Short story: ‘Princeps Henricus’

This is the short story I recently submitted to the Historical Novel Society Conference on Saturday 6th September. The conference was really interesting and it was fun to meet up with fellow writers and great to learn from the most successful in our genre. There’s always so much to learn, and I was grateful to be able to go this year. I had intended to write a post about my day, but I think this paragraph will do just as well.

The following is the aftermath of the death of Henry Stuart, the much-loved Prince of Wales. I have been extremely fascinated by this young man ever since I visited the National Portrait Gallery exhibition entitled, ‘The Lost Prince’. I was very moved by that exhibit, and I really hope to write a much longer work (where he is alive). I hope you enjoy the following, which is, of course, my work. All rights reserved. Photo of the portrait of Henry Stuart via The Guardian.

the lost prince henry stuart isaac oliver

‘Princeps Henricus’ © Andrea Zuvich

November, 1612.

The golden boy was no more…

Twelve-year-old Charles could barely contain his horror. He had not only lost a brother whom he adored, but he was now heir to a throne he did not want – a throne for which he was ill prepared.

He stood alone in his bedchamber, with Pacing Horse, the bronze statuette that both he and his brother had so loved, and had quarrelled over, resting in his outstretched adolescent hands. He had gently pressed the treasured bronze into his brother’s pale hands as he lay dying – hoping against hope that it would comfort and restore the ailing youth to health. But his hopes and prayers had gone unanswered, and Charles was now filled with a terrible dread; for how could he ever fill his brother’s shoes?

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, the true embodiment of princely perfection, the robust, handsome, erudite heir to the Three Kingdoms was dead and gone. That he had been cut down in his eighteenth year was a lamentable tragedy – one that shocked the whole of the Stuart family and shaken the kingdom to its very core.

The Stuart dynasty was yet young, the last Tudor, Elizabeth, having died only nine years before; and Henry had been the great hope and joy of the nation. Charles, by contrast, had been the sickly Stuart, the stutterer incapable of making his father, King James, proud.

The bronze horse tumbled out of his grasp and onto the floor with a heavy clang, but Charles barely noticed. He was lost in a world of pain. The burden being too great for him to bear, his spindly legs – which had been plagued by rickets throughout his childhood – suddenly gave out beneath him, and the young prince now found himself upon the polished dark wooden floor. He turned, and clung now onto the opulent bedsheets beside him, clutching the costly fabric in tight, angry fists; his mouth open and contorted in silent misery.

“It should have been me that died, not him!” he cried out suddenly, his slender form heaving now with his great sobs. All of his suppressed frustrations and sadness burst out of him as his tears flowed. He looked up at the painted ceiling in his chamber and shook one fist angrily at God, “I should have died! Not him!”

He had ever been the runt of the family, the insignificant one, the disappointment. He turned his anguished look to the bronze horse once more and reached out for it. He clutched it tightly against his breast, remembering how it had been one of over a dozen such statuettes Henry had received that year from Florence. The dead prince was in the midst of negotiations to be married to Caterina de’ Medici, but he would be no lady’s bridegroom now; and there would be no alliance between England and that powerful Florentine family.

At length, his features returned to their natural positions on his face. He blinked a few times, the remnants of his tears dropping from his dark blue eyes, staining the rich cream of his doublet. He ran his hand across his face, wiping the damp chestnut tresses from his now-ruddy cheeks and forehead. His reaction to his brother’s death had been violent, but now that he had expelled that mass of feeling from within his breast, he remembered more. He recalled the feelings of jealousy, of envy, and the multitude of painful humiliations he had endured for being so decidedly average in comparison with the perfect Henry Stuart.

The old gnawing resentment bubbled up within him, tempered by the innate love he bore for his deceased sibling. “Good brother, love me, and I shall ever love you and serve you,” Charles had declared once in a letter to his brother.

He sat upon the floor, and his eyes fell upon his rickety legs, encased in white hose, and he remembered Henry’s taunts about them. He hadn’t been malicious, for it had been done in good-natured jest, but the words stung then and continued to sting him.

When Henry was alive, the future looked as bright and golden as the prince himself; but Charles shuddered as he was filled once more with that terrible presentiment – a future of blood and war and death. Charles slumped down further against the bed, his mind a scattered mess of memories, his heart overflowing with grief.

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Hear ye! 5 thoughts — so far — on “Short story: ‘Princeps Henricus’”:

  1. Sarah Johnson

    Very touching, Andrea. My admiration for the young Charles grows whenever I think of all the things he over-came. Life in the time of plague, typhoid, smallpox, and filth was filled with heartbreak — and his father folded under the weight leaving Charles to represent the family. It was Charles who should have had the breakdown!

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  2. Eileen

    And then his sister Elizabeth left to live with her new husband, the Elector Palatine. So he lost not only his brother, but in a way, his sister too. As a young man, his father would refer to him as “Baby Charles”.

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