Jean Plaidy

The King's Secret Matter

The Cardinal’s Revenge

KATHARINE, QUEEN OF ENGLAND, SAT AT HER WINDOW LOOKing down on the Palace gardens; her hands lay idly in her lap, her tapestry momentarily neglected. She was now approaching her thirty-fifth birthday, and her once graceful figure had grown somewhat heavy during the years of disappointing pregnancies; yet she had lost none of her dignity; the humiliation she was forced to suffer could not rob her of that serene assurance which reminded all who came into her presence that she was not only the Queen of England but the daughter of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon.

She wore the fashionable five-cornered hood which glittered with jewels, and from it hung a black mantilla, for although it was nineteen years since she had left her own country she still clung to certain customs and fashions of her native land; her gown was of blue velvet trimmed with sable; and as she sat, her feet gracefully crossed, her petticoat of gold-colored satin was visible; at her throat were rubies, and similar jewels decorated the cordelière belt which encircled her thick waist and fell to her feet.

Now as she gazed out of the window the expression on her regular, though heavy, features was serious in the extreme; and the high forehead was wrinkled in a frown. The woman who was watching her felt compassion welling up within her, for she knew that the Queen was uneasy.

And the reason was obvious, thought Lady Willoughby who, as Maria de Salinas, had come with Katharine to England nineteen years before, and until her marriage to Lord Willoughby had never left her mistress’s service; and even now returned to her whenever she found it possible to do so.

Katharine the Queen had anxieties enough.

If there could only be a male child, thought Maria. One male child. Is that too much to ask? Why is it denied her?

They had been so close to each other for so many years that there were occasions when they read each other’s thoughts, and the Queen, glancing away from the gardens, caught Maria’s pitying look and answered that unspoken thought.

“I have a feeling that it will never be, Maria,” she said. “There have been so many attempts.”

Maria flushed, angry with herself because she had betrayed thoughts which could only bring further pain to her beloved mistress.

“Your Grace has a charming, healthy daughter.”

Katharine’s face became young and almost beautiful as it invariably did when her daughter, the five-year-old Princess Mary, was mentioned.

“She grows more beautiful as the months pass,” murmured the Queen, smiling to herself. “She is so gay, so merry, that she has won her father’s heart so certainly that I do believe that when he is with her he forgives her for not being a boy.”

“No one could wish the Princess Mary to be other than she is,” murmured Maria.

“No. I would not change her. Is that not strange, Maria? If it were possible to turn her into a boy I would not do so. I would not have her different in any way.” The smile disappeared and she went on: “How I wish I could have her more often with me here at Greenwich.”

“It is because the King is so eager that she shall enjoy the state which is due to her that he insists on her maintaining a separate household.”

The Queen nodded and turned to her tapestry.

“We shall be leaving for Windsor shortly,” she said; “then I shall have her ferried over from Ditton Park. I long to hear how she is progressing with the virginals. Did you ever know a child of five who showed such musical talent?”

“Never,” answered Maria, thinking: I must keep her mind on Mary, for that will give her a respite from less pleasant matters.

But as she was reminding Katharine of that occasion when the King had carried his daughter down to the state apartments and insisted on the ambassadors of France and Spain paying homage to the little girl’s rank and accomplishments, a shout from the grounds diverted the Queen’s attention to other matters, and Maria noticed the momentary closing of the eyes which denoted that disgust she felt for what was happening down there.

It was a mistake, Maria told herself, for the Queen to hold aloof from the King’s pastimes; and while she sympathized with Katharine and understood her mistress’s revulsion, she felt that it was unwise of her to show such feeling. The King was a man who looked for adulation and, because it was almost always unstintingly given, he was quick to perceive when it was not; and merely by declining to accompany him to the arena, the Queen had doubtless offended him. True, she had pleaded indisposition; but the King, who was himself so rarely indisposed, was apt to regard the illness of others with scepticism and derision.

No, it was unfortunate that while the King, surrounded by his courtiers, was watching a bear being torn to pieces by his ban dogs, which had been kept hungry for hours in order to increase their ferocity, the Queen should be sitting over her tapestry with one faithful friend at her side.

More shouts followed, and the sound of trumpets came through the open window.

Katharine said: “The game will have ended. How thankful I am that I was not there to witness the death agony of some poor creature.”

“We shall never grow accustomed to English sports, I fear,” answered Maria. “After all these years we remain Spanish.”

“Yet we are English now, Maria, by reason of our marriages. We both have English husbands, and Spain seems so very far away; yet I shall never forget the Alhambra and my mother.”

“You would like to return to Spain, Your Grace?”

Katharine shook her head “I did not want to after she had died. For me she was Spain. I do not think I could have endured life there after she had gone. There would have been too much to remind me. It is so many years since she died…yet for me she never died. She lives on in my heart and brings me comfort still. I say to myself, when I think of my own sweet daughter: Katharine of Aragon will be such a mother to the Princess Mary as Isabella of Castile was to Katharine of Aragon.”

“She was both great and wise.”

“There are times,” went on Katharine, “when I wish with all my heart that she were here, that she had her apartments in this Palace and that I could go to her, tell her what perplexes me, so that out of her great wisdom she might tell me what to do.”

What could even great Isabella tell her daughter? wondered Maria. How could she advise her to please that wayward husband of hers? She could only say, as so many at Court could say: Give him a son. Then you will be safe.

Katharine looked at the woman who for so long had been her dearest friend. She knows of my troubles, thought the Queen. It would be impossible for her not to know. Who in this Court does not know that the King is persistently unfaithful to his wife, that he is beginning to find her five years seniority distasteful, that he is dissatisfied because, although she has proved herself capable of becoming pregnant, she has also shown herself unable to bear him a healthy male child? Twelve years of marriage had resulted in several miscarriages and only one healthy child—a daughter.

She was not one to ask for sympathy; she knew it was dangerous to confide in others. Yet Maria de Salinas was her very dear friend and she believed there was no one in her life who loved her more. It was a sad admission. Her husband no longer loved her; she was fully conscious of that sad fact. Her mother who had loved her dearly—even as she herself loved Mary—was long since dead. Recently her father, the ambitious, parsimonious Ferdinand, had died; but of course Ferdinand had never had much love to spare for any one person, his possessions taking all the affection he had to give; and to him she had merely been an important counter in the game of politics which was his life. Mary loved her; but Mary was a child.

God grant she never has to suffer as I have, thought the Queen hastily.

But all would be well for Mary who was now heir to the throne, because there was no Salic law in England. If there were no male children born to her parents, and one day she ascended the throne, she would be Queen in her own right, which was a very different matter from being a King’s Consort.

Katharine’s mother had been a Queen in her own right and, much as she had loved her husband, she had never forgotten it; for although Ferdinand had often been unfaithful—there were several illegitimate children to prove it—although she had accepted this as inevitable, forgiven him and remained his loving and submissive wife, in state matters she had held rigorously to her supremacy.

“Oh, Maria!” she sighed. “I am passing through troublous times, and I feel…alone.”

Maria went to Katharine and kneeling, buried her face in the blue velvet. “Your Grace, while I live to serve you, you are never alone.”

“I know it, Maria…my very good friend. I love you dearly, as you love me, and to no other would I speak of these matters. But to you I will say this: I despair of getting a male child. There is so little opportunity. The King rarely visits my bed. And since the birth of a son to Elizabeth Blount his manner towards me grows colder.”

“That sly creature!” Maria said angrily.

“Nay, do not blame her. She was a shy girl, and he is her King. He said, ‘Come hither’ and the girl has no more power to resist than a rabbit facing a stoat. And she has given him this son.”

“I hear that she no longer pleases him.”

The Queen shrugged her shoulders. “He has taken the boy away to be brought up.”