“Duke Francis was very courteous — the very mirror of chivalry — but he was giving nothing, and nobody, away. They speak an odd kind of French there. And their own language is like Welsh; for example…”
This was typical of Anthony, ever the scholar. But I wanted the facts.
It was summer 1472 and he had just returned from a “diplomatic” mission to the independent duchy of Brittany. As usual, I was not sent with him and had passed the last two months in East Riding settling a less than thrilling quarrel between two tenants of mine near the village of Ferriby. I had then left Malcolm in charge there — now a strapping and capable man in his twenties with an older wife who was the widow of a prosperous Hull merchant. I had arranged the match, of course. How else had our family started on its own rise to royalty?
“Will he send us the Tudor curs?” I asked.
“Not at present. He wants something in return, of course. But I couldn’t prise out of him what it is. Perhaps support against King Louis. And I wasn’t empowered to offer him that.”
“Maybe our king will invade France. I think he is the man to reclaim Normandy or even Gascony.”
“I pray so,” said Anthony, looking dreamy. “To end our civil wars and reclaim the Angevin Empire and equal the feats of arms of the last Edward.”
“Are the Tudors really a threat to us?” I asked, lowering my voice. We were speaking in the margins of the court at Westminster, as he had just returned from briefing the king. “Jasper has no royal blood, apart from the Valois blood of his mother which doesn’t signify—”
“But the boy Henry’s mother is the Beaufort heiress. She’s the last of that line and the only descendant of John of Gaunt. They’re quasi-royal.”
“Quasi is pushing it, Ant. They’re descended from a whore, Kat Swynford, John of Gaunt’s mistress. Vraiment, they were legitimised retrospectively by Richard II (may his troubled soul rest in everlasting peace) but the letters patent expressly exclude them from the line of succession. And it’s highly doubtful whether Queen Katherine was ever married to Owain Tudor in the eyes of Mother Church. They’re all bastards on both sides.”
Anthony looked back at me with gentle reproach. I must have been ruddy-cheeked with choler.
“Be calm, my brother. Their claim is tenuous at best and, in any event, the Lancastrians are crushed. No one is going to support an unknown Welsh bastard against our handsome and rightful king. But, we must guard against eventualities and Margaret Beaufort is a powerful advocate for her son. She wants him back, pardoned.”
“And restored to the earldom of Richmond, I suppose?”
“His mother holds vast estates, remember. And there is talk of her marrying Thomas Stanley, the Lord Steward.”
“How many husbands is that bloody woman planning to have? This must be number three, in spite of looking like an old nun chewing a wasp. It couldn’t be because she controls all the duchy of Somerset estates, could it?” I asked, sardonically.
“Now the king and my sister have a son…”
“With another en ventre sa mere, God willing.”
“The House of York is secure. And perhaps now is the time to go on pilgrimage.”
I knew this had been Anthony’s yearning for some time.
“To see something of the classical world?”
“And the new learning that flourishes in the city-states of Italy.”
“Where the sun shines every day and the young men and damsels are as beauteous as angels…” I teased him.
“Will you journey with me, brother?” He looked very gravely into my eyes.
“Will you not remarry, Anthony?”
His wife, always coldly pious and weak, had dwindled away unmourned in his absence.
“Not unless the king commands it. I have contemplated taking vows — a vow of chastity for the years of pilgrimage at least.”
“A vow not to touch women?”
“Wouldn’t be too hard for you, Edward, would it?” He smiled mischievously.
“My thoughts are on higher things,” I said piously. “Margaret of Burgundy is the only woman I could serve.”
“You worship her. A woman needs to be ploughed, not worshipped.”
“Then why don’t you sow the Wydville seed, my lord? Or who will be the third Earl Rivers?”
“I have no wish to found a dynasty, Edward.”
I have always remembered these words and the solemn, almost distant way he spoke them. Anthony, I think, had the second sight and foresaw something of his fate.
“My nephew, the prince, will be my heir,” he continued. “I will assist in his education as a chivalrous Christian prince, so that he will be a Plantagenet king even greater than his ancestors.”
“He belongs to your sister and her women until he is at least seven,” I said.
“So, until then, let us see the old world and the new worlds: Rome, maybe Athens, Santiago de Compostela. And I would fain see the great port city of Barcelona; it would put Hull to shame, brother!”
So, he hatched our plan to visit Rome. We would never see the tall ships and the broad ramblas of Barcelona. But in a unique, heaven-sent sense, a small number of years later, Barcelona would come to me.
In life, the happy times pass quickly and easily and, in retrospect, the details are blurred. So it was — or so it seems now
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