Katharine of Aragon is a proud Spanish beauty who became Queen of England. From the moment of Katharine's betrothal to Arthur, Prince of Wales, she looked upon herself as the future Queen of England. But, Arthur died just after their marriage and it was as the wife of his brother, Henry VIII, that she went to her Coronation. This delightful, richly tapestried novel tells of her life with Henry - the many happy years; the birth of their daughter, Mary Tudor; her popularity with the people and, above all, her constant and unswerving love for the King. But after nearly twenty years, Henry - his eyes affixed firmly on the ambitious young Anne Boleyn - repudiated their marriage, submitted Katharine to the humiliations of a 'trial' and banished her from him life. 'The King's Pleasure' is a brilliant recreation of one of history's greatest tragedies. This is a story which will impress Katharine in the reader's mind as a noble woman and great Queen.
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Norah Lofts was one of the best-known and best-loved of all historical novelists, known for her authentic application of period detail to all her books. She was a bestselling author on both sides of the Atlantic, was born in Norfolk. She taught English and History at at girls' school before turning to writing full time in 1936. Her passion for old houses and their continuing history sparked of her much praised Suffolk trilogy, The Town House, The House at Old Vine and The House at Sunset. These were followed by the bestselling The Concubine, The King's Pleasure, a novel about the life of Katharine of Aragon and Eleanor the Queen, a novel about the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Lofts wrote more than 50 books, including historical non-fiction and short stories.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Mules, everybody agreed, were more sure-footed, so Isabella of Spain rode on a mule, her heavily pregnant body wrapped in a rain-repellent leather cloak, on her head a hood of the same material, her feet encased in a pair of boots similar to those worn by foot soldiers. The winter rains had set in and the roads which through the long hot summer had been ankle-deep in dust were now over hoof deep in mud, sticky as glue. Every time the mule put foot down there was a squelching sound, every time it lifted one there was a plop. Sometimes, under the smooth shining surface of the mud, there was a dip; then the mule stumbled, recovered itself with a jerk and a heave and plodded on: sometimes, under a mere skim of mud there was a boulder, thrown in to fill a hole visible last summer; striking one of these the mule stumbled again; recovered and plodded on. Each time this happened Isabella felt like a woman holding a basketful of eggs riding on a seesaw; after each jolt the question, All right? All well? Yes, thanks be to God, no harm done. The child, so soon to be born, would be her tenth; four were alive, thank God; few mothers had been so blessed; but every stumble and jolt she knew a small fear -- not here, please God, not in the open, in the rain. Alcalá de Henares is not so far away; the road is bad, the going slow, but please, I beseech thee, let me arrive, settle into the place prepared for me and there let the child be born.
She was Queen; she could have ridden comfortably in a litter slung between two mules, or carried on the shoulders of willing men, but to do so would have been a concession to female weakness, and she scorned it. God had called her to take a man's place in the world, and handicapped as she had been by her female body, she had taken that place, filled it adequately, done as much as, or more than, any man could have done -- all by the help of God. She must not weaken now.
In everything Isabella could see the hand of God, working slowly, sometimes obscurely but to a sure end. Because there was no male heir she had become Queen of Castile, and she had married Ferdinand of Aragon, thus uniting the two kingdoms and making them strong enough to attempt to drive out the Moors who had occupied the south of the Iberian peninsula for six hundred years. She did not deceive herself; Ferdinand might look upon the campaign, now in its fifth year, as a means to increase his own power; for her it was a Crusade, Christian against infidel, as urgent and important as any Crusade waged centuries earlier to free the Holy Land. For Isabella, Spain was holy land and to wage the war of freedom she had ridden, slept, eaten, suffered and endured alongside her army, showing fortitude in the face of hardship and in defeat a certain grim cheerfulness which communicated itself to the men.
The army, with one of its hardest and most successful campaigns behind it, was moving into winter quarters, making on this drear day for the bleak upland town of Alcalá de Henares, where there was a palace of a sort. It was a comfortless place, ancient, ill-heated and in poor repair; its owner, the Bishop of Toledo, used it only once a year when he made his visitation, and he took good care that this should be neither in winter nor in summer, but in late spring or early autumn when, for a brief period the weather was tolerable. He was always preceded by a baggage train, laden with hangings and cushions and soft, feather bedding, silverware and little luxuries in the way of food. The Queen of Castile could have taken similar precautions, but she never did. The horses, mules and donkeys in her train were laden enough without carting a lot of useless gear from place to place. Even her personal luggage was kept to the minimum; with her always were her suit of armor, her riding clothes, three changes of linen and two dresses, one plain and simple made of Flemish cloth, the other very fine, a rich reddish purple silk, so boned and padded and embroidered that it was almost as stiff as armor. Both were old; she had other things to do with her money than to buy fripperies. Yet she was an elegant woman, with narrow feet and delicate hands, white and well kept; her hair, once golden, now silver-gilt, was washed every other Monday, even when, as often happened, Monday had seen fighting renewed. She had a fastidious nose and in her youth had used and liked a perfume distilled from roses; but the trick of making it was a secret, brought to Spain by the Moors when they came out of the east and as soon as she knew her destiny she had abandoned its use, making do with the simpler preparation made from crushed lavender, native to Spain.
On this day her few clothes, her few toilet necessities were all contained in a brassbound hide box, which also held everything that a baby might need. The enforced parsimony was evident there, too. For the new baby nothing new. The baby clothes had served many times already; for Isabella, Juan, Joanna and Maria and babies who had died young; well washed and bleached by the summer sun in the south, they would serve again for the child who would, God willing, be born in the Bishop's palace at Alcalá de Henares. Not in the rain and the mud, the birth precipitated by a fall. Isabella hoped for another son. The one she had already, Juan, had survived the danger period of infancy and first youth and was now seven years old, healthy, intelligent, charming, God be thanked; but he was only one life, only one heir; life was so full of threats; another boy would be a kind of security; and if this child were a boy, and if Juan lived, the younger one could become a cleric -- perhaps even Pope.
Jerking along, in increasing discomfort, the leather cloak growing heavier and then porous so that finally the wetness seeped through to her skin, Isabella cheered herself with thoughts of the future. Juan King of a united Spain, with not a Moor left alive in it; Carlos -- for so she would name this child, should it be a boy, on the Papal throne, and all her daughters married to kings, linking Spain, so long isolated, to Europe, carrying their Spanish piety and good manners with them.
To her second son, if God so favored her, she would say, "You were almost born in a saddle." She would not say that if this child were a girl. She had learned from a long, hard experience what turns of speech appealed to men and what to women. She had been compelled to speak both languages and could switch from one to the other without conscious thought. When her husband, Ferdinand, who had been at the rear of the long train, urging on the laggards, brought his horse alongside her mule and asked how she did, she said:
"Mules are somewhat overrated; but at least I am still in one piece."
He laughed. A woman would have been more sympathetic, would have said things like "Poor lady!" or "How courageous you are, madam." Weakening words. The sort that she had resisted for years.
Ferdinand said, "Not long now. That fellow who broke his ankle and was heaved up on top of one of the baggage wagons just told me that he could see the roofs. Then the road dipped and he lost sight of them again, but in less than an hour we should be there."
They were there in less than an hour. The Bishop's palace was as stark, as bare as she remembered it; but it was a suitable place for the birth of a child who, if a boy, would be obliged to subjugate the flesh, at least for a time, and if a girl would be the fourth daughter, with all the really advantageous marriages made before it was her turn, and might become a nun.
Freed of the mule's movement and relieved of her sodden clothes and heavy boots, the Queen felt better and derided herself for her fears of a somewhat premature delivery. She proceeded in her usual, orderly way, moving slowly but purposely. First a visit to the little chapel, ill-lit and cold as a tomb, where she knelt and thanked God that the journey had been completed without mishap save for a broken ankle and one wagon wheel smashed; she prayed that God would forgive her for the lack of complete faith that had made her fears possible. Then to more mundane matters. First of all -- before the children, even, the need to make certain that every man would sleep under cover in this night of wind and rain.
The Bishop's palace, like every other place where Isabella had stayed in the last four years, was virtually a barracks, only a few private rooms reserved for the Royal Family and its immediate entourage; but even so, and with every outbuilding brought into service, it was still necessary to find outside billets for a great number of soldiers, and a senior officer had been sent on ahead to make arrangements. The Queen knew how ordinary people felt about having soldiers thrust upon them, but it was a necessity in winter and it was the turn of the people up here in the northwest to assume their part of the burden; the towns and villages to the south, near the fighting front, had stripped themselves to keep the army fed during spring and summer; that was what made these long winter journeys an essential part of the year's routine. Isabella had done her best to instill a crusading spirit into her army; men were forbidden to loot or to meddle with respectable females; they knew that their Queen disapproved of drunkenness and of the use of foul language. On the whole her rules and her wishes were regarded, but there were exceptions which distressed her less than might have been supposed; it was an army of men, not of monks that she had gathered and she was shrewd enough to realize that the men who sometimes broke rules were not necessarily the worst soldiers.
"Every man has a roof over his head?" she asked.
"Yes, your Grace." The officer added -- for unless the queen was in childbed tomorrow, she would be out and about, inspecting and criticizing, and he did not want his efforts underrated: "Of a sort. It was not easy. Since last year a dozen houses at least have become untenanted and have fallen into total disrepair; and at the lower end of the town there is a sickness."
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