Months passed. The Sun of York continued to blaze in splendour.
Was it then that things started to fall apart?
Quidnunc appeared one morning as I was languidly composing a new song at my lute (the new instrument I had first seen in Florence and had, of course, acquired). Anthony was away in Wales on the king’s business and my brother John — who had begun to take his responsibilities a touch more seriously since the B.M.’s demise — had quite properly asked me to visit our lands in the north. But I was feeling melancholic and filled with a sad sweet spiritual apathy and so was putting off my journey. To speak truly, I was a tad resentful; my blood brother was an earl, my brother by blood a duke and all around the king had honours, and what was I? Still no more than a knight; it was merely as a courtesy that I was usually addressed as a lord.
Old Quidnunc came out of the woodwork — he had, of course, been part of my family all this time but he managed to stay out of my presence when “my Lord of the Rivers” was around as Anthony liked him not; but what need I say about Q who is, after all, just a bondman.
In he minced, preening himself on having important news to import.
After a while, I turned to him. “Speak, fellow. What news?”
“News from Burgundy, my lord.”
“My Lady Margaret has a son?”
“No, my lord.”
“No, my lord.”
We could go on like this for hours. But if my Lady Margaret was not the lighter of a fair son to inherit the principality, no news seemed startling enough to rouse me from my humour.
“So…” I cast around, listfully playing Q’s game. “The duke has won his crown at last from the pope?”
This would, at any rate, make my lady a queen.
“Alas no, my lord. The news is rather from Lorraine but closely affects Burgundy.”
“Lorraine? Is not the duke campaigning there against the Swiss?”
“He was, my lord.”
“And now he has returned to Brussels?”
“No, my lord.”
This was becoming serious.
“He has lost a battle?”
“The duke, my lord, with all his forces, has suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of the Lorrainers and the Swiss at Nancy.”
“Jesu save us! The duke has fled, I guess?”
“His Grace attempted flight but was slaughtered by his enemies, my lord. His body, they report, has not even been discovered amongst the mountains of the dead.”
Now I was awoken from my lethargy.
“How certain is this news?”
“I have it from my Lord Hastings’ man who had it from the French king’s envoy’s man, my lord, who was crowing of it.”
“At least we are at peace with France. Is there news of my Lady Duchess?”
“The news is she is at Brussels, my lord, and has her step-daughter the Lady Mary in her protection.”
“God be praised for that. But both will now be in danger. I must hie me to the court. Is the king at Westminster?”
“He is, my lord. His Grace may not be too sorrowful about the news.”
This deserved a rebuke. “The court will be in mourning. The duke was His Grace’s brother-in-marriage.”
“Who spoke most disparagingly of him, as Your Lordship heard.”
“Oh, so you know about that.”
Anthony and I had told not a soul on our return that the duke had insulted the king — and his mother.
“Everybody knows, my lord,” Q smirked.
“You will never speak of it — it would be treason.”
“And yet the Duke of Clarence speaks of it, my lord. Loudly.”
“The Duke of Clarence is a numbskull as anyone who has ever dealt with him will tell you. Now, I must get me to the court and fast. I wish Lord Anthony was here.”
“His absence makes Your Lordship even more useful to His Grace,” said Q, cunningly. And for a moment I agreed that it could be a stroke of fortune to be on hand — and at once dismissed the idea as unworthy, and disloyal.
“Get out, and order my horse at once.”
Arriving at the Palace of Westminster, I found the court in turmoil. The king was in conclave with his closest counsellors. To my satisfaction, I was granted audience.
“Your Grace, might I offer my service by taking ship to the Netherlands with messages from Your Highness and the queen to the Lady Margaret and her advisers?”
“A good thought, De-la-Pole, for which much thanks, but two knights have already set off with just such messages. I know you have great care for the Lady Margaret, but I have no doubt she will rule the roost while filling the void left by the demise of the duke. My brother Charles was always a rash and hot-headed fellow.”
I felt deflated, but not surprised.
“The Lady Mary’s marriage is now a very urgent question, sire,” said Hastings.
“Yes,” said the king, “Whoever dips his tip in that particular pot will draw out a massive prize.”
They laughed bawdily; I forced a guffaw at this coarse quip.
“Since Clarence was widowed, sire, I know he has spoken of marriage with the lady.” This was Gloucester, whose tone indicated neither approval nor the reverse of Clarence’s plan.
The king laughed, but this time without mirth. “Our brother George has many plans, my friends, some of which have been troubling us of late. He is too loose a cannon to be let off in the rich lands of the Low Countries. No, my sister is wisely contemplating the marriage agreed with the Habsburg, Maximilian, the emperor’s son and I have advised her to consummate that plan.”
“Wouldn’t that make the Habsburg’s overbearingly powerful, sire?” I asked, wishing to sound wise.
The king looked at me with a gentle smile. “What moves us is that the French king should not become overbearing by seizing the Low Countries which would put us in danger.”
“There are already reports that he has seized French Burgundy,” said Lord Stanley. I was surprised to see him there, but clearly his marriage to Margaret Beaufort had enhanced his importance.
“And he will try to take the free county of Burgundy also,” someone said.
“My sister and her council are marshalling their forces to defend Franche-Comté and the Netherlands. And the sooner the Lady Mary marries the archduke, the safer they will be,” said the king. “I shall recall Rivers from Wales.” The king glanced at me. “We need all our best men around us in case the French break their treaty but I doubt that will befall; my sister has everything in hand. I wish I could say the same for my brother.”
There was a pregnant pause.
“Not you, brother,” he said clapping Gloucester warmly on the back. “If only George were like you, the realm would be a happier place.”
Gloucester said, “He speaks rashly, sire, but he has always returned to his allegiance.” Which reminded us that he had strayed dangerously before.
I looked at Hastings, then whom no one was closer to the king, but his serious expression gave nothing away. Such a disturbing query could not long be left hanging over the head of one so close to the throne.
However, I knew the king loved his brothers and would always keep them on, and by, his side.
And, with the blessing of hindsight, I was right about those bloody Habsburgs.
The king was arrayed in his full glory, even if he was rather fat and nearly forty. He looked powerful, dominant; the Sovereign Lord that he always was. But he did not look full of cheer. The good
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish