Reading Group Guide
THE PRINCE OF THE ROSES
For as long as he could remember, Arthur had been surrounded by roses—red roses, white roses, and red and white ones topped by crowns. They were everywhere in his nursery—on the walls, on the ceiling, on the fireplaces and beds—and they appeared in books and the paintings that hung on the palace walls.
Father said that the roses were very important and Arthur should always remember what they stood for. He was the rose both red and white, the living emblem of the peaceful union of the royal houses of Lancaster and York. It was some time before Arthur understood that this meant the marriage of his parents, and that Father was of the House of Lancaster—the red rose, he must get that right—and Mother was of the House of York, the white rose. Some years ago the two royal houses had fought a long and nasty war, which must never be allowed to happen again, and the people of England had been overjoyed when a prince had been born to the King and Queen, a prince in whom the two royal bloodlines were made one.
This all took a lot of comprehending, but it was clear to Arthur that he was a very special little boy indeed. Even his name proved that. His mother had told him the tales of Father’s ancestor, a great hero-king called Arthur, who had once ruled this land and won great victories. Arthur had been named for that hero-king.
Father told him stories too—when he had time, for he was very busy—but his were of another time in the old King Arthur’s life, when he lived in a far-off land called Brittany in the forest of Broceliande. Father had lived in Brittany too, before he became king, and he had not liked it very much, from the sound of it. There had been a wicked king called the Usurper on the throne then, who tried to catch Father and kill him. But Father raised a great army and fought a mighty battle at a place called Bosworth. There, he had slain the Usurper and become king himself, so everything was all right in the end. Arthur had heard the story many times; he never tired of hearing it.
Father spoke often of his boyhood in Wales and spun tales of griffins, ancient battles, and a prince called Cadwaladr, whose dragon badge Father now had on his standard and the royal arms.
“On his death bed, Cadwaladr foretold that a Welsh king would restore the ancient royal line of Britain and that his descendants would rule the whole island,” the King said, his eyes afire. “I am that Welsh king, Arthur. I am the true successor of these ancient rulers; those who have ruled since were usurpers.” Arthur thought he understood this and nodded sagely. Father was sharp-witted—he would have noticed any lack of comprehension and disapproved. He was always watching Arthur and frowning, making him feel as if he had done something wrong or was lacking in some way.
Arthur found the Welsh stories fascinating, for he was the Prince of Wales himself. He could remember being taken on the King’s state barge to Westminster and the sound of the trumpets as he was carried ashore to be brought to Father’s presence. His most vivid memory was of being hoisted onto a horse and led into Westminster Hall, where the King dubbed him the Prince of Wales. Afterward, he sat alone in the King’s huge chair of estate, his feet hardly reaching the edge of the seat, and presided over a feast. He had been about three at the time.
“You will be a king one day,” Father often said. “You will be the second Arthur. Remember that, as Englishmen rejoice over that name, other nations and foreign princes quake, for it is terrible to all nations.” That was why Arthur had to be the best at everything he did and surpass everyone else. As Father’s son and heir, he must have no weaknesses: he must be strong and brave and clever. Father did not seem to realize this was impossible for him; Father rarely made allowances for that. Arthur’s reign must be long and glorious and, afterward, Arthur’s own son would ensure the Welsh king’s rightful blood continued to rule. He already knew who the mother of his son would be: for as long as he could remember, he had been betrothed to the Spanish Infanta. Her name was Catalina, and she was a year older than he and supposed to be very pretty. Father had repeatedly told him that this marriage was very important: Catalina’s parents, the King and Queen of Spain, were great monarchs, and their friendship was of great benefit to England. Most important of all, the Infanta would bring with her a dowry of two hundred thousand crowns. Father’s eyes gleamed when he said this. Arthur did his best to look suitably impressed, but getting married meant nothing to him. He just hoped that, when she came to England, Catalina would share his interest in King Arthur and St. George and toy soldiers.
As Arthur grew older, he remained inspired by the legends of King Arthur and fired by the story of St. George, England’s patron saint. His child’s mind was filled with heroes and dragons, wicked queens and princesses in distress, the mystery of the Holy Grail and swords held fast in stones or rising from lakes.
He was proud that his birthplace was King Arthur’s city of Winchester—although, of course, King Arthur had known it as Camelot. The huge round table at which he and his knights had sat long ago still hung in the great hall of the castle. One day, when he was king, Arthur promised himself he would have it taken down and used again as it was meant to be used.
“The King, your father, wanted you to be born at Winchester,” Mother had told him, her gentle face softening at the memory. “He knew it would be an auspicious place for the coming of a prince. It was just as well that I took to my chamber there in good time, for you arrived a month early.” There was a slight clouding of her face when she said that, soon banished by a bright smile. “You were a fair babe! Everyone said so.”
Young as he was, Arthur suspected that Mother was not telling him everything. As always, she seemed detached; he could never get as close to her as he wanted to. She was beautiful in a plump, golden way, religious, gracious and kind, and she was indulgent to him, but he knew that she did not love him as she loved Harry. And who could blame her? Harry was everything that Arthur was not: energetic, boisterous and confident. Even though his brother was not yet two, Arthur could already see Harry would excel effortlessly at everything.
Arthur hated Harry, who seemed to know how to command attention instinctively, especially when their parents were talking to Arthur. He was greenly jealous of the time his younger brother spent with their mother. She had kept him with her from birth and even taught him his first lessons, whereas Arthur had been sent away to the gloomy old castle at Farnham with Lady Darcy for the first two years of his life. He had been taught by tutors.
“Why was I sent to Farnham?” he asked Mother, more than once.
“Because you were not strong when you were born, and Bishop Courtenay offered to take charge of you there, where the air was healthy and there was less risk of you catching some disease.”
Arthur could barely remember being at Farnham, but he was sure that he had missed Mother. He could not recall his sister Margaret’s birth, but seeing Mother with baby Harry, when he himself was five, made him realize what he had missed. And then there was Elizabeth . . . They had all known what it was to be loved and nurtured by Mother, Queen though she was and burdened with many duties.
He, however, saw Father more often than he saw Mother. He understood that the King wished to be seen with his heir and to spend time teaching him how to rule. For all Father’s critical eye, Arthur knew that he was proud of him.
“In sending you to us, my son, God showed that He was pleased with my victory at Bosworth Field and with my marriage. You are the first prince of my line, the Tudor line.” And again Father had launched into a recitation of his Welsh ancestors, who had been princes of Wales in the distant past and the descendants of the mighty Cadwaladr. Arthur understood that his birth heralded a new Arthurian age of greatness, which would flower when he came to reign. Father’s expectations were a heavy burden to bear, but there was one great compensation: being the heir was one thing that he had over Harry. Harry could never become king. That spoiled, bullish little boy would have to learn his place, and Arthur was going to make sure that he did.
He liked his sister Margaret, though. She was three years younger than Arthur, a merry child with rosy round cheeks and hair the color of copper. He wished he could see her more often, for he loved her sunny nature and even her imperious manner. In her, it did not matter—unlike with Harry—because she was only a girl, and Arthur could order her about with impunity. Sometimes she stood up to him, or would run off complaining to her lady governess, but usually her sense of humor got the better of her, and the pair of them would end up laughing. It made Arthur realize that he did not laugh enough. He had to be serious with Father, of course; Mother was often absent both in body and in spirit, and Harry was horrible and nothing to be funny about. So he thanked God for Margaret and her comical ways. But Margaret had her own nursery household, and soon after Harry was born she was sent to join him at Eltham Palace. So Harry ended up enjoying Margaret’s company, and Arthur was left alone in isolated splendor in his own household. It was another score to hold against Harry.
The person he loved best—although he hated to admit it even to himself, because he knew he should love God best and then his parents and then his siblings—was Lady Darcy, who ran his household. She had been with him from birth, and he had overheard her mention that, years before, she’d had charge of another prince and given such satisfaction that the Queen had appointed her to look after her son.
Arthur felt safe in his nursery, where the ubiquitous roses rambled everywhere; he loved to loll on the crimson damask cushions, reading, or play with his model soldiers on the rich Turkey carpets. And there, a constant presence, presiding capably over all, was Lady Darcy. Always, she was deferential to him, yet she would also let him cuddle up to her motherly bosom when he needed it, and she had an endless fund of the stories he loved. Yet there was one she would never tell.
“I want to hear about the prince you looked after before me!” he often demanded, but always she would shake her head.
“Ask the King your father,” she said, and changed the subject.
One day, when he had won praise for his lessons and was feeling bold, Arthur did ask the King.
“Sir, who was the prince Lady Darcy looked after before me?”
Father looked puzzled for a moment, then his angular face hardened.
“It was your uncle, the late King Edward.”
“But he was my grandfather.”
“No, Arthur, that was King Edward the Fourth, Mother’s father. Lady Darcy had charge of his son, King Edward the Fifth.”
Arthur had not heard of Edward V. He waited to see what Father would say.
“He was Mother’s brother.”
“But what happened to him?”
Father frowned. “He died, poor boy, in the Tower. The Usurper had him and his brother murdered.”
Arthur was shocked. He had been taught that the King was the Lord’s Anointed, set apart from mere mortals, appointed by divine right to rule. Truly, the Usurper had been wicked to murder a king!
“How did they die?” he asked, curiosity triumphing over caution.
Father’s mouth set in the tight line that Arthur knew all too well.
“There are various stories,” he said. “Only a fool would believe most of them. Now, enough of this! Isn’t it time for your archery practice? And I have my accounts to check.” Father was always checking his accounts. People laughed about it behind his back. Arthur had laughed himself when he heard that Father’s pet monkey ripped up an account book and ate it.
As he took himself off to the butts, he remembered hearing talk of princes in the Tower. It occurred to him then that Father had been evasive because he didn’t know what happened to them. Maybe they weren’t dead after all but had escaped. Arthur liked to think so.
He was six when his life changed utterly. “It is time that you learned how to govern your principality of Wales, my son,” Father told him. “It will teach you how to be a king.”
Arthur was to be sent to live at Ludlow Castle on the Welsh Marches. The prospect of ruling Wales and being almost a king was enthralling. And it would mean he did not have Father watching his every move. But then he learned that Lady Darcy was not to go with him, and suddenly he did not want to go to Ludlow at all. He even plucked up the courage to remonstrate with Father.
“But Arthur, you are too old now to be brought up by women,” Father said. “Besides, Lady Darcy is going to Eltham to look after Harry.”
Not to be borne! But, of course, it had to be. Arthur had already learned that once his mind was made up, Father was immovable. He could not appeal to Mother after that, though he felt sure she wouldn’t have sent Harry so far away.
Lady Darcy was more understanding. As they watched his household being packed up and his childhood things taken away, she hugged him and told him that he was a big boy now and Harry needed her more than he did.
“Be a prince!” she told him as they bade farewell. He was trying desperately not to cry, and he sensed that she was too.
And so he came to Ludlow, the massive, forbidding castle so far to the west of London that, for all he knew, it might have been on the moon. For weeks he thought he would die of homesickness—for Lady Darcy, for Mother, for all the beloved, familiar places, and even for -Father.
But Father, as usual, had thought of everything. He had appointed Sir Richard Pole to be Arthur’s chamberlain and head his household. Sir Richard turned out to be a merry fellow with a kind face. Arthur liked him at once. Gradually it began to dawn on him that it was a very grown-up thing to be in the company of men rather than being ruled by women in the nursery. And at Ludlow, as Father had explained, he had a very grown-up role, for he was to preside over the Council of the Marches, ruling Wales and the border with England in the King’s name.
He soon discovered the council was actually very boring. He had thought he would be giving orders himself. But no, he was quickly informed that he was far too young to do that. He was to be a figurehead until he was of an age to rule, at sixteen. It seemed an interminable time away. For now, he would just sit on the council in his great chair at the head of the board while Great-Uncle Jasper, who was Earl of Pembroke, and Bishop Alcock of Worcester governed for him. He tried to take an interest in their endless discussions but often found himself fighting off sleep.
However, he liked Great-Uncle Jasper very much. He had helped Father to become King, and Arthur loved to hear his colorful stories of battles, escapes, and secret plots: many a time they sat late after dinner as Jasper whiled away the evening with his riveting tales.
Most of Arthur’s time was spent with Master Rede, his tutor and chaplain. Master Rede had been headmaster of a famous school called Winchester College and made learning seem effortless. This was a great comfort to Arthur, who had heard of boys being beaten regularly for not knowing their lessons. For him, learning was the one place he could excel. He had never been strong. He did not know why he was not like other boys, only that he had to work hard to do things they found easy, such as wrestling or swordsmanship or running. It bothered him immensely; the living embodiment of the union of Lancaster and York must be perfect in every way. He had always felt that he was not meeting Father’s expectations, even though Father prized him as his heir.
Gradually his homesickness was overtaken by his busy life at Ludlow. Lessons, council meetings, the sports and martial exercises that so drained him, and playing host to visiting worthies filled his time. Lady Darcy’s place was filled by two ladies who took it upon themselves to mother Arthur: his cousin Margaret, the wife of Sir Richard Pole; and his Great-Aunt Katherine, Jasper’s wife. Both were kind to him, and he could talk to them in a way he would never have talked to the men around him. These kinswomen understood his uncertainties, his frailty, and the isolation imposed by his rank, and they tried to help.
He was not an exile. Whenever his presence was required, he made the long journey to court and back, and every time he marveled at how life there was going on without him. Margaret and Harry were growing up, and Harry was smugly basking in their mother’s attention. Mother was always delighted to see Arthur and interested to hear all about his life at Ludlow, but it was Father who commandeered his time, constantly wanting him at his side when receiving ambassadors and dignitaries, or at ceremonies at court or in the City of London. It was as if he was the King’s son and Harry was the Queen’s. He always went back to Ludlow with mixed feelings.
The years passed. Arthur was nearly eleven now, old enough at last to be betrothed formally to the Spanish Infanta, Catalina, though he had given little thought to his marriage in the past few years. He was summoned to Woodstock Palace near Oxford for the ceremony, for which Father and Mother were coming up from London.
Father was fussing over every detail. Everything had been arranged to impress the Spanish envoys and the noble guests.
“You’ve grown since I last saw you, my son,” he said. “You’re taller than your age would warrant. That gown looks too short now.”
Arthur looked down at the white satin suit that had been made for him in the spring. He stuck out a leg. It was true, the gown was hanging well above his skinny ankles. Father was already calling for the tailor. Then he complained that the table set for the betrothal feast was not looking suitably festive, and servants were sent scurrying into the nearby woods to gather some greenery.
At last, when all was ready, Arthur stood in the great chamber before the Archbishop of Canterbury with the Spanish ambassador, Dr. de Puebla, a misshapen little man with swarthy features and a large nose, who was acting as proxy. He felt rather silly when he took the doctor’s hand in his and solemnly betrothed himself to the Infanta, but the King and Queen looked on, beaming. Afterward, Dr. de Puebla congratulated him.
“The Infanta is a lucky young lady! I have never seen a prince of such remarkable beauty and grace,” he enthused. Arthur was old enough to recognize flattery when he heard it, but it was pleasing to be praised so warmly.
“I have heard that the Infanta is very beautiful,” he said courteously. “I have been working hard on my Latin so that we can converse easily when she comes to England.”
“I have heard that Your Highness is very accomplished in the Latin tongue,” the little man said.
“We hope that the Infanta will come to England before long,” Father said, almost rubbing his hands in satisfaction at having secured such a prize for his son. “We are planning even more splendid celebrations to welcome her!”
It was still a matter of indifference to Arthur whether she came sooner rather than later. In truth, he hoped it was the latter, for Dr. Rede had told him, using mostly Latin terms, what marriage entailed (which had left both of them pink with embarrassment), and Arthur knew for a certainty that he—and especially the physical part of him in question—was not yet ready for it.
He was four months shy of thirteen when he was married, again by proxy, in a ceremony in the chapel at Tickenhill. The manor house was now a splendid palace surrounded by a vast hunting park, and it was here that Arthur was at his happiest. Duty regularly obliged him to be at Ludlow, or sometimes at court, but he was older now, and when he expressed a wish in a certain tone of voice, people hastened to obey. And so he was often at Tickenhill.
Being a married man made little difference to his life. Dr. Rede had retired earlier that year and was replaced by the blind friar, Father Andre, but Arthur’s lessons continued as before. He loved to immerse himself in books. He devoured the ancient classics, history, and philosophy. He saw how his friends loved to joust and run at the ring and wrestle, but he had not grown any stronger as he grew older. He still could not sustain the energy for such pursuits. He suspected that the young men thought it unusual for a prince to be studious, reserved and thoughtful. But he needed to excel at something.
Father Andre, at least, was very impressed. “Your Highness seems to have committed to memory all the best Latin and Greek authors!” he marveled.
That summer they were joined in the schoolroom by Dr. Thomas Linacre, who had been Father’s physician and was a great scholar. It was stimulating to hear him speak of his time in Italy and of great modern thinkers such as Erasmus of Rotterdam. Arthur was thrilled when Dr. Linacre presented him with his own translation of a Greek text and found that it was dedicated to himself.
He was unable to forget his marriage completely, however. His tutors ensured that he wrote to the Infanta regularly, in Latin, and said all the right things.
“There are certain sentiments that a gentleman should express to his wife,” Father Andre said—he who would never know what it was to have a wife. “It is your duty to love each other. Begin, ‘Most illustrious and most excellent lady, my dearest spouse, I wish you much health, with my hearty commendations . . . ’ ”
He continued to dictate as Arthur wrote in his cursive Italian hand. I have read the most sweet letters of Your Highness, from which I have easily perceived your most entire love to me. Truly, these letters, traced by your own hand, have so delighted me that I fancied I beheld Your Highness and conversed with and embraced my dearest wife. I cannot tell you what an earnest desire I feel to see Your Highness . . .
He wished it all meant something to him, but the prospect of living with the Infanta, pretty though she was said to be, did not move him at all—especially the part of him that, according to the jests his gentlemen made, should be the most moved. In fact it was rarely moved at all. Surely by now something should be happening to him?
He had thought he might speak to Dr. Linacre, but when they were face-to-face he lost his courage and gabbled that he wanted to ask about a Latin text he had been translating.
Father Andre was still dictating. How vexatious to me is this procrastination about your coming, Arthur dutifully wrote. In fact he was heartily relieved that there had been endless delays in thrashing out the final arrangements for the Infanta’s departure for England. Father Andre made him write of his ardent love for her, as he sat there wondering what that really meant. Let your coming to me be hastened, that the love conceived between us and the wished-for joys may reap their proper fruit. How that would be achieved, he had no idea, he thought despairingly.
Father Andre read the letter and nodded approvingly.
“Very proper, very proper,” he observed, handing it back to Arthur to be sealed.
Whenever Arthur went to court these days, the talk was of his wedding. He did his best to look happy about it, but sometimes he felt that events were spinning out of his control. He also felt like an outsider in his family. He was there in Ludlow, most of the time—and they were all here together, or near each other, in the palaces on the Thames. And there was Harry, ruling the roost in the nursery at Richmond—Harry was eight now, and he had not been uprooted and sent away—with Margaret and the baby Mary, who was three. There was Mother, doting on them all. And he was here, isolated because he would be king one day. Even so, he knew that Harry would have given much to change places with him.
Arthur was summoned to court to be with the King when he gave audience to the Spanish ambassador. They were discussing the wedding, yet again, but Father seemed even more bullish and satisfied than usual.
“Your Excellency will no doubt be gratified to report to the Sovereigns that it has pleased God that not a doubtful drop of royal blood remains in this kingdom, except the true blood of myself and the Queen and, above all, that of Prince Arthur,” he said.
“Their Majesties will be reassured to hear that,” Dr. de Puebla said, in his usual unctuous manner. “Now we will proceed to the arrangements for the marriage.” He beamed at Arthur. It rather sounded to Arthur as if a barrier to the marriage had been removed. He glanced sharply at Father, but Father had gone on to speak of the celebrations he had ordered for the Infanta’s reception, and looked as if nothing in the world was amiss. Arthur thought no more of it.
It was the year 1500. A new century was about to begin. People spoke of a golden age to come under King Arthur and Queen Catalina. Arthur knew Father was not liked; the taxes he imposed were too burdensome. But he had brought peace to a kingdom torn by civil war, his treasury was full, and he had triumphed in securing the Spanish alliance. In January, Arthur was told that the Infanta would be coming in September, when he had his fourteenth birthday. He prayed that he would be ready for marriage by then.
But that spring he began to feel unwell, as if he was going down with a fever. He found himself sweating, even though the weather was not warm, and then he began coughing. Dr. Linacre diagnosed an ague, characterized by fever and chills. There was nothing to worry about, he said.
By the summer, Arthur had lost weight. He had always been lean and lanky, which his growth spurt had exacerbated, but there was no denying that he was shrinking inside his clothes—and that he still felt ill. When he visited court, he made little of his ailment. It was just an ague, he said dismissively. But Mother kept looking at him anxiously, and Father unexpectedly pressed a hand to his forehead and said, “My boy, you are burning up.”
“It’s nothing,” Arthur said. “Dr. Linacre told me not to worry.” But Father and Mother still looked concerned.
Father took him aside. “Arthur,” he said, “the Infanta will be here in a few weeks, and soon it will be time for you to do your duty as a husband. You know what I’m talking about?”
Arthur nodded, blushing furiously, to his mortification. “Yes, sir.”
“We do not want you overexerting yourself, especially in view of this continuing ague. I think it best if you consummate your marriage but live apart from the Infanta after that—for a couple of years at least.”
Arthur could think of nothing he’d like better—apart from the bit about consummating the marriage.
“Yes, sir,” he said again.
Father gave him a curious look. “I was expecting a protest.”
“Not at all, sir,” Arthur replied.
“We must not overtax your strength,” Father said. “It is dangerous for young people to overexert themselves in the marriage bed. The Infanta’s brother, the heir to Spain, did that, and died.”
Arthur had heard that. He was sure that the Infanta, of all people, would understand.
As the weeks passed, his cough worsened. He was still losing weight. But he would not give in to this wretched ague. He decided that he would never complain. He could not risk anyone suggesting that he was not fit to be his father’s heir, for he could not bear the thought of being passed over for Harry.
Fortunately, no such idea seemed to have occurred to Father. He was too busy telling everyone that no expense was to be spared for the wedding of his heir, though the Infanta’s departure from Spain was once again delayed for one reason or another. Arthur began to think that she would never come. But in March in the year of Grace 1501, the year after he turned fourteen, word came that she was at last on her way.
Overjoyed, the King lavished fourteen thousand pounds on jewels for the happy couple. But there were storms at sea, and the Infanta’s fleet was forced to return to Spain. It was not until October that Arthur heard she had finally set foot in England, at Plymouth.
He was then at Ludlow. His symptoms were worse rather than better. Lately he had suffered pains in his chest and, when he coughed, there were sometimes spots of blood on his kerchief. But he kept on pretending that all was well and he washed out the blood in secret.
He wondered wretchedly if he was dying. He had heard of people coughing blood and dying soon afterward. In truth, he was feeling so awful these days that he hardly cared—well, not for himself. It was his parents who would grieve for him. It would be ironic if he expired just as he was about to be married, after thirteen years of negotiations. He looked in his mirror and saw a poor, thin travesty of the prince he had been not so long ago. A fine bridegroom for the Infanta!
He prayed that his changed appearance had not struck too many others. It was vital to carry on as normal. He could not let Father or Mother or anyone else down.
Even at Ludlow he received reports of the Infanta’s rapturous welcome by the people of Plymouth, and of the jousts and feasts the King had hosted in the Tower of London to mark her coming. Then came the summons to court and the inexorable journey through the golden autumn countryside toward his marriage.
They were deep in Hampshire when a royal messenger halted Arthur’s procession and announced that the King wished his dearest son to meet with him at Easthampstead, near Woking, whence they would ride together to greet the Infanta.
As his party neared Easthampstead, Arthur was filled with an encroaching sense of dread. He was not ready for this. He would as soon meet his bride as wed Harry. But Father, when he joined him, was as excited as if he were going to his own wedding.
“We must see the princess!” he kept saying. “By all reports she will lay this night at Dogmersfield.”
“I thought we were to receive her in London, sir,” Arthur said.
“That was the plan,” Father replied, “but I want to see my son’s bride and be reassured that she is as fit a mate for you as I was led to believe.”
Arthur leaned forward in his saddle. “Does Your Grace have reason to believe she is not?”
“Not at all,” Father said. “But if I have learned one valuable lesson in life, it is to trust no one. Caveat emptor!”
Dogmersfield was in darkness when they approached. The cold night air made Arthur cough, and as he strove in vain to suppress it, Father looked at him anxiously.
“I just caught my breath,” he said weakly. “’Tis nothing, sir.”
Father nodded. He dismounted, and Arthur followed suit, then followed the King into the Bishop’s Palace. There, they were greeted by Dr. de Puebla and two outlandishly dressed Spaniards: the Infanta’s chamberlain, who was expansively welcoming, and a fearsome dame with olive skin and a sharp nose, who introduced herself as the Infanta’s duenna, Doña Elvira. By her manner, one might have thought that he and Father were ruffians come to ravish her charge.
“I wish to see the princess!” Father said, pleasantly enough, as Arthur took a deep breath and braced himself, but the duenna bristled and gabbled something in rapid Spanish with tones of outrage.
Dr. de Puebla turned to Father. “I regret, sire, that the protocol of my country demands that the Infanta must remain veiled until she is married. She may receive no man.”
Father’s gaunt face darkened with suspicion, and Arthur began to wonder if his bride really was deformed or ugly.
“Tell this woman,” Father commanded, in a tone that would brook no argument, “that the King will see the princess even if she is in her bed.”
There was more incomprehensible gabbling, then Doña Elvira flounced resentfully off up the stairs.
“Well?” Father snapped.
“The Infanta is being made ready to receive Your Graces,” Dr. de Puebla told him.
Presently, a pretty young Spanish girl came hastening down the stairs, curtsied, and bade the King and the prince follow her. At the entrance to the Infanta’s apartments, a herald announced them, and there, standing before them, her head bowed, was a diminutive girl in crimson velvet with an embroidered veil of white lawn covering her person down to the waist. Tendrils of red-gold hair curled to her hips, glinting in the candlelight. As the King approached, she knelt gracefully before him. Arthur’s heart was in his mouth. This was the moment he had been dreading.
“Welcome to England, Your Highness,” Father said, then raised the Infanta to her feet. With both hands, he lifted the veil.
1. Did this novel afford you a new perspective on Katherine of Aragon? In what respects did it change your view of her?
2. Were you convinced by the author’s account of Katherine’s first marriage? Was Henry VIII later justified in basing his nullity suit on the consummation of the marriage between Katherine and Arthur?
3. What do you make of the relationship between Katherine and Fray Diego? Was the friar as unscrupulous as some made out?
4. The author believes that Henry VIII’s love for Katherine was probably no grand passion; rather, it epitomized all his ideals about women and chivalry and courtly love. Do you agree?
5. Katherine experienced many sadnesses and tragedies. If her sons had lived, how different would her life have been? And how would the course of English history have differed?
6. Why did Katherine lose so many children at birth or in infancy? Are there any hints in the book that suggest an explanation?
7. One modern and increasingly popular view is that Katherine could have made things much easier for herself and her daughter Mary if she had taken a pragmatic approach to Henry’s demand for an annulment. Why did Katherine stand so firmly on her principles? Were there broader issues at stake?
8. Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell were two very different characters, at opposite ends of the political and religious spectrum. Why was Katherine at odds with both? Was Wolsey really sympathetic to Katherine? Is it possible to feel pity for him?
9. Did Katherine delude herself during the years of the Great Matter? How could she have persisted in believing in Henry’s innate goodness when he was treating her so cruelly? What evidence is there that he retained any vestiges of affection for her?
10. Was Katherine right to make her stand? Do you believe she was Henry’s true wife and queen, as she insisted to her last breath?
11. In recent years there have been calls for Katherine to be canonized. Do you think she merits the accolade of sainthood?