The Queen's Mistake, p.1Diane Haeger
Table of Contents
SPRING - The First Season
SUMMER - The Second Season
AUTUMN - The Third Season
WINTER - The Final Season
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
Praise for the Historical Novels of Diane Haeger
“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
“Engagingly deep romantic historical fiction.”—Midwest Book Review
“Romantic . . . filled with intrigue and danger.”—The Indianapolis Star
“Set against the vivid descriptive detail of Rome and Trastevere, 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.”
“Lush . . . [a] rich yet fast-paced story.”—Historical Novels Review
“Spectacular. . . . Haeger explores the fascinating, rich, exciting, and tragic life of Henry II’s beloved. . . . Lush in characterization and rich in historical detail, Courtesan will sweep readers up into its pages and carry them away.”—Romantic Times
“With her wealth of detail cleverly interwoven into a fabulous plot, Diane Haeger has written a triumphant tale that will provide much delight to fans of historical fiction and Regency romance.”—Affaire de Coeur
NEW AMERICAN LIBRARY NOVELS BY DIANE HAEGER
The Secret Bride
NEW AMERICAN LIBRARY
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First published by New American Library,
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Copyright © Diane Haeger, 2009 Readers Guide copyright © Penguin Group (USA), Inc., 2009
All rights reserved
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA:
The queen’s mistake/Diane Haeger.
eISBN : 978-1-101-14538-8
1. Catharine Howard, Queen, consort of Henry VIII, King of England, d. 1542—Fiction.
2. Great Britain—History—Henry VIII, 1509-1547—Fiction. I. Title.
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For my children, Elizabeth and Alex,
who make me incredibly happy.
February 12, 1542
The Tower, London
“I swear by God, I have never abused my sovereign’s bed!”
Wept pleadingly, the words were lost on the wind, one that blew over a nation that cared nothing for the young queen, nor the grim fate she steadily neared. Yet, horror-stricken, she spoke them still, a silent testimony to the truth no one wished to hear. “In the name of God and all his holy angels, and on the salvation of my soul, I am innocent of the crimes for which I am condemned!”
Pale and weakened by her three-month ordeal, Catherine Howard leaned for support against the railing as the barge swayed and bobbed on the water of the Thames, returning her to London. It slowly approached the forbidding Tower, the very place where six years earlier her cousin Anne Boleyn had lost her head over the very same accusation: infidelity against the king. Oh, how little she had dreamed in those long-ago days that she would follow in her cousin’s footsteps and also marry King Henry VIII . . . and be condemned by him.
Surrounded by stone-faced Yeomen of the Guard, their swords drawn to keep her from bolting, Catherine gazed out across the thick, green tide of the Thames to the shoreline. She felt the breeze on her face. Alive . . . she was still alive. She was still free from the Tower, if only for a few moments more.
She had cried and pleaded for all of the days she had been locked away by her own husband, the king. She had confessed to the things she had done, and in the end she had even begged Archbishop Cranmer for mercy.
But there had been one final thing she could not do, and that was to lie about Thomas. No, she could never agree to that.
A moment later, the barge was moored at the Tower dock and a trembling Catherine, in a dress of stark black velvet and an unadorned French hood, was swept up the frost-covered steps. Only her sister Margaret, Lady Arundel, and her chamberlain’s wife, Isabel, Lady Baynton, remained with her now. She and her companions were quickly escorted into the compound past the Tower Green. There, she would die the next day in the cold, gray February air.
She knew her greatest crime was not a supposed infidelity, but rather that she did not believe as they believed. She was a Catholic in a Protestant country, and in a time of great religious tumult, Catherine Howard was too great a risk to leave as queen. Her destruction had been complex and utterly thorough. She had been young, naive, and entirely outmatched. She had just turned nineteen. The only weapon she possessed—the king’s love for her—had been no help to her, because after her arrest and banishment to Syon Abbey, she was as far from King Henry as Cranmer could send her.
Now she had returned to London for but one day more. No one was to be executed on a Sunday. Her angry husband would show her some ironic modicum of respect, at least in that.
She was led to the Tower apartments, and after the heavy rounded doors were closed and bolted behind her, she saw the room was lined with rich tapestries and heavy oak furnishings. The cavernous, vaulted ceiling was ornamented with an intricate Byzantine fresco. But all the rest, wrought of old gray stone, was cold and Spartan. Catherine moved on trembling legs to the stone window embrasure and sank upon it, curling her arms around her knees.
“I should like to go bravely.” Her voice shook as she spoke, and she gazed in terror through the small oriel window down onto the green.
As it had for Anne Boleyn, once again the scaffold had been hung with black cloth and strewn with straw. Blood. There would be so much blood that would flow into the hay and stain the block when they severed her head. Her mind filled with the terrifying image. Her heart throbbed, full of horror, fear pulsing with each heartbeat. She longed to cry out, Cease this! Cease the madness! Yet that would be pointless. Instead, she tried to calm herself with her own words.
“If I am to lose my head after all, I should very much like to make a good impression.”
Both her sister Margaret and Isabel had been faithful to her since the beginning. Now they exchanged a glance, their faces pale.
“Your Grace shall do your duty bravely—if it comes to that,” Margaret said haltingly.
“I think there is no other possibility now but for it to come to that. He will not see me, nor answer my letters. . . . He will not hear me at all.”
Catherine drew in a ragged breath. Tears fell in glittering ribbons down her cheeks. Henry . . . my Henry. How gentle, how loving you could be. . . . How have they made you believe the worst of me? She pressed the unbidden thoughts from her mind. She had not wanted to believe he could ever do anything so barbarous as execute another wife. Especially her. She had been different, devoted, when he was no longer young or strong or healthy. She was the fifth wife, but she had been meant to be the last. Now she would die the same shameful death as Anne Boleyn. She too would soon be replaced.
She had been only twelve when Anne had died, but the horror of it had haunted her sleep for years. How could anyone butcher his own wife? Cut off her head so savagely? As a child, sometimes in the dark of night in the grim old stone manor of Horsham, she thought she could hear Anne screaming right before the ax fell. She would never forget the day it had happened.
Catherine had been with her mother in their manor house on the edge of London, not far from the Tower. They heard a shot, and Catherine felt it down to her depths. It cut across the crystal cloudless sky, called out, then echoed as a hollow, deathly sound.
Catherine glanced up and watched her mother’s face. Her mother took her hand, her grip viselike.
“What does it mean?” the little girl asked, feeling the cold of her mother’s hand.
“It means that your cousin is dead.”
“Cousin Anne has lost her head. And that is what the shot is telling the king, who has not the courage to witness the fate he ordered for his own wife.”
Catherine remembered her petite, beautiful cousin, married to the King of England. Anne had been so kind to her when Catherine had been received at court last year. Catherine glanced up at her mother’s face, not so pretty any longer. Continual illness made her appear far older than her twenty-seven years. It had bleached the girlish loveliness from her smile. Lines and parchment-thin skin now defined Jocasta Howard as a frail woman, as did her cold and brittle hands and fingers. Catherine would always remember the icy press of her mother’s grip, as if she were not as full of life’s blood as other women.
“What will happen now?”
“He will take another queen,” said her mother.
“Will the next one lose her head as well?”
“I would not say it is impossible.”
They walked on through the feathery emerald copse on the manor grounds.
“Yes, my love?”
“What did Cousin Anne do to cause her to lose her head?”
“She was not wise with men, especially with her king.”
Catherine could almost feel the descending ax, feel the column of her own slim neck in the wooden groove of the block on Tower Green. She shivered and squeezed her eyes shut. She knew her mother would not want her to cry for Cousin Anne. It was not safe now for any Howard to show sympathy for the executed queen. “Well, I am never going to trust a man. Then I shall never need to be wise.”
“One day you must, my love. You are a Howard.”
“Then will you help me, if I must? Choose for me? I trust no one above you.”
“Darling girl, if you are very fortunate, the Duke of Norfolk himself shall choose your husband, and you shall need that, since your poor father is the youngest son and there is nothing left to him or us but his Howard name. You are already beautiful enough for me to believe the duke will one day extend that honor, though, and if he does you must trust him.”
“But Uncle hated Cousin Anne,” she cried, losing the calm she had tried to maintain. “I heard Father say so! He worked for her death to save himself! Is Uncle not the reason she is dead?”
“That came much later, when the duke lost faith in her. In the beginning, it was he who helped her to become queen.”
Then, as if on second thought, the mother with the shadow of death upon herself tried to soothe her young daughter. “In the beginning, Anne was perfect for the king . . . and, my darling girl, you do so resemble her that it sometimes frightens me.”
Now her mother’s words from long ago echoed like ghosts in the room.
So much of what her mother had foretold that day had come true. Certainly she was correct in predicting that Catherine’s future would ultimately be decided by the Duke of Norfolk. There was no one else who cared for or about her after her mother’s death. Catherine’s father, Lord Edmund, had remarried the moment her poor mother was dead, as his genteel poverty forced him to seek his way among wealthy women. Eventually he went on to find two more wives, one after another. His search gave him no time for Catherine, who was left alone with her Howard grandmother, who did not love her or want her. When Edmund died, Catherine did not shed a tear, because she had barely known him. Yet she knew she would carry the impact of his abandonment of her for the rest of her life.
To distract herself from these memories, Catherine turned to her two companions in the bare Tower room. “I wonder, my ladies, could you ask that the executioner’s block be brought here to my chamber tonight?” she said haltingly, tears glittering on her smooth young face.
Surprised, the two women exchanged a glance. “Your Grace?” her sister asked.
“I should like to learn how to place myself upon it before tomorrow.”
For a moment, her sister’s quiet weeping was the only sound.
Then Lady Baynton said, “If it would be a comfort, indeed I shall ask.”
The executioner’s block arrived after dark and instantly dominated the room. In the flickering candlelight it loomed, square, low and heavy, its deeply carved groove—the place for her neck—in ominous shadows. As she willed herself to face the block straight on, Catherine’s trembling began again. She drew in a shuddering breath, trying to force herself to move toward it. She wrapped her arms around herself and tried to still the fear. Yet the terror crept forward again, taking her over.
She would do this; she must do this now. It would make it easier in the morning. Slowly then, and with the greatest determination, Catherine took three small steps and sank onto her knees before the block. Her mouth was bone-dry, and there were no more tears in her eyes. She held her own hands out behind her back, then leaned forward and pressed her neck into the groove. She shifted lightly as her heart slammed into her ribs so violently that she could hear nothing at all, feel nothing but the flesh of her little neck against the groove. Behind her, Margaret gasped, then renewed her weeping.
This was the end, then. The end of nearly two years of caring for Henry . . . and yet desperately loving Thomas. The six particular seasons, where she saw now that her life had been forever changed. They were seasons of being loved by them both, of making choices she did not wish to make, and the sacrifices—the unending heart-break of never fully having the man she truly desired. Yet all of it felt now like just a moment in time. Together, the three of them had been shooting stars across the night sky, but one that had burned brightly was now meant to just die away.
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