I had not intended to write ‘Beguiled’. I had just finished writing the third part of ‘The Lost King’ and was resting it. I had planned the second part of ‘Artful’ and begun to write a few chapters of it.
One morning I woke and fancied writing about a woman. I had not written about a woman as a central character in any of my novels until Agnes in ‘Outcasts.’ Now I wanted to make a woman the central character of a short story. So I started writing. Within minutes a new person had leaped off the page and seized my imagination. I think she may have beguiled me a little as well. Below is how she did it.
To be a servant at the court of King Henry is to live with your heart in your mouth. This is so whether you are young or old, male or female. I am young and I am female. So the danger to me is considerable.
The danger is the more acute because I am pretty and the Queen is in the last month of her confinement.
Henry has divorced one wife and executed the second. But that is far from the whole story. A string of shattered hearts lies across the land like a pearl necklace broken in rage. Aye, it’s true that complicit fathers, brothers, uncles and even husbands have got rich by leading their women like heifers to the courtly market. It is the women who give the most and suffer the most grievously.
Unless of course, they are clever.
It does not do to be too clever. Anne Boleyn taught us this. For make no mistake, King Henry is more clever than any man in the kingdom now that Thomas Wolsey is dead. And he is as subtle and wily as even the most cunning of women. Boleyn’s head rolling from the block is testimony to that.
The trick is to show your cleverness to just such a degree that Henry is intrigued by it but not threatened. The second trick is to intimate that your cleverness is at his disposal and command even more than your own. And the third trick? Ah, the third trick is to be willing to bed the great beast of appetites and to know when to do it.
My name is Alice Petherton and I am nineteen years of age. I came to court as a simple servant but I caught the eye of Anne Boleyn when she was newly crowned. I was good at singing, could dance like an elf and made her laugh and think. She made me one of her Maids of Honour and my slow approach to the furnace began.
I was fond of Anne Boleyn. She was not pretty but there was something alluring about her, some promise of carnality which affected all who knew her, King and subject, man and woman. I must confess that on more than one night I awoke hot with sweat having dreamed I had been bedded by the Queen, worn out and used by her, alive and half-deadened, exultant and dismayed. There came one morning when she stroked my cheek and kissed me swiftly on the lips. I gazed into her eyes that day, telling her that I was willing. But she merely laughed and commanded me to get on with my sewing. So are we played with by those we must learn to call our betters.
I will become that better, I determined, I will be fawned upon and bowed to some day.
Not that I aspire to be a queen, you must understand. That is too deadly by far. Henry appears to be in love with Jane Seymour. He would, of course, for she carries his child. His greatest lust is for a male successor; even more than for any pretty face and shapely form. There is no sense in seeking to usurp Seymour’s place, no hope. If she proves to be a good brood mare then he will rest content for a little while. But in the meanwhile he hungers. The furnace grows hotter by the hour.
I gathered up my book of verse and strolled across the lawn.
I did not know her name at first. She had several before I settled on Alice Petherton. I am very careful about my choice of names. I try not to have characters with similar names or even starting with the same letter. I think that can lead to confusion in a novel. I often change the names of my lead characters as I write until I find one which suits them best.
I also find a name often helps shape the character. This was certainly the case with Alice. She took on a more fixed personality with her name.
What did I find beguiling about her? I thought she was typical of the strong minded women who too often got neglected by the writers of history and by male novelists. She is also very much a Renaissance women. She is well-educated, sharp-witted and not prepared to live a role as prescribed as her ancestors. (Not that I know anything about Alice’s ancestors. Perhaps I never will.)
She is also very Machiavellian. I always thought that Anne Boleyn was Machiavellian but as I wrote more of the novel I found out that her successor, Jane Seymour, was possibly even more so. But Alice will outshine even them in the arts of duplicity and self-survival.
How could she not? She has to beat Henry VIII in the field of love. And still keep her head.
- ‘Beguiled’ Part 2 of my new work in progress. #SampleSunday #histnov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- Foes and A Friend. #SampleSunday #HistNov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- The Innocent Jane Seymour? (truthsabouththepast.wordpress.com)