The Queen's Rival by Anne O'Brien


A Domestic Interlude in the Most Loyal House of York

Cecily, Duchess of York, to my youngest son Diccon, on the occasion of his seventh birthday celebrated here at Ludlow, on the second day of October in the year 1459

Today, my son, we mark the day of your birth.

You will have unwrapped your gifts by now, among them a fine dagger from your father with a damascened blade. He persuades me that you are old enough to own such a weapon. It belonged to him when he was a boy. He has the scars to prove it. Ask him to show you them when he has a moment of leisure. It is not a bauble and you should treat it with respect. I will confiscate it if you use it unwisely.

From me you will have discovered the book of stories of Greek heroes which you are now able to read. They all use their swords and daggers with care.

Enjoy the special day, with all the family here together, although you will be disappointed that the promised tournament will not happen. Your father has much on his mind with so many of our soldiers billeted in the castle and in the town, but your brothers have something planned so that the day does not go unmarked. The cook will make your favourite Payn Ragoun to be served at the end of dinner; it is the day of your birth so I will accept a little indulgence.

Remember to thank the Blessed Virgin Mary for your life and health.

Remember your duty to God and to the King, whatever happens in the coming days.

Remember your duty to your family of York.

Do not forget to attend Mass.

I have also given you an illuminated Book of Hours that belonged to me when I was a young girl. I know that you will be tempted to write in your own birth-date in the page of October. Do not do so. It is a masterpiece of clerkish work and will not benefit from your scrawl in the margins.

From your loving mother,

Cecily, Duchess of York

To my Lady Mother, Duchess Cecily, on the evening of this second day of October 1459

My tutor says that I must give you gracious thanks for the gifts, and prove that I can write well.

My father showed me the scar where his first dagger hacked into his wrist when he was skinning a rabbit. I promise I will not do that. My father said that he was too busy to show me the rest. I have not written in my Book of Hours. But one day I will. One day I think it will be important to me to mark the day of my birth. I promise I will write it neatly.

I have started to read the book of Greek heroes. I have decided I would wish to be like Achilles, to live bravely and to die well, even if I am not very old when I meet my doom.

I enjoyed the Payn Ragoun, although George ate more than I did. He says it is his right because he is three years older than I am.

I hope it makes his teeth drop out.

I have also had to hide my new dagger from him.

From your dutiful son,


Cecily, Duchess of York, to her son George

I wish to see you in my chamber immediately after Mass.

It has come to my notice that you have not yet learned the lessons of either generosity or humility, or family affection. Gluttony, I must warn you, is also a sin.

Do not put me to the trouble of coming to find you in the stables. You will not enjoy the consequences.

Because I know that you will take heed and learn from your mistakes, I remain your loving mother.

Cecily, Duchess of York

Cecily, Duchess of York, for the immediate attention of the Duke of York


I warned you that Diccon was too young for such a gift. George is suffering from a severe attack of envy so that Diccon has already had to fight to keep possession of his dagger. They have both been blooded and show signs of battle, but our younger son has emerged victorious. He might lack the physical bulk of George but his spirit is strong.

I advise you to make no mention of their colourful afflictions when you next see them. Do not praise them for any false courage. I have dealt with the matter.

I think this will find you before I do, when you at last return to the castle.

I know that you have much on your mind and that you will say, rightly, that it is my role to supervise the education of our sons, but sometimes a word of paternal admonishing would not go amiss.

In exasperation,

Your loving wife,


Chapter One

The Death of Loyalty

Duchess Cecily teaches a lesson in Ludlow Castle, October 1459

We were in occupation of one of the corner chambers in the old gatehouse keep at Ludlow Castle because it was a good vantage point from which to detect approaching marauders. Despite the lack of light and the all-pervasive reek of damp, I lit candles then unrolled the precious scroll with a flourish. It was a line of succession, drawn as a tree with thorny branches, all the way from the first man and woman on earth, Adam and Eve, enclosed in leaves and flowers in the Garden of Eden, to King Henry the Sixth, our present crowned and anointed King of England.