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The Tangled Skein by Emma Orczy

The Tangled Skein


subjects: Fiction

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In The Tangled Skein, Baroness Orczy does not paint Queen Mary nearly so black as she is usually portrayed. Indeed Mary is depicted as so passionately loving as to be almost lovable, a woman of strong emotions, invariably swayed by justice. The tangling of the skein is due to Mary’s supposititious love for Robert d’Esclade, fifth Duke of Wessex, whom the people of England desire to become King Consort. He is the embodiment of all chivalry, and every virtue dear to the heart of an Englishman. He is, so far, fancy free, but beyond deep respect for, and loyalty to, his Queen, he has no other feeling, and the idea of marriage with her merely for political reasons is repulsive to him. He is at the same time half betrothed, but not bindingly, to Lady Ursula Glynde, whom he has not seen since her babyhood. Wessex is repelled by the idea of having his wife thrust upon him in any way, and purposely avoids the girl, in which he is, unknown to himself, aided and abetted by the Queen, who tries jealously to guard him against falling a victim to Ursula’s undoubted fascinations. Add to this trio, the powerful Cardinal Moreno and Phillip II of Spain and the skein only becomes more tangled. (source: Wikipedia)

345 pages with a reading time of ~5.25 hours (86444 words), and first published in 1907. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, .

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Even Noailles, in his letters to his royal master, admits that the weather was glorious, and that the climatic conditions left nothing to be desired.

Even Noailles! Noailles, who detested England as the land of humid atmospheres and ill-dressed women!

Renard, who was more of a diplomatist and kept his opinions on the fogs and wenches of Old England very much to himself, declared enthusiastically in his letter to the Emperor Charles V, dated October 2nd, 1553, that never had he seen the sky so blue, the sun so bright, nor the people of this barbarous island more merry than on the memorable first day of East Molesey Fair: as all who will, may read for themselves in Vol. III of the Granvelle Papers:–

Aulcungs ne pourroient contempler ciel plus bleu soleil plus brillianct ni peuple plus joieult.

Yet what have we to do with the opinions of these noble ambassadors of great and mighty foreign monarchs?

Our own chroniclers tell us that East Molesey Fair was the maddest, merriest, happiest time the goodly folk of the Thames Valley had had within memory of the oldest inhabitant.

Was not good Queene Marye, beloved daughter of the great King Henry VIII, crowned at last? crowned in Westminster Abbey, as all her loyal subjects had desired that she should be, despite His Grace of Northumberland and his treasonable faction, whom God and the Queene’s most lawful Majesty would punish all in good time?

In the meanwhile let us be joyful and make merry!

Such a motley crowd as never was seen. Here’s a sheriff from London City, pompous and dignified in dark doublet and hose, with scarlet mantle and velvet cap; beside him his lady trips right merrily, her damask kirtle held well above her high-heeled shoes, her flowered paniers looped in the latest style, with just the suggestion of a farthingale beneath her robes, to give dignity to her figure and value to the slimness of her waist.

Here a couple of solemn burgesses in velvet cloaks edged with fur, and richly slashed doublets, are discussing the latest political events; whilst a group of Hampton merchants, more soberly clad, appraise the wares of a cutler lately hailed from Spain.

Then the dames and maidens with puffed paniers of blue or vivid scarlet, moving swiftly from booth to booth, babbling like so many gaily-plumaged birds, squabbling with the vendors and chaffing the criers.

Here and there the gaudy uniform of one of the liveried Companies will attract the eye, anon the dark cloak and close black mask which obviously hides the Court gallant.

Men of all ranks and of all stations have come out to East Molesey to-day. Merchants, shopkeepers, workers, aldermen and servants, all with their womenkind, all with pouches more or less well filled, for who would go to Molesey Fair but to spend money, to drink, to eat, or to make merry?

Then there were the ‘prentices!

They had no money to spend, save a copper or so to throw to a mountebank, but nevertheless they contrived to enjoy themselves right royally.

Such imps of mischief!

No whipping-post to-day! Full licence for all their pranks and madcap jokes. The torment of all these worthy burgesses out on a holiday.

Oh! these ‘prentices!

Hundreds of them out here this afternoon. They’ve come down from Esher and Hampton, Kingston and Westminster and London City, like so many buzzing insects seeking whom they can annoy.

Now on the ground, suddenly tripping a pompous dame off her feet; anon in rows, some half-dozen of them, elbow to elbow, head foremost, charging the more serious crowd, and with a hoot and a yell scattering it like a number of frightened goslings. Yet again at the confect booth, to the distraction of the vendors of honey-cakes, stealing sugar-plums and damson cheese, fighting, quarrelling, screeching, their thin legs encased in hose of faded blue or grey worsted, their jerkins loose, their shirt sleeves flapping in the breeze, a cool note of white amidst the dark-coloured gowns of the older men.

Heavens above! what a to-do!

A group of women be-coiffed, apparelled in best kirtles and modish shoes, were pressing round a booth where pantoufles, embroidered pouches, kerchiefs, and velveted paniers were laid out in tempting array.

Just beyond, a number of buxom country wenches, with round red arms, showing bare to the grilling sun, and laughing eyes, aglow with ill-concealed gourmandise, were gaping at a mighty display of pullets, hares, and pigeons, sides of roebuck and haunches of wild boar, ready spiked, trussed, and skewered, fit to tempt Her Majesty’s Grace’s own royal palate.

Sprigs of sweet-scented marjoram, thyme, and wool-blade tastefully disposed, further enhanced the attractions of this succulent show. ‘Twas enough to make the sweetest mouth water with anticipatory delight. A brown-eyed, apple-cheeked wench in paniers of brilliant red was unaffectedly licking her pretty lips.