Queen of England: Coronation
The New Queen of England
“And who exactly are you supposed to be, the Queen of England?” The tone, a patrician blend of haughty and distantly respectful wasn’t at all dissimilar to the many other voices I’d heard in the past few weeks. The query was intended to not only question my existence, but also my right to the throne. I knew Victoria—God rest her and Albert’s poor souls— did not have to suffer such impoliteness.
“Yes. And Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, if we’re being specific. Actually, if you include the rest of the various colonies and protectorates, my domain is quite extensive,” I answered, then nodded in what I hoped was a regal manner and moved on, not particularly caring whether or not I left another open-mouthed subject in my wake.
Of course, there was always a remote chance he did not know who I was. Therefore, the gentleman was not ultimately at fault for his query. My reign as Queen was barely a month old and my kingdom was still reeling from the deaths of the former monarch and Prince Consort, along with a significant percentage of the peerage and senior leadership. After the shock of the May Massacre had worn off, in one of my first acts as monarch, I had formally established a year of mourning for the United Kingdom, ushering in a trend of blacks, grays, and somber colors in the world of fashion. I knew these colors would not bring anyone back from the realm of death, but I thought it was appropriate as a nation that we bore our memory in unison.
I was born Her Grace, Juliette Rosamund Collingwood, seventh Duchess of Battle, suo jore, heiress to one of England’s oldest fortunes, with a direct line back to the time of the Magna Carta. The title of queen regnant was only recently bestowed upon my person, and although I considered adopting Rosamund for my regnal name (in honor of my deceased mother), in the end, I simply couldn’t be bothered with a new moniker to reign under and therefore ascended the title as Juliette (whether or not those who confirmed me had any opinion on the matter, they made no mention). Shortly after I turned eighteen, the royal family and many other prestigious members of the realm were invited to test out the latest in airship technology. As a mere debutante only introduced to society in the recent past, I barely made the invitation list. At the last minute, I claimed feminine issues and stayed home. The reality was I wanted some time alone to work on my experiments—a most un-royal activity and furthermore, I’d already had a private tour of the new conveyance and saw no reason to get dressed up and spend the day not being allowed to speak with the aether mechanics.
Over the Thames, on an unseasonably warm day in May, the royal dirigible exploded in a horrible rain of flame and debris. Newspapers and telegraphs around the world ran with news of the May Massacre. When it became apparent there were no survivors, important men got together and their unanimous decision left me next in line for the throne—a title and station I’d never expected and had no idea what to do with. I did hear rumors of the monarchy being abandoned altogether, but those were quickly shut down by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the newly minted Lord Chamberlain, who showed up at my Mayfair townhouse the morning following the tragedy. They presented me with a certificate of the queen’s death and prayed that God would guide my way in these troubling times.
Trust me, I was never meant to be this person.
So, why me? Why not some elder and more responsible Hanoverian descendent?
My journey to the throne is unprecedented in British history. Yes, our monarchy has been filled with scandal and plotting and a murder here and there, but individuals tend to know whether or not they will have a chance at being even remotely destined for the throne. And, as with anything royal in my kingdom, everyone seemed to have an opinion. I could share a rather detailed history and family tree, but suffice to say, after reviewing all the documentation, I am the correct individual to have such a prestigious title thrust upon them. Naturally, there are those who disagree most thoroughly. Although never spoken of in polite company, I am the product of a most indecent, but still recognized union. My mother, Lady Rosamund, was the only daughter of the aforementioned family of irrefutable descent. She fell in love with my father, Mr. Peter Collingwood, owner and founder of the exceedingly successful Malay Maritime Trading Company, a man who made his considerable wealth in a most unsuitable way—through trade. Their marriage shocked many, but stood firm until she died giving birth to me.
From her, I inherited beautiful mahogany hair, delicate features and, most unfortunately, a generous sprinkle of freckles which refuse to fade no matter what the course of beauty treatment. From my father, I received a rather unseemly height (which made any sort of transference of Victoria’s belongings or garments physically impossible), wide blueish almost grey eyes, sturdy hands, and a proclivity for research, inquisition, and if I may be so bold, card sharping. His lineage and existence were overlooked in my ascension (made easier by the fact he was away on business in India). Searches for any living relatives that could act as a chaperone to me, a young queen alone in Buck House were underway. Of course, it was entirely possible they just didn’t want anything to do with me or the crown. Given the tragedy that had surrounded us in the recent past, I couldn’t entirely blame them.
So, my eighteenth birthday and ascension to the throne occurred all in the space of a month. Of course, rather than wait and mourn the loss of our fallen, the details of my formal coronation were already in process, set for the summer solstice. While we did not want to look as though there was a rush to confirm my ascension, we did not want to give our heretofore unknown enemies any additional time to make another attack. Tensions were high, particularly since invitations had gone out to what felt like half of Europe.
In the interim, no one knew much what to do with me. My subjects are terrified the terrorists who brought down Victoria, Albert, and the unborn heir to the throne would strike again. Rumors are rampant at who was behind the unprecedented attack.
Was the threat foreign in nature?
Or, as the whispers led me to believe, some group closer to home?
While certain ministers wanted to lash out and attack various countries around Europe, I held firm. We would not attack without specific provocation.
In this respect, I must credit my father. While other young women were learning about … well, I’m not entirely sure as I did not learn many of those things (except dancing, which is one of my most favorite pastimes), I learned stratagems and science, engineering, languages, and history. I scared off enough governesses that by the age of nine, my father had given up conventional methods and allowed me to be tutored by his valet, Askew. My education was not traditional and, upon my arrival to London from our vast country estate, Meadowlark, I valued my freedom. My father had yet to make communication with me regarding my new title or send any other vote of confidence in my direction. It was to be expected, of course. In his role at the Malay, he would disappear for weeks at a time in some foreign location, often returning with some new contact or set of goods to trade within the empire. In his stead, the ever-efficient Mr. Ethan Pendleton acted as solicitor and manager of the company. While I implicitly trusted the rather quiet, but endlessly devoted to detail Mr. Pendleton, it was my belief that had I been given the opportunity, I would have excelled in his place. Now, as Queen, the chance would never be mine.
“Your majesty? If you’ll follow me?” A set of sharp green eyes looked in my direction, making contact, but also glancing at those close by. The man behind the handsome façade was Jonathan Cranleigh, Captain of the Queen’s Guard, an elite and highly experienced cadre of soldiers recently inaugurated to protect me. At their decision, until the culprits behind the explosion were captured, I remained more or less a prisoner at Buckingham Palace. Of course, this decision did not damper my social calendar greatly. I did not have many friends or acquaintances prior to my ascension, but now I was almost completely limited to Cranleigh and my personal servants. To be fair, he is, by most standards, not a terribly horrible person to look at. A disarming combination of broad shoulders, pomaded blonde hair, above average height, and nary an extra pound to be found on his rather muscular frame, the Captain was elder than me by seven or eight years. His face is (I have heard the servants whisper) quite attractive and I would tend to agree should he decide to allow a smile to grace his features now and then.
In addition to Captain Cranleigh, there is Mr. Byron Askew, my father’s valet, who currently serves as my Master of the Household. Tall and lean, much like the greyhounds raised on our family’s estates, Askew is one of the most intelligent men I’ve ever had the decency to meet. Of course, in reality, Askew is more family than servant, and one of only two from my former staff who I requested to join me in the palace and has been a godsend ever since. He runs interference among my constituents, sorts out all the below stairs staff, and has strong opinions about the state of my wardrobe. Unfortunately, like Captain Cranleigh, Askew is also over worried for my safety.
Under the watchful eye of Cranleigh and his uniformed men who line the hallway, I walked towards my private quarters, which are in the process of being outfitted to my personal tastes. Askew, bless the man, greeted me with a pot of fresh coffee. While my country did import a fair amount of tea (of which my father was responsible for a considerable percentage), my secret vice was coffee, served in an Italian style (something I had picked up on one of the few travels with my father). The aroma allowed me to relax, while the precious liquid itself kept me alert.
“Yes?” I attempted to have Askew, at least in private, stop referring to me by my title, but he refused. Grateful to be off my feet, I kicked off my slippers and settled on the florally patterned settee.
“About your coronation…”
“Not this nonsense again, Askew. I already explained myself. I want a small, intimate ceremony. I do not care for pomp and circumstance.”
“Ma’am, if I may entreat.”
“You may not!” I interrupted, feeling only slightly bad I would get my way. “You have always instructed me to be sophisticated among all other endeavors. To celebrate my title when a large portion of our respected peers have recently passed seems morbid and in bad taste.” Not to mention no matter how many tiaras I wore, gowns I received, or poems were written about me, I felt very much a fraud.
“That may be, but look at your cup of tea—”
“—as half full. Give the kingdom something to celebrate. We’ve had too much sadness and mourning. Let them know they can be proud Britons in these troubling times.”
“And my father?” I asked, changing the subject slightly. “Has he been located?”
“And if he doesn’t arrive before my coronation?”
“As they say, ‘the show must go on.’”
While I did not specifically draw much strength from my father’s presence, I would admit there was a small part of me who longed for his support.
“What does Cranleigh say?”
“What does Cranleigh say about what?” asked the Captain as he came into the room, no doubt after giving more unnecessary direction to the posted guards in the hallway.
I sighed. One thing no one tells you about becoming Queen is that you are rarely, if ever, left alone.
“My coronation. My father’s absence. The same things we’ve been discussing for the past few weeks.”
“And don’t forget the post-coronation ball,” Askew added, causing me to quietly (and in a most un-Queenly manner) groan.
The Captain’s green eyes flashed at Askew and I realized (of course) they had already held some amount of discussion on the topic.
“What issue do you take with my decision, Captain Cranleigh?” I asked, reminding myself royal members were to remain calm and not show emotion.
“As always, your safety is of utmost importance, your majesty.”
The two men exchanged a meaningful glance, and I asked, “What is going on?”
“We must tell her,” Askew said with a deep sigh. “I do not want her finding out about such a thing from someone else.”
“Tell me what?” I barely managed to keep my voice from raising.
“We received a transmission in the past week addressed to you.”
“And when exactly were you planning to tell me about this missive?” I asked, not bothering to control my displeasure.
The Captain placed a hand on his fine specimen of mustache (as he did whenever he was nervous or irritated, to the point that his hand was almost constantly and quite distractingly twirling the dark blonde facial hair in my presence) and replied, “Out of respect to your station, ma’am, we did not want to trouble you with this information.”
“We’re not exactly sure. We suspect it is from those responsible for the Massacre.”
The cup of coffee I was holding rattled heavily in its saucer. Counting silently to three, I said, “If you have any further knowledge of who we can hold accountable for the tragedy on the dirigible, you must tell me.”
The Captain unbuttoned the top portion of his pristine tailored jacket (in a crimson that well suited his person) and pulled out a folded document from the pocket of his starched shirt which I snatched from his gloved hands and started reading.
“It’s a cipher,” Cranleigh explained.
“And? We must have wordsmiths somewhere in this great nation who can decode the meaning.”
“We have not broken the code.” At my look of frustration, he added, “Yet.”
“May I borrow this? I assume other copies have been distributed.”
“Yes, your majesty,” Askew said.
I scanned the letter again, noted the use of a signature, and said, “It looks as though someone is finally taking credit.”
“Yes.” Askew pursed his lips. “Unlike anarchists or the French, the group does not seem to want to be recognized in the public realm. There is not much we have discovered so far.”
Tapping a manicured nail on the Sevres china, I said, “The more I think about the Massacre, the more I realize the group is one that must be international in nature. The planning of the event was too big for one local group to conceive and carry off. Furthermore, how was the note delivered?” The men looked at each other, and I asked, “No one has thought to question this?”
Cranleigh said, “I’ll follow up.”
“Provided some member of this terrorist group did not waltz up to Buckingham and hand deliver the message…” I continued tapping and wondered aloud, “Do you think these people sent anything to Victoria and Albert prior to their demise?”
“No one can know for sure, ma’am. As I said, we have our best working on breaking the code.”
Unused to having people do almost everything for me, I said, “And I’m sure they will find an answer soon—but as I am more or less trapped here, let me use some of my time to look into it. My father used to send me coded messages when he was overseas.”
“As you wish.” Cranleigh managed to remove his hand from his mustache and said, “I have an additional suggestion to help fill the hours in residence.”
“I know it is highly against protocol and procedure, your majesty, but I think it wise for you to be trained in the art of personal combat.”
“I didn’t know I had to do anything, Captain.”
A muscle in his strong jaw twitched, but he remained stoic. “It is in your best interest, ma’am. Should anything happen to you—should anyone put a threat on your person, I want you to be prepared. These are different times.”
“Training will commence shortly under my supervision—there is much to learn.”
I gave him a half smile, winking in Askew’s direction. My father’s valet, while many found to be somewhat feminine in nature, was quite deadly in many forms of weaponry. For reasons I’d long guessed at, he’d had to start defending himself at an early age and, after much badgering, had taught me some of what he knew. He favored the dagger and had an exquisite collection both on his person and in his rooms. Personally, I liked the ease of more modern weapons, including the top of the range Westbury Steam-Shot, however, I could use a sword when necessary (even if I was out of practice). I nodded. “Certainly. Anything else?”
“We will assign you a tracking owl.”
“The lads in the royal aviary—”
“We have a royal aviary?” I asked, genuinely curious.
“We do. They have been working with owls in the context of espionage and tracking. Rather less brutal than hawks and falcons.”
“And what will this owl do for me?”
“She is good for running messages. Additionally, she may find you if you are lost.”
“I do not intend to be misplaced.”
“I realize that fact, highness, however, should you go missing, she can also act as a resource to find you.”
“But I’m never alone…”
“I cannot predict the future, however, it is my job as Captain of the Queen’s Guard to look after every possibility. Although I was not in command, we were too complacent before the Massacre. Many a good man lost his life that horrible day.”
The comment sounded personal in nature, but I decided to leave it alone. I could no more provide comfort to Cranleigh than I could walk out of Buckingham in my drawers and chemise. While I had not meant to be argumentative, having left a number of pets at my country estates, I was not opposed to the introduction of an animal into my life and said, “Fine, you may bring me an owl.”
The Captain rose to his feet. “With your permission, your majesty, Askew and I have much to do.”
With the paper in my hand, I said, “Go. I will take this note to my laboratory for further study. If you have not done so already, you can make a copy at a later time.” As both gentlemen bowed, I said, “And please see to it you do not neglect to inform me of future communications such as this one. I may be young, but as long as I have breath in my lungs, I will defend my country.”
The Queen of England: Coronation is the first book in a trilogy by author Courtney Brandt.