Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Queen's Rival

Diane Haeger wrote The Queen's Rival, it is in the court of King Henry VIII (my favorite court of course) and it follows Bess Blount from a young girl as she enter Court life. Her mother, Catherine Blount, served at Court to the Queen Katherine. The children grew up in Kinlet in the country, and often viewed the court as a romantic place. Their father served there as well, and came home one day very sick. While he was recovering, Bess's mother decided to quit court for a time to stay with her husband. They decided that Bess should go in her mother's place, with the permission of a cousin at court. Bess grew up reading the tales of Lancelot and courtly love, and was still very much naive to the ways of the world.

Bess made two friends immediately at court; Elizabeth Bryan and Gilbert Talbois. Through them, she felt more comfortable and started to enjoy her time at court. The other ladies in waiting treated her with disdain, because she was a simply country girl that came to court with ties to kin there. It was not uncommon to promote one's own family at court, but since she was not of noble birth they treated her such. The Queen Katherine was very devout and prayed many times a day. She was not as beautiful as Bess had thought a queen would be; praying for a male heir or living child had put its strain on the poor Queen. She had yet to produce a living child after many pregnancies. When Bess met the King Henry, she was in love immediately. He was glorious and handsome, exactly as she imagined a King to be. As she watched him, she could tell he was not in love with the Queen as she had supposed.

As she served at Court for a time, she started to hear rumors that the King took mistresses like Jane Poppincourt and her own friend Elizabeth Bryan. She didn't believe it to be true, because the King seemed so chivalrous and wonderful to her. Gilbert Talbois, her friend, was a ward of Cardinal Wolsey, the King's cleric and key adviser. He scared Bess at first because he seemed to look at her closely, but he was the King's chief adviser after all and was probably only interested in those new to court. Bess enjoyed the hunting, dances, pageants and masques. The King noticed her one day at a picnic, and she tried to be witty back but found no quick reply. Gil continued to flirt with her, but Bess never noticed. She was in love with the King, as was almost every woman there.

Her parents came back to Court as her father was well again. Bess was not called on as much to serve the queen, because Katherine had noticed how the King preferred her company now. He asked Bess to sing duets with him and to dance with him. He sent her gifts which she could not refuse. Gil and Elizabeth knew what was coming, but Bess was still innocent enough she knew not. Elizabeth was married to Nicholas Carew, quite hastily, because the King had tired of her. Bess did not find out for some time that Elizabeth, her friend, had been the King's lover. She felt lied to and betrayed, because they hid these things from her. Gil was trying to protect her, and let her find out on her own. The King's favorite sister Mary was sent off to be married to the aging king of France. Bess could see how Charles Brandon, the King's best friend, loved her. Bess still held the romances of Lancelot and Guinevere to heart.

When she found the King alone and sad one day, she found herself wanting to comfort him. So their liaison began, and she was never to be the same again. After that first night, the King left Court for about 8 months because the plague was in town. Bess stayed behind to care for her friend, Gil, who had gotten sick. Bess was sad that the King had not said goodbye to her, but knew he was deathly afraid of any illness. Upon the King's return to court, they continued their affair. Soon they both fell in love, and Bess became known as his mistress. When she discovered she was pregnant, the King had her sent to a manor in the country to await her lying in. When it was announced she had a healthy baby boy, he didn't dare see him. His long awaited hopes and dreams had finally happened, but it was still a bastard. Queen Katherine kept him from seeing the babe, and soon Bess was written off basically. Gil came and proposed to her, because he had loved her the entire time.

They lived a happy life for about a year, when suddenly the King sent for her son, Harry. He wanted to present him at Court and made him the Duke of Richmond. Bess was expecting her second child, so she took comfort in that fact and that her little boy would soon be with her again. After a month, she received word that he was to be raised at court with his own household. She wept and grieved him, but knew she could do nothing. Gil and Bess made a life of their own, and had 2 sons and a daughter. Gil passed away of consumption not long after, and Bess was soon a widow. The King and her son, now 10, came to visit her and offer their condolences. The king had been busy during this time, and had courted a Mary Boleyn, who had 2 children that were never recognized by the King. He now had his sights on her sister, Anne Boleyn, who was trying to overthrow the Queen. The King invited Bess back to court, but she was happy in the country with her children.

Bess heard of affairs of court often, as the King often sent her invitations and presents. She heard of the marriage of Anne Boleyn to the King, and how the queen was sent away in poverty. They had a daughter Mary that the King hardly paid attention to. Anne and the King had a daughter Elizabeth, but not the desired male heir. As time went on, Bess came to court for Christmastide, and the King was now remarried to Jane Seymour who was pregnant with their child. Anne Boleyn had been beheaded for treason and adultery. The King seemed happy again, and so was Bess. She had married Edward, Lord Clinton, her neighbor. He was younger than her and very handsome. They had 2 daughters together. Her eldest son Harry, was married to Mary Howard. Not long after, he suddenly died. It was quite mysterious and somewhat suspicious. Many thought the Seymour's had killed him, so as to pave the way for their sister Jane's child, should it be a son. The King had continually bestowed favors and titles on his bastard son, and they feared he would be made King next.

Bess met with the King one final time, to ask that their son be buried in private at a family burial plot. She wanted him to die as a son of hers again, with no more responsibility of royalty. He had given his life to the throne, and she had sacrificed him so that he could be at court for his duties. Now that was all gone, and she wanted him to herself again. Bess died at the age of 38 of consumption, after having 3 daughters with Lord Clinton. He went on to live another 45 years and served as Lord High Admiral of England. No one can say for certain how Bess's son, the Duke of Richmond died, although many believed it was murder so that he wouldn't be put in the Act of Successsion. I liked this book because it showed me a side to Bess Blount I didn't know. I knew of her because she had the king's son, but I didn't know the rest of her story. It seems the King did love her, but was so bewitched by Anne Boleyn that he overthrew the country's religion and his conscience for her. I always love to learn of new characters in the Tudor period. I am glad Bess married Gil Talbois, because he was so much in love with her.

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