|Yolande of Aragon|
As the early-morning sun reaches the tops of the towers of Saragossa, the time has come for Yolande, only surviving child of the King Aragon, to leave her home, and her country, to marry the French King's cousin, Louis II, Duke of Anjou. By this union, it is hoped her people and his will cease fighting over the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily, which both Aragon and Anjou claim as their inheritance. She is nineteen years old and beautiful, they say - but flattery is commonplace in her world and she pays it no mind.
'Juana, dear one, help me dress carefully," she asks her companion - once her nursemaid, then her governess, now her closest confidante. 'I want everyone here to remember me as I look today. Who knows if I will never return?'
Juana fiddled nervously with the ties on Yolande's bodice. Perhaps she, too, doubts that her mistress will return.
'I thank the Lord that you are coming with me to Provence, dear Juana. I will need your dear familiar face in my new life.''You should thank your mother - it is she who is insisting I go with you.' Her tone is not exactly joyful.
'I wonder what it will be like, our new home.'
Juana knows that Yolande is musing herself, since she has no more idea than her mistress of what awaits; she also knows that her charge is more curious about her betrothed than about the lands of which she is the ruler.
'You must be excited, my treasure,' she murmurs comfortingly as she starts to braid the girl's long blonde hair. 'After all, you have been waiting for this moment for nine years.'
It is true; it has been a very long engagement. Yolande sighs and tries to hide her anxiety.
Juana's capable hands do their work and calm Yolande a little. But still... half of her is excited by the joruney, while the other half shrinks from it. How can she be a good dutiful wife to a man whose subjects have been fighting her countrymen for years? She takes comfort in the sight of her wolfhounds, Ajax and Hector, stretched out by the fire. They will come to France with her. Never leaving her side, they answer only her call.
Juana stands on a stool to help the princess into a white linen chemise, her riding habit of brown serge, a white shirt with frills showing at her neck, and a dashing broad-brimmed hat the colour of sand, pinned up on one side, trailing a red ostrich feather. She might not listen to flatterers, but since early childhood Yolande has been conscious of her appearance--and rather vain.
She turns around to gaze at her room, the cradle of her life until this day--the comfortable furnishings, the bridge reds and blues of the large Agra carpet, the table where she sad daily at her lessons, the high bed with its red velvet curtains and huge pillow, the view from the tall windows across the plains towards the distant hills. As yet, the sun touches only their peaks. She takes one last look at her room, whispers, 'Goodbye, sweet childhood,' and blos a little kiss as she opens the door, Ajax and Hector at her heels.
Downstairs, her mother is waiting with the ambassadors from Anjour who will accompany her on the journey. Juana senses the girl's reluctance and takes her arm. Although Yolande is normally afraid of nothing, she is glad of the familiar touch.
As Yolande d'Aragon descends into the Great Hall of the castle, she can smell the heady scent of amber on burning logs, and sees her mother beckoning her into her private chamber. The Queen of Aragon is as tall as her daughter and won thin from anxiety, having ruled Aragon alone for the past six years, ever since her much older and dearly devoted husband died in her arms. The queen still retains her proud features: the intelligent eyes, fine nose and shaw jaw line; she is a mature forty, well past her childbearing years, and never had any intention of remarrying.
Yolande is torn between sadness and excitement, and she finds that she cannot say anything. Her mouth is dry and she presses her lips tightly together to stop herself from crying out. Her mother kisses her, then holds her away from her and gives her a long, searching look. They both know it is their last private moment. Then they leave the room and go out to face their futures - her mother's here, alone, and Yolande's in a foreign country.
Continue reading the story of Yolande as she marries Louis II of Anjou and struggles to fight for France during the Hundred Years’ War in Princess Michael of Kent’s best-selling masterpiece, The Queen of Four Kingdoms. Grab your copy here or click the image below.