Pale Rose of England
Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award Finalist for Best Historical Fiction of the Year
Pale Rose of England - A Novel of The Tudors
The Back Cover:
Award-winning author Sandra Worth takes a fresh look at the mystery of Prince Richard of England, one of the two little prince who vanished in the Tower of London and his immortal love affair Lady Catherine Gordon, princess of Scotland.
1497. The news of the survival of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, has thundered across Europe, setting royal houses ablaze with intrigue and rocking the fledgling Tudor dynasty. Stepping finally onto English soil, Catherine arrives at the island of Saint Michael’s Mount, along with her husband and young son Dickon, their second child already on the way. With the keen support of Scotland’s King James IV, Richard—known in England as Perkin Warbeck—has come to reclaim his rightful crown from Henry Tudor. Based on a prophecy given Catherine by a seer that she would be loved by a king, she has no doubt Richard will succeed in his quest. But rather than assuming the throne she believed was their destiny, Catherine would soon be prisoner of King Henry VII, and her beloved husband would, unimaginably, be stamped as an imposter.
Nothing could shake Catherine’s belief in Richard and her loyalty to the man she loved. She became a favored lady-in-waiting to the queen, Elizabeth of York, but her dazzling beauty only brought her unwanted affections from a jealous king and enmeshed her in a terrifying royal love triangle. With her husband facing execution for treason, Catherine, alone in the glittering but deadly Tudor Court, finds the courage to spurn a cruel monarch and shape her own destiny, winning the admiration of a nation.
Pale Rose of England
Cornwall, England, September, 1471
Pain washed over Catherine in waves of unrelenting agony. She heard herself moan. Where was she, and where was she going, she wanted to ask, but only dull cries issued from her lips. She tried to open her eyes, but her lids felt like stones.
“Bury—” voices whispered. “Bury—make haste to bury—make haste—”
Was she dead? Would they bury her while she still breathed, or did she merely imagine that she lived? Help me—save me—Almighty Lord of Heaven! Forgive me my transgressions—
Muffled sobbing came to her, then faded away. She grew aware of the soft chanting of monks. Their song lent her solace, for she knew that wherever she was, it could not be Hell.
“She is full of beauty, even now, even like this,” someone said.
“She has the beauty o’ an angel, though her hair be black as raven’s feathers” Another voice. “God have mercy on her.”
“Of late, ’tis of a pale rose that she makes me think,” a man said sadly. “A pale rose, in a bitter winter’s wind . . .”
The murmurs died away, and the chanting grew louder. Catherine felt raindrops caress her brow. The spasms in her belly faded. Blissful oblivion engulfed her, and she drifted away into the darkness.
When she opened her eyes, a blur of shadows, flames, and arches filled her vision. Church bells chimed the quarter hour, and somewhere a shutter creaked on a hinge as it banged in the wind. A sudden pain made her cry out. She tried to rise and fell back on a rough mattress. A gentle hand settled on her shoulder.
“Nay, child, do not exert yourself,” a voice said. “You are very weak. What you need is rest.” A white wimple framed the wrinkled face, and a large wooden crucifix hung across her black robes.
A nun, thought Catherine. “Where am I?” she whispered. Words required effort, and the nun had to lean close to hear.
“St. Buryan Church, my child. You are safe, for it has the privilege of sanctuary that the Mount does not.”
“Sanctuary?” Catherine managed. Why did she need sanctuary? She grasped the nun’s hand when another spasm seized her, and tried to lift her head.
“You must not strain yourself. ’Tis too early for the babe to come.”
The babe. How could she have forgotten? She dropped back heavily. Church bells began to toll for compline, stirring a vague memory. All at once her mind cleared. “Where is my son?” she cried in a panic, clutching the nun’s sleeve.
“Where is my bairn—my Dickon—”
“Fret not, he is safe. Your ladies keep watch over him.”
“I want to see him—I need to see him.”
“He shall be brought to you.”
“What of my lord husband? Has he sent tidings?”
The nun averted her gaze. “All in good time, my child.” She smoothed the girl’s hair back from her brow.
“Is he—did he . . .” She couldn’t finish the dread thought.
“We know nothing. Nothing for sure. Yet.”
“Why am I here, Sister?” Catherine gasped.
“Your lord husband requested that you—” The nun broke off. “He requested that you be transferred here from St. Michael’s Mount—” Again that hesitation. Softly, she added, “In case matters do not go as hoped.”
Even in her condition, Catherine knew that she was not hearing the full truth. She turned her mind back to St. Michael’s Mount.
St. Michael’s Mount.
She closed her eyes.
September 7th, 1495–
November 23rd, 1499
Twilight on the Mount, 1497
“St. Michael’s Mount,” Richard said in awe, his arm around Catherine’s shoulder as they stood together on the deck of his ship, the Cuckoo, huddled beneath his cloak. The wind blew in their faces, whipping his golden curls and her black hair. Above their heads, the banner of the White Rose of York beat wildly.
Catherine followed his gaze to the silhouette of the monastery-fortress rising up from the silvery sea, dark against a narrow crack of gold left by the setting sun. Behind the rocky outcrop curved a strip of land, as if in a protective embrace. The salt taste of the ocean on her lips seemed like wine to her, for Richard’s joy at returning to his fatherland banished her unease. She looked up at her husband’s shining face and laid her hand over his as it rested on her shoulder. Across the distance, the faint chime of abbey bells reached her ears.
“St. Michael’s Mount is a-bidding us welcome,” she said in the lilting Scottish brogue of her native land.
Richard brushed her brow with his lips.
She threw him a loving glance, nestling in his warmth. “Our babe shall be born here. In England. Your land. The land of your fathers.”
The sun had sunk beneath the horizon and St. Michael’s Mount was bathed in shades of purple when they drew into the harbor. The families that lived at the foot of the hill had gathered to give them warm welcome with cheering and applause. As soon as they dropped anchor, the men leapt to assist them to disembark. Richard helped Catherine from the ship while his men-at-arms sorted out their weapons on the dock and her ladies supervised the arrangement of their belongings on the mules. A groom brought a donkey, and Richard gently helped Catherine onto its back. Catherine’s kinswoman and lady-in-waiting, Alice Hay, took their babe and walked beside them. Little Dickon had already been fed his supper, and thickly swaddled against the wind, had fallen into a sound sleep in his nurse’s arms. Catherine’s lips lifted tenderly as her gaze touched on her child’s sweet form.
Ponderously, by torchlight, they ascended the eight hundred granite steps that led to the castle on the Mount, Richard on foot, leading Catherine’s mule. Behind them trudged their men, their breast plates and pikes glinting in the fading light of day. They had arrived at vespers and the chant of monks that floated down from above was a soothing sound in the gathering gloom. Massive stones and uneven rocks made the way long and steep, and the higher they moved the more ferocious the wind became, but Catherine was oblivious to the hardship. Her gaze was riveted on the view of the sea that unfurled around them, reminding her of an expanse of beautiful silver taffeta waving in welcome. Slowly, she became aware that the monk-song had died away and silence had descended over the fortress. The summit was within reach.
With his silver crucifix gleaming on his chest, the prior waited to receive them by the church steps, much joy in his heart. Beside him stood his little group of four black-clad Benedictines, for the Mount had suffered many setbacks under the House of Lancaster and these few were all it could support. But the abbot was not thinking of his troubles with the Lancastrian king Henry VII now, or even of God; he was thinking that never in his life had he beheld two such beautiful young people with such grace of deportment, one golden as the fields of wheat in summertime; the other with hair that shone like moonlight around large, black-fringed azure eyes.
Richard lifted Catherine from her mount, and they came before him. “In the name of Christ our Lord, we welcome your grace, Catherine, Duchess of York, and your grace Richard, Duke of York, true King of England—”
The young couple bowed their heads to receive his blessing, and he made the sign of the cross over them. Accompanied by a novice, he led them across the courtyard, up the steps past the Lady Chapel, and through an arched entry into a distant wing of the abbey where stone steps led down again. The novice pulled open a heavy nailed-studded door and they passed through a vestibule into a curved tower. Three lovely chambers fanned out before them. Each was crowned with wood beams on the ceiling and had windows to the darkening sea with seats carved into the walls for viewing. Coffers serving as bedside tables were set with ewers and basins, and candles that flickered in welcome.
“These will be your quarters while you are our guests,” the prior said, unable to take his eyes from Catherine’s face. Wondrous fair with chiseled features, milky smooth skin and a rose blush along the cheekbones, she had a beautiful smile and teeth as perfect as a set of lustrous pearls. He forced himself to look away. “Your men are lodged farther down the hill, my lord, but there is room here for the royal princeling and the duchess’s attendants—Your Grace.” He turned to Catherine again, welcoming the chance to gaze at her once more.
“Thank you, Prior John,” Catherine replied. “After the cramped quarters aboard ship, this space is most welcome.”
“Ah, indeed, indeed… ” Prior John collected his thoughts and addressed Richard again. “We observe the vow of silence at the Mount, and our dinner hour is past, but this being a special occasion, I would be gladdened to partake a cup of wine with you as you sup, Your Grace.”
“We shall be delighted, Prior John,” Richard said.
The rooms filled with bustle and commotion as Catherine’s two ladies went to work settling in. Agatha picked up a ewer and poured water into a basin, and Catherine proceeded to wash, cringing with each icy dab. All the while, her gaze barely left Alice who carried Dickon into the next room and laid him in his cot. She stood patiently as Agatha freshened the folds and embroidered hem of her tawny sea gown, straightened the flared sleeves of her square-cut bodice, and adjusted her low belt over her hips, but as soon as Agatha had secured her velvet headband and veil over her bound hair, Catherine tip-toed to her babe’s side and laid a kiss on his cheek. She arranged his blanket over him with a tender touch, careful not to awaken him before she left for dinner.
Outside, night was enfolding the world and the wind howled. Giant torches burned in the stone sconces set atop the walkways and their flames danced in the gusty wind. They filed into the chapel, their footsteps whispering reverently against the stone floor, and knelt before the gray marble of the reliquary of the Virgin’s milk. Catherine prayed for Richard’s success in winning back his father’s throne, but even more fervently she begged the Virgin for his safety, and the safety of her wee son, and her babe yet to be born, now five months in the womb. She lit a candle for her mother’s soul and murmured prayers for her father, her four brothers and six sisters, and a special one for her favorite siblings, William and Margaret, left behind in Scotland. She concluded her prayers and made the sign of the cross. Taking Richard’s hand, she left for the refectory, passing Agatha, who remained at her devotions.
The monk’s dining room was a beautiful chamber with windows along two walls. Though sparsely furnished with a long table, benches and a few chairs, Catherine thought it radiated warmth and welcome. A great fire burned in the small hearth at one end and from a large copper cook pot emanated the delicious aroma of vegetables and spices that sent her stomach growling with appetite. Beyond the glass, the sea was drenched in the blackness of night, yet the candles that were reflected in the panes cast a warm glow over the darkness outside.
They gave their cloaks over to the novice and took a seat at the rough-hewn table that was already spread out with thick crusty bread, and pewter dishes. A monk stirred the soup, and the novice brought them wine from an earthen flask before moving about the room to complete the final preparations for dinner.
“I pray your journey was not overly strenuous, my lord,” Prior John said when he joined them.
“I fear it was difficult, Father,” Richard said, toying with his mug. “Almost as soon as we left Scotland, we encountered a storm and were forced to take shelter in Ireland. We expected to meet Sir James Ormond while in Cork. As you may know, he is—was—one of our staunchest supporters. But on our arrival there, we learned that he had been murdered.”
A silence fell. The prior leaned close and said, “Murder, terror, Byzantine torture—’tis all we’ve known since the bastard Tudor seized the throne.” He kept his voice low, by force of habit. “He has spies everywhere. One cannot be too careful, even here, in this bastion of the House of York.”
Richard nodded. “King James and I always spoke in whispers, yet it seemed to us that Henry knew our plans even before we knew it ourselves.”
“How was your reception in Ireland?’
“Waterford was hostile, but the people of Cork welcomed us—some for affection, others because they desired change. Tell me about England. How do they feel about us here in the south?”
“Without exception the Tudor is hated. All he has brought us is fear and taxes. We pray daily for the restoration of your royal father’s line. When you leave here to march against the Tudor, you’ll see the truth of what I say. All Cornwall will rise up to join you.”
“The Cornishmen were cruelly punished for their revolt in June. Dare they rebel again?”
“Their defeat at Black Heath came at heavy cost, aye, but we are a stubborn lot. And you are made in your royal father’s image, God assoil his noble soul. They will flock to your banner.”
“In the north, they ran from me.” Richard’s tone was soft, almost a confession, and his gaze was averted. Catherine’s heart ached for him. She reached beneath the table and placed a gentle hand on his knee.
“If the Tudor is so hated, why did they not join me against him, Father?” he asked, voicing the question that had tormented him since the failure of his northern invasion.
“You came with Scotsmen. We hate the Scots more than we hate even Tudor, but King James did not consider that.”
“James was angry that my people spurned me. He punished them for it. I could not stop him—”
Catherine bit her lip, remembering Richard as he had looked when he’d returned from the invasion. From her high bower she’d seen him gallop up the steep slope of Stirling Castle in the rain with his few men. Flinging himself from the saddle, he’d disappeared into the tower, and moments later, burst into her chamber, disheveled, a look of such anguish on his face that her ladies fled as she and Richard stood and gazed on one another. Someone shut the door and Richard threw himself into a chair. He covered his face with his hands.
“What has happened?” she cried. “Dear God, why are you back so soon? Where is my cousin? Where is the king—tell me James is not dead!”
Richard did not reply. She knelt before him. He dropped his hands and met her eyes. “James is in England, butchering my people.”
“I don’t understand—”
“The invasion failed. They did not rise up for me. He grew angry and gave the order to slay the men and rape the women—he cut them down like animals. He burned their homes. I could not stop him—it was terrible—terrible, Catherine—”
When she finally learned the full narrative of what had happened on that fearful day, she knew Richard was no longer welcome in Scotland. He had to leave, and there was nowhere left to go, except to England to win back his throne. But Richard had been consumed with doubts after the invasion, and it was left to Catherine to persuade him otherwise.
“Never mind what happened! You have the makings of a great king, Richard, for you have a good heart and know what it is to suffer,” she said. “And make no mistake about it—your people are suffering under that tyrant. Only you can save them—England needs you, Richard!”
The thud of boots broke into Catherine’s thoughts and the memories fled. She composed herself and lifted her gaze to Richard’s retinue filing into the refectory. They were led by the old mayor of Cork, silver-haired John O’Water, who had been loyal to King Richard III and the House of York through its many battles for the throne. Almost at the same moment, Agatha and Alice, relieved of her babysitting duty by a monk, entered from the opposite passageway. Amid a crosscurrent of greetings, everyone distributed themselves around the table. Catherine gazed at them, their wee group from the Cuckoo, and the thought struck her hard that their band of supporters had thinned woefully.
They had been left with only a single ship after their little fleet was scattered by the storm off the coast of Ireland, and they did not know where the others had gone, or if they had even survived. Richard had hoped for good tidings, but so far they’d had no word, not even at Land’s End, where he had briefly disembarked to inquire about the rest of his party and set up his standard. He had been welcomed by the Cornishmen, and promises had been made, but his only true hope lay in the men of southern England rising up for him in great numbers to provide him with the army he so desperately needed.
Catherine had not worried about his prospects until recently. So certain had she been all along that the righteousness of his purpose would bring triumph in the end that nothing had shaken her faith until the storm at sea had nearly claimed their lives—and even more importantly, the life of her precious son. So far she’d managed to keep her thoughts to herself. Richard had enough doubts of his own and needed all the reassurance she could offer, for much had gone against them since they’d set sail from the Scottish port of Ayr.
He will prevail, Catherine told herself. She had to believe that as strongly as she ever did—for everything in the world depended on it now. Around the table, the small party bowed their heads and the prior said grace. Then they spread their napkins, broke bread, and smiled at one another.
"If you are looking for excellent historical fiction novels on The War of the Roses, then check out Sandra Worth."
“5 stars/5 powerfully intoxicating! Another smashing novel to add to the list of hot historical fiction releases of 2011.”