A HUSBAND FOR ANNE
The Princess Anne, walking slowly through the tapestry room in St. James’s Palace—for it was a lifetime’s habit never to hurry—smiled dreamily at the silken pictures representing the love of Venus and Mars which had been recently made for her uncle, the King. Tucked inside the bodice of her gown was a note; she had read it several times; and now she was taking it to her private apartments to read it again.
Venus and Mars! she thought, Goddess and God, and great lovers. But she was certain that there had never been lovers like Anne of York and John Sheffi eld, Earl of Mulgrave, Princess and Poet. Her lips moved as she repeated the words he had written. Of all mankind I loved the bestA nymph so far above the restThat we outshine the Blest aboveIn beauty she, as I in love.
No one could have written more beautifully of Venus than John Sheffield had written of her. What had happened to Venus and Mars? she wondered idly. She had never paid attention to her lessons; it had been so easy to complain that her eyes hurt or she had a headache when she was expected to study. Mary—dear Mary!—had warned her that she would be sorry she was so lazy, but she had not been sorry yet, always preferring ignorance to effort; everyone had indulged her, far more than they had poor Mary who had been forced to marry that hateful Prince of Orange. Anne felt miserable remembering Mary’s face swollen from so many tears. Dear sister Mary, who had always learned her lessons and been the good girl; and what had been her reward? Banishment from her own country, sent away from her family, and married to that horrid little man, the Orange, as they called him—or more often Caliban, the Dutch Monster.
The exquisitely sculptured Tudor arch over the fireplace commemorated two more lovers whose entwined initials were H and A. Henry the VIII and Anne Boleyn had not remained constant lovers. That was indeed a gloomy thought and the Princess Anne made a habit of shrugging aside what was not pleasant.
She turned from the tapestry room and went to her own apartments. Delighted to find none of her women there, she sat in the window seat and took out the paper. Soon, the whole Court would be reading the poem, but they would not know that those words were written for her. They would say: “Mulgrave writes a pretty verse.” And only she would know.
But it was not always going to be so. Why should they hide their passion? Her father had always been indulgent, and she preferred to believe he would continue so. Her uncle too, but state policy could come into this—as it had with Mary. Anne was suddenly frightened, remembering that terrifying day when Mary had come to her, bewildered, like a sleepwalker. “Anne, they are forcing me to marry our cousin Orange.”
Matters of state! A Princess’s duty! Those words which meant that the free and easy life was over. An indulgent father and a kind uncle were yet Duke of York and King of England; and matters of state must take precedence over family feeling.
Anne refused to consider failure. It was a trait in her character which had often exasperated Mary. Anne believed what she wanted to believe, so now she believed she would be allowed to marry Mulgrave. Reaching her apartment she went at once to the window and, as she had expected, she saw him in the courtyard below, where he had been walking backward and forward hoping for a glimpse of her.
They smiled at each other. He was not only the most handsome man in her uncle’s Court, thought Anne, but in the world.
“Wait!” Her lips formed the words; he could not hear, of course, but with the extra sense of a lover, he understood.
She turned from the window, picked up a cloak, wrapped it round her and pulled the hood over her head. It would help to conceal her identity. Unhurriedly she went down to the courtyard. He ran to her and took both her hands.
“We must not stay here,” she said.
“But we must talk.”
She nodded and drew him to an alcove in the stone wall; here they could remain hidden from anyone crossing the courtyard.
“My poem . . .” he began.
“It was beautiful.”
“Did you understand what the lines meant?”
“I think I understand,” she said.
He quoted: “And therefore They who could not bearTo be outdone by mortals here,Among themselves have placed her now.And left me wretched here below.”
“It sounds as though she’s dead,” said Anne.
“It is symbolic. I daren’t tell the truth. You are
so far above me . . . a Princess. What hope have I . . .”
“You should always hope.”
“You cannot mean . . .”
“I think they want me to be happy.”
“And you would be happy?”
Anne never troubled to hide her feelings; she was always frankly herself.
“I want to marry you,” she said.
Mulgrave caught his breath with joy, and surprise. Marriage with the Princess Anne! That thought had entered his head, of course, but he scarcely dared hope. Why, if Charles had no legitimate child—and it seemed unlikely that he would—and James had no son, which also seemed a possibility, and Mary remained childless, well then it would be the Princess Anne’s turn. The prospect was dazzling. Married to the Queen of England! She was not an arrogant woman; one only had to look into that fresh- colored face, those eyes which, owing to some opthalmic trouble which had been with her since childhood, gave her a helpless look, at that body which was already showing signs of indulgence at the table, to realize that her air of placidity was an absolute expression of her true nature. She would be easy going, lazy—a comfortable wife even though she were a Queen. No wonder he was in love with Anne.
He shook his head. “They would never allow it.”
She smiled at him fondly. “If I begged and pleaded . . .”
“You would do that?”
“For you,” she told him.
He drew her toward him and kissed her almost wonderingly. She was delightful—gentle, yielding, frankly adoring, and a Princess! He, of course, was a very ambitious man, but this seemed too much good fortune. He must not let her delude him into the belief that it would be easy to marry her.
It was a pleasant state of affairs when ambition and pleasure were so admirably linked. Ever since he had become Gentleman of the Bedchamber to Anne’s father he had observed the royal family at close quarters and consequently knew a great deal about their weaknesses. No one in the country could help being aware of James’s position at this time for already his brother the King had thought it wise to send him into exile on more than one occasion and the Bill, the object of which was to exclude James from the succession, was being discussed not only in Parliament but in every town and village.
Mulgrave had served with the fl eet against the Dutch and been appointed captain of a troop of horse. The Duke of York was inclined to favor him; but what would his reactions be when he knew he aspired to marry his daughter?
Looking into the eager face of seventeen- year- old Anne he believed she was too simple—or too determined to have her way—to see the enormous difficulties which lay before them.
He caught her hands. “We must be careful,” he said.
“Oh, yes. We must be careful.”
“This must be our secret . . . for a while.”
She understood that.
“It would not do for His Majesty to know what is in our minds.”
“He has always been so kind to me,” she told him.
Kind, yes. Kindness was second nature to the King. He would smile at Anne, pat her hand, tell her he was delighted she had a lover; and immediately begin to arrange a marriage of state for her. In one respect Anne was a little like her uncle. There was a laziness in both natures which made them long for a peaceful existence and capable of doing almost anything to achieve it.
Charles was not very pleased with the Earl of Mulgrave at this time because he knew that Mulgrave had helped to increase the strife which existed between James and Charles’s illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth. It had become difficult for Charles to banish his brother and not send Monmouth away also; so Monmouth had been exiled too. Charles had seen the necessity, but he remembered that Mulgrave had helped to exacerbate relations between the two Dukes and when he knew of this greatest ambition of all, he might decide he had been too lenient.
Mulgrave wondered how to impress on Anne the need to be very cautious while not letting her believe that marriage between them was quite out of the question. Gentle and yielding as she was to him, so would she be to others; and if it were pointed out to her that she must take a foreign Prince as a husband, would she placidly smile and accept her fate?
“But you understand, my Princess, that we must be very, very careful . . .”
He stopped and gave a little gasp, for someone had stepped into the alcove. A rather shrill voice said: “Ah, Madam, I have searched and searched for you.”
Mulgrave was horrified. Here he was, caught with the Princess Anne in his arms; but Anne merely laughed.
“It’s only Sarah,” she said. “My dearest
Sarah how you frightened me!”
“Apologies, Madam. But I thought I should warn you. You are being somewhat indiscreet.”
“We thought no one would see us here.”
“Oh, but Sarah, you are the one who sees all.” Anne was smiling at her lover. “John,” she went on, gently, “all is well. It is only my dearest friend who would never bring me anything but good. Sarah, you, who are happily married yourself, will understand.”
“I understand, Madam, but at the same time I tremble.”
“Tremble! You, Sarah! When did you ever tremble?”
“For myself, never. For you, Madam . . . often.”
“You see, John, what a good friend she is to me? I am fortunate indeed to have two such . . . friends. John has been telling me, Sarah, that we have to be very careful not to betray ourselves. What say you?”
“I should say he is right,” said Sarah. “And the best way, Madam, if you will excuse my saying so, is not
to embrace in the courtyards.”
“We were well hidden from sight.”
“H’m,” said Sarah sharply. She peered up at Mulgrave. “You are silent, my lord.”
“My dear lady, you seem well equipped to keep the conversation alive.”
Anne smiled fondly from one to the other. “You must know that I want you two to be friends.”
“Anyone who is Madam’s friend is my friend,” said Sarah.
Mulgrave put in: “That is a great relief.”
“And now,” went on Sarah, “I think, Madam, that I should conduct you to your apartments. I will keep watch while you say your farewells.”
With that she turned her back on them and for a moment they clung to each other.
“John,” whispered Anne, “what shall we do?”
“Nothing . . . as yet,” he told her. “We must think of a way.”
“Yes, John. You think of a way . . . but think quickly.”
“I have only one desire in my life.”
Sarah said without turning her head: “I think I hear footsteps approaching. It would be well to go now.”
The lovers looked longingly at each other for a few more seconds; then John dropped Anne’s hand and she went to Sarah.
Mulgrave watched the two young women walk into the palace.
Excerpted from Royal Sisters by Jean Plaidy. Copyright © 2011 by Jean Plaidy. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.