Now that Courtenay was out of the way, Philip and Mary began work on plans to marry Elizabeth to their own man, someone who would be a strong Habsburg ally.
For this royal spouse, they chose no less than the former Duke of Savoy, who even though he had lost all of Savoy to France, still claimed the title. Surprisingly, he was again a powerful man, though: when Charles V abdicated as King of the Spanish Empire back in January, 1556, the Duke had been appointed by Philip as Lieutenant-Governor of the Netherlands. What more perfect match, then, to keep the Princess from ever again becoming a threat? Once Elizabeth was married, she would be under her husband’s thumb, and would not even be in England to able to organise against them.
“So it was,” Elizabeth told me after returning to Hatfield, “that I was most cordially invited to spend Christmas with Mary at Court, and imagining that perhaps at last there was to be a thaw in the eternal winter between us two sisters, I went willingly and cheerfully. After but a day there, though, and before I had even recovered from the trials and tedious hardships of the journey, she summoned me into her presence, and told me that she planned to marry me to the Duke of Savoy, and that I should make preparations because it was already in principle agreed, and the marriage treaty was being drawn up for her seal and signature.”
“Emmanuel-Philibert?!” I repeated, amazed, “But he is nothing, just a stooge for Philip, he’s just his Governor in the Low Countries. He still calls himself Duke of Savoy, but the French control almost all of his lands, not him!”
“Exactly. That is their idea. They will send me to the Low Countries to run his household, bear his children and organise his meals when he’s home. I was so furious I hardly knew how to remain civil to her. I told her that I most certainly would not hinge my knee and marry someone so far beneath me, and that I was astounded that she should even suggest such a thing. I told her “I have no idea who among your advisers has made such a recommendation, but I would humbly beseech you that you have his head removed before he can use it for any other devious, treacherous purpose.”
Mary flew into a rage, and said that if I didn’t change my attitude, she would have Parliament declare me a bastard, and thus unable to inherit the throne, and I told her I would rather she did that than marry me to a Duke without a Duchy. She shouted back that I would either obey her, or she would have me carried by force to the altar and married, and I just turned my back on her and left. I was gone from Court within a few minutes, and well on my way back to Hatfield before she realized I was gone.”
“We need to take care of you, Elizabeth.” I said, “The chances are she will say she discovered a plot against you and have you taken back to Court under armed guard, and she will then forcibly remove you to the Low Countries and proceed with the marriage regardless.”
“To be honest, Aly, I even thought of leaving England. The Countess of Sussex interceded on my behalf, in deep disguise naturally, and talked with the French Ambassador to see if she could arrange it. He communicated immediately with King Henri, who wrote to say that it was far better that I remain, because to flee would give Mary exactly the excuse she needs to have my claim to the throne put aside. A captain plucking down his sails in a race, he said, will bring his progress to a halt, and plucking me down now will just strengthen Mary.” I thought she was about to burst into tears.
“Aly, what can I do? If I agree, or if I flee, I am finished. I will never become England’s anointed Queen, and if I refuse, they will surely come for me and take me prisoner and marry me to that man by force… How can I stop them? You must help me! I will do anything!”
I had a solution, a very effective one, and that is why on Christmas Eve 1556, we snuggled on a soft mattress between lavender scented sheets, cuddled beneath cosy covers made of fur and explored each other – as dear Marguerite was wont to say – ‘inchly’. And then, inspired by tales of Margaret Habsburg, Princess Elizabeth, heir apparent to the throne of England, became pregnant with my child.