Read The Three Crowns epub Online

Authors: Jean Plaidy

The Three Crowns epub (7 page)

“Dismiss his boon companion. He would rather see you gone, James … you with your scandals and your follies.”

“I doubt I’ll ever make a scandal as great as my brother’s.”

“He is the King. He can keep twenty mistresses at a time and the people will applaud him. You, my dear Duke, do not enjoy the people’s indulgence to that extent. And when your mistresses are murdered—well, that is a serious matter. Charles has not been involved in that sort of scandal.”

“You are shouting,” said James. “You will be heard.”

“Those who listen will only hear what they already know.”

“I forbid you to talk in this way.”

Anne laughed.
“You
forbid
me
. It is no use trying to cover up your indiscretions by playing the great duke and stern master. It will not do. I shall not endure these humiliations.”

“You have not always been so virtuous yourself, if I remember rightly. What of Henry Sidney?”

“Henry Sidney. He was merely my Master of Horse.”

“And of you it seems.”

“A fabrication which existed in your mind. It was so convenient to delude yourself that your wife was unfaithful—since you had deceived her with … how many? Or would it be impossible to count?”

“You are overwrought.”

“I have just been accused of murder. What are you going to do about that?”

“I tell you, there will always be lampoons. They are written daily about Charles and Barbara Castlemaine.”

“I do not think they have been accused of murder.”

“Oh, come, that suggestion is not serious.”

“Adultery. Lechery. They are to be expected in this Court. In fact, if one is not a lecher or an adulterer one is considered old-fashioned, behind the times. But murder has not yet been judged a virtue.”

“Anne, be calm.”

“I do not feel calm.”

“We cannot talk with ease until you do.”

“And you would rather leave me until I am calm? That is a good excuse. You would rather be off with that sly-eyed Churchill woman. Very well, go to her. I’ll warrant she has thought up some new request to ask of you in exchange for her favors.”

“Is that what Sidney did? What did you have to grant him for his?”

“You are insulting.”

“And are you not?”

“I have reason to be. Oh, you make a great show of being an irate husband. Banishing poor Sidney from the Court. It was such a shocking thing he did. Smiled at your wife. Showed her some pity because she must continually suffer the degradation of her husband’s infidelities paraded daily before the Court under her very nose with little regard for
her
feelings …”

 

In the anteroom
Mary listened. She did not want to listen; but her father had forgotten that the door through which she had gone led only to the anteroom and once there, there was no escape.

She wished they would not talk so loudly. As she listened she kept seeing Elizabeth Villiers’s sly face. Elizabeth was right then. There was a shocking scandal about her father and her mother.

It was so hard to believe. A short while ago he had been laughing with her; she had sat on his knee and he had been telling her stories of his adventures as he loved to. Now he was quite different. She could not believe that the kind and gentle man was the same one who was shouting at her mother. To discover that people could change so quickly was alarming; it made the world seem an insecure place.

She did not want to hear their quarrels; she did not want to know of them; she wanted to live in a world where there were only herself and her sister Anne, where everything was pleasant and comfortable, and there were no grown up people with their sly furtive secrets which she only half understood.

She was afraid that one of them would come into the anteroom and find her there. She would not be blamed because they rarely blamed her, they were always kind to her; it seemed that it was only to each other that they were unkind. But she knew instinctively that they would be upset if they knew she had overheard their conversation, and that was why she remained.

After a long time they seemed to tire of the quarrel. She heard the door open and shut, and she wondered whether her father was now alone.

She opened the door of the anteroom cautiously and looked out. With great relief, seeing that the apartment was empty, she tiptoed away.

 

A postmortem showed
that there was no poison in Margaret Denham’s body but the rumors still persisted and many were certain that the Duchess of York had murdered her for jealousy.

Sir John Denham continued to write his pieces which gave pleasure to certain members of the Court. It was beginning to be said that the affairs of the Duke of York were as notorious, though not nearly so skillfully managed, as those of his brother.

FAITH AND DEATH
 

I
t was the thirtieth of January, a very solemn
day for members of the royal family and therefore throughout England.

Mary knelt on the window seat watching the snowflakes falling down. Every now and then the bells could be heard. All over the country they were tolling for Charles the Martyr.

Mary did not know why her grandfather was a martyr; she only knew that she had to be very solemn when she spoke of him. Her father’s eyes grew very bright when he mentioned Charles the Martyr; and she did not like to ask questions because it saddened him to talk of the subject. She had heard whisperings about the Dreadful Day. In Whitehall she averted her eyes at a certain place because that was where
it
had happened.
It
was a dreadful shadow which hung over the family, and which must never be mentioned all the year, only on that cold and dismal day which was the thirtieth of January.

Mary breathed on the glass and rubbed a hole in the mist. It was very cold outside. Perhaps one day she would ask her father to explain. It would be when he was in a merry mood. Then perhaps he would tell her quickly and it could be forgotten.

She started suddenly because someone was standing behind her, and turning she saw Elizabeth Villiers, smiling her secret sly smile.

“How long have you been standing there?” demanded Mary.

“Does it matter?”

“I asked you a question.”

“I know, and I asked you one.”

“It is not good manners to answer a question with a question.”

Elizabeth laughed; she had a habit of laughing at ordinary remarks as though they were foolish in some way which Mary was too young to understand.

“When I was riding this morning I saw the King with my cousin, Barbara Villiers,” volunteered Elizabeth.

Mary sighed. Elizabeth brought her cousin Barbara Villiers into the conversation whenever possible. When she called her sister Barbara she always called her Barbara Villiers, although the others were merely Katherine, Anne, or whatever the case might be. Mary herself had never seen Barbara Villiers, Lady Castlemaine, but she was constantly hearing of her; and she was a little tired of the woman.

“My cousin Barbara is more important than the Queen.” “My cousin Barbara only has to say what she wants and it is hers.” “The King loves my cousin Barbara more than anyone on earth.” “My cousin Barbara is really Queen, not that dull old Catherine.”

Mary did not believe that. She loved her Aunt Catherine who was always kind to her; and she loved Uncle Charles; and when she saw them together they always seemed to be fond of each other and no one ever suggested—certainly not Charles—that Catherine was not the Queen.

“You are always talking of your cousin Barbara Villiers,” said Mary, turning back to the window.

“Well, would you rather talk of Margaret Denham who was killed because of your father?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You are a baby. You don’t know anything. You don’t really know why everyone is so glum today. All you know is that it’s because it’s the thirtieth. It’s silly anyway to pretend to be sad. It was all a long, long time ago. Before
I
was born.”

“What was?”

“The execution. That’s what they’re supposed to be remembering. But they are only really pretending to be sad.”

“When was it?”

“Don’t you know?” This was one of Elizabeth’s favorite remarks. She could never tell anything without prefacing her revelation with an incredulous observation on one’s ignorance. On this occasion Mary was too curious to pretend.

“No, I don’t know,” she said.

“They took him to the banquetting hall and chopped off his head.”

“Who?”

“Charles the First. Your grandfather, of course.”

“Who did?”

“The Parliament, of course.”

“They didn’t.”

“They did.” Elizabeth smiled knowledgeably. “It’s what they do to Kings and Queens when they don’t like them,” she said maliciously.

Elizabeth knew when to make an exit. She retired, leaving a very uneasy little girl kneeling at the window seat. There was no pleasure now in looking out of the windows and trying to count the snowflakes. Every time a bell tolled she shivered. The world had become very insecure. Mary’s imagination was showing her her grandfather, who looked like her father or her Uncle Charles, only much older; his head was not on his shoulders. It rolled in the snow making it red instead of white. She pictured the crowds watching and they were whispering about her grandfather and her father. Margaret Denham had died because of her father—her good kind father who would never hurt anyone. What did it mean? There was so much in the world that she could not understand and Elizabeth was telling her that the world could be a frightening place.

A terrible place indeed where the people cut off the heads of Kings.

Elizabeth’s voice kept coming back to her.

“It’s what they do to Kings and Queens—if they don’t like them.”

 

James Scott, who
had been known as Fitzroy and Crofts and was now the Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch, rode from Whitehall to Richmond on his way to visit his uncle the Duke of York, whom he would always loathe because he believed that but for him the King might have been persuaded to legitimize him.

The King had said: “Now, Jemmy, ride over to Richmond where your uncle James is with his family. Make yourself pleasant. I like not quarrels in families.”

Monmouth had scowled; he knew his father was very indulgent toward him and he exploited this; but there were occasions when Charles reminded him that he was the King and then Monmouth knew it was wiser to obey.

So here he was, riding over to Richmond, in order to make himself pleasant to his uncle and his fat wife.

There was one burning passion in Monmouth’s life and that was to be King of England. It seemed so cruel to him that merely because his father had omitted to marry his mother he should be set aside. Why should James’s children—those two girls and the sickly boys, whom everyone said would never reach maturity—come before him, simply because their father had married their mother. That marriage might so easily not have taken place, but Anne Hyde had been more fortunate than Lucy Walters.

There were some who whispered to him that there had actually been a marriage—those he called his friends. Yet his father had not denied it but considering how at one time he had longed to make him legitimate, would he not have been delighted to admit he had married Lucy Walters if this had been the case?

Monmouth believed he would have made a perfect Prince of Wales. The King doted on him, forgave him his misdeeds, had bestowed on him titles and a rich heiress. In fact, Charles had given him everything except the one thing he wanted: to be heir to the crown.

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