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An overheard Conversation

‘Edward,’ said the Duchess of York, in her sad-but-angry voice, ‘it is high time we had words. This ridiculous marriage you say you have made is simply the last straw. What sort of king marries in secret? And to someone, I may add, of no particular distinction of birth! You should be ashamed of yourself, letting us all down like this.’

King Edward IV sighed. He could always tell when his mother was really angry, because she stopped calling him ‘Ned’. And her curtseys became ironic. She was an awkward sort of person at the best of times, and wasn’t called ‘Proud Cis’ for nothing! And she was the only person in the whole kingdom who still dared to talk to him as though he was an errant schoolboy with his hose down for a birching. ‘Elizabeth is a widow,’ he said, attempting a winning smile, ‘and I am a bachelor, and we both have children. So you see, dear Mother, we have excellent hope of heirs. And besides, I love her.’

‘LOVE!’ Cecily almost screamed. ‘What the flipping flip does flipping love have to do with marriage among people like us?’ She didn’t actually use the word ‘flipping’ at all, but a somewhat stronger alternative. Edward was shocked. It wasn’t every day that his mother came out with rude words like that. Indeed it was a distinct novelty. He hadn’t realised that she even knew such language.

‘Mother!’ he said soothingly. ‘I beg you not so loud. The servants will hear.’

‘I don’t give a flipping sugar if every servant from here to Peterborough hears! In fact I hope they do, and that they repeat it to all their friends, with a few additions to make it more interesting. You stupid, stupid, little man! Call yourself King of England? You’re not fit to be the squire of Chipping Sodbury. I have scraped more kingly material off my shoes after a particularly prolonged visit to the kennels. Secret marriages, indeed! I wouldn’t mind, but it isn’t even the first time. Oh, yes, do you think I don’t know about Eleanor Talbot? I had her mother, Lady Shrewsbury, banging on about it to me for five solid hours. I thought it was a lie, and sent her on her way. But it wasn’t a lie, was it?’

The King looked as sheepish as a king possibly can without actually being a sheep. ‘Well,’ he admitted, ‘not exactly.’

Not exactly,’ she repeated impatiently. ‘I should have thought that even a mentally-challenged baboon would have realised that a Christian man cannot be married to two women at the same time. So this Elizabeth isn’t really your wife at all! And what does that make your future children?’

‘No one will ever find out, Mother. Eleanor Talbot is a very reasonable sort of woman, and has kept her mouth shut on the subject.’

No one will ever find out?’ Cecily shook her head, so sharply that the elaborate veiling descending from it shook like a sail split asunder by the wind. ‘The trouble with you, my boy, is you think that everyone in the world, except you, is stupid. This time you have gone too far. I wish I could say you were not my son, but unfortunately I remember the several hours of agonising pain all too well. I am tempted to tell everyone that you were fathered by the Archer Blackburn – or Blaeburn as we called him in the affected French accent we used during our time in Rouen. I liked the Archer Blackburn, and he was tall like you, and if he really was your father it would explain your total lack of nobility.’
Edward let out an awkward laugh. ‘Mother, no one would ever believe that you, of all women, would lie with a common archer.’

‘Would they not indeed?’ Cecily snorted. ‘You’d be surprised! Did you know that your birth came at a funny time? You were either very late or very early, and there was all manner of gossip in Rouen, especially when we only gave you a cheap baptism.

‘But I am York’s son?’


Probably?’ It was King Edward’s turn to become exasperated. ‘What sort of answer is that?’

‘A better one than you deserve. Can you imagine what people will say about you in the future? What they will write in their chronicles. Because I can, and it isn’t a pretty picture; a man who had it all when he came to the throne, and threw it all away because he couldn’t keep it inside his codpiece. Not that that in itself would particularly matter – if you had made a decent marriage first!

‘To somewhat like Bona of Savoy, I suppose? How on earth can a King of England marry someone called “Bona”? What a ridiculous name to put on a tomb! Or perhaps Isabella of Castile?’

‘Either would at least have been a respectable choice. At least compared to a Lancastrian widow, whose name no one seems to know how to spell.’

‘Mother, you have forgotten. I’m already married to Eleanor Talbot. If it does come out, the Woodvilles won’t be able to do much very about it. But a princess of France or Spain! Can you imagine the scandal? It would be casus belli.’

Cecily snorted. ‘I think that’s possibly the worst case of “making the best of a bad job” I’ve heard of in my entire life. I wash my hands of you – you bastard!

Just outside, a little man smiled to himself as he made a careful note with a stylus on a wax tablet. He worked for the Duke of Clarence. So far he had had very little to report, but this was going to mean a bonus. He studied his writing to be sure he had got the wording right. ‘On two separate occasions,’ it said, ‘the Duchess of York declared in my hearing that King Edward was a bastard. She said the gossip in Rouen was that he was the son of an archer called Blayburn.’


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