A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  No one else had such compelling cause to wish Hastings dead. Hastings had disloyally suspected her father of scheming to seize the throne from the lawful King. He had treacherously plotted against Gloucester, even allying with his enemies the Wydevilles. Her father believed they had been compassing his death. And he had gone this day to that council meeting at the Tower.

  She sat down in the window embrasure. The stones behind her back were painted with bright trefoils and borders, and the glass panes between the mullions were stained in jewel colors, blue, yellow, red … rich red, the color of blood. She could not help thinking of Lord Hastings kneeling in terror on Tower Green, and of what she had shrunk from seeing. There would have been blood … rivers of it.

  She was twisting her russet curls tightly around her finger, unaware that she was doing it. She was imagining her father—her beloved, kindly father—sending Lord Hastings to his death. For who else could have done it? Her father was the Lord Protector; it would not have happened without his sanction or order. And the Duke of Buckingham, who had been in charge of the beheading, was his staunchest ally.

  It was all beyond her comprehension and her competence. She could not deal with it herself. She hoped that all would become clear when the duke returned home.

  There was shouting outside in the street. Agitated male voices were crying, “Treason! Treason!”

  “Oh, dear Holy Mother!” Kate whispered, as it dawned on her suddenly why Hastings might have been executed. “No! Not my father!”

  She flew out of her chamber, and in the great hall collided with the Duchess Anne, pale and flustered, making her way to the outside stairs. Kate’s frightened eyes met hers—but, of course, the duchess knew nothing of the fate of Hastings, or the terrible possibility that the duke had been assassinated, so her concern was nowhere near as acute as her stepdaughter’s. They hastened, with John of Gloucester and members of their household following, down the stairs to the courtyard and out into Bishopsgate, where they saw an angry, heaving mob of retainers sporting the duke’s white boar badge fighting their way through the crowd. Others were taking up the cry of “Treason!” while some reached for daggers and swords, and there was an air of panic throughout.

  The Duchess Anne was a gentle soul, but fear made her bold. Without hesitation, she headed into the throng and grabbed the arm of one of the liveried retainers.

  “A word, please!” she cried in his ear. He was about to race on, but realized that it was his liege lord’s wife who had accosted him, and paused, with obvious reluctance.

  “What is the meaning of this? Why are you shouting ‘Treason’?” Anne demanded. She spoke with an authority worthy of the Kingmaker’s daughter, and people stopped to heed her. Her father had been popular with the Londoners in his day, and they were ready to listen to his daughter.

  The retainer, realizing that many expectant faces were turned in his direction, and that a hush was descending, cleared his throat.

  “My lady, good citizens, you should know that an ambush had been prepared for my Lord Protector when he went to the Tower today. His enemies, led by Lord Hastings, had plotted his destruction.” Kate went cold at that; bracing herself to hear the worst, she saw Anne blanch and sway a little, but she also heard a swell of angry murmurs in the crowd, and voices raised in denial. The duke’s man ignored it. “The traitor Hastings,” he shouted above the increasing roar of protest, “had plotted with several lords of the council, and with the Queen and Mistress Shore, against the Lord Protector’s lawful authority—and his very life!” He paused for dramatic effect. “But mercifully His Grace discovered this treason in time, and knew that his adversaries had hidden their arms in the council chamber, ready to attack him. Thus forewarned, he summoned his guards, and Hastings and the rest were taken, resisting violently. Hastings has now suffered the full penalty that the law demands, and my lord duke, God be thanked, is preserved from the malice of his enemies.”

  Anne looked shocked, and the mood of the mob turned angry. Some were weeping openly for Hastings and crying out against his death. Behind Kate, a man remarked to his neighbor that Hastings had been the only hope of King Edward’s children, while another growled, “Well, if anyone wants proof that Gloucester has his sights on the throne, this is it.” Kate glared at him.

  Mattie was at her elbow. “The people loved Lord Hastings,” she explained. “It is hard for them to believe him guilty of such wickedness.”

  Kate rounded on her. “You think my father is making it up?” she challenged. “He was in danger of his life!”

  “Oh, no, my lady, a thousand apologies! I meant nothing like that. I was merely trying to explain why the citizens are so perplexed. I am sure the duke would not have condemned him without proof of his treason.”

  “Of course he would not,” Kate snapped, edging her way toward the duchess, who was making her way back into Crosby Place. They left behind them a restive crowd, and they had not been indoors long when they heard more shouts. It was the duke returning home, and plainly his reception was hostile.

  Anne and Kate stood at the top of the stairs with the chamberlain to welcome him, and watched his slight figure dismount from his horse and ascend the stairs. He looked energized, triumphant almost—and better than he had for a long while.

  “My lord.” Anne sank into a curtsey, as Kate dipped behind her. The duke raised them both and kissed them. “Come, we shall dine!” he said. “We have much to celebrate. God be praised, the traitors are routed.”

  “So we have heard, my lord,” Anne said, her voice a touch strained. “There have been crowds in the street here, bruiting it about. I mislike their mood.”

  “They have been fed persuasive lies,” the duke said, leading his womenfolk into the hall. He called for wine and the best feast that could be mustered, and within minutes they were seated at the high table on the dais, drinking a fervent toast to his deliverance from his enemies. Kate could not believe that her father was here in their midst, alive and well, when only an hour before she had feared him dead. Involuntarily, she plucked the velvet of his sleeve, just to make sure he was real. He smiled at her.

  “Truly, Kate, we have much for which to thank God,” he said.

  He was expansive about the events that had taken place that morning in the Tower. “I asked the traitor Hastings what men deserved for plotting the destruction of one who is so near to the King in blood, and the Protector of his royal person and realm.” And he said—he actually said—“that if they had done thus heinously, they were worthy of heinous punishment. ‘If?’ I asked him. ‘Do not serve me with ifs!’ I told him they had done it, and that I would make good upon his body.”

  John was agog. The duchess sat still and remote, her face inscrutable.

  “It was then that I accused him of plotting with the other traitors on the council against my office and my life,” the duke continued. “And I told them I knew they were in league with the Queen and that strumpet Mistress Shore. The traitors did not deny it! I challenged them, saying they had laid an ambush for me, and then Buckingham brought the guards. As you have heard, the culprits were apprehended and taken into custody in the Tower. To them, I mean to be merciful. But Hastings was the architect of this treason. Him I could not spare. He had to be made an example to others.” His thin lips were set; the prominent jaw jutted defiantly.

  There was a brief silence.

  “What of the Queen and Mistress Shore?” Anne asked.

  “The Queen remains in sanctuary; we know now why she will not come out. I will deal with Mistress Shore presently.”

  An usher entered the hall and announced the arrival of the Lord Mayor.

  “Good,” said Gloucester. “I summoned him here with all haste.”

  Perspiring in his furred red robes and chain of office, the mayor swept into the hall, bowing several times at the august company.

  The duke rose and extended his hand across the table to be kissed.

  “Madam,” he addressed his wife, “may I
present Sir Edmund Shaa. Sir Edmund, the Lady Anne, my duchess. And my children, the Lord John of Gloucester and the Lady Katherine Plantagenet.”

  The Lord Mayor bowed gallantly.

  “A plate for my Lord Mayor!” the duke called, inviting his guest to the board. Much honored, Sir Edmund bustled into the proffered seat.

  “You will have heard how the traitor Hastings had planned to murder myself and my lord of Buckingham at this morning’s council meeting,” the duke said, “and that I acted just in time to save our lives. After we have dined, my Lord Mayor, I want you to ride through the City, if you will, telling the people of this foul plot against me.” And he recounted again the grim events of the day, with Sir Edmund munching away and frowning ever more concernedly as the tale unfolded. Gladly he went on his way after dinner, to acquaint the citizens with the truth of the matter. And to back him up, the duke sent his own herald to calm the mood of the populace by proclaiming Hastings’s execution, reading out a long account of his treason, and bidding the people be assured.

  That evening, Kate noticed that Anne was quiet during the private supper they shared with the duke in the great chamber. And he noted it too.

  “This day has been a great strain on you,” he said to his wife, covering her hand with his. “No matter; the immediate danger has been averted.”

  Anne looked up at him. Her expression was somber, questioning.

  “Three things puzzle me, my lord, and I pray you to put my mind at rest, for it will not be stilled,” she said, swallowing.

  The duke frowned. “What troubles you, Anne?”

  The duchess laid down her fork. She had barely touched her food.

  “You have not said how you learned of Hastings’s treason,” she began.

  “I have my spies,” he stated. “I have been aware for some time that he was working against me. Evidence was brought to me—evidence I could not ignore.” His tone was defensive; Kate could see he did not like being called to account by his wife for his actions. And she did not blame him. Anne had been cool toward him all day. The relief she had obviously felt to begin with at his lucky escape had not been much in evidence later on. It was as if she was angry with him. Kate could not understand it.

  The duchess spoke again, as if with an effort. “You accused Hastings of treason. But against whom?”

  “You have been paying too much heed to my mother.” Richard was clearly upset. “I am the Lord Protector, Anne. I am appointed to rule during my nephew’s minority, by the council and by the will of my late brother. Any crime against me is a crime against the King and all the realm—and that is treason.”

  “Then my lady your mother had it wrong when she said that the law of treason does not extend to the Lord Protector?”

  “Yes!” Richard was really riled now; his face wore a belligerent, injured look. “What is this, Anne? An interrogation? Who has committed a crime? Not I. It was my life that was in danger. I do not deserve this. Ask yourself what would have happened to the kingdom if those traitors had succeeded. It would have descended into faction fighting and civil war, as it did when my father justly contested the crown all those years ago. I am the only man who can hold it together and contain the troublemakers. Are you satisfied now?”

  Anne nodded uncertainly. “I have only one more question,” she persisted. “When I was out in the street today, I heard people saying that Hastings was executed suddenly, without judgment. One man told me he was put to death within minutes of his arrest. My lord, forgive my ignorance, but I thought that even the poorest subject of the King was entitled to justice and a fair trial?”

  Kate shrank from her father’s expression. It was thunderous.

  “Yes, madam, you are ignorant,” he said scathingly. “Poor men are put on trial. Great lords can be tried by their peers or attainted by Parliament. And Acts of Attainder can be passed retrospectively. It seems to me, my lady, that you think me the villain of this piece, not Hastings. You seem to be insinuating that I executed a man without trial, on unsound grounds, and with no good evidence. Well,” he concluded, rising to his feet, “I am touched by your faith in me. I know not what I have done to deserve this. It is bad enough to be deserted by a man I thought my friend—but to be thought ill of by my wife, who should be supporting me, is intolerable!”

  He stalked from the table toward the stairs.

  Anne fell to her knees. “My lord, forgive me! I beg your pardon. The news of the execution was shocking. I did not fully understand the circumstances.” She was pleading with him. He looked at her impassively.

  “I wish you both good night,” he said, and was gone.

  Kate could not sleep. She lay fidgeting, her mind in turmoil, remembering that stark tableau on Tower Green. And when she did finally drift off, her dreams were of a soldier with a drawn sword, the final terror of a dying man, and dark blood soaking into the grass.

  KATHERINE

  July 1553. Baynard’s Castle, London;

  Syon House, Middlesex

  It has been unbearably hot and thundery. Two nights ago there was a terrible storm, with raging thunder and hailstones red as clotted blood raining down. Harry and I, like most of the household, were unable to sleep, and as we moved from window to window, watching the tempest, we could hear our fearful servants warning that it was an omen.

  The air has been thick with rumors. It’s even being bruited on the streets—and indeed, in the nether regions of Baynard’s Castle—that the King is dying, or even dead. It’s true, he has hardly been seen in public for weeks, but my father-in-law Pembroke was sanguine when Harry asked outright if His Majesty was ill.

  “No, he is recovering,” he said. “He is able to walk in his galleries and gardens at Greenwich.”

  But that’s not what Annie our cook says. I’m fond of Annie. I am often in the kitchens and larders with my lady, learning how to govern this household that will one day be mine, and Annie enjoys a familiarity and freedom of speech with the earl and countess that comes from long years of service and skill at her craft. She’s a dumpy, homely soul with a short temper and a sharp tongue, but beneath it all, she has a warm and true heart.

  Not long after my exchange with the earl, Annie went to visit her aging mother in Deptford one Sunday, but got caught up in a crowd of Londoners converging on Greenwich Palace, whither—concerned by the prayers for the King’s recovery posted on church doors that morning—they had made their way, bent on demanding to see him.

  “Well, this gentleman came out and spoke to us,” Annie recounts, surveying with evident satisfaction her avid circle of listeners in the great kitchen. I’d come to find something sweet to eat, and she had given me a piece of marchpane and bidden me stay to hear her tale. “He said we was to go home, because the air was too chill for His Grace to come out and greet us. But we stood our ground, and some folks spoke up and said we weren’t leaving until we had seen him. He went away, saying he’d see what he could do, and we waited and waited, and then suddenly the King appeared at a window above us.”

  She pauses for effect. Her audience is riveted, and she is savoring keeping them in suspense. Such dramas do not often enliven the daily lives of servants.

  “Well,” she says, “I was that shocked. We all were. I mean, he was so thin and wasted. He had two attendants with him. I swear they were holding him up. You should have seen the change that come over that crowd. When the King waved and bowed to us, there were a few cheers, but you could tell most people was thinking the same thing. And when he’d gone, men were saying he was doomed. Well, you could see it, plain as day. Poor little King.” She dabs her eyes with her apron.

  I hasten away to tell Harry.

  “I thought there was something badly amiss,” he says, taking my hand as we stroll in the brilliantly blooming gardens with Sanders keeping a respectful distance. “His Majesty has not set foot outside his palace for ages.”

  “But he is so young—not much older than I am,” I comment sadly.

  “Death strikes
young and old alike,” Harry observes. “We should live our lives to the full, and dread God. Heavens, I am beginning to sound like my parents!” But his smile touches his lips only. “What worries me is what will happen when the King dies,” he says, lowering his voice—there are gardeners scything grass nearby. “The next in line for the throne is the Lady Mary. She is a staunch Papist.”

  I know this. I have often heard my parents deploring the Lady Mary’s fervent Catholicism. But I have also felt sorry for her. Declared a bastard after King Harry’s divorce from her mother, Katherine of Aragon, she has clung stubbornly to the faith of her childhood, even after it was outlawed when King Edward embraced the true Protestant religion. Since then she has lived quietly in the country, rarely visiting the court, a sad spinster who spends her barren days telling her beads and praying to her idolatrous images—or so my mother told me.

  I do not need Harry to explain to me what will happen if Mary becomes Queen. Any fool could foresee that the whole country will be forced to turn Catholic again, and where will that leave Northumberland and those who have supported him, not to mention the reforms of the past six years? What of his ally Pembroke? Indeed, what of my own father and mother, stout Protestants both? And it dawns on me that we are all—even the little, unimportant people like myself and Harry, Jane, and Guilford Dudley—enmeshed in this web of loyalties and convictions.

  On this balmy summer evening the sky has a golden tinge and the setting sun is reflected in the rippling water as the earl’s gilded barge glides upstream on the Thames. Everything looks tranquil and peaceful. Would that my mind could be too.

  My lord of Pembroke has told us only that we are going to join the court at Syon House, and ordered us all to wear black. Has the King died? Surely, then, we would be going to Greenwich, in the other direction?

 
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