A Rose for the Crown: A Novelby Anne Easter Smith
A KING MISUNDERSTOOD BY HISTORY,
A LOVE STORY THAT HAS NEVER BEEN TOLD
In A Rose for the Crown, we meet one of history's alleged villains through the eyes of a captivating new heroine -- the woman who was the mother of his illegitimate children, a woman who loved him for who he really was, no matter what the cost to/i>
AN UNFORGETTABLE HEROINE,
A KING MISUNDERSTOOD BY HISTORY,
A LOVE STORY THAT HAS NEVER BEEN TOLD
In A Rose for the Crown, we meet one of history's alleged villains through the eyes of a captivating new heroine -- the woman who was the mother of his illegitimate children, a woman who loved him for who he really was, no matter what the cost to herself.
As Kate Haute moves from her peasant roots to the luxurious palaces of England, her path is inextricably intertwined with that of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later King Richard III. Although they could never marry, their young passion grows into a love that sustains them through war, personal tragedy, and the dangerous heights of political triumph.
Anne Easter Smith's impeccable research provides the backbone of an engrossing and vibrant debut from a major new historical novelist.
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Read an Excerpt
Traitors!" shrieked an old crone from the midst of a large crowd swarming around the base of the crude platform in the Smithfield marketplace. Her voice joined the cacophony of cries of those selling pies, ale and trinkets; of neighbors hailing neighbors; and here and there coarse, lewd laughter. Every now and again, an agonized scream emanated from the scaffold, followed by wild cheers from hundreds of leering faces. Acrid smoke hung like a stifling mantle over the square.
Half hidden on a stone ledge behind an abutment, a widow shielded her eyes from the scene.
"Is it finished, my son?" she whispered to the young man next to her. The stench overpowered her -- a sickening mix of burnt flesh, spilled blood, singed hair and hundreds of sweaty, unwashed bodies. It was like nothing she had ever smelled, and her stomach heaved.
Her son, who was less squeamish, stood on tiptoe and stared in fascinated horror at the grisly spectacle. "Nay, Mother. There is one more nearing the scaffold." He turned his head to look at her, his chestnut hair a mirror of what hers once had been, and saw her pain. "I should take you from this place," he said with concern. "'Tis not seemly that you bear witness to such cruelty. Why are we here?"
"How is the last one, Dickon? Is he young? Do they call his name?" He did not have a chance to answer.
"Death to the traitor! Death to the traitorous bastard!" shouted a man at the front of the crowd.
"Why, 'tis Richard's bastard. 'Tis John of Gloucester. Why were we not told?" a large man called to the captain in charge of the prisoners. The soldier shrugged and turned away. "A king's son should have a private execution. 'Tis customary," the man grumbled.
A moment of silence followed as the surprising information was passed back. Many in the crowd were puzzled. They had no quarrel with John. They had come to witness the death of three men accused of treason. King Henry seemed bent on purging his kingdom of anyone he believed a threat to him.
"What treason has John committed?" asked another man. "And who saw the trial?"
"Too close to Richard for comfort," yelled a woman near the widow, and many laughed, relieved to have the tension broken.
But the onlookers were no longer concerned with past transgressions, only with present consequences. They had come to see three men dispatched by the most grisly method of execution: hanged until almost dead, taken down, their entrails ripped from them and burned, and finally hacked into quarters. The heads would be set upon London gate, a warning to all prospective traitors. That one of these condemned turned out to be royal -- albeit a bastard -- was all the more titillating. Out for blood, the crowd's hush gave way to howls of derision for the third prisoner. Surging forward, it met a wall of soldiers, who kept them from tearing the calm, dark-haired man to pieces before the hangman and disemboweler could do their work.
The son of dead King Richard was given the last rites at the base of the scaffold, a few paces from the drawn and quartered remains of another so-called traitor to Henry, the new king. He mounted the stairs and was led forward on the platform to the last noose. The crowd pelted him with clods of earth, rotten vegetables and the occasional stone until the hangman held up his hand for it all to stop. John looked out on the expectant faces in front of him and acknowledged the hate in them. A mere eight years earlier, these same faces were smiling and cheering at him and the brightly colored cavalcade on its way to his father's coronation. Now they stared at him, anticipating a cry for mercy or an admission of treachery. He was searching the crowd in vain for one friendly face when something made him look at a woman standing on a low ledge, her hand tightly entwined with that of a young man with chestnut hair. Her hood had fallen back, revealing a sad face with tired eyes.
The ugly masses melted into memories of long ago: a fire-lit solar where a voice like an angel lulled him with a song about knights, ladies and love; tawny eyes anxiously watching him sweat out a childish fever in her luxurious tester bed; warm arms holding his six-year-old body close on a summer day when the air was filled with farewells; and more recently, a touch of her hand briefly through the prison grille when she had come for the last time.
"Mother!" The single word came as a groan, and shameless tears welled.
The woman heard his cry and reached out her hand to him, not heeding the danger. He averted his eyes, afraid of implicating her.
"He cries for his mother, the baby!" shouted one of King Henry's plants in the throng, eliciting more cruel guffaws from those near him. A few in the crowd turned to stare curiously at the woman in the black cloak. She instantly let her arm drop. It was as though she had heard a silent plea from the prisoner, and before the crowd's interest became a threat, she got down from her ledge and, still clutching the young man's hand, ran down an alley away from the smell, the jeers and those haunting gray-blue eyes.
When she was away from the sight and sound of the scene, she stopped to take a breath, tears streaming down her face. Dickon stared at her. The errant wisps of hair around her widow's wimple were white, and her forty-year-old face was lined with suffering. She who had looked after him now needed his care. His mother was growing old.
"Mother, why are you so distressed? Why did we have to attend?" he asked again, taking her shoulders and giving them a gentle shake.
She looked full into his eyes. "Because he is my son."
Dickon's jaw went slack. "Your son? But...I do not understand. I am your son!" His strong chin jutted forward, reminding her so much of his father that she choked. He took her arm. "The air has addled your wits. Come, sit down, and I will find you refreshment."
Dickon led her to a stone bench in deserted Cheapside. With no one to stop them, dogs roamed in and out of open doors, mangy cats ranged rubbish heaps looking for scraps, and a rat scuttled across the street. The sun glinted off the puddles of sewage all along the wide thoroughfare.
There can be no greater grief than a mother's, the woman thought, her head in her hands, remembering, too, the death of her daughter from the sweating sickness not six years since. And such a death as this...Her sobs came harder.
"Dear God, I pray you took him quickly!" she called to the heavens, as Dickon stood by, perplexed. She looked down at the whitened skin at the base of one of her fingers and prayed that the missing ring had bought John death by strangulation from the hangman before the disemboweler did his work. Ah, Richard! I hope with all my heart your precious gift has helped our son heavenward with little pain. Of all its uses, this must be the crown.
After a while, the woman allowed herself to be led, as if in a trance, the short distance to where the Cheap Cross marked the entrance to the Mermaid Inn. Once through the courtyard and in the safety of their chamber, Dickon washed her face and hands and made her lie on the bed to rest.
"Please try and sleep, Mother. I will be out in the courtyard if you need me."
"Nay, Dickon. I pray you, do not leave me!" Her tone was urgent and her eyes implored him to stay. "There is much I must tell you, and now is a good time. I cannot bear to be alone. Come and sit by me, my son." She patted the bed and took his hand, already calloused from stoneworking. She held it to her cheek.
"John of Gloucester is...was my son." She saw the disbelief in his look. "Aye, he was your brother. Bear with me, Dickon, and I will tell you all."
She tore her eyes from his troubled face and looked towards the window, not knowing where to start, her thoughts still with the scene at Smithfield. She knew she owed him the truth after all this time.
Dickon stroked her hair, hating to see the tears that flowed unheeded down her cheeks. Why was he surprised? His mother had suddenly come to claim him when he was thirteen, a little time after the new King Henry had taken the throne. Until then he had believed she was his aunt. She had never given him a satisfactory explanation for all their years apart, and it had taken him a long time to love and accept her as his mother. But now the mystery was deepening, and he was almost afraid to know more.
Thus they sat, mother and son, both lost in their own thoughts, as a bird's fluting warble began in a tree in the central courtyard.
The birdsong awoke something in her. He saw her eyes soften, her mouth curve into a smile as she whispered, "Listen, Dickon! I can hear a blackbird."
Copyright © 2006 by Anne Easter Smith
Meet the Author
A native of England, Anne Easter Smith has lived in the United States for more than forty years. She was the features editor at a newspaper in New York State and now lives in Newburyport, Massachusetts, with her husband, Scott. You can visit her website at AnneEasterSmith.com.
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