This scene occurs before the action of the novel by about six months. Mary Howard is in the coronation procession for Anne Boleyn and describes all that she sees and who she meets...
All around me is gold and white and crimson, the sky a surprising blue above us. The queen’s hair, brushed a hundred strokes, hangs down her back like a thick black waterfall. Anne Boleyn, as beautiful and as stony as a statue.
The men and women of Cheapside dressed in their best, patched and brushed and so out of place amongst the white and gold and velvet and silver tissue that hangs from every house. But the men still wear their caps and the faces of all alike are sour and insolent. The cheers of “God Save the Queen!” are few and far between.
My horse shifts beneath me, eager to be moving. The men and women stare, openmouthed at the inaudible pageant performed on the street corner. I press one hand to the pocket at my side. My mother’s letter there crinkles, the sound louder to me than the stamping of hooves and shouts of the thousands.
Ungrateful wretch – she began.
You dare to ally yourself with that woman – she continued.
You will hear from me no more – she finished.
If only my mother kept her promises.
The bleating of the sackbut ceases and the procession moves forward again. “HA HA!” One man crows as we depart.
“I hate it when the ignorant learn to read.”
I turn to Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, to my left. She sits upright in her saddle, the crimson of her gown reflecting pink off of her pale skin, the gold coronet of her hood sparking in a flash of sun.
“What’s he laughing at?” I ask.
“The initials.” Lady Rochford waves a dismissive hand at the white and gold canopy that shades the queen from the sun, embroidered with the Tudor rose, a crowned falcon, and two letters entwined. H and A – Henry and Anne. Ha ha.
Lady Rochford scowls, the skin around her eyes stretched by fatigue. She served Queen Katherine for years, but she’s married to the new queen’s brother. I wonder if she, like my mother, believes all of this pomp is just a sham. A brave show to try to justify a fabricated marriage. Like a conjurer’s trick, mother said, to make the people believe.
From the faces of the people around me, it doesn’t seem to be working.
Things are a little more cheerful at Gracechurch Street, where Mount Parnassus looms over an archway where a marble fountain spouts Rhenish wine from four spigots. One man – his left hand an open sore – lies on his back with his head directly underneath a spout while Apollo and the Muses entertain us, proclaiming all of Queen Anne’s virtues, but especially her ability to bear sons. Many believe she already carries one, her belly overlarge beneath the white of her gown.
My brother is near the head of the procession, standing in for our father who is away in France. Never one to stand on ceremony, he Hal turns his horse and comes to me.
“Mary.” We are virtual strangers. He is better friends with the king’s son – his obligatory childhood companion – than he is with me.
“Did Mother contact you?” he asks.
I nod. No need to tell him what she said.
“Did she threaten never to speak to you again?”
I lift my eyes to his.
“She did, didn’t she?” Hal laughs. “What else did she say?”
“That I should think long and hard about who I am. And about where my loyalties should lie.”
“In other words, she reminded you of your Stafford descent, that you are royalty in your own right, and that you should not allow yourself to be taken in by a woman who appears to have gained her position by witchcraft and seduction.”
“Mother said that to you?”
He leans closer, his saddle creaking. “Not in so many words. But it is easy to read between them with our mother, is it not? Especially for someone who savors them like sweetmeats.”
Hal eyes me steadily.