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Wednesday, 16 September 2015 06:54

Choice and Circumstance by Pamela Graham

Sophie, Princess Palatine, eighteen years old and beautiful, sat on a shabby couch in her mother’s house at The Hague with her feet tucked up under her, flicking idly through the pages of a book. This lack of concentration was unusual in Sophie, who normally gave her mind completely to the matter in hand and read books with methodical determination. She knew she would not be the only person at The Hague experiencing difficulty focussing. The neat, orderly Dutch city was bristling with exiled English Royalists all waiting for and yet dreading the arrival of news from London, where their King was under sentence of death.

 

It was unthinkable that her Uncle Charles would actually be executed by his rebellious subjects, but she was aware all avenues of appeal had been exhausted and the leaders of the English Parliament were unlikely to exercise clemency. It was an anxious and frustrating time, waiting for events beyond their control to play out. She thought of her cousins Charles and Mary at the Binnenhof, waking up each morning wondering if this would be the day they learned of their father’s death.

 Sophie barely remembered her own father, the quiet and gentle Elector Frederick V, who had died so long ago. She had been told he would pick her up to sit on his knee while he told her stories of castles and ogres, mermaids and magic. It would have been nice to have had a caring parent, she thought. Despite having thirteen children, her mother was not at all maternal. When she was growing up, Sophie had often been of the opinion the Queen was fonder of her dogs and monkeys than of her offspring. Now they were adults, she seemed to like them better.

Sophie viewed her mother with reluctant admiration. At fifty-two, Elizabeth of Bohemia seemed indestructible. Unlike her tragic, doomed brother Charles, she was strong, adaptable and resilient. Going beyond superficial prettiness, her beauty had a timelessness quality about it. Despite the privations of almost thirty years in exile, she had retained her excellent health, forthright manner and good humour. If Elizabeth was languishing in an English prison under sentence of death, difficult as this scenario was for her daughter to imagine, she would no doubt exercise her powerful charm on Cromwell, Ireton and the rest, who would usher her apologetically to the castle gates and provide her with a well-appointed carriage to Dover. One of them would probably throw down his cloak for her to walk across, as a courtier had done for Elizabeth I! Men always made fools of themselves over her mother.

While her uncle’s life hung by a thread, Sophie felt it was very wrong to be thinking of how his death would impact her own future, but there was no escaping the connection. She currently had an admirer, one that she liked very well indeed. Her cousin Charles, Prince of Wales, had been residing at The Hague for the past few months as the guest of his sister Mary and her husband, William of Orange. During this time, he had been seen daily in the company of the youngest Palatine princess. They had much in common; both were lively and restless, with quick wits and a keen sense of the ridiculous. They found being with each other exciting and stimulating, and enjoyed their frequent verbal sparring matches enormously.

At first, they had been friends only, with no hint of the lover in Charles’ demeanour, but, in recent weeks, Sophie had been aware of his bold, dark eyes fastened on her with a look that was distinctly uncousinly. She had been both elated and slightly frightened. It was disturbing to know that Charles had the power to touch some inner chord or her being and evoke a response that could not be controlled by reason or common sense. At the same time, it was exhilarating. She had an affinity with Charles that she had with no other person. They immediately guessed each other’s thoughts, probably because they had the same dispassionate, cynical and humorous way of viewing things. There was no one she would rather marry, although she was aware of some disturbing and elusive quality about Charles. One could never be sure of him.

Marriage, however, was out of the question. She was a fool to have even considered it, for she was very sure that Charles had not. His fortunes were in no condition to allow him to think of marriage. He would not wish his wife to share his present wanderer’s existence, with a black cloud over his future, no settled home, no reliable income, and barely enough money to buy food and clothing for himself and his servants. If Charles did contemplate marriage, it would not be to a girl with 40 pounds a year, the extent of Sophie’s dowry! It would be to a woman of means, whose money could be used to relieve his pressing financial embarrassment, and to pay for men and munitions to help him regain his inheritance.

This last thought caused Sophie some uneasiness. Might Charles be desperate enough to marry a woman he did not love, for financial gain? She hoped not, but had reason for scepticism regarding the constancy of men’s affections in the face of poverty. Several years ago, Frederick William of Brandenburg had fallen headlong in love with her sister Louise. His family had been strongly opposed to the marriage, but he had stood firm against their disapproval for four years, declining to marry at all if he could not have Louise. Eventually, however, he had been persuaded he owed it to his country to make a marriage that would bring economic and political advantage to Brandenburg, and he had reluctantly abandoned her.

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