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The Bradgate Heiress

The Bradgate Heiress


Book excerpt

DOWAGER QUEEN KATHERINE’S DIARY.  OLD MANOR, CHELSEA.  MARCH 1547 

At the age of thirty five I have been married three times, once to a young man, once to an old man and once to the king of England and I am about to marry for the fourth time to the only man I have ever loved.  Sir Edward Borough, my first, was sickly and died very young. My second, John Neville, Baron Latimer was very old and died soon after an illness. My third, King Henry VIII was sickly and old, had survived five previous marriages and died four years after we were wed. I became Queen of England for a brief spell although I had never sought such high office; I only wished to marry the one man I loved, Sir Thomas Seymour but the king proposed marriage and pressed hard for my acceptance and who am I to defy the monarch and refuse his suit?

          By the time I married Henry he was no longer able to function as a man; we lived together to eat, sleep and sit quietly in peace; no other activity was possible. Much the same comments apply to my other two husbands, if for different or varied reasons.

          Why did I marry any of these men? The simple answer is because they asked me and all offered advanced status and position, in the case of Henry, the highest in the land. But I can hold up my head and say, in all honesty and innocence, I did my duty by all of them; I nursed Borough in sickness, as I did Latimer in his turn and also as I did the king. I made a home and offered support and affection to Henry’s son, our present King Edward VI, to Mary his eldest daughter and to little Elizabeth, his youngest. Elizabeth is here with me now, I have made a home for her here at Old Manor and would have taken in Mary also but she chose to make her own way and be independent and I wish her well of her decision. And this very afternoon I will welcome Henry’s niece, the little Lady Jane Grey who I have been pleased to offer a home to. The child is the daughter of Henry Grey, the Marquis of Dorset and his wife Frances

and she has never been content at home; she is a serious, intelligent, bright little girl who spends all her time in study and learning and, like myself, is dedicated to a love of God and the church.

              Most of Henry’s previous wives died badly. Two went to the block and had their heads removed, two were annulled and one, the only woman he ever truly loved, Jane Seymour, died very soon after giving birth to his only legitimate son and heir, Edward, now our boy king. Henry lies now, at peace, God willing, next to Jane in the chapel at Windsor Castle. It was by his command and I wish him well of it. Jane gave him the only things he ever wanted from a woman, love, peace, harmony and obedience, as indeed I hope I did also in my turn. Mine was, however, a marriage of convenience, as far as I was concerned.

          I have lived and flourished, attained high social status but have never been content or happy. Yet I have few regrets and intend to make a new life with the man I love, Jane Seymour’s younger brother Thomas, who has again proposed marriage which I have accepted. Sir Thomas was well looked upon by Henry after he married Jane and her older brother Edward was appointed Lord Protector. The younger sibling Thomas, was made Lord Admiral.  He will be here, with me, later today and my heart will start to race and pound as it does whenever I am near him. He is a handsome man forsooth with big, dark, masculine eyes and a long, well -trimmed beard which I love to stroke. I sometimes feel weak and inadequate in his presence for I am slim and fair haired and physically weak but I am tall and, I hope, well attired and presented. We will, I hope fervently, share love, devotion and affection for each other for many years to come and I can begin to shut out the pain, tribulations and dissatisfactions of the past.

             

 I am at peace, at last and if the future is unknown, as it must be, I am ever hopeful that my situation will change for the better.  It is a cold but bright day today, blue skies but little sun as I stroll in my garden before dinner. The contrasting greens of the topiary shapes provide a colourful aspect as I walk along the avenues of bushes and then pause for a moment by a sundial.  I think about Elizabeth.  She is thirteen now and another serious, bright child who seems to spend most of her time in study and learning and in her case, I think, a rather strong will is developing. She will be one who wants and often gets her own way I’m thinking unless she meets an equally strong willed man to wed. I have seen little of her indeed in the last three days having left her to the mercies of her tutor and the servants. I must arrange to see her early this afternoon, after dinner and before the arrival of little Jane.

·                                                     *                                               *

Simple pleasures suffice now that I have lived through three marriages and been made

thrice a widow.  I sit in the window alcove after dinner and look out at the gardens as I sip from a large goblet of wine. This gentle reverie can last an hour or even almost two at times and the servants know well enough never to disturb me, unless it is truly a matter of life and death. When at last I do summon a servant, I am beginning to feel refreshed and ready to continue my day.

           ‘Ask the Lady Elizabeth to come down to see me,’ I instruct Alice and she curtsies and hurries out of the chamber.  The child enters looking bright and crisp in a black pinafore dress trimmed with gold thread. I bid her sit down, close to me.

           ‘I’ve been neglecting you for the past few days,’ I tell her gently, stroking her flowing red hair. ‘I’ve been so occupied around the manor.’

               ‘I’ve been all right,’ she says blandly, with hardly any emotion in her voice.

                I study her face closely as she turns her head to face me; she frowns and I notice that she seems very self- assured, confident and independent, all of which I find somewhat disturbing in a girl of just thirteen years.

            ‘Your tutor informs me that you have been somewhat inattentive during lessons in the last few days,’ I say, watching her face closely as I speak. She shrugs.

           ‘Why?’

            She shakes her head as if to convey an impression that she has not understood me.

            ‘Has he said anything to disturb you as you study?’

             She shakes her head again, looks down at the floor.

             ‘I need to know Elizabeth,’ I say, aware of the harsh tone of my voice.

            When I finally draw it out of her after several attempts, it appears that she has been upset by his recent references to life in England under the old Church of Rome, before her mother became queen. She does not wish to hear about those bad times, she says and as God appointed her father as head of the state and the church, the previous situation should surely be buried and forgotten.  I point out quietly but firmly that it is part of her continuing education to be aware of what went before, as well as after she was born. She scowls at me but makes no reply. I tell her quietly that she is progressing well generally with her education,

showing strong aptitude to learning languages, writing good English and studying the classics. She is also working hard at learning music, specifically the lute and her sewing and embroidery are coming along satisfactorily. 

        ‘So why must I be instructed about that beastly woman who married my father before my mother?’ She asks, sulkily.

         ‘Because,’ I say, acerbically, ‘it is all part of your heritage and part of recent history and I require you to be fully informed.’

          She glares at me but makes no response.

          ‘Be assured of this,’ I say with an edge to my tone. ‘I promised your father I would ensure you received a full and thorough education and were brought up to be a noble lady and I intend to honour my commitment to the full.’

          I disengage my hands from her hair and sit back. She squirms around on the floor in front of me and turns to sit facing me.

         ‘Do you fully understand?’ I ask.

         ‘Yes,’ she says, softly, after a pause and she shakes her head, tossing her hair freely.

         ‘Good,’ I say. ‘You may return to your chamber.’

          She rises and moves purposefully towards the door. I call her name before she reaches it and she turns once more to face me, brows knitted together.

            ‘As I told you yesterday, your cousin, Jane Grey is coming to live with us. She arrives later this noon. She has been very unhappy at home and I want to make her feel at home and welcome here. I want you to be nice to her and treat her like a sister.’

          ‘She is just a little child,’ she says haughtily.  ‘And very dull and boring.’

          ‘She is a very sweet little girl,’ I reply, raising my voice, ’and I will not have her hurt or upset. Do you understand?

          She glares at me again, her face set in a grim expression. I tell her that Jane has been harshly treated by her father The Marquis and, particularly by her mother Lady Frances and I am determined that she will find a loving home and family here. I must insist that Elizabeth treats her kindly, gently and with courtesy at all times.

        ‘Do you fully understand?’

        ‘Yes madam. I do.’

         ‘You are nearly four years older and must set a good example.’

         She nods slowly and I see by her expression she knows she must not vex me in this matter.

         ‘You may go.’  She departs hastily and I am left reflecting that she usually addresses me as ‘mother’ rather than ‘madam’ but she will come round in time and she already knows that I mean business. I must, however, tread carefully with her. Fully aware as I am of the trauma of her early years as a small child, having her half sister Mary assigned to wait on her like a servant when she was barely two years old and later, after the violent death of her mother,

being declared illegitimate and then being shuttled around the country hither and thither, rarely settling long enough to call anywhere home. It is hardly the sort of early up-bringing to set up any small child for the future.

           I settle back in my chair and let out a deep sigh. I call a servant and ask her to bring me more wine and sweetmeats.

*                                             *                                        *                                                  *

The carriage arrives on the circular pathway at three thirty. I glance out of the window and notice the Marquis’s coat of arms in gold on the side of the shiny black coach. The footmen alight and go to open the door to let out the little Lady Jane and her nurse, Mrs. Ellen who, I am given to understand, has been with her since birth.

            The little girl looks terribly pale and small, her white face shining out from the wrappings of her fur cloak. Mrs Ellen is a big, chubby faced woman with a warm smile; she will fit in nicely here, I think.

          I bid a servant to bank up the fire with logs; the nights are still chill at the moment. I bid him instruct another servant to take Mrs Ellen to her chamber and bring the little Lady Jane to me as soon as she has shed her heavy cloak. Mrs Ellen I will interview later.

         ‘Well Jane you are welcome indeed,’ I say as she enters nervously and advances slowly towards my chair. ‘I trust you had an agreeable journey?’

          ‘Yes, madam,’ she replies softly.

          ‘Not too many bumps and potholes along the way?’

            ‘Not too many madam.’

           ‘Why don’t you address me as aunt?’

            She nods shyly in agreement. She is dressed in a long, cream coloured pinafore dress with fur trimmings. Her golden chestnut coloured hair is luxuriant and she is a very pretty little thing. I bid her come nearer and sit down. She does so, slowly, hesitantly, demurely. I smile reassuringly at her. ‘Now Jane, you are to regard this as your home now and for the foreseeable future. You are very welcome here and you are among friends. You will have your lessons every day with our tutor and plenty of time to play or do whatever you want after dinner each day.  Do you understand?’

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