I: Greenwich, March 1510
Greenwich, March 1510
Catalina de Aragon, Queen of England let out a scream as another wave of pain passed over her. Gripping tightly to the arms of her birthing chair, she forced herself to push yet again. As the extreme tightness in her sides subsided, she relaxed and collapsed back against the chair in exhaustion. Nearly an hour now she had been pushing and still her son did not want to come…
“One more push, my lady,” her closest friend, Maria de Salinas, said calmly in Spanish, taking a cool, wet cloth and pressing it to Catalina’s forehead, “One more push and you’ll see your prince.”
“Thank you, Doña de Salinas,” Catalina said in English, breathing heavily, “Though I wish he would move more quickly…”
“Keep faith, Your Majesty. I have seen many children take this long to leave the womb without damage to mother or baby,” Catalina’s midwife said, poking her head up from between her legs.
At that point, Catalina could only nod in acknowledgement because she was in the throes of another contraction. She could barely hear both Maria and the midwife urging her to push again before a newborn’s wail pierced the air. Hearing her first child’s first cry, Catalina felt tears wetting her cheek, mingling with the sweat of her labor.
“Congratulations, Your Majesty,” a nursemaid said, placing Catalina’s still bloody baby in her arms mere seconds later, “It is a healthy baby girl, a bonny princess for England.”
Catalina wasn’t sure if she wanted to laugh or cry. A daughter. A healthy daughter, but a daughter still. She would love the girl more than anything else in the world, of course, but the real question was how Henry would react…
As soon as Henry saw the solemn look on Charles Brandon’s face, he knew that the news was bad. Brandon was perhaps the one man in the world whom he could call a friend, and so he knew he was not one for unoccasioned solemnity. Henry could feel the blood pounding in his ears as he watched his guards admit Brandon into his privy chamber.
“Is it the Queen?” Henry asked, springing up from his chair as soon as Brandon reached him, “Did something happen? Is my son alright?”
An uncomfortable expression passed over the older man’s face, “Her Majesty is in perfectly fine health, as is the child...”
Henry exhaled in relief, “Oh thank God. You shouldn’t scare me like that, Charles, I-”
“The child is a girl,” Brandon blurted, before Henry could get another syllable out.
Henry froze. What had Brandon just said? The child was a girl? The entire room, including the lutenist playing in the corner, seemed to go silent as Henry digested this news. His firstborn child, a daughter? Well...it wasn’t what he had expected, but a healthy baby was still a healthy baby. And Katherine had fallen with child easily enough, he could only assume that there would be more to follow, a son and heir surely among them. Certainly now this would also give him even more reason to visit her bed, which was not an idea that displeased him.
Taking it in stride, Henry just grinned and clapped Brandon on the back, “Right, well, it’s a girl now but strapping sons are sure to follow. Should we go see my new daughter, then?”
Brandon laughed heartily in approval, and the two men were off to see Henry’s wife and daughter.
Catalina had been cleaned up, changed into a fresh shift that was not stained with the blood and sweat of childbirth, and propped up in her bed by the time her husband came to see her. She was exhausted in a way that she had never been before but, looking down at her beautiful little daughter, set in the crook of her right arm, her heart could not help but swell with happiness, pride, and love. She only hoped that Henry would feel the same way about their girl.
“Where is my Lady Princess?” Henry said, bursting into the room, a boyish grin on his face.
Catalina smiled, “She is here, my lord.”
Henry hurried over to Catalina’s bedside, shooing out her ladies and midwife as he did so. Once they were alone, he hopped onto the bed, laid next to Catalina and rested his chin on her shoulder, joining her in gazing at their child.
“She is the second loveliest thing I have ever beheld,” Henry said after a moment.
“Oh?” Catalina asked, raising an eyebrow, “And what is the loveliest thing, then?”
“You, of course,” Henry replied with a smirk, “But that is...a different kind of beauty.”
Catalina flushed, “Well...my lord...I…”
“We will call her Elizabeth,” Henry said then, “For I truly do not think she could be called anything else.”
“It’s perfect,” Catalina nodded, beaming at her husband. Then she glanced down at her Elizabeth, who was now sleeping off the excitement of her birth, and her heart which had seemed so full before seemed to get even fuller still.