12th of June, 1523.
Eltham Palace, England. 12th of June, 1523.
As she walked through the corridors of Eltham Palace, Lady Margaret Bryan did not envy Lady Salisbury, Princess Mary’s governess. She could hear the angry screams of the king’s eldest child as her attendants attempted to convince her to get dressed and eat her supper. Poor Mary had been severely affected by her mother’s death, being just a young girl of seven, even more so because of the rumours that had found their way to her household of the king taking a new wife.
She often fled from her servants and fought against her tutors. More than once, had Lady Bryan found her in her siblings’ shared nursery when she was not supposed to be there, hiding from Lady Salisbury. It was upsetting to watch her as she suffered from the absence of the Queen, hard to not pity the poor child, so young and already so alone. What she needed was not a governess or new teachers. She needed a mother, desperately, achingly. And only the king could give that to her.
In comparison with his older sister, Prince John was an easy and happy baby. Four months old and he was already winning hearts amongst his attendants with his sweet smiles and his attentive gaze. His wet nurse, Pippa, described him as active when he nursed and in fact, his blue eyes were always searching for something whenever he was held.
He adored toys and was eager for anything that he could hold, something he had learned to do in the past month. Lady Bryan had to stop wearing necklaces around him for His Highness would certainly put them in their mouth if she ever came close to him. He was very fond of laying on his tummy and giggled incessantly whenever someone tried to talk to him. In fact, Margaret doubted she had ever heard him cry for any reason other than hunger and sleepiness since his birth.
It was so relieving to have a healthy heir to the throne after the long years of insecurity in the succession. The prince was hale, hearty and quite heavy, much like his father. The last time Dr Linacre attended to the prince, he announced that His Highness had reached thirty inches in length and one and a half stone. He was sure to become another Bluff King, though he would not be Hal, as his name was not Henry.
The only source of worry in the royal twins’ nursery, of course, remained Princess Katherine. Much unlike her brother or sister, the little one did not thrive as she was supposed to. Her nurse had to feed her twice as much as Prince John and she never seemed to be sated.
These days, she did little more than sleep or eat, never gurgling or babbling like her twin. The doctor had asked them to feed her spoonfuls of mulled wine and honey to strengthen her, but it didn’t seem to work and she remained as frail as she had been at birth, half the size of her brother. Margaret had paid for the nuns at a nearby convent to pray daily for her health out of her own pocket, fearful of what might happen to her if she let the king’s child die in her care.
His Majesty did not visit much as one might expect, thought Lady Bryan did not ever ask or complain about that. The twins and Mary were still young, unlikely to catch his attention for more than a moment or two. Besides, the Queen’s death was still fresh in the minds of everyone and it was a known fact of how much the King suffered after losing his beloved wife, much like his own father had suffered when Queen Elizabeth passed after giving birth to another Princess Katherine. Surely, the similarities between the two moments had crossed his mind.
But the King came when he could, that much was sure. Eltham was not far from the court in Richmond and the King was a loving father, devoted and gentle to his children. It was clear that he paid a good deal of attention to John, who was his only son and heir, but the princesses were not neglected. Mary, in particular, thrived under her father’s watch, accepting to be dressed and fed like a girl of her station should.
With Katherine, named after her mother, he hesitated to hold her, once mumbling out loud about not wanting to hurt her, but he loved her well. Cardinal Wolsey sent them money every week to pay for their expenses and the King took advantage of that send little trinkets and gifts for his son and daughters. Prince John had an array of wooden swords and toy soldiers, while Katherine’s little dolls were displayed near her cot from when she would be old enough to use them.
When Lady Bryan entered the twins’ shared nursery, she found John in the warms of his wet nurse, being fed, and Katherine whimpered on her cot as one of her rockers whispered to her. It seemed that everything was well, though Margaret was wary of trusting the attendants of the twins, as she had founded their wet nurses gossiping the previous day about the King’s new marriage.
If she had to be honest, Lady Bryan would say that while she was curious about the possibility of Isabella of Portugal becoming her queen, she would never let that come to be a nuisance in her duties to the prince and princess. If the King chose to remarry, it would be his choice and she would accept it gladly, but it could very well not be to the Infanta. It could be to someone else and how offended would this new queen feel when the nurses of her step-children gossiped about the King’s other choice?
Besides, gossip was not something one should do near princes. Especially John. It might give them the habit of doing as well and how could they have a King of England who behaved no better than fishers’ wives? No, Lady Bryan would not allow it. Her charge would be as grand a prince as his father, or else she would lose everything.