The Beaufort Bride
By Judith Arnopp
As King Henry VI slips into insanity and the realm of England teeters on the brink of civil war, a child is married to the mad king’s brother. Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, takes his child bride into Wales where she discovers a land of strife and strangers.
At Caldicot Castle and Lamphey Palace Margaret must put aside childhood, acquire the dignity of a Countess and, despite her tender years, produce Richmond with a son and heir.
While Edmund battles to restore the king’s peace, Margaret quietly supports his quest; but it is a quest fraught with danger.
As the friction between York and Lancaster intensifies the 14-year-old Margaret is widowed and turns for protection to her brother-in-law, Jasper Tudor. At his stronghold in Pembroke Margaret gives birth to a son whom she names Henry, after her cousin the king.
Margaret is small of stature but her tiny frame conceals a fierce and loyal heart and a determination that will not falter until her son’s destiny as the king of England is secured.
The Beaufort Bride traces Margaret’s early years from her nursery days at Bletsoe Castle to the birth of her only son in 1457 at Pembroke Castle. Her story continues in Book Two:
The Beaufort Woman.
In the following excerpt from The Beaufort Bride, Margaret is six months pregnant and has just had word that her husband has been imprisoned in Carmarthen castle and likely to die of pestilence. She persuades Jasper to take her to him.
Another long road. Another jolting, disheartening journey in the litter. Try as I might to persuade him, Jasper is unbending.
“You will ride in the litter or not at all,” he says, attempting to soften his harsh words with a quick smile. Pouting like an unruly child, I gather my cloak about me and clamber into the detested conveyance. I sit bolt upright, simmering with anger for as long as I can bear to. Myfanwy, moonstruck by Jasper’s return, smiles an apology for my behaviour and tries to soothe me.
“The journey will not be so long this time,” she says, “and Jasper is only thinking of your safety, and that of the babe.” She nods toward the dome of my belly and instinctively I put a hand on it, the contact imperceptibly softening my mood.
“I know.” Full of resentment, I look out beyond the looped-back curtain. Mercifully the weather is dry; a chilly bright day, with the sun reflecting on the puddles left by the last few weeks of rain. The blue skies are a teasing reminder of the summer so recently departed. Tomorrow, it will rain again.
Jasper rides at the head of the column. I watch his upright figure, notice how his head continually moves from left to right as he scans the horizon for signs of trouble. He is uneasy, not convinced of York’s promise of safe passage, and his discomfort unnerves me too.
Where the terrain allows, we follow the serpentine trail of the River Tywi, but every so often, to avoid marshy terrain, we are forced to higher ground. As we pass close to Grey Friars, the waterlogged fields about the river are scattered with sheep. At our approach, they throw up their heads in alarm and abandon their grazing to hurry from our path. Myfanwy laughs.
“Look at them. They look like beggars with their grubby woollen fleeces hanging from their backs.”
I smile, but I do not care about sheep. In the distance, I have spied the town gate and beyond it the towers of Carmarthen Castle standing proudly above a loop at the river crossing.
I sit up straighter and try to see ahead, as if expecting Edmund to be waving a greeting from the battlement. But he does not know I am coming; I will be the last person he expects to see.
I watch Jasper ride toward the town gate. He leans from his saddle and exchanges words with the gatekeeper. He takes off his helmet and turns toward me, the wind tussling his hair which, I notice with a sudden pang, is the exact same shade as Edmund’s. His brow is creased and, noting his dour expression, I sense more trouble. My heart sinks as, after a further exchange of words, he turns his horse and rides back to the litter.
He slides from his horse.
“Margaret …” He hesitates, pulls a face and lets out a long breath. “There is pestilence here. I cannot let you travel farther. It isn’t safe.”
A surge of anger such as I have never known consumes me; I can feel it rushing uncontrollably through my body, gathering in my head until I feel it will burst.
“I will not be kept from him!” I hear myself shout. Tears of rage drench my cheeks; my fists are clenched tight, my ears ringing with the sudden stress. My mother would be furious if she witnessed such behaviour, but I am too afraid and too angry to care. Without ceasing my tirade, I swing my legs toward the door.
“I have travelled too far and waited too long to be kept away now. If there is pestilence here, he may need nursing. I will not allow you to keep me from my duty.”
I struggle from the litter and, shrugging Myfanwy’s hand from my shoulder, begin to hurry along the dirt track, determined to travel the rest of the way on foot. I do not get far before my ankle turns on a rut in the road. Concealing the sudden sharp pain, I limp on.
“Margaret!” Jasper, defying all etiquette, strides after me, grabs my arm and forces me to stop. “You are acting like a child. Get back in the litter. I will take you as far as Grey Friars, but there you must wait until I discover the situation at the castle. If it is safe, you can see Edmund tomorrow. For Christ’s sake, think of your son.”
I am always being told to think of my child. I think of little else. I am thinking of him now, in my desperation to liberate Edmund. What will my son be without his father?
Myfanwy adds her argument to Jasper’s, her voice soft and silky with persuasion.
“We can freshen up and rest at the priory. You will feel better tomorrow, my lady, after a night’s sleep. Edmund will prefer to see you calm and … clean.” She casts a glance at my mired skirts.
I pass a hand over my face, knowing I am beaten, knowing they are right. With a sob of both rage and misery, I allow myself to be turned around and bundled back into the hateful litter.
As the horses lurch forward and the swaying of the litter starts up again, I refuse to look at Myfanwy. I resent her alliance with Jasper. Despite my situation, I do not miss the warm looks that pass between them, or the excuses she finds to be with him. She is glad this mischance has befallen my husband because it puts her in the company of her sweetheart.
Another religious house, this time run by the Grey Friars. They greet me cordially, offer what comfort they can and give me lodging in the abbot’s house. The room is comfortable, well furnished, and a welcome fire roars in the grate. Fuelled with resentment toward her, I cruelly send Myfanwy from my presence. It is midnight before I regret it. I pass a lonely, miserable night but I am too stubborn to summon her back, and so I lie awake, staring into the dark.
The child is quiet, his head pressing on my bladder, so I have to get up repeatedly to use the close-stool. Each time I return to the bed, the sheets become rucked into a worse mess and by dawn the blankets look as though a wrestling match has taken place.
“Goodness,” Myfanwy exclaims in the morning when she brings me a tray of victuals to break my fast. “What have you been doing?”
She bears no malice for my hostility the night before and her cheeks are rosy, her eyes bright as if she has passed a restful night. While I stare grumpily at my morning meal, she begins to smooth the sheet and plump my pillows.
“Jasper will be leaving soon, I expect.” She moves to the window and opens the shutters, letting a stream of dirty daylight into the room.
I want to correct her, command her to use his proper title but I am tired, sick and tired of everything and cannot find the strength. I frown at the hump of my raised knees beneath the blanket. There must be something I can do, some action I can take.
I push away the tray and throw off the covers. “Help me get dressed, Myfanwy. I cannot face food this morning.”
Cup in hand, she hovers for a few moments before hurrying to do my bidding. I am mute during my toilette, but all the while she sponges my face her questions fall as swiftly as arrows.
“Why are you in such a hurry? What are you going to do? You don’t mean to defy Jasper, do you, Margaret? Please don’t do anything …”
“Give me that.” I snatch the comb rudely from her hand and begin to drag it through my hair. It catches at the knots, large clumps coming free. “There,” I say. “Now quickly braid it and tuck it under my cap.”
She has no option but to obey me, and I offer no explanation. Ten minutes later, less neat than usual, I am waiting for Jasper to appear in the hall. I hear his approach long before he arrives.
“Margaret.” He stops short, instantly wary as he notices my outdoor clothes and my mulish expression. He tucks his helmet defensively beneath his arm. “What are you doing here?”
I can tell by his voice that he knows my intention, but I raise my chin defiantly before I make an answer.
“I am coming with you. I will not be sent to my chambers like a child. My husband’s life may be in peril and I refuse to sit idly by when it is clearly my duty to be with him.”
“It is too dangerous.” He comes closer, his brow creased with concern. “I have no idea what danger we may be riding into. Do you not care about your child or your own well-being?”
“Of course I do.” I look him firmly in the eye. “I have spent most of the night in prayer asking for God’s guidance as to what I should do. He convinces me my place is at Edmund’s side. Surely, Jasper, you are not so high and mighty as to argue with God?”
Exasperated, he looks at the ceiling, and then back at me.
“By Heaven, Margaret, you could use a spanking.”
I stiffen, outraged at his discourtesy, but as I open my mouth to make a sharp retort, I think I detect a tiny spark of admiration in his eye. I close my mouth again and make no reply as I pull on my gauntlets.
“And I am not spending another moment in that litter. Have a horse made ready for me.” I speak over his shoulder to his steward, but Jasper puts up a hand.
“No, if I have any say in the matter, you will ride with me, my lady, so I can at least try to keep you from harm.”
As he ushers me from the room Ned steps forward, seemingly from nowhere. “My lady, I am coming too.”
A sigh shudders from deep within me. I do not even turn to look him in the eye.
“Don’t be tiresome, Ned. Go and walk Jay in the gardens, make yourself useful.”
I turn again but he tags after me.
“Begging your pardon, my lady, but I owe you my life, and if you are going into danger then I am coming with you.” He puts his hand on the dog’s head. “And so is Jay.”
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, you impossible child. Very well, do as you wish. I revoke all responsibility for you.”
There is no time to argue. I march swiftly away, Jasper at my side telling me I am too soft with the boy. I raise my eyebrows but forebear to comment that he might likewise be too soft with me.
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The Beaufort Bride
Judith Arnopp is the author of ten historical novels including The Winchester Goose, The Beaufort Chronicle (three book series), The Kiss of the Concubine and A Song of Sixpence. You can find her on Facebook • Twitter • Website • Blog.
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See you on your next coffee break!
Mary Anne xxx