Authors: Sandra Heath Wilson
A Story of
King Richard III
Sandra Heath Wilson
For my best friend, Kelly Ferjutz
Fourteen-year-old Lady Cicely
Plantagenet, second daughter of the late King Edward IV, was returning to Westminster Palace after walking in the garden by the Thames. In deep mourning for her father, her heavy skirts dragged the grass behind her. As she reached the palace, she trod on a sharp pebble and bent to attend to it, and was astonished to hear what was being said in a room overhead. The window was wide open, and the speakers did not lower their voices.
It was often the case that an overheard conversation could be dull, sometimes amusing or even sad, but this one was shockingly informative, and definitely not intended for any ears but those of the two persons engaged upon it.
Cicely stood again, listening. Her half-brother’s voice was its usual drawl. Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, was twenty-six years old, plump and incompetent, and to her he was Thomas the Tub, but he was her mother’s favourite, the elder of her two sons by her first marriage. ‘Your Grace, your Council awaits . . .’ he declared, and it seemed that the words were accompanied by a comic bow.
Then Cicely realized her mother was present as well. ‘Hush, Thomas, this is not a matter for jest, because we may not win the Council over.’
‘We will, Mother. Your royal son will be brought from Ludlow without further ado, to be crowned Edward V, and Gloucester will be powerless.’
‘Thomas, Thomas, victory will not be certain until the crown is on Edward’s head. He is only twelve, and my husband ordered that his brother, Richard of Gloucester, is to be Lord Protector in his minority. We cannot hope to keep this from Gloucester for long. My brother-in-law is far from a fool, the Council has no reason to love us, and Hastings may yet see that Gloucester is informed. Perhaps he has already done so.’
Thomas showed the utmost scorn.
‘Do not underestimate him. Common Jane Shore—born the equally common Elizabeth Lambert—may have been my husband’s favourite mistress, but her bed is already open to all. You fool yourself that you are the only one to dibble her, because Hastings, Lord Chamberlain of England,
does as well.’
Cicely’s lips parted. Thomas the Tub and Lord Hastings were Jane Shore’s lovers? Already? With Father barely cold in his tomb? Mistress Shore clearly did not mourn for long, even for a king!
The queen continued. ‘Be sensible, Thomas, she is a whore and will couple with power. She will satisfy you
until it is clear which one is the more important. The other will then be dropped like a stone into a river. Hastings is an unknown factor as far as I am concerned. Yes, he served my late husband, but he is no friend of mine.’
‘Nor is he a friend of Gloucester’s.’
‘Gloucester. Oh, how I loathe that lopsided snake.’
Cicely gazed up at the window. Lopsided snake? Her uncle’s body was not quite regular, and his one shoulder rested slightly higher than the other, but it was very hard to notice. Surely, there was no good reason why her mother should speak of him in quite such a derogatory way.
Thomas continued, ‘Believe me, Hastings will not want Richard of Gloucester as Lord Protector. You are being over-cautious, Mother. Come, what you seek is within your grasp.’
‘Is it, Thomas? Do you really think so?’
‘The day is ours for the taking. Let us confront the Council with what we wish for.’ He laughed.
‘With what we
his mother corrected.
‘With what we will
,’ he replied. ‘Our
family is going to push Richard of Gloucester into perdition and rule England through Edward V. It is as good as done.’
Cicely heard their steps as they left the room. Her mother was trying to reverse Father’s last instructions, and appeared to be on the point of success! Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was not going to be Lord Protector after all. At least, not if her mother and her Woodville family had anything to do with it.
Elizabeth had been a Lancastrian widow, her family adherents of Henry VI, who had become slow-witted, when she turned the head of the Yorkist Edward IV, five years her junior and Henry’s deposer. Even though Edward pleaded on his knees, she denied him her body, telling him that although she was not good enough to be his queen, she was too good to be his mistress. Edward was so ruled by lust that he offered marriage, and thus she had become Queen of England. All these years later she was still beautiful. On her, the same rich mourning robes worn to unflattering effect by her second daughter, appeared to glow.
The Woodville marriage had shaken the realm, but Elizabeth had done her duty by presenting her king with many children, of whom only two sons and five daughters remained. When Edward’s initial obsession with her was at an end, she made no objection to his multitude of mistresses, thus maintaining her position and ensuring the advancement of her rapacious family.
Cicely was now old enough to form her own opinion of her mother, and was deeply ashamed. Suddenly, going into the palace was no longer to her liking, and so she turned to resume her walk. The weak spring sunshine glanced off the Thames and downstream London quivered in the haze. The steeple of St. Paul’s seemed not content with the summit of Ludgate Hill, but tried to reach to Heaven itself. There were rain clouds in the west, but they were a long way off. The apple trees were in blossom, the daffodils had gone over, and the bells of London tolled continuously for her father. How could he be no more, that huge, handsome man with hair like polished copper, who had kept his kingdom at peace for so many years and was loved by his people? His life had come to an end earlier this month of April in the year 1483. He had been within two weeks of his forty-third birthday.
Pausing, Cicely studied her reflection in a puddle. She was pale with large grey-brown eyes, at present spoiled by crying. Her long, unruly hair, very dark chestnut in colour, was worn loose as became a maiden, but it was not shaven back from her forehead as was the fashion. Her older sister Bess was shaven, and so was their mother, but Cicely did not like it. It was a fashion her mother would probably soon oblige her to adopt, but until then she liked to be as she was. On top of her head there was a close-fitting silver chain caul that was held around her ears and it caught the sunlight when she moved. Her mourning clothes were hot and unbecoming, and she was glad of the playful breeze from the Thames.
She sighed, for she did not look at all as a Plantagenet princess should. Why could she not be more like her seventeen-year-old sister, Bess, who was a true member of the splendid royal family, tall, graceful, blue-eyed, with the straight red-gold hair that was so admired?
hair, not a tangled untidy mass that refused to obey brush, comb or pin. She, Cicely, looked forward to the day she married, whenever and to whoever it may be, because such unbecoming locks could then be concealed beneath a headdress. She was the only dark one in a bright coppery family—no, not quite the only one, for she was like her uncle of Gloucester, who in turn, she was told, was like her grandfather, the great Duke of York.
She thought of the uncle who was now the foremost lord in the land. Some said he had been that even before her father died, because Edward IV liked his pleasures and handed more and more responsibility to his loyal, steadfast brother. Not for nothing had Edward chosen Richard to be Lord Protector. And now her mother was trying to deny Richard his rightful place. He had not even been
the king was dead! Unless someone like Lord Hastings had sent word, of course. It was very dangerous indeed to plot against Richard. Dangerous or foolish. Both, probably, because if Edward IV had wished his brother to have charge of the new boy-king, then that was what
Cicely tried to recall Richard, but it was so long since she had seen him that she could not bring him properly to mind. He was of perhaps a little less than medium height, slender and with hair exactly the same as hers. Yes, that at least she could recall clearly. His face eluded her. But if her father trusted him and held him in more favour than any other man, then she, Cicely, half Woodville, half Plantagenet, would do the same.
She went to the garden wall and stood on tiptoe to look over at the crowded river. Boats of all sizes were coming and going at the palace’s great stone landing, and the freshness of the apple blossom behind her was pleasing, but she knew that as summer drew on, less pleasing scents would intrude as London became hot and dusty. This time of the year, when everything was coming to life again, had always been the time she loved most, and since commencing her monthly bleedings two years ago, she had felt more stirred and excited by spring than ever.
It was a muted excitement that seemed to reach into every part of her, a quivering thrill that made her breasts tighten and aroused an unknown hunger deep inside her. And she had such dreams, rude dreams of lying naked with her future husband, letting him touch her, and touching him in return. Such things were not to be confided, not even to her confessor. Perhaps especially not her confessor! She had no one in particular to give his face to this anonymous husband, because no marriage had been arranged for her, unless one counted her brief betrothal to the heir apparent to the Scottish throne. Princesses had no choice, except to obey. She had even been termed Princess of Scotland for a while, but was glad there was no longer such a contract, because the thought of leaving England was too dreadful.
As for gentlemen she already liked here in England, there was only her distant cousin Ralph Scrope, but she had only exchanged glances with him. He was two or three years older than her, and was usually in the north in the Duke of Gloucester’s household, but had been here at court for some months. With his inviting smile, hazel eyes and light brown hair, he pleased Cicely, and was the first young man she had ever looked upon with interest. Or who had looked at her the same way. At least, she was not aware of anyone else. She felt colour entering her cheeks, because in her imagination she had done a lot more than
She remembered speaking of it to Bess. Well, not of her carnal imaginings regarding Ralph in particular, but of her emotions in general. The conversation had been prompted when she unguardedly mentioned a dream of the previous night. It had been a dream that shocked her into awakening.
‘Cissy!’ Bess had been horrified by her younger sister’s unexpected worldliness. ‘You should not speak of things like that, it is not seemly.’
‘I do not
seemly, Bess, not when—’ Cicely had broken off and gone a little pink.
‘Nothing. I just feel . . . peculiar these days.’
Bess smiled. ‘It is the spring, Cissy. When the sap rises.’
‘Well, partly. It is also a need to become a woman, a true woman, no longer a maid.’
‘Do you feel it too?’ Cicely remembered looking intently at her sister.
Bess fixed her eyes upon her embroidery. ‘I have felt it for a long time now. It began a whole year before my first monthly bleeding, and it has been with me ever since, except that it is no longer simply in the spring, but
the time. Especially when I think of him.’
‘Who?’ Cicely had been curious. Had her sister been speaking of a real lover?
‘Oh, just a man,’ Bess replied lightly, and stitched busily again.
‘Yes, but who is he?’
‘No one you know, and no one I can do much about. Now then, Cissy, you feel as you do now because you are older. Sometimes it seems you are older than me! You certainly see and understand so many things more than I do.’ Bess smiled a little wickedly. ‘A good tumble with Ralph Scrope would be the answer.’ She was rewarded by the deep flush that raced to her sister’s cheeks.
Cicely had been cross. ‘Do not make fun of me.’
‘I am sorry, I did not mean it. After all, who on earth would want to roll with Ralph
‘Bess! Anyway, I hardly know him.’
‘Even so, I have seen you making sheep’s eyes at him. And he at you. I will warrant he has no desire to return north to our uncle’s household. Mother suspects him to be a spy.’
‘He does not
like a spy.’
Bess laughed. ‘And how should a spy seem? If he is a good spy, he will simply become more or less invisible, amiable to everyone, noticed by no one.’
‘Presumably he would be our uncle’s spy, and if he
then he will surely have sent word to the north.’
Bess looked at her. ‘Possibly. I had not thought of that.’
The remembered conversation vanished as Cicely’s wandering thoughts were pulled abruptly back to the present by a sudden gust of wind sweeping from the Thames. It strengthened the sound of the bells downstream, and grief for her father engulfed her again. The smell of incense still seemed to cling to her, like wood smoke in autumn, and if she closed her eyes she could clearly see the priests in their flowing robes. She could also still hear their sombre chanting as her father had been brought to Westminster Abbey to lie in state. The people crowded the way, crying for their lost king. They forgave him his vices and faults, except his marriage to one of the now hated Woodvilles, but even that was set aside as he was conveyed to his last resting place at St George’s Chapel in Windsor.
She had wept throughout, much to her mother’s annoyance. Such a display of sorrow was not to be tolerated in one of Elizabeth Woodville’s daughters.
At Ludlow in Shropshire less than a week later, Elizabeth Woodville’s brother, Earl Rivers, who had charge of the little prince who was now Edward V, set off with him, and with Sir Richard Grey, younger of Cicely’s two half-brothers, for London with a royal procession of two thousand men. He had been summoned urgently by his sister, but had also received a message from Richard of Gloucester, requesting him to meet him at Northampton, that they could ride into the capital together. Clearly Gloucester was now well aware of his duty as Lord Protector, and this awareness had yet to be communicated to Elizabeth Woodville. Rivers was in a quandary.