Queen Margaret of Anjou:
I pace my chamber like a caged wolf. Behind these heavily carved doors I feel safe for a least a moment to allow myself to let go of my courtly composure and be what I am underneath the glittering crown upon my head. The troubled wife and mother to be. My hand rests lightly upon the swell of my stomach, my heavily fitted garments long discarded for the day, in favour of a loose velvet gown. The child within me kicks merrily as if he too is glad to be free of the accoutrements of queenship that his mother carries.
I have sent for my closest friend. Only she is permitted to see me thus, with the exception perhaps of only one other and I await her presence restlessly. My mind will not quiet. The murmurings that surround me constantly do not escape my ears and I need to be able to off load my fears to somebody I can trust completely with my confidence. I had thought to send for my Lord of Somerset, but our friendship has recently raised enough judgemental eyebrows and I must be careful of my reputation. My head snaps around as a panel in the wall hidden by an ornate French tapestry opens and my friend steps into the room with a smile, I almost throw myself into her arms:
”Jacquetta where have you been?”
Jacquetta Woodville, Lady Rivers:
I receive the queen’s summons and immediately rise from the letter I am writing, leaving my apologies for my husband and make my way to her chambers. I fear for my friend. Her condition makes her situation twice as difficult to bear and I am worried that her usually icy composure may break under the strain at any moment.
The whispers at court, the notable absences of certain lords, and the furtive looks thrown around are enough to make me nervous. Lord knows how she must be truly feeling. I am privileged to be Margaret’s closest friend. Our long association is drawn from a mutual respect for one another’s abilities. Outside of my family, she is the only person who knows that the whispers surrounding the darkness of my blood are true. I have visited the river and I fear the news I discovered will only foster greater unease. I must choose my words carefully so as not to distress her further.
My emotions are unsettled as I enter the room and am almost toppled over by a flying mass of elaborate curls as my normally perfectly collected queen throws herself at me wild eyed. I gently return her desperate embrace and speak softly:
”My friend you unnerve me, whatever has happened?”
Queen Margaret of Anjou:
I lift my gaze to look into her face and shake my head, my ringlets bouncing:
”Forgive me Jacquetta, my mind is quite addled I fear and I needed the comfort of someone I can trust”
I pull away and resume my frantic pacing, long determined strides as a lioness prowling her territory, my hands raking though my hair:
”I cannot bear this much longer Jaquetta, the questions, the deception, the look of suspicion in the eyes of every courtier I pass…damned York is tearing this court in two! What is worse…the whispers about the king’s health grow more dramatic by the day. They will be accusing me of poison next.”
I continue pacing; wringing my hands distractedly
”Not to mention the murmurings about my relationship with Lord Somerset…Henry has to rally, he HAS to recover and acknowledge his child as his heir, with all these whispers I am beginning to fear that people will doubt me”
I turn eyes blazing with amber fire to my friends’ serene countenance, wishing she would share my torment and her calm demeanour to break for once. Yet I have never seen Jaquetta even mildly flustered, it must be the river in her blood, it keeps her mind flowing as clearly and serenely as the waters from which her ancestress came. I envy her that. I was born of fire:
“Jacquetta, I need to know what you have seen. I never ask you about your dealings with the river but now I need you…I need to know how to protect my son’s inheritance.”
I give her a rare and uncharacteristically pleading look, if she has seen the worst, then at least I can prepare for it.
Jacquetta Woodville, Lady Rivers
The queen’s question surprises me. She rarely asks me to the river on her behalf, she reasons that the less she knows about my secret, the safer she is if it is discovered. I cannot blame her for that. The penalty for witchcraft is after all, death. The last time she asked was the night she revealed to me her pregnancy. We had gone to the river together, for the first time. Cloaked and in the darkest hours of the night thrown our charms to Melusine for guidance, letting the turbulent current take them to her. When I had returned to her several nights later bearing the symbol of the crown, she had almost crumpled in relief, taking it to be the sign that she carried the Lancastrian heir in her womb. I had concealed from her that I had pulled an enamelled rose from the water…and not a red one at that.
My fears that the house of Lancaster was cursed have loomed over me ever since and so I have dedicated myself to helping my queen and my friend however I could. Perhaps the river is wrong, perhaps there is yet salvation for the family I serve, but the doubt in my mind will not easily be quashed, and I did not wish to burden Margaret with the knowledge that might at this moment in time serve to unhinge her completely. I nod my head and attempt to guide her into a chair to calm her;
“Your Grace, please, you must not distress yourself, it will upset the child.”
She reluctantly allows me to steer her to sit;
“My husband has told me his concerns, he shares your own as ever. However, while having York’s daughter under your watch may well help to serve to keep him in check, we must not allow our fears to show. Men such as he thrive on the uncertainties of those he seeks to destroy. Any sign of weakness and you can be sure he will take full advantage of it.”
I take her hands in mine and attempt to soothe her, I like not the glimmer I see in her eye. She would like nothing more than to order his arrest and execution, a move which at this uncertain time, may well prove to be her last. I must temper caution and try to distract her toward the more pressing matter;
”Richard and I think that perhaps it is time to plan how to announce the king’s ailment, we can all hope he will rally, but as it stands presently, the stupor he appears to have fallen into does not seem to abate. It may go some way toward alleviating the uncertainty at court if we were to announce that his Grace is ill after the child is born. However, as you say, he needs to acknowledge the child as his heir, and until he does, we stand on very uncertain ground indeed. We cannot keep it hidden forever and the manner of the revelation must be managed carefully, therefore, we need to call the council to discuss how best to approach the matter. They need to be informed.”
Queen Margaret of Anjou:
I allow Jacquetta to calm me slightly, she is right, my most precious card I have to play, rests within my body and I cannot allow any harm to come to my child. I nod and listen to her advice, my eyes flashing angrily as they ever do at the mention of the traitorous York. How I would love to watch that handsome, golden head roll from his proud shoulders, to show him the true strength that a woman can bear. To prove that it is not only men who can wield power. But as ever, I reason with my ancestral temperament. To do so now would indeed be foolish. We must let him show his true colours before we strike, and then England will rise in defence of its rightful king. Not my half mad husband, the monk trapped in the body of a monarch, but my son. The son I know I shall bear, the man to unite this god forsaken country and shine glory upon those who serve him loyally, the child whom his deranged father must publically declare to acknowledge. In his present state of mind, Henry barely knows who he is, let alone his child. I must pray to God that my husband will come around, at least for long enough to do the task he must, to allow me to then take control of our son’s future.
And so I must wait. I have also long known that if my husband did not perform a miraculous recovery soon, then I would have to announce as such to the council to ensure that the reins of power are handed to me to hold until my child is old enough to take them, and not to the man whom would wrest them from me. I needed to ensure that those loyal to my cause would be in place to rule while I am recovering from the birth.
This torments me worst of all, the one weakness of my sex that even I cannot overcome. For in childbirth I am helpless, surrendered entirely to Gods good graces and no amount of careful planning can determine the outcome should he deem it my time to join him. Yet I have no intention of giving in to the darkness as do so many of the weaker members of my sex. I am a queen and I intend to be so for many more years to come. I nod my assent as my friend speaks:
“Bring your husband here Jaquetta. Summon Lord Somerset and the other lords loyal to my cause and I shall tell them that it is time to plan how best to manage this situation, being as our blessed king seems not to know his mind any longer. However I intend to keep the secret of his malady for as long as possible. If we do announce it now, it will give York the cause to attempt to claim Lord Protectorship and that is something I simply will not allow, especially so close to my time.
I do not fully trust the council. While many may support my husband, I am another matter. No man wishes to see ultimate power in the hands of a woman, least of all one they see as a foreigner. My brow furrows in concern. I suspect all and trust next to none. Any can turn against me in a moment, and announcing the king’s illness to the council could prove disastrous to my cause.
Jacquetta Woodville, Lady Rivers:
I exhale deeply, relieved that Margaret seems to be lucid at least and I nod my assent to her request:
“I shall do so; it is wise to gather your friends about you. The lords will provide sound council and assist you in this.”
I know she must do this soon. But I disagree with her. In keeping the king’s illness secret, Margaret will make things worse for herself. People will read into the delay in announcing it as an admission of guilt to the paternity of the child. So many already whisper that Lord Somerset is Margaret’s lover and the child she carries is not the king’s, but his. If she does not think about this now, then it may well be too late to rectify the situation, for without the councils help, I fear my friend is in a very vulnerable state indeed.
I understand her desire to secure the regency for herself in her childs stead, but I know well enough that even the Lords loyal to the red rose will broker no woman holding a power greater than their own. York being placed in this position would be a disaster that could prove fatal, not just for the queen, but for the country.
I look at what rests in my palm. My next offering to her was far more telling than the crown had been. I had picked it from the ancient oak whose roots are embedded deep beneath the river. A blossom most out of place on such a tree and therefore left there deliberately for me to find by Melusine. It is a sign that the time is nearly upon us, and I pray to heaven that this portends the birth, not just of an heir to the throne but of a peace that our land has long been bereft of.
I place a small but beautiful pink flower in her hand with a smile, knowing that this should well lighten her mood:
“It is the symbol of the blossoming of new life. Your time is near your grace. You must prepare for your lying-in. The child will be with us very soon.”
My words seem to permeate the queen’s troubled countenance and I can almost hear the wheels of her mind turning as she plots her next move. I hope I have guided her in the desired direction. She must leave a strong council to rule whilst she recovers, even if it is one who will not allow her the extend of power she desires and only then when her son is born must she announce the king’s ailment, to do so before would be to crush any hopes she has of clinging on to any power she may garner. If planned correctly this should be the safest course to be taken through these stormy waters.
As her eyes glitter with renewed vigour, I can tell I have lost her rapt attention and beg my leave, departing quietly back to my chambers.
Queen Margaret of Anjou:
I stare at the delicate bloom in my hand and cannot prevent a small smile crossing my lips, a rare occurrence in these days of such uncertainty. I may be a queen of ancient blood, but I am still a woman, and one about to give birth not just to the heir of a great country, but to her first child. A blessing I had long feared would be denied me, after so many barren years. I can allow the trepidation at the thought of a trial that claims so many of us to finally become manifest in my mind.
Yet I know that the moment my son is lain in my arms, my triumph will be complete. With an heir to England, carrying not just Lancastrian blood, but my own as well, my enemies will have little choice but to bend the knee to me. With my husband unfit to rule and his heir for many years too young to wear the mantle of kingship, it is I who will take the reins of power and guide the kingdom back to glory. While I appreciate my friends sound and honest advice, I disagree with her view.
My friendship with Lord Somerset can be rumoured about as the court wishes, for what queen does not come under scrutiny such as this? I refuse to turn my back from the most loyal of my supporters because of a few petty whispers amongst chamber maids, none at court could possibly doubt my honour.
To me, nothing is more important than keeping power from Yorkist hands and my husbands lucidity to confirm my son as his heir. I will not allow the council to give the rule of England to any but myself, they will face the wrath of the she-wolf they call me if they attempt to do so. I have my child now to fight for and I shall do so until my final breath.
A woman I may be, but I can rule this country better than any man that skulks in the shadows. I will show my enemies the true nature of a woman’s strength and make my family proud.
By Jacquetta Woodville and Queen Margaret of Anjou