Hello all. This is just a little idea of mine that will not leave me alone. Although for now I am concentrating on Mine to Inherit until I have the first ten chapters done, afterwards I would like to start putting this together if the idea still appeals to me. You often see stories about witnesses of the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard and the struggle of Catherine of Aragon, all of which are usually great, but often I think of Jane Seymour of being someone great to write about. So, in some point between writing the fifth chapter of Mine to Inherit, I gathered enough to draft a first chapter, of a close friend of Jane's who follows her to court and witnesses her friend's conquering of the King's heart, reign as Queen and death giving birth to her husband's long-awaited son.
You might not like it and prefer the intriguing stories of Catherine, Anne and Katherine, but I am pleased with how I have begun this and do think that I will come back to this. I do hope you do and I hope to show light on one of Henry VIII's many Queens, who was ultimately the one he loved the most.
Characters such as Marie Goulding, Cecily Stalley and Joanna Lumesly are my own. The Seymour's, Jane Parker, Queen Anne Boleyn and Madge Sheldon are real people.
I. October 1535
Dawn has only just broken out, and our horses clatters over the cobblestones and through the golden gates. I lean out of the carriage window and let my loose hair flutter in the breeze. 'Marie!' laughs Jane, who sits beside me. 'Get back in, quick, before Mother sees us!'
I lean back inside the carriage and brush the hair from my face. 'Live a little, Jane - we won't get to at the court of the King!' I tell her. She practically jumps in her seat and her blue brocade skirts quiver with her, and the gold topaz pendants around her neck swings. Little gifts from her admirer, who though does not leave a signature on his card, delights in letting us know it is him.
'Oh, Marie, I'm so excited.'
'You should be. The King himself summoned you - King Henry VIII!'
She takes my hand and her lips broaden in a grin. 'I thought he just thought I was a pretty face, like all the men do who come to dine with my brothers.' she confides for the fourth time on his journey. I roll my eyes. 'The King thinks all ladies have pretty faces.'
'But does he send all the ladies gifts?'
I shrug. 'He sends all his favourites gifts, I presume. It's probably a sign that he'll ask you to be his mistress.'
Jane looks out of the window as the carriage goes through a tunnel to the main yard. 'I shall not be his mistress. I am not some common girl he can visit on days when his wife is taken ill or pregnant. I will be no man's whore.' she promises herself, quietly.
'Will you father like that?' I ask.
'I don't abide by my father's rule now, Marie. I abide by the King's.'
Her voice is full of strength. Never before have I seen her so determined. I believe her, I know with all my heart and mind she will be no man's whore. Though she is humble and sweet and will do the bidding of anyone who commands it, Jane knows what she wants. She has hidden courage that this Court seems to admire. Ambition is one thing that Court has taught her in our four years service as maids-of-honour of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, the two wives of our King, Henry the Eighth. She set herself a goal of being admired and is within grasp's reach of it. For, at our summer break at our home in Wiltshire, Jane's two brothers, Thomas and Edward, came home to dine with the King. His Lord caught the eye of Jane, and his love of pretty women hurdled over him. Jane has been sent gowns, jewels, hair combs, purses of gold, tapestries. Both of us know how that she has captured the heart of a man who divorced one wife, married a witch, takes mistresses by bucketful and executed his best friend, Thomas More. But if she is afraid, I know she will not say so.
'Jane,' I say slowly. 'do you think the King will divorce Queen Anne?'
She hesitates. 'He has to if he wishes another woman. But it would be a scandal. He would shame England in not only the eyes of the Pope.'
'Fair Jane, speaking treason!'
'Truth, not treason.' Jane removes her hand from mine and rubs her thumb over her fingernails. 'The King will not divorced Anne. He will do something else with her.'
I sit up and lean on my left elbow against the window pane. 'Something else?' I echo.
'His Lordship is a clever man, Marie. He will think of something.'
The wind blows through the windows into the carriage and tickles our cheeks. It's warm for October, when it is usually grey and damp, and the sun rises with a fast pace, filling each corner of England with yellow glow. Clouds disperse slowly, but they are white and fluffed. If we are fortunate, today shall be a sunny day. Perhaps there will be a joust, or we will be permitted to walk outside with the Queen.
'Marie, do you think-'
'LADY JANE SEYMOUR AND LADY MARIE GOULDING!' A guard announces, looking smart in a red and black embroidered jerkin. The carriage halts to a stop and our luggage batters against one another as we collect ourselves. The door swings open and my maid, Elizabeth Hepporty, hands us both black wool capes. We step out as graciously as we can muster from the carriage, smoothing our skirts and curling a few strands of our hair over our shoulders. My hands straighten my red damask French hood. Jane's father, Sir John Seymour, strides towards us, stroking his beard. Behind his confident steps are his sons. Thomas, who holds himself proudly as if he is the one wooing the King, and Edward, handsome Edward, with his trimmed beard and twinkling eyes.
Seeing the family together saddens me, as Jane's mother, Margery Wentworth, remains at Wiltshire with ill health. But I say nothing of it. 'Jane, Lady Marie.' Sir John Seymour welcomes warmly. His sons nod and grunt their hellos. The five of us walk into the entrance of Hampton Court Palace, one of King Henry's favourite palace. All around us swarm courtiers. It feels good to be back to court life. I imagine I've missed much gossip, and I almost jump with excitement. I like being in the country manor in Wiltshire, but I love being in Court much more.
I'm a court lady by blood. My mother, Lady Cecily Goulding, was a lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth of York, Henry VI's wife, and Catherine of Aragon until the divorce, and followed Catherine of Aragon into exile. I haven't seen her in months. We speak to each other through letters, and I am one of the few that Queen Anne turns to if she desires knowledge of the 'other wife'. My father, Lord Anthony Goulding, died of the sweating sickness in 1524. I was barely five and I was wearing mourning black. I have very little memories of him - if I wish to see him, I must gape at a portrait.
Father left debts when he passed away. Mother pawned some of her gold and jewels; we were never that rich, and most of money was spent paying them off. When the debts were gone, Mother took me and my siblings to Sir John Seymour, who 'owed her a favour'. We lived there for three years and then moved, with enough money to support ourselves, to a manor of our own in Wiltshire. In those years, Jane and I become close friends, and remain so, though she is twenty-seven and I merely sixteen.
We wander through the palace, watching the servants fetch jugs of wine, the minstrels strum lutes and hum ditties, courtiers gossip, seamstresses carry bolts of beaded fabrics. In the dining hall, the table is already being laid with plates, goblets and bowls of gold, and the chandelier candles are being lit. Sir John leads us past the chapel and down the familiar route towards the Queen's chambers.
Inside, the ushers remove our capes, and we say goodbye to Sir John and his Seymour sons. These quarters are quite lavish and as elaborate as the Queen. Mosaic vases are filled with white lilies which I suspect have not been watered; tabletops are decorated with wooden boxes, the lids open to reveal a diamond necklace or emerald bracelet; and chests have shiny gilt crosses on them with precious stones in the centre. It gives a glamorously crammed-in feel that as much as I try to adjust to, feels awkward compared to airy space of the manor in Wiltshire.
Jane Parker, Lady Rochford sits in the corner with sallow-looking woman playing cards. When she sees me she grunts, but when she sees Jane her eyes widen. I don't blame her. Jane, after two months in country sunshine, has returned a little tanned and a little blonder, in a figure-hugging blue brocade dress and jewels. She's always been 'plain Jane', but now I'm sure all those who declared that will eat their words when they see her. I follow Jane as we cross the room towards the crowd, some I recognise.
'Marie! Jane!' cries Madge Shelton, one of Queen Anne's cousins. She clears the way for us to come and stand here her. Beside her, Cecily Stalley holds a poetry book, and my cousin Joanna Lumesly powders her nose. The others stand, exchanging smiles and welcome pinches with us.
'Hello, Madge.' Jane says. 'Have we missed much?'
Madge's eyes twinkle. 'The Queen is pregnant.' she whispers gleefully.
My eyes glow, but Jane's dim. 'Pregnant?' I ask. 'Will it be a boy, d'you think?'
Cecily shrugs. 'Perhaps, unless she miscarries.' she says, as if it was no big matter.
'That's treason.' Jane warns.
'So what?' argues Cecily. 'It's what we're all thinking.'
She goes on reciting poetry into the silence, but after two minutes she slows and ends at the sixth verse. 'You might as well tell them, Madge, unless you want the troubadours to do it?' she nudges Madge with the toe of her satin slipper, closing the book and slapping it down on the wood tabletop.
Madge sighs. 'There are rumours,' she reports. 'that the Queen's baby is not the King's, but Lord Rochford.'
Lord Rochford? I glance over at Jane Parker, and then the disgust of the rumour hits me like a shove. 'Her brother? The Queen's own brother?' I spit.
Cecily nods. 'He does visit her often-'
'Cecily, that's like me carrying my brother George's child.' I say bluntly.
That shuts her up.
'I agree with Marie. That's a lie.' Jane says defensively, and I slip my palm on her elbow and squeeze. I remind myself to thank her afterwards. 'Who would do such a sin with their own brother?'
Madge shrugs and gets up. 'It's just a rumour, Jane. There is hardly any truth at all in it.' she ends the topic and the crowds disperse. It's in good timing, as the Queen walks in from her private chamber. She's draped in a black robe with onyx beads at her throat and her long black hair loose down her back. In her hand is a goblet half-full with wine.
'Welcome back to Court, Lady Marie, Lady Jane,' the Queen says with a hint of warm. She attempts a smile for me I suspect is for show, but as usual her lips curl when she sees Jane. Her eyes waver over the extravagant flow of the blue gown and the sparkle of the topaz stone on the necklace. I wonder if she knows that they were gifts from her husband?
Queen Anne walks past us towards the door. 'Madge, have my red robes laid out for when I return. I intend to see the King.' she orders. Madge curtsies, as do all of us, and the Queen rushes out of her chambers. The musky smell of our perfume lingers in the air as Madge goes to find the red robes.
'She doesn't look pregnant.' Jane judges, as we walk into the maids apartments to see to our luggage.
'She didn't with Princess Elizabeth until five months,' I remind her. 'She'll probably be around three months, maybe four.'
Jane flops down on the bed we share. Her eyes drop and her shoulder slack. 'At least you won't have to become the King's mistress, he'll be so preoccupied with the Queen's pregnancy.' I say cheerfully.
She just looks at me. 'We both know he doesn't care much now.' she says, flicking a strand of fair hair underneath her hood. 'Anne has lost too many heirs.'
'That's the curse, though. Every English Queen can never bear boys.'
Jane winks as she rises from the bed, flinging open a suitcase. 'There will be Queen who ends that curse.' she says confidently.
'And when there is, I will wed.' I promise, and Jane laughs. But our glee is cut short when Cecily rushes in. 'The noon banquet is about to commence. Arrange you hair and hoods quickly so we can accompany Queen Anne into the hall.'
Both of us nod, twitch our headdresses and rush out of the maids chamber, into our places, ready to enter Court life once more.