Authors: Jean Plaidy
To Hold the
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
To Hold the
The Birth of
here was great consternation in the Palace of Winchester on that misty September day, in the year 1486 for the Queen—who was not due to give birth to her child for another month—had started her pains.
It was extraordinary for only eight months had passed since the marriage. Everyone had been delighted by the Queen’s promise of fruitfulness, and to have given birth nine months after the marriage would have been a most welcome sign, but to do so in eight months was a little disconcerting, though no one could believe for one moment that this might mean anything but the birth of a premature child.
Queen Elizabeth was sitting quietly with her sisters, Cecilia aged seventeen and Anne who was just eleven, working on an altar cloth, which the King’s mother, of whom they were in considerable awe, had decided was an appropriate occupation for them at such a time when all the favors Heaven could grant them were needed. Even Anne knew—for it was spoken of continually—that it was of utmost importance that the Queen should give birth to a healthy boy.
The Queen and her sisters had come through difficult times and still remembered them. They had been pampered and petted by their magnificent and all-powerful father but they had also suffered privations in the Sanctuary at Westminster when they had feared for their lives. If they had learned a lesson from life it must surely be that it was fraught with insecurity and could change drastically in the space of a few days.
At last Elizabeth was married to the King and although there had been a period when they had wondered whether Henry Tudor was going to honor his pledges, they now felt comparatively safe; and if the baby who was about to be born was a healthy boy, their chances of making good marriages and living in comfort—and perhaps even of survival—would be greatly increased.
As Cecilia stitched at the hem of the Madonna’s robe in a silk thread of exquisite blue, she was wondering when
time to marry would come. She hoped her husband would be someone at the King’s Court for she did not want to have to go away from home. At one time she had thought she was going to be sent to Scotland to be the Queen of Scots but that had come to nothing in the manner of so many of these proposed marriages. As for Elizabeth herself she had once been destined for the Dauphin of France and for a long time their mother had insisted that she be addressed as Madame La Dauphine. The fact was that one never knew where one would end up. Who would have believed that Elizabeth, after the humiliation of losing the Dauphin, would, through her marriage with Henry Tudor, become Queen of England?
Although one never spoke of it now, the King should have been their brother Edward. But where was Edward? What had happened to him and their brother Richard? Some people said that both had been murdered in the Tower. It must be so for if they had not been, surely the King of England should have been either Edward the Fifth or Richard the Fourth—not Henry the Seventh.
Their mother had said: “It is a subject which it is better not to discuss. We have to be careful not to upset the Queen who is in a delicate condition.”
Still it was strange not to talk of one’s own brothers. What should one talk of? The weather? Whether Elizabeth would have a coronation when the baby was born? The christening?
“Don’t talk too much about the baby,” their mother had warned. “It might be unlucky.”
Then of what did one talk?
Cecilia was saved the trouble of searching for a suitable topic of conversation for Elizabeth suddenly turned very pale, put her hands to her stomach and said: “I believe my pains are starting. Go at once to our mother.”
Cecilia dropped her part of the altar cloth and ran while Anne sat staring at her sister in dismay.
Queen Elizabeth Woodville, the Queen Mother, was alone in her apartments at the castle. She was longing for the next month to be over that she might hold her healthy grandson in her arms.
She was certain it would be a boy. If not her daughter Elizabeth must quickly become pregnant again. She had no doubt that Elizabeth would breed well, as she herself had.
She was congratulating herself on a return to prosperity. She and her family had passed through some very difficult times, during which she believed she had come near to disaster. King Richard had never liked her; he had always deplored his brother’s marriage to a woman, as he would have said, of low quality. Naturally he had never dared say much against her when Edward was alive; and after Edward’s death Richard had preserved his loyalty to his brother. Even when she had been caught with Jane Shore in conspiring against him, he had been lenient. Now everything was changed. He was dead—slain on Bosworth Field and the new King had become her son-in-law.
She was wishing Henry’s mother was not in the castle. The Countess of Richmond with her quiet air of superiority irritated Elizabeth Woodville. It was true that Margaret Beaufort had royal blood in her veins, even though as Elizabeth often reminded herself it came from the wrong side of the blanket. Oh, everyone knew that John of Gaunt had legitimized his Beauforts but that did not alter the fact that they had begun in bastardy, and it was true that those who were unsure of their claims always asserted their rights to them most forcefully. She herself was one of those, for ever since King Edward had become so enamored of her that he had married her and raised her to such dizzy heights, she had had to make sure that everyone remembered the respect due to her.
So it was with Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, and now that her son had become King this set her somewhat above the mother of the Queen, though, mused Elizabeth, none could doubt that the young Queen, as daughter of the late King Edward the Fourth, had more right to the crown than Henry Tudor who had won it by conquest rather than inheritance.
It was not a matter to brood on, for Henry now had the crown firmly in his grasp and he had fulfilled his contract to unite the houses of York and Lancaster, which he had done when he married Edward the Fourth’s eldest daughter.
Such times we live through! the Queen Mother often thought sadly, dreaming of the days of her glory when an ardent young King had first seen her in Whittlebury Forest and pursued her with such fervent devotion that he had lifted her from her humble position and made her his Queen.
While he had lived she had been secure as Queen of England, surrounded by her family whom she had made prosperous; but alas he had died suddenly at the age of forty-four although he had seemed in almost perfect health up to that time. Then had come the greatest blow of all—the shattering declaration that Edward had been married to Eleanor Butler who was alive at the time when he had gone through a ceremony with Elizabeth—thus making her marriage no marriage at all and her children illegitimate.
And her dear little boys—young Edward, who had briefly been Edward the Fifth, and the little Duke of York . . . where were they now? It seemed they had vanished into obscurity. There had been rumors that their uncle, Richard the Third, had murdered them in the Tower. But why should he find that necessary? He had declared them illegitimate. Why should he have needed to murder them? Whatever had happened to them, they were lost to her . . . her little darlings. She mourned them deeply for although she might be a vain and selfish woman she was a good mother and had loved all her children dearly. There was mystery everywhere. She remembered long dreary days, cold sleepless nights in Westminster Sanctuary when she had not known from one day to the next what would become of her and her family.
Richard had not been unkind after a while. There had even been talk of his marrying young Elizabeth. It was not serious of course. How could an uncle marry his niece? However, young Elizabeth was destined to be the savior of her family, now Henry, the new King, had married her. This meant that he did not consider her illegitimate . . . and yet if she were not, the young Princes also were not, and if they were alive . . . what right had Henry to the throne?
It was too complicated, too frightening to brood on. So she must put the past behind her. She must say: We have come so far and we are now as safe as any can be in this dangerous changing world. My daughter is the Queen of England. My little boys are lost to me forever. It might be true that Richard had murdered them in the Tower as one rumor had had it, yet why he should since they had been proclaimed illegitimate, she could never understand.
There was too much mystery; there had been too much misery; now they were moving forward into brighter times. She must forget the past.
If this child were a boy, contentment would settle on the country. The new dynasty of the Tudors would be accepted and the child would be the vital link which bound the Houses of York and Lancaster together and settled their differences forever.
What was most important now was to care for the young Queen and to bring this all-important child into the world. There was a whole month to wait and waiting was so irksome.
Cecilia had rushed into the room. She was about to reprove her daughter, reminding her that she must remember that she was not only the sister of the reigning Queen but also the daughter of great King Edward who was still mourned with such affection by his subjects. . . .
But this was no time for a lecture on deportment. Cecilia was breathless.
“My lady . . . come quickly . . . it is my sister. . . . She is in pain.”
The Queen Mother felt fear grip her.
“No . . . It cannot be. . . .”
She was out of the room running as fast as she could to her daughter’s apartment.
One look at Elizabeth was enough. “Send for the midwife!” she cried.
Then with the help of her women she took the Queen to the lying-in apartments, which by good fortune had already been prepared for her.
When Margaret Countess of Richmond heard that the Queen’s confinement had begun she went at once to the lying-in apartments. She had prepared them herself, so she knew that everything was in readiness and exactly as it should be.
Let there be no misunderstanding. This was the most important occasion the country had known since the crowning of the new King.
On the orders of the King’s mother, the lying-in chamber, which she had graciously allowed the young mother-to-be to choose herself, was hung with rich arras that was draped even over the ceiling. It hung at the windows, shutting out the light. This was fitting for a royal birth, said the Countess, and as the King accepted her word in all such matters, so must it be. Only women should be with the Queen at the time of the birth and the Countess had appointed members of her own sex even to such posts as butler and pages, positions usually occupied by men.
She knew that Elizabeth Woodville would have liked to countermand her orders; but she dared not. The King had no great liking for his mother-in-law, and the woman knew that she remained at Court on sufferance, because he could not ignore his wife’s mother; even so she would have to understand that she must fall in completely with his wishes if she were to retain her place at Court, and that meant those of his mother also.
The Countess of Richmond was a very determined woman. She had been a beauty in her youth—not such a dazzling one as Elizabeth Woodville, but nevertheless a woman of striking good looks. Her features were regular, serene and so stern that they could be called frigid. She was a woman who kept her own counsel, but there was one thing which was certain—and that was her complete devotion to her son.