Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Monday, August 23, 2010

A Tudor Courtier's Journey Part One

"Bonsoir,” Sir Gerard Ashby of Linconshire says to a crowd of courtiers as they pass, bowing and doffing his cap. He has only just arrived back at court after spending the last fortnight at his manor home, and overseeing that his lands are being properly maintained in his absence.

Gerard has taken it upon himself to greet people with French, as it is quite popular to emulate the French… Well, it is right now anyway, because the French and English have an alliance of sorts.

As a second son of a Viscount, and his mother being a lady in waiting to the Queen of England, Gerard and his siblings have grown up at court. But alas, there is no title to come to Gerard from his father’s name unless his brother passes… Gerard crosses himself for even thinking such a thing. If he shall become a lord, it will be for his good deeds for the king. Should his gracious majesty King Henry VIII deem him worthy, perhaps he might bestow a title and more lands upon him. He has already shown his loyalty and strength in battle, and was knighted some two years ago.

Gerard turns and sees you have come to observe him. He siddles up to you.

“Are you new to court? I don’t believe I have seen your face here before.”

Nod your head.

“Alas, I shall take you by the hand then.” Gerard reaches out his hand to you, offering to take you on a journey to the past.

Grip his hand if you want to take the journey!

“I am so pleased you’ve decided to join me. Come this way.” Gerard walks briskly down the corridor away from the great hall. You turn your head wistfully back to the court where musicians play, mountains of delicious food are being offered up, wine spills from casks into goblets, and the people are dancing and laughing. Could we not go back for just a moment? you ask… But Gerard says no, not yet…
Gerard takes you down the hall into a quiet and dark room. He opens a shutter on a window, and when you think you will get a view of the landscaped gardens below, something else comes into view. It is a young couple, they lay in bed, sheets pulled of to their necks. They look half scared to death. Couldn’t be more than sixteen years of age or so. Both are staring at the ceiling until one finally closes their eyes and then the other does as well. The candles are snuffed out, and then the sun appears to rise and shine on the two who slept soundly through the night without touching.
“This is where it all began,” whispers Gerard.

“Where what began?” you ask.

“Rumors… the untruths that will rock a nation, tear apart a marriage, cause deaths,” he answers.

You turn back confused and watch as the young man leaves the room. A maid enters to wake the young lady still in bed. She helps her up and looks at the clean white sheets, clucks her tongue.

“Your highness, the sheets are still white.”

The young woman looks with furrowed brows at the servant.

“Be you still a maid and not truly married? Still Infanta Catalina and not Princess Catherine?” the servant whispers.

The young lady sighs. “Si. Prince Arthur spoke not a word to me, accept to say I was beautiful, he was merry and goodnight. A kiss on the cheek.”

The window darkens for a moment and then opens again, but this time on Prince Arthur in his chamber as several men prance around, dressing him.

“How goes your night, your highness?” one of the men asks, as they all rub elbows and guffaw.

Prince Arthur pales a shade and looks like a rabbit about to be snared. You can almost see his embarrassment should he admit he couldn’t consummate his marriage. Then he smiles, and laughs, his head falling back. The sound is that of a man, unnatural coming from the thin prince. “Men, I shall require lots of ale this morning, for I have worked up a thirst from spending all night in Spain.”

The men laugh and again the lights dim.

“He lied?” you whisper.

“Aye,” Gerard says. “Each night to follow remained the same. He was a boy, a sickly and scared boy. Catherine was so beautiful, and intimidating. Several months later he fell ill and died.”

“What happened to the princess?”

“After living nearly destitute under the rule of King Henry VII, Arthur’s father, she was rescued.”

“Rescued by whom?”

Gerard turns to you with a wicked smile. “By the brother of course.”

Sounds like a truly romantic story… You want to hear more, but Gerard says you have to wait. He has business to attend to, he shall return to fetch you later.

“Go and enjoy yourself at court.”

You nod and meander down the hall towards the sounds of merriment. Someone thrusts a frothy mug of ale into your hands, and another yanks your hands toward the center of the room where others are dancing. Women are twirling about, clapping their hands in the air, their feet kicking out every so often in only a slight delicate raise of the leg. Men turn and twirl the ladies, lifting them in an arch. Looks like fun. For a moment you are pulled into the excitement and sheer enchantment of it all. Candelabras, chandeliers both dripping wax… Cloth of gold draped on walls and ceilings… Murals and tapestries of battle scenes, gardens, kings, queens, hunts…

But all that stops when a loud boom voice pulls you from your dance mid-twirl.

“You there!”

You stop and turn toward the voice. A great hulking man lounges in a throne chair. He is staring at you. It is the king himself…

To be continued…

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