On our third day at Coventry, Sir William Stanley sent word that he had found Margaret of Anjou and some of her ladies in a nunnery across the Severn.
Ill have to see her, Edward said without enthusiasm. I hope her sons death has convinced her that her cause is dead. But she has to understand. Women have no place in war . . . Whats she like?
Remembering, Ludlow Richard said, A virago. Proud as the devil. Very French. Adored her son.
Hmm. Stanleys bringing her in tomorrow. Miserably, he repeated, Ill have to see her.
The back window of Richards bedroom overlooked the courtyard. The following morning, still dressing, we gathered there, curiosity overcoming good taste, to see Margaret of Anjou brought in. Stanley had put her in a common baggage cart. She was a haggard, greying wreck in a filthy gown, her eyes staring sightlessly, dribble running from a slack mouth. Did I pity her? No. Oh—honour her belief in her husbands right, understand her grief for her son, yes. But for the rest, fuck the bitch. She was pathetic now, even pitiable, but shed shown England no pity.
The cart rattled to a halt out of our sight. Behind it came a group of mounted men guarding a pale girl. Anne Neville. Guarding her—what need, what could she do? No, those men were to blazon her new status as prisoner, one of the defeated rebels. Little Anne.
The horse was far too big for her, a war-horse, and the brute was fighting her every inch of the way. Her hair was bundled in a coarse linen snood of the kind servants wear, and her horrible black gown, mourning for her father and uncle, had been borrowed from some much bigger woman. Dusty and travel-stained, she was trying to keep her place on a mans saddle—and she rode with her head high and her face resolute. The Lady Anne Neville. I think thats when Richard fell finally and forever in love with her.
Stanley called the halt. One of his men ordered Anne to dismount.
She looked around. Is no-one to help me?
Your high-and-mighty days are over, Stanley jeered. Rebels dont get waited on. Viciously accurate, he imitated Annes aristocratic voice with its sweet underlying hint of Yorkshire. Get down or fall down, its all one to me.
I doubt Anne had ever dismounted unassisted. There was no mounting block, and that horse would have been too high for the average man. As she swung her leg over the horses rump her skirts got caught up, and for a moment she was revealed bare to the hip. Stanleys men laughed; one shouted a filthy remark and obscenely pumped his hips.
Richard vaulted the window sill down into the yard and flattened that man with the sweetest right hook Ive ever seen. Another took an elbow to the groin, and duck-walked away. I dont think Stanleys men recognized Richard—hed reached only the shirt and boots stage of dressing, he hadnt shaved or brushed his hair, and looked scruffy and insignificant. I arrived just in time to stop Stanley drawing his sword.
Anne was still struggling off the horse. Richard gently clasped her waist and set her on her feet.
Anne . . .
Your Grace— stammered Stanley. It was pretty to see him writhe.
The King sent you to bring this lady with courtesy to him. Watch yourself, Sir William.
Anne was staring transfixed at Richard. Lady Anne, the King has sent for you to—to see youre safe and—and cared for. I regret the treatment youve had, and so will the King. Fury made his eyes blaze like sapphires. Please, wont you come inside? Look, heres Martin, and Rob, and Francis. He held out his arm as if they were at Court.
Inside, Annes composure crumbled and she burst into tears. Out came four handkerchiefs and we clustered round her, patting and petting her like when we were children. Well, three of us did—Richard held back, looking noble, glowering; I think he didnt dare let himself touch her.
Lovey, hinny, crooned Rob, and I suppose they were the first loving words Anne had heard in days—months—for she sank her head on his shoulder and bawled. Dont cry, pet, its all right, youre safe. There now, there hinny.
Yes—sorry—stupid of me— Anne gave her nose a good honking blow and mopped her eyes. Im better now. Thank you. She offered Rob his kerchief back; he told her to keep it. M-must I see the King?
Blossom, yes, but he only wants to greet you and know youre safe, nothing to fear. Er—youll want to wash and tidy up . . . There arent many women here, but I can find a maid—
Take her to our room, I said. With all of us there, itll be quite proper. Besides, I remembered, Im married, I can chaperone her.
Married? Anne blinked. Martin, when? I didnt know.
Recently. To say in Burgundy would be too sharp a reminder. Come along, lovey, lets get you tidied up.
Fairly incompetent ladys-maids, we beat the dust from her gown, offered combs. More practically, Richard had pages bring fresh water and towels. I dont know how women do it, but with a quick wash and her hair pinned up, the pathetic, grubby girl had disappeared. Anne looked fit to meet every monarch in Europe. She shot me a glance, and with married propriety, I got rid of the others and showed her to the garde-robe, discreetly asking if she had any other needs (she still looked so pale; it might have been her female time). She hadnt, but, emerging and rinsing her hands, she said, Is the King—will he be—I know everything is different now. Im a traitors daughter and a traitors wife. So the King—Martin, Ive always been afraid of him.
He bears you no ill-will. None of its your fault. Edward only wants to look after you.
Good. How kind of him. But she didnt look convinced.
Richard had brushed his hair and finished dressing. Again, he offered Anne his arm, and we conducted her to the Kings room.
I dont know what had passed between him and Margaret of Anjou, but Edward looked both haunted and as if hed been through another battle. Clad in one of his elaborate long gowns, he sat with his hands on his knees, staring at Anne, his mind elsewhere. I think he hardly recognized her.
Your Grace. Knees trembling, she swept him a perfect Court curtsey. His face softened.
Cheer up, cousin. I know youre tired and heart-sore, but its over now. Here, sit down. Im sure one of your escorts, here, can find some wine. Hop to it, Francis. Lady Anne, do you know Martin is Sir Martin now? And a married man?
I didnt know he was knighted, sire. Martin, Im glad. My congratulations.
The wine came. We all drank. Do you know your mother is still in Beaulieu, Lady Anne?
The cup in her hand began to shake. No. That is, I supposed so. Is she safe?
Safe and well, so far as I know. You didnt think of staying with her?
Your Grace, I had no choice. I was in Margarets household. I had to go where she did.
You dont mean, Edward said incredulously, that that demented bitch dragged you across England with her army? Through that ghastly days march?
Well of all the . . . Were you close to the battle? Anne nodded. Im sorry, sweeting; no sight for ladies. Er—you know your—the prince is dead?
Yes. One cold little word.
I see. And what happened after the battle? To you, I mean.
Sire, Margaret saw what happened. She knew her son was dead and I think her mind broke. Shedve run to him . . . Doctor Morton, I think it was, got her and found a boat to take us across the river, he got us—Margaret and me and some of her ladies—to that nunnery. Then, she spread her hands, we didnt know what to do. So we waited.
Edward, said Richard, Sir William Stanley and his men treated Anne badly. They insulted her and spoke foully. See to it, would you? Anne shot him a wondering look; it was new to her that he had the right to order the King so casually.
I will. Though thats the Stanleys for you—coarse brutes the lot of them. Im sorry, cousin. Now—we leave for London in a day or two. I thought youd like to go to your sister?
I suppose so. Anne stared down into her wine. I mean, yes, of course I want to be with Isabel. I havent seen her for so long. If it suits Your Grace.
Good. Good. And I hope your lady mother will soon join you. George is somewhere about. Ill put you in his charge. If ever you—er—need anything, I am at your command.
It was a dismissal. Anne curtsied again, and we rose to take her away. Richard, the King said pleasantly, stay behind if you would? Theres business to discuss, more news from London. Ill see you later, Lady Anne.
By no coincidence, the Kings business kept Richard busy most of the day. Late in the afternoon, when shed had time to rest, I went to ask Anne if she would care for a walk. Or a ride? Whatever youd like? She hesitated, but George, coming in behind me, seconded me.
Do, dear, itll do you good. And I know!—Richards finished his important business with the King. I think hes looking for you. I saw him go into that end room just now. Rout him out and take him with you. Thats the thing!
I should have known. Clarence never had an altruistic impulse in his life.
In that end room, Richard was embracing a pretty red-haired lady who wept on his shoulder. On his knee sat a bright-eyed little boy whose paternity was all too obvious. When they saw us, itd be a brave man who said they didnt look guilty.
Martin! cried Jenny.
Anne! cried Richard.
Jenny! I cried.
Lady Anne! cried Jenny.
Ang! cried John, eager to help.
I caught up with Anne in the corridor. She definitely was not crying, no, not she. Anne, hinny, dont! Its nothing, its not—
Quite right. His Grace of Gloucesters private affairs (she made it sound like necromancy) are nothing to me. I was merely embarrassed at intruding upon him with his whore.
Shes no whore. Jenny is my wife.
Furious colour surged up her face. Martin, forgive me. But—that baby—
Ah yes, now hes Richards. His names John.
If shed been his mistress and borne his child, how could you marry her?
I leaned against the window embrasure. I love Jenny; she loves me. About a hundred years ago when we were all young, yes, she was briefly Richards lover. The child—well, these things happen. And wheres the difference from marrying a widow? After all, I came to her with many women in my past.
I could see the question How many? trembling on Annes lips, but she was an adult now, shed learnt discretion. Warwick had reared his daughters strictly, protecting them from the dirt and muddle of ordinary people doing their best; perhaps it was time she faced some new realities. My dear, you can torture yourself with jealousy, or you can tell yourself the past is the past and you are the one in possession. I think Richard loves you, and I think you love him. She looked away, her eyes veiled. Well, thats between the two of you—but did you think hes inexperienced? Would you want him to be? He was jealous of Prince Edward. She blushed again, this time with that deprecating little female smirk. I dont know what you and Richard plan, or want, but I do know you would be the last woman in his life, and thats better than the first. But there have been others; accept that. And there is John, and theres a daughter too, about the same age.
There wasnt much to do in the spring of 69.
So it seems. Suddenly we were giggling together, good friends again.
If I were you, lovey, Id go back in there and talk to him.
I daresay Jenny and Richard had been flapping their ears behind the door, for Jenny came out at that moment. Lady Anne, have you finished with my husband? she asked cheerfully.
Yes, Anne said in the same tone, and now Ill go and talk with Richard.
Shutting the door behind her Jenny said, I like that girl.
So do I, but I like you better. I love you. Come here and kiss me, and tell me what you do here.
Her arms around my neck, Jenny said, Sweeting, they told me you were wounded. Thats why I was sobbing all over Richard. He was the first person I met. He told me you were safe, and the relief . . .
And you disobeyed me. I told you to stay in Burgundy until I sent for you.
Well, she said, I was an obedient wife and waited there. In fact, Duchess Margaret had me stay with her. Together we read the letters, heard of Barnet battle, and then, well, I could wait no longer. I couldnt bear to be on the other side of the Channel from you. Looking as if butter would melt in her mouth, she said, Duchess Margaret bade me come, and you wouldnt have me disobey a royal command?
Not for the first time, I thought what a clever woman Id married. And a beautiful one. Why were we standing here in this corridor when there was a bed not far away?
Oh dear, I left Johns nursemaid somewhere back on the road, some inn. I dont even know where. She couldnt stand the pace I set. Perhaps it sounds silly, but I brought John because if you were—if there was bad news, it would be some comfort to have him. But darling, you are hurt? For Id flinched when she ran her hands through my hair.
Only bruises. Perfectly fit to take you to bed, my darling.
Yes— And we were locked in a knee-trembling, head-spinning embrace when the Kings voice came from behind.
Whatevers—oh, its you, Martin. Dame Robsart, how come you here? We explained, and because no detail escaped him, Edward said, There was a Martin Roberts much wounded; someone muddled the lists. Im sorry for your worry, my dear. And you are welcome. I wont keep you when—whats that sound? A baby? Whose? Whats going on?
Before we could stop him, he pushed open the door and strode into the room. We followed, awash with apprehension. But whatever Richard and Anne had been up to—and her hair was ruffled, his shirt band awry—now they were placidly chatting from far sides of the room, Anne in the chair, Richard by the window. With what even to my inexperienced ears was temper, John grizzled at Richards feet.
Ah, said the King. Richard. Anne. Who is this little boy?
My son. Jenny picked him up.
So rarely at a loss, Edward put his big foot right in it. Yours, madam? But he looks like Richard!
Theres a reason for that.
Then I have completely misread this situation. Richard, I thought it was a daughter you had?
I have. As well.
Demurely inspecting her fingernails, Anne said, There was little to do the spring of 69, and I had the satisfaction of seeing Edward look as if hed missed the last stair. Then he roared with laughter.
That would explain much. Well, come here, youngster. Confidently he swung John in the air. Youre a fine little fellow, arent you! Hello, pet, Im your uncle. John grinned. Well, well. Is your daughter as pretty, Richard?
Of course! Jenny glared. —Not.
Well, hes a fine boy. How old? Fifteen months; excellent. Name? John. Very good. And very wet. Go to your mother, pet. Richard, I had hoped we could get on with that business, if Lady Anne will excuse you?
Anne rose and curtsied, but Richard said, Edward, I want your permission to marry Anne.
Then want must be your master.
Its not Anne herself, of course, its who she is. Warwicks daughter, the princes widow. It wont do. No, Richard.
You married for love and it was no more suitable. A flush of temper mantled Edwards face. Or is it do as I say, not do as I do?
Scarlet now, the King said, I take that talk from no-one.
Youre taking it from me. Richard might have been telling him the time. Your Grace, I have followed you and served you for love. Youve given me much and Ive never asked you for anything. Let me marry Anne, and give me Middleham.
Narrow-eyed, Edward said, Middleham was Warwicks. His estates revert to the crown under attainder. Who gets which, if any, of his lands is up to me.
I know. Unlike George.
He expects to receive Warwicks entire estate. He says its his by right.
Does he just. Cold anger vibrated in Edwards voice. Jenny had her arm around Anne, frowning. Well, if you want that godforsaken patch of Yorkshire, I daresay you can have it. But you can forget Anne.
Possibly I was the only one who realized quite how angry Richard was. Edward still didnt know his brother; and I wondered if he really knew how much he owed him. Icily, Richard said, And if I dont?
You will. Silence. Almost pleadingly, Edward said, Richard, see it. Not her. Anyone but her. I need your marriage for international alliance.
Youve got children for that.
Edward stared incredulously. He swung around on Anne. You were the princes true wife?
When did you last lie with him?
Poor Anne had never been asked so intrusive, so personal, a question in her life. She was lucky Edward hadnt been a good deal blunter. Almost soundlessly, she answered, The—the night before Tewkesbury battle.
Richard made a sound in his throat as if shed hit him, and gloatingly, Edward said, How can you want to marry her if youre squeamish as a girl about the facts? Perhaps you should ask Martin to instruct you!
Jenny, Anne, and I did nothing more useful than gasp our outrage. In a voice that would have etched glass, Richard said, That, Edward, is going much too far. Apologize to my friends.
Edward had the decency to look ashamed, and he said gracefully, Martin, Dame Robsart, yes, that was unforgivable. I apologize. But Richard, see it—what if Annes pregnant? There was no answer to that. Sheet-white, Anne looked piteously at Richard.
Jenny said, Then best marry them at once, Your Grace, and pass the child off as Richards. Which was hard political good sense.
Anne said, No! in a whisper.
No! said Edward. He was no longer the man whod laughed at Annes joke and played with the baby. This was the King, a cold, hard-headed, calculating politician to whom no personal loyalty mattered. I will have no more Lancastrian uprisings. Lancaster is dead.
I will marry Anne on those terms, Richard said.
Very noble. I forbid it. Any child born to Lady Anne within the next nine months will be said to be Lancasters and used as a focus for rebellion. Or murdered. I would prefer not to see my brothers child treated so.
Throwing up her hands, Jenny cried, Then wait! Let me take Lady Anne down to Kent with me. Or abroad. She can live in seclusion until we know. If there is a child it can be fostered out. The whole thing can be kept a secret.
Edward, said Richard, more placatingly now, if theres no child, will you think again?
When I saw the Kings lips framing the word No, I said, Your Grace, you knighted me and let me marry Innogen for much less than Richard has done for you. And hes never once wavered. Very well, hes your brother—but while you dole out titles and lands and rewards to others, will you refuse him the one thing hes ever asked for?
I could see myself begging my bread around Europe, a death warrant on my head. Or writing poetry in the Tower of London. Very long poetry. But Edward let out a gusty sigh. Ill go thus far: I wont forbid the marriage yet. Wait until we know whether theres a child. If not, well see. I promise nothing, and you are to do nothing. Is that understood? All of you?
Yes, Your Grace.
Good. Anyway, Richard, you will be too busy for a while to think of marriage. The Scots are boiling up on the border, I want you up there as soon as that tit Fauconbergs dealt with. Anne can go to her sister. The Warwick estates are in my gift and no-one has a right to one inch of them or a single groat except at my will.
Tell George, not me.
I will. And be advised, say nothing to him about marrying Anne. Now, good-day to you all.
I once stood too close to a cannon being fired. It was much the same feeling. Anne was in tears, sobbing that it was hopeless—forget it—shed rather take the veil.
Richard strolled over and kissed the top of her head. Cheer up. That was more or less a yes.