A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir

Seated in the plush cabin, doleful in our mourning garb—so at variance with the golden beauty of the day—Harry and I exchange glances. My lady the countess speaks of pleasantries only; even if she is aware of the purpose of our outing, she gives no clue, for she obeys her husband unquestioningly. Pembroke grunts in answer to her prattle; he is much preoccupied with his secret thoughts.

  At Syon, we leave the barge at the landing stage and walk up to the former nunnery, passing between the service wings to the steps that ascend to the magnificent Italianate mansion built by Protector Somerset on the site of the abbey church. Here, an usher is waiting to conduct us through a great chamber hung with tapestries to the presence chamber, which is crowded with lords and ladies, all in black. Their ranks part as Pembroke leads us to the farther end of the room, where a throne is set up on a dais beneath a cloth of estate bearing the royal arms of England. The King must be coming! He must be better, praise be to God. Perhaps he will announce the death of Northumberland and declare himself of an age to rule unaided. Oh, I pray it will be so! Then we will not have to worry about the Lady Mary ascending the throne—and maybe Harry and I can now be allowed to live properly as husband and wife.

  People bow as we pass, and some stare or nod in our direction and murmur to their neighbors. Then I espy my parents waiting for us near the dais. I have not seen them since my wedding, nearly two months ago, and kneel to receive their blessing. They raise and kiss me, more affectionately than they ever have, and exchange warm but muted greetings with the earl and countess.

  Then my father and Pembroke excuse themselves, saying they must join the other privy councillors in the great hall. They will be waiting to attend on the King when he arrives.

  Lord Guilford Dudley joins us. As he greets us haughtily, I am struck by his arrogance. But where is Jane?

  “My sister—is she well?” I ask.

  “Much amended after a fever,” he replies, but I cannot probe further as there is a sudden fanfare of trumpets, and the courtiers hasten to arrange themselves in order of rank, the greatest standing beside us, nearest the dais. As a respectful hush descends, a small procession approaches through the throng. I crane my neck to glimpse the King, and see the privy councillors processing into the chamber and taking their places near us at the front; but behind them, instead of His Majesty, Northumberland comes into view, escorting—goodness gracious, he is escorting my sister Jane! She looks confused, alarmed even, a tiny, slender figure in her high-necked black gown, her red hair blazing loose about her shoulders. Beside me, I can sense my mother puffing up with pride. Guilford is staring speculatively at Jane, but she is oblivious. I see the bewilderment in Harry’s face—it must mirror my own.

  But where is the King? Why all this pomp and ceremony if he is not here?

  Northumberland steers Jane toward the dais. The privy councillors bow as she passes, and suddenly everyone in the room is making an obeisance to her. I am so clean amazed that I forget to follow suit until my mother gives me a sharp pinch.

  Jane’s white face registers fright. She trembles and shudders as the duke hands her up the step to the dais, where she stands, awkwardly self-conscious, looking as if she would rather be anywhere else. She seems not to be aware of any of us.

  What is the matter with her? Were all these lords and ladies to bow to me, I should revel in it!

  Northumberland turns to face us. His face is solemn.

  “As Lord President of the Council,” he says gravely, “I do now declare to you the death of his most blessed and gracious Majesty, King Edward VI, whom God has now called unto Himself.”

  He pauses so that we can digest this heavy news. I find that I too am shaking, for fear of what might happen now that the Lady Mary is Queen, and I look back toward the door, expecting her to enter. But why has Jane been brought here?

  The duke tells us that King Edward, in his wisdom, took great care to defend his kingdom from the Popish faith—and to deliver it from the rule of his evil sisters.

  I gawk at that. Surely it is rash of the duke to provoke the Lady Mary by such treasonous words. But there is more …

  “His Majesty intended to pass an Act of Parliament,” Northumberland continues in ringing, even challenging, tones. “He was resolved that whoever acknowledges the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth as heirs of the crown should be accounted traitors, for the Lady Mary was disobedient to him in regard to the true religion. Wherefore in no manner did His Grace wish that they should be his heirs, he being able in every way to disinherit them.”

  There is a shocked hush. People glance at each other, stunned. Only the councillors look complacent; they, of course, must have known about this for some time. I hardly dare look at Jane, but when I do, I notice her shivering again, and now the duke turns to address her. “His Majesty hath named Your Grace as heir to the crown of England. If you die without issue, your sisters will succeed you and Lord Guilford.”

  Jane—our Queen? I cannot believe it! It is the best and most marvelous news I have ever heard. And her sisters next in line to the throne? That means me, and Mary, of course, poor hunchbacked Mary, who rarely sets foot outside the house. But this is impossible. It cannot be true, surely? But it is, it is!

  Jane looks as dazed and uncomprehending as I feel; she too is clearly stupefied. But me—I am bursting with excitement and finding it very hard to stand as still as becomes the solemnity of the occasion. No wonder our mother is preening! She knew about this, no doubt, and probably schemed for it—she has ever been ambitious to a fault for her blood. And my father is looking highly satisfied with himself, like a tomcat that has caught a mouse. Father to the Queen! That will suit his vanity.

  Jane has still said nothing. Northumberland, with a touch of exasperation in his voice, informs her that her title has been approved by the privy councillors, the peers, and all the judges of the land. “There is nothing wanting but Your Grace’s grateful acceptance!” He adds that she could never sufficiently thank God, the disposer of crowns and scepters, for so great a mercy, and should cheerfully take upon her the name, title, and estate of Queen. Then he falls heavily to his knees and offers her his allegiance, whereupon we all kneel and do her reverence, I still unable to believe that this is happening.

  Jane suddenly keels over in a faint, crumpling in a heap on the dais. I expect people to rush to her aid, but no one moves. I want to go to her but am paralyzed with uncertainty, for if she is Queen, her person is sacred, and it would be presumption to touch her. The duke stands looking down on her. I watch her face, willing her to come to her senses. To my relief, her eyes open and she blinks. Lying on the floor, she starts crying bitterly, making no effort to get up. What on earth is she crying for? She should be rejoicing and praising God to the skies for her great good fortune!

  Everyone is silent, waiting for her to compose herself. For several minutes the only sound in the room is Jane’s muffled sobbing—and then my mother’s audible, impatient sigh.

  “She weeps for the King,” murmurs the Countess of Pembroke.

  Jane stops crying. She gets awkwardly to her feet. Her eyes are red and her shoulders shaking, but she faces the duke with determination.

  “The crown is not my right,” she declares, her voice surprisingly firm. “It pleases me not. The Lady Mary is the rightful heir.”

  My gasp is audible in the shocked silence. Northumberland loses patience with Jane. “Your Grace does wrong to yourself and to your house!” he fumes, as our father and mother step forward angrily.

  “Remember your duty to us, your parents!” my lady snarls. “And to my lord duke here, your father-in-law, and to the King’s will, and to those who are now your subjects!”

  “No,” Jane says defiantly, just as if she is sparring with our mother over her apparel, as of old.

  My mother flares in anger. “You owe me obedience, daughter, and you will do as you are told!”

  The courtiers are watching, agog.

  “No,” Jane says again. Northumberland is clearly find
ing it hard to conceal his fury.

  Now Guilford steps forward and bows very low. Rising, he lifts his finger to caress Jane’s tearstained face and stroke her arm, but she shakes him off.

  “Do as the noble lord my father asks, I pray you,” he urges. “Much good can come of it. We need a new defender for our faith.”

  “Leave me be!” Jane cries, and falls to her knees, lifting her joined hands. “Give me a sign, Lord!” she beseeches. “Tell me what I must do.”

  She remains there praying, while the court fidgets with impatience. “She’ll have to give in,” Pembroke mutters. Harry bends to my ear. “In truth, I am sorry for your sister. But Guilford is right: she must accept, for the whole realm stands to benefit. Otherwise it will suffer under the Lady Mary.”

  “Of course she should accept it!” I whisper, and my mother nods.

  “She will,” she mutters.

  Jane is on her feet once more. “God in His mercy has not vouchsafed me a sign,” she says miserably, “so I can only conclude that He wishes me to obey the will of my parents, as is laid down in Scripture.” As my mother huffs in exasperated agreement, Jane bends her head. “I accept the crown. I pray that I may govern to God’s glory and service, and to the advantage of the realm.”

  There is an air of palpable relief in the chamber as she seats herself on the throne, and Northumberland, expansive with triumph, kisses her hand and swears allegiance even to death, with all the lords following in his wake.

  She is calmer after that, and when it is my turn to kiss her hand, she embraces me and whispers in my ear that I should rejoice, for the true faith will now be preserved in this kingdom, and that I must come and serve her as soon as it can be arranged. And now I am overwhelmed with excitement and jubilation, for my sister has accepted the crown and is acknowledged the true Queen of England—and I am now, as her recognized heir, the second lady in the land. One day I too might be a queen!


  June 15, 1483; St. Paul’s Cathedral

  and Crosby Place, London

  The press of people outside St. Paul’s was solid, and Kate and Mattie congratulated themselves on slipping out after early Mass and securing a place near the front of the crowd. They were not supposed to be here, and Kate had concocted a tale to explain their absence, telling her father that they were going out to walk along the Strand to see the great houses that lined it. The duke had looked at her fondly.

  “How grown-up and beautiful you are becoming,” he reflected. “I will soon have to find you a husband. But not just yet. I would keep you with me awhile longer to enjoy your company.” It was some time since he had spoken to her so tenderly, and she was filled with the familiar rush of love for him. He was just the same as ever; there was no need to worry. He had not changed: he was just preoccupied with the heavy cares of his office, and the plotting of the men and women who coveted his power. His eyes were sad, troubled. Impulsively, Kate hugged him. “We will be back in time for dinner,” she said.

  It was he himself who had let out the news that Mistress Shore was to be punished as a strumpet and sorceress, and that this morning she would do public penance at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Both Kate and Mattie were agog to see this immoral witch who had cast a spell on the duke and fornicated with the late King and Lord Hastings, but they knew instinctively that any request to watch the woman doing penance would meet with disapproval. Well-brought-up young ladies were not supposed to take an interest in such things.

  They made their way through the bustling London streets, wearing plain unadorned gowns so as not to draw attention to themselves, and waited impatiently outside the cathedral. Soon there was a shout. “She’s coming!” A small procession came into view, escorted by guards marching before and behind the sheriff and his prisoner, and as the people caught sight of that unfortunate woman, a hubbub broke out. For Mistress Shore was barefoot and dressed only in a thin sheet that she was clutching tightly around her voluptuous body, while in her other hand she carried a lighted taper, a symbol of her penitence. People were pointing and catcalling, and most of the men were whistling and making lewd remarks.

  “Drop your sheet, love!” bawled a coarse individual in homespun standing at Kate’s left.

  “Now we can all see what King Edward saw in her!” his companion observed.

  Indeed, as Mistress Shore passed, Kate could see that she was beautiful, with long honey-colored hair and flawless skin. She had dainty hands and feet, and plump white shoulders, while the rest of her shapely body was clearly delineated by the thin fabric of the sheet. “Made for bed sports,” Homespun was saying.

  “She doesn’t look like a witch, does she?” Mattie said in Kate’s ear. Kate giggled.

  “What did you expect? A haggard crone with a black cat and a broomstick? No, she’s very pretty. Looking at her, I find it hard to believe she has it in her to cast malicious spells, but my father the duke would not have accused her falsely.”

  Mistress Shore looked embarrassed as she struggled to hold the lighted taper upright and preserve her modesty. There was misery in her eyes.

  “What will happen to her?” Mattie wondered.

  “The duke said she would go to prison,” Kate told her. “But it will not be for long. It’s just to make an example of her.”

  The shameful procession moved on into the cathedral. It would not emerge for some time.

  “We’d better not wait,” Kate said. “We should get to the Strand, so that we can speak of what we have seen.” Pushing their way through the crowd, they set off down Ludgate Hill and into Fleet Street.

  They arrived back at Crosby Place late for dinner and flustered. The duke and duchess were already seated at the high table in the hall, and the food platters were being borne in when Kate, excusing herself, hurried to her place. The duchess smiled, and the duke raised an eyebrow.

  “So the Strand was interesting? You’ve been gone a long while,” he said.

  “We stopped to pray in St. Clement Danes,” Kate said.

  “Very fitting. I am pleased to see you are growing up to be pious.” Her father smiled. He himself was very devout, an example to them all. Kate felt guilty that she had lied to him.

  Gloucester turned to his wife.

  “I’ve had a letter from my solicitor, Lynom,” he said. Anne inclined her head. Her manner was slightly distant.

  “The fool wants to marry Mistress Shore,” the duke told her.

  “Will you allow it?” she asked.

  “I don’t see why not. I’ll let that harlot cool her heels in prison for a week or so, then let her go. Master Lynom can vouch for her, and keep an eye on her.”

  “She will have performed her penance by now,” Anne said.

  “Aye, and I hear that a lot of the good men of London were most appreciative of the spectacle,” Gloucester stated wryly. Kate said nothing, but kept her eyes on her plate. She hoped her father might not guess the reason for her being late.

  She was saved from any speculation on his part by the arrival of a burly man in the duke’s livery.

  “Pardon me, my lord, but there is news. The Marquess of Dorset has fled the sanctuary at Westminster.” The marquess was the Queen’s elder son by her first marriage; it was his brother, Sir Richard Grey, whom her father had imprisoned at Pontefract.

  The duke leapt to his feet. “Where has he gone?”

  “No one seems to know, my lord. Your man Pickering thinks he might be in hiding near Westminster.”

  “Surround the area with troops, take the dogs, and carry out a thorough search!”

  “Yes, my lord.”

  The man hastened away and Gloucester sat down, his face taut.

  “Dorset must be found,” he declared. “He is as much of a danger to me as Hastings.”

  “Doubtless he has fled because he heard of what happened to Lord Hastings,” Anne said quietly. “If you find him, what will you do to him?”

  “That will depend on what he has to say for himself.” The duke’s tone was
clipped. He sat there brooding, toying with his goblet but never raising it to his lips. “I must tighten security at the Tower,” he said at length. “Who knows what Dorset is plotting? He may attempt to seize the King.”

  “But he would have to rely on the help of the King’s servants, and you chose them yourself,” Anne pointed out. “Surely they are loyal to you?”

  “Are they?” he retorted. “I can trust no one these days. Who knows, those servants may have been corrupted already by my enemies. There is danger from every side, madam. The King’s attendants must be removed forthwith.”

  Anne looked distressed. “He must have someone to wait upon him. If you deprive him of his attendants, he will be lonely.”

  Richard’s mouth was set, his eyes steely. “I will appoint new servants, and I have resolved to send his brother York to keep him company.”

  “Think you the Queen will let him leave sanctuary?”

  “If the council ordains it, she must.”

  “But no one can force someone to leave sanctuary; once that right is claimed, it is sacrosanct,” Anne protested.

  The duke gave her a sharp look. “York must join his brother. I have reason to believe he is being detained against his will by his mother. If that is the case, he should be liberated. Sanctuary was founded by my ancestors as a place of refuge, not of detention, and the boy wants to be with his brother.”

  Anne said nothing.

  “I will lay the matter before the council on Monday,” the duke said.


  July 10, 1553, Tower of London

  It’s another glorious hot day. This morning the royal heralds proclaimed Jane Queen throughout the City of London, and from Baynard’s Castle there were fanfares of trumpets. This afternoon she will go in state to the Tower of London, where, by custom, she must lodge before her coronation. We must all look our best, and my mother has commanded Mrs. Ellen to bring me my wedding gown.

  At noon Pembroke summons his barge to convey us to the Tower. At the Court Gate we are received by the lieutenant, Sir John Bridges, and conducted in procession to Caesar’s Tower. Never before have I been treated with such deference and ceremony, and it really brings home to me the exciting reality of being the Queen’s sister.

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