By Alexandra Starr
The Palace at Westminster, 1466
The frigid February night permeates softly through the window of a birthing room. The castle walls are unforgiving, making nobles of the court in the far wings of the castle wince at the sounds. This is the night that has been long awaited, with midwives assisting the delivery. The women can hear the moans of a pregnant mother, as they watch all of her muscles choke, and then relax. With a gasp of relief, she wipes the sweat from her brow, as more hot water is slowly poured over her aching stomach. You can hear her breathing slow, as her pale blue eyes begin to close. Letting her golden hair fall behind her, she leans her head back, and looks up as if she is watching the angels,
“Unto me he shall be given.” She smiles in contentment, “Of this I am certain my ladies. He shall rule with an iron fist, and resume justice among us once more. This war shall not presume when my Edward is born unto my king and me. No more I say. Brutality shall strike this house no more.” Before another word is spoken, the queen is once again thrust into agony.
The midwives begin to assist; all of them just as rigid as the queen herself. And as the delivery progresses, so does their anticipation of the future. Surely if a thing is to go wrong, they could be hung for their fault in the practice. Some attend to the weeping queen, while others feel for the baby’s soft head. The last of the women begins to prepare her body to nurse the child on arrival.
The sound of a small gasp, a choke, and a first cry finally brings cessation of the queen’s tears. As the child is heaved from her body, and begins to be dried off with numerous cloths, she laughs with delight. Never has she felt more triumphant. “Ah! Alas it has ended. Please show me my Edward.” She demands holding out her eager hands.
Suddenly there is a troublesome silence in the room, as apprehensive glances are exchanged between the midwives. The nursemaid takes the child in her hands, and a tear rolls down her cheek. “Nurse. I demand to see my Edward.” The queen scolds her.
“Oh your highness if I could only say it is so.” The nurse weeps.
“Nonsense.” Says the queen; her voice becomes unsteady, “What has become of my Edward? My prince.” She watches as the nurse moves her head back and forth in a slow motion, her eyes filled with regret. The queen cups her head in her frail hands as she gasps. “Surely it is not so. Say it is not so my ladies!” she cries. The midwives give no response but their tears. The child is handed to the queen gingerly, and she begins to caress it. Opening the blanket it is wrapped in, she peers apprehensively at the child’s sex. Putting the wrap back into place, the infant baby girl begins to search for food. “Take her.” She says, “She is quite hungry I am sure.” All the color is absent from the queen’s face. The nurse begins to rock the child back and forth as she lets it nurse from her own breast.
Lifting her face to the ceiling, the queen heaves and lets out a large groan. She does not understand why this burden has been placed upon them. She had prayed every night since her wedding day that the Lord might bless her with a son. He would be a great leader; a king to finally end the raging war between the York and Lancaster houses. A girl was not what she had been praying for. A girl could do no good for their country, or for the throne.
Suddenly there is a rapping on the large wood door. The sound startles those in the room before they begin to cover the queen with blankets to make her decent. When the door is opened, a servant of the queen appears.
“The king wishes to see his son, your Highness.” she says. There is a silence that comes over the room. The servant begins to twitch her toes underneath her dress and looks at the ground. Finally the queen speaks once again,
“Tell the king that he may come as he wishes. However his dreams of a son are not to be. The only child birthed unto him this day is a princess. Now make haste.” She shakes her hand to have the messenger leave and tell her husband what she has declared.
The midwives gather around the bed and all kneel simultaneously. The one who had assisted in pouring the hot water is the first to speak,
“Surely, Your Majesty, we had no part in this calamitous event. Please, we wish not to be blamed.” Leaning in towards the woman, the queen nods her head in confidence to confirm her accord. Assuring her servants, she speaks,
“I shall see to it that no soul here shall face the gallows or the stake.” Thanking the just queen for her forgiveness, the ladies each bow with gratitude.
It is not long before the same messenger arrives at the door, accompanied by the king. Before there even is permission to enter, the door is pried open to reveal a man with a face hot in rage, and two irate eyes. He walks with a sense of divine right over to his wives bed and places his thick hand on the wooden frame. Leaning on it, he sighs before speaking.
“Is this true what I have been informed?” The queen nods just once in submission, before gesturing to the nurse who is holding the infant. Tearing the child from her shaking hands, the king insists to inspect it himself. His expression seems the same as the queen’s when he rewraps the girl in her swaddle once more. Handing it to the nurse he speaks, “I wish it dead.”
“-My King!” the queen interjects. It is unlike Edward to respond this way.
“Well, it is of no use to us but merely a burden. I would rather it dead than a girl.” He yells, “Surely your midwives are hereby committed of witchcraft, and are sentenced to the stake! Along with the cursed child their hands did bare!”
“I swear it on my honor as Queen of England that there lives not an immortal soul in this palace. It is a cruel punishment that they dare not face.” the queen insists.
“So be it. However I shall see to it that I produce a male heir. On whatever terms it may require!” The king quickly storms from the room, slamming the door behind him. Unsure what to do, the messenger follows the king’s footsteps and scurries out.
The queen once again proceeds to her weeping before her nurse rubs her eyes with a cold rag. “Your Highness. I do not mean to cause trouble. Yet you shall need to provide the girl with a name. Any name shall do. Yet the people will certainly be wondering what their princess is to be called.”
“Elizabeth. As myself.” The queen tells her. She knows that the child is destined for a life of regret and dismay. She will never feel that she has honor, so the least that can be given to her is an honorable name.
“Elizabeth your Highness?” the nurse clarifies.
“As I have said it. Elizabeth of York.”
Alexandra Starr has enjoyed writing all of her life with a special place in her heart for historical fiction. Currently a student residing in California, this is her first publication and she is very excited to debut her work.