Epilogue Part Two: Mary
It began simply enough. There were murmurs at court, but murmurs only.
For a month, Mary heard none of them; she was safely ensconced in the king's apartments for the last part of her lying-in. She was utterly enamored with her little boy. His large eyes, soft downy hair, chubby cheeks, and squishy thighs were sources of endless admiration and amusement. The little soft cooing sounds he made, and the way he looked up at her when she held him, were sources of divine pleasure.
The only trials she had were focusing on recovering from birth, and trying to find a wet-nurse for the boy. Of course, Sarah would have been the easiest and most reasonable option; she was immediately available, with presumably a steady and fresh supply of milk, and she would have a vested interest in carefully taking care of her son.
Yet Mary could not take the risk. Sarah's presence at court was a threat waiting to be realized. Sarah might do something rash, like try to take the boy back and claim that he was her son. Even worse, James might hear Sarah claim that the boy was her son.
That was not a scenario which she wished to consider.
And so Sarah had gone, and another wet-nurse was found for the baby. She was a saucy girl, one who made Mary slightly uneasy, but disdain was easier to bear than fear, for this girl had no power over her, and that would make her humble enough.
For the first four weeks of the baby's life, Mary thought of little more than how adorable he was. She was blissfully happy. She had done it: there would be a male heir on the throne of England. Every day, multiple times a day, she would pray that the boy would live a long and healthy life. Though her other babies had been born too early, or stillborn, or had seemed sickly, this one cried heartily with a healthy set of lungs, and had rolls of fat that made him look well-fed and strong. For the first time, Mary believed that a child raised by King James would live to adulthood.
The baby was baptized, and Mary was purified, at the end of Mary's lying-in.
The walk to the chapel was exhilarating. It was the first time in two months that she had left the king's chamber. As joyful as she was with the baby, the room had certainly begun to grow tiresome! She exulted to see the corridors once more, and even moreso to see the chapel - and to see the people filling the pews, watching her. Proudly, she walked beside James, their son in her arms. It was particularly satisfying to walk past Sunderland. However, a chill went through her as she walked past Fitzroy. No matter - he had no power over them now.
The organist was in fine form today, and joyful strains of ancient hymns filled the air as Mary slowly walked down the aisle to the altar. Father John was waiting there, smiling in his paternal and benevolent way that was always so reassuring.
"We are gathered today to declare Queen Mary purified after Her Majesty has been safely delivered of a son," the Father announced, as soon as the guests had all been seated in the pews. "We are here to present this young prince to you, the nation of England who shall someday be subject to him, and to Almighty God, our Heavenly Father."
There were murmurs of Amen from the audience, as though this were a liturgy. Mary, standing at the altar facing James, could see in her peripheral vision the people dearest to them, sitting in the front pews. Frances and Penelope were there, of course, smiling widely.
"Let us pray," Father John said.
Collectively, there was the creak of the pews as people bent their knees to bow before God.
"Our Father, we ask Your blessing upon this prince," Father John began. "We ask You to grant him long life and health, O Lord, and that his rule may be long and just. Grant, Father, that he will be a dedicated servant to You and your holy Catholic church, the one true faith. We ask this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen."
"Amen," the crowd echoed obediently.
"Today, we invoke God's blessing upon this child, and ask for his salvation," Father John continued more softly. He took some holy water and sprinkled it on the child's head.
Mary smiled down at the baby, squirming in her arms and beginning to fuss at the sprinkle of water that dotted his forehead. Gently, she wiped the water away so that it did not run into his eyes, and held him closer, soothing him with soft shushing. He quieted, and settled down once more.
Carefully, she offered the baby to Father John, who took the infant into his arms. A soft smile touched the priest's lips. Then Father John lifted his gaze to the crowd once more, to announce the name of which James had told him.
"I present to you," Father John said, "His Highness, Prince James Francis Edward Stuart."
One morning, as James and Mary lounged in bed, a light knock came on the door. Mary had just enough time to ensure her dressing gown was properly on before a servant came in.
The servant bowed low, and presented a platter with an envelope on it.
"I beg your pardon, Your Majesties, but His Majesty did ask for this information urgently," the servant said.
"Thank you. You are dismissed," James said impatiently, and with haste tore open the envelope.
Though Mary's glances over his shoulder at the contents of the envelope were unsuccessful, she could read plainly in his eyes and posture that James was irritated. His fist clenched and he tossed the letter aside.
"We shall have to carry on with this privy council nonsense," he growled. "What buffoonery. I had thought it would not be necessary. These Protestant MPs have the tenacity of the devil."
Mary, endeavoring to keep her composure, smoothed the sheets. "The privy council testifying on James Francis?" she clarified.
"These idiots," James snapped, throwing off the covers and going to his armoire, "persist that you were not really with child, and that you did not really bear a live child."
Hoping it did not sound forced, Mary managed a short laugh. "Well, that should be quite a straightforward deposition," she murmured. She had felt so very pregnant, and plenty of people had seen her belly. And she had at least four people present for the birth who would testify that she had, indeed, been in labor.
"Yes, I should think so; it must be done only to satisfy the cretins of Fitzroy's party." James stalked to the window, glancing out at the city beyond. "They do not truly believe that the child is not yours, of course. They only do not want to believe it, because they do not want a good Catholic on the English throne.
Mary nodded faintly, looking more closely at the sheets. As he waxed on about Fitzroy, he faced the window, and so did not take notice of her.
James sighed. "Then it will be over, and we shall have peace again."
The deposition took place near the end of October.
Mary had not been present, as James had wished to protect her from suspicion; anyone who wanted to see Mary or James could have attended the baptism, he had insisted. It was not proper for the queen to be under such scrutiny. Though Mary felt impatient to know what had happened, she had obeyed.
Later, James relayed to her what had happened:
Anne had testified that she had felt the queen's belly and had felt the child within. That had been sufficient proof, James believed, that Mary had certainly been with child - that was the first point on which people complained. The duchess of Sunderland had countered any foolish supposition that the queen had worn a false belly.
Then Frances, dear Frances, had testified that the queen had certainly been in labor, which was the second point on which the contenders questioned them. Frances spoke of being with the queen while she delivered the child.
The third point of contention, that the queen had not given birth to a live child, was answered by Penelope. The queen had testified that the queen's baby had not been stillborn; though it had taken a moment or two for the child to begin crying, the infant was quite certainly living.
Finally, Mrs. Labadie had elaborated further on Penelope's testimony. This was the clinching point of the deposition, in which it was determined that the queen's child was, in fact, a son. Mrs. Labadie had testified that she had pulled a baby boy from the bed. She explained that the queen's newborn baby had not cried at once, so she took the child into a room with colder air, where the child was successfully roused and began to wail.
At this, Mary had relaxed; no untruth had been spoken. Not a single word of those testimonies could be questioned, all spoken by respectable women.
That respite, however, proved to be only temporary.
It was an early morning in December when James woke her before sunrise. The air was cold when he pulled the covers off without ceremony, and Mary woke immediately, shrinking back against the warm sheets.
"Mary, get up at once," James urged. He had turned from her and was rifling through drawers.
Rising unsteadily, Mary looked at him, bleary-eyed, trying to make out what he was doing in the darkness of their room.
"What is it?" she managed, alarmed.
He paused for a moment to look at her; a moment only. "Fitzroy has amassed an army."
"Why?" she whispered, senseless.
"I can guess. A Catholic heir has sundered all his hopes of the throne, so he hopes to take it by force. Here - dress."
He shoved clothes at her, and she stumbled toward him, hurriedly pulling them on.
"Go as simply as you can. As a servant, perhaps. See if one of them will help you."
Numbly, Mary nodded. Her mind was racing. Where would she go? Who would help her?
"Sail for France - my cousin Louis will help you. Take James. I will leave upon the hour and meet you there."
Mary looked at him, stunned. There wasn't time for too many questions. She supposed traveling in separate carriages would be safer if… if James was caught.
He pulled her to him and kissed her, hard. When he drew back again, he had fled from her in an instant.
Staggering, Mary hastened to the next room, where the nurse had baby James. She told the nurse that she and the prince had to flee.
"Rise and dress at once," she ordered. She would not wait for the girl, but the baby still needed to eat.
Sullenly, but quickly, the girl obeyed.
In moments, Mary had taken her son in her arms. She had gathered up a few essentials - a warm cloak and some money, and a few fresh cloths for James. If Fitzroy's army was about to attack the palace, there would be no time to get anything else. There was a brief pause at the laundering-room, which the wet-nurse showed her as the place where the baby's nappies were washed, and Mary put on a laundress' bonnet and dress as her disguise.
As she raced through the palace, the wet-nurse close at her heels, her eyes fixed on places in the corridors: there was the tapestry, a gift from Spain; there was the place where she and James had reunited once after a quarrel; there was the great room where she and James had danced. And there was the chapel where she had prayed for a son, and where that son had been baptized.
Would she ever see these sacred places again?
It was not until they were safely in the carriage, her and the baby and the nurse, that she felt she could breathe once more. No one had stopped them: they were only two laundresses walking through the courts of St. James early in the morning, carrying a bundle of linens.
The carriage rattled over the bridge. Mary did not dare glance back; she thought only of what lay ahead.
They were to go to France. This was a country whose language she spoke fluently, a Catholic country sympathetic to their cause. James would follow after - God willing, on the very same day. She wondered perhaps if James might rouse support here in England - but she knew it was impossible. There was no support. James was a Catholic in a sea of Protestants. For years she had heard the complaints about him, which he did not realize, but she had. Now he was more unpopular than ever.
And it was because she had born a son to secure the throne.
Unbidden, words of Scripture floated to mind, the words God had spoken to the servant of Sarah when that servant had born Abraham a son and had been sent away:
"His hand will be against everyone, and everyone's hand against him."
As the carriage rolled on, Mary heard the tramp of many footsteps. In the darkness of the carriage, a tear slipped down her cheek, and she held her baby closer.