Lady of the Roses
Sign up for Sandra Worth's newsletter to get 3 Chapters from the featured book,
Tomorrow We Will Know.
Winner of 2 Book Awards
Lady of the Roses - A Novel of the Wars of the Roses
The story of the medieval ancestors of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, John Lord Montague and his beloved, Isobel, who came from opposite sides of the Wars of the Roses.
Their love saved our world
The Back Cover:
“From a “gifted literary talent” comes a tale of defiant love, high adventure, and the resilience of the human spirit. Based on history, this is the story of young Isobel Ingoldesthorpe and Sir John Neville, who cultivate heir love as violence erupts all around them in England’s Wars of the Roses…
During her short time as a ward in Queen Marguerite's Lancastrian court, fifteen-year-old Isobel has had many suitors ask for her hand, but the spirited Lancastrian beauty is blind to all but Yorkist Sir John Neville. It is nothing short of a miracle when the Queen allows Isobel's marriage to the enemy, albeit at a hefty price.
All around Isobel and John rages a lawless war. It is only their passion that can see them through the bloody march on London by the Duke of Somerset, the violent madness of Queen Marguerite, and the devolution of Isobel's meek uncle into the Butcher of England. For theirs is a love destined to survive the ravages of both the Red Rose and the White.
Lady of the Roses
The familiar voice startled me. Unexpected and too gentle, it seemed to prepare the listener for ill tidings. I glanced up, the fear at my heart stopping my breath. Tom Gower, my husband’s squire, stood at the threshold of the small chamber and the expression on his face did nothing to ease the cold that had begun to spread through my body. The cloak I darned slipped from my fingers and I rose from my chair with difficulty, a hand on the armrest to steady my legs. Then he stepped forward, and I saw that he held a missive. Relief flooded me. I wanted to cry out with joy! God be praised, he had not come to give me dread tidings of battle, but to deliver the missive my beloved lord had sent! The smile I gave him as he approached to do his obeisance was so broad, I felt my cheeks would surely crack.
“Tom, dear Tom… Rise, I pray you. For a moment, I thought—no, pay no heed to what I thought—” I took John’s letter from him greedily and held it close to my heart, still smiling. Then I realized that Tom had not returned my smile and that his face remained as pale and grave as that cold moment when I had first heard his voice. “Tom… How goes the war for the Lancastrians?”
He hesitated before he replied. “I know not, my lady. I dressed my lord the Marquess in his armor, then he bade me leave him ’ere the battle started. To bring you this missive… and this ring.” He reached inside his doublet. As I watched him fumble for the ring, I saw that his fingers were stiff, as if he moved them with difficulty, and I realized that this task, for some reason, proved onerous to him. When I looked at his face, I knew he kept something from me.
I took the velvet pouch he offered and removed the ring, feeling as I did so, that I stood outside myself, looking down on the scene from high above. In the fading light of day, the stone, dark blue like my husband’s eyes twinkled with the same light I had seen in his. The world went suddenly very quiet and there rose before me the vision of a fifteen year old girl seated at a window watching the sun set over the world, her heart breaking with loneliness. She had bartered with the Fates for her destiny that day, and the Fates had listened and granted what she had asked.
That girl was me. Seeking a gift, I had offered a promise, and the time had come to fulfill that promise. However dark the shadows now, I have never forgotten that I am the most fortunate of women. Of storms and sorrow I have known my share, but I have also been blessed with a love such as few are given; a love that dazzled my life with its radiant light as the sun warms and bedazzles the earth. The glory of that love will dry the tears, as it always has, for love transcends all things, even time… even death. I regret nothing.
Regaining my composure, I raised my head and looked at Gower. “You have had a long journey,” I managed, thankful my voice did not waver. “Tell the cook to prepare you the best meal we can offer, and get rest…” In spite of myself, tears stung my eyes and my lips trembled. I turned away, and heard his footsteps echo down the hall as he left.
Amid lightning, thunder, and the pelting rain of a summer storm, a castle appeared in the distance, as if in answer to my prayers. "There!" I cried, unable to restrain my great relief. "We can take refuge there, can't we, Sœur Madeleine?"
With the wind whipping her cloak around her, Sœur Madeleine turned her small, plump bulk in her saddle and, ignoring the young man-at-arms, Guy, directed herself to the squire accompanying us on our journey.
"Master Giles, you know this place that is so curious?" she inquired. Her English was so heavily laden with the accent of her native Anjou that if I didn't listen carefully, she seemed to be speaking French. But she was right about the castle. Set in an open emerald field instead of high on a hill, and more like a magnificent country mansion inviting to guests than a fortress designed to repel enemies, it made a strange sight with its hexagonal redbrick towers, large windows, and tall, narrow frame.
"I believe it belongs to Lord Ralph Cromwell, Sister," replied Master Giles, his horse's hooves sucking in and out of the sticky, mud-mired road. "I heard he built a castle of red brick in Lincolnshire called Tattershall."
"And this lord . . . which is his allegiance, the Red Rose or the White?"
Master Giles threw Sœur Madeleine a small, sardonic laugh. "No man can be sure, Sister— 'tis said Lord Cromwell changes color with the wind. He was King Henry's lord chancellor back in the thirties, but a few years ago he quarreled with the Lancastrians and wed his niece to a Yorkist lord. After the Battle of St. Albans, I heard he quarreled with the Yorkists and now considers himself a loyal Lancastrian adherent of the queen's."
Sœur Madeleine gave a horrified gasp. "Such a man is a traitor! In France we would know what to do with him."
From what I could see of Master Giles's face, hidden between his collar and his sodden wool hat, I could tell his thoughts: This was England, and a good thing too. Even the French queen who had wed our King Henry couldn't change that.
"Perhaps we should not stop," Sœur Madeleine said suddenly, pulling up so sharply her horse almost lost its footing in a muddy puddle and snorted in protest. "Mon dieu, he may have changed back to York, and I will not take 'ospitality from a traitor!"
Master Giles and Guy rested their gazes on me, and their expressions told me I was the only one who could avert this setback. If we passed up this castle, we had no assurance of finding a hamlet with lodging for the night, and might well find ourselves sleeping under a tree. Wet and shivering with cold in the stinging rain, I too had been excited at the thought of a hot meal and a change of clothes. Now all stood in jeopardy. Fond as I was of Sœur Madeleine, she could be quite impractical. Fortunately, thanks to the kindly, almost maternal interest she had taken in me during the few weeks we had known one another, I had been able to use my influence with her for the benefit of our entire little party on the long journey from Marrick Priory in Yorkshire down to London. I took a breath before I spoke.
"Sœur Madeleine, Lord Jesus said that sinners who find the true way are saved, so if this Yorkist lord who strayed from the Red Rose has now returned to the righteous fold of Lancaster, then God will forgive him— and surely we should, too?"
Sœur Madeleine turned her face up to Heaven, as if to weigh the strength of both God's forgiveness and the storm. " Alors, mon enfant, you 'ave much wisdom for your fifteen years— there can be no other reason why God has put this place into our path in weather so formidable. He must intend us to stay here for the night, chère Isabelle." As if to seal her approval, she gave my name an extra flourish so that it sounded French.
Losing no time, Master Giles spurred his horse and sped in the direction of the castle. I knew he had rushed off so that Sœur Madeleine couldn't change her mind again, and I galloped my palfrey after him as best I could on the muddy highway. Guy, the young man–at–arms whose horse pulled my coffer, followed too, but, slowed by the small cart he dragged, his horse kept floundering in the deep puddles and he was the last to reach the castle gate.
As I drew alongside Master Giles, someone peered from the watchtower and the cry came down, "Who goes there?"
"The queen's ward, Lady Isobel Ingoldesthorpe, and her guardian, Sister Madeleine of Marrick Priory. We seek refuge for the night," Master Giles said, his face dripping with rain as he looked up.
The portcullis creaked open. I cantered my palfrey into the shelter of the castle gateway and dismounted with Master Giles's help. The porter came out of the guardhouse, and I smiled my thanks.
"You're fortunate, my good people," he said. "You'll find safe haven here with my lord Cromwell, whether ye be Lancastrian or Yorkist."
"You have Yorkists sheltering here this night?" Sœur Madeleine exclaimed.
A crash of thunder drowned out the man's reply to this dangerous question, and I seized the chance to distract everyone by pretending to faint. Sœur Madeleine and the porter rushed to my aid.
"Breathe deeply, my dear," advised Sœur Madeleine. I did as she suggested.
"Good that you came when you did," said the porter. "The young lady is in need of rest, and the storm is worsening."
As if Heaven decided to help us, the rumbling grew louder and the driving rain poured faster as he spoke. But Sœur Madeleine returned to the subject of Lord Cromwell.
"Is your lord the same Lord Cromwell who served King Henry and our gracious queen Marguerite d'Anjou as chancellor?" asked Sœur Madeleine, her tone less demanding now. I held my breath.
"The same," he replied. "So, where are you headed?" he asked pleasantly, handing the horses over to two young, damp boy helpers.
"To court, sir," Sœur Madeleine said with a haughty look. "I am Sœur Madeleine of the Benedictine Order of the Abbey Notre–Dame de Wisques, and my charge here is Lady Isobel Ingoldesthorpe, ward of Queen Marguerite d'Anjou. Her father was the loyal Lancastrian knight Sir Edmund Ingoldesthorpe of Newmarket, Cambridgeshire, and her mother was the true Lancastrian Lady Joan Tiptoft of Cambridgeshire, both deceased, God rest their souls." She made the sign of the cross, pursed her lips, and lifted her chin in challenge.
I gave the porter a quick smile to melt the coldness of Sœur Madeleine's reply and bowed my head to hide my thoughts. Contrary to what Sister had just said, my father was no dyed–in–the–wool Lancastrian. In order to avoid fighting for the Lancastrians, he had spent most of his adult life not answering the king's many summonses, then explaining his actions and paying for expensive pardons. "A corrupt lot!" was how he'd described the French queen and her favorites, who ruled the land during King Henry's frequent illnesses. But such talk was treasonous, and he had been careful not to let anyone suspect his Yorkist sympathies. I forced back the memory and, throwing off my wet hood, shook out my hair. I noticed that the porter's gaze went to my face and lingered there. Sœur Madeleine noticed too. "You are bold, sir," she snapped. "I hope your lord has better manners than you."
The man flushed in apology. "Aye, Sister, have no fear. He is a true knight and well he knows how to treat a lady. Pray, follow me."
Lord Cromwell, a genial man with hair the color of frost, came to greet us as soon as we were announced in the great hall where he had been in conversation with the chamberlain while servants rushed around busily preparing for a grand feast. Some covered the long tables with white cloths, arranged fruit bowls and dishes for salt, and laid out pewter bowls, steel knives, silver spoons and cups. Others positioned iron candelabras, replaced burned out candles and secured torches into the wall brackets, while still others swept up refuse, bone fragments, dog excrements and stale rushes. Wooden barrels brimming with fragrant rose petals, hyssop and sweet fennel had been carted up from the cellar and awaited nearby, ready to be scattered over the clean floor. Clearly, Lord Cromwell had spared no expense.
“Gracious Sister—my dear young lady—we bid thee both a hearty welcome!” he boomed as he kissed my hand and bowed to Soeur Madeleine. “You have timed your visit well—not only to shelter from the inclement weather—aye, not only for that! But for the banquet planned for the evening—a very special banquet, I might add. My niece Lady Maude Neville is arriving shortly with her husband and an entourage of young friends who shall be delighted to meet you, dear Lady Isobel. No doubt you will have much to discuss together—you know, those matters that absorb maidens so completely—young men!” He gave me a wink that brought a smile to my face and a frown to Soeur Madeleine’s. “There will be music, and dancing, and a troubadour to entertain us, and flamethrowers—you must get rest and refresh yourselves so you can enjoy the merriment!”
We were ushered to our chamber, a pleasant room high on the third floor overlooking the inner court where my coffer had already been set. In spite of the rain, the room greeted us as cheerfully as its owner had. At one end, the red brick wall provided a bright backdrop for the gold bed curtains and coverlet, and at the other a large window threw light over a colorful tapestry that covered nearly all the brick. Two servants entered, bearing a jug of wine, a platter of cheese, tall goblets, and a silver basin of water for washing which they set on a high chest. One lit the candelabra, while another took our wet, mud-splashed cloaks and hung them to dry in the garderobe before he left. As I watched the door shut behind him, excitement overwhelmed me and I rushed to my coffer to retrieve my most beautiful dress, as yet unworn.
“Isabelle.” Soeur Madeleine announced sternly.
I knew what that tone meant. I turned slowly, my heart sinking in my breast.
“We are not attending the banquet. You have no need to change.”
“May I ask why, Soeur Madeleine?” I asked in a small voice.
“Did you not hear his niece’s name? She is a Neville.”
“Not all branches of the Neville family support the Duke of York. Many are Lancastrian.”
“Peut-etre, but I take no chances with you, Isabelle. We will ‘ave supper in our room and go to bed early so we can be ready for tomorrow’s voyage. Now ‘elp me out of my gown before I die of the cold.”
Her resolute expression left no room for hope and I knew entreaty was useless. I swallowed my disappointment and slowly closed my coffer. “Aye, Soeur Madeleine.”
Untying the cloth belt that secured her gown, Sister removed her rosary from around her waist and pressed it to her lips before setting it down on the chest. I unfastened the brooch that secured her veil, took off her white crown band, wimple, coif, and the soft white cotton cloth underneath, folded everything, laid them neatly aside and helped her out of her pleated white habit that made up the outer garb of the Benedictine Order. I hung it to dry on a peg in the garderobe. After aiding her into the high bed, I brought her a goblet filled with wine, which she quickly emptied, and some cheese which she waved away. In her simple cotton shift, with her thin grey hair exposed and the blanket drawn up to her shoulders, she no longer seemed plump and robust, but old and frail, and I was seized with compassion. I refilled her goblet and mopped her brow with a towel dipped in the perfumed water from the silver basin. I ran my brush of boar bristles gently over her pink scalp and wispy hair. “Is this better, Soeur Madeleine?” I asked.
She sighed with pleasure. “Oui, m’enfant,” she said softly, and closed her eyes.
I crossed to the window. Guests had begun arriving, and their laughter drifted up to me in my bower, piercing my heart. I’d been in a nunnery for the past eight months and I longed for the company of young people, and for laughter, and music and dance—all that I’d missed since my father’s death.
“Isabelle, sing for me,” said Soeur Madeleine abruptly.
I went to the coffer and removed my small wooden lyre. It had served me well at the convent since it was not loud, and even at night I had been able to drown my loneliness in its sweet notes. I carried it to the window seat and opened the window. The air, cool and damp, brushed my cheek. The violent storm had lifted and the wind had chased away the clouds and ushered in what promised to be a lovely July sunset. A pale purple hue stained the east now, and in the west the few clouds that remained had turned to peach, casting a glow over the village where a few lights already twinkled. But in the months since my father’s death, I had found that nature’s beauty, far from soothing the ache of my spirit, summoned an inexplicable sadness from within my depths.
I missed my mother and my father, and I had no sisters or brothers. I was on my way to court to be married, but while my heart yearned for the kind of love that troubadours sang about and wordsmiths described in their lovely manuscripts—the kind of love my mother and father must have had for one another, since he never wed again after her death—I knew love would likely not be my portion. Marriages were made for lands and wealth, not love, and few young women with lands to offer a husband could hope fortune would bestow on them a love match. Even royalty married for alliances and trade agreements, and my future lay in the hands of the Lancastrian Queen Marguerite d’Anjou, wed at fifteen to a mad king—what pity would she have for me? Her interest lay only in my wardship and marriage, because the wardship paid her a fair annual income, and my marriage would fetch a goodly profit for her purse.
I didn’t know why the world was made so bitterly, but in this it played favorites, and I—insanely, I suppose—dared to hope I’d be one of the rare and fortunate few who would find Fortune’s favor. In the meanwhile I longed for small joys, like the banquet that I might have attended tonight where I could laugh and be with young men my own age, and feel the lightness of life.
I bowed my head with an acute sense of loss and plucked the chords of the latest lament to sweep the land. Raising my voice in song, I poured my heart into the words, and the haunting melody so encompassed me that I heard my own tears in the music…
Will I never feel the sun before clouds gather?
Will my heart never dance before it dies?
Will I never know your love, beloved?
You are lost to me, lost to me…
I lifted my gaze to Heaven. The sky was awash with color. As I sang, the peachy clouds turned to gold and deepened into rose. A lone bird soared high above, free to roam where it willed. I followed it with my eyes and my words until it faded from my sight. The sky changed again and now, like fire, the rose glow caught the earth, bathing all the world in tender beauty. I don’t know what came over me, but of a sudden I was swept with an indescribable yearning I could neither define, nor understand, yet I knew instinctively that the only potion that could banish the emptiness, that could break the loneliness, was that elusive thing the wordsmiths called love. I brought the song to a close, bent my head and closed my eyes. Silent words fell from my heart, and bartering with the Fates, I sought a gift, and made a promise.
I blinked. It took me a moment to reorient myself. “Aye, Soeur Madeleine?”
“We can go to the banquet, if you wish it.”
Disbelief left me speechless, incredulous. My mind spun with bewilderment and when at last her words registered, I laughed in sheer joy. I laughed at the sky, at the clouds, at the servants taking the horses from the guests arriving in the courtyard below. I threw my arms up and laughed, and I twirled from the window seat, laughing. I clasped my hands together in prayer to my lips, and I murmured thank you to Heaven, half-laughing, half crying, and twirled again. Then I looked at Soeur Madeleine. A tender smile hovered on her face as she watched me.
I rushed to her side, and taking her hand to my lips, I kissed the wrinkled skin. “Thank you, dear Soeur Madeleine.”
She blushed. “C’est rien,” she murmured. “’Tis nothing. But if we are to go, I dare say we had better hurry, ma petite.”
I ran to my coffer and rummaged for my new gown: A rich lavender silk and silver tissue sarcenet that I had never had occasion to wear before, embroidered with tiny silver leaves. The high-waisted gown with its low neckline trimmed with miniver fell in voluminous folds into a train at the back, and it shimmered like moonlight as I took it out of the coffer.
“You must be very careful, Isabelle,” Soeur Madeleine said as she helped me into the magnificent dress and arranged my long hair loosely around me.
“Why?” I replied, half-drunk in my joy.
“You are too beautiful with your swan neck and so big eyes, and I fear there are Yorkists at the banquet. Rapists and murderers, all of them.”
“Not all, surely?” I said, teasing in my delirium. I wondered if Soeur Madeleine had drunk too much wine because she had never complimented me before, and why should she when my eyes were not blue, but brown, and my hair not gold, but dark as chestnuts? If only I had a mirror! But mirrors were forbidden at the priory for as the nuns kept reminding us, the only eyes that mattered were the eyes of God. “I saw some Yorkists once,” I said gaily, “and they didn’t look like rapists or murderers.”
Soeur Madeleine gave a shocked cry, and for a moment I feared I had made a disastrous mistake that would cost me the banquet. But she said only, “Mon Dieu, what is the world coming to?”
“I found them attractive, as a matter of fact,” I giggled. I was drunk, surely, or I would never have dared to make such an admission.
She gaped at me. “I should report you to the Queen!”
I bent down and kissed her forehead with a smile. Bending came naturally to me, for though I was a head shorter than most men, I was usually taller than most women. “But you won’t, will you?” I laughed, not comprehending what made me so bold.
“M’enfant, you are impossible. I don’t know why I let you ‘ave your way with me, but to tell you true, I love you like my own. Maybe because your dark hair and eyes they remind me of—” She broke off, seemed to catch herself, and added, “of Anjou.” She fell silent, in reverie.
I, too, returned to reverie. But the scene that came to me made me giggle aloud.
“What do you find so amusing?”
“Nothing,” I lied, wiping the grin from my face with effort. I had never confided my secret memory to anyone, and certainly I had no intention of sharing it with Soeur Madeleine, no matter how drunk on joy I might be. In the previous spring, I had gone north to Yorkshire to visit friends and we had been returning to Wensleydale after a day’s outing picnicking in a meadow filled with wildflowers. Singing and laughing, we rolled along in our cart, the sun shining brightly on the pear orchards shedding their blossoms over us. At a turn of the River Ure some distance yet from the manor, the woods parted and two young men suddenly emerged from the river. Caught by surprise, they stood naked as babes for a moment before they quickly covered themselves as we passed—but one covered his face instead of his manly parts. My friends and I burst into side-splitting laughter and strained to see more as our two bodyguards cursed and the driver whipped the horses and barreled past. That sight, our first ever of a naked man, kept us in merriment for weeks.
But in these months I hadn’t forgotten the one who had covered his face, and sometimes I even saw him in my dreams, though only fleetingly, as I had in life.
“Listen to me, m’enfant,” Soeur Madeleine said, taking me by my shoulders. She seemed suddenly grave, and I grew fearful. “You are young, romantic, but you must be realist. Love ‘as little place in life. A young girl who is Lancastrian must wed with a Lancastrian. If she ‘as no wealth, she must wed for wealth, old, ugly and toothless though he be; and if she ‘as some land like you, she must wed for more. To love is to open oneself to pain, and in this world filled with troubles, there is trouble enough without love to worsen matters. ’Tis best to see all Yorkists as rapists and murderers. Do you understand, Isabelle, do you?”
It suddenly occurred to me that old people were filled with empty warnings about life, and I felt a rush of relief. I could dismiss her words like the faint rumble of thunder that had moved far away and no longer touched us. “Aye, Soeur Madeleine, I understand,” I said to please her, my mood as bright as ever.
"If you are looking for excellent historical fiction novels on The War of the Roses, then check out Sandra Worth."
“Worth deserves praise for her authenticity, rich period detail and well-crafted characters.” ---St. Paul Pioneer Press