Caught Among the Roses
My Double Life
It seems I cannot win in this tug-of-war on my heart. Barely a heartbeat has passed since my meeting with the King, but it seems I have drawn his attention. I have often found small trinkets, jewels, and other such presents hidden in my bedchamber. It's been such a dream! And yet, it's been a nightmare as well. For I am still under the protection of the King's wife, the virtuous Queen Anne of Cleves.
And I have no interest to draw her ire or malice.
So, I must proceed carefully in this matter - and all matters. I must enjoy the presents in secret and not draw unnecessary attention to myself.
Seized in the Church
Hearing the church bells, my heart sank. I really did not want to go. But not going to church meant facing the wrath of my family.
And I had no interest in that, none whatsoever.
I walked into the crowded building and found an empty space among the masses. Typically, I would sit among the Howard pews with the rest of my family. But, alas, I didn't feel like seeing them today.
Once it was over, I felt a hand roughly pull at my arm. I turned around, flushed, and saw my Uncle Norfolk staring back at me.
"Niece," he said gruffly.
"Uncle," I responded, avoiding his gaze.
"Why have you not answered any of my letters?" he interrogated. "It's been several days. I expect an update. You told me your meeting with the king went well. Any further developments?"
I bit my lip. "Well yes, sir. I've been receiving presents."
"Presents!" he roared. He dragged me from the pew, out of sight, before striking me against the side of my face. "Why was I not informed?"
I turned away so he wouldn't see the hot tears that had sprouted up. He would never see me cry.
"Lady Catherine, need I remind you what it would mean for me - for us," he stated. "To be a royal mistress would further our family name. You will accept the presents - graciously - and I will arrange for another meeting. I had anticipated waiting a bit. However, now that I know he is courting you, I will move along the negotiations."
My stomach twisted at the thought of being used in this manner. I'd been through it before, at the behest of my music teacher, Henry Manox. It was a secret I held close, for I didn't want the entire world to know my shame.
A New Note
I found a note, tucked underneath my pillow. It was marked with the familiar King's seal. I sighed, anxious with trepidation, as I opened it.
My Beloved Lady,
Your Uncle has arranged for a meeting between us in two days' time. I can scarcely wait for the day I can hold you again in my arms.
"What are you reading?" snapped an inquiring voice.
The blood in my veins froze over. I knew that voice. Everyone knew that voice.
It was Amelia, a lady-in-waiting to Her Majesty.
I tried to crumple up the note, but I lacked the ability. Like a deer stuck in a hunter's wood, I was trapped.
Lady Amelia snatched the note out of my hand, and started reading it. Then, she stopped and stared at me. My heart raced like a jackrabbit. I didn't know what she would say next.
She laughed, crumpled up the note, and pushed it into my bodice. "Lady Catherine, you amuse me," she said coldly, eyes gleaming with spite. "This letter is a forgery, obviously! What king would ever want you?" The hot tears began to form again in my eyes, and my jaw tightened. I was furious.
"Don't worry. I won't tell the queen about your little games. But, it will cost you!" she sneered.
With the Queen
I showed up at the queen's bedchamber precisely at 7-o-clock. Her Majesty had just arisen, and was getting dressed.
"Lady Catherine, please help me with my hair," she asked. I curtsied, then brushed her long brown hair straight. I sprayed it with perfume before pinning it in place. I took her heavy English gable hood and tucked her hair inside.
I really loathed these gable hoods. They look so heavy and foreign. If I was ever queen, you can bet the first thing I'd do is bring the French hood back into fashion.
The last person to wear such an elegant headpiece was Anne Boleyn, the fallen queen. I never knew of her, but she was a cousin of mine. To speak of her favorably in public is to risk imprisonment, even though it was many years ago. She was intelligent and beautiful, not controlled by any man. If only I could have just a small part of her charm. Then, maybe, I could be queen, too.
Queen Anne of Cleves smiled graciously, but I could see her eyes were heavy with sadness and grief. Something was troubling her.
"Ladies, I must ask you to leave me a moment," the Queen said, in her regal way. We obediently began to exit the room. It was then I felt a warm hand on my shoulder. "Stay a moment," she whispered.
My Beating Heart
I held my breath, averting her eyes. "Lady Catherine," she said. "You may rise."
I slowly and carefully lifted my gaze. Her grief was replaced by a serious and steady gaze. "I have heard a rumor about you. I wanted to know if it was true."
Oh, no. My heart began to splinter off into several pieces and spin around in my chest. I swallowed.
"Madam?" I squeaked.
"I heard...that you are good at card games," she said, smiling. Her eyes were filled with joy and playfulness.
I laughed. "Well yes, madam. I confess, I do play a little."
"Can you teach me? I am trying to get better."
"Of course, Madam," I replied.
Queen Anne became serious once more. "I will never tell the others, but you are my favorite," she whispered. "You are so kind and merry. You are more than my servant. You are my friend."
This sweet compliment tore at me inside. If only she knew that I was, in fact, betraying her.
Freed At Last?
It was my day off, and I finally had a moment to breathe. In just a few moments' time, I'd be in the presence of His Majesty. I'd already been carefully coached by Uncle Norfolk on how to behave. The King hadn't yet had a maitresse-en-titre (official mistress), and my uncle wanted me to be the first to carry that name. Or should I say, shame?
Uncle lacked trust in me these days, ever since that day in church. He insisted on being the first to look upon my person before I was presented to his majesty.
I had selected a modest yellow gown from my closet. It was embroidered with delicate flowers. Hopefully, when the king saw me dressed in this manner, he'd back off a bit.
Uncle frowned, inspecting me like I was a prize chicken at a fair. "No, Lady Catherine, it simply will not do," he insisted. "This is not the dress of a royal mistress."
He reached into my closet and pulled out a crimson velvet gown. "Try this," he commanded. He stepped out of the room as I disrobed. The velvet gown was tight-fitting, and low-cut. I could only pray that Uncle wouldn't approve.
"I'm ready," I announced, as Uncle returned once again. "Yes! This is much better!" he cried. He sifted through my jewels and attached a large rose-colored brooch onto the bodice. "Almost!" He untied my pinned hair, causing my red curls to hang wildly around my shoulders. Then, finally, he secured a beautiful diamond crown onto my head.
I looked like such a court troublemaker. I wondered what Amelia would say if she could see me now.
"Let's go," he said, as he extended his arm.
His Majesty's Keeper
As I approached the familiar double-doors, I tried to avoid the judgmental stares of the court. Everyone was looking at me, and I didn't like it.
Uncle Norfolk examined me one last time, fluffing up my curls and spritzing me with a lady's perfume. Then, he knocked on the door with his cherry wood cane. The door opened slowly.
His Majesty showed up in an instant. I nearly tripped over my gown as I curtsied. How clumsy of me, I thought.
"The Lady Catherine," he said, presenting me like a new pony. I blushed a shade darker than my crimson dress. Thankfully, His Majesty couldn't bear witness, as my eyes were glued to the floor.
King Henry guided me up. "Thank you, my Lord," he responded. Then, with a motion of his hand, Uncle was gone.
Once again, it was just me and the king. My heart raced.
"You haven't worn any of the jewels I sent for you," he observed.
I bit my lip. "I didn't want to offend Her Majesty," I answered truthfully.
A long pause. "Such a loyal and loving subject you are," he replied. "You have behaved with such manner and decorum. Your uncle has taught you well."
The King stroked the bodice of my crimson dress. His hands were large and heavy. I closed my eyes, trying not to panic. He turned me around, and his hot breath alerted me that he was kissing my shoulders. I knew what was coming. I felt him lift my red curls to the side, as something heavy was draped around my neck. I opened my eyes and looked down.
It was a beautiful set of emerald jewels. I looked down and admired them. Never had I had anything so fine and wonderful.
I squealed with delight and hugged the King. Once I regained my senses, I curtsied politely. "Your Majesty, thank you! I love these."
The King smiled. "Maybe someday you can wear the queen's jewels."
My body jolted to a halt. What did he just say?
"Your Grace?" I asked.
He stroked my hand with his face, and kissed me. "You are so young and fair," he whispered. "I wish I could have you as my bride."
I could scarcely breathe. King Henry didn't want me to be his mistress. He wanted me to be his wife! A queen of England!
Rise in Due Course
Uncle Norfolk's eyes grew to the size of saucers. "He said what?!"
"He wishes he could take me for a bride," I recounted. "And that perhaps one day I could wear the queen's jewels."
Uncle made a noise and embraced me tightly. He was not usually such a jovial person. I knew that he was overjoyed at the news I had relayed.
"Lady Catherine, we must pursue this with all force and rigor," he stated. "I will arrange for regular meetings with the king. I admit, I knew he was looking to rid himself of his present wife. But never did I imagine that he'd take my own niece as his consort!"
My chest tightened. What would happen to Queen Anne? Was I to be responsible for the deterioration of their marriage?
"Speak not a word of this to anyone," he instructed. "On pain of death. Do you understand?"
I examined the calendar. June first. How many more days would it be until I was queen? I would have to consummate this marriage, whether I liked it or not, if I wanted to be secure. I would need to present the king with a living heir. It was a lot of joy, but also a lot of pressure.
Was I really ready for what was to come?
Items Needed from Uncle Norfolk
Satin, lace, and velvet fabrics
Emerald, turquoise, and sapphire jewels
Brocade and other hand-embroidered shoes