Read The Queen's Sorrow Online

Authors: Suzannah Dunn

Tags: #Royalty, #Fiction - Historical, #16th Century, #Tudors, #England/Great Britain

The Queen's Sorrow

The Queen’s Sorrow

Suzannah Dunn

For Peter Hunter

‘If God is pleased to grant her a child, things will take a turn for the better. If not, I foresee trouble on so great a scale that the pen can hardly set it down.’

SIMON RENARD
, Imperial envoy,
writing to
EMPEROR CHARLES V
, 1555

E
NGLAND, AT LAST
, in view: a small harbour settlement crouched on the shoreline. And rain, still this rain, just as he’d been warned. Mid-August, but rain for the three days – and nights, long nights – they’d been anchored offshore. It wasn’t as if Spain didn’t have rain. Plenty of it, sometimes, and sometimes even in August; sometimes lasting all day, perhaps even several days, but then done and gone and the sun hammered back into the sky. In Spain, you marvelled at the rain, you sheltered, you endured it. Exuberant, it was: a visitation. Not like this.

This English rain wasn’t so much falling as getting thrown around on the wind. It had a hold on the air; it settled over him and seeped into his clothes, skin, bones. He should go back below. Yet he stayed on deck as the ship moved forward. A huddle of harbour buildings and, beyond, to the horizon, greenery.
Pelt
came to mind:
pelts
; the land looked green-furred. Spain had green: from the subtle, silvered blue-green of olive and almond trees to the deep, dark gloss of citrus trees, and, in the middle, vines, the gentle shade of vines. Plenty of green in Spain, cultivated, trellised and terraced. This, though, here, this English green, looked relentless, creeping into the very lie of the land rather than gracing it.

Six weeks, he’d been told. That’s all. Six weeks, at most, in England. The first ship home will sail within six weeks. Do the job we’re sending you to do, and then you can come home.

England: a small, narrow island up off the edge of everywhere else. A far corner of the world, where the sea turned in on itself, wave-wild, and the sun was cold-shouldered.

What were they doing, now, back home? Rafael closed his eyes to see the luminous shade of the courtyard, risked a hand off the rail to touch the little sundial in his pocket: just touch it, because of course it was no use, calibrated for a different latitude, and anyway there was no sun. He didn’t know what time it was here nor there. But whatever the time back home, if not now then soon someone would be in the courtyard drawing water from the well: that particular, steady creaking of the handle. And even if the courtyard were otherwise deserted, there’d be the conversation of women behind the shutters: his mother, his aunt, his sister-in-law, and Leonor.

And Francisco, his little Francisco, who loved to crouch beside the well to pat the spillage. And if ever the filled bucket was unattended even for the briefest turn of a head, he’d skim it with his upturned palm, spoon it, let it well over his wrist and stream down his arm to splatter on the tiles. And then Leonor would call to Rafael to stop him, and Rafael would pick him up, having to brace himself, these days, against the strength of his son’s reckless, over-eager lunge in the opposite direction.

Someone had made a mistake. That was what Rafael had heard. Someone senior on the Spanish side was supposed to have told the prince that his bride, the English queen, had provided for him; not financially (not a penny) but in terms of staff. A full household – hundreds of Englishmen – had been installed for him at court. The prince – ever-diplomatic – hadn’t presumed that any provision would be made, so, despite meticulous planning for a smooth and inconspicuous arrival in England, he’d come with his own three hundred men, a month ago, to a palace which had very little room for them.

Various Londoners had been persuaded to take some in, it seemed. And now, Rafael and Antonio: belated arrivals, stragglers. Rafael didn’t mind the change of plan. This initial inconvenience, yes, of course, he did mind: waiting to be allocated a host when they’d already suffered five days at sea and then the protracted journey overland in pouring rain. But on the whole, no. It wasn’t going to cost – they’d still be fully provided for – and he’d rather lodge with a local family, he reasoned, than suffer the squeeze at court.

Antonio, predictably, did mind. No doubt he’d bragged back home that he’d be living in royal splendour. While Rafael waited at the office that had been designated to deal with Spanish matters, Antonio prowled around the courtyard outside, heedless of the rain, in search of commiseration with like-minded company. Which meant company other than Rafael’s. How did he do it? – make Rafael feel as if he were his father. He did it all the time; he’d been doing it for the five years that they’d been working together: making Rafael feel middle-aged. In fact, Antonio himself was in his late twenties, by now; there were only twelve years between them.

Rafael had hoped they might be dealt with separately, but then it was, ‘Rafael de Prado and your assistant Antonio Gomez.’

‘Assistant’: Antonio wouldn’t like that. He worked for Rafael on Rafael’s projects; he didn’t ‘assist’. Luckily, he hadn’t heard. The Spanish official conferred irritably with his English, Spanish-speaking, counterpart before pronouncing, ‘Kitson,’ and offering his notes to Rafael, tilting them, indicating the name with a fingertip. Rafael made as if to look, but didn’t; just concentrated on repeating, ‘Kitson.’ A relief: it wasn’t so hard to say. At least he’d be able to manage the name of his host.

‘A merchant,’ read the official.

Out of interest, Rafael asked, ‘Merchant of what?’ but the official shrugged, making clear that he was done.

Fair enough. Rafael stood aside to wait to be fetched. He leaned back against a wall, wishing he could also somehow shrink from himself. He needed to bathe. He longed to bathe. His skin was – well, it was
there
; it was a presence, where usually he’d be unaware of it, be at ease in it. Raised and tight, was the feeling. His dear hope was that there were no other ‘presences’, nothing having made its own little journey across from a fellow voyager. It was inevitable, though, he knew. Whenever he went to scratch, he’d stop himself, suffer the itch, will it away, try to think of something else. He could think of nothing but water, though: warm, fresh water. He’d had more than enough of sea water. His hair was wild with sea salt and his clothes stiff with it. But fresh, warm water, to lose himself in. Half an hour in it, that’s what he craved. The sea-journey had been bad enough, but now he ached from
the wagon: there were jolts packed into his joints and he dreamed of soaking them loose.

Back home, it would be simple, he’d stroll across his family’s land to the shrub-veiled pool at the bend in the river. He’d undress, then clamber over the rocks to meet the glare of the water and – this, he always relished – stare it down for a few moments before his surrender. He’d sit there on the rocks with the sunshine on his back. Still sitting, he’d ease himself forward for the drop and then – God! – the cold would snatch at him and crush him, but his shriek wouldn’t surface because, like magic, the cold was warm.
Warm
! Warm all along. The trick of it. Tricked, and loving it. He’d wade and loll, gazing at the banks and feeling separate from the world, free of it.

Here, though, in England, in this chill, no one was going to strip off and brave a dip.

Two liveried men arrived, making scant eye-contact with Rafael and barely addressing him or Antonio. Between themselves, though, the pair shared plenty of comment, all of which sounded uncomfortably like complaint.

‘No horses?’ one of them asked Rafael; or barked at him, contemptuous.
Horses
, Rafael had to guess from the mime: the man exaggeratedly straight-backed, bobbing at the knees, fists paired and raised.

‘No,’ was all Rafael said. What he could’ve said, if it weren’t forbidden to let on, was,
A thousand horses, and all of them destriers,
no less; our Spanish ships sailed with a thousand war horses.
But none of them had sailed into Southampton; they remained moored offshore. The horses were for war with France; they’d soon be sailing on to the Low Countries, now that the wedding was done, as would most of the men and – rumour
had it – the prince himself, keen to do his bit but, as a new bridegroom, having to balance expectations and demands.

Not Rafael, though. No soldier, Rafael. Do the job we’re sending you to do, he’d been told, and then you’ll be out of there on the first ship home. Last ship in, first ship back. Six weeks at most, they’d said. He’d need only two or three. Six weeks at most, he kept reminding himself. He kept it in mind while – Antonio in tow – he followed the two miserable-looking men out of the courtyard.

He followed them and then, behind a building, around a corner, there was the river, putting a stop to the land, reclining on it, fat and silver, brimming and gleaming despite the leaden sky. A thousand yards wide, he’d heard, and, seeing it, he believed it. Chilly though the waterfront steps were, Rafael was glad to be there. There was lots to see, from nifty wherries of oarsman and solitary passenger to painted, gilded barges, canopied and fabric-draped, each hauled by its own boat of eight or ten rowers. Two of these barges were idling close to the jetty, self-important liveried staff frowning at the steps in an attempt to lay superior claim while their passengers made moves to gather up their finery. Another barge had just departed, heading downstream, presumably city-bound, gathering speed, its silky banners frantic in the breeze. More serviceable barges lacked the canopies but ran to cushioned benches. One drifted near the jetty, one was disembarking, its sensibly dressed clientele trying to clutch cloaks around themselves while feeling for handrails and accepting helping hands, its four rowers resting, flushed, their oar-blades floating placid. One disembarking gentleman had two dogs with him, on leashes, their collars as wide as their slender necks; they
slinked ahead of him on to dry land. Behind the barges, workaday boats jostled for position with their cargoes of hide-covered crates, their crews with rolled-up sleeves and heavy boots. Horses, too, Rafael saw to his surprise. Gliding into view was a vessel bearing five horses. All but one of them stood stock-still, on ceremony, noses raised to the breeze; the troubled one was giving fussy jerks of the head, and an attendant was doing his best to soothe. Wherries passed by, distantly, in both directions, their hulls glinting, the passengers hunkered down and the single or paired oarsmen hauling on the water. Amid all this, fishing boats were biding their time: a couple of dozen, he estimated, on this stretch. And everywhere were swans, some singular, many in conference, each and every one of them looking affronted.

Rafael envied the swans; momentarily forgetting the cold, he wanted to feel his feet like theirs in the water. Suddenly he was impatient to be on it, to feel it under him, buoyant, and to smell it, breathe it in, raw and fragrant. He and Antonio had to wait, though, for a quarter of an hour or so for a small craft – unpromisingly uncovered – to be brought to the steps, and their luggage to be hefted on to it. The three rowers had sweat-plastered hair despite the chill: clearly they’d been busy. To Rafael, they looked horse-faced – these long, flat English faces with big teeth, where they had teeth at all.

He wondered how he looked to them. Foreign, yes, undoubtedly, but how foreign? What kind of ‘foreign’? He’d been attracting some stares on the jetty – he was aware of it – but that happened sometimes in Spain. There, though, it was because of the suspicion of Jewish blood. In Spain, he looked as if he was descended from Jews, as if he came from a family
of
conversos.
But there’d been no Jews in England for more than three hundred years: would the English even know what to look for? Antonio had been attracting some interest, but that’d be because – despite his efforts to appear otherwise – he was with Rafael. On his own, he might be able to pass unremarked, here, his hair not far off blond.

Once aboard, they and their two liveried attendants were rowed upstream, heading north in the shadows of the waterfront walls of Whitehall, the palace in which they’d had to while away the afternoon. The biggest palace in Christendom, Rafael had heard. A whole town had been razed just to make space for the tennis courts. It had been built by the queen’s father, the one who’d had all the wives and killed some of them. The one who’d locked away his long-serving Spanish wife – the queen’s mother – and turned his back on the Pope so that he could marry his English mistress. And now, twenty years on and against all the odds, time had turned and the sole, shut-away, half-Spanish child from that first, ill-fated marriage was queen and married, herself, to a Spaniard, and this palace was hers.

And England was hers and, like her, it was Catholic. That was the idea. Or, at least, the queen’s idea. The problem was that the English people had other ideas, Rafael had heard. They weren’t taking it seriously. At one church, last Easter, the sacrament was stolen some time between Good Friday and Easter Monday, so that, come the triumphant presentation, there was nothing, and the congregation laughed. No one would ever laugh in a Spanish church. No one would dare.

And just as the queen had been mistaken in her assumption that her people would take easily to the return to Rome, she’d
also been mistaken to assume they’d welcome news of her forthcoming marriage. The ship had been full of it, on the way over: the appalling reception they were facing from the English people. Someone who knew someone who could read English said he’d seen a pamphlet claiming that thousands of Spaniards would be living and working in London by the end of the year.
Jack Spaniard
, it said, coming to rob the English of their livelihoods. According to someone else, snowballs had been lobbed at the dignitaries arriving at the palace with the marriage treaty. That particular scare-story had less impact because no one knew quite how serious an assault that was: did snowballs hurt? Someone from central Spain was consulted, and – to everyone’s relief – found it amusing.

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