“God bless the King, and all his fellowship!”
The day dawned brilliant with sunshine for the first double coronation in two hundred years. At the hour of Prime, as church bells pealed across London, with Anne’s train following his, Richard of Gloucester left Westminster Hall for the crowning at the Abbey. Removing his shoes, he walked barefoot on the red carpet, heralds trumpeting the way, followed by his lords and a procession of priests, abbots, bishops, and a cardinal bearing a great Cross high over his head.
Richard’s gaze fell on ginger-bearded Lord Stanley, who was carrying the mace. He remembered his own words: “One thing men can rely on, as surely as spring follows winter—a Stanley will ride at the winner’s side, no matter what his sin.” He hadn’t intended to reward Stanley for his treason, yet he had. To appease his own guilt for taking the life of a better man, he supposed, wincing at the memory of Lord Hastings. Even Stanley’s wife, Margaret Beaufort, had been greatly honoured this day. Harry Buckingham, a good friend and cousin whom he’d entrusted with the coronation, had arranged for her to carry Anne’s train—she, the mother of Henry Tudor, who, now that all true Lancastrian claimants were dead, had become their claimant merely because he lived! The world was indeed a strange place.
Richard wondered how Anne fared. Suffering from a chill and fever on the previous day, she’d been carried in a litter for the traditional journey of the monarch from the Tower of London to Westminster Palace. Much to his relief, she had felt well enough this morning to walk in the ceremony, and now followed him into Westminster Abbey. At least this once the wagging tongues that sought evil omens would be stilled. No one would have guessed she had been so ill, for she looked beautiful in her crimson velvet mantle furred with miniver with her hair flowing down her back, giving no hint of her recent illness. His sister Liza walked behind her, trailed by more noble ladies and a line of knights. His eldest sister, Nan, however, was absent. Of course, his mother had not come. She had even refused her blessing. He forced the memory away. But the entire peerage of England was here. That was much to be grateful for. It meant that England accepted him with good heart.
They approached the west door of the Abbey. The sign of the Red Pale in the courtyard of the almonry swung in the breeze. Here in 1476, William Caxton, that old mercer of Bruges, had come to print his books with the help of the Gutenberg press that he’d brought from Germany. It was a long way they’d travelled together since that wintry afternoon in the Bruges tavern, Richard thought, marvelling at the caprices of life. He’d been a youth of seventeen then, broken-hearted, hungry and poor, an exile from the land of his birth, with little hope. Now he would be King.
His gaze moved from Caxton’s shop to his friend Francis Lovell, carrying the Sword of Justice, and he remembered a question Francis had posed when they were boys. “If you could be anyone in King Arthur’s court, who would you be?” He’d had no answer then. Lancelot, whom he’d admired as the embodiment of his valiant cousin John Neville, had seemed out of reach to him. Later, torn between love and loyalty, he had felt himself more like Lancelot than any of Arthur’s knights, for Lancelot had been the most flawed.
I can answer you at last, Francis, he thought. I shall be Arthur, reigning with mercy and justice.
The high, pure voices of the choristers lifted in praise. Song burst forth from the church, Domine in virtute—
Richard and Anne entered the nave and proceeded down the aisle. Hundreds of candles flickered and incense filled the air with a rich, heavy scent, sending curls of smoke wafting into the gloomy nave. At the high altar, Anne watched as Richard knelt to be anointed with the holy Chrism, and rose to be vested in his regal garments of black and gold. Girded with the sword of state, he knelt again. Old Cardinal Bourchier picked up the crown of St. Edward and placed it on his head.
From the corner of her eye, Anne saw Richard’s cousin Harry Buckingham turn away. As if he can’t bear the sight, she thought. Why wouldn’t this moment fill him with joy when he had been Richard’s staunchest ally, instrumental in gaining him the throne? His labours were crowned with Richard’s crowning—unless . . . unless. . .
She had no time to finish the thought. Richard’s sister Liza was arranging her hair and Cardinal Bourchier was coming forward to anoint her forehead with oil. She felt his cold touch with a shiver. He held the crown over her. She tensed in its shadow. He set it down on her brow and the weight felt like a sudden blow. The sceptre and rod were thrust into her hands, and a hundred voices broke into a Te Deum. The song filled the cathedral, resounded against the stone pillars, coloured windows, and soaring arches, but in her throbbing head the chant dissolved into a chorus of jarring chords. She rose, and moved with Richard to their thrones in St. Edward’s Shrine for Mass.
Stanley’s wife, Margaret Beaufort, appeared at her side.
Anne felt a sudden chill. In the dimness, Margaret Beaufort’s narrow wolfish face had taken on a cruel look. Her smile seemed forced, strangely twisted, and her deep-set eyes glittered with menace. Anne chastised herself for her uncharitable thought. Margaret Beaufort has stepped between me and the candles, she told herself, throwing her shadow over me momentarily and moving into darkness herself. That was all. She was a good woman, known for her piety, and favoured by God. At the age of ten she had received a vision. . . .
Her head ached from the noise of the ceremony. The air in the Abbey was musty and cloying, reeking of incense and the stale perfumes of the nobles. She closed her eyes and tried to remember the rush of the cool wind sweeping her beloved Yorkshire moors, but all she could feel was the weight of the crown. Cardinal Bourchier’s voice droned on.
She opened her eyes. Her glance fell on Stanley’s square, bulky figure. Why had Buckingham insisted on giving Stanley the honour of carrying the mace, which rightly belonged elsewhere? Why had he heaped Stanley and his new wife, Henry Tudor’s mother, with such honours? She turned the question over in her mind, making no sense of it. Because it defied reason, it acquired a suspicious and sinister aspect. Buckingham. . . He reminded her so much of Richard’s dead brother George. The same smile, the same golden curls, arrogance, eloquence, need for attention. The same shallowness and ambition. She couldn’t trust him, yet she knew Richard trusted him implicitly. As my own father once trusted George. She blinked, lifted a hand to her brow. Something was wrong with her sight. Shadows were everywhere, all around her and Richard. It was the fatigue and the noise. They made her mind play tricks on her. She wished the ceremony would end. But it continued. There was still Holy Communion.
At last, Richard offered the crown of St. Edward and other relics at the shrine. Anne sighed with relief. It was over. She prepared to rise. Clarions sounded. She turned her eyes on Richard. His face was pale and grave. At that instant the knowledge struck her with full force. Richard was King of England.
Blessed Mother, and she was Queen!
Queen. What her father had dreamed. What she had never wanted. Now it was thrust upon her. She put out a hand to the shrine of St. Edward for support, and whispered a prayer.
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See more: The Rose of York: Fall from Grace