Three Sisters, Three Queens
BAYNARD’S CASTLE, LONDON, ENGLAND, NOVEMBER 1501
I am to wear white and green, as a Tudor princess. Really, I think of myself as the one and only Tudor princess, for my sister Mary is too young to do more than be brought in by her nurse at suppertime, and taken out again. I make sure Mary’s nursemaids are quite clear that she is to be shown to our new sister-in-law, and then go. There is no profit in letting her sit up at the table, or gorge on crystallized plums. Rich things make her sick and if she gets tired she will bawl. She is only five years old, far too young for state occasions. Unlike me; I am all but twelve. I have to play my part in the wedding; it would not be complete without me. My lady grandmother, the king’s mother, said so herself.
Then she said something that I couldn’t quite hear, but I know that the Scots lords will be watching me to see if I look strong and grown-up enough to be married at once. I am sure I am. Everyone says that I am a bonny girl, stocky as a Welsh pony, healthy as a milkmaid, fair, like my younger brother Harry, with big blue eyes.
“You’ll be next,” she says to me with a smile. “They say that one wedding begets another.”
“I won’t have to travel as far as Princess Katherine,” I say. “I’ll come home on visits.”
“You will.” My lady grandmother’s promise makes it a certainty.
“You are marrying our neighbor, and you will make him our good friend and ally.”
Princess Katherine had to come all the way from Spain, miles and miles away. Since we are quarreling with France, she had to come by sea, and there were terrible storms and she was nearly wrecked. When I go to Scotland to marry the king, it will be a great procession from Westminster to Edinburgh of nearly four hundred miles. I shan’t go by sea, I won’t arrive sick and sopping wet, and I will come and go from my new home to London whenever I like. But Princess Katherine will never see her home again. They say she was crying when she first met my brother. I think that is ridiculous. And babyish as Mary.
“Shall I dance at the wedding?” I ask.
“You and Harry shall dance together,” my lady grandmother rules. “After the Spanish princess and her ladies have shown us a Spanish dance. You can show her what an English princess can do.” She smiles slyly. “We shall see who is best.”
“Me,” I pray. Out loud I say: “A basse danse?” It is a slow grand grown-up dance which I do very well, actually more walking than dancing.
I don’t argue; nobody argues with my lady grandmother. She decides what happens in every royal household, in every palace and castle; my lady mother the queen just agrees.
“We’ll have to rehearse,” I say. I can make Harry practice by promising him that everyone will be watching. He loves to be the center of attention and is always winning races and competing at archery and doing tricks on his pony. He is as tall as me, though he is only ten years old, so we look well together if he doesn’t play the fool. I want to show the Spanish princess that I am just as good as the daughter of Castile and Aragon. My mother and father are a Plantagenet and a Tudor. Those are grand enough names for anyone. Katherine needn’t think that we are grateful for her coming. I, for one, don’t particularly want another princess at court.
It is my lady mother who insists that Katherine visit us at Baynard’s Castle before the wedding, and she is accompanied by her own court, who have come all the way from Spain—at our expense, as my father remarks. They enter through the double doors like an invading army, their clothes, their speech, their headdresses completely unlike ours and, at the center of it all, beautifully gowned, is the girl that they call the “infanta.” This too is ridiculous, as she is fifteen and a princess, and I think that they are calling her “baby.” I glance across at Harry to see if he will giggle if I make a face and say “ba-aby,” which is how we tease Mary, but he is not looking at me. He is looking at her with goggle-eyes, as if he is seeing a new horse, or a piece of Italian armor, or something that he has set his heart on. I see his expression, and I realize that he is trying to fall in love with her, like a knight with a damsel in a story. Harry loves stories and ballads about impossible ladies in towers, or tied to rocks, or lost in woods, and somehow Katherine impressed him when he met her before her entry into London. Perhaps it was her ornate veiled litter, perhaps it was her learning, for she speaks three languages. I am so annoyed—I wish he was close enough for me to pinch him. This is exactly why no one younger than me should play a part in royal occasions.
She is not particularly beautiful. She is three years older than me but I am as tall as her. She has light brown hair with a copper tinge to it, only a little darker than mine. This is, of course, irritating: who wants to be compared to a sister-in-law? But I can hardly see it, for she wears a high headpiece and a thick concealing veil. She has blue eyes like mine too, but very fair eyebrows and lashes; obviously, she’s not allowed to color them in like I do. She has pale creamy skin, which I suppose is admirable. She is tiny: tiny waist pinched in by tight lacing so she can hardly breathe, tiny feet with the most ridiculous shoes I have ever seen,
gold-embroidered toes and gold laces. I don’t think that my lady grandmother would let me wear gold laces. It would be vanity and worldly show. I am sure that the Spanish are very worldly. I am sure that she is.
I make certain that my thoughts don’t show on my face as I examine her. I think she is lucky to come here, lucky to be chosen by my father to marry my elder brother Arthur, lucky to have a sister-in-law like me, a mother-in-law like my mother and—more than anything else—a grandmother-in-law like Lady Margaret Beaufort, who will make very sure that Katherine does not exceed her place which has been appointed by God.
She curtseys and kisses my lady mother and, after her, my lady grandmother. This is how it should be; but she will soon learn that she had better please my lady grandmother before anybody. Then my lady mother nods to me and I step forward, and the Spanish princess and I curtsey together at the same time, to exactly the same depth, and she steps forward and we kiss on one cheek and then the other. Her cheeks are warm and I see that she is blushing, her eyes filling with tears as if she is missing her real sisters. I show her my stern look, just like my father when someone is asking him for money. I am not going to fall in love with her for her blue eyes and pretty ways. She need not imagine she is going to come into our English court and make us look fat and stupid.
She is not at all rebuffed; she looks right back at me. Born and raised in a competitive court with three sisters, she understands rivalry. Worse, she looks at me as if she finds my stern look to be not at all chilling, perhaps even a little comical. That is when I know that this is not a young woman like my ladies-in-waiting who has to be pleasant to me whatever I do, or like Mary, who has to do whatever I say. This young woman is an equal, she will consider me, she might even be critical. I say in French: “You are welcome to England,” and she replies in stilted English: “I am pleased to greet my sister.”
My lady mother lays herself out to be kind to this, her first, daughter-in-law. They talk together in Latin and I cannot follow what they are saying so I sit beside my mother and look at
Katherine’s shoes with the gold laces. My mother calls for music, and Harry and I start a round, an English country song. We are very tuneful and the court takes up the chorus and it goes round and round until people start to giggle and lose their places. But Katherine does not laugh. She looks as if she is never silly and merry like Harry and me. She is overly formal, of course, being Spanish. But I note how she sits—very still, and with her hands folded in her lap as if she were sitting for a portrait—and I think: actually, that looks rather queenly. I think I will learn to sit like that.
My sister Mary is brought in to make her curtsey, and Katherine makes herself ridiculous by going down on her knees so their faces are level and she can hear her childish whisper. Of course Mary cannot understand a word of either Latin or Spanish, but she puts her arms around Katherine’s neck and kisses her and calls her “thithter.”
“I am your sister,” I correct her, giving her little hand a firm tug. “This lady is your sister-in-law. Can you say sister-in-law?”
Of course, she can’t. She lisps, and everyone laughs again and says how charming, and I say: “Lady Mother, shouldn’t Mary be in bed?” Then everyone realizes how late it is and we all go out with bobbing torches to see Katherine leave, as if she were a queen crowned and not merely the youngest daughter of the King and Queen of Spain, and very lucky to marry into our family: the Tudors.
She kisses everyone good night and when it is my turn, she puts her warm cheek to mine and says: “Good night, Sister” in that stupid accent, in her patronizing way. She draws back and sees my cross face and she gives a little ripple of laughter. “Oho!” she says, and pats my cheek as if my bad temper does not trouble her. This is a real princess, as naturally royal as my mother; this is the girl who will be Queen of England; and so I don’t resent the pat, more like a caress. I find that I like her and dislike her, all together, all at once.
“I hope you will be kind to Katherine,” my mother says to me as we come out of her private chapel after Prime the next morning.
“Not if she thinks she’s going to come here and lord it over all of us,” I say briskly. “Not if she thinks she is going to act as if she is doing us a favor. Did you see her shoelaces?”
My mother laughs with genuine amusement. “No, Margaret. I did not see her shoelaces, nor did I ask you for your opinion of her. I told you of my hope: that you will be kind to her.”
“Of course,” I say, looking down at my missal with the jeweled cover. “I hope that I am gracious to everyone.”
“She is far from her home and accustomed to a big family,” my mother says. “She will certainly need a friend, and you might enjoy the company of an older girl. I had lots of sisters at home when I was growing up, and I value them, more and more every year. You too might find that your women friends are your truest friends,
your sisters are the keepers of your memories and hopes for the future.”
“She and Arthur will stay here?” I ask. “They will live with us?”
My mother rests her hand on my shoulder. “I wish they could stay; but your father thinks they should go to Arthur’s principality and live at Ludlow.”
“What does my lady grandmother think?”
My mother gives a little shrug. That means it has been decided. “She says the Prince of Wales must govern Wales.”
“You’ll still have me at home.” I put my hand over hers to keep her beside me. “I’ll still be here.”
“I count on you,” she says reassuringly.
I have only one moment alone with my brother Arthur before the wedding. He walks with me in the long gallery. Below, we can hear the musicians striking up another dance, and the buzz of people drinking and chattering and laughing. “You don’t have to bow so low to her,” I say abruptly. “Her father and mother are
new-come to their thrones just like our father. She has nothing to be so very proud of. They’re no better than us. They’re not an ancient line.”
He flushes. “You think her proud?”
“Without reason.” I heard my grandmother say exactly this to my lady mother so I know it is right.
But Arthur argues. “Her parents conquered Spain and took it back from the Moors. They are the greatest crusaders in the world. Her mother is a queen militant. They have extraordinary wealth and own half of the unmapped world. Some grounds for pride there, surely?”
“There’s that, I suppose,” I say begrudgingly. “But we are Tudors.”
“We are,” he agrees with a little laugh. “But that doesn’t impress everyone.”
“Of course it does,” I say. “Especially now . . .”
Neither of us says any more; we are both aware that there are many heirs to the English throne, dozens of Plantagenet boys, our mother’s kinsmen, still living at our court, or run away to exile. Father has killed my mother’s cousins in battles, and destroyed more than one pretender: he executed our cousin Edward two years ago.
“Do you think her proud?” he challenges me. “Has she been rude to you?”
I spread my hands in the gesture of surrender that my mother makes when she is told that my lady grandmother has overruled her. “Oh, she doesn’t bother to talk to me, she has no interest in a mere sister. She is too busy being charming, especially to Father. Anyway, she can hardly speak English.”
“Isn’t she just shy? I know that I am.”
“Why would she be shy? She’s going to be married, isn’t she? She’s going to be Queen of England, isn’t she? She’s going to be your wife. Why would she be anything but completely delighted with herself?”
Arthur laughs and hugs me. “D’you think that there is nothing better in the world but to be Queen of England?”
“Nothing,” I say simply. “She should realize it and be grateful.”
“But you will be Queen of Scotland,” he points out. “That’s grand too. You have that to look forward to.”
“I do, and I certainly won’t ever be anxious and homesick or lonely.”
“King James will be a lucky man to have such a contented bride.”
That is the closest I get to warning him that Katherine of Aragon is looking down her long Spanish nose at us. But I nickname her Katherine of Arrogant and Mary hears me say it, since she is everywhere, always eavesdropping on her elders and betters. She catches it up, and it makes me laugh every time I hear her and see my mother’s quick frown and quiet correction.
The wedding passes off very brilliantly, arranged by my lady grandmother, of course, to show the world just how wealthy and grand we are now. Father has spent a fortune on a week of jousting and celebration and feasting, the fountains flow with wine, they roast oxen in Smithfield Market, and the people tear up the wedding carpet so that they can all have a little piece of Tudor glory on their sideboards. This is my first chance to see a royal wedding and I inspect the bride from the top of her beautiful white lace headdress, which they call a mantilla, to the heels of her embroidered shoes.
She looks pretty, I cannot deny that, but there is no cause for everyone to behave as if she is a miracle of beauty. Her long hair is the color of gold and brass, and falls around her shoulders nearly to her waist. She is as dainty as a little picture, which makes me feel awkward, as if my feet and hands are too big. It would be petty and a sin to think badly of her because of this, but I admit to myself that it will be better for everyone when she conceives a son and a Tudor heir, disappears into confinement for months, and comes out fat.
As soon as the feast is over, the double doors at the end of the hall open and a great float comes in, pulled by dancers in Tudor green. It is a huge castle, beautifully decorated with eight ladies inside, the principal dancer dressed as a Spanish princess, and on each turret there is a boy from the chapel choir singing her praises. It is followed by a float dressed as a sailing ship with billowing sails of peach silk, manned by eight knights. The ship docks at the castle but the ladies refuse to dance, so the knights attack the castle with pretend jousting until the ladies throw them paper flowers and then step down. The castle and the ship are hauled away and they all dance together. Katherine of Arrogant claps her hands and bows her thanks to my father the king for the elaborate compliment. I am so furious that I wasn’t given a part in this that I cannot bring myself to smile. I catch her looking at me, and I feel certain she is taunting me with the honor that my father is doing her. She is the center of everything, it’s quite sickening in the middle of dinner.
Then it is Arthur’s turn. He dances with one of my mother’s ladies, and then Harry and I take to the floor for our galliard. It is a fast, bright dance with music as tempting as a village jig. The musicians take it at a quick pace and Harry and I are excellent partners, well matched and well trained. Neither of us misses a step, nobody could do it better. But in one part when I am circling, arms outstretched, dancing a little step on the spot, my feet and ankles shown by my swirling gown, and all eyes are on me—at that exact moment—Harry chooses to step to one side and throw off his bulky jacket and then spring back to my side in his billowing linen shirt. Father and Mother applaud and he looks flushed and so boyishly handsome that everyone cheers him. I keep smiling, but I am completely furious, and when we hold hands in the dance, I pinch his palm as hard as I can.
Of course, I am not at all surprised by this scene stealing; I half expected him to do something to draw all eyes to him. It’s been killing him all day to have to play second son to Arthur. He escorted Katherine up the aisle of the abbey, but had to hand her over at the top and step back and be quite forgotten. Now,
following Arthur’s restrained dance, he gets his chance to shine. If I could stamp on his toe I would, but I catch Arthur’s eye and he gives me a broad wink. We are both thinking the same thing: Harry is always indulged and everyone but Mother and Father can see what we see: a boy spoiled beyond enduring.
The dance comes to an end and Harry and I bow together, hand in hand, making a pretty picture as we always do. I glance across at the Scots lords, who are watching me intently. They, at least, have no interest in Harry. One of them, James Hamilton, is the King of Scotland’s own kinsman. He will be glad to see that I will be a merry queen; his cousin, King James, likes dancing and feasting and will meet his match in me. I see the lords exchange a few quick words and I feel certain that they will agree the next wedding, my wedding, will be soon. And Harry will not be dancing at that and stealing the show, for I will not allow it, and Katherine will have to wear her hair hidden under her hood and it will be me who stands and welcomes the ship with peach silk sails and all the dancers.
Neither Harry nor I are allowed to stay to the end of the feast, the escorting of the princess to bed, and the prayers over the wedding bed. I think it is very wrong and bad mannered to treat us like children. My grandmother sends us to our rooms and though I glance over to my mother, expecting her to say that Harry must go but I can stay up longer, she is blandly looking aside. Always, it is my grandmother’s word that is law: she is the hanging judge, my mother only grants the occasional rare royal pardon. So we make our bows and curtseys to the king and to my mother and to my lady grandmother, and to darling Arthur and Katherine of Arrogant, and then we have to go, dawdling as slowly as we dare, from the bright rooms where the white wax candles are burning down as if they cost no more than tallow, and the musicians are playing as if they are going to go on all night.
“I am going to have a wedding just like this,” Harry says as we go up the stairs.
“Not for years yet,” I say to irritate him. “But I shall be married very soon.”
When I get to my room I kneel at my prie-dieu and, though I had intended to pray for Arthur’s long life and happiness, and remind God of His special debt to the Tudors, I find I can only pray that the Scottish ambassadors tell the king to send for me at once, for I want a marriage feast as grand as this one, and a wardrobe of clothes as good as Katherine of Arrogant’s, and shoes—I will have hundreds and hundreds of pairs of shoes, I swear it, and every one of them will have embroidered toes and gold laces.