At the King’s Pleasure is the story of Lady Anne Stafford, sister of the 3rd Duke of Buckingham, who came to court at the beginning of the reign of Henry VIII and soon afterward married George, Lord Hastings. But George wasn't the only man to fall in love with her. There was William Compton, the new king's boon companion. And there was King Henry himself.
From the cover copy:
Married to one man. Desiring another. Beautiful Lady Anne Stafford, lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon, is torn between remaining faithful to her husband, the tender-hearted George, Lord Hastings . . . and giving in to her long-felt attraction to the king’s boon companion, the young and handsome Sir William Compton. Will is as fascinated by Anne as she is with him. But when King Henry VIII—amorous as always—joins Anne’s admirers, she realizes she is perilously enmeshed in the intrigues of the court. Can she remain true to herself and her ideals—or will she be forced to choose between the two men she loves . . . and one that she doesn’t?
Kate Emerson continues to charm with heroine Lady Anne Stafford, a passionate woman who steps out of the pages of history to win our hearts in this sumptuous novel of the passionate Tudor court and all its attendant scandals and dangers.
Manor of the Rose, London, June 18, 1509
“This latest news from the court pleases me, ” said Edward Stafford, third Duke of Buckingham, “but my brother’s continued confinement in the Tower of London is worrisome.”
“A mistake, surely, my lord,” Charles Knyvett murmured.
Squarely-built and florid-faced, with thinning hair and small, pale eyes, Knyvett had been in Buckingham’s service from childhood and was one of the few men he trusted, perhaps because they were also linked by blood. Knyvett’s mother had been a daughter of the first duke. His father, Sir William, now nearing his seventieth year, still held the honorary post of chamberlain in the ducal household.
“All will be sorted out in good time,” agreed Buckingham’s chaplain, Robert Gilbert, a tall, thin, hawk-nosed fellow with a deeply-pocked face and intense black eyes. The duke made a little humming noise, neither agreement nor disagreement, and studied the small group of women at the far end of the garden gallery of his London house. Two of them were his sisters, Elizabeth and Anne. They might prove useful to him, he thought. At least no one, not even the new king’s over-cautious councilors, would be likely to order the arrest of either of them on suspicion of treason.
“Lord Henry’s confinement is doubtless the result of malicious lies,” Gilbert said. “No formal charges have been made against him.”
“And the only other members of the late king’s household who are under arrest are inferior persons, lawyers and accountants,” Knyvett chimed in.
“And a surveyor of the king’s prerogative,” Gilbert reminded him with a little smirk.
Knyvett glared at him, offended by the jab but reluctant to quarrel outright over it in the duke’s presence. Officially, Charles Knyvett was Buckingham’s surveyor. That it was a relatively minor post in a household large enough to need a chancellor, an almoner, a receiver general, and a clerk of the signet, had been a source of frustration for him for some time.
Buckingham ignored the sparring between his two retainers. He was accustomed to it. In truth, he preferred antagonism to complacency. He also expected his men to spy on each other and keep him informed of everything they discovered. He deemed it wise to keep his allies at odds with one another. In an England that had for decades been torn apart by wars over the succession, it paid to know what your enemies were thinking. It made even more sense to keep a close watch on your friends.
As for his younger brother’s situation—that worried the duke more than he let on. They had been on uneasy terms for some time before his arrest. Hal had taken offense when his brother, as head of the family, had attempted to reallocate the funds he’d earlier promised would be Hal’s for marrying the dowager Marchioness of Dorset, a match Buckingham himself had arranged. Hal had stubbornly refused to cooperate, with the result that Buckingham had found himself, at the start of a new reign, more than £6000 in debt to the Crown.
Even before news of the death of King Henry the Seventh had been announced, Hal had been imprisoned in the Tower of London on suspicion of treason. Some people, Buckingham thought sourly, no doubt imagined that he was responsible for Hal’s troubles. But for all his younger brother’s failings, Hal was still a Stafford. Buckingham had known nothing about his arrest until several days after the fact.
Who, then, had caused Hal to be seized and held? And why? The idea that Hal had been planning rebellion was laughable. Hal’s only interest in the royal court lay in the competitions to be found there—he lived for jousting. To Buckingham’s mind, that meant that the charges against Hal had been intended as a warning to Hal’s brother—to him.
Had it been the old king’s outgoing Privy Council who’d ordered the arrest? They’d been anxious to keep King Henry’s death secret until his son’s succession was secure. That they should fear Buckingham as a rival claimant to the throne amused the duke. It was true he had more royal blood in his veins than the new king did, but there were others who had even more. Regardless, he’d never thought to seize the throne for himself. He was a loyal subject, sworn to support the Tudor dynasty.
It was tiresome to have to prove his loyalty to a new king, but Buckingham did not suppose that he had any choice in the matter. The Staffords must make themselves indispensible to young Henry the Eighth.
He looked again at the women clustered around his wife. Eleanor, a plain, horse-faced woman, was the sister of the Earl of Northumberland. She and her brother had been raised, as had Buckingham and Hal, in the household of Henry the Seventh’s mother, the Countess of Richmond. Fatherless, they had all become wards of the Crown. Just after his twelfth birthday, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, had arranged a marriage between her charges.
It was a good match, the duke thought now. He and Eleanor had always been fond of each other. She was soft-spoken and even-tempered and made him an excellent wife. In the years since they’d wed, she had provided him with a son, his heir, and three daughters to use to forge alliances with other noblemen. Unfortunately, none of his four children were old enough yet to be of use at court. Elizabeth was twelve, Catherine, ten, Henry, eight, and Mary only six.
Buckingham’s gaze slid over assorted waiting gentlewomen, including plump, pretty Madge Geddings and Knyvett’s half sister, Bess, to come to rest on to his own siblings. Elizabeth was a year his senior. He had contracted a match for her with Robert Radcliffe, Lord Fitzwalter. They’d been together for nearly four years now and Elizabeth had done her duty, giving her husband two sons. The elder was three years old and the younger an infant.
Then there was Anne. She was twenty-six years old. Buckingham had thought he’d had her settled in a marriage to Sir Walter Herbert, the old Earl of Pembroke’s younger son. But Herbert had died in a fall from a horse and, for nearly two years now, Anne had been back in her brother’s house. Widowed, she’d returned to Thornbury, the Stafford family seat in Gloucestershire, bringing with her over a dozen servants but no heir for Sir Walter’s estate. She had failed in the primary duty of a wife by not producing a single child of either sex to inherit.
Anne sat alone on a window seat, her head bent over her embroidery frame. Buckingham’s eyes narrowed as he assessed her attributes. She was more attractive than her sister, although no great beauty. Her chin was too sharp—an outward sign of an unfortunate stubborn streak—and her complexion lacked the pink and white prettiness that was so popular at court. Still, she’d do.
“Go about your business,” he told his men. “I must speak in private with my sister.”
Lady Anne looked up from her embroidery to find her brother staring at her from the far side of the garden gallery. As was his wont, he wore extravagant clothing, even in the privacy of his own home. His gown was damask, heavily embroidered and studded with garnets and seed pearls. Neither rich fabrics nor costly decoration, however, could disguise the predatory nature of his smile.
“I wonder what Edward is plotting now,” Anne murmured.
If there was more than a hint of wariness in her voice, she felt it was warranted. While it was true that she had voluntarily returned to her brother’s household after the death of her husband, she had never intended to place herself quite so thoroughly under his thumb. Yet, somehow, within a month, she’d ended up granting Edward full control over her dower lands. Now she was beholden to him for everything she had, from the roof over her head and the food that she ate to the garments she wore and the jewelry that adorned them.
Only Madge Geddings, a young gentlewoman with a pink and white complexion and a small, turned up nose, sat near enough to Anne to overhear the soft-spoken words. Madge glanced toward the duke, then quickly away, cheeks flaming. Poor Madge, Anne thought. These days, anything to do with Edward left her flustered and blushing.
For some time now, the duke had been trying to persuade his wife’s waiting gentlewoman to share his bed. If Madge gave in, she would not be his first mistress. He’d had at least two, and had the illegitimate sons to prove it. Anne was only surprised that it had taken her brother so long to notice that the young woman had blossomed into a beauty. She had been part of his household for nearly ten years. True, she had been a girl of twelve when she’d first entered the duchess’s service, and she had been assigned to the nursery until recently, but the duke made it a practice to keep track of everyone in his service.
The other women in the garden gallery, as yet unaware of the duke’s presence, continued to converse together, heads bent over a large embroidery frame that held an altar cloth. Anne sat a little apart from those working on the project. She preferred to spend her time on emblem embroidery, creating small motifs, usually in tent stitch, which were then cut out and applied to large velvet panels for use as hangings, bed curtains, coverlets, or cushions. It was a negligible show of independence, especially when the emblem at hand was the golden Stafford knot, but it salved her pride to have tangible proof that Edward did not control every facet of her life.
Anne’s sister Elizabeth looked up from her stitches at the sound of approaching footfalls. At once, a calculating look came into her eyes. Anne hid a smile. She could read her sister’s expression as easily as she could interpret the sampler she’d made as a child and, just as she no longer needed to refer to the sampler as she embroidered, neither was it necessary to rely upon anything but past experience to know that her older sister wanted something from their brother. Elizabeth’s face, although it had the same heart shape Anne saw in her own looking glass, was dominated by lips held too tightly compressed, so that they habitually formed a thin, hard line. Her smiles always looked forced, and they never reached her eyes.
Edward, Anne decided, seemed a trifle agitated. That was nothing unusual. Having his attention fix on her, however, was out of the ordinary.
“I would speak with you in private, Sister,” he announced in a peremptory tone of voice.
Elizabeth looked miffed, for there was no mistaking which sister he meant.
“As you wish, Edward.” Anne set aside her small embroidery frame and rose from the cushioned window seat.
The gallery in the Manor of the Rose ran north to south, as did the garden it overlooked. All the windows had a view of Lawrence Pountney Hill and the steeples of St. Lawrence Pountney and St. Martin Onger and, at a little distance, St. Margaret Bridge Street and St. Leonard Milkchurch. Anne’s brother walked her to the southern end of the gallery, near to where it adjoined a four storey tower. From that vantage point, they could almost see the Thames and did have a clear view of the turrets of Coldharbour, the London house of the late king’s mother. Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, was in residence there with her youngest grandchild, the new king’s sister Mary, who went by the title Princess of Castile by virtue of her long-standing betrothal to a Spanish prince. The princess, who could not be more than fourteen years old, would have taken her father’s death hard. Anne’s heart went out to her.
Occupied by such thoughts, Anne waited with apparent patience, hands demurely tucked into her sleeves, for the great and powerful Duke of Buckingham to make known his reason for wishing to speak to her alone. She was not afraid of him, but she had learned that a show of respect made dealing with her brother far easier. At Thornbury Castle, Penshurst Place, or Bletchingly Manor, his country houses, she was able to avoid him for days on end. Here in the smaller London house, that was impossible.
“You will recall,” he began in a patronizing tone, “that the late king, His Gracious Majesty, Henry the Seventh, required you to sign a recognizance for £160.”
“I do. Although no one ever troubled to explain to me just why I was obliged to provide that surety.”
“You would not comprehend the legal details. Suffice it to say that Hal and I signed similar documents. Our new king, His Most Gracious Majesty, Henry the Eighth, has seen fit to cancel them.”
“That is excellent news,” Anne said. “Has he also freed Hal from the Tower?” Why her other brother had been a prisoner there for nearly two months was something else no one had bothered to tell her.
Edward scowled. “No, he has not, and we will not speak further of the matter.”
“As you wish,” Anne murmured, lowering her gaze so that he would not guess how angry and frustrated such dictates made her feel. “Shall I return to the other women now?”
“My business with you is not yet complete. It is time you remarried, Sister. I am considering young Lord Hastings.”
“Young Lord Hastings?” Anne echoed, caught off guard by his announcement. “How young? I do not wish to be yoked to a child.”
“You will suit well enough.”
“How old is he, Edward?” She met his eyes now, letting him see her determination to have an answer. She was loath to challenge him on most matters but she did have one legal right as a widow. She could refuse to marry a man who displeased her.
“George Hastings is twenty-two.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. A four year difference in their ages was not so bad, not when the bride Edward had found for Hal had been nineteen years his senior. “Will the new king approve?” she asked. As their liege lord, King Henry also had the right to put a stop to a betrothal, should he dislike the match.
“That young fool married for love,” Buckingham snapped. “What do you think?”
“I think that the king’s devotion to Catherine of Aragon is admirable,” she replied, although she knew full well that Edward had not expected her to answer him.
“His Grace is as impulsive as a young puppy. By the Mass, I cannot fathom why he would wed his brother’s widow. And before his coronation, too. They’re to be crowned together six days from now.” He shook his head, his bewilderment almost tangible. “Young Henry will never be the king his father was if he does not learn how to govern a too-tender heart.”
“Have a care, Edward,” Anne warned, daring to bait him. “He is the king.”
“I will speak my mind in my own house!” His eyes flashed with irritation.
“You always do,” she said, and sent him a smile of surpassing sweetness.
His hard stare told her that he was uncertain how to take that last remark, or her attitude. After a moment, he apparently decided that she would never laugh at him, or be so bold as to criticize him to his face. “If all goes well in the negotiations over your dowry and jointure,” he said, “you will be wed by the end of the year.”
Anne accepted this dictate with equanimity, certain that if George Hastings proved distasteful to her, she could refuse to marry him. She did not know much about the Hastings family, other than that their seat was in Leicestershire. She would have liked to ask for more details, but Edward already had hold of her arm and was towing her back to the other women.
“Is there any news from court?” Elizabeth demanded as soon as Anne had been returned to the window seat. “I have been waiting to hear about a place in the new queen’s household.”
“You have already been given the honor of escorting the Princess of Castile in King Henry’s funeral procession,” Buckingham chided her. “You must not be greedy.”
He laughed when her face fell.
“Have no fear, my dear. There can be no doubt but that you will be included among Queen Catherine’s ladies. Both my sisters will have places of honor with Her Grace. How could it be otherwise when the Staffords are the foremost family in the realm?”