Voyage to England
Richmond Palace, July 1501
Henry, duke of York, raised his heavy longbow and squinted at the target. There was a sharp twang as he released the bowstring, a sweet whistle of the flying arrow, a mellow thunk as it struck just outside the center circle. Henry smiled. His brother Arthur, prince of Wales, grimaced. Henry, a week past his tenth birthday, already stood taller and stronger than Arthur, who was five years older. Henry was a better shot, too. This clearly annoyed his brother, as Henry hoped it would.
"What of Princess Catherine?" asked Henry, while Brandon took his shot, a deliberately middling one. "She is coming, is she not?"
"I do not know, York," Arthur replied glumly. "She was promised before you were even born. She was supposed to marry me when I turned fourteen, and that was nearly a year ago. In her last letter she wrote that she would leave Granada in May. That was months ago, and as you can see, she is still not here." Arthur's shot was poor, worse than Brandon's.
Henry nocked another arrow. "She writes to you, then?" This time his aim was careless and the arrow hit wide of the mark, causing Arthur to smile. The smile faded when Brandon's next shot struck near Henry's first.
"Of course she writes to me. Her Latin is impeccable, and her handwriting is the most elegant imaginable." Arthur's next shot flew truer than the last, but no better than Henry's.
"Perhaps the letters are dictated by her tutors." Henry could not resist adding, "As are yours."
Arthur threw him a hard look. "My Latin is admirable."
"Not so good as mine, though." Henry's third arrow struck precisely in the center of the target; Brandon split Henry's arrow in two.
Arthur ignored Henry's remark, but when his third attempt missed the straw butt entirely, he stalked off toward the palace. Henry and their friend, Brandon, followed.
"Father is sending me back to the Marches tomorrow, did you know that?" said Arthur. "How lucky for you both, to remain here with the family, while I must live in cold and lonely old Ludlow Castle and pretend to exercise some authority over those wild Welshmen!" He slapped his glove against his thigh. "So far from London I might as well be in the Orient."
Henry rarely showed much sympathy for Arthur, who enjoyed their father's favor and all the privileges due a prince. Arthur would one day be king of England, while Henry would never be more than a duke-a fact that often bothered Henry, who secretly believed he would make a much better king than Arthur. For a moment, though, he felt a tug of brotherly compassion.
"Soon Princess Catherine will come," he said, laying his hand on Arthur's thin shoulder, "and then surely you will be less lonely, and Ludlow will be endurable."
ON THE MORNING OF THE SEVENTEENTH OF AUGUST, anno Domini 1501, I stood on the windswept deck, biting my lip to keep it from trembling. I stared at the shore to etch on my memory this last glimpse of my country. Tears blurred my eyes and threatened to spill over. Six full-rigged ships prepared to sail from La Coruña, the westernmost port city of Spain, carrying me and my entourage toward England.
The anchors rattled on their heavy chains, the sails snapped like gunshots as strong gusts filled them, and the tall masts creaked and groaned. Minstrels pranced about the deck, playing their guitars and flutes and tabors. Sailors shouted as they cast off the ropes, the last fragile ties with my homeland. Scores of knights and archers who had accompanied us on the three-month journey across Spain stood stiffly on the shore, growing smaller as the ships headed out to sea. Directly north lay my future as the wife of Arthur, prince of Wales.
The admiral himself had escorted me and my duenna, Doña Elvira Manuel, to the royal cabin that had been outfitted with every luxury. Before he left us, he assured us that we would be both safe and comfortable there.
"But, my lady princess," he had said, scanning skies that were milky blue but cloudless, "I can offer you no assurance of the weather. The Bay of Biscay is well known for its thunderous waves and turbulent seas and unpredictable winds."
For three days the winds held steady, and our little fleet skimmed over the calm surface of the water, the motion gentle and soothing. I strolled the deck, conversing with my favorite maids of honor-Inez de Venegas, the most intelligent; Maria de Salinas, the bravest and most loyal; and Francesca de Caceres, the gayest, most high-spirited. Doña Elvira watched over us-but especially me-with the eyes of a hawk and the ears of a hare.
"I feel homesick already," Inez confessed. "Do you not also, my lady Catalina?"
I gazed straight ahead and lifted my chin, attempting to appear braver than I felt. "I cannot allow myself to be homesick," I said. "One day all of you will return to Spain to marry, but I shall live in England for the rest of my life."
"Oh, no!" cried Maria. "I promise I will never leave you!"
"Maybe an English duke will ask for your hand, Maria," said Francesca. "You will marry well and become a duchess."
"Not a duke-that would be too far above you," Inez pointed out. "But a baron would be nice."
"We shall all marry English barons," Francesca declared. "And stay in England with our lady princess."
"I hear the weather is dreadful," sighed Maria, a small girl with delicate features.
"Cold and rainy," agreed Inez, who was tall and awkward. "And you must not drink the water. I am told the English drink ale morning, noon, and night. It is said to be very bitter."
For a time we stared glumly at the sea. The wind had shifted, stirring up lacy whitecaps on the dark water.
"Let us speak of something cheerful," Francesca suggested. "My lady Catalina, tell us what you know of your intended husband."
"Nothing," I said, attempting to laugh. "Padre Alessandro tells me that, when he visited England as a youth, he found the king tall and manly with blond hair and the queen fair and well favored. From that evidence my chaplain concludes that Prince Arthur must surely have inherited his parents' noble bearing and fine features."
"And his letters?" asked Maria. "What have you learned from them?"
I thought of the letters I carried in a fine leather case trimmed in silver. The letters declared Prince Arthur's ardent love for me in Latin as stiffly formal as though he were writing to a foreign ambassador. "He calls me his wife and says he is impatient for my arrival," I said.
"Love letters?" teased Francesca boldly.
But Doña Elvira's long beak of a nose had already begun to twitch at the scent of impropriety, and we turned our conversation to other matters.
On the fourth day at sea the sky darkened to a bruised purple, erratic winds tore at the sails, and the waters that had seemed so pleasant only hours earlier turned violently angry.
As the wooden ship plunged from the crest of one monstrous wave to the trough of the next, I huddled in my cabin with my ladies and Doña Elvira. Terrified, we clung to our pallets, watching helplessly as our belongings were flung about and seawater surged past the bulkhead.
I clutched at my mattress, weak with seasickness and terror, listening to Doña Elvira and Maria reciting their prayers, Francesca weeping, and Inez calling for her mother.
The sounds outside our cabin were terrible. I heard the shouts of the sailors and the dreadful cry, "Man overboard!" I heard an awful boom, like the firing of a cannon-later I learned that it was a topmast breaking off and dragging ropes and sails into the sea. I despaired of the fate of the other ships. How could any of us survive such a dreadful battering?