Jean Plaidy

Daughters of Spain

Chapter I


Catalina knelt on a window-seat looking out from the Palace to the purple slopes and the snowy tips of the Sierra de Guadarrama.

It would soon be Easter and the sky was cobalt, but the plain stretching out before the mountains was of a tawny bleakness.

Catalina enjoyed studying the view from the nursery window. Out there the scene always seemed a little frightening. Perhaps this was because she, who had seen bitter fighting outside Granada when she was a few years younger, was always afraid that her parents’ rebellious subjects would rise again and cause distress to her beloved mother.

Here within the granite walls of the Madrid Alcazar there was a feeling of security, which was entirely due to the presence of her mother. Her father was also in residence at this time, so that they were a united family, all gathered together under this one roof.

What could be more pleasant? And yet even now her brother and sisters were talking of unpleasant matters, such as the marriages which they would have to make at some time.

‘Please,’ murmured Catalina to herself, ‘do not do it. We are all together. Let us forget that one day we may not be so happy.’

It was no use asking them. She was the youngest and only ten years old. They would laugh at her. Only her mother would have understood if she had spoken her thoughts, although she would immediately have reminded her daughter that duty must be faced with fortitude.

Juana, who was laughing in her wild manner as though she would not in the least mind going away, suddenly noticed her young sister.

‘Come here, Catalina,’ she commanded. ‘You must not feel left out. You shall have a husband too.’

‘I don’t want a husband.’

‘I know. I know.’ Juana mimicked her young sister: ‘I want to stay with my mother all the time. I only want to be the Queen’s dear daughter!’

‘Hush!’ said Isabella, who was the eldest and fifteen years older than Catalina. ‘You must curb your tongue, Juana. It is unseemly to talk of marriage before one has been arranged for you.’

Isabella spoke from knowledge. She had already been married and had lived in Portugal. Lucky Isabella, thought Catalina, for she had not remained long there. Her husband had died and she had come home again. She had done her duty but had not had to go on doing it for long. Catalina wondered why Isabella always seemed so sad. It was as though she regretted being brought back home, as though she still pined for her lost husband. How could any husband ever make up for the companionship of their mother, the delights of being all together and part of one big happy family?

‘If I wish to talk of marriage, I will,’ announced Juana. ‘I will, I tell you, I will!’ Juana stood up to her full height, tossing back her tawny hair, her eyes ablaze with that wildness which it was so easy to evoke. Catalina watched her sister in some trepidation. She was a little afraid of Juana’s moods. This was because she had often seen her mother look worried when her eyes rested on Juana.

Even the mighty Queen Isabella was anxious about her second daughter. And Catalina, whose feelings for her mother were close to idolatry, was conscious of every mood, every fear, and she passionately longed to share them.

‘One day,’ said the Princess Isabella, ‘Juana will learn that she has to obey.’

‘I may have to obey some people,’ cried Juana, ‘but not you, sister. Not you!’

Catalina began to pray silently. ‘Not a scene now … please, please, not a scene now when we’re so happy.’

‘Perhaps,’ said Juan who always tried to make peace, ‘Juana will have such an indulgent husband that she will always be able to do as she wishes.’

Juan’s beautiful face framed in fair hair was like that of an angel. The Queen’s favourite name for her only son was Angel. Catalina could well understand why. It was not only that Juan looked like an angel, he acted like one. Catalina wondered whether her mother loved Angel better than all the rest of them. Surely she must, for he was not only the heir to the crown but the most beautiful, gentle and kind person it was possible to know. He never sought to remind people of his important position; the servants loved to serve him and considered it a pleasure as well as an honour to be of his household. Now he, a seventeen-year-old boy, who, one would have thought, would have wished to be with companions of his own sex, hunting or at some sport or another, was here in the old nursery with his sisters – perhaps because he knew they liked to have him or, as Catalina did, he appreciated the pleasure of belonging to a family such as theirs.

Juana was smiling now; the idea of having an indulgent husband on whom she could impose her will pleased her.

Their sister Isabella watched them all a little sadly. What children they were! she was thinking. It was a pity they were all so much younger than she was. Her mother of course had had little time for childbearing in the early part of her reign. There had been the great war and so many state matters to occupy her; so it was not surprising that Juan, who was the next in the family, was eight years younger than herself.

Isabella wished they would not talk of marriage. It brought back such bitter memories. She saw herself five years ago, clinging to her mother even as Catalina did now, terrified because she must leave her home and go into Portugal to marry Alonso, heir of the crown of that country. Then the promise of a crown had held no charm for her. She had cried for her mother even as poor little Catalina undoubtedly would when her turn came.

But she had found her young husband as terrified of marriage as she was herself, and very soon a bond had grown between them which in its turn burgeoned into love – so deep, so bitter-sweet, so short-lived.

She told herself that she would be haunted for ever by the sight of the bearers carrying his poor broken body in from the forest. She thought of the new heir to the throne, the young Emanuel who had tried so hard to comfort her, who had told her that he loved her and who had invited her to forget her dead husband and marry him, to stay in Portugal, not to return, a sad widow, to her parents’ dominions, but to become the bride of her late husband’s cousin who was now heir to the King of Portugal.

She had turned shuddering from handsome Emanuel.

‘No,’ she had cried. ‘I wish never to marry again. I shall continue to think of Alonso … until I die.’

That had happened when she was twenty; and ever since she had kept her vow, although her mother sought to persuade her to change her mind; and her father, who was so much less patient, was growing increasingly irritated with her.

She shuddered at the thought of returning to Portugal as a bride. Memories would be too poignant to be borne.

She felt tears in her eyes, and looking up she saw the grave glance of little Catalina fixed upon her.

Poor Catalina, she thought, her turn will come. She will face it with courage – that much I know. But what of the others?

Thirteen-year-old Maria was working on a piece of embroidery. She was completely unruffled by this talk of marriage. Sometimes Isabella thought she was rather stupid, for whatever happened she showed little excitement or resentment, but merely accepted what came. Life would be much less difficult for Maria.

And Juana? It was wiser not to think of Juana. Juana would never suffer in silence.

Now the wild creature had leapt to her feet and held out her hand to Juan.

‘Come, let us dance, brother,’ she commanded. ‘Maria, take up your lute and play for us.’

Maria placidly put down her embroidery, took up the lute and played the first plaintive notes of a pavana.

The brother and sister danced together. They were well matched and there was only a year’s difference in their ages. But what a contrast they made! This thought occurred both to Isabella and Catalina. It was so marked and people often referred to it when they saw Juan and Juana together. Their names were so much alike; they were of the same height; but one would never have guessed that they were brother and sister.

Even Juana’s hair seemed to grow rebelliously from her forehead; that touch of auburn was like their mother’s yet it was more tawny in Juana’s, so that she looked like a young lioness; her great eyes were always restless; her mood could change in a second. Juana gave the impression of never being tranquil. Even in sleep she had the appearance of restlessness.

How different was Juan with his fair face which resembled that of angels. Now he danced with his sister because she asked him to, and he knew that the thoughts of marriage and the husband she might have, had excited her. The dance would calm her; her physical exertion would help to allay the excitement of her mind.

If Juan did not want to dance when he was asked to do so, he immediately changed his mind. That was characteristic of Juan. He had a rare quality in not only wishing to please others but in finding that their wishes became his own.

Catalina went back to the window-seat, and looked out once more at the plain and the mountains and the arrivals and departures.

She found her sister Isabella standing beside her. Isabella put an arm about her as Catalina turned to smile. She had felt in that moment a need to protect the child from the ills which could befall the daughters of the House of Spain. Memories of Alonso always made her feel like this. Later she would seek out her mother’s confessor and talk to him of her sorrow. She preferred to talk with him because he never gave her easy comfort, but scolded her as he would scourge himself if necessary; and the sight of his pale, emaciated face never failed to comfort her.