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Queen of Last Hopes



    I was formally betrothed in the Church of St. Martin at Tours on May 24, 1444, with William de la Pole, then the Earl of Suffolk, standing proxy for Henry. My uncle led me to the choir where the Bishop of Brescia, the papal legate, stood, and Suffolk and I promised to love and cherish each other.


            If a heart can break more than once, mine was to break for the first time six years later, when the whoresons—but that is for another time. I like to remember my friend Suffolk as I saw him that day at the altar, his dark eyes alive with amusement as he gave his strong responses to my somewhat shaky ones. “Don’t worry, my lady, you’ll be an old hand at this when it comes time to marry the king in person,” he whispered as the ceremony ended and we processed to the abbey of St. Julien, where I was to be feasted like a queen.


            There was dancing much, much later in the evening. Whether I was a trifle affected from the wine that had been flowing in abundance or simply from it being well past my usual hour of retirement—for my life at Angers was not a boisterous one—I was feeling giddy when Suffolk partnered me at the dance. “If you were a proper husband to me, you wouldn’t stare so at one particular lady,” I said demurely.


            He followed my eye to where his had just been: fixated upon the figure of Agnes Sorel, my uncle’s mistress. Suffolk gave an excellent English version of a French shrug. “I beg your pardon, your grace. But it is difficult not to look, you must admit. She is very lovely—though not, of course, as our new English queen.”


            “Flatterer,” I said, and Suffolk did not gainsay me. Agnes Sorel was blond and stately; I was little and darker, though not, I knew, charmless.  “She is my uncle’s official mistress,” I babbled on—quite unnecessarily, I realized later, for Suffolk, who was in his late forties, had been serving in France since he was a young man and probably knew as much about the court here as I did, if not more. “Do you have such things in England?”


            Suffolk shook his head gravely. “We are not nearly as advanced, I fear. Our mistresses are entirely unofficial.” We paused to take some intricate turns, to general applause, for my grandmother, who had had the rearing of me, had never stinted on dancing masters, and Suffolk was an accomplished partner. “I shall be returning to England shortly. Do you have anything you would like to ask me about the king?”


            I considered this question as best I could while dancing. As I turned in harmony with Suffolk, Agnes Sorel once again passed into my line of sight, which suggested a natural topic. “Does he have a mistress? I suppose I should know these things in advance.”


            My partner nearly stumbled, and had to put a hand to his mouth to stifle laughter. “I beg your pardon, your grace.”


            “I do not see how that is such a foolish question,” I said frostily.


            “In the case of most men, it would not be—but for anyone who knows our king! He is a very pious man. Indeed, some of the entertainment here tonight would have appalled him. Those rather underclad Moorish dancers we had earlier— There’s none such to be seen at his court. Nor will you find any mistresses in your husband’s life, in or out of court. You’ll have nothing to worry about on that score.”


            Did that mean I had to worry about anything else? But the dance had ended and it was time to take my place back at the dais beside the Queen of France, so I never got a chance to ask my next question.









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