1445. King Henry VI is married by proxy to Margaret of Anjou. French, beautiful and unpopular, her marriage causes a national uproar.
At the same time, the infant Margaret Beaufort is made a great heiress and suddenly becomes the most important commodity in the nation. Her childhood is lived in remote, echoing castles, while everyone at King Henry's court competes to be her guardian and engineer an advantageous alliance with her uncle, the Duke of Somerset.
With the collapse of Henry VI's hold on France, discord among the English nobles breaks out into civil war. Henry becomes the mad king, and Margaret of Anjou declares herself Queen Regent, left alone to fight for her son's position as rightful heir. Meanwhile, Margaret Beaufort, although still little more than a child at thirteen, has been married twice and given birth to her only son—the future King of England.
Succession is an imaginative and engrossing novel about the events that inspired George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. It's the story of the fall of the House of Lancaster and of the two remarkable women who gave birth to the Tudor dynasty. The dramatic plot is supplemented with short chronicles that were written at the time, further rooting readers in the history.
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About the Author
Livi Michael has published four novels for adults, including, All the Dark Air (1997) which was short-listed for the Mind Award, and Inheritance, which won a Society of Authors award. She teaches literature at the Manchester Metropolitan University and has been a senior lecturer in creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University.
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By Livi Michael
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Livi Michael
All rights reserved.
1444: The Earl of Suffolk Stands Proxy for the King
In this time by means of the forenamed Earl of Suffolk a marriage was concluded between the king and Dame Margaret, the king's daughter of Sicily and Jerusalem, a woman of exemplary birth and chargeable to this land, for ... it was agreed by the king ... that he should give over all his right and title in the duchy of Anjou and the earldom of Maine, the which two lordships were in the keep of Normandy. The which conclusion of marriage was the beginning of the loss of France and of much heaviness and sorrow in this land.
Great Chronicle of London
She was not beautiful in the English sense, being small and dark, but there was a vivid quality to her, an intense attentiveness. She walked like a dancer; her ribs were lifted, her collar bones open so that her neck seemed long. It took most people some time to realize she was not tall. Her father had given her no dowry, so she walked taller than ever. Seed pearls glistened like tiny teeth in her hair.
The Earl of Suffolk adjusted his body to an attitude of admiration and deference. She was fourteen years old, but it seemed to him that she would require a great deal of deference. As she drew closer he could see the minute contractions and dilations of her pupils, a nerve quivering in the soft upper lip.
'They will not love me, I think,' she had said to him once, with that air of certainty that left no room for doubt or hesitation. He had said that of course the people would love her, just as the king had loved her, from the first. Though, privately, he considered that love was an accommodating word, like beauty.
It was true that the king had felt a passion fix't and unconquerable from first seeing her portrait. The dim miniature which to everyone else had seemed unclear, slightly damaged by its journey, had in the king's eyes resolved into a composite of everything he yearned for, for himself and the nation. He had attached himself to this vision with that fixity of which he was unexpectedly capable. Amenable to most things, he would from time to time grow obdurate as a stone; there was no reasoning with him, no persuasion. That was why the earl had accepted, on his behalf, this young girl who brought with her no dowry, who had to be bought at the great cost of the territories of Maine and Anjou.
It had been part of his mission to win her confidence, and he had won it. In any company she looked first to him before speaking or taking a decision. Now he smiled encouragingly as she took her place beside him, and although she did not smile back he could see a certain release in the set of her shoulders, the tilt of her head. They stood together while the choirs sang in a soft curtain of light that came through the great windows, and the earl had the sense of being as insubstantial as one of the motes of dust that danced about in its rays.
* * *
Then there was the journey to England.
After several hours at sea the clouds gathered out of nowhere; the sky began to brood and churn, and the sea to broil and foam. It twisted like the coils of some monstrous intestine, spewing out extraneous matter from its depths.
The crew, fleetingly illuminated by flashes of light, battled frantically with the sails. Soon the air was nine parts water and it was difficult to breathe. All the passengers were ordered below, where they clung to one another and prayed.
Some said they saw armies marching from the battlements of the sea, while others saw the faces of devils in the waves, and yet others the faces of their saints, to whom they cried out for aid. The first ship was dashed against hidden rocks but remained afloat, lurching dangerously, with part of its belly gone and some of the crew swept overboard.
One man swore he saw the Son of God walking towards him. In His hand He held a shining cross and His face was smiling. This smiling Jesus came towards him on a wave, and the man tried to cry out to Him, but his mouth was full of the storming sea, and so the Son of God walked past.
Yet he was saved, this man, by the beam of timber from the broken ship to which he clung, though afterwards he always said he had been saved by the smiling Jesus. In later years, when he told this tale, some laughed, while others grew sober and joined in with fantastic tales of their own, and others asked, half mocking, what the Son of God had been smiling about, which was hard to say. Also it was hard to describe the nature of the smile. 'Was it pitiful?' they asked him. No. 'Was it joyous, for He was bringing His flock home?' No. Nor was it triumphant, nor sad. When they doubted him, because he could not describe the face of his Lord, nor say how he knew for certain that it was Him, he remembered how in childhood he had walked across the rafters of a burnt-out house for a dare. And in a burst of inspiration he said that it was just as if He was right pleased at being able to walk on water again.
And at this several members of his audience withdrew, shaking their heads, and saying that his wits had been addled by the sea.
But the Earl of Suffolk had been charged with the duty of bringing the king's new wife back to him. Somehow he got her into a tiny boat together with his own wife, Lady Alice, and a boatman who rowed them strenuously towards the shore.
Several people had assembled on the sands, startled by the news that their new queen was landing. No one had expected her to land there, at that point. But the mayor of that town, Porchester, was a man who considered himself equal to any task that the Lord should throw at him, and he ordered carpets to be laid across the beach, and hastily summoned a small band of musicians to play the royal party in. They waited for more than an hour in the rain and wind, while the little boats bobbed restlessly back and forth and the bigger ships lurched on the horizon. As soon as they drew near enough the mayor commanded his men to run into the water and haul them in.
So the earl at length emerged on to the shore, carrying the crumpled princess, though his legs were unsteady, surprised by the feel of land. His soaked clothes clung to him, his hair was plastered to his head, and he was only recognizable as the earl because of the insignia he wore. He stumbled drunkenly across the carpets, holding what looked like a bundle of rags, so that the mayor and all who stood with him doubted what they saw, and the musicians began to play uncertainly, out of time.
Suffolk could think only of how he had begged the king not to give him this mission. His right arm hurt where he had been battered against the side of the ship, and his ribs felt bruised, so that he carried the princess with some difficulty, but she was too sick to walk and he would not entrust her to anyone else. He concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, and on not dropping his royal charge as he trod unevenly over the carpets. By the time he reached the mayor he had hardly enough breath left to request that they should be taken to a shelter where the princess could lie down. He saw doubt in the eyes of the mayor, so he spoke sharply, and they were conducted to a tiny cottage where the startled occupants offered them what they could. And he carried the princess all the way, though his right arm grew numb in the process. He was too old for this, he thought; he felt every day of his forty-eight years.
When at last he set her down on a wooden pallet with a straw mattress, her face was as white as death and she could only whisper at him in French. He knelt down heavily to hear what she was saying, and found she was enquiring about the other ships, and her attendants, and the storm. He assured her that they were not lost; it was entirely possible that some would be swept up later that day or the next, or further along the coast.
He thought she must have misheard him, for despite his assurances she turned her face away and wept. Gradually he understood that she was weeping for a greater loss.CHAPTER 2
The King Prepares to Meet His New Bride
Our dear and best beloved wife the queen is yet sick of the labour and indisposition of the seas, by occasion of which the pox has been broken out upon her.
Letter from Henry VI to the Lord Chancellor
As soon as Suffolk was admitted to his presence, the king broke away from his attendants and went straight to him. The earl sank clumsily to his knees, but the king raised him up and kissed him on both cheeks and clung to him in a long embrace.
Suffolk, still suffering from his ribs, and unused to the awkward weight of a king in his arms, winced, and the king drew back at once in concern.
'You are injured!'
'It is nothing, your grace.'
The king immediately embraced him again, more carefully, and Suffolk noticed that he was quivering with excitement or relief.
'She is really here?' he said, finally releasing the earl.
'She is, your grace.'
The king's face was luminous with joy. He could look, in such moments, like a handsome man.
'And – she is well?'
'She is recovering marvellously, my lord.'
In fact, the princess was far from well. She had been taken to a convent to recuperate, but was showing no signs of improvement as yet. But Suffolk assured the king that it was nothing serious, she merely wanted to look her best, as women do, when she met her new husband for the first time. As soon as she was well enough she would be taken in state to Southampton, and the king could meet her there.
Actually, the delay had allowed Suffolk to hire a dressmaker from London to create a new trousseau for the princess. When her cases and trunks had been recovered, and the contents inspected, the earl had been appalled by the state of her wardrobe: old dresses visibly made over and mended, some of them threadbare. He had felt a spasm of rage towards René, who had sent his daughter off so shoddily to be England's queen. Then his wife had suggested that they should contact her dressmaker in London. There was nothing for it but to pay for this himself. The princess had no money; she had already begun to pawn her plate. To spare her feelings he had told her that the rest of her clothes had been lost in the storm.
But his majesty was still talking.
'I hardly slept all night for fear, when I heard,' he said, 'but that is nothing now – God heard my prayers.'
You should have prayed harder, Suffolk thought, then maybe there would not have been a storm.
'He heard my prayers,' the king repeated, 'and she is here at last, safe and well. The people will see this as a sign of God's blessing on our union.'
The people, as the earl well knew, would see nothing of the kind.
'It is all thanks to you – you have saved her from the teeth of the storm!'
Suffolk bowed and said words to the effect that he had done his duty to the best of his ability. Not even a storm at sea could part two people who were destined to be together. The king nodded emphatically.
'Does she speak of me?' he asked eagerly.
'All the time, your grace.'
In fact, she hadn't mentioned him at all; she seemed to have fallen into a state of melancholy, from which Suffolk hoped the new clothes would rouse her.
But the king was restless. Some perfunctory questions followed, about the health of Suffolk's wife, then he said to his attendants, 'I would speak with my Lord of Suffolk alone,' and ushered him into a tiny room.
Suffolk anticipated, with some anxiety, that awkward questions might follow about the deal he had brokered with the French, about the loss of lands and money. The cost of transporting the queen had exceeded the sum allotted, and some of the fifty-six ships were as yet unaccounted for, but as soon as the king turned to him he could see that he was full of suppressed excitement.
'I have a great plan,' he said, 'for when we meet.'
He outlined his plan to the earl, who allowed his gaze to rest on the soft squares of sunset on the wall. Each square was alive with the nodding shadows of leaves, stirred now by a much gentler wind. He was thinking that the king, who had not yet seen his bride, had never once asked the question that any other king might have asked: whether she was as beautiful as her portrait had suggested. And this was because in his mind she was beautiful, fixed and eternally so; Suffolk might have presented him with an old washerwoman and he would have greeted her with the same delight. Suffolk thought of what the king's tutor had said when he had begged to be released from his duty of instructing the king: that either he was a natural fool or a holy innocent, and he did not know which was more dangerous to the nation.
But the king was looking at him now with anticipation. He had pressed his fingers to his mouth in the kind of unkingly gesture that his tutor had always tried to train out of him, and Suffolk realized that he was expected to speak.
'It is a marvellous plan, your grace,' he said, and the king at once expanded upon it in greater detail, while Suffolk again contemplated the light from the windows, how beautifully it fell upon the wall. A few days ago he thought he had seen his death in the rearing waves, but now there was only this soft beauty. And the king's voice, outlining his marvellous plan, with which he was expected to collude.
I am so tired, he thought, so tired.CHAPTER 3
The New Queen is Deceived
When the queen landed in England the king dressed himself as a squire, the [Earl] of Suffolk doing the same, and took her a letter which he said the King of England had written. While the queen read the letter the king took stock of her, saying that a woman may be seen very well when she reads a letter, and the queen never found out it was the king because she was engrossed in reading, and she never looked at the king in his squire's dress, who remained on his knees all the time.
She had hated it, of course; who wouldn't?
They had knelt before her for some time while she read the letter with the utmost concentration. And several times over, or so it seemed to Suffolk, who knelt behind the king with his head lowered, and thought about his complaining knees. It was not a complicated letter, nor overly effusive; the king had read it to him for his approval. It bade her cordial welcome and assured her of the king's affections.
Suffolk hoped that, whatever the king thought he might see in her preoccupied face, it would not change his mind or his heart. And that the princess would not keep them waiting too much longer or, worse still, lose her temper with them for bringing her a letter rather than the king. As it was, when she had finally finished, she turned to her chamberlain and said, 'But why does he not come here in person?'
Suffolk thought then that the king might give them both away; he could see suppressed laughter in his majesty's shoulders. It might have been the moment for him to declare himself, but the princess turned away in evident disappointment and, after a pause, the king rose somewhat clumsily and left the room, and Suffolk followed.
Outside, the king put back his hood from his thinning hair, and Suffolk was relieved to see that he was smiling. But he said nothing, only with a series of gestures and nods conveyed that Suffolk should go back in. Then he mounted his horse and rode away.
Resisting the urge to sigh, Suffolk took off the cloak and hood identifying him as squire and went back into the room. The princess looked up at him with a face full of eager uncertainty, and the earl said, 'Most serene highness, what do you think of the squire who brought you the letter?'
The princess's eyes moved fractionally from left to right as she scanned Suffolk's eyes. She was disconcerted, but not yet suspicious of a trick.
'I did not think anything of him,' she said. 'I was reading the letter.'
But realization dawned on her with that quick apprehension that often caused her to respond to what people said before they had finished speaking.
'Ah!' she cried. 'Why did he not tell me?'
And Suffolk, who had every sympathy for the princess in that moment, said, 'It was a whim, your highness – it pleased his majesty to see you unawares.'
She turned away from him, biting her lip, and said, 'But I kept him on his knees all that time!'
The earl assured her that she had done nothing wrong.
'But why? Did he want to see what he thought of me? What did he think of me?'
Excerpted from Succession by Livi Michael. Copyright © 2014 Livi Michael. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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