When Rose and her sweetheart, Robbie, are invited to Whitehall Palace by their friend Mark, they think it is their chance to make a name for themselves as minstrels. Robbie plays his lute and Rose has a beautiful singing voice and they anxiously gather enough money for the coach fare. Mark has written that he is well thought of by Queen Anne and that she is eager to hear them perform. If all goes well, they will be able to make enough to be married and build a home together.
But when Mark is arrested and charged with committing adultery with the Queen, along with other men, they know it will be safest to leave the city as quickly as possible. Also a passenger on the coach is a noblewoman who is travelling to her new husband, Lord Matthew Harcourt, a man she has married by proxy having never met. A storm is causing havoc as they leave London and the crowds are pouring through the gates in the hope of witnessing the execution of the Queen. The driver decides to take another, less stable bridge but because of the storm the bridge collapses and everyone but Rose is killed.
On awaking in a nearby inn, Rose has no memory of who she is or what has happened to her. The clothes in the boxes that were rescued from the coach are a perfect fit and she has nothing else to wear. When Lord Harcourt arrives in search of his bride who has failed to arrive as planned, he is quite sure that Rose must be that bride. She can only trust his word.
The Palace Awaits
Rose studied her reflection in the cracked mirror and pinched her cheeks to give them a little more colour. Not that they needed it, not today. Today she was so excited she could barely keep still and how she was going to endure the coach journey to London without jumping up and down, she had no idea.
Robbie had been invited to the palace! All right, he had not been officially invited, only by his friend, Mark, but it was the first step in the right direction.
Rose wore a dress of linen, the colour of a peach, that exotic fruit she had always longed to taste. Mayhap she would get the chance once they were settled. Mark was very well thought of by the Queen, or so he said. Robbie believed him, but Rose was not so certain. She had never known him well, not as well as Robbie, but she recalled that he was want to boast.
Who cared? Once they got to London, it would be up to them to show the King and the Queen just how talented they were. Robbie could play the lute and Rose had a voice that could make both men and women stop and listen. They would be famous!
She spun around to make her skirt fly out, wanting to be sure her petticoat did not show. She had not had time to mend it and it was not fit to be seen, but Robbie had heard from his friend only a week ago. Mark and Robbie had been friends since childhood and when Mark went to London to join the choir of the great Cardinal Wolsey, Robbie had wished him luck but expected him back very soon.
Mark was a little too sure of his own talents, but in this case he had been right. When the Cardinal had fallen from grace, once again they expected Mark home, but the King had taken a fancy to him, making him a groom of the privy chamber. He had written enthusiastically to his friend telling him how the new Queen had been pleased with his singing and playing and he had told her all about his friends, Robbie and Rosie who could play and sing like the angels.
Mark had written regularly to his childhood friend and his letters were always full of news about how well he was doing at court, how much Queen Anne admired him and had him play for her and her friends almost every night.
He gave them little notice and Rose had to finish the gown she had been making and Robbie’s suit, while he went out on the street to play for the crowds and get enough money together to pay for their coach fare.
Rose had looked about the markets at the second hand clothing in the hope of finding a petticoat in better repair than her own, but instead she had found a lovely outfit for Robbie. It was dark red, not satin but a sort of shiny cotton. They didn’t want to appear at the palace with him dressed in satin; that would have put them in the Tower for dressing above their station.
All was well; the petticoat stayed hidden when she spun around. The embroidery on the dress she had done herself so she thought that would be accepted. Her embroidery was exquisite and it was possible that one of the fine ladies at the palace would see it and give her work sewing for her. It might even be Queen Anne herself! Oh, her stomach was fluttering! She could not wait to get there!
She clutched at the silver locket around her neck, the one her mother had given her for good luck when told of their plans. It had been in their family for generations and held tiny pictures in water colours of her mother on one side and her father on the other. She had admired it since she was a child and was thrilled with the gift.
All the people in the village had a little party for them before they left and they all put in some of their precious coins to help them on their way. They knew the pair would share any good fortune they acquired with them. That is how it was where they lived, everyone helping everyone else. Rose’s mother warned her that it would not be like that in London.
She spun around once more, just as Robbie entered the small cottage where she lived with her parents.
This could be their big chance, their opportunity to make names for themselves in high circles and if they were famous at the palace, if they won the favour of the fearsome King Henry, who knew to what heights that would take them? And if all went well, they could be married and set up home together, just as they had talked about for as long as Rose could remember.
Robbie stood still with the door open and swept her with an admiring glance, a little smile playing about his mouth. Her heart skipped; she had washed her hair and brushed it till it shone and she had held it back with the brown velvet band she had found on that second hand clothing stall. The only new thing she wore was the gown and that she had made herself out of some linen drapes she had found in that same market. She spun around again.
“Well,” she said. “What do you think? Will I honour you at the palace?”
He stepped forward and pulled her into his arms, kissed her, wished he could do more.
“You will indeed, my love. Come, the coach will be leaving soon. Have you your box packed?”
She nodded enthusiastically, pointed at a wooden chest which sat on the bed.
“It is there. Not that I have much, just this gown and one other that was my mother’s.”
He moved to lift the chest onto his shoulder and carry it outside and into the waiting coach.
“It is a pity we will miss the May Day celebrations,” Rose said. “We always do well playing on the village green for May Day.”
“When we get to London, we will play for some bigger, wealthier crowds,” he answered, causing her heart to sink a little.
“Oh,” she said. “Will we not be going straight to the palace? I thought that was what Mark said.”
He turned to look at her and raised a sceptical eyebrow.
“He did, but you know how he exaggerates. I will not depend on his word until we see him and know how the land lies.”
She nodded in agreement; she had been thinking the same only a few minutes ago but she would let nothing curb her enthusiasm. They were going to London, they were going to play before the Queen of England, they were going to be chosen by the highest in the land to play and sing for their gatherings and nothing and nobody was going to spoil it for them.
Rose felt her eyes growing wider as they drove into the city after a journey of some two hours. She sat on the edge of her seat, her fingers clenched over the window sill and stared out at the passing scenery.
The city was so crowded and the crowds were not of the kind Rose and Robbie had ever seen before. There were gentlemen and ladies in beautiful clothes, sumptuous and ornate gowns in satin and velvet, silk and lace and even the men’s suits were stitched with gold thread and embroidered with wild birds and flowers. Rose thought she could do well with her embroidery if this was the way they dressed.
But then there were filthy people in dirty clothes, ragged and stained and they were bare foot. There were others dressed plainly but not in rags and not dirty either. All these different people mingled together in the cobbled streets where horses left their waste and so did the dogs.
The smells from the sweaty crowds and the animal waste was making Rose feel nauseous, but that did nothing to curb her enthusiasm.
They had stopped at an inn for refreshments and she and Robbie had shared a bowl of beef dripping with some stale bread the innkeeper was about to throw out. He took pity on them and gave them some weak ale that a customer had not finished as he had left in a hurry when a lady arrived whom he did not want to see.
That was exciting in itself. Rose had been raised in a little village where her parents had parked their wagon when Rose’s mother was about to give birth. The rest of the caravan moved on without them but she decided she liked the village and wanted to set up home here, so they had stayed.
The villagers did not seem to mind. The couple could make lace and they gave it freely for new born babes to wear for their baptisms and brides to cover their hair at their weddings. They danced and sang to entertain the people. In return the villagers always shared what little they had and as Rose grew and the wagon became overcrowded, the villagers had helped them to build a little hut in which to house them all.
But then Robbie had persuaded Rose’s father to teach him to play the lute and that caused all sorts of trouble. Robbie’s parents did not want him getting too friendly with the travellers; they were craftsman, his father a carpenter just like Mark’s. That was how they met as young boys, by their parents socialising together, sharing the work when times were busy.
Both their fathers belonged to the carpenters’ guild and they both wanted more for their sons than playing instruments and amusing crowds. They wanted them to follow in their footsteps, to apprentice as carpenters and join the Guild themselves. It was good enough for Our Lord Jesus; it was good enough for them.
But it turned out that Mark had an exceptional singing voice and he had persuaded his father to let him go to Cardinal Wolsey’s choir. Mark’s father was worried when the Cardinal fell from royal favour and wanted his son to come home, but Mark had been elevated to the palace, giving the old man something more about which to brag.
Robbie’s father insisted Rose’s family were not good enough for his son and he could see that son was becoming attached to Rose. He had another maiden already chosen and had even arranged things with her father, without a word to Robbie or the maid.
There was a quarrel and the travellers decided to move on, taking Rose with them; but Robbie would not let her go. He defied his father and followed, making music along the way for a few coins, and Rose was thrilled that he cared enough about her to do that.
Her parents had rented a little cottage a few towns away and Robbie stayed with them, sharing their meals and sleeping in their wagon and he and Rose played and sung for money. All the time he had kept in touch with Mark, always let him know where he was while warning him never to tell his own family lest Robbie’s father found out and dragged him back.
He had no wish to be a carpenter and he had no desire for the maiden his father had chosen for him. He wanted to play and sing with Rose beside him. When he got word from Mark, asking him to join him in London, Rose was even more thrilled that he wanted her to go with him.
“What else?” He said in response to her surprise. “Where else would I want to be but by your side? Besides, my playing is nothing without that voice of yours.”
She had hugged him then, kissed him and said a little prayer that they would made enough to be married. She so wanted to be his wife, to lie beside him and love him as a woman should love her husband.
There were many beggars sitting on the ground with their little pots, hoping someone would take pity on them and throw some coins into those pots so they could eat that night. Rose would have so loved to be able to give them something, but they had little enough for themselves. She made up her mind that when they had made a name for themselves and were wealthy, she would come back here and fill those beggars’ pots with coins.
The buildings had top floors which overhung the streets and made Rose feel afraid that they might collapse onto their coach and crush them.
She felt Robbie leaning over her shoulder and peering out into the streets below and he squeezed her arm.
“Well, my darling,” he whispered into her ear. “We have arrived. What do you think?”
“It is wonderful! But where is the palace Mark told us about? It cannot be in this street, surely.”
He climbed down and turned to offer her his hand, looking about for his friend as he did so.
“Mark said he would meet us at the gate.”
There was no sign of him and as Robbie looked over the heads of the crowds, he realised this place was far more vast than he had imagined. He turned to the coachman.
“Sir,” he said hesitantly, feeling foolish. “Is this the only gate?”
“God bless you, Sir,” he answered. “There are many gates into this city.”
Rose clung to Robbie’s arm, suddenly feeling nervous. This place was enormous, the crowds were everywhere and they could be lost.
“Where did you want to go?” The coachman asked.
“Whitehall Palace,” Robbie answered. “My friend was meeting us at the gate, but he did not say which gate.”
He could see the man was trying to hide a smile and that made Robbie feel even more foolish.
“You get yourselves back inside,” the man said kindly. “I’m going that way to my supper.”
It was a slow and bumpy journey but they finally drew to a stop and Robbie fumbled about in his purse in the hope of finding a coin for the helpful coachman, but they had so little he was afraid to part with it. That was when they heard a familiar voice and Robbie jumped down to see that his friend was there before him, handing some coins to the coachman.
The two men hugged in greeting, then Robbie turned back to help Rose down once more.
“Come,” said Mark. “I have secured you a chamber for the night in an inn close by.”
“I thought we would be staying with you,” Rose said.
“I have no place fit for a lady,” Mark replied. “You will be comfortable in the inn. I have already secured the chamber and paid for it.”
He began to walk away, leaving his guests to follow behind and Robbie caught hold of Rose’s hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
“He looks as though he is doing well,” he murmured. “His dress is quite fine.”
Rose nodded, not really paying attention. Her focus was entirely on the beautiful building in the near distance, a vast structure with many carvings and many fine carriages going beneath the gates and into the courtyard. That must be the palace. She wanted to go inside, wanted to see the King and Queen and all the lovely costumes and jewellery. But she had to be content with watching the fine carriages which passed beneath the archway and the exquisitely dressed ladies and gentlemen who travelled in them.
At last they arrived at an inn and Mark led them inside, ordered ale and a meal to be served for his friends. Robbie frowned and gripped his arm.
“We have no money left, Mark. We spent every penny on the fare.”
“Do not fret,” he answered. “I have already paid. I want you to have a good rest tonight and a good meal inside you. The Queen is anxious to see you perform; I have told her all about you. Robbie and Rosie, the Minstrel and His Lady. You will be a great success.
After their meal they undressed and climbed into the bed with its feather mattress and its tapestry curtains which they drew closed about themselves to keep out the draft and the noise from the customers below.
Robbie held his arm around Rose and she rested her head on his chest as he kissed her. They would do nothing more. They had promised themselves that they would stay chaste for their wedding night and they intended to keep that promise.
“Soon, my love,” he whispered softly. “Soon we will be entitled to love as two people in love should. It is very hard to lie here with you, to kiss you and do no more.”
“It is hard for me, too. But I do love you, Robbie and I cannot wait for that day when we can be man and wife together.” She reached up and kissed his lips. “Not many men would lie here, share the bed of a woman without wanting to take her.”
“When did I say I did not want to?” He asked playfully. “But, I have too much respect for you to do that.”
“I know and I love you for it.”
The mirror in the inn was very small and very stained, but Rose did her best with her appearance. Her stomach was fluttering and her heart was racing; she was so afraid she would be too nervous to sing and would spoil everything for them.
This was indeed their big chance and there would likely never be another.
“You do not seem to be at all nervous,” she told Robbie.
“Oh, I am, trust me. I am trying not to think about it.”
So they left the inn, hand in hand, Robbie with his lute slung over his shoulder, and approached the magnificent building where Mark waited to greet them. It all seemed very unreal to Rose; in all the time they had performed in the little tavern in their village and on the village green on May Day and fair days, she never expected to ever be performing for the Queen of England! She had a beautiful voice, she knew she did, but would her fear let that voice out to do its best, to enchant that royal lady?
Rose had heard a lot about Queen Anne. She was said to be the love of King Henry’s life, that he had broken with the Church and risked war with Spain just to have her for his wife. Rose thought she must be very beautiful for a king to risk so much to have her. But the woman who sat on an ornate chair as they entered the privy chamber, still holding hands, was not beautiful. In fact, she was rather ordinary looking except for her dark eyes, which were too big for her face.
Rose pushed the thought away. She had always borne a superstition that thoughts could be read by certain people talented in that direction so it was best not to think unkind thoughts about the Queen of England.
They both stepped forward and knelt before Queen Anne, who held out her hand to Robbie so that he could kiss her ring. He noticed at once the little stump of an extra finger he had heard tell about. Rose was prepared to follow suit, but she was not offered a hand to kiss. The Queen stood and waved the couple to their feet.
“Mark tells me you are talented musicians,” she said softly. “He is generous in recommending you; I might just prefer this handsome young man to him.”
She reached a hand to Robbie’s face and stroked his cheek, actually touched him and Rose felt a stab of jealousy so great, that had this woman been any other she would have had something to say about it. Indeed, she wanted to slap her. Robbie was hers, no one else’s. This woman had no right to flirt with him, to touch him, even if she was the Queen.
“So,” Anne said, sitting back down. “Play, minstrel.”
Robbie settled his lute in his arms and began to play a song he and Rose had composed together specially for this occasion and Rose sang, giving her best to this love song. It was a beautiful song, a song of a lost love and it brought a tear to her eye.
When they had finished, the Queen applauded briefly.
“You have talent,” she told Robbie, her dark eyes fixed on him. She said nothing about Rose’s talent.
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” he replied with a bow.
“Your name, Robbie,” Anne said. “It sound Scottish. I hope it is not. Is it short for Robert?”
“Robson, Your Majesty.”
“Robson,” she repeated with emphasis and a raised eyebrow. “That is a somewhat superior name for a minstrel.”
He made no reply. He wondered if perhaps there was something about names being connected to class as well as colours and fabrics. Had his father broken some law by naming him as such?
Rose was getting more nervous now. It seemed quite clear that the Queen had taken a real liking to her sweetheart while having no interest at all in her. She seemed a vain woman, a woman who expected every man to be in love with her. Considering the upheaval the King had caused just for her, Rose supposed she had a right to feel that way.
“Well, young Robson,” she said at last. “You may go now, but return this evening. I have invited some friends and they will enjoy hearing your music, I am sure.”
She turned away then, leaving Rose wondering if the invitation included both of them, or just Robbie. It was not long before she had her answer.
Early that evening, Mark arrived at the inn to escort his friend to the palace to play before the Queen and her close circle of ladies in waiting and gentlemen who had various duties and occupations close to the throne. He looked embarrassed.
“I am sorry, Rosie,” he said. “She only wants Robbie.”
Quick tears welled up, but the news came as no surprise to her.
“I knew it!” She cried. “I felt sure she had her eye on you, Robbie.”
“Perhaps when he has become acquainted with her better, he can ask for you to join him. In the meantime, she will pay him well and you will both be able to live comfortably.”
“It is hardly fair, Mark,” Robbie argued. “Rose is the one with the talent. She was born to sing, whereas I have a skill that I have learned.”
“She is jealous,” Rose said. “She is afraid of having another woman to compete with. She is not as lovely as I was led to believe and she likely knows it.”
“Hush,” Mark said quickly. “You must have a care what you say. In this place, wagging tongues can be cut out.”