The Jewels of Warwick
The Tower of London, January 1499
“Papa!” little Topaz shrieked. She pulled free of her mother’s grasp and bolted after the bruised, bleeding prisoner.
Sabine grabbed her daughter. “No, stay back,” she warned as two guards dragged her husband, his chains scraping over the stone floor. He fell to his knees and their eyes met. She froze in terror. “Ed—” His name clogged in her throat. He held up a grimy hand to warn her away. The guards jerked him to his feet and shoved him forward, ignoring the horrified woman. Watching him suffering like this tore at her heart.
“Where are they taking Papa?” Topaz’s cries echoed off the stone walls. The torches pulsated in unison with her demand.
“I know not, little one. I know not.” But Sabine did know. She dreaded this day. Her beloved Edward, imprisoned in this foul, stinking prison by the cruel King Henry the Seventh, was condemned to death.
Her mind spun her back through the years: the passionate courtship, the blessed marriage, God’s gift of three precious girls.
As the dark maw of the stairwell swallowed him, Sabine slid to the floor in heart-wrenching sobs.
Seeing her mother like this, Topaz began to cry. That scene haunted her for the rest of her days.
Marchington Manor, Buckinghamshire, 1509
“Prince Hal and Princess Catherine’s coronation is in two weeks, on Midsummer’s Day,” Lady Margaret Pole announced to her nieces, Topaz, Amethyst, and Emerald, as they sat in the solar tuning their lutes for a musicale. “You girls should attend. ‘Tis a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
Topaz looked up, knowing her aunt’s last sentence was for her benefit. She stared the plump matron squarely in the eye. “Aunt Margaret, how can you expect any of us to attend this travesty? After all we have been through.” Tears stung her eyes. “Oh, what a wasted childhood in that stark and haunted place, the hunger, the cold, seeing Papa dragged away in chains…” A stab of grief pierced Topaz’s heart. Her mother’s cries of sorrow echoed in her mind to this day.
“Why?” asked Topaz. “Why did King Henry have to kill Papa? He wouldn’t have tried to take the throne away. All he wanted to do was play his lute and sing.”
“Simply because he was his father’s son.” She strummed a minor chord. “No other reason.”
Topaz knew Margaret was trying to appease the young girls with this simple explanation, to protect them from the evil thoughts that threatened their innocent minds. Topaz had spent hours poring over brittle books, studying the history of the Crown, trying to justify it all, but mostly injustices scarred their heritage.
“Your father was a gentle, harmless soul. The king was simply afraid…” Margaret hesitated, her words trailing
off as she fingered her brooch.
“That was a bad choice of words, Aunt Margaret. The king—afraid?” Topaz let out a mocking laugh. At fourteen, she was the most outspoken of the family, heedless of the family’s warnings.
“Not in that way…your father was a threat to the throne, to Henry’s kingship. He never did anything wrong. But Henry was the king, and a king can do whatever he pleases, as you know.” With a resigned sigh, her aunt returned to her lute-tuning.
“A cruel twist of fate, was it not, Aunt Margaret?” asked twelve-year-old Amethyst. “Henry killed King Richard. Had Richard won that final battle, then Topaz would now be queen. But God did not decree it so. So here we all are.”
“How can you just sit and accept all this?” Topaz blazed. “It should have been our father. The throne was his birthright. That taffy pretender had no business taking it. He was a usurper as is his son, and Hal will never be my king.” Topaz’s hazel eyes filled with fire and her budding breasts strained under her tight bodice.
“No, no, Topaz,” Margaret scolded her oldest niece. “It matters not what you believe, it happened the way it happened, and Prince Hal is to become King Henry the Eighth next week. And we’re all going to join in the festivities.”
“Well, I shall not go.” Twirling round, Topaz stepped inside the empty hearth arching just above her head. “How can you, Aunt Margaret?” she cried into the gaping space. Her voice rebounded through the solar. “How can you celebrate the crowning of a king whose father killed your own brother? I want no part of this undeserving pretender.” She pounded the wall with clenched fists. “I should be queen. Taffy Harry should have been bludgeoned
and Father crowned king, even after Richard was killed. It just isn’t fair!” She fled the chamber in a whoosh of satin, her copper hair flying out behind her. Amethyst started to go after her, but Margaret grabbed her by the sleeve.
“Let her go, there is naught you can do when she flies into one of her rages.” She pulled Amethyst back.
Amethyst shuddered at a terrifying thought. Topaz had once told her a gruesome tale of a prisoner being tortured on the rack to extricate a confession. She recounted the sound of bones cracking and flesh tearing, the victim wailing in unbearable agony as the guards tightened the ropes, streams of blood oozing from the victim’s eyes, nose and mouth, dripping onto the floor. Topaz was not supposed to be there. She’d wandered away from her mother while strolling the ramparts and groped her way into the Black Tower. Up a winding staircase she went and down a narrow hall to find her way back. She followed the wailing cries and found herself at the entrance to an alcove, lit by the harsh glare of torches leaning from their sconces. Two hooded torturers stood at each end of a prisoner lying prone, naked, his arms and legs stretched out before him. She turned and fled, but the victim’s agonizing screams filled her nightmares.
“Aunt Margaret, Topaz thinks of naught but this,” Amethyst said. “The news of Prince Hal’s accession to the throne just made it worse. She tells Emerald and me of the horrors of the Tower…the moans of starving prisoners, the clanking of chains, the stench of body dirt and excrement. I am glad I was so tiny when we were freed, and remember none of it. But she does…” Amethyst sighed. “She relives it, again and again, relaying it all to us so clearly, as if we, too, remember it all.”
Amethyst glanced over at the music scores on the brass stand before her, graced with the swirling treble clef.
Ah, music, such a healing blend of concordance and harmony. How she loved to strum her lute and fill the room with delicate strains. “Aunt Margaret, will nothing ever make her forget?”
“Only time will heal her, Amethyst.” Margaret’s gaze wandered round the chamber as she strummed random chords on her lute. “Time, that immortal force with neither beginning nor end, can comfort and heal as no physician or devout prayers or magic potions ever will. By morning she will have regained her appetite and be the first at the breakfast table as usual.”
“Another tantrum, I do hope they lessen as she grows up, she is so old already,” ten-year-old Emerald said to no one in particular. “Her tantrums used to frighten me. Now they simply bore me.” Shaking her head, she returned to tightening her lute strings. “Does that mean I can sing soprano tonight, Aunt Margaret?”
* * * *
Midsummer’s Day brought forth a dazzling sun in a cloudless azure sky, enveloping London in warmth and the promise of a new reign. The city gates, flung open, welcomed every citizen to share in the joy of their new monarch. Crowds thronged the narrow winding streets. Rich and poor reveled side by side, in drunken ecstasy from the wine flowing through the public conduits. The gutters were swept free of the usual filth. No slop pails would be dumped onto any heads today. People nearly tumbled out of the second- and third-story windows of their crowded dwellings leaning into each other.
Lady Margaret, Sabine, and the girls had all been invited to the coronation, but Topaz stayed behind. “I shall stay here and watch the grass grow and the sun sink and the moon rise,” she’d insisted when asked for the last time to join the party setting out for London. “Those are natural,
honest acts. What you are going to witness is a travesty. And God won’t smile down upon any of you!” She shook her fist as her family members and their servants entered their carriages. “May Henry Tudor meet a torturous end to his ill-gotten reign, just like his doomed father, the murderer.”
Topaz watched the carriages disappear round the bend of the wheel-rutted path. “May he never bring forth an heir,” she muttered to the twittering birds.
* * * *
The carriages jounced down the rutted road. “I should have talked to her, I could have convinced her to join us,” Amethyst voiced her thoughts over the clatter of hoofbeats, watching Topaz’s figure shrink into the distance. No one had paid heed to Topaz’s wearisome tirade, just as no one listened to Amethyst. They all tittered, in short spurts of half-complete sentences, of the splendid festivities they were about to witness.
“I wonder what Queen Catherine will be wearing…I haven’t seen London in so long…I hear Henry the Seventh’s Chapel is just magnificent…” all the way down the dusty road to London.
* * * *
The procession marched into Westminster Abbey as the brassy tones of trumpets from the lofts rang through the air. Lady Margaret, Amethyst, Emerald and Sabine walked at the head of the procession, leading squires and knights in ceremonial livery, Knights of the Bath draped in purple robes, followed by the peerage: dukes, earls, marquises, barons, abbots, and bishops in crimson velvet. The officers of rank followed: Lord Privy Seal, Lord Chancellor, and assorted archbishops, ambassadors, and lord mayors.
Amethyst had never seen anything quite so grandiose as Westminster Abbey. The church in their cozy
Buckinghamshire village was adequate to accommodate the villagers for Mass, but it was simple and modest, in need of repair, a mere repetition of their own austere surroundings. Westminster Abbey was the gateway to heaven itself. She vowed to walk through Henry VII’s Chapel and pay homage to her late king, to kneel at one of these splendid altars and pray for his son, her new king.
Someday I shall come back here, she vowed. I must…
The little party took their seats along the North Aisle, facing the great nave, where the king and queen would make their entrance. Amethyst grabbed an aisle chair to get an unobstructed view of this once-in-a-lifetime event—and of Henry. Her picture of him was clear in her mind, from the many times Aunt Margaret spoke of him…the flaming hair that framed his intelligent gaze, the graceful gait of his stride, like a colt breezing over the landscape, that was Prince Hal. Also a talented musician, blessed with a melodious singing voice, he was a lute virtuoso, a master of the organ and recorder. Ah, to engage in a musical interlude with the king! Amethyst thrilled at the idea. To strum their lutes and intertwine their voices in concordant harmony…she drifted away in a whirlwind of court festivities, draped in a billowing satin gown, alighting from a carriage at the palace gates, partaking in the elegant dancing and sumptuous banqueting, curtsying before her king…mayhap at some later date it would be reality, mayhap…
For an instant she thought of Topaz and all the hateful things she’d been saying about the Tudors all her life. Amethyst had never known her father, the man Topaz so brazenly defended, relaying that day to them so many times, repeating every detail. Amethyst paid heed every time Topaz recited the line of succession, and studied her
sister’s diagrams scratched on parchment.
“This is our family tree, and this is where the throne went wayward, not straight down to me, but detouring through the Tudors. Taffy Harry is a murderer,” Topaz pounded into Amethyst’s head incessantly, so she knew the routine by rote. “He murdered our father. He is not the true king and never will any of the Tudors be.”
Amethyst was afraid for her sister—she knew the punishment for treason. She often wondered about her father, this blur of a figure stumbling through the Tower, dragged over the flagstones, suffering a horrid death just for being an heir to the throne. She saw the pain in her mother’s eyes, the tears that never fell, the unspoken grief interred deep inside her, hidden by her murmurs, “the king’s pleasure, ’twas the king’s pleasure…”
But to speak out against the king—that was a death sentence in itself. She held in her own rage over the injustice.
She knew Topaz’s reactions were extreme. To try to displace the king was akin to committing murder. Who wanted to rule a kingdom anyway? Amethyst pictured herself as a courtier, delighting in the intimate circle of royalty. That was good enough for her!
The procession finally ended and the Archbishop of Canterbury appeared at the Abbey doors. He strode down the aisle, nearly lost in the thick folds of his velvet robes. His appearance meant one thing—the king and queen were about to enter!
The spectators turned to the entrance and stood. Amethyst, leaning out into the aisle, saw two figures blocking the light at the entrance. As the organ music swelled and filled the ancient abbey, they began their march toward the altar. Henry walked on the left, closer to her. She glimpsed Catherine on the far side, waves of
golden-brown hair spilling over her shoulders, her gown a cloud of virgin white. Amethyst fought a pang of envy for the young woman at Henry’s side, about to become his queen. Then her eyes landed on him and she stood transfixed.
Henry was draped in a full fur-lined purple cloak, its train falling in gentle folds over an embroidered tunic of gold and glittering rubies, emeralds, and diamonds. The broad lapels of his shirt spilled over a crimson satin doublet, lined with diamonds and pearls. Breeches fit his muscled legs like a second skin, threaded with stripes of gold silk. Black leather boots reached his knee.
She studied his features, trying to drink him all in as he swept by—the shock of lustrous red-gold hair, the eyes betraying a wisp of wisdom behind the youthful playfulness. His stride was confident, his movements graceful. They came closer, closer—the end of his cloak touched the toe of her shoe and for an instant their eyes met. She wasn’t sure she imagined it, but it seemed at that very instant he slowed his step to let his gaze linger upon hers. She held her breath and stood in adoring awe of this beautiful man who would within moments be her king. Then he and Catherine strode past them and approached the high altar. Henry went to the centuries-old coronation throne, its finish scratched and marred. He sat upon it regally as the High Priest turned to face the assembly and asked if they would have Henry for king.
“Aye, aye, aye!” Thundering voices rang through the openness, fading away into the high arches reaching towards heaven. The High Priest anointed Henry with oil, then placed the glittering orb in his hand.
“All hail King Henry!” filled the hallowed space, rose to the high vaulted ceiling and died within the deepest recesses of the ancient sanctuary.
Amethyst, as did all his subjects in the very first moments of his reign, adored her new king.