A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir

  Her words strike a chill down my spine. It is as if she believes it is a foregone conclusion that Mary will triumph.

  The door opens and the earl walks in. He looks haggard and weary, and sinks into his great chair at the head of the table.

  “Greetings to you all,” he says flatly. “Is there any wine left?”

  My lady picks up the ewer and pours. Her husband downs his goblet in one go. “More. I need it.” The countess pours again.

  “What has happened?” Harry asks.

  “Northumberland is facing ruin,” his father replies grimly. “He is finished, and it is only a matter of time before he is taken.”

  I start to shake. Harry grasps my hand tighter.

  “But all may not be lost,” the earl is saying. “Most of us on the council are ready to declare for Mary. We have seen how the tide is turning.” He looks at me. “Your father, my dear, has been doing his best to prevent us from leaving the Tower. Fortunately, the Master of the Mint managed to escape with all the gold from the Queen’s privy purse, which he was taking to Mary’s supporters in London.”

  “And you have escaped too, my lord, thank God!” the countess cries fervently.

  “Aye, by the skin of my teeth. When my lord of Suffolk heard how great an army was poised to march on London, he had his daughter proclaimed all over again, then ordered the gates of the Tower to be locked—not to keep Mary’s forces out, you understand, but to keep us privy councillors in! He trusts none of us. But if Mary wins, we stand to be accused of high treason. You all know the penalty for that.”

  There is a chilling silence. I hardly dare breathe.

  The earl continues: “Yet I cannot think that Queen Mary will arraign and execute almost her entire Privy Council, especially if we now declare for her. Who else is there to help her rule? She is a woman: she will need advice and support. So yes, my dear, I made my escape before they locked the Tower.”

  You might have made your escape, I think bitterly, but you have left my poor, defenseless sister to face the consequences of your actions. I rise, sketch the briefest of curtseys, and murmur a frosty good night. I must get to my bedchamber before I say too much and disgrace myself.

  I am making my way to my lonely bed, in great torment, when there is a resounding banging at the door to the water stairs. Hastening in alarm to the hall, I hear men’s voices commanding, “Open, in the name of the Queen!”

  The earl arrives at the same time, with Harry and the countess behind him, and nods to the porter to open the door. There are soldiers with pikes outside.

  “What is the meaning of this?” Pembroke thunders.

  “Sir, we are sent by the Queen,” the captain says.

  “Which queen?” Pembroke barks.

  “Why, Queen Jane, of course,” the man responds angrily. “We are sent to escort you back to the Tower, where you are to attend upon her.”

  “And if I refuse?”

  “My lord, we would not wish to use force, but our orders are to see that you obey the Queen’s command.”

  “Very well. My cloak.” He turns to a servant, ignoring the frightened faces of his household, which has clustered around, alarmed by the banging and shouting. The cloak is brought and the earl steps out into the night.


  Two anxious days later he is back.

  “It is finished,” he tells us, as my heart plummets wildly. “Northumberland sent news of reports that the Lady Mary was advancing with an army forty thousand strong. His men were deserting like rats, and he urged us to send reinforcements—but there are none, even if we were so inclined. The usurper Jane—or rather her father, Suffolk—ordered the guards around the Tower to be doubled, but there was no point, for the guards were refusing to force people to stay. I, and several others, walked out unchallenged. In fact, Jane gave us permission to leave; I told her we were going to ask the French ambassador for aid for Northumberland. Suffolk wanted to come with us—he’s no fool—but it would be dangerous to be associated with him now, so we told him we would have him executed if he abandoned the Queen his daughter at this time.”

  “He meant to abandon her, his own child?” The countess is shocked.

  “He looks to his own skin.” Suddenly, the earl notices I am here listening, and remembers that it is my father of whom they speak. His face softens a little.

  “Katherine, I am aware this is distressing for you,” he tells me, “but you have to know the truth.”

  “What will happen to Jane?” I ask, my voice tremulous. “Is all now lost?” I still cannot believe it.

  “I fear it is,” he says. “Only three members of the council remain with her in the Tower. The rest will declare for Mary, mark my word. They are on their way here now. I’m afraid I do not know what will happen to the Lady Jane. No doubt Mary will deal leniently with her; this was not her doing.”

  “No, it was not,” I say, a touch defiantly. But Pembroke ignores me, and it is left to Harry, all care and concern, to attempt to comfort me. I look long at him, drinking in his fine, honest face, his fresh good looks, his kind eyes, and his soft curly hair—as if I might never see them again.

  The councillors have assembled in the great chamber with the door firmly closed. The countess gives orders for dinner to be served as normal, and we seat ourselves at table in the parlor. I know I will not be able to touch a morsel. In fact, the smell of the good roast beef and pigeon pie is making me nauseous.

  Then the earl comes in.

  “Forgive me, my lady, I am not staying,” he says. “I am for St. Paul’s. We have decided, all of us, to abandon Northumberland and declare for Mary. The duke is deemed guilty of treason against his lawful sovereign, and we have summoned him back to London to account for his actions, and offered a reward to anyone apprehending him. For now, I go with the other privy councillors to give thanks for this realm’s deliverance from treachery; and to proclaim our loyalty to Queen Mary, we are having Mass celebrated in the cathedral.”

  “What of my poor sister?” I cry.

  “Your sister remains in the Tower,” Pembroke replies curtly, and turns on his heel.

  I spend much of the afternoon on my knees in the chapel. I am distraught, on my own account and Jane’s. Will I be accounted a traitor too? And what of my marriage? Will Pembroke really have it annulled? God aid me, I feel so helpless!

  Yet my peril is as nothing to Jane’s. Repeatedly I beseech the Almighty to be merciful, and to make Queen Mary merciful too. And when I have prayed until I can pray no more, and cried myself out, I wander through the deserted state rooms distractedly, not knowing what to do with myself.

  I find myself in the great hall with its fine gallery. Here, seventy years ago this summer, they offered the crown to Richard III; like Jane, he was a usurper; unlike her, he had plotted and schemed—and killed—to be King. I saw a portrait of him once, a thin-lipped man with cruel, wary eyes and a humped back. For he had been evil in appearance, just as he was evil inside: it often falls out—so I have been told—that the two go together. Crookback, they had called him; and he was crooked through and through. But Jane is not evil like Richard. Why should she suffer because of the treacherous schemes of others?

  It is late afternoon, still sunny outside, but the cavernous hall is cool and dim, the gallery in shadow, too high to benefit from the jewel-colored light coming from the tall, narrow stained-glass windows. Again that dark-garbed fellow is up there, watching as before, on the night I first came here. Has he nothing better to do, no duties to attend to? He is standing stock-still, his shadowed face looking down over the vast chamber. Is he staring at me? I cannot be certain, but that unwavering scrutiny is making me feel mightily ill at ease.

  I stare back boldly, trying to make him aware of his rudeness and to discern his features, but it is dark up there, and the sunlight through the window dazzles me. Only gradually do I realize that behind the varlet there are three more dark figures. One seems to be a woman in an outlandish headdress, the second is veil
ed like a nun, and the third appears to be a young girl with long hair. There is a disturbing stillness about all four of the people in that little tableau.

  “Who’s there?” I cry. The answering silence is unnerving. The figures stand motionless—and then suddenly they are not there anymore. Did I blink? Did they see me and make themselves scarce as I did so? Truly, there was something uncanny about them. And why am I shivering on this warm July day? Suddenly frightened, I pick up my skirts and hasten to the door, fleeing as if from a pack of devils, and wondering if there is some evil at work in this house.

  I must find something to distract me or I will go out of my mind with fear. Returning to my bedchamber, I take out the old bundle of papers and make another serious effort to decipher them.

  I have a good idea who might have written them. Harry said it could not have been the William Herbert who was Earl of Huntingdon—but it could have been his wife, who had been King Richard’s daughter. If anyone would have wanted to believe the best of Richard, it would have been her—Katherine. We share a name.

  I read over those short lines again. But that is surely a calumny … The use of the word “surely” suggests that whoever wrote it wanted to believe in Richard’s innocence. It must have been his daughter.

  I peer at the jumble of faded script below, my eyes scanning the text. A few words stand out. The ru … s that are damaging to the King … mayhap Bokenham knew ye truth … he is dead. My lord Bishop of L … says they live yet … mayhap Mancini knew more than he told Pietro … Tyrell was at the Tower … 1487 … appreh … Raglan.

  I try to make some sense of it. I spend so long poring over this page that there is no time to attempt any more. I try to recall my history lessons and the books that once captivated me. I’m sure it was Richard III who was damaged by rumors, so that part makes sense. And Bokenham must surely mean Buckingham. I seem to remember reading of a Duke of Buckingham who supported Richard but later rebelled against him. As for the Bishop of L, that will need a more learned mind than mine. And who were Mancini and Pietro? Italians by the sound of it. How could Italians know anything of the secret affairs of England?

  They live yet. The princes? In 1487? They had been murdered in King Richard’s reign.

  But what if they had not?

  I remember Master Aylmer telling us about the pretenders who threatened Henry VII’s throne, and how many people believed they were the true heirs of York. Master Aylmer could not sufficiently stress how perilous it is to tangle with princes: “For look what happened to those pretenders. Both were exposed as frauds. Henry VII was merciful to Lambert Simnel, and put him to work in his kitchens, but Perkin Warbeck tried the King’s patience too long, and ended up hanged. Henry VII never rested easy in his bed all those years.”

  My tutor’s words come back to me now. Why, if the pretenders were only pretenders, had Henry not rested easy? Was it because he did not know for certain that the princes were dead? Did he fear that they “lived yet”?

  When Harry, with Sanders in tow, comes to tell me that the earl is back and commanding us to supper, I try to delay the evil moment I feel sure is coming. Gabbling a little, I ask Harry what he makes of all this, but he is skeptical. “I imagine the King did not rest easy because he was worried that people would accept the pretenders as the true heirs to the throne.”

  “Then why did he not just execute them?”

  “He had to catch them first.”

  As I tie up the notes and put them back in my casket, my hands shaking, the reference to the Tower leaps out at me. “Have you heard of someone called Tyrell, Harry?” I ask. The name sounds familiar.

  “I think a man called Tyrell was beheaded by Henry VII, but I can’t remember why. Now come, sweetheart. My lord and lady do not like to be kept waiting.”

  At supper Pembroke announces that Queen Mary is to be proclaimed in London on the morrow. “There will be much rejoicing when the news breaks.” But I am not rejoicing. The glorious days are done, all too soon. My sister is no longer Queen, and the dread shadow of treason lies over us all.

  In the morning, the earl is for the Guildhall with the Privy Council, to wait upon the Lord Mayor and aldermen of the City and witness the proclamation.

  “You must all stay indoors,” he says. “It would not do for the usurper’s sister to be seen in public, especially with my son.” I open my mouth to protest, but he has gone.

  “Try not to worry,” Harry says, hugging me, although his voice betrays his own anxiety. I am too frightened to speak. Pleading a headache, I go to my chamber and lie down, falling into troubled dreams in which the girl in the blue gown is running from some nameless horror, and I have to stand by, unable to help her.

  After dinner, Pembroke is back, bringing the mayor and all his brethren with him. There is a lot of commotion in the house, with people coming and going and doors opening and closing. Through my window I recognize some of the visitors as lords of the council. Then silence falls, and I assume they have all left.

  The rest of the afternoon is quiet. Beyond the open windows, I can hear the usual traffic and shouts from the river. It is a hot day, but a gentle breeze is stirring the damask curtains. I wish I could sleep again, and escape this misery and uncertainty. I should be with Harry, making the most of what might be my last hours with him, for I fear now that my marriage is doomed. At the thought of losing my love, I fall to weeping. I would with all my heart that I could give myself to him just once.

  Inspiration comes out of the blue. If we tell the earl that we are husband and wife in very truth, he cannot part us! It would be a lie, but we would be safe. For on what other grounds could he have our marriage annulled?

  My heart is pounding. I flop back on the bed, thinking it through, and decide that this ruse could work. I must tell Harry. But when I go to find him, Sanders tells me that he has ridden to Cheapside to hear the new Queen proclaimed. He has defied his father’s orders yet again! How glad I am to know that he is in such a bullish frame of mind, for no doubt he will be ready to defy my lord further.

  I return to my chamber and sit at my table beneath the window. I refresh my face with some lavender water, pick up my comb, and tidy my tangled hair. Setting the French hood atop it, and easing the band under my chin, I peer into the mirror and see myself, all white skin and great blue eyes shadowed by anxiety. I look ill. I pinch my cheeks to redden them and bite my lips. I must look fetching for Harry when he returns.

  The clock strikes five. There is a great shout from the street, followed by yelling and cheering, and the sound of running footsteps. “God save Queen Mary!” someone calls, and there are hurrahs and whistles. Then the bells begin their joyful pealing, as each parish church takes its lead from the next, and suddenly it seems that the whole world is rejoicing and ringing out the good news. Except me.

  I race through the house to the landward side and look out of a window. Moments later the countess joins me. We watch, in silence, people running hither and thither with excitement, crying out the news and throwing their bonnets in the air, neighbor clasping the hand of neighbor, folk lighting bonfires and dragging tables into the street, setting them with food and liberal quantities of ale and wine.

  “I cannot remember ever seeing such celebrations,” my lady says at length, as the sound of singing rises to us. “Look at them—they are even throwing coins out of windows. I’ll wager they’ll be carousing all night.”

  I open the window and lean out. “Look!”

  There in the street below me are normally dignified aldermen and merchants, worthy, respected men of substance, casting off their gowns and leaping and jigging with the common folk. And here returns the Earl of Pembroke, to much cheering. I see him smiling expansively, as if he personally has conferred this great blessing on the people who now crowd around him. We watch as he takes off his cap, fills it with gold angels, and tosses it to the crowd.

  “Make you merry!” he cries. “God bless Queen Mary, our rightful queen!” The citizens roar their
approval and scramble for the earl’s bounty. Then he holds his hand up to gain their attention, and declares in ringing tones: “Good people, I would have you know that my son’s marriage to the Lady Katherine Grey, made against my will by Northumberland, is to be annulled forthwith. The Herberts do not ally with traitors!” This is greeted with more cheers, but I hardly hear them, for I am faint and the countess has to help me to a chair.

  “No! No!” I wail. “It cannot be!”

  “Hush!” she admonishes, as the servants come running to see what is amiss. “You do yourself no good by such displays, child. Look, here is Harry. He knows it is best to obey his father’s will in this matter.”

  Harry’s face is grim. He kneels beside the chair and clasps me to him.

  “No one shall separate us!” he declares.

  I grasp his hand tightly. I never want to let it go.

  “We have to tell them!” I urge.

  “Tell them what?” It is the earl.

  “Tell your father, Harry, why he cannot have our marriage annulled,” I cry to Harry, who looks nonplussed.

  Pembroke frowns. “Indeed I can!” he declares.

  “On what grounds?” Harry asks, defiant now.

  “That it has not been consummated. You know that, boy.”

  “Then you cannot proceed—because it has,” I declare, feeling myself grow hot with embarrassment, but determined to be staunch in my resolve to save my marriage. Harry regards me with admiration: he has caught my drift.

  Pembroke laughs humorlessly. “Hah! That horse won’t run.”

  Harry defies him. “I assure you, sir, that Katherine is my wife in every sense. We have lain together in secret. To annul our marriage now would be to flout God’s law.”

  “It is true,” I say. “I swear it.”

  “Spare me your oaths,” Pembroke snarls. “How can it be true? Sanders has kept watch on you throughout, on my orders.”

  “Then ask him,” Harry says. “Ask him if he accompanied us to the tower room where first we looked at the old records.”

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