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The Fourth and Fifth Wives
Another Queen Anne. The very thought of it sends a cold chill down my spine, and I pull my fur cloak closer around my thin body.
The other, younger maids in waiting squeal around me, excited, while the ladies, like my aunt, Jane Parker, sit solemnly. They, like me, were around for the rise and fall of Lady Anne Boleyn. The very name fills us with dread and nostalgia, of a time where even the loveliest spring day could not sweeten the old king’s heart.
“Catherine Carey,” a slow voice calls to me.
I whirl around and see my Lady aunt, Jane Parker. She gives me a sad smile, and I know that we have both the same things within our soul.
After the tragic death of Her Majesty, Jane Seymour (God rest her soul), we of the court had been queen-less, until now. Now we have Queen Anne of Cleves, a German girl who the king has not even taken the time to meet. I pray that she, the fourth queen, will also be the final queen.
The court follows the king to Rochester, as the impatient fool could not bear to wait a moment more to see his bride to be.
Despite myself, I find I too am eager to see Her Grace. My companion, Cecily, and I stand within the crowd, gathered to catch the first glimpse of the queen. Suddenly, the crowd parts with a pandemic of curtseys and bows, and Queen Anne is visible.
She is a great lady, though bashful and docile she looked. She wears a boxy, hazy gown with a stomacher of rich jewels. A heavy hood sits upon her head and shadows cover most of her face, with the exception of her fair cheeks and smiling mouth. She is not a petite English rose, but a tall, graceful woman. All the makings of a grand queen.
All around me, women dip into deep curtseys, while peasants in the back shove their way forward and bellow drunken cheers. I beam up at her, an optimistic feeling in the pit of my stomach. Though no queen during my living has met a queenly-end, I have a different feeling about this lady. She is the final Tudor queen.
I am so wrong, it turns out.
Despite her grace and respect, the king is immensely turned off by Anne of Cleves. He claims their marriage was not even consummated, and says that Her Grace was pre-contracted to the Duke of Lorraine. The queen denies all words that fell from King Henry’s greedy mouth.
We all know, though, that Anne can deny everything she wants. This king has decided she will not be his queen, therefore, she will not. Henry is a powerful, foolish man, and the king gets what the king wants.
The little ditz, Katherine Howard, seems to have caught the eye of the old king, though he is old enough to be her grandfather. The way she curtseys to show all her assets, and peeks through her long, fair lashes to any man she meets, I am not surprised.
My uncle Howard seems to catch onto this. I hear him whisper to the ignorant little whore just before she sets a dainty foot into the dining hall, and smiles wantonly up at the king.
“Katherine,” I heard myself tell her at one point, “have you no dignity?”
She just smiles up at me with vacant, bright blue eyes. “Whatever do you mean, my Lady cousin?”
I stare down at pretty little Katherine for a bit, then to the worn out Anne of Cleves seated uncomfortably at the king’s right hand. I see now why she is called his rose without thorn.
It is done. Anne is now to be sent from court, as her marriage to the king has been annulled. I see in her eyes the fear she feels, as she will be sent back to Cleves.
One eve, she sets off to see the king, to whom she begs for her freedom. I hear that she was on her knees and everything. She asks the king for a little manor in the country of her own; she will not disturb the court and will leave without disruption.
Once, the king was a fair man. This seems to come out of him now as he grants Anne’s wish. She will be a free woman, something all of us ladies and maidens wish to be.
It is disgusting, really, how the little slut giggles at everything the king says and pricks up her high voice at the end of each and every sentence, as if everything is a question. I suppose that I should be happy she is so high in the king’s favor. That means more for my family, more power, more wealth. They say my mother was once the king’s favorite, too. They rumor that he is my father, but I know different. In no way is such a naïve, greedy man my father.
Within months, it is settled. Fifteen-year-old Katherine Howard is to be married to the fifty-year-old King Henry VIII. I see behind her mask of glee, for she is to be wed to an old man with a rancid, pus filled wound. No longer can she do unladylike things inside the darkest shadows and wink without respect at handsome courtiers. No longer will she be pretty little Katherine, but the Queen of England.
I consider leaving court at once.