I have been informed by my father that the new Infanta, Catherine of Aragon, wife-to-be to the Prince of Wales, will have the vast majority of her Spanish household dismissed upon arrival in seven months’ time. I know that it will be my place to step forward for the good of my family to serve her. The Infanta will be sixteen when she arrives, and I myself am nearly fifteen. My father believes that this arrangement will be a perfect one, considering her position, as well as my families.
My father is Lord William, Duke of Anders, and head of our family. He married my mother, Lady Jane Kenniworth, when she was barely thirteen and he, almost seventeen. He had believed her a mere girl, and would constantly leave her behind whenever he would go to court to serve King Richard III, but suddenly became a turncoat when King Henry VII took the throne. He took it upon himself to become a part of the Tudor rebellion, and felt more than a little victorious when King Richard was defeated on the battlefield. When King Richard was defeated, my father returned to find my mother as a lovely maid of sixteen, and he was more than ready to apologize for his aforementioned behavior, which he believed to be most despicable indeed.
My mother, Lady Jane, Duchess of Anders, was known as being sweet, quiet, and kind hearted. At seventeen she gave birth to my twin siblings, Henry and Mary, and then came me. I also had a fourteen-year-old sister, a nine-year-old brother, and a six-year-old brother. My other siblings were called Catherine, William, and Thomas. I was blessed with the name of Elizabeth, much to my delight, for it really was my favorite name.
I recalled that fateful spring afternoon when everything seemed to shift into focus. The first Duke of Knotworth, called James Radcliffe, was the beginning of a grand dynasty. It had continued with the second Duke of Knotworth, Charles, who had had made an exceptional offer of marriage to his eldest son for me, for he had seen me around the country, for my aunt and uncle’s estate, Wellington Manor, was just in the next generous patch of land over from Radcliffe Hall.
My father had refused the offer, thinking it not in his best interests for either family, and offered up Mary instead, for Mary was seventeen and the duke’s son, Richard, was nearing twenty. I believed that it had to do more with Mary’s civil temperament. I heard tell that Richard was put out, as Mary would rather give a sermon than ever marry. She wished to become the abbess of the chapel down the lane, but Father had refused.
Mary came to me that afternoon, tears streaming down her cheeks as she encountered me in the window embrasure of the library. “Don’t let Mother see you doing that,” she commented, sitting across from me.
I barely looked up from my well-worn copy of Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, for I know full well what Mary is talking about. “The needle constantly pricks my finger,” I complain lightly, giving a disdainful glance over to where I’ve successfully tossed my stitching. “Besides, what do I need needlework for, anyway?”
I can almost see Mary pursing her lips at my impertinence. “Since you’re going to the new Princess of Wales, you should do better with your needlework, I should think, Elizabeth,” she says sternly. “Everyone says how much she embroiders, and she’s very religious.” She lowers her eyes. “Personally I thought that Father would send me to her, given that my vocation as a religious woman and my deep like of needlework. But he has betrothed me unjustly to Richard Radcliffe. What am I to do?”
I set my book aside, appalled at the very mention of this information. “But I thought Richard was to be given to me,” I say quietly. “He and I have been writing for nearly two summers. I thought…”
“Obviously Father has no regard for your thoughts, nor mine,” she says in a loutish manner, looking out of the window. From where we are sitting, we see Catherine minding William and Thomas as they run about and shout in the warm spring sunlight. Each of them is holding a kitten, delivered by our dear cat Rose. The kittens—six in total—were given to one of us. My kitten, Ruby, is asleep in my lap, curled up just so she is comfortable. Mary holds onto Ursula quietly, almost as if willing for her to turn into a fairy godmother. The kittens downstairs are Cloak and Dagger respectively, and Henry, who lives with his wife Anne, has one called Christopher.
“I’ll warrant our Father does not have any regard for our feelings,” I say softly to Mary. My hand wanders so that I am gently stroking Ruby. She pushes her head towards my hand and begins to purr softly. I smile at that and turn to Mary. “I suppose I will have to burn my letters to Richard, won’t I?” I ask. “If he is going to be your husband, it is hardly appropriate for me to keep any tokens of his affection,” I said, knowing that I would not want to be labeled a common slut.
Mary lowered her eyes, her meek nature shining through her soft beauty. She reached for something tucked into her bodice and wordlessly handed it to me; it looked to be a bit of folded parchment. I gave her an odd look and she nodded for me to unfold the crumpled pieces of paper to retrieve any information they might hold. Slowly, I ease my hand away from Ruby and allow myself to open this hidden message from Mary.
My Dear King,
Please forgive me for writing to you unbidden, but I must come forth with this urgent information. I know that I must obey my dear father in all things, but there is one thing he asks of me which I cannot bring myself to do. He wishes for me to wed Lord Richard Radcliffe, but I cannot for God has summoned me to be a bride for him. The other reason is that Lord Radcliffe has a pre-contract with my sister, and they are very much in love, and it would be wrong to come between them. I ask of you to intervene on my behalf and perhaps convince my father that my services are not needed with the Radcliffe family, but with God himself.
I thank you for sparing a few moments to listen to my plight.
Yours faithfully until death,
Lady Mary Graves
Lilliworth Manor, Surrey
I slowly raise my eyes to hers. “How long have you known that Lord Richard wishes to marry me?”
Mary smiled. “You know as well as I do that I came along on the visits to Aunt Margaret and Uncle Andrew at Wellington Manor, Elizabeth. I saw when I was reading my religious texts that you two would meet in the little forest beyond the land and take your horses on the pretext of riding. I saw you two kissing and such, and him giving you little baubles and things—there was a pearl-studded brooch, if I remember correctly, among other lovely trinkets. I know that you love Lord Richard, Elizabeth, and I am here to tell you that I do not mind.”
I lower my eyes. “I wish someone had given me a formal inclination that I could not marry him. I suppose we believed that, given we were from similar backgrounds, it would be possible, but…”
Mary nodded. “If I send the letter to King Henry, perhaps he will intervene on our behalf!” she said excitedly. “I could be an abbess, and you could be the future Duchess of Knotworth!”
I sigh. I want more than anything to wed Richard, but perhaps this is the will of God right here. Perhaps the divine will is that Mary should serve God in this way, by marrying Richard, while I find a husband elsewhere. I do not know what I want to happen.
“Elizabeth?” I turn and look at Mary, knowing that I would never wish unhappiness upon her. “You may send the letter, sister, but please, don’t inform the king that I influenced you in any way. I want this to be your battle, not mine. Please, do that for me, at least.”
Mary considered this thoughtfully as she tucked the letter back into her bodice and continued to be silent for a moment. “Do you want to marry Lord Richard Radcliffe?” she asked.
I nodded. “Yes. I do wish to marry him.”
Mary sighed. “I will send the letter then, sister. And I will pray on this, and hopefully our prayers will be answered.”
“You will pray?” I ask.
She nods. “Of course. Praise be to God that we all end up where we’re all supposed to be.”
“Amen,” I whisper.
I am tempted to explain to my father the potential disobedience of my sister, but I am also tempted by the possibility of marrying Richard. In our secret lovers’ trysts over the past couple of summers, he would call me his dear duchess, and we’d whisper about our lives together. I retreat to my bedroom and from the conversation with Mary as soon is appropriate, placing my book gently on my bedside table and putting Ruby in my lap. She stretches in her cat-like way before curling into a ball and falling asleep.
I stroke her head and sides absentmindedly as I contemplate what I am going to do with myself. The very pinnacle of my existence depends solely on what I plan to do in this situation. I can either be a dutiful daughter, or a loyal sister. I will have ties to both Mary and my father forever, though my father will more than likely be called to God first. Although Mary was positive that she was being summoned to be a bride to God herself, I still did not know what to do to solve this problem.
I was fearing for the safety of Mary, for I remembered the story of the girl who dressed as a man, called Joan, who had lead the soldiers in France to victory. I remembered too that she had claimed to hear voices from the heavens above, and, even after she was sold into a prison sentence, she was ordered to confess her sins and wear the clothes of a woman. She refused, when it would mean that she would have to admit to being a liar, so she confessed to everything that had gone on between her and God, and she was punished for it. I heard tell that the flames entered her throat and caused her to slump down upon on the plank of wood she was tied to, as she was slowly burned to death. It was almost as if Ruby sensed my discomfort as I imagined the execution of Joan of Arc. She gently nuzzled her nose into my hand and nipped at me ever so slightly when I did not continue to stroke her. I set her aside and onto my pillow so as she would have a proper nap and scooted off of my bed and went towards my window. I stared outside, knowing that, as some clouds rolled in and an early spring drizzle began, my sister and brothers would be directed indoors to play with their kittens.
I held myself as I considered the prospect of Mary marrying Richard. My very being seemed to want to shatter into a thousand pieces as I considered the very institution of it. I wondered what would happen to me if I simply wrote to Richard, just one last time, explaining my father’s orders and what would come to pass.
I knew then that I could never do such a thing. Richard would tell me to delay the wedding as long as possible, so that when both our parents had died, then we would be able to decide. I knew that Henry, my oldest brother, considered Richard to be his closest friend, and that he could be persuaded to see reason in this unfortunate predicament. The only pressing problem with this proposed situation was that both our parents were in fairly good health, paired with the fact that Richard and I wished to be married at once.
There was a tap at my door then and I turned about to see what on earth was happening at the moment. “Enter,” I bid the knocker.
The door opened and my maid, Bertha, entered. “Pardon me, Lady Elizabeth, but your mother and father will be having supper soon. Am I permitted to change you, my lady?”
“Yes, of course,” I said, turning to see the twilight state of the day, out my window.
“Will you wear your green or black gown, Lady Elizabeth?” Bertha asked me, crossing to my wardrobe.
“Black,” I said softly. Better to let my father to know that I will bend to his will of serving the Princess Catherine, but I was not compliant with Mary’s impending marriage to Richard.
“Lady?” asked Bertha. “I’m sorry, Lady Elizabeth. I didn’t hear you aright, I am positive. Did you say you wanted your…black gown?” I turned and regarded her for a moment. Bertha had always served me well, but she always needed someone giving her an order twice. I’d grown used to it, but sometimes I had to keep the disappointment out of my voice whenever I would speak to her. “Yes,” I said shortly. “Black, Bertha, my black gown is what I wish to wear to supper.”
“Very well,” she said, removing the black velvet gown from the wardrobe. “I will also need to know if you will wear jewels…”
“My black pearls,” I replied. “And the ring that Lord Richard Radcliffe gave upon me last summer.”
“Yes, my lady,” replied Bertha.
I turned and looked out the window again. I would pray on this, but I had never felt surer of anything in my life. I had to wed Richard, for my very life depended on it.