“This will not continue. Send them all home.”
The king had come from the tennis court triumphant, a-muck with sweat. His linen shirt was transparent with it; the cloths with which he had rubbed his face and scrubbed at his hair were now wreathed around his neck. Before Lord Clarendon had caught his eye Charles had looked invigorated, a man enjoying the sun on his face and the scent of dew melting into the early morning air.
All that animal pleasure had evaporated when he saw his Lord Chancellor waiting for him.
Clarendon knew that look of old: When Charles, only a prince, had taken the baser part in some argument or stood out against his father’s expressed wish. When he knew, deep in his honorable heart, that his behavior was shameful. In his own heart the earl had believed—hoped—that Charles would acknowledge the cruelty of taking Barbara Castlemaine’s part and find a way to make amends to the queen. Given enough time and quiet to consider the matter.
But it seemed that time had run out.
“Send them all home,” the king said again. He quickened his pace. Charles was several inches taller than Clarendon, who was no small man. Within a moment, the earl was trotting to match the king’s long-legged stride. He felt the warning twinge that presaged an attack of the gout, but did not slow his step.
“Don’t be coy, Lord Clarendon. That pack of black crows and hangers-on who press around the queen and coach her in this defiance. Those po-faced priests. They keep the girl from English society for their own reasons.” Charles stopped walking long enough that the dogs, loosed from the kennel where they had waited while he played tennis, caught up to them. For a moment his attention was upon the spaniels that surrounded him, demanding a pat, a tug on a silken ear, a chuck behind the jaw. At last he straightened. “Perhaps when there are none of them whispering poison to her she’ll find a more womanly, yielding disposition. Did her ladies coach her in defiance?”
“Coach? What need? Sire, would not any wife in your kingdom, put in such a position, object?”
“She is not any wife—and the sooner she learns it, the better.”
“No, she is not any wife, sire: she is queen. In what light do you expect her to regard my cousin Barbara? As a friend?”
Even in a passion the king was too honest a man to answer yea to that. Still: “I care not how she regards Barbara. It has gone beyond that. Catherine must come to understand that my word is her law,” he finished. “There can be no doubt of it. Send her people home.”
“Have you considered how the Portuguese will regard such a gesture?”
That had been a mistake, Clarendon realized. The king’s face reddened, decisiveness become anger. “Is the king of England to make policy in obedience to the concerns of the Portuguese? I won’t be talked round. Send them all away—let her keep her confessor, the ambassador, and the Condessa de Penalva . . . her cooks, perhaps. But the rest of them, every last one of those black crows and hangers-on, back to Portugal. The girl must learn to be an English queen. Let her begin today.”
Charles fixed his counselor with an expression that brooked no further discussion, whistled for the dogs, and continued across the soft scythed grass of the park at a vigorous clip, surrounded by the cloud of eager spaniels; his gentlemen trotted after.
Lord Clarendon, winded, beads of sweat standing on his brow, looked about him for a friendly bench, even a low tree branch where he could take his ease, catch his breath, and consider if there was any way at all to mend the mess. He saw none. The king’s command, however intemperate, was given. That would not be the end of it—if Clarendon knew Barbara Palmer at all, he knew that once she got what she wanted she would find a new prize to wheedle and pout for. And the king—resolute as he was on the battlefield, he could not stand against Barbara.
And Catherine? The girl had been so compliant, obviously besotted with her new husband, and ready to accede to any of his wishes. Any other of his wishes. “Who would have guessed she had a spine?” he muttered to himself. And how very inconvenient that that spine should show itself just at this moment.
Although the sun had broken from behind the English clouds to warm the gardens below the queen’s windows and send the scent of verbena, rose, and muguet upward in a fragrant cloud, the queen’s mood, and that of the small court that gathered in her apartments, was still gray.
The queen’s ladies had fallen into two camps. On the left of the room, by the mullioned windows, sat the Portuguese: Dressed in somber colors, the ladies bent over bits of needlework, listening while Father Patrick read from a book of homilies in Portuguese. They made a very virtuous picture, Catherine thought, but not—she felt a twinge of guilt—not an entertaining or even an inviting one. It seemed to her that some of her attendants were intent upon illustrating...