudder.
"I think that is one area in which I will not seek to emulate him. Among others," Mary replied tartly, but then she cracked a smile. "Besides, can you imagine having had five husbands?"
Despite herself, Elizabeth giggled. "It might be good for variety!"
Laughing together made them feel like young girls again, not like Queen and Princess. Mary would go on to marry Philip, of course, despite the Council's objections, but the lesson Elizabeth took away from the experience was far different than it might have been. Instead of growing determined to live her life alone, Elizabeth realized how very important it was to have someone she trusted by her side.
Never was that lesson so clear as it became a year into Mary's marriage.
"He's threatening to leave if I won't give him men and money for his damned war!" Mary shouted at the Earl of Hertford, Sir William Cecil, and the new Duke of Norfolk, grandson of Elizabeth's recently deceased great uncle. Tears were shining in Mary's eyes, but she clearly refused to let them fall.
"Your Majesty, there is neither money nor men to give," Hertford replied for the trio of advisors. With the loss of the old Duke, Hertford had slipped easily into the role of the Privy Council's leader. Much though Elizabeth was inclined to dislike him based on her mother's history with the Seymour clan, she had to admit that he was capable. More importantly, she agreed with him in this case.
"And your marriage treaty specifically does not require England to become involved in Spain's wars, Your Grace," Cecil added, his eyes sliding towards Elizabeth as she stepped further into the room. She nodded a greeting to Mary's councilors before moving to her sister's side.
Poor Mary. She looks so torn, and I'm only going to make her day worse.
She sank into a curtsey at Mary's feet. These days, Elizabeth was always careful to show Mary proper respect—the sisters had plenty of enemies at court who would love to pit the heir apparent against the still childless Queen, and she refused to give them ammunition. Mary's gaze shifted to her, relief filling her features.
"You may leave us, My Lords," she commanded, much to their annoyance. But they did not argue, instead bowing and leaving the sisters alone.
As soon as the door closed, Mary threw herself into a chair, looking heartbroken. "They don't understand," she whispered. "Philip says he will never come back if I do not help him fight in France. And he says that I am too soft on heretics here in England, even though I have returned the country to the true faith! I told him that it is not the peoples' fault that they were misled by our father's intransigence, but he only calls me an undutiful wife!"
Elizabeth tried not to wince. Aside from demanding her assistance in his foreign adventures, Philip had also commanded that Mary burn all those who he felt were heretics. The Spanish prince completely ignored the fact that England's Protestant movement was small and still mostly underground; denying dissenters publically-executed martyrs robbed them of the opportunity to galvanize public opinion, and Mary's policies had so far been tolerant. She wanted to bring England back to the Church gently, a desire made more possible by the fact that Henry VIII had never really moved away from the traditions and trappings of the true religion, and Edward had not had the chance to make changes to the Church in England. Healing the rift with the Pope had been simple, and Mary was inclined to show mercy while she waited for the reformers to come around.
So far, turning a blind eye had brought England more peace and quiet than the country had experienced in years…but Philip wanted to ruin that. And poor Mary loved the man, and wanted to please him.
"He's not a dutiful husband if he's pressuring you that way," Elizabeth said harshly, sitting down at Mary's side.
"I'm serious, Mary. He has no right to demand that of you, and he knows it."
Mary shook her head, tears glistening again. "But I'm his wife. Philip has a right to expect—"
"You're a Queen first," Elizabeth cut her off.
"Can I not be both?" But the look on Mary's face said that she had known the answer before she asked the question. She didn't lack strength, Mary Tudor, but sometimes she just needed someone to talk to. Having been lonely and abandoned for most of her life, Mary craved closeness, and more than that, she ached for approval. Worse yet, Elizabeth suspected, Mary craved the approval of a King, and Philip was the closest England had to one.
Not for the first time, Elizabeth cursed their father for what he had done to both of them. Her issues were different from her sister's, but no less potent because of that. Yet Mary's seesaw of a childhood had left her emotionally handicapped, and now England could suffer for Henry VIII's inconsistencies.
"You know you can't," she said more gently, taking her sister's hands in her own.
"But he loves me," Mary whispered, clearly trying to convince herself. "He only acts as he does out of love for me and a desire to bring our countries closer together."
"He doesn't love you, Mary." Elizabeth hated herself for saying it, and had to swallow before continuing. Her voice shook: "He came to me this morning, claiming that you were barren and soon to die, and promising to be kind to me if we were to marry after our death."
"He tried to kiss me, and if Kat hadn't come in—"
"Did you lead him on?" Mary demanded, suddenly angry. She was very conscious of her own advancing age, particularly where Philip was concerned.
"But a Christian prince would not—"
"Mary, he is your husband, my brother-in-law," Elizabeth cut her off, feeling herself redden in shame, "and you are the only family I have! I could not do that to you, even if I wanted him. Besides, I do not find him so attractive as—"
She stopped herself, flushing harder, but the inadvertent slip broke through Mary's fury.
"Oh, Elizabeth, of course you don't. I'm sorry. I just…"
Heartbreak won out over self-control, and the resulting wail could be heard out in the palace's corridors. Philip's attempt to secure his hold on the English throne forever shattered Mary's trust in her husband, and she sobbed her soul out in Elizabeth's arms.
Philip, of course, tried to blame Elizabeth when Mary confronted him that evening, but the damage was already done. He called the younger girl a temptress and accused her of attempting to seduce him, but Mary would not hear a word against her younger sister. More importantly, when Philip called Elizabeth a figurehead for the reformer sect at Court and accused her of conspiring against the Queen, Mary refused to banish her from court and instead threatened to do the same to Philip.
The Spanish Prince left in a huff, infuriated by the reverent way the English people cheered Mary for standing up to him. He attempted to remonstrate with her Council, but to a man they backed Mary's refusal to send English troops into a foreign war, claiming disastrous harvests, treacherous downpours, and lack of money in the royal treasury. On the day of Philip's departure, Mary spoke to a huge crowd in London, stressing England's independence and her own love for her English people. Bringing Elizabeth forward, she swore that no Spaniard would rule England while she lived, and that Great Harry's daughters would always stand between England and foreign domination.
Philip would have been incensed to see the outpouring of patriotism and sheer love for Mary, but he was already gone.
He came back, of course, now the King of Spain and desperate for an heir to permanently unite England and Spain. Mary greeted him more coolly than before, actually getting on more amicably with her husband now that she no longer trusted him implicitly. Philip, for his part, was only foolish enough to bring up the subject of "heretics" once more. Elizabeth was far more in tune with (and tolerant of) England's growing reform movement than Mary, but so long as the English were loyal and outwardly Catholic, Mary refused to let Philip bully her into treating them like criminals. Radicals who insisted on shouting their beliefs out in public were rewarded with a lengthy stay in Fleet Prison, but Mary still declined to make martyrs of them. Crown-sponsored education programs continued apace, perhaps converting some Protestants, and certainly making no enemies for the Catholic Church. Elizabeth did not have many hopes for mass conversions, but she had always been more open minded than her sister.
After all, Mary had no idea that Kat Ashley was a closet reformer, and that was the one thing that Elizabeth never planned to share with her. But even Philip's religious fervor was finally quieted when Mary announced that she was pregnant.
Her own closest held ambition was to be Queen, but Elizabeth celebrated as heartily as anyone else. She knew how long her sister had prayed for a child of her own, knew how Mary burned to be a mother. As much as she, Elizabeth, wanted to inherit the crown, she could not begrudge Mary her own happiness. She loved her sister too much.
Philip clearly did not, however, and yet again he tried to charm his way into Elizabeth's affections, hinting that the Pope had already given his promise of a dispensation to be granted upon Mary's death, entitling Philip to marry his younger sister-in-law without delay. She replied pertly that they Tudors had never had much luck with Papal-issued dispensations, and that Philip should remember that Elizabeth was her mother's daughter. The reference to Anne Boleyn seemed to both infuriate Philip and to inflame his desire, but Elizabeth went to Mary once more.
Her sister, now better acquainted with Philip's amorous nature and content in the early stages of her pregnancy, took the news rather philosophically. She had decided to emulate her mother where her wayward husband was concerned, and now only sighed.
"He needs distraction," Mary decided. "And you need to be married. Quickly, too, lest he try to wrangle a precontract out of you."
Elizabeth's eyes went wide. This she had not expected. "Sister!"
"No arguments, Bess." Mary squeezed her hands. "Married well, you are both safe from Philip and a viable regent for my child if I do not live to see him or her reach their majority. Philip already has Don Carlos for Spain," she pointed out, her right hand moving to rest on her stomach. "This child is for England."
"Mary, I am honored, but surely you will live to see your many children grow to adulthood," Elizabeth objected, meaning every word. The thought of losing her sister was terrifying, threatened to tear a hole in her heart just from contemplating a world without Mary.
"We must be ready for all possibilities." The Queen's voice broke on the next sentence. "And if I fail—"
"You will not!" But both of their mothers had.
"If I fail, you must have children," Mary overrode her. "For me, if not for yourself. For England."
Swallowing hard, Elizabeth could only stare at her sister. This was the first time they had really talked about what happened if Mary could not have a child, and Elizabeth found the idea of filling her sister's shoes unbelievably daunting. It wasn't that the idea of becoming Queen frightened her, just that the thought of Mary failing at anything was so alien. Mary was always capable. She had stolen the throne before Warwick's bid for power could get off the ground. She had prevented a civil war by embracing Protestants and offering them places on her Council. She had even made peace with Scotland, and although no one trusted the Scots to keep their promises, Mary had thus far managed to hold the line. Her only unpopular move had been to marry Philip, and she had learned from that—and had still gained Spain's protection from France, because no matter how much her neutrality irked her husband, France would never think to attack England when the country had such powerful allies.
"And I think you were right," Mary interrupted her thoughts. "It must be someone that you can rule, and that means you cannot marry foreign prince. In fact, it probably means that he should be an Englishman."
Elizabeth's heart hammered against her ribcage. She had been so afraid that Mary would choose one of Philip's suggestions—
"Is there anyone you prefer?" her sister asked coyly.
She went red, feeling like her face was on fire. "I…"
"Perhaps a certain Lord Robert, Marquis of Northampton?"
She could not say more, but did not need to. Mary wrapped her arms around Elizabeth, whispering maternally in her ear.
"If I cannot be happy, maybe you can. Besides, I think he loves you enough to be subordinate to you, even if you are but a woman."
The distraction part of the puzzle they dealt with by inviting the Dowager Queen Katherine back to court. Widowed two years previously when Lord Culpepper died unexpectedly in a hunting accident, she had retreated from court with her three young children to mourn a husband she clearly loved deeply. But now, on Elizabeth's advice, Mary reached out to the woman she had once despised above all and asked for her help—as was surprised how readily the invitation was accepted. For her part, Elizabeth was delighted to see the Culpepper children, two of whom she had stood as godmother to (the eldest girl had Anne of Cleves for a godmother, but their father's fourth wife was far from court and ill these days), but her happiness on that front was not terribly important. What was important was the way Philip's head turned upon the Dowager Queen's arrival at court.
He really was a very shallow man where women were concerned, Elizabeth reflected. Kitty Culpepper, nee Howard, was thirty-three years of age, now, but she had matured from a pretty child into a true beauty, and she well understood the effect she had on men. She had little desire to actually invite the King of Spain into her bed, but Kitty did love flirting, and flirt she did. Philip was immediately drawn to her.
As Elizabeth pointed out to Mary, if you wanted to hold a man's attention, there was no one better than Howard woman to do it.
Mary even managed to laugh at the remark, and agree that Kitty certainly knew how that game was played. The genuine smile on the Queen's face spoke volumes about how far the Tudors had come from the days when Katherine of Aragon had faced off against Anne Boleyn, and the sisters were content.
The furious roaring out Philip subjected Mary to when Elizabeth's engagement was announced did nothing to dissuade the Queen. Due to enter confinement in April of 1555, Mary arranged for Elizabeth and Robert to marry before that, not trusting Philip to stay away from her sister once she was out of sight. Kitty Howard was holding his attention well enough, but he didn't want to marry her, which made Mary wary. In the end, it turned out that her concern was unwarranted, because Philip retreated to Spain weeks before the wedding, still in a temper over having his ambitions thwarted.
Mary sat with Cardinal Pole at the wedding, and Elizabeth experienced a moment's bittersweet regret for her sister. Reginald Pole would have been a much better match for Mary, and he would have made her happy—but then her own new husband squeezed her hand and returned her attention back to the present.
"Are you quite satisfied, Madam the Marquise?" Robert asked her, grinning.
"Madam the Marquess," she corrected him with a laugh, although neither title was technically wrong. Now that she was married to Robert, Elizabeth was Marquise of Northampton and Countess of Leister, but Mary had also restored her mother's old title of Marquess of Pembrooke to Elizabeth, making Robert the Marquis of Pembrooke in addition to his other titles. She would always be a Princess of England, of course, but Elizabeth greatly appreciated the gesture from her sister.
"Am I not the husband?" he teased her gently, knowing of Mary's troubles with Philip and having promised Elizabeth that he would support her without trying to rule her.
"Am I not the Princess?" she countered lightly.
Robert kissed her, ending the playful disagreement. Elizabeth did not fear that Robert would break his promise—she had known him since childhood, and she trusted him. In return for his willingness to take second place politically, Elizabeth had promised to always respect his opinion and share her burdens with him. They had Philip and Mary's example of how badly power-sharing could work, and both were determined not to follow that path.
But for now they were young and they were married, and Elizabeth joyfully let Robert lead her out to the dance floor, where she could finally show the world how much she loved the man who had become her husband.
Three months later, she was with Mary when the doctors told the Queen that there was no child in her belly, and a tumor had formed instead. Elizabeth held her sister as she sobbed, and helped her weather the storm of emotion when Philip's heartless letter of "condolences" arrived. From that moment forward, Mary knew that she would never see her husband again.
"I had hoped to have a son and spite our father in doing so," Mary whispered from her bed. Five weeks had passed, and she had still not risen, while the Council ruled England on her behalf, with Elizabeth attending meetings as Mary's proxy.
"We may yet have that chance, Mary," Elizabeth whispered, having agonized over how to share the news with her heartbroken sister. But she need not have worried; Mary's face lit up.
"Confirmed just last week." Her sister's joy was contagious, and Elizabeth giggled like a child as Mary embraced her. "Will you be the godmother? Please?"
"Of course I will!" Now a different type of tears glittered on the Queen's face. "Oh, Elizabeth. He might have stolen the chance to be a mother from me, but we won't let him take it from you. Tell Robert to care well for you, and I will make him a Duke when the child is born, boy or girl."
Elizabeth burst into tears.
Mary's health rallied as Elizabeth became big with child. By mid-July, the Queen returned to court and threw herself into the business of securing Elizabeth's place as her heir. Robert, too, helped by charming Mary out of her despondency. He danced exclusively with her at Christmas and bought her dozens of heartfelt gifts when Mary's spirits flagged, treating her more like a beloved sister than a monarch, and providing the familial love that Mary needed so badly. His attentions finally made Mary joke that perhaps she should have married Robert herself, but Elizabeth only laughed, secure in her husband's love. Besides, Robert's focus on Mary ensured that he did not so much as think of taking a mistress when Elizabeth could not lie with him, a fact she was hardly blind to.
Elizabeth entered confinement in October of 1558, wishing devoutly that her great-grandmother had not laid down such strict rules governing childbirth by royalty. Being locked away from the life of the court was dull beyond belief, and the days dragged onwards without relief. Only constant visits by Robert and Mary kept her from going truly mad, along with the Dowager Queen and her two daughters, who provided cheerful smiles and entertaining antics. Mary had warmed to Kitty a little these days, helped by the way motherhood and lonely widowhood had matured their father's last wife. They would never be bosom friends, but the two Queens were friendly enough now, and Mary protected Kitty from an unwanted third marriage when the new Duke of Norfolk sought to marry his cousin off for the benefit of the Howard clan.
"Speaking of marriages, the Earl of Hertford has approached me about his son," Mary mentioned one day as she tried to entertain her bored sister.
"Oh?" Elizabeth looked up from the sewing she had been trying to focus on. Between her, Mary, and their ladies, the coming child already had more clothing than any one baby could ever wear, but at least sewing passed the time.
"Young Lord Edward wants to marry Catherine Grey, it seems."
That made Elizabeth grimace. "What is it about the Grey sisters and the sons of ambitious men?"
"I think this case may be different," the Queen replied reflectively. "Hertford is actually against the idea, but it seems that his boy and Catherine are in love and threatening to elope. Frances Grey is furious."
"She deserves no worse," Elizabeth snorted. No one had ever been able to prove that Frances had been neck deep in Warwick's plot to place her daughter Jane on the throne, which meant she had kept her head when her husband was relieved of his. Yet Frances was wise enough to remain away from court most days, although it probably irked her to see Jane continue to receive Mary's favor.
"Catherine is terribly in love with Lord Edward, Your Grace." Jane now spoke up from the chair she'd been sewing in. She smiled wryly. "This isn't a case of ambitious parents who have to drag the prospective bride and groom down the aisle, much though my mother fears you will see Guilford and I in Catherine and Edward."
On first glance, the parallels were striking, although Elizabeth did not think that Hertford was nearly as foolish as Warwick; Edward Seymour would never gamble his own life so wildly. He preferred to gain the monarch's favor and keep it, and knew exactly where his head would end up if he even thought about supplanting Henry VIII's daughters with a Grey girl.
Yet the similarities ended there. Poor Jane and Guilford had not wanted to marry one another at all, Elizabeth knew, and had taken years to warm up to one another. They would never be in love, but the pair had developed a fondness for each other, and seemed happy now. Marriage and escape from her domineering mother had done Jane a world of good, too. Back in the days of Edward's reign, she would never have dared speak her mind like this, but now she was comfortable as part of Mary's closest circle of friends.
"Should we allow it, then, cousin Jane?" Mary asked lightly, making Jane blush.
"If Your Majesty pleases. It would surely make my sister the happiest of brides."
"And we Tudor women do have a habit of marrying who we please," Elizabeth added wickedly. "Going all the way back to Jane's grandmother, I believe."
They all laughed together. Elizabeth was too young to have known Princess Margaret, the Dowager Queen of Portugal who had thrown everything away to marry the Duke of Suffolk, but Mary had told her many stories about their brave and defiant aunt while growing up. Catherine Grey was made more in her grandmother's mold than Jane was, and Elizabeth could very well believe that she would make good on that threat to elope.
"Well, then that settles it," Mary concluded with a smile. "Besides, there shall be a fine Tudor lad or lass soon enough, which should put paid to any courtier's foolish ambitions."
That had been one of the two stipulations Mary had insisted on inserting into Elizabeth and Robert's marriage contract: their children would all be Tudors. Robert had brothers enough to carry on the Dudley name, anyway, and he'd not argued. He'd been a little less happy when Mary had, in writing, denied him the chance at the crown matrimonial, but even Robert could override his own ambitions enough to understand why. He would never be more than Prince Consort if Elizabeth came to the throne, but that still made him the first man at court, and Robert was content enough.
But Elizabeth turned her mind back to her sister, taking Mary's hand. "I may be the mother, but this child is for both of us, Mary."
On November 17, 1558, Elizabeth gave birth with the Queen, Jane and Catherine Grey, and the Dowager Queen in attendance. Robert paced furiously outside the birthing chamber, never willing to believe that it had actually been a quick labor and an easy birth; he only knew that Elizabeth's cries seemed to go on forever. Finally, however, Elizabeth fell back against the bed, torn between exhaustion, disappointment, and all-consuming love.
The Queen cradled the child while the other ladies prepared Elizabeth to receive visitors, and then handed her to her mother.
"She's beautiful, sister," Mary interrupted with a genuine smile, even if the expression was a little wistful. "Another princess for the Tudor line. We do seem to be hardier than the boys, after all."
Elizabeth melted into a smile of her own, looking at her beautiful daughter. Her eyes were blue, as all babies' were, and she already possessed a full head of Tudor red hair. She mewed softly, and Elizabeth rocked her gently. "Thank you," she whispered.
Robert arrived before Mary could respond, rushing into the room.
"Are you all right, my love?" he asked quickly, forgetting to even bow to the Queen in his rush to reach his wife's side.
"I'm fine, Robin," she smiled at his concern, and then shifted the baby in her arms. Elizabeth forced herself to smile, and to speak levelly, without concerns for her husband's reaction. "Meet your daughter."
Robert's entire expression softened. "She's so tiny," he breathed. "What do we name her?"
They had not discussed names before the birth; Elizabeth had been too superstitious to allow it. She'd been afraid that talking about names could jinx them, but now that she'd seen her daughter, the choice was obvious.
"I want to name her Mary," Elizabeth said softly, "for the sister who has always been the only mother I have ever known."
She risked a glance at her sister, and the joy in Mary's eyes made every challenge of the last fifteen years worthwhile.
Mary I died in August of 1559, eight months after her goddaughter's birth. Visibly pregnant, Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England one month later, with her husband, the Duke of Northampton, by her side. She would reign for forty-four years, during which time Robert Dudley remained both loyal and faithful, a pillar of strength when she needed him, and always her best friend . Of their four children, only two survived her, both daughters. Neither of their sons died young, but one had been lost fighting Philip's Armada and the other years before to smallpox, leaving another Mary Tudor to inherit the throne.
Mary II and her husband, James VI of Scotland, saw to it that Elizabeth was buried next to her sister, as united in death as they had been in life. The inscription on the tomb in Westminster Abbey described the pair well: "Consorts in realm and tomb, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters, in hope of resurrection"
In memory of Elizabeth I: 17 November 1558 – 24 March 1603
Author's Note: As this is my first "Tudors" fic, and a style I don't usually write in, I'd really appreciate knowing what you think. Thanks very much for reading!