Improper Seduction

By: Mary Wine

Chapter One

Lincolnshire, March 1546

Her mother was nervous.

Bridget Newbury considered her mother with curiosity. Lady Connolly was normally the perfect model of poise.

“Good morrow, Mother.”

Jane turned in a flurry of wool skirts. She was wearing one of her very modest Sabbath dresses. There was no lace upon it, the only trim formed by contrasting persimmon wool cut into thin strips and used to border the brown wool that made up the garment. She even wore an over-partlet that covered every inch of her chest, all the way to her neck.

“Good, you are here.”

“I came straight after receiving your summons, Mother.”

Jane smiled. A gentle curving of her lips that was genuine. She held out her hands, and Bridget moved forward to clasp them. Even through their gloves, the embrace of fingers and palms was warm.

“Of course you did. You have ever been an obedient child. God blessed me with your sweet heart.” Her mother’s smile faded. The hands grasping Bridget’s tightened momentarily before releasing their hold. Jane clasped her fingers together in a practiced pose, one she used as mistress of the house. With the maids always observing them, appearances were important. Bridget held her chin steady and waited for her mother to speak.

“I have word from your father.”

Her mother’s voice hardened. Bridget knew the tone. It was one that often showed itself when letters from her father arrived. Lord Connolly resided at the court of Henry the Eighth. Her sire often sent home detailed instructions on how the family was to conduct themselves. In the quickly changing climate of the aging king’s court, her mother was always sure to instill a deep respect for each sentence her husband penned. It was the wisest course of action given the king’s history of beheading those nobles who displeased him.

“A marriage has been arranged for you.”

Bridget was startled. “Do you mean that Sir Curan has returned from France?”

Her mother’s face drew into an expression that Bridget knew too well. It was the look her mother always wore when circumstances were not to her liking but unavoidable.

“Your father has negotiated a new arrangement for you with Lord Oswald. The wedding is to be celebrated within a fortnight.”

Her mother’s voice was full of impending duty. It lacked joy and even mild liking. Bridget felt dread chill her heart.

“I gave my word to Sir Curan.” She had sworn to wait for him. “With Father’s blessing I swore, Mother.”

Her mother nodded and fingered her skirt. Bridget understood the nervousness now. Yet she might wish that she was still ignorant. Curan Ramsden was not a man you broke promises to. He was one of England’s border lords. Unlike many who swarmed around the aged King Henry Tudor, Curan was a man of action. He’d earned his spurs of knighthood on the field in France alongside the king on one of Henry’s campaigns to regain soil in Europe.

“You were young and obedient to your father.”

“It was only three years ago.”

Her mother’s fingers gripped her skirt. “Yes. However things change quickly these days. You shall wed Lord Oswald. We are to leave for London three days hence. Lord Oswald is one of the king’s advisors and resides at Whitehall Palace.”

“Lord Oswald.” Bridget searched her memory. Her father went to great lengths to keep her away from court. Maidens did not maintain their virtue very long once in attendance. At twenty-two years of age she was in awe of her sire for being able to keep her in the country. Having her betrothed to Sir Curan Ramsden had kept the gossips from her.

“His daughter passed a night here a few years ago.”

Bridget felt her face drain of color. The lady in question was older than her mother. She tried to cover her dislike. It was unseemly. Many a nobleman’s daughter found herself married to a man well past her in age. Even Queen Catherine Parr was many years Henry Tudor’s junior.

“He is widowed?”

Her mother’s lips pressed into a hard line. “No. Lord Oswald has divorced his newest wife for failing to conceive. The poor girl has been sent back to her father.”

Bridget lost a bit more of her color. She pressed her lips together tightly, resisting the urge to make some sound of protest. Her mother’s face was just as stark. When their father sent a letter, it was to be obeyed. There was no questioning the wishes of the lord of the house. According to the will of the king, her sire was master of the family. Especially over the female members. To argue was to question her place and offer greedy men the opportunity to name her a heretic so that her father’s lands might be forfeit. There were plenty of men who would make use of any reason to depose another noble peer, even if it was so low as to use the women in the family to accomplish that goal. Now that all the monasteries were claimed and their land and riches divided, the hungry looked to new sources to gain quick wealth.

Marriage was one of the favorite methods for amassing funds. Divorce was more common than anyone dared say. Many young wives suffered the same fate as Catherine of Aragon; Henry the Eighth’s first wife was shuffled off into the country to live out the remainder of her days in near poverty once her child-bearing days came to an end. Things had only become worse since that time. Now new brides were often discarded only months after their wedding nights and sent home without their dowries for failing to conceive quickly. Such was a grim fate. Years could go by before lawyers agreed on what parts of their wedding agreement might be recovered. The discarded bride could not remarry until such was done. Even after legal negotiations were finished, not many men wanted a girl who had failed in her primary duty as wife.