AN: Happy Queen's Day, everyone! Or Koniginnedag to the Dutch! Thought this, the penultimate chapter of Daughters, would be a fitting thing to post today...so please enjoy and read and review! I'd love to be able to say that I got to 300 reviews by the end of the story!
Since it was June, the sailing was good. Because of this, Anne resolved to set sail for her new country within the month.
Of course, we couldn't let her go without marking the occasion, so we had a full fortnight of festivities in her honour. Jousts were ridden, feasts were thrown and balls and masquerades were held by the dozen. It was while I was presiding over one of these – a masked ball proclaiming Anne to be the Queen of Peace – that it happened.
The great doors swung open and a young woman clad in the palest rose silk came in. She looked neither left nor right, but merely advanced upon the dais, head held high.
The crowd parted for her like the Red Sea had before Moses, for, though her face was obscured by a mask of rosy silk velvet, her eyes were burning with a determination that would not be gainsaid.
When she was within half a dozen paces of the dais, the young woman reached up, undid both her mask and her hood and cast them aside.
The courtiers gasped as my younger sister, their beautiful Princess Blanche, flung herself on her knees before me.
"Your Majesty. Queen Elizabeth. I have come before you to crave your forgiveness. I know now that I should never have married Lord Ormonde without first seeking permission. I can only offer Your Majesty my humblest and most abject apologies and pray that Your Grace will look kindly upon what was an action caused by the heated passions of youth."
Faced with such a sincere apology, I had little choice. She was my sister, after all. I could keep her on her knees no longer.
Cutting off the rest of her craven speech, I stood up and held out my hands to her, calling out in a ringing tone, "Rise, Lady Ormonde. All is forgiven now."
Looking immensely relieved, Blanche scrambled up from her knees and placed her hands in mine. Glancing at Anne and Edward, both of whom wore great beaming smiles, I leaned in and bestowed the kiss of peace upon my younger sister.
I said nothing more; too many emotions were swirling around in me for that, but when Edward gestured to the servers to lay another place for her at the High Table, I nodded in approval. Why not? Let her take her customary place beside me. It was how Mama would have wanted it.
"Blanche cannot stay merely the Lady Ormonde. At the moment, she is equal in rank to the Lady Northumberland; lower in rank than our other bastard sister, the Princess of Eboli. That isn't fitting for a trueborn daughter of our late father, King Henry, God Rest his soul. Yet, though she is my full sister, I cannot make her a Princess again. She has disgraced herself too shamefully for that."
I threw the words at my Secretary in one great running breath, pacing up and down as I did so.
To Cecil's credit, he didn't flinch at the urgency in my voice, merely inclined his head and made a note on his sheaf of papers.
"Might I make a suggestion, Madam?"
"By all means, Cecil," I waved permission for him to speak.
"Though Your Majesty now refers to your sister as Lady Ormonde, Your Grace never officially stripped her of her title as Lady of Ireland. If you were to grant her permission to continue using the title Lady of Ireland, would she not be more worthy of being Your Majesty's trueborn sister?"
"Yes, yes, that is true," I conceded, pleased with the idea, "However, that leaves George Boleyn in the uncomfortable position of being inferior to his wife, does it not? I admit that he is Earl of Ormonde in his own right and will Lord of Ireland jure uxoris, but, as my brother, he really ought to have a higher rank than that of Earl in his own right."
"You could make him Marquess of Wiltshire," Edward, who had been listening to our conversation, suggested. As I turned to him, he continued, "Marquesses rank higher than Earls, after all and, if I remember correctly, Wiltshire was the Earldom that your father bestowed upon your grandfather Lord Edmund Howard before -"
"Before he married my mother," I finished for him, "But it never passed to my uncle because of my mother's adultery, which means it lies vacant," My thoughts had run on ahead of his and now I turned to him, smiling triumphantly, "Edward, you have it. You have it, my love. We shall welcome George into the family by creating him a Marquess twice over; Marquess of Ormonde and Wiltshire. We shall also grant him the right to style himself Lord of Ireland."
Almost laughing as it all fell into place so easily, I squeezed his hand and ordered Cecil to draw up the letters patent immediately.
Once he had finished, I sent Lady Susanna running to fetch my sister and her husband.
They came at once, George sinking into a deep bow, Blanche falling towards the floor in what was very nearly the deepest obeisance I had ever seen. Both of them were visibly trembling.
I could have eased their fears in an instant, but as I enjoyed having the power that the suspense gave me, I didn't. Instead, leaving them on their knees before Edward, I rose and went to the small table where the newly-written patents lay scattered.
"Do you know what these are?" I asked, lifting the scarcely-dried parchments up so that they could see them. Scarcely knowing what to do or say, George shook his head tentatively, "No, Your Majesty."
"One is a patent for a Sir George Boleyn to henceforth bear the title Marquess of Ormonde and Wiltshire. The other grants a certain Blanche Boleyn nee Tudor the right to style herself Lady of Ireland," I announced grandly, thrilling despite myself at the slow, stunned beam of a smile that spread over George's face as he realised what I was telling him. A split-second later, I saw his hand tighten on my sister's. He whispered in her ear and her face lit up.
"Your Majesty!" she gasped, half-springing up before she remembered where she was and who she was talking to. Laughing, I gestured to her to rise.
"Sister will do, Blanche! Sister will do!" I exclaimed, opening my arms to her and folding her into the kind of embrace that we hadn't shared since I had become Queen and she had left Court to take up her role of my Deputy in Ireland.
With Blanche restored to favour, we were able, once again, to concentrate on Anne and her departure for France.
Though I was now six months pregnant and loath to take any more risks with my unborn child, given that I had already suffered one-near miscarriage and therefore did not accompany Anne to Dover, Blanche did. She was my representative in this most vital of duties.
She was the one who ordered Anne's household to comport themselves with the decorum befitting English girls of good birth; girls worthy of being maids to a woman who was a Queen twice over. She was the one who said fond farewells to Anne in my name, as well in her own; kissed her warmly, sealing the farewells with the universal sign of peace and she was the one who warned Anne's escort, our cousin, the Earl of Surrey that there would be Hell to pay if harm came to a single hair on Anne's head before she reached the safety of King Henri's palace of Fontainebleu. That's how much I trusted her.
And when she came home; came back to Court, it was with Anne's prized Boleyn necklace; her rose gold B and pearl choker clasped around her neck. It appeared that our cousin had given it to her as a wedding present.
"After all, she's going to be part of the Valois family now," Blanche explained, "She'll not have the chance to wear it again, so she gave it to me."
"Hmm," I muttered sceptically. I doubted very much if Anne had given Blanche the necklace just because she was becoming a Valois by marriage. After all, she'd worn the pendant throughout her marriage to Father; throughout her reign as a Tudor Queen. She'd even worn it throughout her widowhood. The idea of her giving it up just because she was marrying again…well, I found it too unlikely to give it any credence, More likely, she'd given it to Blanche as a token of her affection for a young lady who was all at once not just her cousin or her stepdaughter, but also her sister.
I shook my head in disbelief. Anne was so kind-hearted. No wonder she made such a good Queen. I could never match her for kindness. I could only stand back and watch her actions in admiration.
I might not be able to match Anne's impulsive kindness, but now that I was Queen, I could out-do her in terms of grandeur.
A fortnight after Anne sailed from Dover, I hosted a lavish ceremony, one which ennobled George Boleyn as Marquess of Ormonde and Wiltshire and my sister as Lady of Ireland.
I wore cloth of gold trimmed with ruby velvet, Blanche was resplendent in cornflower blue silk and George, trying to complement her, dressed in dark blue satin shot through with silver.
My sister came forward first, kneeling before me as I placed her usual silver diadem back upon her head, bidding her, "Rise, My Lady Blanche of Ireland."
She curtsied to me, then came up to join Edward and me on the dais, standing beside me to watch as her new husband sank gracefully to one knee before me, waiting for the herald to unroll the patent and proclaim, "George Boleyn, it is the pleasure of our Sovereign Queen, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and His Highness, Edward, Great Lord of England and Wales, to create thee, on this, the first day of August in the sixth year of their reign, anno domini 1552, Marquess of Ormonde and Wiltshire."
I glanced at Edward. He nodded agreement and came down from his throne to place the ermine-trimmed mantle around George's shoulders at the same time as I fitted the Marquess's coronet in place on our new brother's head.
"The patent of your nobility," Edward informed George, handing him the now rolled-up scroll as I ordered him, "Arise, My Lord Marquess."
I put my hands on George's shoulders and drew him to me in order to exchange the kiss of peace with him.
As I did so, I whispered, "Welcome to the family, George."