The Secret Bride, p.1Diane Haeger
Praise for the historical novels of Diane Haeger
“Spectacular. . . . Haeger explores the fascinating, rich, exciting, and tragic life of Henry II’s beloved. . . . Lush in charac-terization and rich in historical detail, Courtesan will sweep readers up into its pages and carry them away.”
— Romantic Times
“In Haeger’s impressive Restoration romance, King Charles II and his mistress . . . leap off the page. . . . Charles and Nell are marvelously complex—jealous and petty, devoted yet fallible. Haeger perfectly balances the history with the trystery.”
— Publishers Weekly
“Set against the vivid descriptive detail of Rome and Traste-vere, Haeger’s tale of how the ring came to be obscured in the Raphael masterpiece resonates with the grandeur and intimacy of epic love stories. . . . This romance is first to be savored as the wonderful historical tale that it is.” — BookPage “Lush . . . [a] rich yet fast-paced story.”
— The Historical Novels Review “With her wealth of detail cleverly interwoven into a fabu-lous plot, Diane Haeger has written a triumphant tale that will provide much delight to fans of historical fiction and Regency romance.”
— Affaire de Coeur
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First published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Copyright © Diane Haeger, 2008
Readers Guide copyright © Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2008
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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
The secret bride : in the court of Henry VIII / Diane Haeger.
1. Mary, Queen, consort of Louis XII, King of France, 1496–1533—Fiction. 2. Great
Britain—History—Henry VIII, 1509–1547—Fiction. I. Title.
Set in Simoncini Garamond
Designed by Elke Sigal
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For Alex, my joy, with all my love
I am especially indebted to Steven J. Gunn, Professor of History at Merton College, Oxford, England, for so graciously sharing his extensive knowledge regarding the life of Charles Brandon; to the staff at Hampton Court Palace for the generosity of their time and detailed information regarding a Tudor palace; to Frederic J. Baumgartner, Professor of History at Virginia Tech, for his assistance with details at the Court of Louis XII; to Elizabeth Haeger, truly the strongest person I know, you really do guide me daily; to Marlene Fried, for graciously reading every word I write; to Kelly Costello for her enduring friendship beyond anything I could ask; to my amazing literary agent, Irene Goodman, and my editor, Claire Zion, who both had a vision for and belief in this book and supported it every step of the way; and finally to Fran Measley once again, who has brought so much joy and encouragement to me this past year, there are no words to say what that has meant. You are extraordinary.
The ever whirling wheel of change; the which all mortal things doth sway.
April 1502, Eltham Palace
A collection of columbines, sweet peas and lilies of the valley clutched tightly in her hand, Mary dodged through the rows of apple trees in the orchard, chasing butterflies out behind the palace. Jane skittered just behind as they crossed the flagstone path, edged with rich moss, that bordered the new tiltyard the king had constructed. The spring wind carried their dresses out behind them like billowing sails, all beneath a broad azure sky. The royal nursery at Eltham was tucked deeply into the lush countryside outside the city, near Greenwich, where Henry VII’s children, and their companions, were being brought up in an idyllic moated brick castle blanketed in emerald ivy, far from the complexities of court. The princess Mary and Jane Popincourt, sent from Paris to speak French with the children, dashed past the moat, where swans glided over the surface of the water, which that day was smooth as glass. Each bird wore a badge loosely about its long graceful neck emblazoned with the Beaufort insignia. It was the crest of Mary’s powerful grandmother, the determined woman who had helped her son win the war that made him Henry VII. It was then, in the front courtyard, that Mary and Jane both heard it—whispered words, uttered by a servant.`
“Poor, dear Arthur! Poor Katherine!” The sound of weeping followed.
Not understanding, Mary dashed up the steps and through the entrance toward the twisted staircase, with its carved, polished banister. Jane followed, their smiles falling by degrees. Upstairs, they walked through the oak-paneled gallery, hands suddenly linked. Jane was like a sister to Mary since her own elder sister, Margaret, was being prepared to be sent to Scotland as the bride of King James. It was a political match, made by ambassadors, that greatly pleased their father but left Margaret fearful and sad, the fun gone out of her in preparation for her royal duty. Poor Margaret, Mary always thought, made to marry a man of the advanced age of twenty-nine, one who had already been married and widowed. Yet her turn would come soon enough. She too was the daughter of Henry VII. But Mary refused to think of that yet—at least until she turned eleven.
Beyond the door, the entire house was in an uproar. Mary could hear the faraway sound of more weeping, but those servants who moved around her carefully avoided her gaze.
The few who did catch her eye bore unmistakable pity in their expressions. Jane and Mary exchanged a glance.
“What’s happened?” Mary whispered, fingers splaying across her mouth, her other hand tightening with Jane’s. As it always did when anything was wrong, Mary felt panic rise and a need to find her brother strongly follow. Henry would know what had happened and how to fix it. He would know what to do.
Mary broke into a run toward the cavernous great hall, with its intricate hammer-beamed roof, rows of oriel windows, minstrels gallery and grand stone fireplace. She knew Henry would be there wrestling just now. But by the time she found him, her brother was surrounded by servants, all silent. He was standing still as a stone in their midst, tall and slim, his chin-length red-gold hair plastered with sweat against his forehead and cheeks.
Beside him stood his friend Charles Brandon, who was older, taller, auburn-haired and somber-eyed. In spite of the fact that both of them were covered in perspiration from the contest, their linen-shirted chests still heaving from exertion, the color had completely drained from her brother’s face.
Mary paused near the door, surveying the scene for a moment, her heart pounding. The flowers slipped from her hand and fell into a little pile of stems and petals at her feet. As she drew near, then stopped before him, Henry met her gaze and his pale green eyes misted with tears.
“It’s Arthur. He is dead,” Henry said, with a quiver in his voice that Mary had never heard from her carefree brother before.
While their eldest brother, Arthur, had always been weak, she never imagined that England’s heir might actually die. At eight, she thought little of death and tragedy, especially living the idyllic life she did in the country, surrounded by endless emerald hills, water-meadows and streams, well protected from the harshness of court life.
Only four months ago Arthur, at age fifteen, had been married off to Katherine of Aragon, daughter of Queen Isabella of Spain, with whom he had been betrothed since his infancy. The match had been made in order to secure the alliance between their two countries. But Katherine at seventeen was pretty and sweet enough, and Henry and Mary both liked her. Arthur had seemed happy with her too; his tenuous health had seemed strengthened by their union, in spite of his youth. But all of that was over now. Gone in a moment.
The world would change for everyone, but most especially for Henry, who she could see had only just now fully realized that he would next be King of England.
Then, to her surprise, Charles Brandon, and not her brother Henry, extended his arms in that odd, silent moment, and drew her against him in a comforting, fatherly embrace.
The feel of his lean, muscular torso pressed against her own flat child’s chest startled her, in spite of her grief. The sensation was a shock to a girl who was not yet even nine. Until that day—that moment exactly—she had never thought of Charles as anything but her brother Henry’s friend and companion.
At eighteen, Brandon was older than them both—there by the grace of the king, who had installed him at Eltham as a debt owed to Charles’s father. William Brandon had fought nobly beside the king at Bosworth Field and lost his life there. His mother had died in childbirth, leaving Charles orphaned, and two siblings, a sister and brother, left to distant relatives to care for. But the family had made sacrifices which the king meant to honor. Henry VII was many things; most especially he was loyal to those who had shown loyalty to him, and so Charles Brandon had been chosen as a companion for his son.
With Arthur and Katherine away establishing their own court in Wales at their father’s command, Brandon had quickly become Henry’s closest friend just as Jane had become Mary’s. In spite of the difference in their ages, the boys were well matched, not only in athletics, but in their sense of humor, and Henry watched and sought to learn everything from an older Charles’s remarkable effect on women.
Many was the time Mary had sat at dinner in the great dining hall with her sister, Margaret, and Jane, watching Henry and Charles wager how quickly Charles could entice a particular girl more rapidly. Most often, Mary observed Charles win out, which only made Henry push himself the more. Henry was a natural and graceful athlete and he ex-celled in everything—tennis, archery, the hunt, dancing—and he was learning from the master about flirtation.
Realizing the way she was shivering in Charles’s arms, Mary pulled away from him and cast a glance at Henry. “What are we to do?” she asked, wiping her own tears with the back of her hand.
“We are to do nothing.”
“What of Katherine? She must be so sad and afraid, all alone now.”
“I imagine the king will send her back to Spain, believing she has failed her family.”
“But Arthur’s death is not her fault!”
“Of course not. But only if by some miracle she is already carrying an heir will she have accomplished her family’s goal.”
He and Henry both smiled wryly at the thought of Arthur fathering a child and she found it shocking, especially when Arthur was dead and Katherine, with whom she had laughed and danced the branle so happily not a month before, at Richmond, would need to return to Spain suddenly in dis-honor and shame.
“Oh, come now,” Charles remarked, seeing Mary’s expression. “We only hope to put a bit of a brave face on a horrid tragedy.”
“And how difficult for you is that?” she asked tautly, sounding much older than her years. “Now your dearest friend will next be king. Arthur barely knew you, and what he knew he did not much like. But my brother Henry adores you. It seems to me great fortune for you in the tragedy of another.”
“Mary!” Henry charged. “I understand you are upset—we all are. But you really must apologize for such words.”
“I will not,” she stubbornly declared, tipping up her chin with a defiance like his own, which ran so thickly through her blood that she could not have tamed it. “Charles is arrogant and selfish and I do not like him.”
“Yet I do. And it is I whose command you shall be made to follow soon enough.”
“You can command my compliance, Harry, but never my heart!”
“Would you prefer I leave the two of you alone so your sister can insult me in privacy?” Charles moved a step nearer, his normally arrogant expression suddenly decorated with challenge.
“Stay where you are,” Henry shot back, despite hearing the nickname she always used to soften him. His own defiance was as sharp as hers now. “My sister was just leaving, so that she does not risk embarrassing herself further.”
“But Harry!” Mary heard herself cry out. Her anger was swiftly undone at the thought of losing her brother’s affection for that of a mere friend. Insecurity rose up within her as a flood of tears clouded her eyes. “You would choose him over me? I am your sister. Your Mary!”
“And Charles is my friend. The two of you must come to an understanding as we are all bound to be together for a very long time to come—particularly after I am king.”
Hearing his harsh tone toward her at that moment was like a slap in the face. Mary bolted from the room, her eyes so full of warm tears that she could barely see her way as the skirts and petticoats of her brocade dress rippled out behind her. Charles Brandon was someone to be feared and respected, for he had a place in Henry’s heart that he stubbornly meant to retain. Realizing it fully then made her feel as if she had lost two brothers that day instead of just one.
But she would never take for granted Charles Brandon, or his power over Henry, ever again.
Henry came alone to her bedchamber not quite an hour later, knocked, then let himself in. She was sitting within the window embrasure, arms wrapped around her legs, her profusion of red-gold curls loose on her shoulders, meeting the silver medallion at her chest. She was gazing out across the green expanse of hills and valleys as he sat down beside her and took up both of her hands. They looked startlingly alike: their hair, the square shape of their faces, the pale green eyes with long light lashes and the small rosebud lips. Neither Margaret nor Arthur looked like them, which was one of the many things that had bonded them. They sat together quietly for what felt to Mary
“You know you are always first in my heart, my little Mary,” Henry finally said very gently. When she met his gaze, his face was so full of that irresistibly boyish charm she wanted to cry all over again.
“I know it not,” she pouted, tears still filling her eyes.
“It was only the shock of things. Forgive me, do you?”
“I will always forgive you, Harry,” she replied on a teary sob full of relief a moment later. “I can’t quite believe it will just be the two of us left as soon as Margaret marries. That makes me feel so sad.”
“I’ll always take care of you, Mary, you know that,” he declared in the almost fatherly, protective voice that she loved. He wrapped his arm around her then, pulled a handkerchief from his doublet and patiently wiped her eyes.
“Someday, when I am king, we will rule England together.
Will that not be grand? You will have no time to be sad then.”
“What about your queen?”
“Her as well, of course. But I could not rule without you.
That would be unthinkable,” he mused. They both refused to acknowledge for the moment that one day she would likely leave England in some political arrangement their father would make, as he had for Margaret and Arthur already.
Marriage would be the first duty for them both. But right now they were children, and they could ignore the future. At least in this little world of their own making at Eltham. “And one of the very first things I am going to do when I am Henry VIII is name a great ship after you . . . the Mary Rose, I will call it, and it will be the most spectacular ship in my fleet.”
“I do like the sound of that.”
He always knew how to make her smile, she thought, even if their conversation did seem horribly disrespectful to Arthur. “But, in the meantime, you really must learn to like Charles better, Mary. Beneath the lionesque exterior he has the heart of a lamb. If you look for it, you will see it as I do.”
The Secret Bride by Diane Haeger / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes