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I wake early, in the first soft light of dawn, with a wonderful idea fully formed in my mind. Nothing can compare with the rare thrill, this frisson of creative inspiration. There is a special alchemy in making something of great value from nothing but the words in my head. I call out to my ever-present, invisible attendants.
‘Bring me quill and parchment!’
They wait at my door night and day, some to guard me, others seeking favours, but the most important know my needs, and how to satisfy them, without question. My wife has her chattering ladies, yet I value my gentlemen of the chamber more than she knows. They guard my secrets with their lives.
Pulling on a cape of thick, velvet-lined fur over my nightshirt to ward off the chill dawn air, I slide my feet into silk slippers and hum to myself as I rehearse the words in my head. These words could change my life. I sense they might hold the answer to the problem that keeps me awake at night, and torments my dreams.
My father’s dying gift had been a question. ‘You know your duty?’ His voice was rasping, like the call of a rave, his words sounding harsher than he no doubt intended.
‘To ensure the succession.’ The words tripped from my tongue so easily, yet now haunted me. I forgave my father’s tone, yet only now do I understand. The old man was dying of the quinsy, a miserable end. Even with his great fortune, he could not find a cure. I’d known my father would not last long if the simple act of swallowing caused such agony.
He’d done his duty. An heir and a spare, that’s what they said, his self-serving acolytes. In truth, it was a relief when he died. When my older brother was taken by the sweating sickness, my father changed. His heart hardened and the sparkle vanished from his eyes. Then my mother, the love of his life, followed her son eleven months later, and my father lost his faith in our merciful God.
I think of my father more often as I grow older, and begin to value his qualities, perhaps even miss his suffocating attention. What would he have said if I’d told him I loved him? Would he have said he loved me, as he’d loved my brother, or scowled at my weakness, and blamed my poor mother for making me soft.
His plan was for me to enter the church. I smile at the thought. Sometimes I daydream about the life I could have had, so free of care, responsible only for men’s mortal souls. I would have been the greatest archbishop in Christendom, eclipsing the bishop of Rome, yet the prize was stolen from me by my brother’s sudden passing.
My servant returns and sets out fresh parchment, a silver inkpot and a fine new goose feather quill. I test the sharpness of the nib against the flesh of my palm, an old habit, taught by my writing tutor, although I know it will be perfect, as it always is.
Dismissing the man with a wave of my hand, I sit at my gilded desk and begin to write in French, the language of courtly love.
Alas my lady, whom I do so love
A good start. Direct, yet raising a question in the good lady’s mind. Alas? A magical word, with the power to conjure much speculation. I sit back and read the words aloud, savouring them. Then I read the line again, more slowly this time, pleased to hear the beginnings of a simple melody in their rhythm. Now the great idea must follow, before it eludes me like the slippery elvers I hunted as a child.
Suffer me to be your humble servant
Humility. I recall the cautionary words of St Peter. ‘Clothe yourselves with humility, because God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.’ This will surprise her, perhaps even raise a smile. She well knows I’d never been anyone’s servant, although I’ve suffered at the hands of many over the years. What more can I offer, as my gift, than servitude?
I need to develop and reinforce this theme, so what better than with commitment? I know what they say, the gossipers of court. They dare to laugh behind my back, believing they do so with impunity, but I know. I have ways of knowing what is said, when they think I cannot hear. They see my short-lived dalliances and misunderstand. They dare to say I don’t know the value of commitment. I mutter a curse at the gossipers as I dip my quill in the silver inkpot and write, my brow furrowed with concentration.
Your humble servant I shall always be
The next line flows effortlessly from my subconscious mind, like the mysterious quicksilver used by my physicians, and I sit back in my chair, startled at the truth it reveals.
And while I live, I'll love none else but you.
Now the time has come for my lady’s response. I wish she was at my side, sharing this precious moment with her shy smile. I picture her in a silken nightdress, revealing more than some might think proper. Forcing the sultry image from my thoughts, I instead imagine her most perfect reply to my verse.
Alas, fair sir, you are good and kind
Alas again. Does it convey concern, or pity, for my hopeless infatuation? If pity, the lady redeems herself by recognising my best qualities. My stern grandmother took it upon herself to make me good and kind. She’d died two months after my coronation, and I miss her wisdom, yet recall her advice.
She lies now in the abbey of Westminster, her hands in perpetual prayer. When I visited last, a shaft of sunlight, filtered by the stained glass, lit up her gilded face with a delicate, rosy pink, as if she was restored to life. Memories of my devout grandmother inspire my words, so fast I write the next two lines.
Wise and courteous and from a noble house,
And as good as one could find
My grandmother was so proud to be a Beaufort, the most noble of houses, in the line of the royal House of Lancaster. My father claimed we had true royal blood, as good as one could find, yet the royal blood flowing in my veins if from my mother, her blood of kings, of the royal House of York. A wave of sadness threatens as I remember my mother, who never failed to show me her love.
But I can't forget the one I love.
Melancholy distracts me from my task. I must recall my waking mood, and the unexpected joy I’d felt at the thought of being able to express the love that burns in my soul, like the red-hot embers of a smithy’s forge.
‘Bring me wine, and comfits!’
I hear their footsteps on polished floors as they rush to do my bidding, and return with a silver tray. I watch in silence as my goblet is filled, then sip the rich red wine and feel its warmth restore my spirits. The dish of sugared comfits tempts me, but I must write more before these words escape my mind.
Alas my lady, think upon your case:
Between us two, no need for advocate.
Certainly not, and you know it well.
Be gone, for you are doing nothing.
I smile, pleased at my ingenuity. She is vain, and will know the meaning, yet dare I threaten to dismiss her as punishment for inaction? I can and will, for she plays the game of courtly love so well, a quarry worthy of a king.
Now a touch of honesty. They say confession is good for the soul. I know not how to win her heart, yet by admitting as much, might surprise her with my honesty. I take another drink of wine, savouring the fruity aftertaste as words form in my head.
My heart sighs and tenderly complains,
when it cannot find relief
I know not how it wants me to woo
Pleased with the result, I reward myself with a sugared comfit from the silver dish. My weakness is that once I start, I cannot stop until they are all gone, yet I deserve this small indulgence. She knows my other weakness well enough, and now I might use it to seal my words, as surely as I press my royal signet into hot red sealing wax.
If it is so, I'll go wooing elsewhere.
Too harsh a threat? Maybe, yet she knows this is a game, and I grow impatient for my reward. Now, how to conclude? At last, the reason for alas – and her answer, offering the hope I crave for more than any dish of sugared comfits.
Alas my lady, and shall I not?
Certainly, fair sir, I have not said so.
There, it is done, and as I read my words aloud, I find I’m singing them. I have written not an ode but a song, which I shall sing to her in my fine tenor voice when next we meet.
Behave rightly and you will be rewarded.
Alas my lady, from my whole heart, thank you.
© Tony Riches
Did you guess the song title?
(How many of you thought Greensleeves?)
Helas Madame - Henry VIII
Helas Madame - Henry VIII
by Simone Lo Castro
(You Tube Video)
I’ve spent ten years writing about the men and women of the Tudor court, but this is the first time I have attempted to write Henry VIII in the first person. Helas Madame is one of Henry’s most revealing compositions, and inspired me to think about how my view of his character has changed over the years. His father, Henry VII, seems to have made little secret that Henry was never his first choice as heir to the throne, so he must have felt a powerful need for vindication.
Originally written in ancient French - possibly for Mary Boleyn, but that is not certain. The lines in italics are a verbatim translation of Henry's actual words, I’ve used the translation, which still carries the significance of Henry’s passion. The games of courtly love dominated life at the Tudor court throughout his life, yet I believe such games became a substitute for the true love he found so elusive.
website : https://www.tonyriches.com/
Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the lives of the Tudors. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website
|Reviewed by Discovering Diamonds
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