Both these bits are definitely slated for recycling. First, I need to make it clear that I have no idea whether the young duchess of Exeter joined her husband in sanctuary at Westminster in 1454. Their daughter was born the following year and if I had a clue as to when I might be able to work out when and where she was conceived. However, given that the duke of Exeter spent much of 1454 either in sanctuary or imprisoned in Pontefract castle (and 1455 in Wallingford) or gallivanting round the north of England with the Percies; and given there’s no mention of his wife being with him in either castle, I’ve plumped for her being in sanctuary with him. (If anyone knows anything different, don’t hesitate to let me know!)
The second snippet is a brief conversation between Elizabeth of York (later duchess of Suffolk) with her mother. I want to establish right from the start that she and her future husband, John de la Pole, had a trouble free betrothal and marriage – well, as trouble free as possible, given the circumstances. There’s no evidence to suggest that they were anything but happy with each other and it makes a nice contrast to the Exeters.
He came in while she was sleeping, his hands on her waking her up. Anne stifled a cry but he covered her mouth with his hand anyway. With the other, he pulled at her shift. She made no move to resist, past experience having taught her the futility of that. She looked him full in the face, the flickering candlelight throwing his eyes into shadow. He didn’t look at her.
Anne was sure this should be a pleasurable act, mutual and tender, but his fingers dug into her and the weight of his hand on her mouth made breathing difficult. She feared that one night he would kill her without meaning to, without even noticing. What pleasure he got from this she didn’t know, unless it be the pleasure of dominance and control.
It was always quickly done, for which she was grateful. Wordless, violent, quick. He’d turn his head away as he came close, not even wanting to share that with her. Then he was gone, rolling away from her and off the bed, angry with her and with himself. Anne lay still, breathing slowly.
Outside she could hear them, Exeter laughing at something Robert said, and she felt a deep sense of shame. She needed the privy. She lay still for as long as she could hoping that it would go away. It didn’t. Straightening her clothes, she got up, picked up the robe she’d tossed onto the floor and wrapped it around herself. She’d have to walk past them, brave their eyes.
“Tall trees,” Robert said as she went into the parlour. “They must be hard to climb.”
“Not if you cut them down,” Exeter said. “Once they’re on their backs they’re all the same size.”
She walked through the room with as much dignity as she could. There was no chance that Robert was unaware of what had just happened in the bedchamber. The way he watched her – imagining, she thought, what his brother had felt – made her feel sick and dirty. A burst of laughter followed her from the room.
She closed the door of the privy and sat down. How dare he treat her like a common slattern? No, she thought bitterly, even a whore would be treated better than she was. She buried her face in her hands, but the tears she was expecting didn’t come. A new emotion gripped her, one she hadn’t thought to feel. She was angry. Angry with her husband, angry with her parents for giving her to him, angry for a world that let husbands treat their wives so.
It made her feel better, like none of this was her fault. She would go back into that room and pour herself a cup of wine. Then she would sit and drink it, slowly. Let them mock her all they would, Anne would meet their scorn with quiet dignity and, if she could muster it from somewhere, defiance.
“… like your mother,” Exeter was saying.
Anne found a cup, found the wine, poured herself a generous measure and sat down.
“My mother was a saint,” Robert said. “Lured into bed by our reprobate father. Now, you’d never do such a thing, would you Henry? Not with that tall piece of timber close at hand.”
“You know, she doesn’t bring me as much comfort as you might think. Keeps me occupied though. Keeps me from boredom. Don’t you, wife?”
“Your comfort isn’t why I’m here,” Anne said, her voice shaking a great deal more than she liked. “I am your wife and, more to the point, your duchess. I am tied to you, eternally and irrevocably, and if you fall I shall go down with you. I ask for no rescue.”
“Is that meant to move me?” Exeter said.
“It might if I spoke from affection and regard. But this is my lot and I must, as my mother tells me, make the best of it.”
Robert laughed heartily and Exeter turned to him with a scowl. “Like I said, she brings me no comfort.”
Anne allowed herself a private smile, hidden behind her wine cup. It was time he learned that she was not only her father’s daughter, she was also her mother’s.
If Bess knew how much comfort her mother drew from her, she gave no sign, but sat with her head in Cecily’s lap, the older woman’s hands soft on her hair.
“Why did she go, if he’s so unpleasant?” she said.
“Because he commanded it,” Cecily said.
“John never commands me to do anything.”
“That is because he is not yet ten years old.”
Bess lifted her head and looked at her mother. “He won’t command me, even when we’re married.”
There was something about the child’s certainty that caught at Cecily’s heart. Marriage, she knew, was a game of chance. There always seemed to be more losers than winners. Not all unions could be judged by her own. Anne was unhappy, Bess was determined that she would be anything but.
“Anne’s done nothing wrong,” Bess said. “Why should she be locked up?”
“Wouldn’t you choose to be with John, if he were to seek sanctuary?”
“But I like John.” Bess laid her head down again. “It’s easy being locked up with someone you like.”
He’d be going to Ludlow soon, to join Edward and Edmund, and Cecily worried how Bess would deal with the loss of her friend. They’d be tied together soon enough and Cecily hoped with all her heart that marriage would be everything that Bess hoped.