Friday, April 15, 2011

By Royal Decree

The king may marry as he wills. For lesser mortals, the laws are not so simple.

Kate Emerson wrote this book Secrets of the Tudor Court: By Royal Decree. She has also written Between Two Queens which I wrote about in an earlier post. This book is about Elizabeth "Bess" Brooke. She is sent to court by Royal decree after King Henry VIII's marriage to Anne of Cleves; Bess is one among many other beautiful women to possibly be chosen as the next Queen. King Henry comes in and basically inspects them like cattle. When he comes nearer, Bess tries not to make a face. He has become quite obese and has mean, little hard eyes. He also has a wound on his leg that stinks. King Henry does pause at her and speaks to her for a moment, then moves on. Her aunt Dorothy Bray is also there, and seems upset that he has paid her niece attention over her.

They go to mingle and eat, and Bess sees the King coming closer so she finds a corner to go to and hide. She doesn't think she'd like being his next Queen. She bumps into her Aunt Dorothy who is kissing a gentleman. He is very handsome, and he is introduced as Will Parr. Her Aunt seems upset at her interrupting them, and escorts her back to her chambers. Bess's parents are there, and when they hear the King has paid attention to Bess, they decide to pack up and leave. If you know of King Henry's marriages, you will not be surprised at this reaction. Being Queen wasn't necessarily a coveted position anymore, especially now that the King had become so large. His wife wife was put aside and divorced, the second beheaded, the third died in her childbed, the fourth divorced, and the fifth beheaded. Not many girls wanted the 6th position as King Henry's wife.

At Cowling Castle in Kent, Bess goes back with her parents and many brothers. They are visited by Will Parr at one point, and he tells them the King has picked a new Queen, Lady Latimer. She was a widow and not necessarily young as the Queens before her. Bess now felt safe, and asked her mother to try and get her a position at Court. While Will was visiting, her Aunt Dorothy was again there. She caught her glaring at her for the attentions Will was giving her. Bess liked how he spoke and thought him attractive. She found out he was divorced, because his wife Anne Bourchier had had an affair. In those days, you were married until death. So he was not able to remarry, unless he was issued a royal decree by the King.

Bess is soon sent to Court to serve Jane Lisle, a viscountess at Court. She becomes fast friends with Harry and Jack Dudley. She doesn't have many duties, and becomes bored. She feels too shy to just venture forth around Court, so she goes on walks. Bess runs into Alys Guildford and they become friends as well; she serves the Queen Kathryn. As time goes on, Bess comes to know Will Parr more. They flirt and he tells her he is falling for her. Bess reciprocates the feelings, but until he is free to marry he has nothing to offer her. The King makes Will Earl of Essex, and then there is the threat of a French invasion.

As they court each other in secret, Bess's father can guess what is going on. He yells at her and tell her that he'll never be free to remarry and tells her to stop seeing him. She goes against his wishes. As time goes on, Queen Kathryn is in a dilemma. The King's men are searching people's books for heretical books and burning them. Queen Kathryn has many in her possession, and starts to hide some in trunks and locks them up. One day Bess is running an errand, and a man throws a sealed paper in her hand and run away. She opens it and discovers a warrant for the Queen's arrest. She runs to the Queen's chambers and shows the other ladies in waiting. They all sit the Queen down and show her. She starts to panic, because this is what happened to a few of his other wives. They advise her to confront the King and apologize.

She decides to start wailing and crying, so everyone can hear. Soon the King hears of it, and comes to visit her. She cries and tells him she never meant to hurt his feelings or pride, etc etc. After all, he was always engaging her in religious debates. He forgives her and all seems well again. The next day, a contingent of uniformed guards from The Tower of London approached. The chancellor had the warrant in one hand, and seemed prepared to arrest the Queen. When he saw the King and Queen holding hands, he stopped short. He will attempted to make the arrest, and the King ripped up the warrant and yelled abuses at the chancellor. The Queen was very lucky to escape, because her good friend Anne Askew had been tortured and burned for heresy. It was especially horrific because gentlewoman were never tortured. It was that Bishop Stephen Gardiner who did it.

Once the crises had passed, Bess and Will began to hope for a chance to ask the King to sanction a marriage between them. They had to find the perfect opportunity when he was in a good mood. Since so much time had passed, they had recited their marriage vows in secret and consummated their marriage. They believed themselves to be married, but of course the King had to approve it. They were kept apart with their duties and had to sneak out to see each other. The King suddenly departed for Nonsuch at Whitehall with just a few of his mean, including Will. No one had heard anything. Lady Hertford, wife of Edward Seymour, approached Bess and told her she suspected the King knew he was dying, and took the men with him to write his will. Kathryn Parr, the Queen, would not be made regent. Lady Hertford told her that her husband, Edward Seymour, would be named regent as he was the uncle of Prince Edward. That would make her, Lady Hertford, the reigning woman at court next to the Queen. She told Bess she would assist her in her plans to make her marriage to Will valid, if she served her.

King Henry died in the early hours of Friday, January 8th. Suddenly England had a King not even 10 years old. Edward Seymour was made lord protector, and called the Duke of Somerset. In these changes, Will was made the Marquess of Northampton. After the King's death, Kathryn left Court to go live at Chelsea Manor. The Princess Elizabeth was also to go live with her there. Bess was now the Duchess of Somerset's lady-in-waiting. Their hope was that soon they would be able to become husband and wife. Soon a scandal became know at court; the Dowager Queen Kathryn had secretly married Tom Seymour, Edward's brother. The Duchess of Somerset was upset, because she felt she was a rival to her position. She was a greedy and grasping woman. She had become nasty and hadn't fulfilled her promise to Bess.

Bess was very impatient with waiting, and decided to go live at Norfolk House, one of Will's homes. She intended to style herself as his wife, and hide there. They renewed their vows in the chapel and there was no priest, but she now wore a wedding ring. They lived happily and quietly for a while. Suddenly Bess's old friend Jack Dudley came with a roll of parchment from the Duke of Somerset. They were commanded to separate; Will to Court and Bess to the queen dowager's keeping at Chelsea. Bess learned soon that the queen dowager and Tom Seymour were on their side. Bess was furious with the Duchess of Somerset for not only not fulfilling her promise, but for depriving Will of his seat on the Privy Council and banishing him from Court.

While living at Chelsea Manor, Bess met the Princess Elizabeth. She was a bright and solemn girl, with eyes like her mother. She confessed to Bess that she had kissed Tom Seymour. Bess was somewhat alarmed at this news and decided to keep an eye on the situation. The time there passed slowly, and her sister Kate came to visit with her new husband. Suddenly one day, Will was in the garden and told her it was now time to go home and live with him again. Their marriage had finally been validated by the commissioners. Now Bess was not only Will's wife but the Marchioness of Northampton, one of the highest ranking ladies in the land.

Soon news came that the queen dowager had delivered a baby girl, which was a surprise since she was in her mid thirties, and had been married twice before and never gotten pregnant. She died within a week, leaving Tom a widow. After the dowager queen's death, Tom began drinking more and seemed changed. Rumors spread that Tom considered marrying the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth, as well as the Lady Jane Grey. Tom was soon arrested, because he had broken into the king's privy chamber without permission, and he shot a dog. He was later beheaded for treason. Soon things became worse for Will and Bess-the Duke of Somerset treated him badly. The Duke of Somerset took the King into the Tower, pretty much kidnapping him. The people were angry with him for not rewarding them after the riots of East Anglia.

Soon the Duke of Somerset was in custody at Windsor Castle and was deprived of his offices. The Duchess of Somerset was to go with him. Warwick was to lead the Council, instead of Will. He decided he would rather not have that great responsibility. The Bishop Stephen Gardiner was put in jail, and Bess and Will moved into his manor. During this entire time, Bess had remained barren. She was also estranged from her family; her father never supported her rebellion and marriage to Will. After being released from the Tower and being pardoned, the Duke of Somerset had plotted to kill the Duke of Northumberland as well as Will. He was tried and beheaded. Years went by as Will and Bess pretty much ruled at Court; she was the highest-ranking lady now.

She decided to use her matchmaking skills, and proposed that Lord Guildford Dudley marry Lady Jane Grey. They were wed, and soon after the king's doctors said the 15 year old King Edward was dying. He didn't want either of his sisters to rule after him, and so he wanted to leave the crown to 'the Lady France's heirs male' and 'for the lack of such issues to the Lady Jane's heirs male.' The Duchess of Suffolk stepped aside for her daughter, meaning Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley would be royalty. When the King died, there was a mighty storm. Bess went to Court to serve Lady Jane Grey and her husband Guildford. There was a small group of them that supported their claim. They were just following the late King Edward's will.

During this time, the Princess Mary had mustered a small army to claim her throne. She was able to win the support of the people, because they didn't really know Jane Grey, and she came riding into England. Those who were in the Tower with the Lady Jane Grey were imprisoned. Bess was able to escape at the last minute. Jane Grey and Guildford were later beheaded. Will was found and imprisoned as well for his support in the cause. Many feared the Queen Mary's reign, for she was Catholic and would turn England back to the old ways. She was also strict and many feared the flames.

Bess was able to get Will's release after much work and requests. Their marriage was no longer valid until Queen Mary's rule, so they had to hide their marriage once again. Soon another plot began brewing. Thomas Wyatt was leading a huge party to overthrow the Queen and put the Princess Elizabeth in her place. Most of Bess's brothers and Will decided to join his party. Her father served Queen Mary in case they shouldn't win, so he could win pardons for his sons and family. Bess and her mother protested against this course of action, for they would all surely die if they didn't win. Bess feared for Will, for being charged with treason twice he would surely be killed.

The people were soon battling, especially hearing that Queen Mary was to marry King Phillip of Spain. They didn't want a foreigner on the throne. Wyatt's rebellion failed, and he was hanged along with a bunch of other men. Bess's brothers, father and Will were imprisoned. One of her brothers was to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Bess once again worked on gaining Will's release. She was granted an audience with Queen Mary, and requested his release. She said she would consider it, only if they agreed to live apart as their marriage was not valid. She said he was still married to Anne Bourcheir and should live with her. Bess agreed only so he would be released. And he was. Soon her brothers were as well, and her father. They lived apart for a year, so the Queen couldn't find anything against them. They also attended Mass every week to avoid suspicion. Many were burned during this time for not converting. The Princess Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower for the Wyatt rebellion, then released into partial imprisonment in the country.

Will and a few gentleman began plotting again to put the Princess Elizabeth on the throne. As time passed, Bess and Will moved back together. They didn't fear the Queen's wrath now so much that a year had passed. She was said to be obsessed with the religion, and with her husband Phillip who was gone. Soon she got very sick, and died. The people rejoiced, for Princess Elizabeth brought the Protestant faith back. Will and Bess were recognized as being wed, and were reinstated with their titles and lands. They never had children, but lived happily ever after.

There was so much content, I failed to mention several battles and events. Bess's childhood friend Harry Dudley was killed in a battle-they were to be betrothed for a time. During Bess's absences from her husband Will, she never lived with her family because her father said she couldn't unless she would remarry. He never recognized her marriage to Will. I also didn't mention Bess's conversations with the Princess Elizabeth. There was a flirtation between her and Tom Seymour while he was married to the dowager queen. Some say he truly intended to marry her. Her serving lady, Mistress Ashley, as also imprisoned for a time during Tom Seymour's imprisonment. Bess's Aunt Dorothy did marry, and had several children. Bess lost her grandmother, father and mother all within a week of each other. She also almost lost Will, but he recovered just when Queen Elizabeth took the throne.

I enjoyed the book, because Kate Emerson takes obscure Tudor characters and brings them to light. I failed to mention several of Bess's close friends in this book. I find it quite amusing that the King could marry whomever he chose, but people could not. Once you were divorced, unless the person died, you couldn't remarry. That is certainly not true today. Queen Mary's reign was short but bloody-she was known as Bloody Mary. This was an interesting time if you want to read more about it. The 12 day period where Lady Jane Grey was Queen is also very sad. She only did what everyone told her to, and she was beheaded for it. Soo sad. I find it interesting how almost every King or Queen had to fight a plot to their throne. It was never safe or easy. King Henry VIII had the Duke of Buckingham killed. King Edward's protector was beheaded as well as his brother. Queen Mary had to behead Lady Jane Grey, and fight her half-sister Queen Elizabeth. I found it interesting how graspy and greedy people could be; it usually ended in their demise.

Rating: PG13 for love scenes and battle scenes.

No comments:

Post a Comment