Once Anne was safely conducted to Pembroke Hall, and once he married Jane, Henry wanted nothing more than to be able to forget his wife’s existence, and the fact that as long as Anne lived, he could never truly call Jane his Queen or their children his legitimate heirs. He was so determined to have the new beginning he craved that there were times that Brandon wondered if his determination might allow him to delude himself into thinking that Anne had died after all, if he was able to protect himself from everything and everybody that might remind him of her.
Even little Elizabeth continued to be banished from her father’s sight, left to the care of her household at Hatfield with no indication of when she might next see her father, though he knew that Lady Bryan wrote to Master Cromwell, hinting that an invitation to court would be welcome, and that she thought that it would be fitting for Princess Elizabeth to appear there.
Archbishop Cranmer managed to drum up his courage once or twice, enough for him to dare to hint to the King that it was not right for a father to be estranged from his innocent little child, but his timid suggestions were met with angry declarations that the Princess would be received at court when the King saw fit to invite her, not a moment before.
As long as Elizabeth was exiled from the court, Brandon felt honour bound to visit the child and to see for himself that she was doing well.
Thanks to him, at least in part, Elizabeth lost her mother and he felt obligated to watch out for her and to ensure that she was cared for and happy.
He did not write to Anne about his visits with Elizabeth. He did not want to correspond with her, and he also knew that there was a risk that his correspondence might fall into the wrong hands, or that Henry might object to it if he found out, angry to think that Brandon might feel some sympathy towards Anne. He could only imagine how Catherine would react!
However, as Cranmer wrote to Anne from time to time, he could give the Archbishop news of Elizabeth’s welfare and trust that he would pass it on to the child’s mother, who was certain to be glad of any news she could get of her child, regardless of the identity of her source.
Maybe it made the loneliness of Pembroke Hall easier for her to bear when she could feel that she still had a connection with her child, even if the connection was a distant one and the chances that she might be permitted to see Elizabeth again were so slim that she could hold out no reasonable hope of it. Brandon knew that if he was forced to be parted from Edward, he would want somebody to show him enough kindness to be willing to give him news of his son.
No parent should have to be left without a word of news about their child, only able to worry about how that child might be faring.
He had not agreed with Henry’s decision to force Katherine and Mary apart as punishment for defying him, a punishment that was especially cruel when Katherine’s health began to fail and her pleas that she might see her only living child went unanswered because she refused to say that she was not Henry's wife, and he did not like the idea of Anne and Elizabeth suffering the same fate. No matter what Anne had done or not done, she did not deserve that and little Elizabeth was innocent of all wrongdoing and should not be punished for the sins of her elders.
Brandon was known to be loyal to Henry, and to have had no love for Anne so nobody could possibly harbour any suspicions about the reason why he would want to visit the exiled little princess, as he could have no motive to do so other than simple kindness towards a child who had lost her mother and whose father and new stepmother never visited her or wrote to enquire about her welfare. He and Catherine were friendly with Mary, and not even Mary begrudged his visits to Elizabeth, able to understand that his attention towards her young half-sister did not mean that he was unkindly disposed towards her, or that it pleased him to know that Mary was to be denied the title of Princess and a place in the succession while Elizabeth was allowed to enjoy her status as Henry’s legitimate child and, until Jane bore a son, as the heir to the throne.
Although there were some who believed that, had Henry not decided to continue to recognize Elizabeth as legitimate, Mary would have been restored as Princess by now, Brandon had his doubts about that, and had said as much to Catherine when she grumbled about it.
Henry cared for Mary and he was showing himself to be willing to see to it that his elder daughter was well-provided for and treated with honour, now that she had yielded to his will and was, once more, welcomed back to court but, if he had truly wanted to legitimise Mary, it lay within his power to do so, both as King and as Supreme Head of the Church, and it was a possibility even if he could not bring himself to say that he had been married to Katherine and even if he was afraid to annul his marriage to Anne, for fear of the consequences of doing so.
Parliament would pass an Act legally legitimising Mary and granting her the right to a place in the line of succession as soon as Henry asked it of them. The people would be delighted to see the girl restored, and would not grumble if she displaced Elizabeth as first heir after the King's sons.
However, Brandon suspected that for Henry, the idea of legitimising Mary was intolerable because he could not bear the idea of admitting that he was wrong, either openly or by implication.
If he allowed Mary to call herself legitimate once more, it would be tantamount to an admission that those who had died because they could not bring themselves to agree to the idea of Katherine being set aside and Mary being disinherited had died in vain, that those who defended Mary's right to the title of Princess, calling for her restoration were right to do so, and he would never allow that to be said. Even if Anne’s execution had proceeded as planned and he had been able to annul his marriage to her and to make a bastard of Elizabeth, Brandon now suspected that he would have left Mary illegitimate too, and left himself without an heir rather than go back on his previous decisions, even if that left the succession insecure until such a time as Jane bore a child.
Little Elizabeth’s good fortune in having a mother who was able to secure her place as a princess was not the reason for Mary’s continuing illegitimacy and he hoped that, in time, Mary would realize that and that she would not resent Elizabeth for something the child had no power over.
Both of Henry’s daughters had suffered at their father’s hands and he hoped that he would never have to see one sister setting herself against the other, continuing their mothers’ rivalry.
Brandon had never made any attempt to conceal his visits from Henry.
He knew better than to travel to Hatfield behind his friend’s back, as he was bound to learn of the visits eventually, through a courtier who would be happy to try to stir up trouble for Brandon by implying that he was cultivating the little princess in secret, seeking to win her affections and to ensure that she was more loyal to him that she was to her father, or even that he might plan to see to it that Elizabeth would be the next ruler of England, even ahead of Henry and Jane’s sons. These days, Henry was especially suspicious, ready to punish anything he perceived as disloyalty and a wise courtier knew that he had to tread carefully and give no cause for suspicion.
He had asked permission from his friend to visit Hatfield from time to time, so that he could call on Elizabeth, and Henry had granted him leave to do so whenever he wished, sending a message to Lady Bryan to let her know that she should allow the visits of the Duke of Suffolk whenever he came to Hatfield, even if he arrived without sending a message ahead, and that he could see Princess Elizabeth each time.
He was to be trusted absolutely.
He had not asked why Brandon would want to visit Anne’s child and Brandon suspected that his friend didn’t want to know.
He would have liked it if Henry asked about Elizabeth when he returned from his visits, even if the other man could not yet bring himself to travel to Hatfield and look at the face of Anne’s child – which was almost understandable, under the circumstances, especially given Henry’s discomfort over the invalidity of his union with Jane while Anne lived – but Henry never showed any inclination to do so and, as long as Elizabeth’s material needs were being met, Brandon did not have an excuse to press him to take more of an interest in the little girl’s welfare.
Even if he had dared to remind Henry that, regardless of the identity of her mother, Elizabeth was his child and he should never allow himself to forget that or to neglect her in any way, Henry was too stubborn to be swayed by either arguments or persuasion, no matter who they came from, and Brandon’s attempts at convincing him were more likely to turn him against the idea and make him more determined to ignore Elizabeth than they were to make him open his heart to his child.
If he decided to see Elizabeth, he would do so in his own time, when he saw fit, not before.
Jane Seymour, though not unkindly disposed to the child of her predecessor, focused her energies on Mary instead of Elizabeth, determined to do everything she could for the young girl.
It had been a disappointment to her that she was unable to persuade Henry to legitimise Mary and restore her to her former position, or even to convince him not to proceed against her should she refuse to take the Oath, as he demanded of her, but once Mary took the Oath and friendly relations were restored between herself and her father, Jane set out to befriend her, doing everything in her power to see to it that Mary’s lot at court would be as happy as it could possibly be, under the circumstances. Now that Mary was settled at court, enjoying her father’s affection and a position of high status as the King’s daughter. Brandon hoped that, if he approached Jane about the possibility of little Elizabeth being welcomed to court, she would be eager to welcome the child.
She was carrying a child of her own, after all, and so was certain to be sympathetic towards her little stepchild – and if Jane bore the son that Henry had craved since the day he married Katherine, he would not deny any request she made of him, even if her request was that he should bring Elizabeth to court. Perhaps he might even be glad to be given an excuse to summon the little girl to Whitehall, able to tell himself that he was welcoming Elizabeth back into his life for Jane’s sake rather than his own, even though he was the one who would derive the most pleasure from the presence of his enchanting little daughter, on whom he had doted before he sent Anne away.
As long as it meant that Elizabeth would be welcomed back to court, it didn’t matter what Henry told himself about the reason for her restoration to favour. The result would be the same.
Until then, Brandon would continue with the visits that, while they had begun as a duty undertaken out of guilt and pity, had soon become a pleasure.
Elizabeth was a beautiful, intelligent and charming child, and one who delighted in visitors, especially visitors from court – though the poor child saw few of them; as the King refused to see his younger daughter, there were few courtiers who would be willing to risk courting his displeasure for the sake of seeing the child, even if she was still the Princess of England and heiress presumptive to the throne and officially honoured as such – and Brandon found that he enjoyed spending time with her, and he was touched by her delight whenever he arrived.
The inhabitants of Hatfield must have seen his horse approaching, and recognized the livery of his attendants. As soon as he rode into the courtyard, two grooms hurried forward to take his horse, while Sir John Shelton, the steward of Elizabeth’s household, was waiting to receive him, bowing deeply as Brandon approached and giving him a broad smile of welcome.
“Welcome to Hatfield, Your Grace.” Shelton greeted him, genuine pleasure in his voice.
Although several of the people who had once counted themselves fortunate to be allowed a place in Elizabeth’s household, when the King was still married to her mother and determined to see to it that their infant daughter was honoured, had sought to resign their posts in the aftermath of Anne’s disgrace, hoping that they might be lucky enough to obtain places at court instead, where they were more likely to prosper than they were if they were left to share their little charge’s exile, Shelton was not one of those who sought to leave Hatfield. Through his wife he was kin to the Boleyn family and therefore to little Elizabeth, and he wanted to ensure that everything possible was done to advance the child’s cause, not caring if he was compromising his chances for personal advancement by opting to remain in Elizabeth’s service rather than seeking a post at court.
While it was undoubtedly an issue of grave concern to him that the King continued to refuse to visit his younger daughter, and while he dearly hoped that Elizabeth would soon be invited to court – which he firmly believed to be no more than her due as Princess, especially when the King’s illegitimate daughter, the Lady Mary, was welcomed there and was treated with great honour by the court and with affection by the King and Queen, by all accounts – until then, it was good to see that the Duke of Suffolk, one of the highest-ranking nobles in England and a close friend of the King’s, had taken an interest in Elizabeth and her welfare.
The child needed as many powerful friends as she could possibly have.
The King might see to it, through Master Cromwell, that his little daughter’s household was supplied with an allowance that was sufficient to keep it running, to ensure that Elizabeth could dress as her station demanded and even host an Open Hall for dinner, dining in state under a canopy so that the people in the surrounding areas could come to see their little princess in her royal splendour but a life of quiet exile would not always be appropriate for Elizabeth.
While it was true that life in the country would be healthier for a royal child, and that it would allow her to pursue her studies in peace, when she was older, she would need to appear at court frequently, to ensure that she was not cheated of the place that was rightfully hers, especially as she would need to be in a position where ambassadors could see her and report back to their masters on the beauty, grace and charm of the Princess of England, and in order to get back to court, she would need to have people who would be brave enough to speak to the King on her behalf, encouraging him to welcome her back and to honour her as princess should be honoured.
Even those members of Princess Elizabeth's household who did not harbour any ill will towards the Lady Mary had no desire to see her favoured by the King at Elizabeth's expense.
“Thank you, Sir John,” Brandon inclined his head in response to the greeting, returning the other man’s smile. Shelton was a good man, and from what he had seen on his visits, he treated his young charge with all honour and kindness, even though she was out of favour, instead of neglecting her or being sharp with her as somebody else might, if they resented the fact that Elizabeth’s mother’s shame meant that their charge no longer drew royal notice or favour to them, as she once had and as they would have expected would be the case when they were first appointed to the then-coveted places at Hatfield. “I hope that Princess Elizabeth is well?”
“Entirely well, Your Grace,” Shelton assured him, wanting to make sure that the other man knew that he was attending diligently to his duties, and running the household at Hatfield as it ought to be run. Should the King make enquiries of Brandon, Shelton wanted to make certain that he would be able to give him a favourable account of affairs at Hatfield… though he suspected that it might be a long time before the King asked about his little daughter, much less paid a visit to her establishment or invited her to court. Shelton prayed that the King would forgive Elizabeth for being her mother’s daughter but he had not yet done so. “I have sent a message to Lady Bryan, to let her know that you were on your way, and she is preparing Her Highness to receive you.”
Brandon nodded, allowing a servant to take his cloak from him.
As always, he was expected to formally pay his respects to little Elizabeth as the Princess of England when he arrived – this was one reason that Catherine did not approve of his visits to Hatfield, unable to understand why he would choose to regularly put himself in a position where he was obliged to pay his respects to the child whose continuing legitimate status, she felt, had unjustly condemned Mary to bastardy, bowing to her as he would to a princess – so he carefully brushed his garments, to ensure that none of the dust from his journey clung to them.
When a servant appeared to let Shelton know that Elizabeth was ready to receive her guest, Brandon allowed Shelton to lead him down the corridor to Elizabeth’s presence chamber, a room that Henry had insisted should be readied for his daughter when he first granted Hatfield to Elizabeth as her residence, despite the fact that she had not yet been able to sit up unaided.
Under normal circumstances, it would not have been necessary for a princess to have her own presence chamber as she was unlikely to be in a position to be receiving many important guests in her own right but, in the absence of the prince he had confidently expected and with many of his people still believing that Mary was the first rightful heir, despite the public announcements that the young girl was a bastard with no right to a place in the line of succession, Henry was especially determined to see to it that his infant daughter would be accorded all of the privileges of the heir to the throne, at least until she had a brother, so Elizabeth was equipped to receive her guests in state, and Hatfield was prepared as a residence befitting a royal heir.
The chamber Brandon was conducted to was almost identical to Henry’s presence chamber, except on a smaller scale. Little Elizabeth was sitting at the far end of the room when he entered, prettily clad in a green silk gown, her short legs swinging as she sat bolt upright on her velvet-covered throne, sheltered by a richly embroidered cloth of estate signifying her royal status. Lady Bryan stood to one side, regarding her little charge with pride, and Elizabeth’s ladies stood in a row behind her, all of them looking pleased to see a visitor, especially one of such high status.
Seeing Brandon and Shelton standing in the doorway, Elizabeth motioned for them to approach, with a graceful, regal gesture that was surprising in a child of her tender years.
Brandon approached, dropping to one knee in front of Elizabeth and bowing his head, as protocol demanded of him in the child’s presence. “Good morning, Your Highness,” he greeted her, smiling when Elizabeth solemnly extended her hand for him to kiss, comporting herself with the gravity of a young woman at least a decade her senior and all the poise and dignity of a princess.
Despite the child’s exile, despite the fact that it could well be a long time before she was allowed to return to the court, Elizabeth’s governess had made certain that her charge was well-versed in the necessary etiquette for life at court, with a particular emphasis on the honours that Elizabeth was due as Princess, from each of her father’s courtiers and subjects. Young as she was, it was essential that she was treated with all the deference that her royal rank commanded by everybody with whom she came into contact, be they high or low.
None of them could be allowed to forget who she was.
Like all the members of Elizabeth’s household, Lady Bryan wished to do everything in her power to highlight the child’s royal status, determined to demolish the rumours that, even now, the King might seek to downgrade his daughter, especially now that the new Queen was expecting a child, and the country prayed for a Prince from her. When Queen Anne was arrested, she had had cause to fear that her little charge would be branded a bastard and that she, rather than having the honour of being Lady Governess to the Princess of England, would instead be left to care for the bastard child of a convicted traitor, a child that the King might even choose not to acknowledge as his own daughter, given the charges that were alleged against the child’s mother.
Now that that fear had not come to pass, she was going to make sure that nobody could mistake Elizabeth’s status.
“You may rise, Your Grace,” Elizabeth told him solemnly but, as soon as Brandon was on his feet, her adult aura melted away and she was a beaming child as she ran towards him, giggling gleefully as, ignoring Lady Bryan’s gasp of dismay, he swept her into his arms and swung her around twice before settling her in his arms, so that their faces were level. “I’ve missed you!”
“I’ve missed you too, my Lady Princess,” Brandon responded truthfully. He had not expected to grow as fond of Elizabeth as he had, especially when she was so like her mother, but the little girl had charmed him from his first visit to Hatfield, and he found her delight in his visits infectious, his initial pity for her deepening into genuine affection for the child. Even if Elizabeth was restored to Henry’s good graces and welcomed back to court, at least for visits for special occasions – a child of her tender years would fare better if she spent most of her time in the country, which was quieter and healthier for her – he would continue to visit her at Hatfield, and he would spend time with her at court, whenever he could. “I came to see you as soon as I could.”
“Is my Papa well?” Elizabeth asked.
“His Majesty the King is very well, my Lady Princess – and he has asked me to give you his love, and a kiss.” Brandon planted a kiss on Elizabeth’s cheek before he set her down, taking her hand and allowing her to tow him outside towards the gardens, as she did each time he came to pay her a visit, weather permitting. Lady Bryan followed them. He felt no remorse for lying; Henry might never have enquired about his daughter, much less charged him with any message for her, let alone a kiss, but Elizabeth did not need to know that. If he could give her the comfort of thinking that her father missed her, he would. “He is very busy at court, with many important things to do but I’m sure that he will be pleased when I tell him that you are well, and that you are growing into a very pretty girl,” he added, knowing that Elizabeth would be pleased by the compliment.
Her governess might be dismayed by her vanity but, for Brandon, it was charming.
She was a beautiful child, and he saw no reason for anybody to pretend otherwise.
Elizabeth nodded, satisfied by this, and then began to lead him on a tour of the gardens at Hatfield, pointing out the flowers that had bloomed since his last visit, occasionally scampering ahead of Brandon and Lady Bryan so that she could pluck some of her favourite flowers, grasping the stems in one plump hand as she strode through her little kingdom.
At almost four, she was taller than most children of her age, and remarkably precocious, already progressing quickly with her lessons in reading and writing, according to Lady Bryan, and beginning to learn Latin. Her blue eyes sparkled with excitement and her fair hair was beginning to show reddish-gold lights, which suggested to Brandon that, when she was older, her colouring was likely to be similar to that of her grandmother and namesake, Elizabeth of York.
Given the charges against Anne, it was no harm that her daughter should closely resemble her paternal grandmother. It was also more likely to endear her to Henry if she reminded him of his mother rather than her own. He would never feel at ease around a miniature of Anne Boleyn.
Even if Brandon had been able to force himself to believe that Anne was guilty of adultery, he would never be able to persuade himself that Elizabeth was not Henry’s child and he was certain that, once Henry saw his little daughter, he would be unable to resist her charms. He would be enchanted by her, as Brandon was, and ready to welcome her into his heart once more.
“How does the Lady Mary, Your Grace?” Lady Bryan asked, as she walked at Brandon’s side. “I hear that she is much at court these days, and that Queen Jane is fond of her.” Despite her best efforts to keep her tone carefully neutral, so as not to betray her true feelings about the issue, there was a slightly disapproving edge to her tone, one that Brandon could detect.
Although she took great care not to say anything to her young charge that would prejudice her against Queen Jane, aware of the fact that it would do none of them any good if, when Elizabeth was finally received at court, she behaved rudely towards her new stepmother, Lady Bryan could not bring herself to approve of the new Queen. Even if she had been able to absolve Queen Jane of responsibility for her involvement in the death of Queen Anne and the banishment of Elizabeth from her father’s sight, Lady Bryan felt indignant to think that the woman who had replaced Princess Elizabeth’s mother should focus so much of her energy on securing an honourable position at court for the King’s bastard daughter while ignoring the true princess.
She had never even received a letter from Queen Jane asking how Princess Elizabeth fared!
Some might think it kind of Queen Jane to wish to reconcile the Lady Mary with her father and restore her to his good graces, and to ensure that the unhappy girl would be well received at court and given a life of comfort and honour but, to Lady Bryan’s mind, Lady Mary had caused most of her own problems through her own obstinacy and refusal to accept her royal father’s will, despite the fact that she had been given ample opportunity to behave sensibly and accept the Oath, even during Queen Anne’s lifetime, and had made the choice to be obstinate and disobedient, while Princess Elizabeth was a young and innocent child, whose only fault, if one could even call it that, was that she was the daughter of the Queen that the King wished to rid himself of.
Queen Jane would have done better to have a care for Elizabeth’s interests than for Mary’s.
“She is well, Lady Bryan. Their Majesties are very fond of her and Lady Mary is a true ornament of the court, something I rejoice to see,” he said firmly, wanting to make it plain to her that, while he sympathized with her desire to see Elizabeth brought to court and recognized by her father, he was also delighted that Mary was restored to favour and had no desire to see her ignored in favour of little Elizabeth, should the latter be invited back to court. Mary had suffered enough without adding to her troubles, and he hated to think that Mary might be given further cause to feel resentment towards her younger sister. Because of Anne, there could be no question of downgrading Elizabeth from Princess to Lady but that did not mean that Brandon thought it was right that the little girl should be set above her older sister, as she was, or that he would not like to see the situation rectified, if it was possible and Henry was agreeable to the idea. “She has asked after Princess Elizabeth many times, and I know that she has spoken of her to the King.”
Although he knew that Mary was a kind-hearted person, Brandon also knew that she felt resentful of the fact that little Elizabeth was allowed to call herself a princess, a right that was denied to Mary, so he was pleasantly surprised when Catherine confided in him that she had heard Mary speaking to Henry of her young sister, remarking that she was a sweet child who would make him proud. Although she could not openly urge her father to welcome Elizabeth back when he was showing himself to be unwilling to do so, she had still dropped very broad hints on the subject, even though she must surely have known that, if she pushed him too far in her attempts to reconcile him with her sister, she might lose his good will, which had come at a high cost.
After everything that had happened to Mary, Brandon was glad to know that she was still capable of showing tenderness towards little Elizabeth, despite her belief that the child was a bastard, one who was unjustly permitted to hold the title that Mary saw as hers by rights. He was relieved to see that the hardships she had endured had not warped her character into a cold, bitter one.
Despite everything, he was confident that her innate goodness and kindness would survive.
“That was good of her,” Lady Bryan conceded, though her tone indicated that she did not fully believe Brandon’s words, doubting that Mary, who had much to gain if Elizabeth remain barred from their father’s sight, would champion the little girl’s interests. “Perhaps the King’s Majesty will send for the Princess Elizabeth’s Grace soon, or else visit Her Highness at Hatfield when he is next on progress through the country. I am certain that he would be pleased with her progress. She is a credit to him, in every way, a truly delightful child,” she suggested hopefully, watching Brandon’s reaction to her words and praying that his expression would reveal that Elizabeth had cause to hope for an invitation to court, even if he did not say the words aloud.
“Perhaps.” Brandon’s response was non-committal.
Much as he would have liked to be able to tell Lady Bryan that she and her young charge could expect to be summoned to court soon to attend on the King and Queen – and, in his opinion, it was only right that Elizabeth should be at Whitehall when Jane bore her child in the autumn - her youth might excuse her continued absence from court but if she was excluded from such an important family occasion, it would be noted by every ambassador at court – he could not give her the answer she wanted, as he had no idea when Henry would decide that he wanted to see Elizabeth again. He also needed to be careful that he said nothing that could be used against him, if he implied that he disagreed with Henry’s decision not to allow his daughter to come to court.
It would certainly do Elizabeth no good if Henry decided to forbid Brandon’s visits, thinking that the time he spent with her was making him too fond of her, and too inclined to champion her interests.
Elizabeth skipped back to them, handing her messy bouquet of blooms to Lady Bryan to hold until they could be brought inside and put in water and slipping her hand into Brandon’s.
Brandon slowed his stride, so that she would be able to keep up with him, smiling down at her.
“Your sister will be very pleased when I tell her that you are such a good girl, my Lady Princess,” he told her kindly, using his free hand to fish in his pocket for the gift that Mary had given him for her little sister, when he mentioned that he planned to travel to Hatfield to see the child. Mary had also asked him to tell Elizabeth that she hoped to visit her soon but he had no intention of passing on that message, in case Mary was unable to visit. He let go of Elizabeth’s hand for a moment, so that he could unwrap the silk handkerchief and reveal the silver and pearl rosary. “Lady Mary told me to tell you that she hopes that you will say your prayers faithfully, my Lady Princess, every morning and every evening,” he said, smiling at Elizabeth’s solemn nod in response.
He would have thought that a doll, or some other such toy, would be a far more appropriate gift for a little girl not yet four, who was unlikely to want to spend more time at her prayers than she was obliged to, but he knew from Catherine that Mary’s faith was especially important to her of late. The poor girl spent many hours at her devotions, as though she was trying to atone for giving in and taking the Oath, rather than standing firm and risking execution, as others had before her, and for her, a rosary was an ideal gift for Elizabeth, especially as she lacked a mother to guide her – though if Anne had lived, he doubted that Mary would think her fit to guide a child.
“It’s very pretty,” Elizabeth said gravely, more impressed by the beauty of the rosary than by the spiritual significance of the gift – hardly surprising, for such a young child. “Will you tell the Lady Mary ‘thank you’ for me, Your Grace?”
“Of course, my Lady Princess,” he promised.
“You will be able to use them to pray for the Queen’s safe delivery, my Lady Princess.” Lady Bryan suggested brightly, looking up to meet Brandon’s eyes. “We say prayers for Queen Jane’s safe delivery every day in our chapel, Your Grace,” she assured him, as though she was afraid that he might think that she, along with the rest of the members of Elizabeth’s household, might be hoping that Jane’s hopes of bearing a healthy child would come to nothing and that she would only be the mother of stillborn babes, leaving their little charge as the King’s only legitimate child and heir.
The King would want to know that all of his subjects joined with him in praying for the birth of a healthy prince, and the inhabitants of Hatfield could not afford to be the exception.
Now that the Lady Mary had acknowledged her illegitimacy and accepted that she had no claim to the throne, whether her father and stepmother were blessed with a dozen strong sons or if they were childless, Princess Elizabeth was the one who stood to benefit if there was no Prince, and it would be dangerous for her household if it was suspected that they were ambitious for her.
These were dangerous times, and people might lose their heads for less.
Brandon nodded absently, inwardly wondering what Lady Bryan hoped for in terms of the expected royal child.
Did she hope that Jane would bear a daughter, so that Elizabeth would still be first in line for the throne and outrank her new baby half-sister in terms of precedence, or was she afraid that the birth of a daughter to Jane would lead Henry – perhaps with the encouragement of the Seymour family, who would want to see one of their own as their next ruler – to declare Elizabeth a bastard and strip her of her royal titles rather than seeing Anne’s daughter outrank Jane’s child, and hoping that the child would be a boy so that the King would be satisfied at last and the risk of Elizabeth being downgraded for the new baby’s sake would be minimized?
There was also the risk from Mary’s supporters to consider.
Regardless of which of the King’s daughters an Englishman believed to be legitimate and which the bastard, a son of Henry and Jane’s would be accepted as the heir ahead of both of his sisters. Those who supported Mary and who were longing to see her restored as heir to the throne would have less reason to want to encourage the downgrading of little Elizabeth, as Mary would not be made heir ahead of her half-brother, even if she was restored as Princess.
If Jane was able to present Henry with the son he longed for, that son would become England’s next King, and there would be few men in England who would dispute his right to the throne.
“I am sure that Queen Jane will be pleased to hear of your prayers for her,” he told Lady Bryan.
Elizabeth’s frown at the mention of the Queen did not go unnoticed by Brandon.
The sunny smile had vanished from her small face and a dark scowl, reminiscent of the expression on Henry’s face when something or someone displeased him, creased her brow.
Lady Bryan might tell her, over and over again, that it was very important that she should pray that Queen Jane would be safely delivered of her child and that she would bear a strong prince who would be the King when Elizabeth’s papa was dead, and many more princes after that, so that nobody in England would have to worry that they wouldn’t have a King years and years from now but Elizabeth didn’t want to pray for anything nice to happen to Queen Jane, not ever.
She wanted a baby brother when her mother was alive, mostly because she knew that Mama badly wanted to be able to give her one, but she didn't want one who was Queen Jane's son.
Queen Jane's son wouldn't be her brother the way her Mama's child would have been. He would only share half her blood, like the Lady Mary. Worst of all, his Mama would be to blame for Elizabeth's Mama being killed, and she didn’t think that she would ever be able to like him.
When Lady Bryan brought her to the chapel, or to her prayer desk, and told her to pray that Queen Jane would bear the King a Prince, Elizabeth prayed silently but, instead of praying for a baby brother, she prayed for her mother's soul, and asked her to watch over her from Heaven and to make sure that she was safe and that her Papa would love her again, instead of wanting Queen Jane to give him a son who would become his favourite child, and let him forget his daughter.
She didn't care if people might think that it was naughty of her to pretend to pray for one thing when she was really praying of somebody else, or if it was like lying to Lady Bryan.
It was Lady Bryan's own fault for trying to make her pray for a Prince.
She should know better than to think that Elizabeth would want that.
Brandon smiled at Elizabeth, hoping that she would return it, but the scowl remained on her face.
“Perhaps when the Prince is born, Their Majesties the King and Queen will ask that you should come to court to visit them, and to see the Prince, my Lady Princess,” he suggested brightly, breaking his unwritten rule about saying nothing to get the child’s hopes up about the prospect of a visit to court before Henry indicated that he was willing to allow it. He wanted to see how she truly felt about Jane. If she came to court, Elizabeth would need to know how to behave or her first invitation to visit the King and Queen could prove to be the last, especially if the coming child was a son. The King would not tolerate disrespect towards the mother of his son, least of all from Anne Boleyn's daughter. There were limits to what Elizabeth’s youth would excuse. “Would you like to meet Queen Jane, your new stepmother? I am sure that she wishes to see you.”
“I don’t want to see her.” Elizabeth stuck out her lower lip in a stubborn pout, folding her arms across her chest and stamping her slippered foot, looking as though she would sooner visit an ogre than the new Queen of England. “I don’t like her, I don’t want her to be the Queen!” She insisted, ignoring her governess’ gasp of dismay at her words and her display of temper. She didn’t care if Lady Bryan scolded her for it and told her that it was naughty for a princess to behave like that. She didn’t like Queen Jane and she wasn’t going to pretend that she did.
“Princess Elizabeth!” Lady Bryan scolded her little charge, casting an imploring look at Brandon, hoping that he would believe that neither she nor any other member of Elizabeth’s household had ever encouraged this attitude. If word reached the King’s ears, hinting that she was teaching Elizabeth to revile the Queen, it would mean serious trouble for her. In times like this, she couldn’t be certain that she would not be sent to the Tower if the King believed that she was influencing his daughter against her stepmother and against the half-brother he hoped that the Princess would soon have or, worse still, if he thought that she was teaching her that her mother was killed to make way for her replacement. Such a suggestion could bring her to the scaffold! “You must never, ever say such things about Queen Jane!”
Ignoring Lady Bryan, Brandon knelt down in front of Elizabeth, so that his face was level with hers, taking both of her hands in his.
“Queen Jane is a very kind woman, my Lady Princess,” he told her gently, hoping that she would be willing to listen to what he had to say and to believe him when he said it. “She makes your papa, the King, very happy. He loves her very much.” He saw Elizabeth’s eyes fill with tears at this, distressed at the idea of her mother being replaced in her father’s heart, and he quickly moved away from the issue of Henry. “She has been very kind to the Lady Mary; she invited her to come to stay at court with her, and she and Lady Mary have become very good friends. I’m sure that Queen Jane would like to be your friend as well, if you will let her,” he suggested coaxingly, although he knew that it was very likely that Jane would always favour Mary over her younger sister, and that she would not welcome Elizabeth as wholeheartedly, or be as eager to see her loved and honoured by her father. “Wouldn’t you like that?”
“No!” Elizabeth’s response was blunt and to the point. “I don’t want a stepmother, I want my Mama. Papa shouldn’t have let my Mama’s head be cut off with a sword so that this lady could be Queen instead of her. That was a bad thing for him to do. My Mama is the Queen!”
Brandon suppressed a wry smile, thinking that Elizabeth was right, though she did not know it and was unlikely ever to be told. Technically, Anne was still the Queen and Jane was not Elizabeth’s stepmother because she could not be Henry’s wife as long as Anne lived to claim that title... and it seemed that she was likely to live a very long time. He sobered quickly, however, knowing that the truth of the situation was far less important than Henry’s wishes in this matter.
He wished the world to believe that he was married to Jane Seymour, and he wished that a son would be born of their union and that this son would be accepted as his rightful heir.
Young as she was, Elizabeth would have to learn to adapt to her father’s wishes.
“Queen Jane is not to blame for what happened to your mother, my Lady Princess.” Although there were many who would dispute this statement, including some of the courtiers, Elizabeth could not be one of them. “The King asked her to marry him and to be his new Queen so that he could hope to have an heir, after Queen Anne was gone. He chose Queen Jane because she was a good, kind lady and he hoped that she would be kind to you and to the Lady Mary,” he assured her, uncomfortably aware of the fact that he was stretching the truth more than a little.
Henry had been so besotted with Jane that Brandon couldn’t imagine that he ever gave a thought to what kind of stepmother she would be to Henry’s two motherless daughters, not caring if she would be a loving second mother to the two girls, or if she would treat them with disdain, ignoring them in favour of the children she would bear herself or even encouraging Henry to distance himself from Mary and Elizabeth so that his love could be directed at the children of their union.
It was Mary’s good fortune that she had so kind and loving a stepmother, not any design of Henry’s to ensure her happiness.
Elizabeth was not impressed by his words, he could see that much. Her lower lip trembled and her eyes shone with unshed tears.
“Why did my Papa want to have my Mama’s head cut off?” She asked in a soft voice, looking up at Brandon with trusting blue eyes, hoping that her friend would tell her the truth, something that none of her attendants were willing to do. Whenever she mentioned her Mama around them, they hushed her and told her not to speak of her, warning her that it would make her Papa the King angry if he learned of it. She didn’t know why anybody would have to tell him. “Lady Bryan said that Mama had to be punished because she did wicked things and betrayed Papa but I know that’s not true. My Mama wouldn’t do anything wicked, especially to my Papa. She loved him too much to do that and she wouldn’t do wicked things if she would have to leave me because of it.”
Lady Bryan took a step forward, ready to carry Elizabeth away, but Brandon held up a hand to halt her. Part of him would have been relieved to have the governess whisk the child away, relieved not to have to be faced with the task of explaining the issue to her, but another part of him knew that he deserved this. He had set into motion a chain of events that had cost four men their lives and that had led to Elizabeth being parted from her mother and it seemed fitting, in a way, that part of his punishment for that should be faced with the task of having to comfort Anne’s child.
He held out his arms to Elizabeth, hugging her gently and stroking her soft hair.
“I’m sorry, Bessie,” he said gently, dispensing with formality for the moment and cuddling the little princess in his arms as he would have held his son, had Edward been upset or frightened. Because of her rank, he doubted that Elizabeth’s attendants held her like this very often, even in the relative privacy of her nursery. As the carers of a princess, they would have to keep their distance, even when she had lost her mother, never saw her father and depended on them for affection. “I know that you miss your Mama very much, and I wish that you didn’t have to lose her.”
Not for the first time, he thought that it would have been so much better for all concerned if he had never opened his mouth about the allegations against Anne.
If he had held his peace, if he had trusted that Henry’s resolve to be rid of Anne and to replace her with Jane Seymour would not falter if he delayed, that he would not weaken and seek Anne’s bed before then, giving her a chance to conceive the prince that would make her position secure and ensure that nobody would be able to supplant her as Queen, then Henry’s marriage to Anne would have been quietly annulled, and Jane would have become Queen in her place with minimal fuss.
Anne would have cooperated, knowing that she was beaten, and would be comfortably provided for as a reward for not fighting. Henry would not have to worry about the fact that his union with Jane was bigamous and therefore invalid, and little Elizabeth would be able to know her mother.
Unlike Katherine and Mary, who might have proved to be a formidable pair of opponents if they had set themselves against him, Anne would never be able to raise an army against Henry – Brandon doubted that she would find more than a hundred men in England to defend her claim to the title of Queen if she sought to claim it after Henry married Jane, or who would champion Elizabeth as heir ahead of a son of Henry's new marriage – so she was no threat, and could have been permitted to be a mother to her little girl, without any interference.
Henry could be gracious in victory once he had his own way.
Brandon imagined that Anne would even be able to convince Henry to allow their child to retain her legitimacy and her position as a Princess of England and as first heiress to the throne after his legitimate sons, if she was offering her cooperation. The little girl's position might be no different than it was now, except that she would have her mother's love and her father would not consider the sight of her an unwelcome reminder of something that he dearly longed to be able to forget.
“Why did Papa want to kill her?” Elizabeth asked, sniffling quietly and snuggling into his embrace, trusting that he would tell her the truth about her parents, all the things that Lady Bryan would never speak of. Her governess might think that she was a baby, who couldn’t understand anything, but she was a big girl and she knew more than Lady Bryan thought she did. “He wanted to marry the Lady Jane, didn’t he? And he knew that he couldn’t marry her if my Mama was alive because he could only have one wife.” Behind her, she heard Lady Bryan protest that she had never told her anything of the sort and didn’t know where she had got such an idea, which was true – Lady Bryan didn’t know that Elizabeth listened carefully whenever she heard her attendants whispering, knowing that they didn’t think she was old enough to understand what they were talking about, and that was how she found out the truth about her Papa and Lady Jane.
One of the things about Elizabeth that most enchanted Brandon was her intelligence.
She was remarkably clever and precocious for a child of her tender years, which was usually a wonderful thing but, at the moment, it seemed like a burden rather than a blessing.
An ordinary child of not quite four years would have accepted any explanation they were given for why their mother was gone and why they now had a new stepmother in her place, and would probably have accepted it if they were told that they were to be titled Lady from now on, not thinking that they should argue against their demotion, but Elizabeth was not an ordinary child. She was too intelligent to be fobbed off with a pat excuse and, however she had learned of Jane’s connection to her mother’s execution, it would not be easy to persuade her not to blame her, especially as he could say nothing that would imply that her father should be blamed.
He released her from his embrace, taking her by the hand and walking down the garden path with her, away from Lady Bryan, so that he could speak to her without being overheard by the governess. It was not that he distrusted Lady Bryan, he knew that she would never say or do anything that would compromise the interests of her young charge, but he felt that it was best if his words were for Elizabeth’s ears alone. Once they reached a carved stone bench, he sat down, lifting the little girl onto his lap and holding her for a few moments before he began to speak.
“What I have to say to you is very important, Bessie,” he began, speaking seriously but kindly. He didn’t want her to think that she was in trouble but, at the same time, it was vital that she understood the importance of what he was about to tell her. “I need for you to be a big girl, and to listen to me very carefully, alright?” She nodded solemnly. “And don’t talk to anybody about what I am about to tell you, do you understand? Some people might not like to hear it, and they might be cross if you mentioned it to them. If you want to talk about it, you need to talk to me, only to me.”
“I will.” Elizabeth promised.
“Your Papa is the King of England, and the King is the most important person in the country,” Brandon explained, hoping that he would be able to put it in a way that she would understand. “He was chosen by God to rule over us all, and he has to make decisions about what is best for the whole country, do you understand? Sometimes it’s hard for people to understand why the King does what he does, but it’s not for us to question him. The King is the King... and he loves Queen Jane very much. If you come to court, he’s going to want to see that you like her too.”
“I’ll never like her,” Elizabeth insisted stubbornly.
Brandon sighed. He could understand her feelings.
Even if he didn’t believe that Jane was responsible for Anne’s death, he could see why it might be easier for Elizabeth to believe that she was, so that she didn’t have to lay the blame on Henry for robbing her of her mother, just as Mary had blamed Anne when Henry sought to set Katherine aside, refusing to believe that her father would ever have done so of his free will. It was natural that both of Henry’s daughters would want to blame somebody other than their father for the misfortunes heaped on them. However, if there was to be any hope of Elizabeth making a place for herself at court, as befitted the King’s daughter, she couldn’t be allowed to say anything of the kind towards anybody who might repeat her words around the Seymours or their friends.
“I hope that you’ll feel differently if you meet her. She really is a good lady, and she would be very kind to you,” Brandon told her, rubbing her back lightly. “But what’s important is that, no matter how you feel about her, even if you dislike her, you can never tell her that, or your father. If you come to court, when you’re a little older, you’re going to need to be polite to her, and remember that she’s the Queen and your father’s wife. You don’t have to like her, not if you don’t want to – though I think that you should give her a chance; if you do, maybe you’ll find that you like her after all – but you need to try to behave like you do, alright? To please the King, so that he won’t be angry.” He kissed the top of her head. “Can you try, Bessie? For me?”
After a long pause, she finally nodded, snuggling close to him and smiling up at him. “I’ll try, Your Grace.” She promised solemnly. “For you.”