I inherited King Henry's fiery temper–no one would deny that! And so, on the day I learned that he had betrothed me to the king of France, I exploded.
"I cannot believe that my father would pledge me to that disgusting old man!" I raged, and hurled the bed pillows onto the floor of my chamber. "I shall not, not, NOT marry him!"
I was but ten years old and had yet to master my anger nor learn its use as a weapon. I shouted and stamped my feet until at last my fury subsided in gusts of tears. Between sobs I stole glances at my governess, the long-nosed Lady Margaret, countess of Salisbury. She stitched on her needlework as though nothing were happening.
"Come now," the countess soothed, her needle flicking in and out, in and out, "it is only a betrothal, and that–as you well know–is quite a long way from marriage. Besides, madam, the king wishes it."
Her calm made me even angrier. "I don't care what he wishes! My father pays so little attention to me that I doubt he even remembers who I am!"
A thin smile creased Salisbury's face, and she set down her embroidery hoop and dabbed at my cheeks with a fine linen handkerchief. "He knows, dear Mary, he knows. You grow more like him every day–his fair skin, his lively blue eyes, his shining red-gold hair." She tucked the handkerchief into the sleeve of her kirtle and sighed. "And, unfortunately, his temper as well."
Suddenly exhausted, I flung myself onto my great bed. "When is it to be, Salisbury?" I murmured.
"King Francis and his court intend to arrive in April for the Feast of Saint George. We have three months to prepare. The royal dressmaker will soon begin work on your new gown. Your mother, the queen, sent word that she favors green trimmed with white for you. You're to have a cloak made of cloth of gold."
"I hate green," I grumbled. Perhaps this was a battle I could win, although my gentle, patient mother matched my father in stubbornness. "And I absolutely do not care if green and white are our royal colors!"
"It seems that today madam dislikes nearly everything," Salisbury said. "Perhaps in the morning the world will look better."
"It will not."
"Nevertheless, madam, it is time for prayers."
I slid down from my lofty mattress and knelt on the cold stone floor beside the governess, as I did every night and every morning, and together we recited our prayers.
That finished, two of the serving maids came to remove my kirtle and dress me in my silk sleeping shirt. They snuffed out the candles until only one still burned. I climbed back onto my high bedstead and, propped on one elbow, watched my governess stretch out carefully on the narrow trundle next to my bed and draw up the satin coverlet. Salisbury was tall, and the coverlet was short. When she pulled the coverlet up to her sharp chin, her feet stuck out. This was the first all day that I had felt the least bit like laughing.
Soon after my eleventh birthday in the spring of 1527, I, Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII, king of England, and his wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon, teetered on a stool. The royal dressmaker and her assistants pulled and pushed at my betrothal gown, pinning and tucking the heavy green silk. Would they never be done with it? My head ached, and my stomach felt queasy.
"Come, madam," the dressmaker coaxed. "You want to please your bridegroom, do you not?"
"No, I do not," I snapped. From everything I had overheard from the gossiping ladies of the household, Francis, king of France, was extremely ugly and repulsive, a lecherous old man afflicted with warts and pockmarks and foul breath.
"But your father, the king, wishes it," the dressmaker reminded me.
I sighed and stood straight and motionless. Your father, the king, wishes it. How I had come to dread those words! Soon the French king and his court would arrive, and I, obeying my father's wishes, would place my little hand in the grisly paw of the horrible Francis and promise to be his bride.
Finally the gown was ready, the preparations finished, and my trunks packed for the journey to London from my palace in Ludlow, near the Welsh border. Traveling with my entourage of courtiers and ladies-in-waiting, Salisbury and I were carried in the royal litter, which was lined with padded silk and plump velvet cushions and borne between two white horses. After almost two weeks of bumping over washed-out roads, we arrived, muddy and bedraggled, at Greenwich Palace on the River Thames, five miles east of London.
As I ran through the palace to find my mother, I found myself surrounded by commotion. New tapestries had been hung along the walls in the Great Hall. The royal musicians and costumers bustled about arranging masques and other entertainments. Carts delivered provisions for the banquets to the palace kitchens.
Despite the excitement, or perhaps because of it, I felt unwell. As the arrival of the French king neared, I suffered headaches and a queasiness of the stomach. My physician treated them with doses of evil-tasting potions, but they did no good.
Then word came that the ships carrying King Francis and his attendants had been delayed by storms. My bridegroom would not arrive until the weather cleared. An idea occurred to me: Maybe his ship will be lost. Maybe he will drown and I won't ever have to marry him. Almost as soon as the thought crossed my mind, I regretted it. As I had been instructed since early childhood, I would have to admit these wicked thoughts to my confessor, do penance, and receive absolution.
But as long as I had committed such a sin–a rather small one, in my opinion–I decided that I might as well try to turn it to my advantage. Kneeling on the hard stone floor, my spine straight as a lance, my hands clasped beneath my chin, my eyes turned toward Heaven, I prayed: Dear God, if it be thy will to take King Francis, please send a good husband in his stead!
I was not sure what a good husband was. For that I put my trust in God.
For nearly three weeks the storms raged and then suddenly abated. Toward mid-April King Francis and his huge retinue of courtiers and servants landed in Dover. They made their way to Greenwich, escorted by my father's knights and henchmen.
"Perhaps he won't find me to his satisfaction after all," I said hopefully to Salisbury.
"Perhaps, but that is improbable, madam," said Salisbury. Her face, plain as a plank, was as serene as ever. "The French king requested a portrait, which your father sent him, nicely presented in an ivory box with the Tudor rose carved upon the cover. King Francis much liked the sweet countenance he saw therein."
How infuriating! "Salisbury, why must it be this way? If I had asked for his portrait, to see if he pleased me, would I have gotten it?"
Copyright © 1999 by Carolyn Meyer, published by Harcourt, Inc. All rights reserved.