Of course I knew I couldn't be Queen. No woman could ever rule over men in England. I had known that since I was three years old. But for days on end, I would sometimes pretend I was Queen. I would order about the rest of my household in what everyone knew was a game. I'd order about my knights, James and Richard Vernon, who were sons of a local squire, and Sir John Chertsey, a young knight of the shire. They were most faithful to me and out of earshot of my nurse, Cat Ashley, would call me Your Highness.
If Cat Ashley caught me, she would scold. "Pretending you are Queen is a dangerous game," she'd say, and then to the knights who were kneeling about me, "and you should know better than to encourage her."
So I'd pretend I was a witch. They say my mother, Anne Boleyn, was a witch. She had the tiniest hint of a sixth finger on her left hand, truly the sign of a witch. And she had special long sleeves attached to her gowns to try to hide it. So it became a fashion to have such a gown and the whole palace of women wanted such. And then there is the way they say she bewitched my father, not wanting to become his mistress like every other woman in court, but staying distant enough to drive him mad while she held out for marriage.
When Cat Ashley caught me at that game, she decided I should have lessons in behavior in case I was summoned to court. I must learn to kneel at my father's feet, to look him square in the eye, to show him I was fearless, yet be respectful at the same time.
"He hates cowardly children," she told me.
Besides my dear friend Robin Dudley, whom I saw only on occasion, I didn't have many playmates. There was my half brother, Edward, to be sure, but he was still a baby. Cousin Jane Grey was a mousy little creature, always reading her Bible and praying. She shirked at playing archery or quoits or any outdoor game at all. She hated horseback riding, which I loved.
My half sister, Mary, was seventeen years older than I and was appointed to attend me for a while because she and her mother (who had been put aside for my mother) were out of favor. But that was a royal failure. There Mary was, at seventeen, and her household was broken up around her and she was brought to Hatfield to wait upon me. What followed I do not much recall, but they tell me she refused to call me Princess or curtsey to me. She refused to eat. She spent hours in her room crying. Our father, in turn, took away her jewels. But with determination worthy of our lionhearted father, she won. She would wait on me and play with me, but she won because she never called me Princess and never curtseyed to me.
Finally she was relieved of her job, and things have never been the same between us since.
Only Robin Dudley was my true friend. Oh, the rides we have had together! Even at nine we were both experts with horses. He was frequently allowed to visit me at Hatfield, and the few times I went to court he was there, smoothing the way of things for me.
My clothing, while I was growing up at Hatfield, was on the shabby side. My father never sent fabrics for proper attire. Frequently Cat Ashley would write to court to beg an allowance or some fabric to dress me as I was supposed to be dressed. But there was never any response, and she had to make do with what she had. Somehow she always kept a special dress for me for in case I was summoned to court. Many were outgrown before they were used. But we always had to be ready.
I had been to court as a baby, I was told, and then again when I was four for the christening of my brother, Edward. At that time I was too young to take part in the procession and had to be carried by Sir Thomas Seymour.
Sir Thomas was brother to Jane Seymour, who was my brother Edward's mother. He was so dashing, so handsome. Every woman at court was in love with him. Even at four, I was too. I sensed this man was special, a courtier for all seasons. I have been in love with him ever since, and every time I go to court I hope to see him, but I am not always so fortunate.
Here is a puzzle. They are saying that Sir Thomas is in love with Katharine Parr, who is now to wed my father. But once my father claimed his right with her, Sir Thomas wouldn't even dance with her at court anymore. Not because he was angry, but because they were both afraid the King would suspect their love. Sir Thomas knows he has no rights to Katharine Parr while the King claims her, so he keeps his distance. Oh, isn't that a romantic story? It gives me the chills.
When I was seven, I went back to court again, for my father married Catherine Howard, my cousin, who was just eighteen. I loved Catherine. Her clothes were in the French fashion and my father gave her many jewels. She was young and frivolous and my father was besotted with her. And she spoiled me and gave me many presents.
But one day, when she and her ladies were practicing dancing, the guards came and told her: "It is no more time to dance." And they took her away. Because my father had been told she had committed adultery.
It is her beheading that haunts me more than my mother's. When my mother was beheaded, I was too . . .