SUMMARY – Edward VI, King Henry's longed for heir, died at the age of fifteen. But what if he hadn't? Margaret Sidney is traveling to the young court of the English King, filled with intrigue and danger. From religious strife to assassination plots she'll soon learn that even with the love of a King, she may still end up a helpless pawn. Will she be able to find real love, or forever be a cursed courtier? In the court of a Tudor monarch, one cannot predict anything.
AUTHOR'S NOTE – Hello out there! You probably had no idea when you clicked this, but Kings and Pawns is my third attempt at a Tudor historical fic. I started out with a bumbling, rambly Elizabethan era romance involving a Mary Sueish lady in waiting and James VI of Scotland. The second was along this line, but I had little to no research and only a love of the period to drive me on, plus I didn't attempt to totally change history in the last one. In THIS story, I've imagined a prolonged life for Henry VIII's little Prince Edward. I hope you all enjoy it and be sure to review, I'd love to hear feedback.
KINGS AND PAWNS
October 12th, 1555
Hampton Court Palace, England
"To the King!" the cry rang out as, yet again, glasses were raised to the throne where young King Edward rested, his face stoic and calm. He smiled at Robert Dudley, the Son of his closest adviser, and nodded his head softly. Robert continued, his glass of wine raised high. "To our most good and gracious sovereign! May he reign in God's favor for many a year!"
This was the seventh toast to the young King, and with a nod to the musicians the music started again, a lively tune which soon started up dancing in the middle of the floor. Young men and women commenced in a lively Galliard, their laughter rising as the music's tempo sped up. Edward leaned forward, his hands grasping wooden arms of the throne, as he watched his elder sister Elizabeth twirl, her bright red hair flying in a circle around her shoulders. When she smiled all could see the late King Henry, his jovial nature long forgotten after years of tyranny and a short temper. Edward smiled to himself and shook his head, eyes landing next on his sister, the Lady Mary. She sat with her ladies, in a stiff black dress. Mary always dressed austerely, in the Spanish fashion, and her dour face matched. At thirty nine King Henry's firstborn was an old maid, and her appearance at court had only been at her brother's behest. The Lady Mary was known for her secret practice of Catholicism, and her shameful worship at he alter of Papists. Edward wanted her close, to keep an eye on her. He never punished her for practicing her mother's precious faith, but he could not have her far from him, rallying support from unruly Catholic charlatans. The same went with Elizabeth. She may have been a good Protestant, but she was no less immune to attempts at taking his throne.
"Your Majesty?" a familiar voice came from his left side "His Grace the Duke of Suffolk would have an audience with the King."
Edward turned, his gaze resting on John Dudley, Duke of Nothumberland. Dudley had been Lord Protector since Edward was but a boy, after the treason of his Uncle and his subsequent beheading. He had been used to power, but now that the King was of age he was simply one of the young King's advisers, a high ranking member in his Privy Council. But Dudley had the King's ear, and that meant much in the minds of many a courtier. Dudley smiled and Edward looked past him at the Duke. Henry Grey was the husband of the Lady Francis Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk. She was close relation to Edward, being the daughter of his Aunt, May Tudor, and his Father's good friend Charles Brandon. She stood close to her husband, smiling as coyly as she could. The woman was a simpering, power hungry nuisance. She and her family were always trying their best to achieve royal favor. Behind the Duchess stood Lady Jane Grey. Edward smiled at her, truly glad. Jane was a smart girl, well versed in her scripture and a fervent Protestant. He was very pleased with her loyalty as well. She smiled back at him, giving a slight curtsy.
"Of course your Grace, of what do you wish to speak?"
"Your Majesty, first I give my humble thanks to you for inviting me and mine to your most glorious court for the season and on behalf of my-"
"Suffolk." Edward said sharply, with a cold smile on his face "Please, no flattery. I truly would hear what you have to say."
The Duke froze, his long practiced monologue brought to an early end. Jane giggled slightly, covering her face with a pomander as if she had just smelled a horrid odor. Lady Grey stiffened, her attempt at a smile faded completely.
"Yes...yes, Sire of course." He took a deep breath "I come to you on behalf of my eldest daughter, the Lady Jane." Nodding towards the girl he turned back to the King, hands clasped behind his back. "She is of age to make a good match, and we come to you, our most gracious King, to ask for permission to find her a suitable husband."
Edward looked again at his cousin Jane and felt pity for her. She was looking at the floor now, all traces of laughter gone from her face. Lord help her, one could only guess at how her parents would use her to barter for more influence and connections in court. He sighed, as if bored.
"Cousin, who did you have in mind for the Lady Jane?"
It was important that they came to Edward with their marriage choice, as Jane was in direct line for the succession after Mary and Elizabeth. That meant that her marriage could result in disastrous results for Edward, as many could rally behind Jane if she married a suitable candidate, someone with royal blood (a Yorkist or Lancastrian perhaps) and thus make a better candidate to stage an overthrow of the throne. Edward had learned these lessons early, from the controlling tactics of his Uncles. So, Jane's betrothed would have to be approved by the King. It was wise to come to him before making the decisions official.
"Sire, we have no real prospects, we were simply asking for permission to proceed with..." he stammered and looked at the rushes "...the process."
Edward gave him a blank stare, as if confused. It seemed a trifle to come, searching for permission before a choice had even been made. He nodded at his cousin, giving him permission and dismissing him in one fell swoop. Behind him Dudley closed his eyes, feeling frustration grip him. Edward had no reacted as he had hoped. Jane was the perfect bride, a suitable woman for him to have as Queen. The young King had taken no interest in any woman at all, though a marriage and heir were both important to strengthening his power. He would have to speak to the boy soon, as his hints were not seeming to work. From across the room Grey shot him a scathing look at John waved him off. Grey had been expecting something different, as Dudley had told him that the King would have reacted with concern at the thought of Jane marrying because he cared deeply for his young cousin. Dudley had only yesterday brought up the proposition to the King, but it seemed that the boy had taken no heed. He felt a pang of desperation hit him, before he calmed himself. He would have to find new tactics to quell the King's new found taste for freedom.
"Your Highness!" the Lady Elizabeth was approaching, Sir Henry Sidney walking with her to the dais. Edward's face light up at the sight of his favorite sister and his best friend. Henry Sidney had been a friend to the young King since their boyhoods and he always managed to bring a smile to the youth's face. "My dear brother, come, greet me Sire!"
He laughed loudly and stood, giving his sister a quick embrace and kissing her cheek. He turned her, lifting one of her hands in the air and presenting her to court. She curtseyed slightly, and a cheer rang out. Edward smiled at her and ushered her to a seat by him. Henry took a seat as well after a hearty welcome from the King. He had been away at Penhurst with his wife for nearly two months and his return to court was a welcome distraction.
"My dearest sister. It gladdens my heart to see you so well. How do you fare?"
"Bah!" she smiled prettily and threw up an arm "Hatfield is so horribly dreadful at times Sire, it is only for the fresh country air that my health is so robust."
"And you Sir Sidney!" he leaned forward, glad to see his friend's kind smile "It seems you have been far too busy with that young pretty wife of yours to pay any mind to your King!"
All three laughed. Mary Sidney, formerly Dudley, had married Henry four years earlier and the two had been blissfully wed since. They had one young son, Phillip, who would be a year old in November. Henry blushed slightly, shaking his head without comment.
"Actually sire, I have been busy with my sister." Henry said with a smile. Edward could see the sadness in that smile, as could Elizabeth. "After my Lady Mother's death she stayed with our Half sister, Mistress Foljambe in Croxden. But she has grown tired of country life and she has come to stay with us at Penhurst. "
"How old is the girl?" Elizabeth asked, knowing that Sir William has died a year before and his wife Mistress Anne only three months after him. She was imagining an old spinster woman, as all of Henry's other sister's were married with their own families. In fact the three Sidney sisters had made quite good marriages for themselves, especially the Lady Francis who had married Thomas Radclyffe, Earl of Sussex.
"Margaret has recently turned seventeen." Henry said, Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. That would have made Sir William nearly fifty six when the girl was conceived. Henry laughed. "Yes, she is the youngest. Mother called her a miracle babe."
Edward smiled at his friend, seeing that he was pleased when speaking of the girl. He slapped his knee and stood.
"Well Sir Henry, well have to have this sister at court." he grinned "As there is no shortage of entertainment here!"
He yelled the last words, his voice echoing off the walls in the great hall. The crowd cheered and more toasts were raised before jugglers and fire eaters and dwarfs appeared, their antics ensuing cries from all the court. Edward clapped his hands and ordered more wine, more food and more music. The revels were in full swing. As he turned to speak once more to Henry he saw the dark haired Lady Mary Sidney leaned over him, and saw him stand readying to leave. Edward turned, his eyes on the couple.
"You think to steal away my Lord Henry Madame?" he asked jovially "Now that he has come back to my court after all these months."
Mary blushed and curtseyed as her husband grinned behind her. He put an arm around the petite woman and she laughed.
"Forgive me Your Majesty, but My Lord's sister has arrived at the palace from Staffordshire."
"Well in that case, onward. Go and greet the Lady Margaret."
Henry gave a hearty chuckle and turned, he and his wife heading out of the Great Hall. Elizabeth took a sip from her glass and turned towards her brother. From afar they could see Lady Mary scowling with her ladies all huddled away from the revelries. Edward scoffed.
"It seems out Sainted Sister had quite the sour demeanor." Edward laughed, taking his own goblet "And on the Saint's Day of her beloved King no less."
Elizabeth giggled, her skirts shuffling as she settled into the seat beside her brother.
"Well count yourself blessed Majesty, to have another sister who is delighted to spend time honoring your birth."
They both laughed and Edward took her hand, leading her to the dance floor. The entire crowd had gathered in for a Pavane, all the nobility's hands touching gently as they gallivanted about the floor. Elizabeth laughed as Edward tried his best to master the steps. The two were both reminded of their days of dance lessons when the late Queen Katherine Parr had tried her best to teach them, yet they'd giggled and been horrid students. The two were again children, reminiscing simpler days when they had all been a family. A true family, for once, all but Mary. She stared on, obviously scorning the smiles and laughter. The music soared as the night wore on, and Edward marveled at reaching his eighteenth year.
Further along in the Palace, Margaret Sidney marveled at her lavish surroundings. Standing in the entrance to the Palace she looked at the marvelous paintings that lined the walls, the soft tapestries, the scented floor rushed and the simply wonderful smell of food cooking that wafted from the kitchens. Henry ran to her, his strong arms wrapping around his baby sister with relish.
She let out an oomph, her curly auburn hair still wet from the rain. She smiled at her brother as he set her down and began speaking, unable to contain herself.
"Henry, oh Henry why did you not tell me of this place?" she asked, rapture still evident in her brown eyes "It is beautiful! More so than Croxden Abbey even!"
He smiled at the girl, who reminded him so much of his mother. He knew their sisters would be itching to see little Madge in her first visit to London. She had spent much of her life at their Father's holdings in Lancashire, in the country and had only moved south a bit to Croxden after Sir William and Lady Anne's deaths. She hadn't even come to London for the funerals that had been held by the King. Sir William had been one of Edward's tutors as a boy and the Lady Anne had been one of his nurses. The Sidney's had been close to the Tudor royal family for many years but little Margaret had never been allowed at court, as her mother had been overly protective of the girl. Now, she would have her chance. She twirled, the muddy, frayed hem of her traveling gown swirling about her feet. She turned towards her sister in law, a bright smile on her face.
"Oh Mary it has been ever so long since I've last seen you!" she threw her arms around the older woman's neck "You look so beautiful. How is young master Phillip?"
She pointed as a few of her trunks were being brought in. Poor country girl that she had been she only had three. Most ladies at court had many, many more. But Henry had already asked her to assure that a tailor was ready to fit Margaret for new gowns. The girl was pretty enough, with waist length curled hair that was thick and shiny enough. She was fashionably curvy, which would help her, but she had the demeanor of an obvious naive child. Her skin was tan, not fashionably pale like the rest of the ladies. She wore no powder or paste or jewels. Her pretty hair was left un-styled with no cap or hood, and her eyebrows were unplucked in the Spanish fashion. Her gowns were obviously handmade, though they were not too unfashionable, only a few seasons out of date. She was a pretty girl and with the right help (Mary was sure she could provide it) she could snatch up a good husband in no time. She kissed the young girl's cheek lightly and smiled.
"He is as rambunctious as ever, just like his father."
"Oh I must see him! Is he here?"
"No, my dear. he is back home at Penhurst with his nurses. But don't fret, we shall surely see him at Christmas."
Margaret smiled. Suddenly, lead by her nose, she turned towards the Great Hall. Music was loud and she wanted so badly to enter. Her rain soaked hair and gown were a great worry to Mary, who put a hand on her young sister in law's shoulder.
"It is a masque?" she asked curiously "A banquet? I must see all the beautiful gowns and the food. Oh the food! Come let us-"
"Margaret, you have had a long journey. Wouldn't you much rather have a hot bath and a light meal and some rest?"
Margaret looked up at her brother, who was nodding along with his wife. She was eager, but it was a treacherous world in there and it was best to face it fully rested. The King hadn't issued her own rooms, but she could sleep in their apartments for the night before she was to find her own real place at court. Margaret gave in, her shoulders slumping.
"Ah yes. You know best sister." she smiled weakly, taking her gloves off. "And rest does sound-"
The doors banged open, the loud music and laughter and smells wafting into the hall. Margaret jumped, turning towards the noise. Her hand at her chest, she seemed startled. Standing at the doors, both thrown open, was the King of England. He wore a lavish white and gold doublet, with white silk material puffing up through the slashes and a pair of simple gold hose along with a black fur lined robe. He was shining with jewelry and his smile shone even more as he eyed the group in the room. Mary and Henry both dropped, bowing and curtseying to the King. Margaret was not so fast. She curtseyed low, thankful her sister (the Lady Margaret Foljambe) had taught her some court manners.
The King made his way towards them, followed by the Lady Elizabeth and a few followers. Nodding slightly, his eyes alight. Margaret felt color come to her cheeks and stood, her hands intertwined in front of her. Henry took a stride, taking his sister's hand.
"Your Majesty, it is a pleasure to introduce my sister, the Lady Margaret Sidney."
The King looked her over. She gave him a sweet smile. He could see she had never been touched by the court, as she looked nothing like the ladies of his own. He laughed.
"Of course. My good Lady Margaret, welcome to my court. I hope you have found it to your liking?"
She nodded, looking about the room again with wonder.
"Your Majesty it is..." she stammered and laughed softly at herself "It is most wonderful."
Edward felt a surge of humor as he watched the girl, but he was not laughing at her. She was refreshing, her youth and naivety something he had yet to see in all the guises of the many ladies he had met. Elizabeth clapped her hands behind him and when he turned to see her she had her hands on her hips, a grin on her pretty features.
"My sir Henry it is a shame that you kept this creature hidden from us!" she came forward, leaning down to get a better look at her "Already seventeen and never a day at court. And so lovely! Yes, it is positively a sin!"
Margaret's eyes met with the woman and at once she knew who she was. From the endless tales her mother had told of her days in the royal nursery and the tales that even the country folk heard. This was the Princess Elizabeth, well the Lady Elizabeth. She was even more beautiful than Margaret had imagined. She felt a surge of pride as Elizabeth complemented her.
"Thank you my lady." Margaret said with another slight curtsy and a smile "It is an honor to be included in His Majesty's court."
Henry smiled at his sister, pride and love in his face. It was his job, now that they're parents were gone, to make sure she was well taken care of and found a suitable husband. He looked up and noticed Edward watching Margaret closely and felt his heart skip a beat. But Elizabeth spoke, breaking the tension that he had begun to feel.
"Your Majesty, does the Lady Margaret have arrangements while at court?"
Edward turned towards his sister and then looked back at Margaret, who was now looking at her feet timidly.
"Sir Sidney was planning on housing her in his apartments I believe." Edward gestured towards Henry and Mary "But she has no permanent arrangements."
"Sire you shall have to let me see to this charming girl's lodgings." Elizabeth gave her brother a look and then curtsied low, before turning towards the great hall and entering. Margaret watched her go, a bit confused.
"Sire, my Lady sister is tired from her journey." Henry said with his own bow "I would thank you again for you hospitality in allowing her a place at court."
Edward nodded, himself ready to return to the festivities.
"Yes your Majesty, I am eternally grateful."
He dismissed them and Mary, along with her husband, lead Margaret to their rooms. On the way there Margaret stopped, turning back towards Henry, apprehension evident in her face.
"Oh I was an absolute simpleton." she shook her head "They must have thought me a country bumpkin!"
Mary laughed and lead the girl into their rooms. It would take time, but she would come into her own at court. Either that or she would be an outcast in the glamorous world of Edward VI. Mary was sure she would be fine...hopefully.