A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir

  We ascend in great state to the council chamber, which has been fitted out as a presence chamber with a chair and canopy of estate. Here the entire Privy Council is waiting, with a great company of peers. They bow deeply, and I am so overcome with the import of it all that I begin to tremble. But Harry is beside me, holding my hand tightly and looking exceptionally handsome in his short coat and doublet of crimson damask banded in black velvet.

  Jane enters, preceded by the Marquess of Winchester and escorted by Guilford, her hand resting lightly on his. She is followed by our mother, who is acting as her train bearer—our proud mother, attendant on her own daughter, if you please, and looking very much like a queen herself in her rich cloth of gold.

  At Jane’s entrance, we all sink in deep obeisances, and Guilford bows very low to her as she seats herself in the chair of estate beneath the richly embroidered canopy blazoned with the arms of England. I rejoice for her, yea, and for England too—and I envy her, I do confess it, for I would give much to be in her place. How I should love to be a queen, above anything else!

  More wonders! Our father and Northumberland fall to their knees before Queen Jane, bidding her officially welcome to the Tower, and to her kingdom. There too is proud, petulant Guilford, bowing again, almost to the ground, every time she addresses him. What it is to have such power over the great ones of the land! Then Jane leads us in procession up the ancient stairs of the keep to the old chapel of St. John the Evangelist for a service of thanksgiving, and I offer the Almighty my fervent, heartfelt gratitude for our great good fortune. Afterward we return in solemn fashion to the council chamber.

  And now the Marquess of Winchester brings the crown jewels for the new Queen’s inspection. I cannot take my eyes off the glittering array of golden regalia studded by diamonds and other gemstones that wink and flash in the sun’s rays streaming through the narrow windows. I have never seen anything so glorious in my life. I notice my mother eyeing the crown jewels greedily. They are what she has wanted for Jane all along.

  “It will be my honor to place the crown on your head, madam,” says the courtly marquess, lifting high that most precious diadem.

  “No!” Jane says sharply. “I refuse to wear it.”

  “More silliness,” my lady growls. I can only agree with her—what is wrong with Jane, that she cannot thankfully accept this great blessing that has been bestowed on her?

  “Forgive me, Your Grace, I but wished to see how well it will become you,” the marquess protests, much abashed.

  “No, I will not wear it,” Jane repeats.

  “Your Grace may do so without fear,” he persists.

  “Very well,” she demurs, with bad grace, and he places it on her head. She does indeed look becoming, very queenly with her quiet, solemn dignity, and again I cannot help wishing that I were in her place, wearing that beautiful crown. Around me everyone is breaking into applause. The deed is done, and there can be no turning back; Jane is Queen and, God be praised, we are safe from the Catholic threat.

  Evening has descended, and we are all guests at a great feast served in Caesar’s Tower in honor of Jane’s accession. The tables are liberally laden with choice dishes and the wine is flowing. Minstrels play; there will be dancing later when the board has been cleared. The chatter is deafening, and the chamber stuffy from people sweating in their velvets and silks. I have almost had my head turned by courtiers paying me compliments and outdoing each other to win my favor. I can hardly believe that it is I whom they court—I, who never considered myself very important. But I am the Queen’s sister now, and I cannot help thinking that, if Jane were to lay down her crown, I would be Queen. I wish no ill to Jane, of course I do not, yet I cannot but feel that the crown is wasted on her, who does not want it, and I can’t help myself thinking that, had I been the one set upon a throne today, I should have presented a much happier—indeed an ecstatic—face to the world.

  Harry is at my side, a little drunk; his hand keeps straying to my breast or my knee, and to my astonishment, Pembroke is looking on benevolently. I feel myself blush under his interested scrutiny.

  Harry whispers in my ear. “I have great news, my Katherine. I am allowed to come to you tonight. My father is at last content that we should consummate our marriage.”

  My heart sings.

  “Are you content?” he asks eagerly.

  I giggle. “Of course I am content. I am in Heaven!” He kisses me again, more boldly this time. I am thinking that I have one blessing that Jane does not, for all that she is Queen: a husband who loves me, and whom I am able to love in return. And as Harry smiles broadly at me with love in his eyes, it occurs to me what a handsome, noble king he would make—unlike that oaf Guilford.

  Suddenly a hush descends on the company. A man has come into the hall. He wears green and white, the royal livery of the Tudors. He strides boldly up to the high table and bows.

  “My lords and ladies, I am Thomas Hungate, come with a letter from Queen Mary!” he announces. “You shall hear what Her Grace has to say!”

  There is a stunned silence as he produces the letter from his pouch.

  “Where is the Lady Mary?” Northumberland barks.

  “At Kenninghall in Norfolk, where she has been proclaimed Queen,” Hungate informs him. “She has addressed her letter to the Privy Council. She greets every man well, and reminds you all of the will of her father, King Henry VIII, and the Act of Succession passed in his reign, whereby she is the lawful heiress to the crown, as all the world knows, and of which no true subject can pretend ignorance. She writes that God will aid and strengthen her in her right.”

  The duke’s face is suffused with fury; his hands are gripping the arms of his chair.

  Keeping his gaze on Northumberland, Master Hungate continues: “Her Grace finds it strange that she has received from the council no word of the King’s death, especially since the matter is so weighty. Yet, knowing you for wise and prudent men, she has great hope and trust in your loyalty and service.” He bows to the lords again.

  “Nevertheless,” he goes on, “Her Grace is not ignorant of your consultations, and can only conclude that political considerations have moved you; she cannot believe you have any evil intent. So doubt not, my lords, that she takes your deeds in gracious part, and is ready to pardon them fully and freely, to avoid bloodshed and violence, and she trusts you will take this grace and virtue in good part. Wherefore she requires and charges you, for the allegiance you owe to God and to Her Grace, that, for your honor and the surety of your persons, you will cause her right and title to the throne to be proclaimed in Her Grace’s City of London and other places, not failing in this, as her very trust is in you.”

  The messenger’s words are greeted by an appalled silence that is broken only by the Duchess of Northumberland’s anguished wail. “My lord, I thought you had sent men after the Lady Mary to seize her?”

  “By God, my lord duke, you’ve let her slip through your fingers!” my mother cries.

  “The Lady Mary has no forces to back up her bold words,” Northumberland says, striving for urbanity, but he seems to be trying to convince himself.

  “Not so, my lord. She has gathered a company of loyal gentlemen, and has sent out letters of summons to towns throughout her realm,” Hungate informs him. “Furthermore, she has let it be known that she will maintain the religion of England as established by her brother, and make no rigorous changes.”

  “Give me the letter and get out,” says Northumberland, and Hungate departs, smirking at my lord’s discomfiture.

  “She has pulled the carpet from under the duke’s feet,” Pembroke mutters, his face tense, as Harry nods grimly. “Her declaration of tolerance will appeal to many. They will no longer see her as the enemy of the true faith, but as one who embraces all faiths.”

  “Don’t be deceived,” my mother says savagely. “I know her. She is a fanatic. She will not be as tolerant once the crown is on her head.”

  Jane has said nothing. I trul
y believe that being Queen is unimportant to her, and that she is hardly concerned at all about this latest development.

  “I assure Your Majesty that the Lady Mary, a woman alone without friends or influence, poses no threat to your throne,” the duke reassures her, and several councillors say aye. She inclines her head but does not reply.

  Northumberland turns and beckons a warder. “Arrest the man Hungate and throw him into a dungeon for his insolence,” he orders.

  I feel like crying. The banquet has been ruined by Hungate’s intrusion, and the air of celebration has evaporated. Clearly the festivities are at an end, for the duke rises and summons the councillors to attend him. “We must draw up a document repudiating the Lady Mary’s claims,” he tells them. There is a scraping of chairs and benches as the lords depart to the council chamber. I have no doubt at all that they will deal with this threat with the briskness it deserves.

  They are gone a long time. Harry and I sit with the Countess of Pembroke, sipping the spiced hippocras wine that has been brought for those left at table.

  Jane retires to bed. Before she departs to the Queen’s lodgings, she makes her way past the bowing and scraping courtiers, and embraces and kisses me.

  “Good night, sweet sister,” she says in a low voice, holding me upright when I would have curtsied. “Remember, my crown is a matter of indifference to me, and it shall never come between us. Pray for me, please. They want me to make Guilford King, but I will never consent to it. So ask God to give me the strength to resist them.”

  “I will,” I promise, thinking that, if I were Queen, I would not deny Harry a crown. He would be Harry IX! It has a certain ring to it …

  After Jane has gone, the atmosphere in the hall is dispirited. Jubilation has turned to fear. “What if the Lady Mary does press her claim?” I say to Harry and his mother. “Surely the country will not rise for her?”

  “We must pray it will not,” Harry says. “Do not fret, darling. We have much to look forward to—especially tonight.” I am reassured by his words. I am young and in love, and nothing shall stand in the way of my happiness.

  The councillors return at last, and Pembroke joins us, unsmiling.

  “I must lodge here at the Tower tonight,” he says. “There is a furious row going on in the Queen’s apartments. Jane is refusing to name Guilford King, and his mother is doing battle with her. In truth, I would rather be anywhere else. But you should all be getting back to Baynard’s Castle.”

  The countess summons her maid for her cloak.

  The room is emptying and the courtiers are leaving; there is nothing now to stay for. The earl escorts us out to the Court Gate, where our barge awaits us. On the way, I am suddenly struck by a frisson of fear and the strong urge to run. I cannot explain it, for the fear is formless, and seems not to be connected with the momentous events of the past days. Is it a reaction to them—or is it a portent? I shiver. Fortunately, the feeling is fleeting. I put it down to my having drunk too much wine.

  As the barge approaches the steps, Pembroke mutters, “Hearken, all of you. I do not like the situation in which we find ourselves. Mary has always been popular. Katherine, your sister is not known to the people, and her reception today was cool. They think she is the tool of Northumberland, and he is hated. This letter from the Lady Mary has divided opinion. During the council meeting I sensed a certain cooling off on the part of several lords, and there were even those who were openly suspicious of Northumberland’s determination that Guilford should be King. As I left the council chamber, the Earl of Arundel took me aside and said he feared that the duke’s arrogance will be infinitely greater as father-in-law to the Queen than as Lord President of the Council. Then Winchester confided to me that he is only supporting Northumberland to preserve his own skin. Clearly, some lords are waiting on events.”

  “And you, sir—where do you stand?” Harry asks, his face troubled.

  His father frowns. “I do not think it wise to be bound irrevocably to Northumberland,” he murmurs. “If necessary, I will break with him. But not yet. I too think it best to wait to see who emerges triumphant.”

  I say nothing. It is plain that Pembroke owes no true allegiance to either Northumberland or Mary, and certainly not to Jane; he is thinking only of himself and his future influence and prosperity. And that becomes even more brutally clear with his next words.

  “Harry,” he says, as we prepare to make our farewells. “You must forget what I said earlier, because everything has changed. I absolutely forbid you to consummate your marriage. We may not wish to be allied to the House of Suffolk if events go against Northumberland.”

  I am horrified to hear him say that; horrified and outraged. Does he not care one jot for my feelings? How dare he disparage my family! And is he not being overpessimistic? Mary has no support to speak of, and Northumberland has sent men after her, so she may soon be his prisoner, and Jane will be the undisputed Queen—and then, yes then, I will remind my lord Earl of Pembroke how he insulted her sister. But for now I am devastated, fighting to stem the tears. I will not look at Pembroke; I will not give him the satisfaction of seeing how he has wounded me.

  Harry’s eyes flash. I thrill to hear him argue in a sibilant whisper, “Katherine is my wife and I love her! You cannot keep us apart like this, sir. We are married!”

  “Marriages like ours are made for policy, boy,” the earl says evenly. “Love is not a consideration. If we need to extricate ourselves from this tangle, you will thank me that I did not commit you to this alliance. If the marriage is not consummated, it can easily be annulled.”

  I am weeping bitterly now, not caring who sees.

  “I don’t want it annulled!” Harry shouts, and the oarsmen in the barge look up at us, startled. “I want Katherine for my wife, and no other. Even if I did not love her, I could not make a better match. Remember who she is!”

  “And remember that she might soon be accounted the daughter and sister of traitors, you young fool,” his father mutters.

  I find my voice. I will not have my family’s honor impugned thus. “No traitors, my lord,” I hiss through my tears, “but people zealous for the faith that you profess! My sister does not desire the crown. She has only accepted it because she believes it to be God’s will, and that she may preserve true religion in this land.”

  Pembroke looks as if a mouse has just roared at him. But my blood is up, the blood of kings and princes, of King Harry and King Edward, and all the great monarchs back to William the Conqueror and Alfred. I will not be treated as a nonentity! My parents would be proud of me if they were here, and as offended as I at the earl’s attitude.

  “God’s will in the matter has yet to be revealed,” Pembroke growls, “and until then, daughter-in-law, you would do well to hold your peace and pray for a happy outcome. In the meantime, do not defy my order. You may have to wait only a few days longer.”

  Harry looks as if he is about to cry too, from anger and frustration; he is struggling to control himself. Without a word, he hands his mother and me into the barge and flings himself down on the cushions in the cabin. The boat rocks alarmingly, bumping against the steps.

  “Have patience, my children,” the countess counsels. But we’ve been patient long enough. Harry sits there stony-faced, and I cannot stop crying as the barge plies its short course along the moonlit Thames.


  June 16, 1483. Crosby Place, City of London;

  Baynard’s Castle

  “Your father has returned from the Tower,” the duchess told Kate, as they sat in the courtyard garden, working at their embroidery and enjoying the sunshine. A clatter of hooves, shouts in the street, and scurrying grooms confirmed her words.

  Gloucester rode into the courtyard and dismounted. “Bring wine!” he called. “And keep White Surrey saddled but give her some water.” Servants sprang to action. The duke walked across to Kate and Anne, a dark figure with the sun at his back and the breeze stirring his long hair.

cannot stay, ladies,” he said. “I came only to tell you that York is to be removed from sanctuary.”

  Anne eyed him warily. “The council meeting went well?”

  “It did,” he told her. “I laid the matter of York before the councillors, and insisted it was bad for him and the King to be apart, and to have no one of their own age to play with.”

  “And did they agree?”

  “They did. So I proposed sending Cardinal Bourchier to the Queen, to command her to release her son. I reasoned that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s persuasions would carry much weight with her.”

  “That was well done, my lord,” Anne said. “But has the Cardinal agreed to it? Will she receive him?”

  “It was Buckingham who saved the day,” Gloucester related. “He told the Cardinal that the Queen’s stubbornness was prompted not by fear but by womanly contrariness. He said he had never heard of sanctuary children, and that a child of York’s age has no need of sanctuary, and therefore no right to it. That carried great weight with the Cardinal and the council, and they sanctioned the boy’s removal. So I must go to Westminster. Lord Howard is commandeering boats and assembling soldiers.”

  “Soldiers?” echoed the duchess.

  “In case the Queen proves obdurate,” the duke said. “Never fear, it will only be a show of force.”

  That afternoon, the duchess summoned Kate. “Make haste, and get your maid to pack your gear,” she commanded. “Your father has sent to tell me he has taken up residence in the Tower until the King is crowned. He has given orders that we are to move to Baynard’s Castle to lodge with your grandmother the duchess.”

  Kate’s heart sank. She hated the idea of her father being away from them at this time, when his life might be in peril. Of course, the Tower would be the safest place for him, but for her it was indelibly associated with the horrible end of Lord Hastings, and would forever be a sinister place.

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