The Red Rose of Anjou
England: The Norman and Plantagenet Kings
House of Lancaster
House of York
Bleak March winds buffeted the walls of the Château Keure and the two women who sat together in the large draughty room huddled closer to the fire. They were both busily sewing.
The elder of the two paused suddenly and held up a small garment. ‘I never thought,’ she said, ‘that it would come to this. A child to be born and here am I hard put to it to find clothes worthy of it. Who would have thought that a son of the King of Anjou would ever be in such straits?’
Her companion lifted a strikingly beautiful face from her work. Her expression was of a serenity unusual in one so young.
‘The whole of France must be prepared to accept these differences, Theophanie,’ she said.
‘Oh, ‘tis all very well for the young,’ was the reply. ‘Remember I was with the King and Queen of Anjou for years until I came here. I brought the children up...every one of them.’
‘Well, you have not really left the household.’
‘No...no. Here I am with my lord René and his little family. May God preserve them. Oh, Agnès, my child, there are terrible things happening in France at this time. I often think of those poor souls in Orléans.’
‘We must hope and pray that succour will come to them soon.’
‘God seems to have deserted us. You don’t remember, Agnès, but when I was young there were not these troubles. Life was peaceful. Then it started. First it was the Armagnacs against Burgundy.’
‘It still is,’ said Agnès.
‘But our real enemies are the English. They are the ones who are tearing this country apart. It is because of the war...because they say we are defeated that I have to make over my lady Yolande’s little things for this new baby.’
‘There could be worse troubles,’ suggested Agnès.
She returned to her sewing, but Theophanie, nurse to the five children of the King and Queen of Anjou and now transferred to the nursery of their second son René to take charge of his offspring, was in a reminiscent mood.
‘He was always my favourite...René,’ she mused. ‘A lovely boy he was, and a lovely man. He was one for the poetry...for the singing of the troubadours. He was more interested in that than in doing all those fancy tricks on his horse. His mother Queen Yolande used to fret about it a bit. His father was rarely in the castle. "René likes reading books better than shedding blood," she used to say. "Admirable but books won’t hold his estates together if someone casts a greedy eye on them." "Oh, don’t you fret, my lady," I used to tell her, "when the time comes my lord will know the right way to act."‘
That is all any of us needs,’ said Agnès, ‘to know the right way to act when the time comes.’
Theophanie regarded her steadily. She had come to look on the girl as one of her charges. Agnès had been sent by her family to be brought up in a noble household as so many girls of good family were. One could not help liking her. She was quiet, unassuming and ready to make herself useful. She was fond of the children and as they were so young Theophanie was glad of her help in the nursery. John was not yet four and then there was Louis who was three and Yolande not much more than eighteen months. She had had a twin, Nicolas, who alas had died a few weeks after his birth. It was a pleasant little clutch, thought Theophanie; and my lady was young yet. My lord was away a great deal as all noble lords were, but they managed somehow to accumulate families. Theophanie sometimes thought the good Lord very obligingly made such ladies especially fertile so that the long absence of their lords did not hold up the filling of the nurseries.
The lady Isabelle was very young still and already this new child would be the fourth—and would have been the fifth but for the death of poor little Nicolas.
She looked about the room with pride. This was one of the finest castles in Lorraine and was part of the lady Isabelle’s dowry. René had done well in his marriage, Theophanie considered. He had married a strong-minded young woman. In fact all the women in the household were of a forceful nature—more so than the men, Theophanie often thought it should have been the men who stayed at home and the ladies who went into battle. René would have been a wonderful companion for his children; he would have patiently initiated them into the delights of poetry and music. As for the lady Isabelle, one could imagine her leading her troops into battle.
‘Is this one of Your little jokes. Lord?’ Theophanie asked. Her faith was simple and she often conversed with God, treating him as though he were human like the rest of us—a sort of King above the King of France of course, but not without his foibles, and as her role in life was that of a nurse she was sometimes apt to adopt her nurse’s manner to her Lord.
Of course it was a privilege to work for the House of Anjou. She greatly admired the lady Isabelle just as she had the lady Yolande. The lady Yolande was the daughter of the King of Aragon; and her daughter Marie, sister of René, had married the Dauphin of France.
‘Mind you,’ said Theophanie to Agnès, ‘the Dauphin is a poor creature by all accounts. Sometimes I pity poor Marie. A good girl she was and deserving a better fate. Poor Marie...we thought she would l)e a Queen and what is she now...married to a Dauphin...one who should be King and they are calling a little English baby the King of France. It’s pitiful when affairs get to that state, Agnès.’
Agnès bent her head over her sewing. She wondered about Marie and how she felt in the midst of such conflict, for although his mad father had accepted the English and allowed his daughter Katherine to marry the King of England, the Dauphin did not agree with him and put up a resistance, although in a rather feeble way. But perhaps it was those about him who resisted and used him as a figurehead.
What would be the outcome? It looked gloomy; more bleak than the cold March winds which swept across Pont-à-Mousson and angrily hit the walls of the Château Keure.
There was a tension throughout the country. Orléans, the key to the Loire, had been under siege since October. If it fell there would be little hope for France to extricate herself from the yoke the English had put about her neck. And how could it be saved? It was asking for a miracle.
‘But You could do it. Lord,’ Theophanie admonished. ‘It’s not past Your powers. I thought You could move mountains. Well, if You can do that why don’t You drive the English from Orléans?’
So there was waiting throughout the country and waiting in the Château at Pont-à-Mousson.
In the castle they were rewarded before the people of Orléans.
That very day when Theophanie and Agnès sat sewing over the fire, the Lady Isabelle’s pains started. And on the twenty-third day of March she gave birth to a healthy girl.
She was called Margaret.
* * *
Times might be hard but the baby must be given a worthy christening. Theophanie brought out the elaborate christening robes which had been worn by generations of the House of Anjou and in the Cathedral of Toul, Margaret was baptized. Her sponsors were René’s elder brother, Louis King of Naples, and her maternal grandmother, the Duchess of Lorraine after whom she had been named.
Margaret, blissfully unaware of the importance of the ceremony, accepted it with serenity and in due course was carried off to her nursery in Theophanie’s waiting arms. René was paying one of his rare visits to the Château. He had just acquired the title of Duke of Bar on the death of his great-uncle and this had contributed in some degree to his income and importance, particularly as with the Dukedom came the Marquisate of Pont-à-Mousson. Before this as a younger son he had had nothing but the little county of Guise.