The White Rose of York

I was raised to be a princess of England, to proudly represent the House of my father. Elizabeth is my name and I descend from the House of Plantagenet.

I grew as the Civil War between cousins disputing a crown happened and destroyed England. My father, the king Edward IV, who died two years ago, had finally brought peace until my lord uncle Richard had taken from my brother Edward the right to rule. He became the King Richard III. Executed my uncle Anthony and treated me and my sisters as bastards.

But my lady mother, the Queen Dowager Elizabeth Woodville, told me we were to go to his court. Today, she comes to speak to me.

“My darling daughter” she tells me when I leave the chapel. We are still at Westminster Abbey. “Your uncle requests your presence at court. You and Cecily should go and serve the Queen as her ladies in waiting however this displeases me.”

I frown. “Does uncle Richard think we are a potential threat? How could we be… Unless he knows I am to marry Henry Tudor?”

She nods and I see the concern in her face. “I will be allowed to live away from this Abbey, the youngest girls are coming with me. Your uncle wishes to marry you to the King of Portugal, as it seems to shut his claim to the English throne due to the fact he descends from Philippa of Lancaster.”

I listen and then understand. “If King Richard dies in a battle against the Earl of Richmond, supposed to say it happens, then I’m not going to Portugal. Mother, what if he suspects?”

My mother, who is still so beautiful even with her age, smiles. “Elizabeth, trust in me. Everything will work out in our favour. Lady Margaret and I are working on it. At the right time, you know what you should do.”

I understand almost immediatly but say nothing. The next day, Cecily and I mounted our horses and, with a scort, we rode to the court. The King and the Queen receive us as nothing happened. Neither seem to remember that they are wearing the crown of my brother, who, along with Richard, suddenly disappeared. But I curtsy and so does Cecily.

“My nieces” he says. I wonder if he considers us such even when he claimed we are bastards. “Welcome to our court.”

We rise and we thank him. Queen Anne receives us well too and after the presentations, we head to our chambers. There we prepare to our services as she so gently explains to us what we should do. 

As she speaks, Cecily being the only one who responds, I take notice that aunt Anne is happy for having us here with her. Uncle Richard, is said, has a mistress and two bastards. And his natural heir has just recently died.

As the days go by, I wonder how the House my father and grandfather fought to get where it is now, is struggling against itself. I notice everyday grows a faction that disagrees with my uncle’s rule and in secret, my lady mother sends me letters, telling me of the situation that is about to come. Amongst it, the fact that Henry Tudor had finally landed. 

“Bessie…” whispers to me Cecily, in an evening where the King is busy and the Queen is not here with us. “What will be of us?”

“I know what to do”, I whisper back. “We must be dutiful and support the new king.”

Cecily’s eyes go wide. “Are you sure? But why? It cannot be because of your desire to be Queen, is it?”

I frown at her words, but explain in details that we should support him because the present King, though our uncle by blood, betrayed our father by taking a crown that did not belong to him. I also tell her we should do this also by our brothers, however were their fates.

She then ends up agreeing with me and helps me writing the letter that would call our brothers in arms and make sure they suppor the new king. Once the letters are sent in the most discretion as possible, we have to act as the most innocent as we can so King Richard does not lay suspicious to us. 

A few days before the Battle, we are sent to stay with our lady mother to the countryside. There, despite the horrible tension that is crossing the kingdom again, we are to be happy instantly. There are courtiers and musicians, a small court to my lady mother. I forget about everything, the war, Henry Tudor, my uncle… All those troubles look like they are gone. I smile and dance, I entertain my sisters with stories of our ancestors, I gossip with Cecily when we have the chance in doing so. 

But we cannot be happy for so long. The battle happens. And it is only three days later we are told of the news. Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, is the new King. He attends now as King Henry VII, the first of a Dynasty known as Tudor.

“Three days and the news come to us now?” I say in evident dislike. I am the Princess he needs to marry to strenghten his claim to the throne. I bite my lip as the arrogant thought slips in my mind. 

“I know, Elizabeth” says my mother with impatience. “But, believe me, you will be crowned Queen. If we have waited this long, surely a few days later is nothing.”

I do not argue. She is right. And why do I eager to be Queen? Such title doomed most of my family members. What makes me think it would be different to me? I blush at the incovenience of falling under the arrogance. I am not like that, I think to myself.

Whether if it were good for me or not, the news of the coronation of the new King arrive and with them, the invitation of my presence and of my mother and sisters too. The Parliament, it looks like, made King Henry to reassure the promise of marrying me. Although I am not excited to be married to the enemy, the idea of remaining remarried at this age is neither pleasant. 

So it is dressed by my best gown and with my hair slightly loose that I go to the court at least. 

“Are you nervous?” asks Cecily.

“For sure I am not.” I lie. “It’s only a new court. Nothing to fear of.”

She laughs. “The enemy’s court, you mean. Do not be silly to think they will so fast fall to our charms, Bess”

Before I could reply, our mother interrupts. “Quiet you two. We cannot discuss any political matters from this way to the court.”

“It is not a political matter, my lady mother, but the fact that is sadly and commonly associated to politics.” replies Cecily.

Our mother gives her a glare that makes her quiet, but Cecily is right. We are living in a moment where everything is associated to politics. I cannot defend my family anymore if I, indeed, marry the king. I must take a role that must not be the reason to our fall. And being humble and obedient is suddenly the best option I could be. I remember my lady mother always saying about how silence is the bless. It is clear now to see.

Lost in my thoughts, I do not realize we have finally arrived at the Windsor Castle. We leave our horses and I am found nervous as we go inside. It has been a while since I was last in royal apartments, but the memory is now a torment of happier days and I decide to move on.

The court stops what it was doing once we are announced. Apparently, we have our titles established again. I see how my lady mother smiles when she is addressed as the Queen Dowager of England, along with the Princesses Elizabeth, Cecily, Catherine and Bridget. I smile too, but having the titles restored is the least of my concerns.

The new king that comes to greet us is tall and handsome. He is elegant, reserved and rarely smiles. In his dark eyes, there is caution and observation. I am sure he is older than his age after spending most time of his life in exile. His light brown hair falls over his shoulders and in his clothes, in a very medieval style, we can see the colours of his House: green and red. The heir of Lancaster is showing off the Rose of his victor House. 

“Your Grace” he speaks coldly, distant, when he addresses to my lady mother. He bows and we all curtsy. “My ladies” he nods to each one of us.

I curtsy again when I notice he has his eye particulary on me. I feel there’s colour in my cheeks and I hate myself for it.

“My lord.” I keep my eyes to my feet, following the protocol.”Your Grace, I must congratulate my lord for the victory at the Battle of Bosworth. As your subject, I hope to serve you well and loyal. Fear not, my lady mother and our house shall not betray you.”

He raises my chin and our eyes meet. My heart starts to race. What was this? A sarcastic smile is what I see when he opens his mouth to respond me. “Not betray me? Words are words, princess. For them I cannot take as certain. But there is a better way to keep an eye on that issue.”

His Grace makes a pause, but does not let go of my chin. Quickly he does, however, when he sees everyone is watching us. But, to my distress, the conversation is not ended. Yet.

“I intent to marry you, Princess Elizabeth. I promised the Parliament, I have made the promise before at exile, so I believe we should keep it. For the sake of this kingdom, I am here to make peace.” It’s all he says and I believe he waits me to say something. I quickly recompose, and softly, I respond:

“I am thankful my lord the King has considered this and I will gladly wait to the day we marry. As I have said before, and will repeat as many times is needed, the loyalty of my house and myself, Your Grace, are yours.” I add it with a gentle smile. My eyes are now raised and I blame myself for allowing the eye contact to happen: for now I cannot look away.

“And as I’ve said, words are not enough, my lady” he says it, but somehow not sounding as rude as he did before. “With time, we will meet each other well enough to point the direction the loyaly my lady speaks of goes. If you excuse me, my lady, I have…duties waiting.” And with a small smirk, he bows and I curtsy, before, much to this unexpected disappointment, watching him go.

He goes to his throne and there he sits, some of his councilors, his uncle amongst them, following him. My eyes are taking notice of every detail of his features. Why was I not warned the King would be such handsome man?

I turn my attention elsewhere and hear Cecily updating me the gossips. She is chatty this evening. Talks and drinks merrily, sometimes I think she is more of our father than myself. As the oldest daughter, I cannot give the luxury of acting the way she is, not before the King anyway.

Once the food is served, the King’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, sits between me and the King. Turning her head to my direction, the lady who has a great dislike for my house and is known not only for her piety, but for her bravery she displayed at the War and her matches, I wait to hear something not good from her.

“My lady mother of the King” I nod in respect. That’s how she is to be addressed.

“Princess Elizabeth” she returns the nod, though I could swear the despise she speaks with by calling me by the title of princess. I blush. “You are to be my daughter now, it seems.”

“I am, my lady. And hopefully will be someone you can…” I am about to say ‘trust’ when I remember the words the King said, a few minutes ago. Words would never be enough for them. I quickly change my speech. “Someone you can expect to give a good family and heirs.”

I see Lady Margaret’s mouth twist to a smile she tries to hide, but I’m unsure whether she is doubting of my capacity or.. Well, I do not know what she thinks of me.

“Considering your mother has given birth to so many children, I could not think otherwise. We all expect that, once you are my son’s wife, you know where your loyalty lies.” And she adds. “For the sake of our kingdom, of course.”

Before I could reply, she returns her attention to the beloved son of hers, our King Henry VII. The dinner is then finished and I look forward to leave the court and go to my apartments with my sisters. The day is long and the court is full of wolves. 

Two days later, it is the coronation day. Henry is now officially King and I still look forward to the marriage and be crowned myself. 

“My lady princess” he comes to speak to me at the after parties. I try not to look so startled…or rather happy. My sister would later say that I am already besotted. Something, of course, I am not.

“Yes, Your Grace?” I curtsy ever so graciously, always smiling gently-though never finding hard in doing so- and remaining humble in my manners. “How can I please you this afternoon?”

He chuckles and there is something charming when he does that. “I wonder if you are free for a pace?”

I nod. “I am, Your Grace.” It is so hard to ignore this attraction between us. And when I get his eyes on me, my cheeks burn and my smile wides a little more than I have planned to.

And so we lace our arms and follow to the gardens. Finally, I start admitting myself he is not a rough, rude man people call “usurper”. The day is merry and so is the other after this, suddenly all the week is glowing. He is careful in not showing any emotion.

Until the day we marry, in January, I am far from being certain he likes me the way I like him. 

“Oh I believe he likes you” says Cecily when she leads me to the chambers where I am about to consummate my marriage. “I have seen the way he likes you. Who would dislike you, Elizabeth? The pearl of our family, beautiful and charismatic as our parents were in the flower of their ages. Do not be silly. Now, go on and give me the details later.” She winks and leaves quickly, sweeping with her other curious maids.

As I wait for his presence, I walk to the silver mirror that is standing against the wall. I see my reflection in it and like what I see: my golden hair falling as waterfall to my waist, my pale skin glowing with the creams my sister passed on me, the white nightgown covering my chest, but not too much; I do not wear my shoes and no jewelry is enchanting my neck or my wrists. My eyes and my lips have a little of make up, nothing too much.

When I sit at the bed, trying to match the beatings of my heart, the knock at the door making me almost jump. It is then open and the King walks inside, followed by some of his most trusted courtiers. They stay in a few moments before they are dismissed. 

“You look gorgeous, Elizabeth.” He says, glancing at me in a way I cannot help but blush. I glance away, but when he is near enough to feel his breath, he gently pulls my face to look at him. “How lucky am I…” he whispers.

I say nothing for a few moments. My hands hesitantly rest at his shoulders and slide to his chest. I feel his muscles and I know he’s strong, that making me smile. 

“What are you smiling at?” he asks, his fingers tracing my features before going to my back, starting to lace my nightgown, ready to remove it as I so eager wanted. 

“Nothing. You are too good to be true.” I respond in whispers, me too doing the work of leaving him with nothing to his body. Desire sparkles in my eyes when I see his naked skin exposed as the light of the candle shines upon us. “You are perfect.”

“I thought we were meant to be enemies wrapped in marriage to produce anything but children.” he whispers back, lying me back. I am wearing nothing and I feel embarrassed. The only man that was seeing me like this is my husband, whose house fought against mine for so many decades. Are we in peace at last?

“I thought it too.” The way he looks at me makes me feel desired. He leans his body closer to mine as he kisses me. I rejoice inside as we kiss and when his hand holds me to let another explore my curves, I do not know what I feel, except it makes me beg for more. I see he is experienced and it hurts my ego but for a moment this means nothing when he parts the kiss and his lips tingle against my neck, shoulders, breasts.

“H-Henry” I bite my lip when he starts to leave his gentleness behind and slides his flesh inside of me. I adore it and do not deny it. He looks at me as he would devour me. I smile and moan. But it hurts. I bite his shoulder and he slows down his pace. 

“Elizabeth.” He gazes into my eyes, drawing me close. “Tell me.”

I blushed. “I love you.” Those words slip from my tongue and he smiles, the defenses walls finally broken. I smile too. I am part of his as he is part of me. “I love you so much.” I say it again as our body wraps to one another. 

“I love you, Bess.” His husky voice in my ear helps me to reach the climax. He smiles as continues to tease me. We repeat it through the night. “I love you, my Queen”.

And I laugh joyfully when we hold onto each other’s arms. No one would know, perhaps not from his side, how amorous we are to each other. I promised him and to his mother, and would give finest children. I would be devoted to him as he would be to me, even when his eyes found slight interest in the Herbert ladies. 

Henry Tudor was mine and mine only. And I would love him until the end of my days and further more.

 

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