Copyright © 2014 Anne O’Brien
All rights reserved.
Published in Great Britain 2014
by Harlequin MIRA, an imprint of Harlequin (UK) Limited,
Eton House, 18-24 Paradise Road, Richmond, Surrey TW9 1SR
This edition is published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
Harlequin MIRA is a registered trademark of Harlequin Enterprises Limited, used under licence.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, locations and incidents are purely fictional and bear no relationship to any real life individuals, living or dead, or to any actual places, business establishments, locations, events or incidents. Any resemblance is entirely coincidental.
Descendants of Edward III and the Claims to the English Throne
The Holland Family
The House of Lancaster
For George, with love and thanks. Who else could I persuade to travel the length and breadth of the country with me, in search of people who lived six hundred years ago?
And in memory of my father, Jack Garfitt, 1923-2014. His love of history first fired my imagination.
‘… He (John Holland) was struck down passionately, so that day and night he sought her (Elizabeth) out.’
‘When (Elizabeth) took a tearful leave of her husband[…]Holland reproached her bitterly for having, despite his own gloom, rejoiced and made merry when Henry had arrested Richard and himself[…]’
—R A Griffiths,
‘For what is wedlock forced but a hell, An age of discord and continual strife? Whereas the contrary bringeth bliss, And is a pattern of celestial peace.’
Table of Contents
INSPIRATION FOR THE KING’S SISTER
AND AFTER THE FINAL WORD IN THE KING’S SISTER …
FOLLOWING IN ELIZABETH’S FOOTSTEPS …
QUESTIONS FOR YOUR READING GROUP
ALSO BY ANNE O'BRIEN
‘What’s afoot?’ Henry asked, loping along the wall walk, sliding to a standstill beside us.
It all began as a family gathering: a meeting of almost everyone I knew in the lush setting of Kenilworth where my father’s building plans had provided room after spacious room in which we could enjoy a summer sojourn. Intriguingly, though, the intimate number of acquaintances was soon extended with a constant arrival of guests. So, I considered. What indeed was afoot? A most prestigious occasion. From elders to children, aristocratic families from the length and breadth of the land rode up to our gates, filing across the causeway that kept their feet dry from the inundations of the mere.
Philippa and I watched them with keen anticipation, now in the company of our younger brother Henry, an energetic, raucous lad, whose shrill voice more often than not filled the courtyards as he engaged in games with other boys of the household—dangerous games in which he pummelled and rolled with the best of them in combat
‘Something momentous,’ Philippa surmised.
‘With music and dancing,’ I suggested hopefully.
My father’s royal brothers, the Dukes of Gloucester and York, together with their wives, made up a suitably ostentatious display of royal power. The vast connection of FitzAlans and the Northumberland Percies were there, heraldic badges making a bright splash of colour. There was Edward, our cousin of York, kicking at the flanks of a tolerant pony. Thin and wiry, Edward was still too much of a child for even Henry to notice. The only one notably absent was the King.
‘We’ll not miss him overmuch,’ croaked Henry, on the cusp of adolescence.
True enough. Of an age with Henry, what would Richard add to the proceedings, other than a spirit of sharp mischief that seemed to have developed of late? There was little love lost between my brother and royal cousin.
The noble guests continued to arrive with much laughter and comment.
I was not one for being sensitive to tension in the air when I might be considering which dress would become me most, but on this occasion it rippled along my skin like the brush of a goose feather quill. Chiefly because there were far too many eyes turned in my direction for comfort. It seemed to me that I was an object of some interest over and above the usual friendly comment on the rare beauty and precocious talents of the Duke of Lancaster’s younger daughter. What’s more, on that particular morning, I had been dressed by my women with extraordinary care.
Not that I had demurred. My sideless surcoat, of a particularly becoming blue silk damask, hushed expensively as I walked. My hair had been plaited into an intricate coronet, covered with a veil as transparent as one of the high clouds that barely masked the sun.
‘Is it a celebration?’ I mused. ‘Have we made peace with France?’
‘I doubt it. But it’s a celebration for something.’ My sister’s mind was as engaged as mine as the FitzAlan Countess of Hereford and her opulent entourage arrived in the courtyard, soon followed by the Beauchamp contingent of the Earl of Warwick.
‘It’s a marriage alliance. A betrothal. It has to be,’ I announced to Philippa, for surely this was the obvious cause for so great a foregathering, and one of such high-blooded grandeur festooned in sun-bright jewels and rich velvets. ‘The Duke is bringing your new husband to meet with you.’
‘A husband for me? If that’s so, why is it that you are the one to be clad like a Twelfth Night gift?’ Philippa said, eyeing my apparel. ‘I am not clad for a betrothal. This is my second best gown, and the hem is becoming worn. While
Which was true. And Philippa more waspish than her wont since my borrowed garment was of finest silk with gold stitching at hem and neck and the tiniest of buttons from elbow to wrist, yet despite her animadversions on her second best gown, Philippa looked positively regal in a deep red cote-hardie that would never have suited me. A prospective husband would never look beyond her face to notice the hem. If the honoured guest was invited here as a suitable match, he must be intended for my sister. As the elder by three years, Philippa would wed first. Did not older sisters always marry before younger ones? I stared at her familiar features, so like my own, marvelling at her serenity. There was still no husband for her, not even a betrothal of long standing, at twenty years. No husband had been attracted by her dark hair and darker eyes, inherited from our father. It was high time, as daughter of the royal Duke of Lancaster as well as first cousin to King Richard himself, even if he was only a tiresome boy, that she was sought and won by some powerful bridegroom.
Of course this would be her day.
I sighed that it behoved me to wait, for marriage to a handsome knight or illustrious prince was an elevation to which I aspired. The songs and tales of the troubadours, of fair maidens lost and won through chivalric deeds and noble self-sacrifice, had made a strong impression in my youthful heart. But today was no day for sighing.
‘I have been counting all the unwed heirs of the English aristocracy who will make suitable husbands for you,’ I said, to make Philippa smile. ‘I have a tally of at least a dozen to choose from.’
It was Henry who grunted a laugh. ‘But how many of them are either senile or imbecile?’
I stepped smartly and might have punched his shoulder but Henry was agile, putting distance between us. And because we were finely dressed, he did not retaliate. I turned my back on him.
‘He could be a foreign prince, of course.’ This was Philippa, ever serious.
‘So he could.’ I turned back to the carpet of richly-hued velvet and silk below, imagining such an eventuality. Would I enjoy leaving England, living far away from my family, those I had known and loved all my life? ‘I don’t think I would like that.’
‘I would not mind.’ Philippa lifted her shoulders in a little shrug.
‘You will do whatever you are told to do.’
Her arm, in sisterly affection, slid round my waist. ‘As will you.’
It did not need the saying. ...