The White Queen: Extract

The White Queen: Extract

The King decides that I shall have the most glorious coronation that England has ever seen.

This is not solely as a compliment to me. "We make you Queen, undoubted Queen, and every lord in the kingdom will bow his knee to you. My mother –" He breaks off and grimaces – "My mother will have to show you homage as part of the celebrations. Nobody will be able to deny that you are Queen and my wife. It will silence those who say our marriage is not valid."

"Who says?" I demand. "Who dares say?"

He grins at me. He is a boy still. "D’you think I would tell you and have you turn them into frogs? Never mind who speaks against us. They don’t matter as long as all they do is whisper in corners. But a great coronation for you also declares my position as King. Everyone can see that I am king and that poor thing Henry is a beggar somewhere in Cumbria and his wife a pensioner of her father in Anjou."

"Hugely grand?" I say, not wholly welcoming the thought.

"You will stagger under the weight of your jewels," he promises me.

In the event, it is even richer than he predicted, richer than I could have imagined. My entrance to London is by London Bridge, but the dirty old highway is transformed with wagon on wagon load of sparkling sand into a road more like a jousting arena. I am greeted by players dressed as angels, their costumes made from peacock feathers, their dazzling wings like a thousand eyes of blue and turquoise and indigo. Actors make a tableau of the Virgin Mary and the saints, I am exhorted to be virtuous and fertile. The people see me indicated as the choice of God for Queen of England. Choirs sing as I enter the city, rose petals are showered down on me. I am myself, my own tableau: the English-woman from the House of Lancaster come to be the Queen of York. I am an object of peace and unity.

I spend the night before my coronation at the grand royal apartments in the Tower, newly decorated for my stay. I don’t like the Tower: it gives me a shudder as I am carried shoulder high in a litter under the portcullis, and Anthony at my side glances up at me.

"What’s the matter?"

"I hate the Tower, it smells damp."

"You have grown choosy," Anthony says. "You are spoiled already, now that the King has given you great places of your own, the manor of Greenwich, and Sheen as well."

"It’s not that," I say, trying to name my unease. "It is as if there are ghosts here. Are my boys staying here tonight?"

"Yes, the whole family is here in the royal rooms."

I make a little grimace of unease. "I don’t like my boys being here," I say. "This is an unlucky place."

Anthony crosses himself and jumps from his horse to lift me down. "Smile," he commands me under his breath.

The Lieutenant of the Tower is waiting to welcome me and give me the keys: this is no time for foreseeing, or for ghosts of boys lost long ago.

"Most gracious Queen, greetings," he says, and I take Anthony’s hand and smile, and hear the crowd murmur that I am a beauty beyond their imaginings.

"Nothing exceptional," Anthony says for my ears only, so that I have to turn my head and stop myself giggling. "Nothing compared
to our mother, for instance."

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory is published by Simon & Schuster