I wrote this over the period of three days. It’s short, but I think it affords you the ability to put yourself in the place of the character…hopefully. I imagined Benedict Cumberbatch and that voice of his (as well as his face when he plays dark roles) as the king, Tom Hiddleston as William, Eoin Macken as John, and of course I put myself in the place of the queen. It’s supposed to take place in the 1530s, in England.
I was sixteen when I married King Thomas. Even before we married, I found him to be a very imposing man. On our wedding night, in his meeting room, he asked me what was expected of me. I explained that I was to be his support, to do as I was asked, and be a just queen. He smiled down at me, kissed my lips softly, and took my arm to escort me to the bedchamber.
“Are we going to have an audience?” This was my worst fear, to have an audience as Thomas took my maidenhead. It was tradition, but some royals preferred to have it just be them and their spouse. I was hoping Thomas was one of them.
“No, I shall excuse them when we reach the chamber. I want it to be just you and me. No need to have outside sources examine the sheet, I will do it myself.”
I just nodded, my mind running rampant with what was expected of me just beyond those doors only feet ahead of me. Once inside, he excused everyone in the room, and once we were alone, he lifted me onto the bed. Thomas was pleased that I was indeed a maiden, and that he had taken a virgin for his wife.
For months, we waited for the happy news that I would be with child. And as each month passed, Thomas became more displeased with me. He began taking mistresses, and he wasn’t doing so in secret. He paraded them around at parties and outdoor events, as a punishment. And each night we shared a bed, he made a point to linger after he had spilt his seed, in hopes that lingering would ensure his seed reached my womb.
One summer afternoon, an old beau, John arrived. It was rumoured that John was part of a circle that was plotting to overthrow Thomas from the throne. Factions such as this were becoming increasingly common across England, because people believed Thomas was an unjust ruler. I knew John’s arrival would raise suspicion, so I had an audience with him in the garden.
“Is he treating you fairly, Helena?” I raised my eyebrows. “I’m sorry. Your Majesty.”
“He is treating me fine, John. What brings you to the castle? From the rumors I have heard, you’re trying to remove my husband from power.”
“I am, Your Majesty. The resistance is growing in power, and I have rumors that the king is keeping mistresses. You have not even been married six months.”
“He is keeping mistresses. But that is a king’s right, and as the queen, I have no right to question his reasoning. You really shouldn’t be here, John. The walls of this castle have eyes and ears that go directly to the king and you’re implicating me in the process.”
“Of course I am. It was unintentional, I assure you, milady. Stay safe, your majesty. I feel an uprising is coming.”
“Of course it is. You’re acting treasonous against your king, which is something His Majesty will not stand.”
“It was lovely seeing you, milady.” He kissed my hand, and retreated quickly.
I thought there would be no consequences for John’s appearance, but I found out two days later was not the case. I was awakened early one morning by someone banging on my chamber door. Thomas rushed in, ripping the bedclothes off of me, and forcefully pulling me out of my bed and onto my feet. He dragged me down the hall, ignoring my cries as to his actions. Once we reached the throne room, I saw John in irons, flanked by guards.
“What is going on, Your Majesty?”
“John has been discovered consorting with rebels who wish to abdicate us from the throne, my dearest,” Thomas said softly, yet with that menacing tone I’d come to recognize.
I looked at John, and I realized the “trees” had been listening. John didn’t look repentant, but I realized there was a purpose to Thomas dragging me into the throne room in just my nightdress.
“And interestingly enough, my queen, this traitor to the crown was seen conversing with you just two days ago. Is this wrong?”
“No, Your Highness. John came to visit two days ago, and was here all of twenty minutes.”
“I see. And did he speak of a possible rebellion?” I nodded demurely. “Were specific dates named?” I shook my head, unable to look up at Thomas.
“He wished us much happiness in our marriage, and left soon after.”
“Are you a part of the rebellion, Helena?”
“I am not, Your Majesty. I vowed to you that I would not jeopardize the crown, and I remain faithful to those vows.”
“You have not done or said anything thus far to make me question your loyalties,” he said unconvincingly.
Once I felt his eyes off of me, I looked back up. He rose from his throne, forcibly taking my arm, and bringing me around so I stood beside him in front of John.
“John Dereham, I find you guilty of treason against King and country, and I hereby sentence you to death.” I screamed, eliciting Thomas to pull my arm strongly. “You will be led by cart to the scaffolding, where you will be hung by the neck until you are dead. Your head will then be severed from your body, and put on display on the bridge for all to see what happens when you turn against your king. You should consider yourself lucky to have such a sentence; traitors normally are drawn and quartered. Take him to the Tower.”
John nodded, and was lead off by the guards as I fell to my knees and screamed.
“Get up, woman! You are an embarrassment to the crown. Take her to her chambers, and have her stay in there until the date of Lord Dereham’s execution.
Four days later, I was dressed in my finery to watch a former beau and dear friend be executed. Thomas and I arrived with fanfare, and the pomp and circumstance that were not usually made for executions. John was led to the scaffolding, wearing a brave face. His death was swift, thank God. And Thomas held my head so I could watch them savagely cut his head off. I fainted, and the surgeon was called. It was then we discovered I was with child.
Thomas came in, smiling like he had the day we were married. It seemed as though all his anger had washed away.
“A son. I will now have a legitimate heir.” He reached his hand to my belly, rubbing it tenderly.
“Thomas?” He looked at me. “I did not betray you with John. I told him what he was doing was treasonous, but he insisted on continuing with his mission. I would not betray you. I was taught to agree with my husband in all matters.”
“Good,” he said with a smile.
The night I went into labor with James, I was sleeping better than I had in months. The labor was intense, as I had been prepared for. I screamed for what felt like months, my insides feeling like they were being torn to pieces. James came out crying, and I was just so happy that I had fulfilled my other duty to Thomas, giving him the son he so craved.
Five years later, I had given Thomas another son and a daughter. Three months after Elizabeth was born, Thomas was in a horrible accident, and was in bad shape. For two months, he laid prostate in his bed, just waiting for the inevitable death that was coming. I sat vigil by his bed, despite our strained marriage. I held his hand, fed him food, and kissed his brow every morning and night.
One afternoon, I took a walk through the garden maze, to clear my head. As I was exiting the maze, the Lord President of the Council came around the corner.
“Your Majesty,” he said with a quick bow. “I did not know you were out here.”
“It’s quite alright, William. I just decided to take a turn in the garden, and let the king have time with his councilors to finalize any orders he might have been undertaking. Why aren’t you with them?”
“His Majesty ordered us all out of his chambers, for he wanted to sleep. So, I was walking through the gardens, to see all the flowers you and the children have planted.”
“You’re in the wrong part of the garden for that. His Majesty had the children and I plant the flowers in an unseen part of the garden, which is by the swan pond. I can show you, if you like.”
I led him to the pond, which was for our swans, but had been disfavored by Thomas in our third year of marriage. It was in a private part of the garden, which had been its appeal for Thomas in the beginning, and now was where he encouraged me to spend my time, weather permitting.
“No one comes to this part of the garden, on His Majesty’s orders. Anyone found in this part of the garden without the invitation of His Majesty or mine would be immediately beheaded.” William made a face. “It’s harsh, I realize, but that is the express wish of the king. He enacted this rule before you came to court, so you I am not surprised you have not heard of it.”
“Milady, I have something to confess: I was not only in the garden to find your rose patch. I was also looking for you.”
“Looking for me? Whatever for?”
“You know I am fond of Your Majesty,” he began. “And I have been, for some time. I value your opinion above everyone else’s, and my heart breaks for how the king has treated you.”
“William, I am flattered, but what you’re saying is highly treasonous. I have lost one dear friend to His Majesty’s wrath, I will not lose another.” William puts his hand on mine. “William, this cannot happen. His Majesty could miraculously recover, and you can never act upon your feelings. You cannot, even now. I am flattered, but this cannot happen. I must take my leave of you now. Good day, Your Grace.”
Thomas died two days later.
“Helena, come closer.”
“What is it, Thomas?”
“I strip you of your title of Queen. You are no longer a royal.”
“What of our sons…our daughter, Your Majesty?”
“They will be the Dukes and Duchess of Somerset, and you have become the Duchess of Somerset. Elizabeth will take the title of Lady Elizabeth until she either marries or your death.”
“You are a truly benevolent king, Your Majesty.”
And with that, he died. The kingdom went into the hands of Thomas’s Scottish cousin, Duncan, and I took the children to the home I had been appointed by the king before his death.
We lived there happily for several months, when William came to visit. He declared his feelings had not changed, and that he relayed his feelings to King Duncan, who happily supported the union.
William and I were married in August 1541, and our marriage lived happily for thirty-five years, until William died.