Henry of Lancaster had died on the twentieth of March, and his heir was crowned on the ninth of April as King Henry V. The young king was eager to go to war with France. The Earl of Leighton consulted with his friend—and blood relation—Sir William Rogers, as to where he might foster his daughter.
"'Tis a bad time, Robert," Sir William said candidly. "But perhaps there is a chance you can get your lass into an important house if you can offer the king something in return. He's like all the Lancasters, ready to do a favor for a favor."
"He'll need financing for his war," Robert Bowen said. "I can probably aid him there. The Florentine bankers are always looking to make another profit, and I have many friends among them."
"The king will be at Windsor next week," Sir William said. "I'm leaving in another day or two. Ride with me. I can at least get you into his presence."
"You have a new daughter, don't you?" the earl said to his relation.
"Born on the day the old king died," Sir William responded.
"She'll need a husband one day," Robert Bowen said.
"And he'll need a rich wife," Sir William observed. "My lass won't have much, but I thank you for even considering it."
"You don't know what will happen in the next few years," the Earl of Leighton told his kinsman. "Let us wait and see."
When Sir William had departed Leighton Hall, Robert Bowen called for his horse and rode to the cottage where his daughter resided. Hearing his horse approaching, Cicely flew from the little house to greet her father. When he saw her, his heart contracted painfully. She was her mother's image, with her rich auburn hair and her blue-green eyes. When she was grown she would be every bit as beautiful as Anne had been, if not more so. Even her creamy skin tone was Anne's, and the long, dark eyelashes that brushed her rose-hued cheeks. The perfection of her skin, however, was marred by a purplish bruise upon her left cheekbone.
"Papa! You came! I thought you might be angry at me." She looked up at him, concerned.
"Now, why would I be angry with you, poppet?" the earl asked her as he swept her up into his embrace, kissing her right cheek, gently fingering the bruise, disturbed when she winced slightly.
"I didn't mean to anger your lady wife, Papa," Cicely said as he set her down upon her feet. "Why does she hate me so?"
Taking her small hand in his big one, the earl led his daughter to a bench outside of the cottage door and they sat together. "I cannot sugarcoat the truth, poppet," he began. "Your stepmother is a jealous woman, Cicely. She wants no other woman in my life but her. Sadly, I cannot change her, which brings me to why I have come today. Orva," he called. "Please come and join us." And when the serving woman stood by his side he continued. "For your own safety, and for the welfare of your half brothers, I am going to foster you out to a good family. There will be other girls with you from other families. The lady of the house will teach you all those things you must learn and must know one day when you become the lady of the house. Eventually I shall make a fine marriage for you, Cicely. Orva will go with you and continue to look after you as she has always done, poppet. You could not remain at Leighton Hall forever."
"Where are we to go?" Orva asked the earl quietly.
He looked directly at her. "I do not know yet. I am going with Sir William to Windsor in a few days. The court is very busy now, and if I am fortunate I will speak with the king himself. I will choose wisely, Orva. In the meantime you must keep close to the cottage. There must be no opportunity for the countess to see you, or to see Cicely. Do you understand me?" he asked her softly, meaningfully.
Orva nodded. "I will keep the little lady safe, my lord."
"Will I ever see you again, Papa?" Cicely asked her father, and he heard the fear in her young voice.
"Of course you will see me, poppet!" he assured her. "Sadly, your stepmother will not share her excellent household skills with you, and if you are to wed one day you must have those skills. Most girls your age are sent to other families. You will follow an age-old pattern, Cicely. And while I am at Windsor, Orva will make you some fine new gowns from the materials she takes from the storerooms. You will be the prettiest young lady in whichever household you join." And Robert Bowen bent and kissed his little daughter's cheek, careful to avoid her bruise. He arose from his seat. "I must return now to the house. When I come again, Cicely, I will know where you are to go."
"Go into the cottage, child," Orva said quietly. "I need to speak with your papa."
Cicely obeyed immediately.
"Would you send her away if it had not been for the incident with your sons?" Orva asked her master frankly.
"I don't know," he answered honestly. "She does need to know the things that only a lady of rank can teach her. Donna Clara tells me my wife speaks of harming Cicely, for the jealousy assailing her cannot be quenched. Sending my daughter away will keep the child safe, I believe. Don't let Cicely eat anything you have not prepared yourself while I am gone. Do you understand, Orva?"
Orva nodded, her mouth quirking with her disapproval. "I have heard these foreigners like to use poison," she noted.
The earl sighed and shrugged. "What else can I do but what I'm doing?" he said.
"Find us a good home, my lord," Orva replied. "And find my mistress a good husband when she is old enough."
The earl nodded. "I will," he promised.
At Windsor his cousin managed to introduce him to the king, but the young man was more interested in preparing for war than in the fortunes of the daughter of an unimportant man. But Henry V was not heartless. Seeing the disappointment on the earl's face, he said, "Such a request is not within my purview at this time, my lord, but I shall send you to my most excellent and well-loved mother, Queen Joan, with my request that she aid you in your endeavor."
Relieved, the Earl of Leighton bowed low and thanked the king, who sent him off with a servant, promptly forgetting him.
Queen Joan's antechamber was filled with petitioners. Robert Bowen was forced to wait, but the king's servant waited with him to introduce him and present the king's request of the lady.
Queen Joan had been Henry IV's second wife. The daughter of King Charles the Bad of Navarre, and his wife, a princess of France, she had been married first to the Duke of Brittany, by whom she had had nine children. After her husband died she had acted as regent for her oldest son until he came of age at twelve. She had then married the widowed King of England, a father of six children himself. While both the king and queen were still young enough to have children, none were born to them. But Henry IV's offspring adored their stepmother.
After sitting in the queen's antechamber for several hours, the Earl of Leighton and the king's servant were ushered into Queen Joan's presence. The earl bowed low and kissed the elegant beringed hand held out to him.
"His Highness, the king, would have you aid this gentleman, madam," the servant said, and then he backed from the room, leaving the earl to face the queen, along with her attendants, who sat about the chamber sewing and chattering softly.
"You are?" Queen Joan asked Robert Bowen seated in a high-backed chair, a footstool beneath her feet.
"Robert Bowen, the Earl of Leighton, madam," he told her.
"What is it I may do for you, my lord?" the queen inquired of him softly.
Quietly, as carefully and quickly as he could, the earl explained his situation. He did not wish to heap criticism upon his wife, but he did need Queen Joan to understand the desperate situation that he faced in the matter of his daughter.
The queen nodded slowly, and when he had finished she said, "Aye, I can see the difficulty, my lord, but you are partly to blame for it. When you took your bride you were not firm with her. Your daughter should never have been made to live outside of your house in another dwelling. Like my dear late husband's uncles were, you legitimated your daughter. Your wife was obviously spoiled and allowed to have her own way by her parents." Queen Joan shook her head. "But even if your wife had accepted your little girl, it would be better that she be fostered out. She has a dower portion, I assume."
"With the goldsmith Isaac Kira, in London," the earl said, and then he told the queen the amount he had placed with the goldsmith.
The queen drew in a sharp breath. "Indeed, my lord, 'tis a considerable amount. You will have no trouble finding a worthy husband of impeccable breeding for your child one day. But for now we must find a suitable family for her."
"I would be honored if you could suggest such a family, Your Highness," the earl said. "My family is old. It is honorable. But we have always lived quietly, avoiding entanglements that might bring dishonor to us or those we serve."
Queen Joan nodded. "There is nothing wrong with being prudent, my lord. Now tell me how old your daughter is."
"She is seven, madam," he answered.
"Has she been taught? What languages does she speak?" the queen continued.
"She speaks both English and French, and can understand church Latin, madam," he told her. "She can do sums. She rides well, and her manners are good."
"Then she is fit for the best company," Queen Joan concluded. "Somerset's widow has remarried herself to Thomas Plantagenet, the Duke of Clarence. She has left her children by John Beaufort in the care of others. Henry, the eldest, now holds his father's titles, and remains in his own home. His three brothers are all fostered out, and serve different masters. His sisters are at home. The youngest will remain ther...