[Author's note: For the moment this will be the only chapter of this story as I am working on Mary's story but I wanted to get this written down while I was feeling so inspired. This is the Hamilton Saga so, for those of you have read "The English Roses" you'll know of Adam Hamilton, and this is the story of his ancestors and his contemporaries, six very different, remarkable women who all lived in completely different times and places as well as in different circumstances. Also if you read "The English Roses: Sins of the Mother" (Nellie's story) you might recall Adam's cousin, Hope Headingly. Hope was a privileged and somewhat vacuous young woman and when she fell in love with a poor artist her parents disapproving sent her to London to stay with her cousin, Adam, and his wife, Nellie, thinking putting distance between the two young lovers was the best strategy. Hope claimed that her parent's actions would not make her love her artist any less and that as soon as she was old enough to marry without parental permission she'd do so. Whether she did, or did not, wasn't ever really discussed, but Hope is one of the remarkable women in this saga so you'll find out when her story is told down the track.]
THE ENGLISH ROSES:
The Hamilton Saga.
"Jane…it's time." My mother said.
I felt my heart skip a couple of beats and my stomach flipped over a couple of times. Finally, finally, I was going to court. And not just any court, the court of the most handsome, most charming, most beloved, prince in all of Christendom: King Henry VIII of England. King Henry's court was a young court, determined to have fun always. Days were filled with hunting, sporting games, masques or plays, and nights were for feasting and music and dancing. Currently the court was returning to London after its summer progress and it would be there, at Greenwich, that I, Jane Hamilton would join them! I'd begun to think that, at seventeen, I'd never get the chances that my mother had been given. Mother had served in the French court while her father was English ambassador to France's King Louis and had then returned to London when she'd married father- a member of the King's Privy Council and one of his most trusted advisors as well as being the Earl of Kent and had served as lady in waiting to the current King's mother. Though the court had then been just as fond of good food, good music and good drinking King Henry's court was a much younger court, seeing as how he'd been crowned monarch at a young age, having never been groomed to the role that his brother was always going to fill. I had grown up listening to stories of life at court which had whetted my appetite and I thought I had a pretty good idea of how life at court would be. Certainly it would be more interesting than life in the countryside of Kent. Well, it could hardly be any more boring, could it?
"Shall I have dresses?" I asked Mother.
Mother made a ticking noise in her mouth. "Dresses. And that's the important thing with you, is it?" She said disapprovingly and giving me a look that said clearly she'd been burdened in life with an idiot for a daughter, who cared more about what she'd wear at court than what she'd do.
"It's just…" I hesitated.
"Spit it out Jane. For heaven's sake." Mother demanded.
"Well, how can we afford new dresses?" I asked, my voice softer. I'd been taught that speaking about monetary matters was not considered the sign of a well-bred and well brought up young lady, and, if it was completely necessary to refer to them then I should do so quietly and only to family. Because while my Father had been Earl of Kent, and we lived in this nice home, he'd also had a propensity to waste his money on drink, gambling and women and, the day after he died, Mother had found we had barely a cent to our name. Not many people know this either but Father didn't die of natural causes. Upon realizing the extent of his money problems and having fallen out with the young king who was desperate to assert his authority Father jumped into the Thames and when boatmen fished him out a few hours later he was already dead. The King, feeling guilty at his treatment of his old friend, had ordered nobody would ever know of the Earl of Kent's crime against God in committing suicide and thus his widow and children would not suffer the scandalous talk whispered behind hands. And he'd also bestowed a belated title upon our family, making my older brother Lord Whitten. That, however, did not solve our money issues. So Mother sold off much of our estate, keeping only a small parcel of land where our house was and giving us space for a few cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks and horses as well as a large vegetable garden so that we managed to be relatively self-sufficient. And fortunately our name, and the title, was enough to ensure we lived well enough and with the few debts we had been unable to avoid not being called in.
"We shall mange." Mother said, her clipped tone brokering no discussion. "We have a few weeks until you need to be at Greenwich or Whitehall where you shall be presented to Queen Anne."
"Queen Anne." I repeated, making a face.
"Oh good God, I can see I've got a lot of work to do before you're at all presentable. We signed the pledge, Jane. We Hamilton's support our King. And his reformation. If he asked us to take a pledge declaring that we believed in ghosts then we would do so. If he asked we pledge support for his plan to colonise the sun, then we would do so. Do you understand?" Mother demanded of me.
I nodded. "I'm not stupid Mother-"
"Well you may so but every time you open your mouth I'm reminded otherwise. Listen carefully Jane, these are dark times. The King may love nothing more than to be merry and have fun but he is not a man to be crossed. When a man leaves his wedded wife for another woman it is a terrible thing, but when that man is king it is a deadly thing. As much as we loved Queen Katherine we now must respect her predecessor. I'm almost tempted not to send you to court after all for fear of seeing you lose your head on Tower Green." Mother said.
"I won't say the wrong thing, Mother. Truly, I won't." I promised. I didn't add that the only reason I had made a face at the name Queen Anne was because the Hamilton family were Catholics. At least we were. But when King Henry decided to separate from the Holy Father and the Catholic Church- to marry Queen Anne essentially- and formed his new Church of England the Hamilton's, like most families in the land, noble and common, jumped ship too. But privately we were distressed at the dissolution of the abbeys, the pillaging of priceless Catholic relics and manuscripts, and the way monks and nuns from old and noble orders were thrown out onto the street. To think of all the wealth and knowledge lost, to think of men of learning and faith condemned to death for refusing to renounce the Catholic Church and the pope, to think of all the artifacts now sitting in the King's treasury, courtesy of Mr. Thomas Cromwell…well, it didn't bear thinking about really.
Mother's lips were pursed but she nodded tightly. "I believe you understand the stakes. You got a decent education for a girl alongside your brother. You just need to think before you speak. And you need to remember never to trust someone with your innermost thoughts because in London, in court, it is every man and every woman for themselves. The woman you might think is your trusted friend might have ulterior motives." She warned me.
"When you spoke so fondly of your time in the French court, and then the English court, you didn't suggest any of that." I said.
Mother shook her head sadly. "It wasn't like that then. Court now is like a lion's den at feeding time."
I shuddered, feeling cold and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and on my bare arms. I wrapped my arms around myself for warmth, or protection. "Maybe I shouldn't go to court. Maybe I am better off staying here." I suggested, suddenly feeling like the one thing I had been pressing for almost my entire life wasn't the one thing that I desired above all others any longer. Even if it meant not seeing the most handsome King in history in person, and not being able to dance and laugh and have friends.
Mother laughed, though it was a harsh sound. "No. You need to be at court. You're the daughter of the Earldom of Kent and the sister of Lord Whitten. Your father was a personal favourite of the King of England. You do not belong out here in the countryside. And if you don't go to London then we'll never find you a suitable match."
"Being married isn't everything, you know. What about falling in love with someone and marrying them, rather than being matched by your family?" I argued.
"Robert tells me that he had an overture from the Earl of Wiltshire for your hand last year. But Robert felt that once you are seen at court he will receive much better offers than a forty-eight year old man who has already been through three wives." Mother said, almost as though I had not spoken. Which, I supposed, to her I hadn't. Mother hadn't met Father before the match had been proposed to her father and he had accepted on her behalf. And, on their first meeting, neither had been exactly smitten. But they were of the lucky few because, down the track, they'd come to love one another. I thought the idea of my brother being the one to decide who I married, and to make the marriage for his own gain, disgusting. However I knew that would likely be the way it would go. It was the lot of a young lady like me. The best I could hope for was that my future husband would be handsome and kind and that we too would have a happy marriage and truly care for one another. Though I felt a wave of concern whenever I thought of the fact that with my father dead it would fall upon my brother to make the match. Because Robert and I had had never gotten along very well. Indeed he had been the favourite of my parents and both he and I had known that fact well enough.
Upon my father's passing and Robert becoming the man of the family he had begun to make decisions regarding me, though he was only fourteen and I only twelve. When he gained his majority he had terminated my schooling and when he found out I regularly snuck out of the house to play with the children of the nearby farmers of our former estate he had also put an end to that. He'd declared my beloved horse an unnecessary expenditure and I'd been forced to ride a reliable and steady old mare around. The one thing that made me feel a little better about going to court was the knowledge he'd have to spend money on my dresses and provide me with a pedigreed horse to ride when the court hunted or rode or during their summer progress around the countryside so that the King and his closest friends could avoid the sweats that regularly plagued London town during the hot months.
"What are you smiling at?" Mother asked suddenly, jolting me out of my pensive thoughts.
"Nothing. Just thinking about how much fun life at court will be." I lied. Although it wasn't really a life because despite the undercurrents of danger at court I was sure that I was smart enough to avoid saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. And it still was a merry court, probably the merriest in the world or in the history books.
"Hmm." Was all Mother said.
"Mama," I said, using my childhood name for her, "tell me again about King Henry."
Mother shifted to a more comfortable position in Father's favourite armchair, the one closest to the fire that we didn't have lit anywhere near as often these days, though the weather today was still quite hot for the close of summer, and closed her eyes. "When I first met him Prince Arthur was still alive so Henry, his grace, was destined for a place in a monastery. That wasn't the plan of his father, or his mother, but rather the King's mother, my Lady the King's Mother, we called her. The King was a quiet man, didn't like confrontation, so he let his mother run his household, virtually run the whole country even. And the King's mother was also a quiet soul. I think she was intimidated by her mother-in-law, and rightly so. Did you know when she died the King had a mind towards marrying Queen Katherine, or the widow of the Prince of Wales as she was known then?"
"No!" I said, scandalized.
"Truly. As you know a King must have a wife. Every man needs a wife, men have needs, but a King has even more need than most. Everyone expected that Katherine would return to Aragon after the death of Prince Arthur, seeing as how they had no child. Though upon his death everyone was hoping greatly that she might have been with child. Indeed she didn't declare either way for so long as to be impossible. When the then-king lost his wife he had a mind to take another and, for a short time, his mind was set upon the widow of his eldest son. His advisors- your father among them- were worried that the country wouldn't accept his marrying Katherine and they were probably right. But it wasn't their opinions who stopped him. It was Katherine herself. She made it clear she didn't like that idea, though had he put his foot down I cannot imagine that her father, King Ferdinand, would have not agreed. The only reason Katherine was still in England was that the then-King wouldn't let her leave because of her dowry not being paid in full. And Katherine, for her part, wanted to remain in England. She had been raised as the future Princess of Wales and Queen of England since she was about three so for her to come to England and not fulfill that destiny would have been, to her, a failure of her fate. So she set herself at the young Henry." Mother said.
"And it worked." I said.
Mother crossed herself, a gesture that few Englishmen and women would do in public now. "God save her, it did. Of sorts. I wonder if she'd known her fate, how everything would end, would she have gone back to Aragon?"
"What about the King? He did love her, once, didn't he?" I asked, anxious to know. Though his actions in casting Katherine aside for Anne did not suggest at love.
"Oh yes, he loved her. She was older than him and, for awhile, I think she manipulated him well. But as he grew into a man and a King he became less tolerant of her trying to say how his affairs were conducted. And when she couldn't give him a son…well, her fate was sealed." Mother said, a little sadly and wistfully.
"What will happen if Queen Anne doesn't give the King a son?" I mused.
"Jane!" Mother warned sharply.
"I know, I know, saying such a thing is practically treason." I said quickly. "Mother I'd never say this to anyone but you, I swear, but if the Queen doesn't give the King a son will he divorce her too? And marry yet another wife?"
"I don't know, my child. I'm not sure that England would tolerate the King having another divorce." Mother said.
I gasped. "You mean a revolt? Against the King?" I demanded, horrified, yet intrigued.
"I don't think it will come that far, please God. If a country would turn against its King, well that is not a country I want to be a part of. I just mean I don't think the King's men, the Privy Council, and the noble houses of this country would agree to another divorce. For Queen Katherine they could see it as a one-off, accept the King's repeated claims that it was against God for him to marry his brother's wife and that the lack of male issue was a clear indicator that God did not bless the marriage. The King's Great Matter wasn't about whether he loved Katherine or not but his conscience." Mother said.
I snorted. "Oh Mother. We all know it wasn't anything to do with his conscience, his belief that he shouldn't have married his brother's widow and her tricking him into believing she was a virgin, untouched. It was because Anne Boleyn refused him entry to under her garments without marrying her first." I said.
"Do not be crude Jane." Mother said, though it was automatic rather than a real rebuke.
"You haven't told me of the first time you met the King yet, Mother." I reminded her.
"Oh yes. It was about eight months after your father and I married in Calais. His father passed away making him the new Earl, so we returned to London. I hadn't been in England for many years although we had spent the months of our marriage in English-occupied French territory so it wasn't like I wasn't used to the customs of the English. Even so when I first arrived in London and in court it was like France and England were at opposite ends of the world, not just separated by one stretch of water. At that time Henry was only a boy of thirteen but oh he was still an impressive looker, with that golden-red hair, and those deep, deep eyes…" Mother trailed off. Her eyes looked like she was very far away, stuck in the past.
"What about his coronation? Tell me about that, Mother. And his wedding." I urged.
Mother laughed. "Isn't this enough story telling for one day?" She asked.
"Just one little bit more. I want to know as much about the King as I can." I said. I'd dreamed of the day I met the King. Mind you, back then the King was married to Queen Katherine and now that Queen Anne was in the picture he was a very different man, and King. I'd heard too, of the many lovers he had taken, some just the once, others ongoing. He'd even had an illegitimate son by Bessie Blount, Henry Fitzroy. And I confess I often dreamed, as I got older, that maybe I would be one of those women he lavished his attention on and gave gifts to.
Suddenly, quicker than I could almost even see, Mother was up out of her seat, across the lounge room and in front of me. She reached down and grabbed a handful of my hair, pulling so hard that tears came to my eyes. "Mother! Please stop. I'm sorry." I begged.
Mother let go of my hair and I gathered it into my hands, protectively and stared up at my mother who stood above me, her breast heaving with anger, and her lips so tightly compressed together they'd almost completely disappeared into her mouth. Mother, in anger, was a wonder to see. And it was not like I wasn't used to her vicious temper. From a very early age both Robert and I had learned to avoid anything that could bring that sharp, cruel temper on. She thought nothing of finding the nearest hurtful object and using it to slap us with, often not stopping until we were bleeding or bruised. Her temper had never been so out of control when Father was still alive.
"You stupid, stupid, useless girl." Mother said, her breathing heavy. "You are not going to court to catch the eye of the king. No, we leave that to the Howard girls and the Seymour girls and maybe the Neville's or the Parr's. You are going there to perform lady in waiting duties to Queen Anne and to ensure your brother can make you a good match, one your father, God rest his soul, would approve of."
I nodded my understanding and acceptance through my tears.
All the fight seemed to go out of Mother and she slumped back into her chair. "God. What would your father say if he was still alive? Would he even approve of how I've brought you and Robert up? And sending you to court?" She asked, softly. I didn't answer because I knew she wasn't asking for my response, but rather asking the questions out loud.
There was a bang in the front hall, startling Mother and I and then we heard boots on the floor and then my big brother appeared in the doorway of the lounge. "Hello ladies. I thought I'd make a quick trip back from London to see you." Robert said.
Mother jumped to her feet and hurried to embrace him, hugging him so hard and for so long that he was finally forced to disengage her gently. "It's nice to see you too Mama." For he was allowed to refer to her as "mama" still.
Robert turned to me and nodded. "Jane."
"Brother." I replied.
"I hear you're finally to be joining me in London." Robert said.
"Hmm. Well there's no denying you're a pretty girl, sorry, young lady. With some new gowns, a different way of styling your hair, and some jewelry you're going to set many hearts aflutter. And no doubt you'll be much admired when you're presented to the Queen and, later, the King. I shan't be surprised if they don't write a poem or song to you. This is a court that prizes beauty and wit and maybe you'll do all right." Robert said, his eyes intense on me.
I felt myself blush at his close examination and I brought my arms around to cross over my chest, which made him laugh loudly. "Yes I think you'll do. Mother, Sir Thomas Boleyn sends his regards. And the King begs me to remind you of him. Of course I told him she'd never forget you to need reminding, your Grace."
Mother laughed and drew Robert to her side. "Shall we take a walk around the gardens, son?"
"Yes. I've ridden so far I'd welcome the chance to stretch my legs." Robert said. As I went to rise he threw me a look over his shoulder, "Jane, we shall talk later."
"Yes my Lord." I said sarcastically.
Robert frowned slightly but he hid it with a laugh. "Ah, refreshing really to see you've not changed."