The Reign of Lawrence Cheddar
The Years With My Mother
er name, was Sarah Rowe. Daughter of Allen Rowe, Viscount of Belvoir. She had been pretty; with hair so blonde it was almost white and eyes a light blue that looked smoky gray. She had been thin with practically no bosom, but possessed a love of astronomy, books, and history, with a knack for knowledge and a determined mind. This is what caught the attention of Samuel, Marquis of Derby. The middle child in the family, he was a Cheddar, one of the most elite families in Derby, he had an older brother named Thomas who was the future Duke of Derby, and a little sister named Beatrice, Countess of Derby.
When Sarah was 15, she was married to 30 year old Samuel. That was February 11th, anno Domini 1543. And, on December 2nd, a son was born. His name was Tobias Cheddar, heir to the title of marquis. Sarah was still only 15 when she had her son. Of course she felt pressured to provide much more, has her husband had a roving eye. He had two sons, Adrian and Rowland, by a woman named Katherine Kitson. She was newly widowed and had given birth to Adrian Kitson when she was 20, exactly 11 months after arriving at Samuel’s court! Rowland was born a year later, anno Domini 1544.
Of course, this upset Sarah very much. On April 14th, anno Domini 1544, another child was born to her. Elinor, the first heiress to be born to Sarah Rowe and Samuel Cheddar, is me. My sister, Josian, was born in December of that year; she was early and very small. But she survived and became more beautiful than I ever will be. While she has our mother’s hair and eyes, accompanied by the heavenly voice and large bosom of our grandmother, Grace Ansty, I am quite the opposite. I have my father’s brown curls, his brown eyes, his thin lips, my mother’s bosom (or lack of thereof) and I was too tall, taller than most men (expect my father, uncle, and grandfather, I have never met a man taller than me) . My mother treated me very affectionately and sympathetically.
“You are beautiful Elinor,” she would say to me when I asked why I was taller than the other children or why my chin jutted out so long.
“You are a very attractive little girl,” my grandmother Grace would add, her plentiful bosom shaking as she nodded.
“Yes,” I would reply in a monotone. (I had a very high pitched voice, while Josian had such a low pitched cry ever since babyhood that my father thought she was a boy before my mother told him she wasn’t.)
But I saw how my father looked at me, how he looked at Josian, and how he looked at Tobias. When he looked at his son, who was then 2, he was overjoyed, he was happy, he was pleased. When he looked at Josian, then a few months old, he looked fine, he looked like he thought she was cute, he looked like she was okay to him. But when he looked at me, almost 1, he was…sad. He looked like he wished I was a boy, he looked like he didn’t want me. And every night my mother would soothe me as I cried into her frail shoulder.
“Don’t cry sweet Elinor,” she would say, stroking my back.
“Dada…” I would reply.
“What about Dada?”
And since I could hardly say anything besides “yes”, “no”, “Mama”, “Dada”, “Toby” and “Jo” (my nicknames for my brother and sister before I could say their full names) I didn’t know what words to use. So eventually my mother would stop asking and just hand me over to my wet nurse. My wet nurse tried to explain to me my mother was carrying another child and therefore didn’t have time for me, but I refused to believe her until that day in 1545 when I met my younger brother, Roger.
After Roger’s birth, my mother was weak. During the time when my mother was sick, my father often enjoyed time with new mistresses. During Christmas, just after Josian observed her 2nd birthday, my aunt, Mabel Rowe, came to court in the widow’s colors of white and black. Immediately, the dark haired witch woman tried to take my father from my mother. And all I could do was stand by and watch…
No sooner had my mother gotten well again then she found out my father was up to his old tricks.
“I must conceive again,” she said to my former wet nurse, Maud, when she left me in her care one night.
Maud shook her head. “You are too weak, Milady.” She rocked me back and forth in her arms as she swapped the sheets in my cradle. “Having another child would surely…”She glanced at my wide eyes. “…Not be good for you.”
My mother paced the floor before finally looking back into Maud’s eyes. She seemed very regal, her head held high, her hands clasped on her breast, her eyes sparkling with an idea. “But, Maud, it is my duty to produce my husband with sons.”
“You have already given him four lovely heirs…”
“Well only two of them can inherit the title! That is not good enough!” she roared, stomping her foot.
Quite out of the blue, I asked from under my covers: “Am I one of the two, Mama?”
Maud and my mother looked at me in shock, their eyes broad and pupils dilated.
My mother was the first to speak. “Of course, sweetie,” she said with phony sweetness. “You are most definitely one of the two. Now, just get a good night’s sleep my little marquise. I love you.”
“I love you too.” I said as I lay down. But I did not fall asleep.
Maud and my mother may not have been in the room, but I could still hear them:
“Your husband doesn’t even come to your chamber at night! He goes to Ma…I mean…um…someone else’s.”
“Do you know something I don’t know Maud?”
“Lady Sarah…please don’t…!”
I heard the sound of someone stumbling and a crash against a wall, like a body backing into it. Thump!
“Oh Maud…!” I heard my mother mumble between tears. “I’m so sorry! Let me get you a damp cloth…”
I rolled onto my side, my sheets wrapped around me like a cocoon.
“Mama would never hurt Maud.” I shuddered into the dark. And with that chilling thought, I finally fell asleep.
November 9th, anno Domini 1546, was the day my mother’s final child was born. My mother was even weaker than before. I was 2. I will admit, the months before had been not pleasant. One particular memory stuck out for me.
In September, when my mother was 7 months along, she told me I was too needy of her.
“But Mama, I just want you to tell me a story!” I cried.
“No! Go to sleep!” she ordered.
And then she did it. Crack! She hit me across the face.
I reached for the red mark, cringing. It stung; my face felt like it was on fire. I clutched my cheek and slowly the tears rolled down my face, making the fire burn more instead of less.
“Oh!” my mother said, her mask of annoyance turning into a mask of remorse. “I’m so sorry my precious.” She kissed my cheek. “I don’t know what got into me. Get into bed and I’ll bring you something cold to put on it.”
That night my mother gave me a damp cloth and snuggled beside me, telling me stories until we were both asleep. We curled up into a heap in my new bed, snoring delicately. But, that slap mark turned into a scar. To this day I still have a small curvy, patch of mended skin on my cheek. I hate that mark so much, for it not only is a blemish on my face, but a blemish on my mother’s soul.
So that day when I crowded with other noblewomen to the birthing chamber, I felt torn when I saw my mother’s pain. I must admit, half of me was glad she knew what ache felt like. The other half, the more prominent half, was dying just as she was. And, finally, when my sister was born, my mother named her Isabel.
When it looked like the end, by that time it was one week before Tobias’s birthday, he was 3, I stood by her and held her hand.
“Mama, where will you go?”
“To a better place, my child. A place where there is no pain, only happiness.”
“Are you going to meet God?”
“I’ll miss you. Why do God and Jesus need you right now?”
“Just because they do my little marquise.”
A tear rolled down my face, my mother wiped it away, pausing at my scar. She bent over and kissed it.
“I love you.”
“I love you too, Mama.”
“Go get your father. Tell him I need to see him before I…” my mother choked on the last words.
“Yes Mama.” I said, bending to kiss her hot forehead. “I’ll miss you.”
“I know my daughter.”
In the blink of an eye, I had fled the room to find my father.
But before my father could even make it to see her, my mother’s tender soul left her suffering body, never to meet mine for again for the rest of my life.