As Queen Catherine's maid and daughter of the Duke of Buckingham, the future seems bright for Elizabeth Stafford. But when her father gives her hand to Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk, the spirited young woman must sacrifice all for duty. Yet Elizabeth is surprised by her passion for her powerful new husband. And when he takes on a mistress, she is determined to fight for her love and her honor…
Naïve and vulnerable, Bess Holland is easily charmed by the Duke of Norfolk, doing his bidding in exchange for gifts and adoration. For years, she and Elizabeth compete for his affections. But they are mere spectators to an obsession neither can rival: Norfolk's quest to weave the Howard name into the royal bloodline. The women's loyalties are tested as his schemes unfold-among them the litigious marriage of his niece, Anne Boleyn, to King Henry the VIII. But in an age of ruthless beheadings, no self-serving motive goes unpunished-and Elizabeth and Bess will have to fight a force more sinister than the executioner's axe...
Praise for Secrets of the Tudor Court
"A beautifully written story with wonderful attention to detail. I loved the book." -Diane Haeger, author of The Queen's Mistake
"Throbs with intensity as it lays bare the secret delights of Tudor court life and the sudden, lethal terrors. A tale of innocence and ruthless ambition locked in a love-hate embrace." -Barbara Kyle, author of The King's Daughter
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April 26, 2011
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Excerpt from Rivals in the Tudor Court by D.L. Bogdan
Thomas Howard, January 1547
Two bitches, a bewildered dolt, and a hothead have condemned me to this wretched place. The first wench would be my lovely wife, Elizabeth, whose list of virtues is far too extensive to catalogue. The second is my mistress, Bess Holland, who found it expedient to trade her lover for jewels and lands. The dolt is my daughter Mary, whose endless capacity for ineptness exempts her from being entirely to blame. But the hothead! The hothead is my own son Henry, Earl of Surrey, that talented boy I put such store in. My Surrey. Surrey, who claims to loathe upstarts with all his being yet decides to become one himself, quartering his arms with that of Edward the Confessor (a right reserved for kings alone!), bragging about what we Howards would achieve while ruling through Prince Edward when he comes to power, even plotting the kidnapping of His little Highness. . . . Oh, I cannot think of it! Fools!
It is cold in the Tower. Dampness seeps through the bare stone walls, rats scamper about, eager to feast upon my flesh should my soul decide to vacate it.
"You will have to wait," I tell them. I lie on my bed and scowl at the ceiling. This will not do. I have written Henry VIII. I have groveled and sniveled and humiliated myself to the fullest extent. But why would he break with tradition to spare me? What am I saying? It is thinking like this that will kill me. I have never entertained such notions before. I have always survived. I have always pressed on.
I am Thomas Howard.
"It was a vulgar display!" cries my grandfather, Baron John Howard, slamming his fist on the dining table, regarding my father, Sir Thomas, with hard black eyes. "Children, Thomas! Five-year-old brats--my God, it's like handing a dukedom to that one there!" He waves an impatient hand at me. I wish I could crawl under the table to sit with my dog, but the last time I did that the baron pulled me up by the arm so hard that it ached for days. "That daft king would rather see two children wed than honor me with what is due," he goes on. "I am the rightful Duke of Norfolk! Mowbray was my cousin, after all! It is fitting that I should have been named heir instead of his sniveling, drooling girl-child!"
Sir Thomas purses his lips, annoyed, though whether it is with my grandfather or the situation, I cannot discern. He shifts on the bench, his thick hands toying with a piece of bread. "It was most unfair, my lord," he says. "We can thank God, however, that the king had the grace to knight me at the wedding ceremony."
"Oh, yes, thank God for that," spits the baron, but I have the distinct feeling he is not thankful at all.
I look under the table at my favorite dog, a gray mongrel named Rain, offering him a reassuring smile.
"What are you thinking over there?" barks the baron.
It takes a moment to realize he is addressing me. I right myself. "Nothing, my lord," I tell him.
"Don't lie to me, boy," the baron hisses. His face is crimson; a thick vein pulsates in his neck. "You find this amusing, do you? Something to laugh at?"
I shake my head, my cheeks burning. A lump swells in my throat. I reach down to lay a hand on my dog's head, reassuring myself with the soft fur. Soon I can get away from this tirade and run outside with Rain, loyal Rain. I shall lay my head upon his warm side and find shapes in the clouds with my brother Neddy.
"Do enlighten us with your anecdotes, child," says the baron, leaning back, gripping the edge of the table with slim-fingered hands.
I don't even know what an anecdote is. I begin to tremble. "I was--I was--"
" 'You were'? 'You were'?" The baron's voice has risen an octave in mockery.
My lip quivers.
The old man's hand springs across the table to grip my collar, pulling me halfway across platters of food. My breeches are ruined. Rain is barking somewhere in the background. My knee is digging into something, the corner of a tray perhaps, but I am too terrified to look down. I can only stare into the dark face of the baron in horror.
His breath reeks of spirits. I cough.
"Do not mock me, boy," he seethes.
"I wasn't mocking you!" I cry, my mind scrambling to recall my exact offense.
"Thomas, best rein in your brat," cries my grandfather as he brings me across his knee before the hall of family and servants and liveried guards. His hand, when he brings it across my bared bottom, hurts indeed, but the eyes of the hall bearing witness to my shame is a pain far greater. "You will be taught to respect your betters, lad!"
At this moment my dog launches himself at the baron, tearing into his ankle with a strangled growl.
Grandfather unleashes a howl, pushing me from his knee to the floor. I reach out in terror, trying to pull Rain off the old man, but the baron has reached him first. In one swift move he grabs the creature by the scruff of the neck, pulling him up onto his hind legs while retrieving his dagger.
"No!" I scream, hot tears streaming down my cheeks.
The baron does not look at me once. He slashes Rain's throat, discarding the animal on the floor and returning to his seat. He takes in a deep breath, wipes his hands on his linen, and commences to eat his mutton.
I crawl toward my slain dog. Steaming blood oozes from his silvery throat. I do not know what to do. I start trying to push it back inside him. I press my hand to his throat.
I regard the baron, whose back is to me, hoping to project as much hatred into my eyes as is possible, but it does not matter. He does not see me. He is eating his supper, complaining of King Edward IV, who has wronged him so.
I am glad, I think to myself, that he was denied his grand title. Indeed, I hope every misery possible is heaped upon the man until he draws his dying breath.
My grandmother's voice is stern.
I turn toward her, blinking back tears. Rain's blood is slick against my hand.
"Take that thing out of here and bury it," she orders.
As I gather my pet in my arms, I hear her tell the baron, "Really, my lord, you should have commenced with that unpleasantness elsewhere. It has positively ruined my appetite."
I take Rain outside, laying him in the snow; I have no idea where to bury him. I will not think of it now. I cannot. Icy tears slide down my cheeks as I remove my shirt and wind it about his throat, then, shivering, rest my head on his side, raising my eyes to the heavens, seeking out the clouds.
One of them looks like a dagger.
Three years later my grandfather announces the death of little Anne Mowbray, King Edward IV's eight-year-old daughter-in-law and heiress to the dukedom of Norfolk.
"I have lost all to a child-prince. Richard has won the day," he laments.
We are in the "war room," a large chamber devoted to maps and a store for the family's finest suits of armor. The baron is standing over the large mahogany table, tracing the unattainable Mowbray lands with his index finger.
My father shrugs. He is not as afraid of the baron as the rest of the family is. They are a bit alike, though my father, Sir Thomas, is more subtle in his approach, favoring locking someone away in a chamber without food for a few days as opposed to wasting his energy on the administration of beatings.
I am certain to keep my face void of expression during their exchange. After the countless lashings I have endured, I know anything-- a blink, a dreamy smile, a twitch--can set Grandfather off. I stay still. Calm. I have practiced in the glass, this look of impassivity. Many an hour has been devoted to learning the art of self- control. I will not speak against him; I will not cry out.
Perhaps this frustrates him the most. The others cry when he beats them and indeed they should not, as they are not beaten half as much as I. I do not cry. It is what he waits for, I think; he longs for my tears, for me to beg him to stop.
But I will never beg him for a thing, not ever.
And so in this vein we shall continue, until one of us outlives the other.
Sir Thomas turns to me with a slight smile. "But we shall remain the king's loyal servants, shall we not?" he asks in light tones. "Edward is a mortal man, God bless him. His reign cannot last forever." How easily he speaks treason! "Meanwhile, we shall serve him and elevate ourselves the old-fashioned way."
I wonder what the old-fashioned way is but do not dare ask. I am wondering why Sir Thomas has summoned me to this little conference to begin with.
"Here, my boy," says Sir Thomas, extending his arm to me. "A gift for you." With a dramatic gesture, he pulls a large bolt of velvet aside to reveal in the corner a suit of armor. "Happy Christmas, lad."
My very first suit of armor!
"I am big enough now?" I ask, smiling in spite of myself.
Sir Thomas nods.
"I wouldn't say that," pipes in the baron, "but we cannot wait forever. You are already a year behind the other boys; most everyone receives their armor at seven. He's a little mite, Thomas."
"Size is irrelevant," says Sir Thomas in firm tones. It is the first time I have ever heard him address the baron such. To me he says, "It is about intelligence, Little Tom." He taps my temple with his fingertip. "Battles are won up here before they are ever won on the field. Learn the art of strategy and you will make an incomparable knight. Now. Have a look."
I inch forward, ignoring the baron's insult regarding my diminutive stature as I reach out to touch my new armor.
How grand it is! I run a hand along the shining breastplate, imagining myself a strong, tall man of twenty or so, lance poised at my hip as I forge ahead on my charger--a black charger--ready to oust my opponent. It will be easy. I will be the greatest warrior in the land; everyone will admire me. Even girls; they will throw their tokens at me and I will flash them my winning smile. I will not mind their attentions because supposedly men that age actually like the gentle sex.
"What do you think of it, lad?" asks my father. He is smiling down at me. I raise my eyes to him, another great warrior, and smile.
"It is the most wonderful thing I've ever seen," I breathe in awe.
"Be worthy of it," says the baron, his gravelly voice hard.
I turn to face him, meeting his gaze, hoping my hatred reflects in my uncompromising black eyes. "Let there be no doubt that I shall."
I have usurped the hayloft as my own personal hideaway. It is far more peaceful than the manor, and up here I have created my own little world. No one knows about it, not even Neddy or Edmund. It is my place. I carve and paint toy soldiers and set up elaborate battlefields where the general--I, of course--always wins the day. Sometimes I draw pictures, maps mostly, planning out my battles. My toy soldiers take to slaying dragons, conquering kingdoms, and even rescuing dumb girls.
It is a wonderful place, a place no one can take away from me.
Or so I thought until the day the baron took the dairy maid in a bed of straw and manure. I peek over the ledge when I hear the familiar voice. I want to look away but cannot. He is telling her to hush, covering her mouth as he proceeds to do something I didn't know was possible. Yet I had seen animals do it, so I suppose people must, too. I just didn't know it happened like this.
The girl is in a frenzy, wriggling against the baron, tears streaming down her cheeks. "Please, my good lord, stop!" she cries. "Please, let me go!"
In response the baron slaps her.
It is then that the girl's wide blue eyes find me.
I cannot move. I cannot shrink back. I would make noise and he would know and do . . . I cannot think of what he would do.
The girl holds my gaze as the baron commences with his strange act. Her eyes are alight with horror and sadness and defeated submission. I long to reach out to her. I find myself wishing in vain that my toy soldiers would come to life and rescue her, slaying the baron in the process.
But such wishes are for children and I cannot think myself a child after today.
When the baron finishes, he pushes her aside. "Go now. Off with you."
The girl gathers her torn skirts about her and struggles to her feet, rushing out without a backward glance.
The baron collects himself. He stares straight ahead of him.
"We Howards take what we want," he says without looking toward my hiding spot. "To get anywhere in life, you have to take what you want."
He quits the stables.
I lie in the straw and vomit.
He knew . . . he knew I was there, watching.
And he did it anyway.
I never go to the hayloft again. The soldiers I give to my little brothers, encouraging them to play with them as I cannot. I cannot play again. Instead I will learn how to become a real knight, a chivalrous knight. No lady will have need to fear me.
When not forced into study, something that while it comes easily to me is not my passion, I devote myself to learning the sword, riding, archery, anything physical. Anything that will enable me to become the greatest soldier in the land. Anything that will inspire the bards to sing my praises. I shall be the unforgettable Thomas Howard. The hero Thomas Howard.
I, and not the baron, shall make the Howard name great.
I still do not grow very much, to my eternal dismay, as my brothers have already surpassed me and they are much younger. But I will not be daunted. We shall see who will prove their mettle when on the battlefield.
Sir Thomas and the baron are too busy to notice my development; they are occupied with missions of their own and are not much seen at Ashwelthorpe. It is just as well. With them gone I can sing and laugh and play with my brothers with no one to tell me otherwise.
We pass a happy spring and in May, Mother is delivered of a baby girl. When I am permitted to see her I bound into her chambers, eager to meet my new sister.
Mother lies abed, her brown hair cascading about her shoulders like a maiden, and as the sunlight filters through the window, it catches threads of auburn and gold. I have a strange urge to reach out and touch it but refrain as I approach the cradle. The baby is a tiny black-haired cherub. She sleeps with her little fists curled by her face.
"Oh, my lady," I breathe. "She's beautiful."
Mother stares at me a moment, her expression vacant, before averting her head.
"What do you call her?" I ask.
"It has yet to be decided."
I think this is quite odd. "But she is three days old. What are you waiting for?" I ask.
"Oh, Tom." She rolls onto her side, her back to me. "You know so little about this life. . . ." She draws in a shuddering breath. "This cursed life."
I am moved to pity for this thin, defeated woman whose beautiful baby lies so near her. She seems so unhappy in her role. I furrow my brow in confusion as my eyes shift from mother to daughter. I thought this was what all women yearned for, that it was something as natural for them as longing for a sword is for men.
I approach the bed, daring to touch her shoulder. "Mum," I say in soft tones, "shouldn't you name her? She shall be christened soon and it wouldn't do for her not to have a name."
Mother throws an arm over her eyes. "Yes, yes, I shall name her. Do not worry. It's just . . ." She sits up, hugging her knees. Tears light her brown eyes. "It's just, Little Tom, to name a child is to give it meaning. To attach yourself to it. And He waits for you to become attached."
"God." Mother casts wild eyes about the room, as though God might leap out of the wardrobe any moment and smite her. I am caught up in her panic and find myself doing the same thing. Years later I would have laughed at my young self and assured him that of all the things holy and unholy to lie in wait for him, God would never be one of them.
Mother returns her gaze to me. "You see, He takes them then, Tom. The moment you open your heart, He takes them. Three of them are gone now; you are too young to remember. But I remember. They are in the cemetery. Their headstones have names."
I am unsettled by her. She does not appear altogether well and I wonder if it would be prudent to fetch the midwife. I turn to the cradle once more. "This one seems strong and splendid to me, my lady," I tell her. "I expect she shall be with us a good long while."
At this the baby awakes and begins to fuss. I scoop her up in my arms, holding her to my chest. She is so warm and soft I do not want to let her go. I smile down at her crimson face as she howls her displeasure.
"Listen to that set of lungs!" I cry. "She shall be a force to be reckoned with, my lady, you shall see."
Mother has covered her ears. "Fetch the wet nurse, Tom. See that she is fed."
I take the baby to the buxom maid, who I must say seems quite perfect for her profession, and she is happy to relieve me of my little burden.
"Has the missus decided on a name yet, milord?" she asks me in her grating country accent.
I shake my head, heart sinking.
The nurse sits in one of the chairs, baring her breast without a thought. "I suppose it's in God's hands."
God. I shiver. Wasn't I just looking for Him a moment ago?
The baby is eventually named by Sir Thomas, who settles on Alyss. I admit to feeling a special tenderness for her. As she grows, cooing and laughing and forming short sentences, I teach her to say my name. "Say Tom," I tell her over and over.
"Tom," she repeats, her round blue eyes filled with the unbridled adoration only a baby or a dog is capable of projecting. "My Tom," she says again.
"Yes," I say, picking her up and twirling her about. "I shall always be your Tom. I shall be your brave knight and protect you from all harm."
But I cannot protect her from God. He takes her from me in 1483 when she is but two. A fever, a terrible scorching fire of the humors, consumes the soul of my little Alyss and she perishes.
Everyone moves on. Mother is with child once more. The baron curses my tears--babies are lost all the time, he tells me, and are replaced easily enough. Sir Thomas does not address the issue at all. So I have found a dual purpose for my helmet. Not only does it serve to protect me from blows to the head in practice, but I can also put it on and cry to my heart's content. When wearing my helmet, no one sees my tears. No one knows I cry.
The night my little lady is interred, I keep vigil by her headstone, her headstone that bears her name.
I wear my armor. I wear my helmet.