Why do family feuds always seem to happen at this time of year? I well remember one Christmas, long ago. ‘Twas December 1468. My daughter-in-law (whom I nickname the Serpent), had been married to my son the King for nigh on five years. My second son George, was a charming boy of nineteen. Yet I could not procure a bride for him. My sister Cath, a lady of advanced years, had been obliged to marry the Serpent’s brother John. That is all you need to know, dear reader, to appreciate the following…
“The Serpent was ensconced by the fire, clad in a magnificent dress of silver and blood-red brocade. In four and a half years of marriage, she’d given Edward two children, both daughters, and now she was heavily pregnant with their third child. Edward sat next to her, and of course her numerous Woodville relatives surrounded them: her father and mother, her six brothers, and her nine sisters with their stolen husbands.
I was forced to sit by the windows, facing them, with Warwick and his family on one side, and George on the other. Icy fingers of air made their way through the casements, chilling my fingers. I placed them in the folds of my new velvet gown.
A flurry of movement caught my eye. One of the Serpent’s sisters, Jacqueline, had wandered over a few feet away and started nibbling at some nuts. She looked like a rabbit with her fine, strong teeth, and as she talked, she continued to nibble.
“How fare you, sweet Johnny?” she said to her brother. Sir John Woodville was a well-made young man of three-and-twenty years.
“I fare well,” he replied evenly.
“How does marriage suit you?” Nibble, nibble.
“She is very kind.”
“She does not excite your passion then?” Nibble, nibble.
John sighed but made no reply.
“Is she not too old for you?” Nibble.
John occupied himself in taking his new kid gloves off. They were dyed black to match his hose and fit perfectly to his shapely hands.
“How have you the patience to bear it? Why, she has no teeth, her breath is foul, and she—”
“Couldn’t you get this marriage annulled?”
Her bell-like voice rang out as silence suddenly filled the room. My gorge rose. I stood.
“Don’t you think you should keep your wicked thoughts to yourself?” I snapped. The nibbling stopped.
The Serpent, her face impassive, rose and faced me. Casually stifling a yawn, she lumbered slowly towards George and held out her hand. “Come, brother. Come, keep me company. You know how to play piquet, no?”
George flushed as he rose and bowed to her. They went to sit near the fireplace with her family.
I went slowly back towards my place near the window, taking care to take a seat that was in earshot of the proceedings.
George tried to be polite, by she goaded him as she always did.
Suddenly, George leapt up, knocking over his chair. “How dare you insult me like this!” He jutted out his lower lip, making him look exactly like a sulky child.
The Serpent smiled sweetly.
I put my finger to my lips, but George ignored me.
“I already have a bride,” he said.
“Sweeting!” she called across the room to Edward. “Were you aware that your dear brother planned to marry?”
Edward rose, his blue eyes blazing. “Who is she?”
George faced him, scowling. “You don’t have any right—”
“Who is she?”
George flicked a look over at me.
“What?” roared Edward.
Edward shushed him with a wave of his hand. “I expressly forbid you,” he said loudly into the dead silence that followed, “to marry your cousin Bella.”
“It’s not right!” exclaimed George. “You block me at every turn. You prevented my marriage to Mary of Burgundy. Now you won’t let me marry Bella. Just because you’ve married a whore yourself doesn’t mean you can prevent me from making a good match.”
Edward went white. “You will apologize,” he said in a voice that cut like a knife.
George glared at him as Warwick went to stand by his side.
Edward put his hand on the Serpent’s shoulder. “You are talking of my wife, your liege lady, and my Queen.”
The Serpent covered his hand with her own and turned to smile up at him. They were a fortress together against the rest of the world. How had I failed in my attempts to pry Edward away from the Serpent?
My belly filling with ice, slowly, I stood.
What happened next is something that I am too ashamed to repeat. You will find it in Volume 4 of my memoirs, titled Two Murders Reaped. And now I must say “farewell”. I hope that your Christmas season is more peaceful than mine was…