Jean Plaidy

In the Shadow of the Crown

The Betrothal

I HAVE TAKEN FOR MY MOTTO “TIME UNVEILS TRUTH,” AND I believe that is often to be the case. Now that I am sick, weary and soon to die, I have looked back over my life which, on the whole, has been a sad and bitter one, though, like most people, I have had some moments of happiness. Perhaps it was my ill fortune to come into the world under the shadow of the crown, and through all my days that shadow remained with me—my right to it; my ability to capture it; my power to hold it.

No child's arrival could have been more eagerly awaited than mine. It was imperative for my mother to give the country an heir. She had already given birth to a stillborn daughter, a son who had survived his christening only to depart a few weeks later, another son who died at birth, and there had been a premature delivery. The King, my father, was beginning to grow impatient, asking himself why God had decided to punish him thus; my mother was silently frantic, fearing that the fault was hers. None could believe that my handsome father, godlike in his physical perfection, could fail where the humblest beggar in the streets could succeed.

I was unaware at the time, of course, but I heard later of all the excitement and apprehension the hope of my coming brought with it.

Then, at four o'clock on the morning of the 18th of February in that year 1516, I was born in the Palace of Greenwich.

After the first disappointment due to my sex being of the wrong gender, there was general rejoicing—less joyous, of course, than if I had been a boy, but still I was alive and appeared to be healthy and, as I believe my father remarked to my poor mother, who had just emerged from the exhaustion of a difficult labor, the child was well formed, and they could have more…a boy next time, then a quiverful.

Bells rang out. The King and Queen could at least have a child who had a chance of living. Perhaps some remembered that other child, the precious boy who had given rise to even greater rejoicing and a few weeks later had died in the midst of the celebrations for his birth. But I was here, a royal child, the daughter of the King and Queen, and until the longed-for boy arrived to displace me, I was heir to the throne.

I enjoyed hearing of my splendid baptism from both Lady Bryan, who was the lady mistress of the Household, and the Countess of Salisbury, who became my state governess. It had taken place on the third day after my birth, for according to custom christenings must take place as soon as possible ble in case the child did not survive. It took place in Greyfriar's Church close to Greenwich Palace, and the silver font had been brought from Christ Church in Canterbury, for all the children of my grandparents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, had had this silver font at their baptisms, and it was fitting that it should be the same for me. Carpets had been laid from the Palace to the font, and the Countess of Salisbury had the great honor of carrying me in her arms.

My father had decreed that I should be named after his sister Mary. She had always been a favorite of his, even after her exploits in France the previous year which had infuriated him. It showed the depth of his affection for her that he could have given me her name when she had so recently displeased him by marrying the Duke of Suffolk almost immediately after the death of her husband, Louis XII of France. She was more or less in exile at the time of my christening, in disgrace and rather poor, for she and Suffolk had to pay back to my father the dowry which he had paid to the French. In the years to come I liked to remind myself of that unexpected softness in his nature, and I drew a little comfort from it.

My godfather was Cardinal Wolsey who, under the King, was the most important man in the country at that time. He gave me a gold cup; from my Aunt Mary, the wayward Tudor after whom I was named, I received a pomander. I loved it. It was a golden ball into which was inserted a paste of exquisite perfumes. I used to take it to bed with me and later I wore it at my girdle.

The best time of my life was my early childhood before I had an inkling of the storms which were to beset me. Innocence is a beautiful state when one believes that people are all good and one is prepared to love them all and expect that love to be returned. One is unaware that evil exists, so one does not look for it. But, alas, there comes the awakening.

A royal child has no secret life. He or she is watched constantly, and it is particularly so if that child is important to the state. I say this as no conceit. I was important because I was the only child of the King, and if my parents produced the desired boy, my importance would dwindle away. I should not have been watched over, inspected by ambassadors and received their homage due to the heir to the throne. It is difficult to understand when one is young that the adulation and respect are not for oneself but for the Crown.

There are vague memories in my mind, prompted no doubt by accounts I heard from members of my household; but I see myself at the age of two being taken up by my father, held high while he threw me up and caught me in his strong arms and held me firmly against his jewel-encrusted surcoat. I had felt no qualms that he would drop me. I never knew anyone exude power as my father did. As a child I believed him to be different from all others, a being apart. Of course, I had always seen him as the most powerful person in the kingdom—which undoubtedly he was—and my childish mind endowed him with divine qualities. He was not only a king; he was a god. My mother and Sir Henry Rowte, my priest, chaplain and Clerk of the Closet, might instruct me in my duties to One who was above us all, but in my early days that one was my father.

I was so happy to be held in his arms and to see my beloved mother standing beside me, laughing, happy, beautiful and contented with me.

I remember my father's carrying me to a man in red robes who reverently took my hand and kissed it. My father regarded this man with great affection, and it seemed wonderful to me that he should kiss my hand. It meant something. It pleased my father. I knew by that time that he was my godfather, the great Cardinal Wolsey.

That had been when I was exactly two years old. I think the ceremony must have been in recognition of that fact. It was not only the great Cardinal who kissed my hand. I was taken to the Venetian ambassador and he was presented to me. I had been told I had to extend my hand for him to kiss, which I did in the manner which had been taught me, and I knew this caused my father's mouth to turn up at the corners with approval. Several people were presented to me afterward and I believe I remember something of this. While I was in my father's arms, I saw a man in dark robes among the assembly. I knew him for a priest. Priests, I had been told, were holy men, good men. I was drawn to them all throughout my life. I wanted to see this one more closely, so I called out, “Priest, Priest. Come here, Priest.”

There was astonishment among the company, and my father beckoned to the man to come forward. He did and stood before me. He took my hand and kissed it. I touched his dark robes and said: “Stay here, Priest.” The man smiled at me and, basking in my approval, he overcame his awe of the King and stammered out that the Princess Mary was a child of many gifts and the most bright and intelligent of her age he had ever seen.

People remember that occasion more for the manner in which I summoned the priest than that it was my second birthday and that the King was showing his love for me and that he was becoming reconciled to the fact that he might never have a legitimate son to follow him, which would make me, his daughter, his heir.

I was at that time at Ditton in Buckinghamshire. On the other side of the river was Windsor Castle and there was frequent traffic between the two places. I looked forward to those occasions when the ferryman rowed us across the river. I had my household governed by the Countess of Salisbury, who was a mother to me when my own beloved mother was not able to be with me. She deplored these absences, I knew, and had made me understand that she loved me dearly, and in spite of my reverence for my father, she was the person I loved best in the whole world.

Whenever she visited the household, she and the Countess would talk of me. My mother wanted to know everything I did and said and wore. She made me feel cherished; and the greatest sorrow of my early life was due to those occasions when we had to part.

She would say: “Soon we shall be together again and when I am not here the lady Countess will be your mother in my place.”

“There can only be one mother,” I told her gravely.

“That is so, my child,” she answered. “But you love the Countess as she loves you, and you must do everything she tells you and above all remember that she is there… for me.”

I did understand. I was wise for my years. I had, as Alice Wood, the laundress used to say, “an old head on little shoulders.”

Soon after that, when I was two years and eight months old, my first betrothal took place.

A son had been born to François Premier, the King of France, and my father and the Cardinal believed that it would strengthen the friendship between our two countries if a marriage was arranged for us. Although I was almost exactly two years older—the Dauphin was born on the 28th of February 1518—we were of an age. I had no notion of what this was all about. I do vaguely remember the splendid ceremony at Greenwich Palace, largely because of the clothes I had to wear. They were heavy and prickly; my gown was of cloth of gold, and my black velvet cap so encrusted with jewels that I could scarcely support its weight. My prospective bridegroom, being only eight months old, was naturally spared the ceremony and a somewhat solemn-looking Admiral Bonnivet represented him. I remember the heavy diamond ring he put on my finger.