It was almost as if people tried to forget the stillbirth, as if by avoiding the subject it would not be such a tragedy. It wasn’t as if Catherine was running out of fertile years, as she was still as young and beautiful as ever, but a queen’s singularly most important job was to produce an heir. And thus far, Catherine had failed, and until a little prince emerged from her loins, she would likely be regarded as a failure.
Henry put on a cheerful face, but was not often seen visiting Catherine during her recovery days. As soon as she was well, however, he went back to his usual adoration for his queen. He too seemed to want to forget the disappointment, a bitter aftertaste to what had been a decadent year.
The following year would pass with few notable events. I continued my friendship with Elinor and Alice, and Susanna grew so distant from us that it was as if she had never existed, except on those strange occasions where our paths’ crossed and I was forced to mutter a cordial greeting, I addressing her as merely a servant while she was free to ignore me as much as she pleased. White Margaret and I grew ever closer, and even Molly began to come back to us, joining us for walks in the garden when she wasn’t busy with whatever it was Molly Cranford was so busy with these days.
White Margaret did not seem to continue her affair with Charles Brandon. I believe the experience was hardly important to her, a moment in time, the thought of it mixing as naturally with the memories of that banquet as naturally as the sound of the music or the taste of the wine.
They did seem to share a fondness for each other though. Charles was a good man, but he was not one for long-term partners, and anyone even considered to fill such a position was generally very beautiful, and dare I say, unintelligent. In women, Charles valued appearance and silence, and certain skills that I feel I can safely say I do not possess. Margaret was surely as beautiful as they come, but she preferred to lead rather than follow.
Margaret, Alice, Elinor, and I spent the winter holed up in front of fires, when Margaret and I were not assisting Catherine. Once she had well recovered from the physical and mental effects of her stillbirth, she immediately returned to her duties, fervor renewed. She, like Margaret, was not content to sit and listen to the men speak. I admired them both, though I worried, justly, that this outspokenness would someday get them into trouble. Intelligent, confident women were not typically well accepted, most certainly not as queen.
But Catherine earned the people’s love and respect. She frequently brought us out to distribute alms to the poor, grabbing tightly the rough hands of her subjects and whispering a short prayer, a tranquil smile on her face. Her humorous comments in court often drew hearty laughs. Her staunch religious beliefs ignited the faith of those around her, as she shared her beliefs through kindness and caring, instead of the usual barely-veiled threats of the church.
Just a few months later, Queen Catherine was pregnant again. This time, just a few months into her pregnancy, her physician recommended near-constant bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy, due to the result of the last one.
It would surely not be easy for a woman such as Catherine to even pretend to content herself lying in a bed. She resisted as long as she could, until the man Thomas Wolsey muttered the words ”endangering the heir” and not long later, “treason”. That brought about a direct order from King to Queen that she take to bed.
We amused her as best we could. Catherine had Margaret and I start bringing Elinor and Alice around. Elinor could always make her laugh, and Alice’s pure kindness always seemed to leave Catherine in a better frame of mind.
One afternoon, in late summer, Catherine’s stomach was showing fairly clearly now, and the pregnancy was well over halfway through. Elinor set along Queen Catherine’s pillows, plating the monarch’s long, orange hair. Alice was telling a story, something she had heard from a foreigner staying at court. It was quite obviously a tall tale, as a certain flying cat seemed to keep reappearing in the narrative. Alice was telling it quite colorfully, clearly painting the image of the little black cat with the dove’s wings stealing women’s hoods.
Margaret and I laughed along, but we were busy tidying the room. Finally, Catherine interrupted Alice at a pause to call to us amusedly, “Bella, Mary, do stop that and come hear about this wondrous cat!” Elinor laughed, and soon all of us were settled around listening. Alice was no longer the shy girl she had been when she first arrived, and this new addition to her audience seemed to only fuel her enthusiasm.
After a few more moments of storytelling, I looked behind me to notice Bessie Blount peeking from behind the door, listening with a sweet smile on her full lips. She was a bit older now, each year growing more beautiful, and hair staying the same raven-black.
Catherine had followed my gaze. When I looked back to her, she indicated that I let the girl in.
“Elizabeth?” I called, slightly unsure. I did not want to scare her, and I wasn’t quite sure she cared for me. “Bessie?”
Bessie had jumped a little at the first calling, and began to retract. But at the second, she paused, looking at me for a moment, childhood still lingering in her eyes. “Would you like to come here to hear the story?”
By now Alice and Margaret were looking at her too, and Elinor was too far engrossed in finishing up Catherine’s beautifully complex braid to notice much of anything.
Bessie looked a little embarrassed but made her way into the room, curtseying to Catherine, and drawing a little laugh from the queen. “Come girl, sit and listen, Alice weaves quite the tale.”
Alice smiled to Catherine and continued, Bessie settling down between me and the bedpost. As the afternoon wore on and we moved from one story to the next, chirping like Catherine’s finches, Bessie at some point took my hand and held it happily, and Catherine fell asleep with a smile on her face and a few hairs since escaped from her braid brushing over her still-flushed cheeks.
YOU ARE READING
A Fortress of FeathersHistorical Fiction
In a kingdom ruled by men, a young Spanish woman is handed over to England to be the Tudor's new toy, and eventually, the queen. This woman is Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII. Her journey began long before her marriage and ascensio...