Memoirs of a Fading Rose: Elizabeth Howard’s Story

by Mercy Rivera

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Leeds Castle
Maidstone, Kent
May 21th 1536

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The sounds of rain and thunders fill the surroundings. The beauty of the place is clouded by the storm that seems to show some supernatural sadness, a sadness that is the cruelest of all, a sadness that nature despises above all, a sadness of a mother that loses her children in the bloodiest way ever imagined. All is in the name of greed, lust, ambition, intolerance and infidelity. The rain falls hard from heaven, like determined to wash away the stains of the barbaric events of two days ago and joining the endless tears of her who lost so much in so little time. The breeze is cold, piercing like the pain and the agony of an eternal loss. The day cries along with the one that suffers alone.

Elizabeth Boleyn, the once powerful, vain, charming and elegant Countess of Wiltshire and Ormond, mother of the Queen of England, the symbol of wisdom and strictness behind the King Consort’s throne, is now a frail lady, with tearful eyes, a broken heart and a painful guilt that burns her guts with every single breathe. She grieves in silence. She fell from grace even before the execution of her children. For that she never received comfort. Alone in her chamber, Elizabeth tries to find a reason to go on with life, and so far she has none. Her beloved daughter Anne, Queen of England, and her son George — finally the important man his father always wanted him to be — were murdered in the savagest way a human being can be destroyed. Both treated as traitors, when in fact they were just victims… victims of those who were supposed to care and protect them from all harm. And the last thorn on her side is Mary, who is still alive, but far away and too much hurt to even think to give her comfort. Mary is a living ghost for Elizabeth. She knows Mary will never return to her. A wounded soul, that is what Elizabeth is now. All she was before is gone.

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All that misery has also twisted Elizabeth’s heart and worked on her appearance. The hate she feels for her brother the Duke of Norfolk, the one she used to respect, follow and love is now the lowest being on earth. And her husband, the clever and charming Thomas Boleyn, the man that was her passion, her desire, her lover, friend, mentor and hero, is now a shadow of malice that stills haunts her mind. Physically, Elizabeth is no longer the magnificent model of elegance and beauty. Sometimes she used to win over the exotic looks of her daughter Anne. Now she is a pale, thin and devastated figure. Her auburn hair is no longer loose below her shoulders, is no longer beautifully curled and adorned with jewels. Now it lays hidden in a simple bun, making her look a lot older than she really is. In her silence, Elizabeth can not understand how this happened. When did it all go wrong? Why was it too late to stop the bloodbath?

Suddenly Elizabeth hears the sounds of footsteps approaching. She takes a deep breath while tears keep falling from her dark brown eyes. A young maiden enters the room and glances at the sad but elegant lady  in front of her. With great respect she curtsies and then speaks to her.

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”Madame… you have a visitor.”

Elizabeth only wishes to be left alone.

”Whoever it is, is not welcomed. I do not need the pity of anyone. The hypocrites, all they want is to have a look of me in my misery. I will not allow it!”

Then, after those words from Elizabeth, a woman in a black dress joins the young maiden in the room, is a lady a little older than Elizabeth, but with the same elegance and an intense spark of wisdom in her eyes.

”All I want is to give you comfort sister.”

Elizabeth turns fast as soon as she hears the voice in the room, and she is impressed when she sees her older sister Margaret in the room. Lady Margaret Bryan is her sister and closest friend, the guardian of her beloved granddaughter, the only part of Anne that remains in this world.

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With a gentle nod, Margaret gives the young maiden license to leave the room. The sisters are now alone. Elizabeth does not move and Margaret knows why. Nothing is a secret in a realm. After Queen Anne’s death, all that is said and done related to her becomes an open word. Margaret sees the immense sadness in the appearance of Elizabeth and it kills her deeply. But Elizabeth’s bitterness is also present, and it soon will explode.

”It is true when I tell you Elizabeth, that my heart cries for the sorrow you are feeling now.”

”I do not believe you. I know that you will treat my granddaughter as a bastard, and run back to court when Jane Seymour delivers the expected little prince.”

”Elizabeth….”

”You are as evil as they are… perhaps worst because the child is also your blood.”

”I don’t forget that sister. But this is a cruel world, a heartless realm, and if we want to survive it we need to hold the tears and carry on. The child must learn that if some day she wants to be on her father’s good graces.”

After those words, Elizabeth gives her sister a little smile of irony.

”You want her to be in the King’s good graces? I rather hope she learns to hate him.”

Margaret swallows hard, then collects her courage and walks towards her devastated sister. While she approaches her, Margaret is impressed with the decline in her sister’s appearance. She looks skinnier than she used to be, the paleness of her skin chills the blood, and her hair, that beautiful auburn hair that she used to comb and adorn in times when royalty was far from their lives.

” Tell me, is that what you desire for that child? You want her to hate the King her father and grow up to be twisted and bitter? What if she reaches the crown one day? You want her to be a vengeful Queen? With thorns in her heart, with a desire to make others suffer for the pain that already marked her young existence? Tell me Elizabeth, is that what you want for her?”

Elizabeth looks down, and allow her tears to fall freely. Then she holds her sister’s right hand and squeezes it strongly in her own. She knows Margaret is right, but in her heart, her only desire is for the King to be hated for what he did. The idea that her granddaughter could treat him with honor, devotion, love and respect makes her sick. But the child is also his blood, and that can not be change,not even by hate.

”I do not even know what I want for her Margaret. She is  just a little girl still with absolutely not knowledge about the world but in a few years her mind will be poisoned by the King and her mother’s enemies.  It would be awful if Elizabeth ends up despising her mother.”

Margaret kisses her sister’s hand and is ready to ease her worries and perhaps part of her immense sorrow. Perhaps her actions can change all for the best.

”The Lady Elizabeth has a special gift sister. She is a very clever little girl. The child in her own way knows something is wrong. I have tried to diminish the pain of the death of her mother, even with the sadness that it brings.   Just yesterday she asked me why I called her now My Lady Elizabeth instead of “Your Highness”. She knows that none of us treat her like before and she is upset about it. Believe me, I do not even know how to treat her anymore and in my heart I would love to comfort and protect her but you know how it is. Soon the King will send her away and if I create a bond  it will be hard for both of us. I do not have a heart of stone sister.”

Margaret makes a pause, knowing that speaking about how bad things are now for the child will not give comfort at all to Elizabeth. Is time now for some ailment to her wounds.

”What I am going to do now goes against the King’s wishes, if he finds out I will probably see the walls of the Tower. But this is the only chance I have to do it, and the last one you will have to see her.”

Elizabeth looks at her older sister with a curious glare.

”See her?”

Margaret smiles and walks away from the room. Elizabeth has no idea of what is going on. Then, the sounds of footsteps return. If it is Margaret again she is not alone. Then, the door opens again, and there they are, her sister Margaret with a glorious and beautiful companion, The little Lady Elizabeth.

The child enters the room. She no longer wears the royal clothes of a Princess, but she is wearing a pretty gray dress, with a delicate black tiara that makes her reddish hair to shine gracefully. The child looks at the lady in white in front of her. She knows who the lady is, and with the same aura of charm that Anne used to have, the child curtsies perfectly before her grandmother. Lady Boleyn smiles with tearful eyes while she admires her granddaughter. Slowly she approaches her. She holds her sorrow back and keeps smiling. At this time, Margaret knows is time to leave them alone.

”I do not have much time sister, the rain storm is the only thing that keeps this meeting secret, we must go before it stops.”

Elizabeth understands. Painfully this will be her only chance to see her granddaughter again. Margaret leaves the room. Finally, the child and her grandmother are alone.

Elizabeth kneels before the child. She gently caresses her granddaughter’s pretty face. Her eyes are like Anne’s, some of her features too. Of course, her hair is all Tudor. Elizabeth wants to say many things to the child, but she does not where to start. When she looks into her eyes she can see an emptiness that pierces her heart. Of course she knows, how can she not know?!   Purity and innocence, that is what the child is and represents in all the cruelty that surrounds her. Margaret is right, that can not be destroyed.

”You have your mother’s eyes Elizabeth. .Did Lady Bryan told you what happened with her?”

”She went to heaven.”

”Yes, she is in heaven my love. And up there, she can see you and protect you. Your mother loved you very much Elizabeth.  You can not see her now, but she will always be with you, always.”

After these words, the child’s eyes fill the the shine of tears. Elizabeth hugs her with all the love she feels for her. She gives her comfort and a sense of protection.  Elizabeth breaks the hug for a moment to look at her granddaughter. She is trying to find the proper words to give her security, comfort and strength. It seems nearly impossible to make a small child understand complicated and cruel things. Is so awful to imagine how hard her life will be from now on, when by blood and right she is a princess. It is not fair! Elizabeth tries to control her emotions for a moment, once again the words of Margaret make echo in her mind. But how can she praise the King that killed her children? Being forced to do that for the sake of her granddaughter is a huge sacrifice, only God and the love she feels for the child will help her in the task. With a faked smile and struggling with all the bitterness inside her, she finds the way to speak to the little girl again.

”I already told you that you look a lot like mama, but there is so much of the King in you. You must be good with papa, he is the greatest of princes.  Always, always be obedient to him my sweet girl, fill your mind with books, art, music. You like all that don’t you?”

The little girl smiles, and nods positively. Elizabeth now can see it. The child indeed is her mother’s daughter. The smile of the child brings light to her tortured heart. Gently she caresses her granddaughter’s face. She can feel little traces of the coldness of tears. Elizabeth would give all she has left only to keep sadness away from her, but she knows she will not be allowed to protect her, nor even be near her. So, as Margaret advised, she must at least fill the child’s mind with the goal of always be in the King’s good graces, even if that increases her hate towards the man that unmercifully killed her children in levels that word can not describe. Wiping back her tears, Elizabeth once again gives support to her granddaughter.

”Well, you must study and learn to be good in all that. Papa will be very proud of you, and also happy. I know you will shine with your own light my dearest girl. Honor your father the King, and the sweet memory of your mother, in all you do.”

Margaret enters the room, announcing with her presence that is time to leave. Elizabeth embraces her granddaughter with all the strength she has left. Her tears fall with the pain of knowing she will never see her again.

”I love you Elizabeth. May God Bless you and keep you forever.”

Margaret is deeply moved by the moment, she takes a deep breath to control her desires of crying, since for her is something that must be hide.

”We must go. Please sister.”

Elizabeth nods and releases her granddaughter. She looks at her for a long moment, just seconds, but making sure that the image of the child will be in her mind until the day she dies.

” My love goes with you my darling girl, along with my blessing. Grow up and be happy.”

Margaret takes the little girl’s hand and starts to walk away. She takes a look back for a moment to see her sister.

”I will come to see you as much as I can sister…and as long as this child is under my care I will give you reports. I promise.”

Almost choking with her pain and tears, Elizabeth replies to her stoic sister.

”Thank you, Margaret.”

Finally, Margaret leaves, taking the child with her. As soon as the door closes, a lightning illuminates the room. A strong thunder makes the walls shake and mixes with the howl of pain that escapes from Elizabeth’s mouth and soul. She lost everything, her children, now her granddaughter, no friends, no family, no comfort.

On her way out of the Castle, Margaret finds the young maiden that is in charge of the care of her sister Elizabeth.

”What is your name girl?”

”Lady Joyce Hawthorne, my lady.”

”Lady Hawthorne. Not a word of this encounter between my sister and the Lady Elizabeth. I am still in charge of this child as if she were a princess still so if you disobey my order is like to disobey the King himself.”

Margaret adorned the words a little but she needs to protect the child, her sister, and also herself. Lady Hawthorne is not even a full woman yet. She has not knowledge of the King’s laws nor how the royal world works. Immediately, Lady Hawthorne shows she understands perfectly.

”I will not say a word madame. Personally I loved Queen Anne, my mother served her and thanks to her, the shadows of this realm were banished, we saw the light and escaped from evil doctrines.”

”Just remember not to repeat that again openly. It could cost you more than you think.  If you loved the Queen as you said, take care of her mother with devotion. Serve her and honor her as if you were serving Queen Anne. Do this, not only in the name of the late Queen, also in the name of this child…and in mine.”

”I promise,  I will care for my mistress with all honor and devotion.”

”Thank you. Do you have news about the Duke of Norfolk and… Thomas Boleyn?”

”No Madame. But my mistress does not want them here. She forbid their presence in this place.”

”I see. Thank you Lady Hawthorne.”

”Madame.”

Rain keeps falling. The escort of Lady Bryan runs with a robe to protect the child from the cold water and takes her away towards the carriage. Margaret gives a last glance to the Castle. Those stoned walls that keep her sister away from the world, like a prisoner of misery. The coldness is unbearable, just like the bitter task of obey royal rules. Swallowing her own sadness, Margaret looks straight on and walks away under the rain. Careless of it, she wants to feel the touch of the raindrops in her face, in that way her tears will not be noticeable.  She needs to keep her reputation as a woman with a well controlled sense of emotions. She serves the King of England, a man that does not tolerate frailness nor weakness. Besides, the Lady Elizabeth needs her. She is all the child has now and God knows for how long it will be like this. And her sister, her poor sister.   Margaret wonders if she will be able to keep her word and give reports to Elizabeth about the child. If the King finds out for sure would cost her banishment from court or even death.

It is clear that the King of England is determined to achieve his goals whatever the cost. He moved the world to be with Anne and change the Kingdom. Then he murdered her to achieve his desire for a living son. He has absolute power over this realm. Nothing can control him nor stop him. There are also strict orders to all the King’s servants, to the Council, to everyone close to the King even by blood or friendship, to keep Anne’s name buried. She will not me mentioned at court at all, not even in private. The King wants to erase any trace of her existence — like if that would be possible, a part of her lives, strong and gracious. The presence of the Lady Elizabeth will be a constant reminder of the legacy of Queen Anne Boleyn. To only glance at her is enough, same eyes and same features, and for sure while she grows the resemblance will be more marked. Would that be the damnation of the child? If fate allows her to be the mirror of her mother in the future, will the King hate her? Fear overwhelms Margaret. What will happen now?

The carriage leaves. Lady Hawthorne in the company of the Castle’s gatekeeper close the main doors of the castle, and both of them return to their places, knowing that they must keep in secret all that they saw and heard in this stormy day.

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To Be Continued…

 

 

 

 

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