Tudor: House of Thorns
Written by: Diana Strenka
Publisher: Diana Strenka
Year Published: 2015
Thank you for downloading this eBook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to your favorite eBook retailer to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.
Table of Contents
History has been wrong on all accounts. I am not the villainess they portray me to be. I am Queen Catherine Howard, and here is my story.
“I am with child,” I whispered to Lady Rochford. I rested my hand on my belly and smiled. She beamed, her face lit up with excitement.
“This is the merriest of news!” she exclaimed, a bit too loudly. “When will you tell the King?”
“Just after breakfast, I imagine,” I replied. I clasped my teacup delicately with one hand and blew on the warm beverage. Steam twisted upwards like a sea of snakes tightly intertwined with one another.
My ladies tapped on my door, interrupting my thoughts. I could hear their youthful giggles echo through the oak paneling. “Ladies! I am glad you are here,” I acknowledged, as they curtsied deeply in my presence. They were a friendly group, all close to my age of 17, and from high and noble houses. They were the most perfect entourage for my person. “Now, ladies, you must prepare the apartment so that it is presentable for His Majesty. I want no corner dirtied and no sheet left undone. I have some very happy news for him.” My ladies stared at each other, wide-eyed. They knew some big changes were in the air. They curtsied a second time before scurrying away.
“Do you think they suspect anything, My Lady?” Lady Rochford said, surprise evident on her aging face. Though she was the oldest of my ladies, she possessed both wisdom and fortitude. I very much admired her company, and her advice, among this empty castle.
I smiled. “No, Lady Rochford; they suspect nothing,” I answered. I could do nothing more than sip my tea in silence. Lady Rochford quickly carried away all the porcelain finery until I was left alone.
“Lady Rochford,” I called. “Your assistance is required.” My lady appeared at my door and came behind my person. “And not too tightly, please,” I implored, as I touched my belly delicately.
“Yes, madam,” she answered, as she pulled the laces on my corset. I breathed in sharply as the air escaped my lungs. Corsets were not altogether comfortable, but they were essential for a lady of my rank and station. I was fortunate indeed to hold the highest status of any woman in England. I smiled into the mirror as I secured the Queen’s jewels around my neck. They sparkled brightly under the sunlight. I paused for a moment, in awe of the image of it.
I reached into my jewelry box and found my Onyx ring lined in gold. It was a birthday present from the King, and proof of his everlasting affection for me. I slid it over my thin finger and admired its beauty. My lady tied my hair, weaving each strand tightly, before tucking it into my French hood. My cousin, Anne Boleyn, had originally been one to make this style popular. I feel, in my own way, that I am able to pay homage to her magnificence with this small gesture.
The King had been unfair to put her to death in such a cruel and abominable way. However, I could never let Him know it, for He is my Lord. And I must treat Him as such, or risk following the same fate.
I had just dressed in my finest crimson velvet gown. The King would be overjoyed upon seeing me in such decadence. I couldn’t wait to tell him the best of news!
A loud sharp knock came at the door as the King let himself in. He had done such things before, as was expected. I ran out of my room in haste, and curtsied deeply. “Your Majesty!” I declared, bowing.
“Madam, it is I, the King’s guard,” regarded a cruel voice. “You have been ordered to remain under house arrest.” I raised my head anxiously, watching helplessly as my ladies were roughly torn away. “What-what of Lady Rochford?” I stammered. “She will accompany you here,” he specified icily. I peered over at my lady, whose face held lines of worry and concern. I did my best to remain strong for her, but I could scarcely hold it together myself.
The door clicked shut with finality. Then, the room turned silent, taking on an eerie calm. A chill burned its way through every crevice of the fancily decorated apartment. My small hands shook with such force and might that I could do nothing to still them.
The next few days, my Lady and I spoke remarkably little. I grasped the delicate satin curtains with the “HC” logo embroidered on them, and sighed. How things had changed. My lady turned towards me to acknowledge me; her skin was as pale as a ghost. “This is just like the last time,” she whispered. “When my husband was put to death.” She turned her head away, likely shielding a face that was heavy with tears. “They forced me to give a false statement. They said that if I did not speak against him, I would be joining him as a co-conspirator.” Her face fell into her hands, hiding the shameful secrets that she had been carrying. I rested my hand gently on her shoulder as she broke down from the guilt.
I could only wonder why we were being contained.
The day had come when my lady and I were seized from our lodgings. The tight grasp of the guards caused my hands to grow numb. I could hear commotion behind the chapel door, and I wondered if the King was there. It was my only chance at being saved.
I somehow managed to break free from my captors. I raced down the hallway, as the fabric from my precious garments flew behind me like a bird. Once I reached the heavy doors, I grasped the metal doorknocker with the taunting Tudor rose on its etchings. I pounded so furiously that I feared it may come off its hinges. “Your Majesty! Your Majesty, please!” I cried, as I collapsed to the ground. The court fell silent as I was dragged away to an uncertain fate.
They secured myself and my Lady Rochford in an abbey for “our protection.” We were placed separately, but we found a space between the boards where we could communicate.
A guard was stationed outside the abbey to watch the comings and goings of the building. The churchmen, also given a charge for watching us, were very accommodating. One of them, a man named Friar Luck, had taken a particular kindness to me.
I was embroidering a gift for my King. I had hoped that a gesture of good will would rekindle his love and passion for me.
It was the only thing keeping the fear off my doorstep.
The steps echoed off of my stone-clad prison as a man in fancy garments approached my door. “Madam,” he said, bowing. “Come with me.” I wrapped my ermine fur around my shoulders and followed him into a small timber shed. I exhaled, watching the breath hang in the air like a puff of smoke. Around a small table sat a small group of gentlemen.
“You are to answer us honestly, Madam,” they began. “Any questions?” I shook my head quickly.
“Do you know a man named Francis Dereham?”
I did my best to contain my frustration. How could I not know of him? He had been obsessed with me when we lived at the house of the Dowager Duchess. Mister Dereham used to call me his “wife,” which had always irritated me to no end. I had no interest, romantic or otherwise, in this quite bothersome fellow. I had only allowed him to remain in my presence out of Christian charity. When we showed up at my doorstep as Queen, begging for me to allow him employment, I took pity on him.
“Yes, he used to live at my home when I was a child,” I answered, trying to sound casual. “Why do you ask?”
“He confesses you were pre-contracted to him,” they stated coldly. I swallowed, pushing down the large knot that had formed in my throat.
“Sir, I believe you are mistaken,” I replied, feeling a sweat cling to my lower back. “Mister Dereham and I were only acquaintances; nothing more.”
“And yet, you chose to hire him into your company? As your own Secretary?” they implored, staring at me with harsh grey eyes. I could say nothing that would further incriminate myself. They had already decided me guilty.
“He is currently being examined further. In the meantime, the King has been told this evidence and has, therefore, decided to annul your marriage. You are no longer Queen, and will instead be referred to as Mistress Catherine Howard.”
The news shattered every bone in my body. Grief welled up in my chest, which exploded outward into a thousand directions. I was no longer Queen? I could no longer contain the sadness therein.
“Mistress Howard, you are dismissed,” they stated, as they looked down on me.
One of the men roughly grabbed my arm, startling me.
“Wait! I am with child. Will you please inform His Majesty?”
I was escorted back to my chamber without incident.
After the guards had left, I returned to my Lady Rochford’s side. “And they said nothing further?” she whispered through the board. “They are still examining Mister Dereham. I can only pray he didn’t know about my meetings with Master Culpeper.”
Lady Rochford laughed. “There is no way anyone will find out,” she assured me. “We are the only ones who are aware of those meetings.” I nodded nervously, as I clumsily resumed stitching the embroidery. I would stop at nothing to earn the back the King’s love, even if it meant incurring exhaustion. I felt a sharp pain pierce my finger.
“Ouch!” I cried, as I sucked my finger to stop the bleeding. Lady Rochford chuckled to herself. “Madam, you must be careful.” I sighed. “Lady Rochford, even if no one else thinks me Queen, I ask that you call me it until the end of my days.”
I heard a shift from down below. “Of course, Madam. And I wouldn’t worry further. Once he is fully assured that you are carrying his child, he will rekindle his love for you. I am sure of it.” I exhaled. “You are sure?” I asked tenuously. “Oh, yes,” she murmured. “Give it time.”
I sighed. Time was all I had.
It seemed barely a fortnight had elapsed before I had to face those brutish men again. “Mistress Howard, we know about your deceitful actions against the King,” they said.
I just sat there, as a shiver edged along my spine.
“Your secret late-night meetings with Master Culpeper,” they continued.
I shut my eyes to the world. I didn’t want to hear their judgments, their accusations. I just wanted to be back at the castle with my husband, the King.
“It’s not what you think,” I told them. “Master Culpeper is a villain!”
“Oh really?” they asked, mockingly. A few of them snickered under their breaths.
“Yes,” I continued. “He knew about my previous acquaintance with Mister Dereham. He thought that I had been pre-contracted to him. In exchange for his silence, I had to meet with him in secret and…”
“And?” they asked, inquiringly.
I sighed. “I had to pay for his silence, and curry favor for his advancement in status and rank. He wanted to be a near-equal to the King.”
The men showed me a copy of a letter. “This letter says otherwise. It’s in your hand, and speaks to your wanton love of Master Culpeper.”
I stared incredulously at the piece of parchment before me. It was rough around the edges, torn slightly in the center, and was crudely written. An obvious forgery!
I handed it back to the men in disgust. “This letter was never authored by me,” I stated.
The men laughed. “Utterly ridiculous. We shall inform the King of your lying and treacherous ways,” they scolded me. “Mistress Howard, you will be tried for your crimes against the Crown. It is likely you will be facing the scaffold. You are dismissed.”
“Did you at least tell the King about our child?” I pleaded. It was my last and final chance at survival.
“Oh, you mean Culpeper’s child?” they sneered. “We did, and King Henry knows it is no child of his.”
It was then, and only then, that I let them see me cry.
“Lady Rochford, it is to no end!” I wailed quietly. “The King believes that I was in love with Culpeper!” Silence. Then, my lady declared, “So, is it done? Are we to be tried for treason?” I gulped to swallow down that hard knot that had again formed in my throat. “Yes, Lady Rochford; I am afraid it is so,” I admitted. “And we will perish for it.”
“And the King does not care for his unborn babe?” she inquired.
“Lady Rochford, they found it an amusing thought! They believe the child is Master Culpeper’s!” I took the neatly-constructed handkerchief I had crafted and tore it up until it was a heap of torn cloth.
“So, what now?” she asked.
I rubbed my swollen belly as my heart bled for my little one. “We do what we can to save my child,” I answered her. “We will escape!”
I spent the rest of the day in contemplation. We had to get as far as possible from England. In addition, we needed help if I was not to follow the same fate as my cousin Anne.
Friar Luck was doing his daily rounds. I grasped his hand tightly. “I am with child,” I whispered. “And the King would put us both to death. We need your help.”
The Friar’s deep blue eyes stared at me intently. “And what would you have me do?” he wondered.
“I need you to help escort both myself and Lady Rochford to the edge of the lands of this abbey. We will take it from there.”
He nodded. “Speak not a word of this to anyone,” he instructed me. “No one must know.”
I shook my head earnestly. “Thank you, sir.”
“I will be back tonight,” he said, as he ducked out of the building.
“Lady Rochford, I will tell you the plan once we reach beyond the abbey,” I whispered through the board.
“Yes, Madam,” she responded, fearful notes tinging her strong voice.
A lantern shimmered in the distance, lighting the face of a fretful Friar Luck. As soon as he approached us, he retrieved a large stone key from his pocket and put it into the door. “It’s time,” he announced ominously. The door creaked open shakily. He took my hand as I followed him through the darkness. We descended down some heavy steps as he released my Lady Rochford from her chamber.
“Come now,” he commanded. “Don’t make a sound.”
He carefully opened the large Cherrywood doors, and off we went into the night. There was a bitter chill that nipped our faces, but we kept on. Once we reached the forest, he paused. “This is as far as I can take you. Good luck.”
I turned back and smiled. “Bless you, Sir,” I said, kissing his cheek. “Goodbye.”
“Need some help?” asked an unfamiliar voice. We turned to see Friar Thomas there, studying us curiously.
“Yes sir; we do. Can you take us in the direction of the southern ports?”
The Friar bowed, and motioned for us to mount his horse. The crisp fall air blew harshly towards us as we raced towards our destination. I wondered if my son was as affected by the cold as I was.
“Here,” he announced, as he gently helped us off the horse. “Good luck.”
Through the darkness, we could faintly make out the outline of several ships which had laid anchor for the evening.
My lady and I picked up our gowns and walked along the wooden docks, our shoes clicking against the planks. We encountered a tall man standing near his ship, tying some rope to it. “Please, Sir; may we travel with you?” I begged him.
He chortled. “Not tonight, Mistress,” he answered in a French accent. “We only set sail with the day’s light.”
“Perhaps this small token can change your mind?” I inquired, as I reached into my pocket and withdrew several gold coins.
His eyes grew as large as a full moon. “Where did you get these?” he wondered, mouth gaping. “No matter. If the ladies would like paid voyage, so it shall be.” He helped us into the ship and directed us to some crudely-constructed cabins. “Ladies,” he said, bowing. We heard the shouts through the ship as he summoned his sleeping crew to the boat deck.
The movement of the vessel as it glided along the glassy sea helped us traverse to our destiny. I turned to Lady Rochford and smiled.
As daybreak had illuminated the sky and revealed its secrets, so too did Captain Boudreau seek to find out mine. “You must be very powerful ladies to have such finances,” he commented.
“Monsieur, we are but two widowed Duchesses seeking to find new adventures abroad,” I lied. Lady Rochford and I exchanged glances.
The captain smiled. He knew I was being untruthful. “Yes. Of course, ladies,” he said, bowing deeply. “You will find plenty of adventure here!”
The sun had risen and set several times from our porthole in the ship’s cabins. The food consisted of stale bread and ale, but at least it was something. The boat rocked to and fro through the choppy waves of the English Channel. I wondered what the King did when he discovered I had escaped. He likely was consumed with fury at the realization. I could only pray he wouldn’t find us in our refuge. I stroked my belly, reminded of the son I was carrying. “You will see, dear boy,” I whispered. “You will be King.”
“Land, ho!” the men cried, startling me awake. I peered out the porthole and felt a rush of emotions, including fear, excitement, and dread. I could only wonder what future would awaited us.
I was an unwed mother, so I knew I had to be discreet. As we disembarked, we realized that we were truly foreigners in a strange new land. We had no identification papers, and had little knowledge of the French tongue. Though Lady Rochford had been educated, it had been many years since she had practiced speaking the language.
“Lady Rochford, we need to find lodgings which would be willing to accommodate us,” I answered her. “And, also, those which will keep our presence a secret.” Lady Rochford was in agreement.
We knew that the nobility would never agree to house potential refugees of the English Crown. That would risk the ire of the French king, who was trying to form a more solidified alliance with England. We walked along the cobblestone streets until we noticed a sign that Lady Rochford translated as “inn.”
The man behind the desk looked cheerless and threatening. He looked us up and down, observing our fine clothing. A slew of unknown words filled the air and resonated along the walls. “Can we stay here?” I asked him, showing him several gold coins. After counting them with eager delight, he nodded. “Ladies, you can stay here as long as you like!” he said in heavily accented English. “Please, sir; do not speak of us to anyone,” I pleaded. Though a suspicious glint showed in his eye, it faded and he nodded in agreement.
Our accommodations were humble at best. The beds were heavily worn in and creaked loudly whenever we settled on them. A simple dresser, a small table, and one chair were the only other furniture in the crowded room. “Excuse me; where is the privy?” I asked him.
He laughed and pointed outside. Lady Rochford and I shuddered in unison at the thought.
We requested the innkeeper serve us our meals in our room so we didn’t have to risk facing any of King Henry’s spies. Thankfully, he accommodated our wishes.
I could only imagine that the King’s servants were now scouring the land for me. Lady Rochford had her ear to the ground, and was able to deliver small bits of information she had overheard. Apparently, no one knew exactly where I was. I sighed. It was much better this way.
I often awoke in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. I was a criminal of the English Crown. If found, I would surely end up like my cousin. I couldn’t let that happen, neither for my sake nor my son’s. My belly was full with child, and my son would surely grace us with his presence shortly.
The day had come. “It’s time,” I assured Lady Rochford. Though I had a calm exterior, I was terrified. I was not invulnerable to childbed fever, which was fatal for women. Hours had passed, and I still hadn’t delivered my son. Sweat poured over every inch of my body like a river. The pain crushed my stomach like a horse’s trampling hooves. Still, I persisted. I was relieved when the pain ceased, and I heard my son’s cries for the first time. It was a beautiful melody, lifting my mood to euphoria. I had done it. I had given birth to a future King!
Lady Rochford handed me my newborn son. I cradled him into my arms. I lost all sense of time in that perfect moment of peace.
The innkeeper was completely against the idea of housing a baby. He eventually changed his mind, however, when I gave him the King’s onyx ring that I had secreted away. I paid him a sum of money to secure me a crib, some infant’s clothes, and toys to keep him occupied. My nights were sleepless, as I had a screaming babe to attend. Luckily, Lady Rochford was just as dedicated at caring for the infant as I was. It helped ease the joyful burden that is motherhood. “Henry,” I whispered to him one evening, as he slept in my arms. “I shall call you Henry.”
Lady Rochford had heard that the King knew I was in France. My heart pounded in my chest. I held Henry close to me, looking down on my vulnerable young prince. Could I keep him safe from harm? What would happen if the King found him?
There were days when the fear of being found out consumed me. However, I had no choice but to continue to wait and hope for safety.
Our captivity had been ongoing for years. I helped out around the inn in exchange for the innkeeper’s discretion and acceptance of our tenancy. Our son Henry, with his thick head of red hair, had an uncanny resemblance to his father.
I was home with my son when I received word from Lady Rochford. “The King is dead,” she declared.
I exhaled, not realizing I had been holding my breath. I peered down at my son, which was the King’s legacy. Would he be a future King, as well? Or, would he be declared illegitimate and barred from the succession?
Now that the King was dead, neither Henry nor I had to remain in hiding. I walked out of the room and looked the innkeeper straight in the eye. “I am Queen Catherine Howard, and this is my son, future King Henry IX.” The innkeeper gaped at the news. “Thank you for your hospitality. I shall like to purchase this inn from you, and make it a place for me to live with my family.” The innkeeper balked at first, until he noticed how much I was willing to pay him. He bowed, and handed me the keys upon his departure.
I ensured that the prince received a formal education, with the best tutors of French nobility. When they first received word of his royal lineage, they were initially skeptical. However, upon close inspection of my son, they quickly believed my claims. I purchased European finery for him to wear. Lady Rochford gave him some lessons in dance and proper manners.
I wanted him, in every way, to look and act like a future King of England.
In many ways, I felt I was revisiting the steps of my cousin Anne Boleyn. She would have been overjoyed to learn that one of her own bloodline was both French and royalty. We waited earnestly. It was still not safe enough to return to England, not with another ruler in power. After Edward and Mary had both perished, I knew what was to commence.
“Come, Henry; it is time to claim your throne,” I urged him, as all three of us returned to England. With his head of Tudor red hair, the English were able to make a quick identification. They had also remembered my likeness from the few portraits painted during my tenure as queen consort. Though skeptical, they accepted the legitimacy of Henry and decided to choose him over his half-sister Elizabeth. King Henry IX, my son, was patient and kind where his father would have been brutal and tactless. He would grow to become the best King that England had ever known.
King Henry IX ruled for another 20 years until his death from consumption in 1578. He was known for being patient, kind, and devoted to learning. His interest in exploration helped England achieve a true Golden Age. His half-sister, Elizabeth, continued in this legacy until her death in 1603.
Thank you for reading my book. If you enjoyed it, won’t you please take a moment to leave me a review at your favorite retailer? Thanks! Sincerely, Diana Strenka\
Follow me on Twitter:
Friend me on Facebook:
Like my Page:
See my Blog: