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Mar 13, 2014
Amy’s Legacy

Cindy Brown Ash

The Original Events:
Queen Elizabeth I of England came to the throne in November, 1558 in a triumph over the determination of her father, brother, sister, most of the Catholic sovereigns of Europe, the Pope, and a sizable portion of the English populace to keep her from it. Among the first of her decisions was to grant a prominent position in her household to Robert Dudley, a young nobleman who had overcome nearly the same odds against his surviving to 1558. Over the the following twenty-two months, Elizabeth and Robert engaged in a very public love affair, despite his marriage to Amy Robsart, and speculation flamed across Europe as to whether the young Protestant queen would abandon royal propriety and marry her Master of Horse. Amy Robsart’s untimely and suspicious death in September 1560 threatened to ruin Elizabeth’s reputation and topple her from her hard-won throne. The consequence, of course, was the rise of the legendary Virgin Queen, the myth of Gloriana, and the tantalizing question: What if they could have married?

By the hand of Anne of England, Queen to James VI of Scotland
Holyroodhouse, 1610
The Earl of Dunfermline, Lord of the Privy Council, intends to be inscrutable, but I’ve known him half my life. He has charge of my only child; I’ve come to know him well in my visits to her household.
The chamber is uncharacteristically quiet, as I have shooed my ladies in to the bedchamber to embroider, and my maids on errands about the palace. Lord Dunfermline has brought my daughter to court to observe Lent with her father and me. I lead him to a window hard by my favorite tapestry, a gift of his, depicting Esther hearing of Haman’s plot against the Jews. We stand together in the light of the window as he shares the latest news of England.
“Spain has landed in Ireland; the latest news is that your nephew and the Earl of Essex are moving from the Pale to intercept them, but they have not been reinforced since the Commons rose against your brother and they are not likely to have much effect if the Irish can join the Spanish,” he tells me. He stands utterly still, his left hand resting on the sill of the window, despite the cold of the February-chilled stone.
“Essex?” I ask, surprised. “Henry has trusted his son to Essex? In Ireland? Why would he be so stupid?”
“I can’t answer as to his intelligence,” Dunfermline answers drily, “But it appears that Essex’s prior experience in Ireland was the main commendation.”
I scoff. “Main commendation. The Queen my mother should have executed him for that ‘commendation’ when he first gave her cause.”
“You still have not forgiven him,” he observes. He’s referring to my own experience of the damnable Essex. I choose to ignore it.
“How fares Henry?”
“He has made Oxford his stronghold for the moment. Other news is conflicted; some say the Parliamentarians have taken the minds of the people and will prevail. Others say that the people still revered your mother’s memory and hold loyal to Henry. I believe it depends on the Howards in the north, if they will continue to advocate a return to Rome or if they will submit to Henry as head of the church, to prevent the Puritans from crushing the old faith altogether.”
I bow my head. My mother, Elizabeth of England, a queen regnant, famously declared England her husband and the recipient of all her care. It was the argument she used to deny the crown matrimonial to my father, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in the years of their marriage, and though she loved him from the beginning of her reign till the end, the conflict between England’s place in her heart and his own rankled hard with him. He had taught that resentment to my brother, Henry, now the ninth king of that name, which prevented him from learning the delicate statecraft that my mother had practiced so constantly. Such a result was bound to lead to civil war, particularly when Henry’s truculence had led him to continue the war with Spain at the same time he should have been consolidating England’s presence in Ireland. Spread too thinly, in finance and fighting forces, he had finally pushed Parliament too far and was fighting for the survival of the monarchy my mother would gladly have traded her husband and children for. He ruled with his heart rather than his head, and his heart told him to reclaim the autocratic power he imagined our grandfather, Henry VIII had wielded before fifty-six years of women and children on the throne had degraded its prestige. Stupid man.
Dunfermline knows me well enough to understand my thoughts. We are allies in our desire for the Union of England and Scotland and we intend to see it come to pass through my Mary. We are allies elsewise — lovers of beauty in a country rough with swords and schemes, formed under a warmer sun and gentler skies than fierce Scotland. He lays a hand on mine momentarily, and smiles into my eyes as he pulls it away.
“I thank you for your news, Lord Dunfermline,” I say after a moment. “How fares my daughter? Do her mathematics progress as well as her languages?”
“I’m sure you’ll examine her for yourself,” he begins, but a disturbance in the courtyard distracts us; a troop of horsemen are riding through the gate, the horses lathered, the riders dirty and unburdened by much in the way of luggage. One particularly tall man looks up at the window, and though his hat obscures his face, we see enough to suspect who it might be. I flinch back from the window. Dunfermline catches my movement and says, “If you’ll permit, madame, I will investigate the nature of this visit.” He barely waits for my acknowledgment before he turns and hurries away.
The disturbance in the courtyard had subsided within a few moments. It was unlikely I would be wanted; riders were the business of the king, meaning, of course, Lord Dunfermline.
Essex, here. I lean against the tapestry, too chilled to maintain my queenly bearing as I ought. Could he still harm me? I will not permit it.
My parents’ unorthodox marriage had opened an opportunity, in his mind, for mere earls to make their way into royalty. As the government debated which foreign alliance would be best served by my marriage, Essex had bypassed his colleagues on the Privy Council and presented himself directly to me. What sixteen year old, secluded by her royal condition, could fail to be charmed by an attentive older man? What young woman would say no to the man who had given her her first kisses?
Lord Burghley had found out. Thank God my mother never had. She had no patience for illicit love.
Dunfermline said that my nephew was under Essex’s care. I have never met Charles Henry, though he is betrothed to my daughter. Will he make a better husband to Mary than Scotland’s king has to me? Does he favor my parents? Is he wiser than his father, or has Henry’s truculence been passed on to him? Can he help preserve England for union with Scotland, or is he just a spoiled young princeling looking to exploit his privilege? The cold of the window offers no answers; I suppose I will meet him briefly at dinner, and perhaps for a few short hours after, depending on the length and reason for his stay.
Instead the door opens and the footman announces “Charles Henry, Prince of Wales,” and a dirty young man, still in his riding leathers, sweeps through the door and his hat from his head and bows, the whole motion fluid, theatrical, graceful as I remember my parents to have been. I am taken aback.
But I am my mother’s daughter. I know how to transform a startled moment into a dignified posture of authority. I finger her jewel, a golden B with three pearls pendant, that I wear as a brooch, and I straighten my back, stepping away from the window so as not to block the meagre February sun from lighting the cocky fellow.
“Nephew,” I say tersely, inclining my head.
“Aunt,” he says, grinning. I raise my eyebrows. “I beg your pardon, Your Grace,” he amends hastily. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you in person.” I extend my hand and he steps forward, bowing to kiss it.
“Your parents are well?” I ask. His assurance dims a bit and he looks like any anxious twenty-year-old. I am better pleased.
“So far as I know,” he answers. “Though I haven’t seen them in several months. Since I left for Ireland, in fact. My father is surely well, but I worry for my mother. She is not accustomed to the harshness of war travel, and my father declines to send her to her brother in Denmark for her safety. He wants England to see that he does not fear the Parliamentarians, and that he trusts the people with his wife. But I worry that the rigors of traveling with an army will be too much for her.”
“Surely your father is as cautious with her health as you desire,” I say. Though I’m sure he’s not, terribly. The well-being of his queen is not a matter that he might consider worthy of kingly consideration; that is what her ladies are for. Not that our father would have shared his attitude of course, but then the uncrowned consort of a queen regnant has a rather different perspective from the crowned son of a sovereign.
“Well, nephew, how is it you have come to Holyroodhouse?” I ask.
Again his expression transforms his appearance; no longer the worried youth or the cocky gallant, he has the careworn expression of a harassed commander that I like the look of. “Ireland is lost,” he announces. “I have salvaged only a few men, and I must get them to my father’s aid if we are to save the throne.”
“So kind of you to come in person to let the king know you’ve given him a war,” I say. He pales.
It may be Scotland’s task, now, to eject the Spanish and take Ireland for ourselves and England, if we are to prevent Spain from pushing us back into popery and a religious civil war.
“I doubt he would have needed me to present such a message to him,” he answers. “I must ask a more immediate favor.”
“Why are you not asking him, then? Or is Essex doing that for you?” I ask. He pales further.
“I would not trust my lord of Essex with such a task,” he says. “I know it is my place to make such a request of my fellow prince, and my kinsman.”
“Then why are you not making it?” I ask. “Surely you have better things to do than tarry among women here.”
I say the words as I hear the door behind me open; I assume it is one of my ladies come to help me dress for dinner. But it is my daughter.
Mary was given her name over my objection; I had hoped to call her Elizabeth, after my own mother, and as a gesture towards the future I wished for her, in my own country. But James had seen fit to name her after his mother, the Queen of Scots my mother had executed. I had been married to him in apology.
She is a beauty; all James’s awkward irregularity of feature and gawky legginess reverted in our daughter to the gracefully feminine looks of her glamorous grandmother. She is only thirteen, too soon in her soft life to know if she has the sharpness of my mother, though she does well enough at her lessons and has performed her few appearances at court smoothly. Her red hair and full lips have certainly attracted some attention, but she has been betrothed to Charles Henry from her cradle and attention is all she is likely to get until they have been married. Lord Dunfermline has been sharply warned to keep adventurers like Essex well away.
“My dear Mary,” I say, “your kinsman, and betrothed, Charles Henry, Prince of Wales.”
Mary pauses, looking him up and down frankly, appraising. He is more subtle, but neither speaks. And then she blushes, and straightens her back, and her face loses its little-girl-ness and becomes mature, a young woman who has suddenly found her place in the world, and who likes it. Likes it very much indeed. I have seen her so seldom I don’t know what nonsense her ladies have been tattling about her dashing cousin fighting for the weal of his country, but from her looks there has been enough to make her half in love with him before she even saw him.
And he… the suave courtier reappears, leaning one arm on his hilted sword, a grin tilting up half his face as he reaches for her outstretched hand and winks at her as he kisses it. He looks the picture of my father, who often looked at my mother thus, especially in the summertime. As James never has looked at me.
My husband is a singularly unromantic man. That is, towards me, or any other woman, handsome or not.
“I believe, sir, you were about to tell me your business with me,” I say sharply.
Both those foolish young people blink and he straightens, turning to me again as I hold my hand out to my daughter to come to me. She and I stand together, shoulder to shoulder, as he makes a most extraordinary request.
“I need assistance to get to my father in Oxford,” he says. “I can not travel under my own flag; I do not know how the way might be barred against me by the rebels, and my father can’t afford for me to be taken for ransom. I must get the men I have to my father’s assistance. Might not my father’s sister wish to visit the land of her birth? You could go in the guise of an intermediary, as a representative of my uncle King James.”
I raise my eyebrows at him. “Ship?” I ask.
He shudders. “The voyage across the Irish Sea was terrible; I can hardly stomach the thought of traveling all the way around the coast, risking our men in ships that could sink or scatter any moment in a winter storm. And the inland journey would go through London; that can not be thought of at this time, unfortunately.”
I nod. He is not wrong. “And Essex?” I ask.
He sighs. “My lord Essex is rather more impetuous than I am. He would have us cut through all obstacles with banners flying and swords waving. He swears the people would flock to us and the war would be over in a moment just on his appearance.”
“You disagree?” Mary asks.
“I was ten years old the last time he tried that tactic,” Charles Henry says. “I remember well how it worked out then, and how hard my father begged the Queen to spare his life. She only refrained from taking off his head; she wouldn’t release him from the Tower. That remained to my father, after his accession.”
Mary smiles. I am pleased. The young man may swagger and pose, but he has sense, and a memory. My mother would be pleased as well.
“Of course you must make this request of the king,” I answer him. “I have no authority to do any such thing.”
“Of course,” he says. “But I must know if you are willing to make such an adventure. Our future depends upon you.” His glance at Mary makes me think that perhaps he is not thinking only of England’s future.
I don’t even consider. “I am willing,” I say. “But you must make the request of the king yourself.”
“Yes, I understand. Have you any suggestions for how I might go about such a thing?”
I examine him. Long legs, saucy smile, thick red Tudor hair. “Just be yourself,” I say. “I’m sure you’ll have no trouble at all.”
All his youth shines out as he grins a moment at Mary, and then he bows to me formally. “I thank you, Your Grace. Might I have your permission to excuse myself? I must hunt down clothing more appropriate to the king’s presence.”
“You may go, nephew.”
The door closes behind him. Mary’s face is shining and she looks years older than thirteen. The hint of a grin tugs at one corner of her mouth; she looks matched to him already.
I want to warn her: Don’t fall in love. The kingdom may fall; his future is uncertain. The kingdom may be saved; but he might not make you happy. A queen doesn’t think of herself, as my mother often reminded me. A queen is different from the woman who wears the crown, and their interests often conflict. It is not a happy life, though it may be a full, satisfying one. Or not, for a consort. So much depends on the king, and the country. But she is only thirteen, and her life has been easy, certainly easier than my mother’s, quieter than mine with all the intrigue following my parents’ marriage and the long wars to keep England sovereign while the Catholic powers raged against us and around us. But Mary is fortunate. King James is a strong king, wary from bearing the crown since he was a toddler, and determined to survive, and survive a king. Her life has been soft. She is only thirteen. She can’t understand how much more uncertain the future is for royalty than for anyone else in the world.
In the event, Charles Henry receives the king’s permission as easily as I expect. His looks correspond to James’s preferences precisely, particularly in dark green velvet and hose. James goggles him. Mary peeks at him through lowered eyelashes and suppresses giggles whenever he returns her glance. Perhaps I watch him fondly, an aunt pleased with her nephew, or perhaps I watch him shrewdly, evaluating him as a future son-in-law and king of England. Perhaps I watch him for signs of my parents and my brother in him, to see what Henry could have been had my father been satisfied with my mother but no crown. Perhaps I just observe, stoically, in imitation of Lord Dunfermline, who takes one look at my face as Charles Henry is making his request and suggests to the king that it would be advantageous to Scotland, and to Princess Mary, to see Queen Anne undertake this task.

Later, of course, we communicate more fully on the topic.
“You should know that the Privy Council will not act in the matter of this war,” he cautions. “King Henry’s victory might be desirable for those who value the idea of kingship, but unless his victory is very decisive it will be years before he has the resources and the cooperation to prosecute the wars with Spain and Ireland in such a way as to preserve the security of our western shores. Should the Parliamentarians win, Scotland will not be required to stand alone against the Irish and we will not have to defer to the Auld Alliance with France to protect ourselves against Spain. Both our religion and our government might be more secure with your brother on the throne, but the sacrifices we will have to make if he wins will be severe, possibly even as threatening to our country’s stability as if he loses. Your daughter’s marriage also is at risk, though I know you’re aware of that.”
“I understand,” I say. I hesitate; I have consented. What more can be said?
“Your Grace…” he says. “…Anne…”
I have never heard my name from his lips that way. He is a tall man, handsome, with heavy-lidded eyes and a delicate chin. He is wise, and knowledgeable, the keeper of my daughter and the head of my husband’s government. He stops, and presses his lips together, and the stoic veneer falls across his face again.
“It will be a dangerous journey, Your Grace,” he says, “And I pray you will return from it safely. And soon. As does the king, of course.”
“I will be prudent,” I whisper. When he bends to kiss my hand, I squeeze his fingers.
And so I find myself in Oxford.
The trip was not so difficult as it could have been. Lord Dunfermline’s hint to me about the Privy Council’s position was useful when we encountered the few Parliamentary troops to stop us. My mother’s popularity was useful among the people we encountered, and I played her role as best I could, spreading largesse and goodwill for Scotland. Charles Henry rode under my banner incognito. Essex was well behind me, quietly under guard; I had made it clear that I did not want to see that criminal, and I certainly did not want him raising a sword as a banner and calling the people to rally to an uncertain cause, particularly when he was sure to find a way to make it solely his own.
Oxford is a sound place from which to base a court in exile. My sister-in-law Anne of Denmark greets me lovingly and gives me good accommodations, as well for returning her son as for my position as Queen of Scotland and princess of England. She is tired but well, despite her son’s fears. We reminisce briefly about the early days of her marriage, when the excitement following the victory against the Armada, and the preparations for my wedding mingled with the death of my father to foster a close friendship between us. It has been only a friendship in letters since then, sporadic and discreet, and our strained reunion as middle-aged women reminds me of how much the crown matrimonial has cost me. England and my daughter are worth it.
Henry is busy among the troops and doesn’t want to be distracted by court ceremonial merely for the presence of a little sister he hasn’t seen in more than twenty years. I bring no treasure from Scotland but that which already belongs to him. Charles Henry has already been put to work in his father’s army. The one card I have for garnering his attention is in my custody, however, under Scottish guard, and if Henry wants his Essex back he’ll have to give me an audience.
The church of St. Mary the Virgin is beautiful, rivaling Westminster Abbey, but it has been transformed into a military camp and the peace I had hoped to find inside as I prepare to meet my brother there has been displaced by the noise of men and metal. I wander among them, a couple of my guards trailing behind and protecting me from worse than the stares of soldiers. In my weaving through the church I find myself pressed into a small chapel housing a beautiful stone tomb under stained glass bearing the Dudley arms. I stop short: my father’s arms. I have found, by chance or fate, the tomb of Amy Robsart, his first wife, who died of some sickness in 1559, in the first months of my mother’s reign, before my father was thought of as a potential spouse. Which is to say, before my mother had made up her mind to marry her Robin and convinced her Parliament that he was the least evil that could befall a Protestant England standing among the Catholic powers that threatened her.
The plaque identifying her is in Latin; it is the usual encomium to her high birth and virtuous life. I consider the woman who was laid there, only twenty-seven years old, whose death paved the way for my parents’ tumultuous marriage, my brother’s sorry management of English affairs, the uncertainty of my daughter’s future. What would she think of what her death had wrought? If she had lived to be an obstacle to my parents’ marriage, would England be any better off? She was almost no one, and would certainly be no one, but for having married an untitled Robert Dudley as a teenager. But her death has made all the difference to three nations. Was she glad, in the afterlife, to see my parents’ happiness? For they were happy, mostly, when they weren’t bickering about the crown matrimonial or foreign policy or the consequences of sheltering the Scottish queen.
Is my life worthy of Amy Robsart’s death?
I remember, too, my mother, with her lovely long-fingered hands. Legendary hands, really. Once in a very great while they would stroke my hair, straighten my gown as she walked with me in the garden, her attendants and mine respectfully behind us. She gave me the jewel that had been her mother’s, the golden B with three pendant pearls, as a gift before my wedding. It was the last time she stroked my hair; I was nineteen, too old for such gestures really, but I permitted it without the complaint I might have made of my more demonstrative father.
“I am so pleased your hair is dark,” my mother murmured. “You have always reminded me of my mother. Even at your birth you brought her to my mind; it’s why I gave you her name, though perhaps I ought not to have saddled you with such a legacy.”
“I thought you didn’t remember her,” I said. “She died before you were three years old.”
“No, I don’t remember her. But I have her image,” she said, “And I have borrowed the memories of many people who were willing to whisper them to me. You are like that to me, graceful and clever and perhaps a bit too full of passion for your life to be easy.” She handed me the case holding the jewel, still on its short pearl chain. “Remember that we come from the people,” she said. “Remember that we come from the deaths of those who have loved us, and from the failures of those who wished us ill. Do not forget to be the people’s queen, if you wish to succeed in Scotland. Make them love you, no matter the cost. And do not forget, above all, that you are English, by both your mother and your father.”
I looked at her then, unsure exactly what her words meant, but treasuring the jewel, which I knew was her great prize, and wishing that I could run into her arms as I did my father’s. Instead, she held out her hand to me and I bent and kissed it. And she stroked my hair once more, and called to her ladies, and we walked together in general conversation, and I did not have any more private moments with my mother, the great queen Elizabeth, before I left with James for Edinburgh as a married woman.
All this Amy Robsart’s early death had made possible. A stupid, resentful king had come to govern England, badly, and a wiser, more grateful princess had gone to be consort to an uninterested husband in a cold country in the hopes that her offspring would someday bring our island nations into union. There was only one way to make that death worth more than the destruction of England, and that was to bring Henry to his senses, end the civil war, and assure my daughter’s future so she could marry her handsome prince and unite England and Scotland into a great British nation.
Henry is brusque; unlike his dashing son he wastes no time on gallantry.
“Why are you keeping Essex under guard?”
“Why did you put him in charge of Ireland? Why did you give him the care of your heir?”
“I don’t need to explain myself to you.”
“You do if you want him back.”
He glares at me. He sighs. “I want him back because he’s my friend. He had care of Charles Henry for the same reason.”
“He’s an incompetent. He’s immoral. He’s greedy and above himself. He was a traitor to our mother. He will be a traitor to you, be assured. Is such a man a good example to your son?”
“He’s a hero. The people love him.”
“Yes, that’s why his revolt succeeded so brilliantly.”
Henry glares at me. There’s dirt on his cloak and his shoes are muddy. He has been working hard, I see, and there are wrinkles on his face that have little to do with the hard life the war has imposed on him. His waist has thickened since we were young together, more than James’s has, and he looks tired. Profoundly tired. I wait, trusting to the stoic veneer I learned from the Earl of Dunfermline to work through Henry’s truculence.
“I suppose you’re worried about your daughter’s marriage,” he concedes.
“She is of such an age that we must find her a new husband if she’s not to marry Charles Henry. It won’t be easy to find an appropriate match, given that he must not be Catholic and he must be suitable for the Crown Matrimonial,” I say neutrally.
“You would not take Charles Henry if Parliament prevails?”
“That depends on precisely how he is situated in that event. I understand Parliament wants a constitution. A written one.”
“That is correct.”
“Does it make provision for the monarch’s authority?”
“Limited.” He spits the word; limits were profane to my father as well, though he managed to abide them more adeptly than my brother does.
“Do you expect to win this war?”
He looks at Amy Robsart’s tomb absently. He looks into the main body of the church, where his men are busy with their tasks of war. He looks at the vaulted ceiling high above us and he sighs. “No. The people are with me in their hearts, but they will only rise against Spain. I have no means to resupply. I can not win. But I must not lose.”
“Then make peace,” I snap. “Secure our children’s future. Secure the future of a united Britain. And for God’s sake, Henry, listen to wiser men and stop fighting for a crown you were always going to have.”
My brother glares at me, but the wonderful advantage of being the queen of Scotland, even a queen consort, is that my brother has no authority over me. Only courtesy bids me ask his permission to leave his presence. I accompany him to London as a foreign emissary to watch the peace with Parliament ratified. When it is done I return his worthless Essex to him, without ever once having given him audience, that he might know how valueless he is to me. Before I return to my king and husband I summon Charles Henry to an audience with me, to make a plan for when he will come to Scotland to claim his bride.

Cindy Brown Ash was born in the Midwestern United States in the 1970’s, and no matter how unromantic a beginning she finds that, she is powerless to change it. Her fiction therefore reflects all the lives she would have lived if she could fit them in to one. She is currently at work on a speculative paranormal novel surrounding the life of Virginia Woolf. Her interests include reading, avoiding the laundry, and dishing 400 year old gossip.


2 Badges
Oct 29, 2013
  • Crusader Kings II
I think it's a pity nobody's commenting on this story-- it's probably less because nobody cares about it and more because it's already really good. It's got vivid characters and clear stakes and lots of great lines and I wish there was more of it.


Mar 13, 2014
Thank you so much for your kind words! I'm considering expanding it to novella length -- so much more I could have done with those characters. Thanks for taking the time to read it!