Raised to fear her royal blood and what it might lead men to do in her name, Mary Grey dreads what will become of herself and her elder sisters under the reigns of Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I. On their honor, they have no designs on the crown, yet are condemned to solitude, forbidden to wed. Though Mary, accustomed to dwelling in the shadows, the subject of whispers, may never catch the eye of a gentleman, her beautiful and brilliant sisters long for freedoms that would surely cost their lives. And so, wizened for her years, Mary can only hope for divine providence amid a bleak present and a future at the whim of the throne--unless destiny gains the upper hand.
A gripping and bittersweet tale of broken families and broken hearts, courage and conviction, The Queen's Rivals recounts an astonishing chapter in the hard-won battle for the Tudor throne.
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The Queen's Rivals
By BRANDY PURDY
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Brandy Purdy
All rights reserved.
Only a fool believes in Forever. Yet I was a fool, though I was only five years old at the time—take that as an excuse or not as you like—when my eldest sister, Jane, came home to Bradgate after the death of the much beloved Dowager Queen Catherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of our magnificent, fierce uncle, King Henry VIII. Jane had been the sixth queen's beloved ward and lived with Catherine and her new husband, the Lord Admiral Thomas Seymour, quietly pursuing her studies, until death and heartbreak brought her home to us. That was in September 1548, and Jane was a month shy of eleven, though her intelligence and quiet, solemn ways always made her seem much older than her actual years.
We would be constantly together in the years to come, we three sisters—Jane, Kate, and I, "the brilliant one, the beautiful one, and the beastly little one!" as we used to laughingly call ourselves as we stood together before the looking glass, poking fun at the way everyone saw us, like characters in a fairy tale. Rather than rage, pout, or weep, we had adopted it as our own and laughed about it instead. I didn't think then of marriage, of husbands, households, and babies, the responsibilities that would inevitably tear us apart, take us away from our home at dear rosy-bricked Bradgate in Leicestershire, and each other, and divide us from a trio of sisters into three separate lives. I thought we would go on forever, always together.
Jane was so sad when she came home that long ago September. Never before had I seen her so listless and full of sorrow. When she stepped down from the coach, she moved like one in weighted shoes, stunned by a heavy blow to the head, as though she were walking in her sleep, her swollen, red-rimmed eyes open but oblivious, even to Kate and me as we ran out with open arms and joyful, eager smiles to welcome her. But Jane didn't notice us. Even when Kate hurled herself at her, like a cannonball covered with bouncing copper curls, Jane absorbed the impact with barely a flicker. When I saw this, my smile and steps faltered and I hung back, feeling as though I were trespassing on my sister's sorrow, even though all I wanted to do was banish it.
She was still wearing the black velvet gown she had worn to the Dowager Queen's funeral, where she had acted as chief mourner, with her long, wavy chestnut hair still pinned tight and confined beneath a plain white coif, and her thin shoulders shivering under the little white silk capelet, both of which, coupled with the black gown, signified that the deceased had lost her own life bringing a new life into the world. With two black-gowned, white-coiffed, and caped maids bearing her long black train, Jane, carrying a lighted white taper clasped tight between her trembling hands, hoping her tears would not drip down and douse the flame, had led the grim and solemn procession into the chapel at Sudeley Castle.
Our always elegant lady-mother disembarked from the coach with a wave of rose perfume strong enough to knock any weak-stomached man or maid down, her leather stays creaking in violent complaint beneath the grandeur of her gold-embroidered green velvet gown and her favorite leopard skin cloak. Our father had given it to her when she, as a young bride, triumphantly announced that she was carrying a child that they were both confident would be a son, though it was in fact Jane in her womb as time would reveal. But our lady-mother kept and prized her leopard skin cloak just the same, even long after she had given up all hope of a son. "I deserve it," I often heard her proclaim as she preened before her mirror with it draped about her broad shoulders. "After all that I have endured—I deserve it!" Though I never dared question her, I knew she meant us—Father's weak will and his body grown cushiony soft through unrestrained indulgence of his love for sweets; Jane's recalcitrant and willful ways that ran so contrary to our world's most cherished ideas of feminine beauty and charm; Kate's thinking with her heart instead of her head; my stunted, deformed body—a dwarf daughter is a daughter wasted, she can do no good for her family or herself; and the tiny baby boys born blue and dead with limp little phalluses that waggled mockingly, reminding our parents of the son, the star of the Grey family, the hope of the future, they would never watch grow to strong and lusty manhood and carry on our proud and noble lineage.
Jane blindly followed our lady-mother toward the house, meek and docile in her grief, her long train trailing forgotten over the dusty flagstones behind her. Her mind shrouded in black velvet sorrow, Jane didn't feel its weight or hear the rustling whisper that tried to remind her, like a little voice urgently hissing, Pick me up! Pick me up! Sudden as a serpent striking, our lady-mother swung around and dealt Jane's face a sharp leather-gloved slap that almost knocked her down. "Pick up that train!" she snapped, though we all knew it was a gown Jane would never wear again, for every stitch of that hastily sewn frock was full of sorrow.
Jane staggered and stumbled backward, a livid pinkness marring the milky, cinnamon-freckled pallor of her cheek and a drop of blood falling like a ruby tear from her nose to stain her white silk capelet. Seeing it, our lady-mother snorted like a horse, blowing hot fury, before she shook her head in a way that seemed to say to Jane, You're hopeless! and spun on her leather-booted heel and flounced into the house, the feathers on her hat bobbing with every step as she nimbly plucked the gloves from her fingertips, tossed them to a maid, and untied her cloak strings, as she called for wine and demanded the whereabouts of her husband. As soon as the door closed behind her, Kate ran to gather up Jane's train, bunching up the dusty velvet, wadding it against her chest as best she could, being quite daintily built and only eight. And I took Jane's hand and gave a gentle tug to get her moving and led her inside and upstairs to her chamber.
Jane never said a word as her nurse, Mrs. Ellen, ordered her to sit, and then, with an efficiency born of familiarity, silently bathed Jane's face and pressed a cold cloth to her nose to staunch the bleeding while Kate and I knelt beside her chair and held and rubbed our sister's hands. As soon as a servant appeared bearing Jane's trunk, she sprang up and ran to open it. From inside she took a portrait, which she had wrapped in petticoats to protect it on the journey. She unswaddled it tenderly as a mother would her child, as Catherine Parr would never have the chance to do for her own infant daughter, then propped it on a chair and sat back on her heels before it.
It was a portrait of the late Dowager Queen, gowned in sumptuous claret satin, her bodice and sleeves elegantly embellished with gold-embroidered black bands. Her auburn head was covered by a round, flat black velvet cap adorned with fanciful gold and pearl buttons and brooches. With its jaunty, curling white plume, the hat looked far more cheerful than the pensive pearl-pale face unsmilingly framed by the pearl-bordered white coif she wore beneath it. In the hollow of her pale throat I noticed was a pendant I had seen on portraits of our uncle's previous queens, all now deceased, their lives bled out in childbed or on the scaffold, a great cabochon ruby resting in a nest of gold acanthus leaves with a smaller emerald set above it and an enormous milky teardrop of a pearl dangling beneath.
I had never met Queen Catherine, but Jane had told me so much about her I felt I knew her: the book she had written, The Lamentation of a Sinner, a labor of love boldly espousing woman's equality to man, emphasizing femininity's Christlike virtues, such as meekness and humility; the finely arched brows she plucked with silver tweezers; the discreet henna rinses she applied to her hair when her husband was absent; and the quick pinches she gave her cheeks, to give them color, before she came into his presence; the milk baths she soaked in to keep her skin soft and fair; the vigorous scrubbings with lemons to fade and discourage freckles; the rose perfume she distilled herself from her own mother's recipe; the cinnamon lozenges her cook prepared in plentiful batches to keep her breath sweet; and the red, gold, and silver dresses her dressmaker made to show off the still slender figure of an aging woman who kept her waist trim by exerting steely self-discipline at the dining table, shunning the rich, decadent fare laid before her on gold and silver plates, and, to her great sorrow, by never having borne a child. All to keep a man who wasn't worth keeping, an ambitious scoundrel who lusted after a crown and was hell-bent on seducing her own stepdaughter—the flaming, vital, young Princess Elizabeth who stood just two steps down from the throne her brother sat upon. Only her sister, the Catholic spinster Mary, stood above her in the line of succession, and she had already rebuffed the Lord Admiral's passionate overtures.
Kate and Mrs. Ellen each bent and took Jane by the arm and raised her. As we undressed her, Jane never said a word or took her eyes off Catherine Parr's face.
Later, when the house was still, and the yawning, sleepy-eyed servants had climbed the stairs to their attic cots, and our own nurses lay snoring on the trundle beds, Kate and I crept on bare toes back to Jane's bedchamber, hugging our velvet-faced damask dressing gowns tight over our lawn night shifts lest their rustling betray us. Jane lay white-faced and still behind the moss green and gold brocade bedcurtains with the covers drawn up to her chin. The cups of mulled wine Mrs. Ellen had given her had eased her, warmed her inside, and loosened her usually cautious tongue. We roused her and, to our delight, found she was no longer a walking wraith and once again our dear, difficult, but much beloved sister. And as we huddled beneath the bedcovers, close as three peas in a pod, Kate still in her green velvet dressing gown and I in my plum one, Jane shared with us the strawberries, pears, apples, and walnuts sympathetic common folk, who also mourned the Dowager Queen's passing, had given her whenever the carriage stopped so that the horses could be changed or watered. "They were all so kind," Jane said in an awed little whisper as though human kindness was something strange and marvelous she was unaccustomed to behold.
It was then, as we munched our treats and sipped the now tepid wine Mrs. Ellen had left behind, that our sister confided all. And what tales she had to tell! Had it been anyone other than our plain-spoken Jane I would have suspected some fanciful embroidering. She told us all about the lewd, wanton romps that had astonished and titillated all of England when they heard how the Lord Admiral had made it his custom to creep into Princess Elizabeth's bedchamber early each morning to rouse her with tickling and kisses, handling her person in a most familiar and intimate fashion, and how the two had been surprised in an embrace by his wife, with the guilty fellow's hand roving beneath the princess's petticoats, which had resulted in Elizabeth being sent away, and had spoiled Catherine's joy in at long last finding herself with child. In the delirium of the fever that followed the birth of her daughter, Catherine's tongue had scourged her husband and stepdaughter like a metal-barbed whip; she accused the Lord Admiral of wanting her dead so he would be free to marry Elizabeth, his little wanton strumpet of a stepping stone leading straight to the throne. And Jane had with her own eyes seen him pour a white powder into a goblet of wine and press it to Catherine's lips, forcing her to drink, tightening his grip and pressing the golden rim harder against her lips when she shook her head and tried to pull away, and afterward holding his hand over her mouth to make her swallow when he thought she might attempt to spit it out. She died with small, round, livid purple-red bruises from his fingertips marring her cheeks and jaw. When the time came to bathe and clothe her corpse, her favorite lady-in-waiting, a stepdaughter from Catherine Parr's first marriage, Lady Tyrwhit, had painted over them with a paste of white lead and powdered alabaster to restore her complexion to pearly consistency.
Before Catherine died, a lawyer was summoned—Jane herself opened the bedchamber door to let him in—and the Lord Admiral prompted his fading wife to dictate a new will leaving all her worldly goods to him, thus making him a very rich man. He even gripped her hand and guided it across the parchment to sign her name, leaving bruises upon her knuckles that Lady Tyrwhit would also lovingly conceal. It disturbed Jane to recall how hard he had held her hand, hard enough to make the bones crackle and grate as if his bride's very bones protested his cruel, duplicitous ways. "There was naught of love in his touch, no tenderness, only cruelty and a determination to have his will," Jane said. "I wanted to do something, I wanted to stop it, but I was as helpless and powerless as the Dowager Queen was in the end. He as her husband had all the power."
But there was more, much more—the kinds of secrets that weigh so heavily upon a young girl's heart.
"I too sinned against the Dowager Queen," Jane, in a voice suffused with shame, confided. "She was more like a mother to me than our own—patient, loving, encouraging, and kind, so very kind—and I wronged her just as Elizabeth did, only she never knew it; I was not found out."
She went on to tell us how Thomas Seymour had fanned the flames of our parents' ambition by concocting a grand scheme to marry her to the young King Edward. Outwardly it seemed a perfect match, Jane and Edward both being the same age, English, and devout Protestants, of serious rather than merry mind, and Jane had been named in honor of the King's mother, Jane Seymour, the third and most beloved of Henry VIII's six wives. Though the young king, who was after all only a pale, frail boy trying hard to ape his splendid sire, in padded shoulders and plumed hats, posing with fists on hips and feet in slashed velvet duckbill slippers planted wide apart, pompously proclaimed that he wanted a "well-stuffed and jeweled bride" for himself, his "jolly Uncle Tom," who provided the young monarch with pocket money to earn his favor and gratitude, was certain he could persuade him that "what England needs most is a homegrown Protestant queen, a true English rose, like the Lady Jane Grey, who will uphold the Reformed Faith, not a French Catholic princess hung with jeweled crucifixes, dripping pearl rosaries, kneeling on an embroidered prie-dieu, and throwing boons to her pet cardinals and confessors." Brash Tom Seymour had so much confidence in his own schemes he "could sell fire and brimstone to the Devil," our lady-mother used to say as she toed a cautious line while our father wholeheartedly embraced the dream of seeing his firstborn daughter crowned queen.
But no one asked or cared how Jane herself felt about the future that was being planned for her. She did not want to marry Edward; she felt the coldness emanating from him like a great blast of icy air so that even in summer she shivered and longed for her furs whenever she was in his presence, and she saw cruelty glinting in his eyes, and that made her tremble and fear the man he would grow up to become. And she didn't want to be queen either. All Jane wanted—or thought she wanted—was her books, to spend her life quietly engaged in study.
Like a nun taking the veil and becoming the bride of Christ, Jane wanted to dedicate herself to the Reformed Faith; she wanted no man or marriage to interfere and had no time or patience for romance and even turned up her nose and scoffed derisively at the very idea. Many a time I heard her chastising Kate for being more avid for love than learning and urging her to "despise the flesh." Jane thought carnality was a vile, evil, disgusting thing and didn't want it to sully her life in any way, not even in songs or stories; anyone she caught indulging in either she told to their faces that they should be singing hymns and reading Scripture instead. Rather fanatical upon this subject, she urged everyone to "despise the flesh" and resented any carnal intrusion into her life, even if it were only by accident.
Excerpted from The Queen's Rivals by BRANDY PURDY. Copyright © 2013 by Brandy Purdy. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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