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I became my Henry's queen long before I saw him: at Tours in 1444, to be precise. I was fourteen. My marriage was supposed to end a conflict between England and France that had been going on for decades before I was even born.
"You will be our lady of peace," my uncle by marriage, King Charles VII of France, informed me. I had come to Tours with my father, King René of Anjou, whose sister Marie was Charles's queen, and my mother, Isabelle. The English delegation had just inspected me, though "introduction" was the word everyone had used.
"They were satisfied, then?" I asked.
"My dear, how could they not be?"
"I have always said that I had a treasure at Angers," my father said.
Charles halfway raised his eyebrows before he caught himself. I suspected that he was thinking that I was my father's only treasure, for it was true that my father was not, for his position, an especially wealthy man. Though he was known as King of Sicily and Jerusalem, Duke of Bar, Lorraine, and Anjou, and Count of Provence, his title to Jerusalem was flimsy, it had to be admitted, and he had given up his quest for Naples two years before. His lands of Maine were under English occupation. "What dowry shall I have?" I asked. It seemed only right that I as the bride should know.
"Majorca and Minorca," my uncle said, and I winced. If anything was as empty as my father's claim to Sicily and Jerusalem, it was his claim to Majorca and Minorca.
"And twenty thousand francs. Well, of course the English shall get a two-year truce; I suppose that counts also."
It was humiliating being sold so cheaply, even with the truce thrown in.
My distress must have shown on my face, for Charles said, "You see, my dear, they want this marriage and peace as much as we do, and frankly, they need it more. The sixth Henry isn't the warrior his father was, by all reports. Not a warrior at all."
"But a good man, they say," added my father, putting his arm around me.
"Don't worry, my dear."
I was formally betrothed in the Church of St. Martin at Tours on May 24, 1444, with William de la Pole, then the Earl of Suffolk, standing proxy for Henry. My uncle led me to the choir where the Bishop of Brescia, the papal legate, stood, and Suffolk and I promised to love and cherish each other. If a heart can break more than once, mine was to break for the first time six years later, when the whoresons-but that is for another time. I like to remember my friend Suffolk as I saw him that day at the altar, his dark eyes alive with amusement as he gave his strong responses following my somewhat shaky ones. "Don't worry, my lady, you'll be an old hand at this when it comes time to marry the king in person," he whispered as the ceremony ended and we processed to the Abbey of St. Julien, where I was to be feasted like a queen.
There was dancing much, much later in the evening. Whether I was a trifle affected from the wine that had been flowing in abundance or simply from it being well past my usual hour of retirement-for my life at Angers was not a boisterous one-I was feeling giddy when Suffolk partnered me at the dance.
"If you were a proper husband to me, you wouldn't stare so at one particular lady," I said demurely.
He followed my eye to where his had just been: fixated upon the figure of Agnes Sorel, my uncle's mistress. Suffolk gave an excellent English version of a French shrug. "I beg your pardon, your grace. But it is difficult not to look, you must admit. She is very lovely-though not, of course, as our new English queen."
"Flatterer," I said, and Suffolk did not gainsay me. Agnes Sorel was blond and stately; I was little and darker, though not, I knew, charmless. "She is my uncle's official mistress," I babbled on-quite unnecessarily, I realized later, for Suffolk, who was in his late forties, had been serving in France since he was a young man and probably knew as much about the court here as I did, if not more. "Do you have such things in England?"
Suffolk shook his head gravely. "We are not nearly as advanced, I fear. Our mistresses are entirely unofficial." We paused to take some intricate turns, to general applause, for my grandmother, who had had the rearing of me, had never stinted on dancing masters, and Suffolk was an accomplished partner.
"I shall be returning to England shortly. Do you have anything you would like to ask me about the king?"
I considered this question as best I could while dancing. As I turned in harmony with Suffolk, Agnes Sorel once again passed into my line of sight, which suggested a natural topic. "Does he have a mistress? I suppose I should know these things in advance."
My partner nearly stumbled, and had to put a hand to his mouth to stifle laughter. "I beg your pardon, your grace."
"I do not see how that is such a foolish question," I said frostily.
"In the case of most men, it would not be-but for anyone who knows our king! He is a very pious man. Indeed, some of the entertainment here tonight would have appalled him. Those rather underclad Moorish dancers we had earlier-There's none such to be seen at his court. Nor will you find any mistresses in your husband's life, in or out of court. You'll have nothing to worry about on that score."
Did that mean I had to worry about anything else? But the dance had ended and it was time to take my place back at the dais beside the Queen of France, so I never got a chance to ask my next question.
Though I was Queen of England in name now, further preparations and negotiations had to be made before I could come to my new country, and my uncle and my father had military affairs to take care of, so I returned home to my father's castle of Angers. There I passed nearly another year before it was at last time to begin my journey to England. Though I kept myself busy learning the language of my new country, I also devoted much time to reminding all at Angers of my new position, for as the youngest of my father's four legitimate children I had hitherto been of limited importance, and previous proposals for my marriage had come to nothing. In enjoying my chance to preen I was, after all, only human, and only fourteen.
At last, in February, my family traveled to Nancy, where my older sister, Yolande (who had long been affianced to Ferry de Vaudemont and thus had missed the opportunity to become Queen of England herself ) was to finally marry her betrothed. It was an important occasion for me as well, for I was to travel on to Rouen and thence finally to my husband across the Channel. It was a grand occasion, at which my uncle King Charles and most of the French nobility were present, and a hugely expensive one, but my uncle found leisure to call me to him during one of the rare moments of inactivity. "Queenship suits you," he said, nodding at me. "You've grown taller since you were last here."
"Yes, your grace." I forbore from pointing out that I was still at an age where one could be expected to grow.
"It is time we spoke of your duties as queen."
I frowned, hoping that this was not the sort of talk my mother had had with Yolande and me as we traveled to my sister's wedding. "I know my duties," I announced. "I am to be virtuous, to manage my household carefully, to intercede with my husband's subjects, to-"
The king cut me off impatiently. "Yes, yes, all those. But you are a daughter of France, my dear. It is your duty to your country of which I speak."
"I am Queen of England," I reminded him.
"Yes, but you will never cease to be a Frenchwoman. You have the opportunity to do much good with this marriage. Good to our country, and even to England."