I return from Mass this Sunday with a sense of gladness that I have not known for sometime. Nine days ago the Lord in his mercy finally freed England from suspicion and dishonesty by taking Katherine, Princess Dowager of Wales to his keeping.
Although her sinful, lying and disobedient behaviour placed the peace of the realm in jeopardy, I pray that her soul will not suffer too harshly for it now. Jesus through the gospels instructs us that we must love and forgive those who trespass against us, and so I will follow his wisdom and release all my malice towards her in Jesus’ name.
To add to my joy, our darling Princess Elizabeth is at court with us and it is so wonderful to see her father the King, pick her up and show her off to all. They make a perfect picture of happiness together, singing, playing games and even exchanging whispered secrets to one another. My heart swoons when I see her throw her head of red curls back in uncontrollable giggles when they are hatching some new mischief together. I rub my expanding belly and I feel grateful that our next baby will be joining our family free from Katherine’s looming spectre.
There are no more court duties to be performed today so my ladies help dress me in a looser gown. I instruct Lady Lee to join me at the warm fire and we settle ourselves down to an afternoon of reading and pleasant conversation.
However before long, Lady Bryan arrives with Elizabeth in tow. As soon as they are announced Elizabeth makes a speedy curtsey and then zips her way in my direction. Knowing of my condition Lady Bryan catches her on the shoulder and calls ‘Princess Elizabeth! Do not run at your mother in that fashion. Remember your dignity as a Princess of England’
Elizabeth tuts, halts in her tracks and turns her beautiful dark eyes up to me in hope of reprieve.
I too am desperate to greet my daughter in this manner, but not wishing to undermine her Governess’ authority I say ‘Elizabeth, you know Lady Bryan is correct. I know you are excited, but you must learn to contain your emotions in all circumstances. Now let’s try that again.’
When she sees me wink and turn my finger in a circle she turns round, goes back to her Governess and starts again.
She bobs a perfect curtsey, walks towards me, kisses my outstretched hand and with the best grown up voice a 2 year old can muster says ‘Good afternoon Lady Mother. I hope you are well.’
I return ‘Good afternoon Princess Elizabeth, I am quite well thank you. Let me introduce you to my companion Lady Lee.’
Obviously having decided she has made all the concessions to adults she is going to, she ignores my introduction to Lady Lee and hops into my lap’
I allow her up and kiss her beautiful head. ‘Now that was very good. What a clever princess you are, but you must say hello to Lady Lee. She is a noble lady and a very great friend to me’
‘Hello Lady Lee she utters with the most enchanting and disarming smile I have ever seen on a child.
Lady Lee bobs her head and makes a great fuss of her response ‘Hello, Princess Elizabeth, what a beautiful, big grown up girl you are becoming, and those manners? Have you been practicing?
Clearly bored with adult etiquette she just buries herself deeper into my chest and wraps her arms around my neck.
‘Lady Bryan, is Lady Sheldon not with you today? Is she well?’ I ask.
‘Yes Your Grace she is quite well, but as you ordered she has gone ahead to Hatfield House to make sure everything is in order for the Princess’ return on Tuesday.’
‘Oh yes, of course, I remember now.’ I say cursing that with every week of this pregnancy I seem to lose a few more wits. ‘Well do feel free to join us, or if you have other pressing duties I can send a page to collect you later.’
‘That is kind Your Grace. As much as I would welcome a chance to spend the afternoon with you, I feel I could better serve you and the Princess by supervising the packing of the Princess Elizabeth’s things.
‘As you wish Lady Bryan, I will send a page for you and perhaps you can join us for supper.’
‘As for you my little cherub, what would you like to do? How about a story, something from long, long ago? How about the story of Joseph, his fancy coat and the ancient Pharaohs of Egypt?
‘Oh Mother, I already know that one. It is wonderful. Lady Mary read it to me before I left home. She did all the voices of Joseph, his father, his brothers. Even the Pharaoh.’ Elizabeth tells me excitedly.
At the mention of Lady Mary’s name Lady Lee looks up from her book and gives me a quizzical glance. A look that says ‘oh this is a tricky one’.
‘Did she, sweetheart, now that’s very kind of her. I hope you said thank you’
‘Yes I say thank you for all the things Lady Mary does for me. She sings to me and sometimes she will let me pluck her lute. I do love her Mother, but she is often very sad and that makes me sad. I see her crying sometimes when she thinks no one is looking and I give her a little cuddle and ask her what is wrong? She always says she is fine, but surely she would not cry for nothing. You know lots of things Mother. Do you know what makes her cry?’
I pause for a moment before I answer. I am happy that the girl is so affectionate to my child, but on the other hand concerned that she might colour her young mind with her stubbornness and pride.
‘Oh darling, unfortunately Lady Mary’s mother was ill for some time and God recently called her home to heaven. Do you understand that?’
‘Yes, I understand that. Poor Lady Mary, but she should be happy her mother is with God. My Chaplin taught me about how God gathers all good people to heaven when they die. So if Lady Mary’s mother is with God then I am glad. Mother, if my father is her father then why are you not Lady Mary’s mother as well as mine’?
Lost for words I think, God’s teeth, how on earth does a child of just over 2 have all this information and the ability to talk this way? How am I going to answer this?
‘Elizabeth you know that you are only little and there are lots of things you will learn as you grow up…’
She interrupts ‘Yes I am little, but I hear things. Sometimes I hear visitors greeting Lady Mary in the same way they greet me. Why do they do that?’
‘Well because it is right to be polite to people, and you would not be happy if people did not use their manners when they greeted you. Would you?’
‘No I suppose. But, if Lady Mary’s mother is with God and my father is her father, couldn’t you just be her mother now. You are so pretty and kind, I’m sure it would make her happy again. She could come with me to visit. We could all be happy together and she wouldn’t be sad anymore.
‘My darling, sometimes the adult world is a little tricky for children to understand. Do you remember a moment ago when you first entered the room and you ran over to me? Well that was wrong and Lady Bryan had to correct you.
‘Yes I remember’ she looks at me a little puzzled.
‘So it is with Lady Mary and your father. Although I’m sure Lady Mary tries very hard to be good, she does not always obey your father and he has to tell her off. I’m sure as soon as she learns to do as your father says she can accompany you when you visit.’
‘Maybe if you spoke to her, and asked her to be good, she would? I’m sure if you teach her, like you teach me she will be able to do it. Will you?’
‘Of course Elizabeth, to see you smile I would do anything. If your father agrees then the next time I visit you I will see if I can get her to be well behaved.’
She kisses me on the cheek and whispers. ‘Thank you mother, you are the sweetest.’ Judging the conversation closed to her satisfaction she drops the topic and asks me to pick a different story.
Truly, I am constantly amazed how this precocious little girl can bend me to her will when educated men of great learning have failed despite all their valiant efforts.