Wednesday, 28 January 2015

On the anniversary of the death of Henry VIII, an excerpt from Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr



Judith Arnopp

 

27th January 1547


I wake suddenly in the early hours, certain that something is wrong. It is as if something has shifted, irreversibly altered, and my sense of danger increases. Sliding from the bed, I tread carefully across the floor, making as little noise as I can to avoid waking my woman. Carefully I open the shutter and the moonlight floods into the room.
The moon floats benignly in the night sky, leavening the dark, painting the slumbering, snow-laced garden, a silvery blue. I shiver, hug myself and turn away. A jug of wine stands on the night table and I fill a cup, the liquid cool from the chilly nocturnal air. As I grope my way back to bed, my woman stirs and yawns, her long bare arms pale in the moonlight.
“Are you all right, Your Majesty? Can I get you anything?”
“Not unless you can bring me peace of mind.” It is a poor attempt at a joke. She stumbles from her truckle bed and helps me settle, tucking the sheets tightly around me.
“I am sure the king will recover, Your Majesty. He always has before.”
She is young; so young that she has never yet been wed, let alone known the trials of widowhood or the vulnerability of being a woman alone.
Obediently, I relax on the pillow and appease her with a hollow smile. “You get some sleep,” she says and, forgetting that she is here to do my bidding, I close my eyes.
Her bed creaks as she climbs back in. She turns over, thumps her pillow a few times and within moments is snoring again. Wide awake in the darkness, I listen to her laboured breathing and think of Henry’s passing. What will his death mean to me, and where will life take me next?
As soon as I am dressed in the morning I hurry along to Henry’s apartment but, once more they halt me at the door.
“I need to see my husband,” I demand with as much authority as I can muster. But I am met with a steely refusal. I press my lips together, suppressing my fury. “Then send Denny out. I will speak with him.”
After being kept waiting for too long the door opens a crack and Denny slips out. Reluctantly he pulls off his cap and makes a sketchy bow. I have always hated people who refuse to look me squarely in the eye.
“This is outrageous, Denny. I would speak to my husband. If he is likely to die then I want to say goodbye. Surely, I can just sit quietly and hold his hand?”
“He is too sick for visitors, Your Majesty. His physicians have advised against it.”
We draw aside as a troop of servants appear bearing trays of food, the King’s taster comes hurrying along behind.
I watch them disappear unchallenged into the chamber.
“I see he is well enough to eat, so why is he too sick to see me?”
Denny inclines his head, infuriatingly calm in the face of my simmering rage. I bury the urge to slap him.
“The king must keep his strength up. I shall send for you the moment he asks to see you.”
“You will send for me the moment he wakes up.”
Denny closes his eyes and bows his head in silent agreement. I swallow the snub, turn on my heel and march back to my own apartments where, safe in the company of friends, I give way to a storm of weeping.
For three days I continue in a sort of void. My household continues much as usual but I am detached from it. I cannot join in with the dancing, nor laugh at the antics of the fools. I curl in the window seat with Homer and Rig, let my fingers travel through their warm coats and look out across the frigid garden. There is nowhere warm in the world, my very existence lacks comfort. I will find no security or safety in this world. Not without Henry.
Through green distorted glass I see the fountain where Henry and I walked so often. It is stilled now, the water frozen in a thick wave at the rim; the usually rippled surface solidified. Stopped.
 Flanking the path, naked shrubs cast skeletal fingers to heaven and birds forage fruitlessly in the fallen leaves beneath the bare hedge. With a heavy sigh I turn back to my book which is open on the sill beside me but it does not hold my interest. Nothing does.
My ladies are sorting silks on the table ready for a new project.  Respecting my mood, even if they do not understand it, they keep their voices low. Rig wakes and stretches, shows me his pink tongue and sharp white teeth. He stands up and stretches, his entire body stiff, then he shakes himself, scattering me in hair, before sitting down and proceeding to lick his nethers.
Homer growls suddenly.
Footsteps, voices at the door, and Cranmer is announced. My face begins to relax into a smile as he inches toward me, but then I notice his face is white, his eyes are pink-rimmed.
“Your Majesty.” He bows formally low and I know his tidings before he speaks of it.
“He is dead, isn’t he? The king is dead!” My words end in a sob, born of fear and a huge sense of loss.
“Yes, Your Majesty. Three days hence.”
Shock and anger replaces the burgeoning of my grief.
“Three days? But …but, he can’t have been dead that long. He was alive when I tried to see him yesterday. Denny said he would summon me when he woke … I-I have been deceived, haven’t I, Thomas? They lied to me.”
The realisation of their deceit sickens me as Cranmer regretfully closes his eyes, slowly inclines his head.
“But …why?”
“The council thought it best, Your Majesty, to get things in order …”
“Council? What are you talking about? Why wasn’t I summoned at once? As Edward’s guardian, I am to be regent. Henry told me so.”
“Alas, Your Majesty, during the last days of his life the late king made certain changes to his will. Instead of a regent or a protector he elected a council.”
So that is what they were doing. That is why they kept me from him. I look into Cranmer’s eyes. They are full of regret, sorrow that he has to speak words that will injure me.
“What other changes did he make?” My lips are tight. I know the answer already; he has no need to give voice to it. I am dismissed. My regency and my step-son are stolen from me. I am powerless and, if this newly-formed council have anything to do with it, probably destitute.


16th February 1547


I am dressed in a blue velvet gown, a widow’s ring is pushed onto my finger and my head is covered in a veil. It is cold; so very cold in the Queen’s closet from where I observe the internment of Henry’s body in St George’s Chapel at Windsor, beside his third wife, Jane.
It is not easy to listen to the droning Latin rites of the old religion. It is as if Henry never questioned the old faith, never moved away from Rome and all its heresy. My heavy heart is full of anger as I hear but do not engage with the ceremony.
The people cannot see me. I am not part of the rite. It is as if I no longer exist. As Queen Jane steps from the dark to reclaim her husband I am rejected. Yet Henry loved me. I eased him through his last years; distracted him from his pain, and did my best to bear his child. He would not want me to be so meanly treated.
The court has become a friendless place. Hertford’s wife, Anne Stanhope, who has ever hated me, snubs me at every turn. No longer constrained to pretend to love me she promises to be trouble in the future. Her new powers, or those of her husband who has claimed the protection of the new king, will ensure that others follow her lead. My future looks very bleak.
Henry has not left me penniless. I still have many houses and could retire from court altogether. Perhaps I will repair to Chelsea or Hanworth, and hold a small court there, inviting only those who love me. But I am still queen and will remain so until my death, if only I can persuade someone to acknowledge that fact. I begin to observe those around me and count my real friends on my fingers.
Once the service is done with a heavy heart I take a private way back to my apartments. I am glad to reach the solitude of my own rooms. Full of sorrow and lacking any hope for a bright future, I pull off my veil and throw my prayer book on the bed.
As Anne and Dorothy help me from the heavy clothes and into a loose gown I stand dejected. I have no idea what to do, or where life will lead me now. The women are hovering by the door. “Leave me for a while,” I say. “I would like to be alone.”
Anne frowns. “It isn’t good for you to be on your own. Shall I sit with you? I promise not to talk.”
“No. no, thank you.” I try to soothe the rejection with a smile and reluctantly she backs away, follows the other women from the room and closes the door.
I sink onto the floor before the fire and click my fingers for the dogs but they are nowhere to be seen. I suspect one of the women has taken them into the garden but even so I feel Homer and Rig have deserted me too.
With a ragged sigh, I rest my cheek on my palm and gaze into the fire. There are dragons and sprites in the flames. It is another world; a world I visited as a child. A realm without rules, or kings, or queens.
A rush of wind as the door opens and swiftly closes again, a footstep sounds behind me. I raise my head.
“Kate?”
I scramble to my feet and stand in disbelief that he has been so bold as to come. My voice is unfriendly and defensive.
“How did you get in here?”
“Anne let me in.”
He hesitates, uncertain of his welcome. We regard each other for a long moment, both unsure of what this meeting means. Uncertainty does not sit well on him but on the outside at least, he has not altered. He is still tall and strong, still handsome. As he draws nearer I catch the remembered fragrance, and the years tumble away, as if they have never been.
I try to fight it but grief and loneliness make me weak. I should send him away at once, call the guard and have him thrown from my presence.  But he is a friend, in a friendless world. I fumble to remind myself I am queen and he is far beneath me.
“I gave orders I was not to be disturbed…”
“Perhaps your sister knows you better than you know yourself.”
At the glimmer of his old bravado, I step away, increasing the gap between us, and turn toward the fire. But he catches my wrist, takes my hand to his mouth and kisses my fingers … and at his touch my toes curl.


Copyright © JudithArnopp2014 


Katherine Parr - the sixth queen
To read more of Intractable Heart click on this link. if you are in the UK

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