Kate Emerson's Secrets of the Tudor Cour - By Kate Emerson


I was a child of eight in April of the year of our Lord fourteen hundred and ninety-eight. I lived in a pretty, rural town on the south bank of the Loire River, where a fortified château faced with white stone graced the hill above. This castle had been much restored by France’s King Charles VIII, and his court spent a good part of every year in residence there. Both the town and the château were called Amboise.

My mother, Jeanne Popyncourt, for whom I was named, served as a lady-in-waiting to the queen of France. My father, until his death six months earlier, followed the court from place to place, taking lodgings in nearby towns so that Maman could visit us whenever she was not in attendance on Queen Anne. We had a modest house in Amboise and several servants to see to our needs. After Papa died, Maman added a governess to the household to look after me.

I was so often in Amboise that I had become friends with some of the neighborhood children. I spent a great deal of time with one in particular, a boy of my own years named Guy Dunois. Guy taught me how to play card games and climb trees, and he made me laugh by crossing his eyes. They were a bright blue-green and always full of mischief.

Then everything changed when King Charles died. When word of it spread throughout Amboise, people went out into the street just to stare up at the château. Some had tears in their eyes. Madame Andrée, my governess, told me to stay in my bedchamber, but from my window I could see that she and everyone else in the household was outside. Guy and his mother were out there, too. I was just about to disobey Madame’s orders and join them when a cloaked and hooded figure burst into the room. I let out a yelp. Then I recognized my mother.

“We must leave at once on a long journey,” Maman announced.

Surprised by my mother’s disguise, I was nonetheless elated by the prospect of a great adventure, I clapped my hands in delight. I treasured the hours I spent in my mother’s company, the more so since the loss of my father. For the most part, Maman and I could only be together when she did not have duties at court. As she was one of Queen Anne’s favorite ladies, she was rarely free.

“Where are we going? When do we leave? What shall I pack?”

“No questions, Jeanne, I beg you.”

“But I must say farewell to Guy and my other friends, else they will wonder what became of me.”

“There is no time.” She had already stuffed my newest, finest garments into the leather pannier she’d brought. “Don your cloak, and change those shoes for your sturdiest pair of boots.”

When I’d done as she asked, I held out a poppet I treasured, a cloth baby with yarn for hair and a bright red dress. Maman looked sad, but she shook her head. “There is no room.”

She left behind my comb and brush and my slate and my prayer book, too. With one last look around the chamber to assure that she’d packed everything she thought necessary, she grasped my hand and towed me after her to the stable.

A horse waited there, already saddled and carrying a second bulging pannier. I looked around for a groom, but no one was in sight, nor had Maman hired any guards to escort and protect us.

Many people were leaving Amboise in the wake of the king’s death. “Where are they all going in such a hurry?” I asked as I rode on a pillion behind Maman, clinging tightly to her waist.

“To Blois, to the new king.”

“Is that where we are going?”

“No, my darling. Please be silent, Jeanne.”

She was my mother, and she sounded as if she might be about to cry, so I obeyed her.

Once free of the town, she avoided the main roads. When I’d made journeys with my father in the past, we’d spend our nights in private houses, mostly the country manors belonging to his friends. But Maman chose to take rooms in obscure inns, or lodge in the guest quarters of religious houses. It was not as pleasant a way to travel. The beds were often lumpy and sometimes full of fleas.

Maman said I must not speak to anyone, and she rarely did so herself. We both wore plain wool cloaks with the hoods pulled up to hide our faces. It