Title: Flower before their bloom
Description: tag: Catherine Willoughby
Francesca de' Medici - March 14, 2010 06:49 PM (GMT)
The clock chimed melodiously over the emptying court, signaling that in two hours time, the court would flock sheep-like on their way to mass. For now, the clock court was slowly emptying, the courtiers now going to rest before being called again to mass. It seemed strange that the bustling activity in the middle of the day, there would be a moment of calm respite. The eye of the storm, it seemed. Now, the people were slowly being replaced by remnants, auras or little ghosts of what had happened. A hat there, a trinket lost here, each of corner of the court a story all to themselves. Francesca loved it, simply not because of the silent respite but because of its impermanence. The idea that the facade of calm could be shattered at any given time amused Francesca. It reminded her of home, of the calm before a battle.
Indeed the court itself was a battle. Lives were made and lost here, and the journey of each destiny fulfilled around the gleaming presence of the King. It was just like home. Francesca walked in it. She thrived in it. All her power was derived from the idea of her relations. Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici's sphere of influence had Francesca sitting one rung below the top. She loved power and it took much of her will not to be drunk in it. It was intoxicating.
Francesca sat down on an empty seat, eyes falling around the room as the final chimes of the clock drew to a slow stop. She didn't want to rest today, but she had gotten up late that day and was not tired. There was a trinket lying next to her foot, lost perhaps by a lady or thrown during an argument. Slowly, she picked it up. No initials, cheap, gold coated but not real gold, the ruby on it was merely finely made glass, yet it intrigued Francesca. For a moment, Francesca glanced at it before letting it hang off the arm of her seat. Her mind fell to her own jewelery, some fashioned by the divine Botticelli in his stint as a gold smith, others encoated with ruby. Medicean patronage had its merits but it seemed so empty now. There never was anyone that could get close enough to Francesca to hear her story. They only wanted to seek favour and couldn't care less about her.
A swish of robes snapped Francesca out of her reverie. A woman had entered the clock court. She found it strange. Most people had retired now, except for the infrequent scurry of servants and the hushed whisper of secret lovers. Although Francesca couldn't recall the woman's name, her clothing meant that she was at least old blood, if not more. Francesca offered a gentle smile. "Hello."
Catherine Willoughby - March 15, 2010 06:45 AM (GMT)
Clutching a book to her chest, Catherine had gone outside for some fresh air despite the nippy weather before she would have to line up with the other ladies to proceed to the chapel for Mass. It was usually quiet this time of day at the clock court, with only the grass and perhaps chirping birds for company, but for someone who grew up practically alone and now spent so much time with others, the quiet was a respite from the constant noise inside. Usually, she would have spent time in one of the maze gardens, perhaps wandering around, for always there was something new to see. This time, she paused to glance up at the astronomical clock with its large Roman numerals that loomed over the courtyard, before turning to pass through. She didn't intend on spending much time here. It was a mere stop on her way. Wandering around was still one of her favored past times.
She flipped open the book she had with her, a dusty old leather-bound volume she had covered with an embroidered cover of various colored flowers on a dark blue background. One reason for this cover was to fool anyone who saw her, perhaps thinking it could have been a work of poetry that young ladies fancied, or perhaps Chaucer or some other famed English work. Instead, Catherine wanted to exercise not just her body with her walk but also her mind. Still wary of her encounter with Anne Askew, and as such her great sin in sitting and listening to this fascinating woman preacher read her the Bible and in English at that, she had picked up one of her trusty books: St Augustine's Confessions (in Latin, of course) She knew she would read it, really read it instead of just read it to test her Latin skills, with different eyes. She was almost afraid of what she would think now on this important work of the famed church father. What would it mean for her soul? She had only begun her re-reading of the first chapter when she heard a voice.
Undoubtedly she was startled. Catherine stopped dead in her tracks and closed the book slowly, glancing towards the woman who had spoken to her. She looked Francesca down then up, meeting her eyes, before offering her a tentative smile. "Hello." After a moment's pause she bobbed a polite curtsy in greeting. She had seen this other girl--younger than her, by the looks of it--before, but they had never officially been introduced. "Funny to see that I am not the only one here, usually it is quite deserted this time of day." Holding the book in one hand, she added, "I am the Lady Catherine Willoughby. And you might be...?" She kept her voice pleasant, figuring this pretty girl surely had no idea who she was just as she had no idea who Francesca was, and that suited Catherine just fine.
Francesca de' Medici - March 16, 2010 02:00 AM (GMT)
Francesca made it her business to meet new people in court. It would be dreadfully boring without friends at court and as Francesca was feeling particularly nostalgic about Italy. There was no better way to be cheered out of her melancholy than by conversation. Preferably, it would be an artist or a gentleman but ladies had their own specific brand of conversation. Francesca had never had a bosom friend. The closest she had gotten to one would be the artist Raphael Sanzio but even then, he was far below her in station and could not, in all honesty, be talked to as an equal. (And they had almost become lovers, that in itself would have become a reason to keep secrets from each other.) Suffice to say, Francesca's high position was a trade for loneliness.
"Oh, it is too precious a quiet to waste away by resting." Francesca waved a hand nonchalantly. Her smile was friendly and genuine. While Francesca could very easily pretend her smile was genuine, this time, no pretenses were needed. It was strange that she did not pretend, she felt quite out of her skin without her mask. Francesca was a great pretender. She had to pretend to be happy after all.
"Francesca de' Medici, very pleased to meet you." Francesca answered when asked her name. There was no expectations placed there, no expectations whatsoever that someone would recognize the surname. In Rome, it would have been strange if someone did not point out the relation, but in Rome, it would have been strange for someone to even ask her name. Here, in England, she set no store by a name. Slowly, she rose from her seat in polite action. A nod followed, "What brings you at this hour, if you do not mind my asking?"
It wasn't strange, of course that she could ask such a question. It was a strange hour to be out and about. Seldom did people break the usual court procedures to wander the place, especially a lady unchaperoned. Of course Catherine may want to ask the same question. Francesca herself had no easy answer. It could only be attributed to whim. She had no book and very little in way of items to occupy herself with. Previously, she had been thinking about jewelery but the little trinket she had been examining a while ago was forgotten to her. She had no need to look at the things lost around the room and less need to remember them. They will be returned by the scurrying servant, invisible to her and the majority of court.
Catherine Willoughby - March 17, 2010 04:16 PM (GMT)
Bobbing her head in a polite nod, Catherine kept the book clasped to her chest, her arms crossed. "Francesca de Medici," the lady echoed, committing the name to memory--but knowledge that she had heard that name before. De Medici was familiar to her, and she could not quite put a finger on why. No matter, it would just gnaw at her brain and perhaps she could go take a peek at the library if she eventually remembered. Not one to have been educated much on anything outside of England, England was far from Italy, things got mangled on their way from continental Europe. She would say nothing about that to allay her curiosity. That would be rude.
At the question, she lifted her shoulders in a shrug. "I thought it would be a nice day to be out and about. It is a few hours before Mass. Things are quiet outside as they are usually noisy inside," she answered with a small smile. "And if I should like to have time to read, then, I prefer it quiet!" She peeked down at her book and then back to Francesca with a hint of a friendly smile to her lips. "What brings you to England?" She kept her tone light and conversational, the sort of way of talking she had learned after being at court for months. It was friendly small talk, what everyone most kept themselves occupied by; it wasn't the sort of deep conversation she could have with a select few. Anything was better than silence to Catherine who, like Francesca, grew up alone. She would not be getting to read her book today, but at least the conversation got her head out from the sinful things that had occupied her mind earlier. Thinking on one's sin and guilt was much less entertaining than having a nice chat in the chill winter air.
Catherine took a step from Francesca, noting a bench near the two. "It seems that every day someone new comes here," she mused, stepping backward towards the bench as if she wished to sit. "And every day I meet someone new. It is so busy here, it's strange how quiet and almost lonely it is without the crowds about." Talking was better sitting than standing. Smoothing out the side of her gown, she took a seat, pushing the wide skirt under her so if the other girl wished she too could sit without worrying about getting on top of Catherine's dark chocolate-colored gown.
Francesca de' Medici - March 19, 2010 03:31 AM (GMT)
Francesca paused before answering Catherine's question. How could she prudently say that she was sent to England because of the rumours in Rome that she had killed her own husband? Whether these rumours were true was irrelevant. Reputation was everything and once lost, it could not be regained easily. Francesca forced her thoughts away from such dark matters. It could not be helped, after all, what they thought of her and hopefully by the time she went back to Rome, the Romans will have moved onto another woman to gossip about. Rome was seldom free of scandal despite its reputation as the Holy City.
So Francesca decided to avoid the answer. Instead, she ended up with "Oh, one of my father's plans, no doubt, concerning some great matter of state." There was humour in her voice, easily coming across the surface of her conversation. It wasn't a lie, but it wasn't the complete truth. Why her father sent her to England, of all places, Francesca couldn't fathom. She would have much rather have retired to Catalan or Lisbon.
With her eyes, Francesca surveyed Catherine. It wasn't a judgment but merely for the sake of remembrance. Francesca didn't like to forget names. It created too often an awkwardness between two people that was not easily shaken. It was most undiplomatic. Catherine was obviously titled, her bearing spoke such. Perhaps she was old nobility. Francesca wouldn't be surprised. Francesca herself was not old nobility. Her family still carried the stigma of usurers. Yet, it was easy to find the parvenu from the actual nobility. The upstarts did try too hard. Francesca could tell even from her own family. They were still upstarts.
"Court is seldom boring." Francesca agreed, mirth still in her voice. "But the pace is only half the fun!" Indeed, Francesca thrived at court. Amusements never ended. She was never one for the country. Slowly, Francesca rose and gathered up her cerulean dress, making her way over to the bench. She was wearing the Italian style, and not the English one. It was much simpler in make, although the material was just as rich, if not richer due to the proximity of Italy to the Ottoman Empire and the vast resource of trade routes that came across it. "I'm sure you'll agree that life in the country would be horrendously boring after spending time at court. I suppose it's the reason we all keep coming back." She took her seat beside Catherine, arranging her skirts so that it fell gracefully over her ankles.
"Why, the people I meet here are fascinating. Each has their own story to tell. I'm a collector of stories." She would much rather listen to other people's stories than tell her own. It was too long and much too tawdry in her opinion. Francesca's life story, if she wrote it, would shock the world or if she glazed over on some parts, then it would bore the world.
Catherine Willoughby - March 20, 2010 12:20 AM (GMT)
Nodding briefly, just one bob down and up of the head, Catherine was still looking at Francesca with frankness. She was obviously not the type to put on airs; her gaze was honest and direct, looking straight at the other woman in the eyes. There was, of course, nothing to hide. She was only a woman of the minor nobility. She was no ambassador, no duchess, no woman of importance as it seemed Francesca was to be sent here to England. "Matters of state, you say?" she asked, sounding curious but also not probing. "Then you are quite important, aren't you. Of course, I suppose I could say I was here for matters of state. Waiting on Her Majesty and trying to catch a husband, like so many other ladies here..."
She had her book in her lap and she smoothed out her skirts, examining the bright blue of the fabric of Francesca's gown. Being at court did give Catherine one liberty: to dress, and she liked to dress well. Having nice things and dressing like a grand woman was one of the things she liked about waiting on Madge. She always had to look impressive, and she like many other girls sure loved her finery: bright colors of velvets and silks, jewels at her throat, pearls on her hood. "Quite pretty," she said, complimenting the gown as well as the wearer, looking from the skirt to Francesca's face. "Your gown. I've never seen Italian fashion. Perhaps we ought to all be imitating your fashion. I just don't know what Her Majesty would say, if I showed up to her in an Italian gown. Not looking like a good English girl of proper rank and such could cause a fuss." She was hinting as to her background, why she was at court, and everything else. Everything depended on one's rank: the clothes one wore, the sort of people one could consort with, the education one would receive.
So, she liked to gather stories. That was interesting. Well, you could meet fascinating folk at court. It seemed there were all manner of people around at any given moment: royalty, nobility, the common people come to watch the King dine or perhaps petition to His Majesty in regards to something. If you knew someone at court, then you could come in, no matter your background. "Stories?" Catherine's voice still with the inflections of the countryside, not the more proper accent of many at court, was amused. "I've got no stories for you, my life has been quite boring. Just as court is at times, just as life in the country is always. Unless you wished to hear how an English girl is raised in the country, often away from court, for you know how licentious and awful it is." She winked with a small grin, looking down to her book to play a little with a loose thread of gold on the cover she had sewn so carefully months before.
Francesca de' Medici - March 21, 2010 03:43 AM (GMT)
Francesca laughed. She always did laugh easily, letting a merry air about her. She let her hands cover her lips as she threw her head back. It was impersonal, the laugh, not in mockery but in amusement. She was easily amused and when faced with Catherine's direct look, Francesca could do nothing but laugh. It wasn't calculated but Francesca did hope that it would lighten up the mood. "I wouldn't say anything about importance, really, not on such a stage." Francesca folded her hands in her lap, cocking her head to the side and looking at Catherine. "You have a noble purpose, of course. Much nobler than my own." A nod, the mirth still not fading from Francesca's eyes. "I consider serving Her Majesty a great matter of state and finding a husband a even greater one." The friendly voice was mixed with diplomatic words. Catherine obviously had little to hide. Perhaps as the child of minor nobility she had little to lose and little to gain. Francesca couldn't say she was used to it. She had finished studying Catherine, committing most of what she now knew to memory.
It wasn't that Francesca consciously wanted to dress differently. She just hated the clothing of the English court. It was uncomfortable to her and the wool scratched her skin as opposed to the silk of her shifts. The finery was always overdone and seldom done well. Taken by themselves, it may be different, but together with the tittering ladies, it was too much for the eyes. Yet, Catherine was an exceedingly pretty woman and she melded into her clothing. Francesca was not studying anymore but rather just looking, friendly, without any pretenses. "Thank you." Complements were always nice, especially when they were meant. "I hope the style spreads. Italian styles are always simpler, I've found I can never quite get used to the English style. Too Germanic, I'm afraid." Germany didn't interest her. It was too prim and proper. Now, there was an even bigger reason for disliking the place.
Like most Florentines, she possesses some of the pride in her city that often comes out in her speech. Francesca hoped that Catherine did not mind. It often did come out without her intentions. "I'm told the French are wearing Italian styles. That must be another reason that it would be frowned upon here. Oh, I must show you Maestro Raphael's paintings. He paints such vibrant fabrics. You would love them." Francesca did not miss the meaning behind Catherine's words. As Francesca suspected, Catherine was nobility and probably a lady to the Queen. That meant that Catherine's pedigree would have to be great. Her mind connected everything, trying to place Catherine. Although Francesca was sure Catherine didn't occupy a high stage in international affairs, perhaps domestically, Catherine could be someone.
That brought Francesca's mind to stories. What was Catherine's story? Everyone had one and nobody's was boring. "Stories." Francesca repeated. Her English was still faulty, tainted with the soft hint of the Italian accent. Not dramatic, but melodious. "Everyone has a story, especially beauties." She spoke earnestly. Completely relaxed, or at least seemingly so, Francesca's smile was completely at ease. "Boredom is only a frame of mind, is it not? I've found that the only people who find a life boring are the people living it." She laughed again at the words about the wickedness of court. However, the laugh, unlike last time, was more girlish, not high pitched but sweet. "Why not share stories. You tell me yours and I will tell you mine?" Francesca did not fear that she was being too forward. She knew that people loved talking about themselves and any details could be easily glazed over. She often did wonder how English ladies lived. It seemed reasonable to try to learn more about England while she was here, in case any such information may be used later.
Catherine Willoughby - April 1, 2010 05:39 AM (GMT)
An eyebrow rose. Nobler than her purpose? Francesca was from Italy. There must be some important reason she was here. Catherine was not going to ask, since it seemed clear she would not divulge it, though she was fiercely curious. "I think serving Her Majesty is more important than finding a husband," she quipped with a small smirk that faded quickly from her lips. She glanced away from the younger girl, however interesting she was with her pretty clothes, Catherine's eyes wandering the absent courtyard as Francesca spoke. She looked back with a gurgle of laughter. "I do find sometimes I wish these gowns were not so burdensome, especially in the summer." she mused, once again taking a look at the Italian style Francesca had dressed in. It was lighter, freer, not as constricting as the tight bodices and bell sleeves of English gowns with their full skirts. Catherine was a girl who liked her finery and she appreciated pretty things, especially clothes. "I should copy you, then, and see how it suits. Probably not very well. I would enjoy shocking the other ladies, wandering about in Italian clothes."
Cocking her head to the side, she asked, "Paintings? I have seen some drawings of the Italian masters, for us to use as a guide for our needle and thread for an altar cloth. I find my fingers far too clumsy to make such art of it." Catherine was not one who liked to stare at paintings and wonder, though she appreciated art and looking at pretty things just as much as she liked wearing pretty things. The round cherubs of Italian paintings she recalled seeing, the gentle colors and luscious attention to detail. "I am sure I would love them. Perhaps sometime there will be some paintings like that in the gallery. For now as I am sure you have seen it is all dull portraits. It would liven up the halls and the gallery, I am sure." She had nothing much more to say. Small talk had been hard for her when she came to court, and still it was hard even though she had taught herself how to say things and how to keep a polite conversation going with someone you just met.
Her teeth peeked out from behind her lips as Catherine bit her lower lip, her eyes resting on Francesca's face with a hint of amusement in the way they narrowed a little. Beauty? Pah. "Oh, I am quite boring, I assure you. I have a feeling that your life has been and shall be more interesting than mine." She took a breath. "Alright, then. My father was William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby of Eresby. My family comes from Lincolnshire which is quite north of here. He died when I was just a child. That makes me the Baroness now." She sounded as if she did not quite want to bring that up, for whatever reason. "So, then, my mother the Lady Mary made sure I was educated. I was raised by both my mother and my tutors. I came to court occasionally as a girl. Mostly I was alone. Now that I am grown I am here in service to Her Majesty whom I have known since we were children. I told you, my life is dreadfully uninteresting."
Francesca de' Medici - April 3, 2010 02:33 AM (GMT)
Francesca clapped her hands lightly, laughing "Oh it is always fun to create a scandal. Court life would be absolutely dreadful without them. I should fear that we would all die from ennui." She commented about shocking the ladies. It would indeed be a shock, despite the fact that England was importing vast resources of culture from Italy. Why not dress? Francesca would not see what would make the ladies prefer heavy damask to sheer silk, perhaps excepting for the cold weather, so different from the warmth of the Mediterranean. "Perhaps we may start a trend. To be the forefront of fashion!" Her words were mixing sincerity and satire. The laughter had still not quite died from her voice. She enjoyed teasing the English ladies, for many of them she found were quite closed about such ideas. They seemed to be content to wallow. Francesca hoped Catherine was not one such lady. By her words, she seemed intelligent, or clever enough to appear intelligent. It wasn't Francesca's position to judge.
Francesca nodded with understanding about embroidery. She was too impatient for the womanly art and while it occupied her with something to do, she could never do embroidery for the sake of embroidery/ "I'm afraid I've no talent for needlework. I lack the virtue of patience when it comes to womanly arts." She was not sorry for it. Women who were adept at needlework were often treated like simpering cows and Francesca abhorred being thought of as such. However, her resentment for her position soon turned into excitement at the mention of paintings. "I have gifted His Majesty with a pretty little picture by Maestro Raphael. It is quite a charming version of the Madonna. Raphael does love to paint the Madonna and child. It is quite curious of him and each face of the Madonna represents a woman he is in love with. I suspect each has their own story." Francesca said. Now she was rambling but she always did so when speaking about art. Francesca had an artistic temperament. She believed that by looking at the Italian masters, anyone could begin to appreciate art. "I suspect it will be hung in the gallery shortly." Francesca felt the need to check herself. She was talking far too much for her liking. Boredom was not part of the message she wanted to convey.
"Nonsense! It may be quite absurd to you but I find a country life immensely interesting, having not experienced it myself. I've always lived in the city and even with contact in the country, I'm sure the Tuscan countryside is far different from that of an English one. Francesca did find it interesting. The rusticity of such a life intrigued her. It was something she was never to have and that alone piqued her interest. England, despite her knowledge about the politics, was still a mystery for her, especially the life of those people away from court. At court, England was just like any other princely realm, perhaps less licentious than France, less stately than Spain and less ceremonial than Rome but still a court. Outside of such a life, Francesca was sure that the country life could be different. "What did you do in the country? It must be charmingly rustic." Like all city girls, she possessed the idea of the romance of the countryside.
Catherine Willoughby - April 6, 2010 07:33 AM (GMT)
Chuckling along with Francesca, Catherine found herself liking the idea, mostly because shocking some of the other women she was acquainted with sounded like fun. Especially over such a topic as clothing, knowing how neurotic women could be about it... "We should," she agreed. "It would be quite fun, anyhow, to see the reactions of the other ladies. And I admit, I do adore lovely things, and you dress so well." As a young lady of high station, she herself did, but of course English fashion as so very different from Italian. It seemed more free to Catherine, who would have loved to forego wearing heavy hoods and fabrics.
"Anyhow..." She trailed off, listening to the younger lady talk, smiling in amusement. Some seemed to hate sewing. Catherine did not. It was mind-numbing and enjoyable, though it often got boring. "As a lady of the English court I am sorry to say I spent many of my waking hours perfecting embroidery. That, and the art of conversation, and also dancing, which I loathe beyond all others. I cannot dance to save my life. You would think I would be a horror, judging by the way my mother complains of it." She spoke in good humor, making fun of her lack of skill. "I step on any man's toes, and when I am dancing at least it is not intentional!"
Glancing to the doorway, expecting folks to come and go, and surprised to see no one still, Catherine turned her eyes back to Francesca. A little smile on her face, she thought how funny it was, thinking her life interesting--or at least, the life living out in the middle of nowhere. "I did nothing. The grass grows. It is not as romantic as you may think! One of my family's houses is in Grimsby, it is on the coast and in the marshes. Grimsby is in Lincolnshire, quite far from London. Sometimes I would go for walks in the gardens or read outside. We rarely went into town. But it is a lovely house, grey stone, with parkland." Her voice became almost sentimental as she talked of the house she grew up in, though in all honesty she was glad to leave it. "It is better for me to be here, then to be rotting away there..."
Francesca de' Medici - April 10, 2010 09:10 PM (GMT)
Francesca nodded. It was always amusing to shock the foreign court. ”You must meet my dressmaker then. A woman’s first duty is to her dress maker. She receives all the information of Italian fashion.” Francesca had brought her own dressmaker from Florence, an extravagance to be sure but one that she could not part with. She absolutely monopolized the woman. The Medici spared no extravagance in bettering their name. Her father utterly could not economize and she had inherited that fatal trait. Her taste in clothing and jewellery was finely trained due to this so that no extravagance looked too garish and no ornament looked too peacockish. ”Who is your dressmaker? We must make sure they are not overcome with jealousy that you are seeking another.” She joked, feigning seriousness. She had never met an English dressmaker, and wondered briefly if the tradition was different.
”Conversation is interesting; dancing is fine, there is always something in return. Embroidery, I can’t stand. My stitches, although neat at first, shortly becomes wide with impatience, although I can pretend. That’s the most important, I believe.” She said. She was always pretending, to be good at something, to be meek, to be virtuous. Her whole life was a pretension. Legally, she wasn’t even the daughter of her father. Francesca leaned forward, looking down at her slipper. “What a wonderful excuse to decline a gentleman! I envy you. I couldn’t count how many have tried seduction on the dance floor.” She exclaimed. It was true and she did not say it just to be clever.
Despite Catherine’s efforts to dissuade Francesca, she always though the country life to be charming. Of course Francesca had never spent more than a month in the country at a time and every luxury was still afforded to her. The Tuscan countryside, especially the Medici Villas, was delightful to her. She remembered everything with a distant fondness typical to a girl who spent much time in the city. ”A stone house. How romantic! I’ve never been far from a city myself. Even those days spent in country houses was within a day’s ride to Florence or Rome. I’m afraid you shan’t persuade me otherwise. I remember the countryside with a sense of pleasure. The city, on the other hand, bores me. I’ve been in cities far too long.” Lincolnshire sounded rustic to her. She remembered hearing that England was a mass of untamed land in the North where skirmishes were fought over a few cattle and snow barred all routes of transportation from All Soul’s Day to Lent. Snow seemed magical to Francesca, who had never seen it in the great amounts of the fabled tales. ”Although, court has not yet lost its charm. I’m sure that if I was forced to live in the country for too long, I would be very bored indeed.” Francesca conceded.