Authors: Sandra Heath Wilson
Sunlight glinted on the armour of the men-at-arms, and the royal banners waved as the fine horses clattered on the cobbles of the towns through which Rivers’ great cavalcade would pass on the way to Northampton. With Rivers and Grey at his side, the boy-king rode at the head of the procession. The new monarch was tall for his age, but not handsome in the mould of his magnificent father. His reddish hair was dull and straight, his face spoiled by a weak jaw, and he was a disappointment to subjects accustomed to the spectacle that had always surrounded Edward IV. The late king’s son was a tiny candle beside such brilliance, but thanks to Woodville influence, he was also puffed up with his own importance, and not very pleasant.
Rivers did not wish to cross a man as strong and competent as Gloucester, yet neither did he wish his Woodville family to give up the reins of government and power. He decided the latter was more important than the former, and laid a plan he hoped would deceive and delay Gloucester.
It did not work. Gloucester found out and took possession of his royal nephew. Rivers, Grey and his other noblemen were arrested, and the Ludlow entourage of two thousand dismissed. Rivers and Grey were fools to think they could outwit Gloucester at first hand. The duke was only thirty, but more astute, puissant and loved than any Woodville. He was also a clever, accomplished, battle-hardened military commander. That was why Edward IV had so heavily relied upon him, and rewarded him so handsomely for his unswerving support.
Gloucester now had important backing from his cousin, Harry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who was three years his junior. Stafford was a strutting peacock of a lord whose bloodline placed him close to the throne, and he had long festered over injustices at the hands of the Woodvilles, one of whom he had been forced to marry when they had both been children. He regarded the Woodvilles as lowborn, and he hastily allied himself with Richard in order to strike back at his hated wife’s hated family.
That same day swift riders were sent to bring the news to London. They would reach the capital at around midnight. Gloucester held back at Northampton to await developments. He had the new king, and had no need to do anything precipitate.
It was almost midnight, and the news had yet to arrive, when Cicely again overheard her mother and Thomas the Tub. She and Bess were in a closet in the queen’s apartments, hastily attending to embroidery threads that should have been tidied much earlier in the day. The sisters exchanged uneasy glances as they heard movements in the apartment itself.
‘I wish the Council would come to a decision,’ their mother said. ‘The more they hesitate, the more likely it is that Gloucester will learn what we do.’
‘Gloucester is done for,’ Thomas replied confidently.
Bess gave a sharp intake of breath and whispered a single word, ‘Richard’, but Cicely was too afraid to take much notice. It was intolerable to eavesdrop again on her mother’s scheming.
Elizabeth spoke. ‘Done for? I will not believe it until I have him standing defeated before me. In the meantime, Thomas, you are forbidden to confide in that widowed harlot Jane Shore, do you hear? I do
want my private affairs whispered about between the coverlets. What she hears from you is certain to be whispered to Hastings.’
The sisters thought their presence was undetected, but suddenly the door was flung open and their mother confronted them. ‘Why are
here?’ she demanded.
They started to their feet, the colourful threads falling to the floor. Bess indicated the rainbow shades at her feet. ‘Mother, we came to sort the embroidery . . .’
Elizabeth Woodville gazed coldly at her eldest daughter. ‘Take it all and be gone.’
As they hurriedly retrieved the threads, the sisters became aware of a loud hammering at the outer door of the apartments, and then their half-brother’s dismayed voice.
‘Mother, the Council has received word from Gloucester. He knows all and has the king! He also has my uncle Rivers and my brother!’
Of one accord Bess and Cicely fled from the closet, and their mother’s furious shriek of disbelief followed them.
Wringing her hands, Elizabeth turned frantically to Thomas. ‘What shall we do? Gloucester is not likely to forgive or forget.’ She paused as a new thought entered her head. ‘Sweet Jesu, what if he still harbours a grudge because of Clarence. . . ?’
George, Duke of Clarence, had been the middle of the three Yorkist brothers, the one who plotted and schemed, and paid the ultimate price for treason against Edward IV.
The queen began to shake and sob, and Thomas lost his nerve, trying desperately to find a solution. The only one that presented itself was flight . . . or sanctuary. The moment the latter occurred to him he said it aloud, and the queen’s sobbing ceased.
That night Cicely
was rudely awakened by her sister shaking her.
‘Cissy! Wake up!’
‘Bess? What is it?’ Cicely rubbed her eyes.
They lay together in the bed, and heard turmoil throughout the palace. There was shouting, banging, people hurried to and fro, and from outside the racket of horses and wagons in the yard. Afraid, the sisters sat up, and then Cicely drew the bed hangings aside and slipped out to look for someone in the adjoining rooms, but found no one. She soon ran back to Bess.
‘We are alone!’
Bess’s eyes widened, and she got out of bed as well. As she snatched her robe, the draft set the flame of their night light dancing wildly in the darkness.
‘Oh no, Bess! Do not leave here. We do not know what has happened. It may be something dreadful.’ Cicely gasped. ‘Perhaps the Duke of Gloucester is here!’
‘That will not be something dreadful,’ Bess responded swiftly. ‘Quite the opposite. Anyway, if we do not look, we will never learn what is going on. Are you coming, or would you prefer to stay on your own?’
Cicely picked up her own robe reluctantly and followed her sister out of their apartment. They were greeted by a chaotic scene. There were crates and boxes, plate, jewellery and furnishings, and ladies and gentlemen were hurriedly stuffing more and more treasures into hastily brought chests and sacks, which were then dragged out by soldiers and pages. The air was alive with curses and frightened voices. Then out of the commotion bustled a familiar and reassuring shape, their childhood nurse, Biddy, her headdress wobbling, her grey gown crumpled and dusty. She pushed them firmly back into their apartments, followed them inside and closed the door on the shambolic scene in the outer rooms.
Bess gripped the nurse’s arm. ‘What is it, Biddy? What has happened? Has the Duke of Gloucester arrived?’
‘The duke? No.’
Bess’s disappointment was almost tangible, Cicely thought, noticing again how very anxious her sister was for their uncle to be here.
Biddy said they must be dressed, and as she helped, she told them what she knew. ‘Now it is known the Duke of Gloucester has your brother the king, your mother is fleeing for sanctuary in Westminster Abbey, as is everyone else who threw in their lot with her party. The Marquess of Dorset has left; the queen does not know where he has gone. But you, your younger sisters and your other royal brother, the little Duke of York, are to join her at the abbey.’
Cicely was dismayed. ‘But we have done nothing. Our uncle will not harm
‘That is as may be, but go you must or the queen will have my head. Come on now, it is not far along the underground passage.’
Bess crossed herself in horror. ‘We do not have to go that way, do we? Oh, Biddy, there are all manner of infernal creatures abroad in that tunnel!’
‘Be still! A royal lady should not be afraid of spiders and such like things. The rats will run in the opposite direction from your torches, of that you can be sure. The tunnel it is, for the queen does not wish to be seen going into the abbey, although I will admit that all the plunder she is sending there will be witnessed by the whole of London as it cannot be brought along the narrow passage.’
‘Yes, the queen is stripping the palace of all she can before the duke arrives.’
They fell silent as she finished dressing them. When they were ready, Biddy led them to the tunnel entrance, where they were met by a small party of men-at-arms who escorted them down into the cold, damp subterranean way. They could distinctly hear the pattering of small rodent paws, but at last they emerged at the other end, where they immediately heard hammering and shouting ahead.
‘What is that?’ Cicely asked nervously.
Biddy glanced quickly at her. ‘They are breaking a hole in the abbey wall, so that all the treasure may be brought inside.’
Now they were in the abbey itself. Carved gargoyles leered at them in the ghostly light of the torches as they mounted more steps, this time leading to a landing where a high, arched door faced them. The landing gave into passages on either side, where they could see more doorways, but it was on the one before them that a guard knocked loudly. It swung slowly open, letting light flood out, bringing with it a welcome sense of warmth.
Followed by Biddy, they entered a room filled with many familiar faces, including their three little sisters, Ann, Katherine and Bridget. The second of Edward IV’s sons, Richard, Duke of York, always called Dickon, lay asleep on a pallet close by, although how he slept in such a noise Cicely could not imagine. His tousled coppery hair was ruffled and his arm outstretched to reveal at his elbow a crescent-shaped scar, the result of a fall from a horse. But it was their mother who held their attention. She sat on the rush-strewn floor, her black gown billowing around her, and she beckoned her two eldest daughters.
‘Gloucester shall not take my other children too — they shall stay here with me, with me!’ she cried, pulling them down to the floor beside her.
Bess frowned. ‘Mother, the Duke of Gloucester will not harm us. You are his brother’s widow and we his nieces and nephews. He is an honourable lord.’
The queen laughed harshly. ‘If he is, my child, it will be George of Clarence who has first call upon that honour, not Elizabeth Woodville and her children.’
Cicely was puzzled. ‘What has our dead uncle, the Duke of Clarence, to do with it?’
‘If only you knew. If only you knew.’ Elizabeth closed her eyes.
Cicely was none the wiser. ‘But you are the king’s mother. Our uncle will respect your position, I am sure of it.’
‘So am I,’ Bess added firmly.
‘Ah, the voices of youth and innocence. So you are sure of it? Well, you credit your uncle Gloucester with much more tolerance and understanding than I do.’
liked him, have you?’ There was a cold note in Bess’s voice, an edge that reminded Cicely of Elizabeth herself.
‘Nor has he liked me. It is mutual, I promise you.’ The queen’s old caustic tones returned. ‘Well, I still have Dickon, do I not?
is the healthy one, the true Plantagenet prince. Edward is so sickly that it may yet be that
have the next king after all.’
Cicely looked away. Her mother lacked all true maternal feeling, and possessed far too much cruel personal ambition.
‘But Edward lives for the moment, Mother,’ Bess responded, ‘and our uncle has him. I am glad, because you will not win this. You are an evil woman, and I despise you.’
Shaken, Cicely got up. There were times when Bess and her mother seemed almost the same person. They were both cold and heartless when they chose to be.
Elizabeth gazed at her eldest daughter. ‘My evil is in you too, Bess. Do not ever doubt it, for I see my own eyes in yours. A looking glass will have told you this long since.’
Bess flushed and got up, pretending not to have heard. ‘Cissy, we may as well try to rest for I fear this will be a very long night.’
The two sisters found a secluded corner and sat down. Cicely glanced at Bess. ‘I have never heard you speak to Mother like that before.’
‘I should have.’
‘She is right, you
a lot like her. I had not realized it fully until a few minutes ago.’
‘Do not say that, for she is the last person I wish to resemble.’
Cicely was silent for a moment. ‘How long will she keep us here?’
‘I do not know, Cissy. She is terrified of our uncle, so it may be some time.’
Cicely wondered suddenly about the Duke of Gloucester. ‘I suppose she is wrong about our uncle? I mean, well, we do not know him very well, do we? He is always in the north and was hardly ever at Father’s court. The last time I saw him was when I was . . . actually, I do not know when. I know he was here this last Christmas, but I did not see him because I had the measles. For all we know he may do all the things she fears!’
‘No!’ Bess’s voice was surprisingly emphatic. ‘He will not harm us, I know he will not.
met him again last Christmas, and I can tell you that he is definitely
what Mother now claims.’ She paused, aware of how vehemently she had spoken. ‘I liked him, that is all, and we all know that Mother is only fearful for herself.’
Cicely hesitated, but her curiosity was too great. ‘Bess, why are you so certain of him?’
Bess’s eyes were luminous in the dancing light of the torches. ‘I know him,’ she said softly.
Cicely did not say anything more, but Bess’s attitude puzzled her. No, it made her feel a little uncomfortable. Why should talking about their uncle bring about such a change in her sister? If it had been some young courtier of whom they had been speaking, she could have understood the look on Bess’s face—but the Duke of Gloucester? Not only was he Bess’s close kinsman, he was also married with a small son, another Edward Plantagenet, and was known to be devoted to his wife and child. There had never been any whispers of him having strayed from his wife’s bed, which was unusual for such a highborn prince, but it seemed to be so. She
to have misread Bess’s attitude. Richard of Gloucester was their father’s brother, their blood uncle, and for Bess to even
of him in any other way was wrong.
The last time Cicely recalled seeing him he had been with her father. The brilliant Edward had his arm slung idly around his younger brother’s shoulder, laughing loudly at some shared joke. The Duke of Gloucester was quieter in his mirth, his laughter drowned by the roar of the king. Edward had seen his daughter and held his hand out to her, drawing her towards them and saying to his brother, ‘Well, Richard, with that hair she is more your daughter than mine, eh?’
Try as she would, Cicely could recall no more. Her uncle’s reply was lost forever in the depths of her memory.
A day later, those in sanctuary heard the cheers as the Duke of Gloucester entered London with his nephew, Edward V. And the Duke of Buckingham. At first they only heard a dull roar in the distance, but then the sound became almost deafening as the procession passed the abbey itself and went on to the palace. It was not by accident that it took that route, Elizabeth Woodville declared, for she was sure the duke was making certain she heard his triumph. Loudly.
April gave way to May, and Elizabeth Woodville and her children still claimed sanctuary at the abbey. Cicely and Bess were miserable in such dreary confinement, but Dickon was utterly wretched. He was subjected to the suffocating attentions of his once-aloof mother and was so unhappy with his lot that he scowled at everyone and sat in stony silence at the table when everyone ate together. The queen feigned not to notice the little boy’s resentment, and plied him with sweetmeats and wheedling talk.
The Lord Protector had not been idle since his arrival in London, sending many a member of the Council to entreat his brother’s widow to come forth from sanctuary, her children with her, but Elizabeth refused to even see the messengers. After a while the duke tired of seeking to reason with her, and broke off his efforts.
One day, however, there came a visitor to the sanctuary who
seen by the queen, and that visitor was none other than Mistress Jane Shore, the woman who for more than seven years had been the paramour of Edward IV and was subsequently sharing her ample favours with Thomas the Tub and Lord Hastings. Jane had been born Elizabeth Lambert, daughter of an affluent London merchant, but preferred to be called Jane. Shore was her married name.
Cicely was reading to her mother, and let the precious book fall when the lady was announced by a flustered lady-in-waiting. Her mother was irritated, but too intrigued by Jane Shore’s visit to do more than frown. Certainly the need to dismiss her daughter was overlooked.
Into the room Jane swept, gloriously beautiful in dark red damask, for she wore mourning for no man, not even a king. Her flaxen curls were unrestricted, even though her maidenly days had ceased when she was only eleven. She halted before the queen with an insolent smile upon her fair face. There was a glaring absence of a curtsey.
Elizabeth was icy. ‘Mistress Shore, if you have come to seek your latest guardian, I am afraid you will have to look farther than the abbey of Westminster. I do not know the whereabouts of the Marquess of Dorset.’
Jane laughed aloud, and Cicely put her hand to her mouth to conceal a smile. Her father had loved Jane Shore, who had seemed to love him in return, although maybe the haste with which she turned to Thomas the Tub and Lord Hastings suggested a rather inferior emotion to love.
Jane was still laughing. ‘Jesu, if I looked to your firstborn for guardianship then I would indeed be in a sorry plight, Your Grace. No, he is of no consequence to me now, for I have found myself a proper man, not a little barrel of small cock and even smaller ability in bed.’
Cicely’s eyes widened. Jane dared to use such a word in front of the queen?
Jane continued, ‘My lord of Hastings is a very ardent lover . . . almost as ardent as was the late king himself! Just not quite as big, if you know what I mean. I do like a well-endowed man — there is so much more pleasure, do you not agree? Or perhaps you were always too much of a stone to be appreciative.’ Her green eyes danced, but Elizabeth feigned indifference, turning away as if bored.
‘You clearly have nothing to say that is worth hearing, so please leave.’
Jane stood her ground, brazenly picking up a walnut from a dish on a table. She dropped it quite deliberately, Cicely thought, and then made much of bending to retrieve it, thus giving Elizabeth Woodville the full benefit of her plentiful bosom, which the late king had often said was his preferred pillow of a night.
The queen was reminded of his words, and her face darkened with annoyance. ‘Mistress Shore, your continued presence displeases me.’
‘Your Grace, I have not come merely to cross swords with you. My mission is of far greater importance. I will come to the point. Lord Hastings and others wish to remove the Lord Protector from office and bring you forth to resume your rightful place, as the mother of the new King Edward V.’