A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  “Pah!” the earl snorts. “I will not believe it. You think to turn me with vain lies.”

  “I do not lie!” insists Harry.

  “Or I, sir,” I echo, crossing my fingers in the folds of my skirt. “It is the truth.” I am determined to stand my ground.

  “This is all nonsense,” declares the earl, “and I will not listen to any more of it. You will leave my house tonight, Katherine. You will take with you only those things that you brought with you. And if you attempt to repeat your lies in order to subvert the annulment, it will go worse for your sister.”

  “No!” I scream, and cling to Harry as to a life raft, begging an unheeding God not to let us be parted. Harry, unmanned, starts weeping too, holding me tightly and swearing great oaths at his father, but the earl is unrelenting.

  “I have spoken. That is an end to the matter.” And he stalks out of the room, leaving me half fainting with misery in Harry’s arms.

  “Go now, my Katherine,” he enjoins me, harshly, as if he is tearing the words out of himself. “I will fight for you, I vow it.” He releases me, his eyes intense, insistent. Their promise gives me the courage to do his bidding and let go of him.

  “Farewell for now,” he says, holding my gaze, and lifting a gentle finger to brush away my tears. “Remember how much I love you, sweet wife.”

  “And I you, my dear lord,” I whisper. Then, feeling as if my heart is utterly broken and can never be made whole again, I turn away and walk out of the room. I do not trust myself to look back.

  The earl has wasted no time in summoning his barge for me, with instructions to the boatmaster to deliver me to the house of my parents at Sheen, like an unwanted parcel. He has provided no attendant or escort, just the crew of the boat. I am not even permitted to take the maid he appointed.

  His chamberlain briskly ushers me out of the house and down the stairs to the jetty, servants following behind with my hastily packed belongings. I am distraught, with tears streaming down my face, but no one appears to notice. My tragedy is not their concern.

  I know that Harry meant what he said, that he will move heaven and earth to get me back. Yet Harry is his father’s son, and the earl, as has been proved to me tonight, is a formidable opponent. I have to accept the worst now: I am henceforth no more than the sister of the usurper. No one will want to know me or associate with me, let alone marry me. At almost thirteen, this is a terrible thought. My life is over before it has barely begun.

  The priory is in darkness, the grounds drenched in shadows that loom in the moonlight. The barge master does his bidding and no more, and after he has deposited me and my gear on the jetty, he jumps back into the barge and gives the order to depart. The dim lights of the boat recede downstream and disappear into the night, and I am alone, with only the cold moon to light my way up to the dark bulk of the shuttered house.

  “It’s me, Lady Katherine!” I cry, banging hard on the gatehouse door, but the only response is the eerie hooting of an owl. I rattle the big iron handles, but the portal is securely locked. The blackness of the night, the rustling of the tall trees silhouetted against a starless sky, and the black mass of the gatehouse looming up above me are terrifying. Crying noisily now, I sink to my knees. Soon, I am screaming, “Help me! Help me! For the love of God, help me!” Nothing in my short, sheltered life has prepared me for this.

  “Who’s there?”

  God be praised, is that my mother’s voice? And can that be footsteps approaching the door? “Who’s making that racket?” calls the voice. It is my mother! Oh, thank God, thank God! Now I know that prayers are answered.

  A light appears at the window above me.

  “Get down here, you fool!” I can hear my lady saying testily to the porter, who has somewhat belatedly risen to do his duty. “Someone’s screaming fit to wake the dead!”

  The great key turns in the lock, and there she is, my lady, staring down at me with a horrified expression on her face. She looks tired and drawn, and her brocade gown is mud-spattered at the hem.

  “What are you doing here, child?” she asks, astonished.

  “The earl turned me out of his house,” I tell her.

  “He did what?” But I am beyond speech. I break down again, and am amazed to find her arms about me, she who has never been a demonstrative parent.

  “You shall tell me everything later,” she says as she raises me to my feet and supports me as she walks me to the house. I am staggered to hear a tremor in the voice of my strong, formidable mother.

  My lord is nowhere to be seen.

  “Your father and I have not long arrived,” my lady says as we enter the hall, where their baggage is piled in a heap on the floor. “I will send the steward to rouse the staff. There is no food in the house and the beds are unaired. But of course, they did not expect us.”

  She sits down with me on the settle.

  “Tell me what happened,” she commands, and in a halting voice I obey. It is only when I reach the part where I am forced to say farewell to Harry that I break down again. For once, my mother does not reprove such weakness. She is plainly furious, but not with me.

  “Pembroke ordered his barge master to abandon you here like that?” she cries. “That is outrageous!”

  “There is more,” I venture, knowing that my next words might earn me a beating or worse, but I must pursue my only hope. “Harry and I—we … we told his father we did lie together. The earl had forbidden it, and had a man watch us, but we said we had given him the slip.”

  My lady does not erupt in rage, but stares at me intently. “You spoke truth?”

  “No. I don’t think the earl believed us anyway. He called us liars, and nothing we said could move him.”

  “It would not have, even if your marriage had been consummated,” my mother says stonily. “He has to break from us to win the favor of Queen Mary. You do know, I suppose, what has happened this day?”

  “Yes, madam, I saw the celebrations in London for the new Queen. But what of poor Jane? Is she not here with you?”

  “You may well ask!” she replies. “We had to leave Jane in the Tower, and for all I know she is now a prisoner.”

  “You had to leave her?” I have never presumed to question my mother, but the circumstances are like no other.

  “Good God, girl!” she snaps. “Don’t you understand? In accepting the crown that was rightfully Mary’s, Jane has committed treason, and far be it from me, or your father, to attempt to remove her from the Tower. It is for Queen Mary to decide her fate.”

  “But Jane did not want the crown!” I protest, stunned by the injustice of it all.

  “We must pray that the Queen takes that into consideration,” my lady mutters.

  “She must!” I cry. “They are saying she is a merciful princess.”

  “She is indeed merciful. I know her of old. I am placing all my hopes in her.” The stern façade is crumbling: my mother suddenly looks as if she might collapse. It seems like the end of the world.

  “How is Jane taking this?” I ask her.

  “I did not see her. Your father broke it to her that she was no longer Queen, and himself tore down the canopy of estate from above her head. She took it well, saying she put off her royal robes far more willingly than she had put them on—and then she asked if she could come home. At that, knowing he had to do all he could to preserve our lives and fortunes, your father left her, and went to Tower Hill, where he proclaimed Queen Mary. Then we made all speed to return here.”

  They had escaped and left Jane behind. They had abandoned her to her fate. That made two of us they had used for their own ends and ruined. Suddenly I am no longer a child, unquestioningly accepting the wisdom of my elders; suddenly I have become aware that they have feet of clay.

  My lady is pacing up and down now, her muddied train swishing behind her.

  “Where is my father?” I ask.

  “He has gone into hiding,” she tells me. “It is better for you that you do not know where. If
the Queen’s men question you, you can say with truth that you have no idea where he is. But it will not come to that.”

  “Why?” I ask.

  “Because I am going to the Queen! I am going to plead for Jane and for your father, and convince her that they were forced by Northumberland to act against their wishes. Northumberland is finished. His capture is only a matter of time. Nothing I say now can make any difference to his fate.”

  “But what of me and Harry?” I cry. “Will you not plead for us, my lady?”

  “You must have patience. There are matters far more pressing, and you are not the only one to be abandoned. Your sister Mary has been repudiated by Lord Grey.”

  “That is no loss to her! Harry and I love each other, and it is a fit match. We are wed in the sight of God!”

  My mother’s eyes narrow. “Sometimes one has to achieve what one wants by subtle means. If I can persuade the Queen to pardon your father, and she takes him into favor, as I pray she will, then Pembroke will know it, and your marriage may be mended.”

  My heart feels instantly lighter. There is, after all, hope, something I abandoned forever earlier when I left Baynard’s Castle. How strangely that wheel of fortune revolves. All may not yet be lost! My mother is still my mother, fierce, omnipotent, and capable. Once again she is in control, and the world may right itself—and my sweet Harry and I may be reunited.

  KATE

  June 22–26, 1483; Baynard’s Castle, London

  “Never, in all my days, did I think to hear that vile calumny again!” the Duchess Cecily stormed, her habitual calm shattered. She had burst into the solarium like an outraged black crow. “Conceived in adultery, eh? How could he do this to me? It is Clarence all over again. Was ever a mother so betrayed by her sons?”

  Anne hastened to comfort the old lady, who crumpled in her arms as Kate looked on helplessly. Cecily was breathing heavily, and Kate feared she might collapse or die.

  “Now, my lady,” Anne said, “pray tell us what has happened.”

  “My chamberlain has just returned from Paul’s Cross, where he goes every week to hear the Sunday sermons,” the duchess related, less agitated now, but still angry. “Today, it was the mayor’s brother, Dr. Shaa, who mounted the pulpit. And do you know what he took as his text? ‘The multiplying brood of the ungodly shall not thrive, nor take deep rooting from bastard slips.’ ” The duchess was shaking. “He has corrupted that preacher, who did not blush to say, in the face of all decency, that the sons of King Edward should be instantly eradicated, for neither could be a legitimate king, nor could King Edward’s issue ever be so.”

  Anne’s hand flew to her mouth.

  “Who has corrupted Dr. Shaa?” she cried.

  “My son—your husband,” the old lady said contemptuously. “That I should live to see yet another day when my own blood should so shamelessly slander me!”

  “Oh, sweet Jesus!” exclaimed Anne. “Tell me what exactly was said, I beg of you. Do not spare me the details.”

  The duchess snorted. “That priest had the effrontery to claim that my son, King Edward, was the fruit of my adultery—and was in every way unlike my husband York. Then he said that Richard, who altogether resembles his father, should come to the throne as the legitimate successor. It was then that Richard—I will not call him my son anymore, for he is no son of mine—it was then that he made an appearance with Buckingham, but they had miscalculated the mood of the crowd, who booed and jeered at them, and yelled at Shaa that he was a traitor. How can I ever show my face in public again, after Richard has publicly insulted and slandered me?”

  Anne knelt beside her. She spoke gently. “You can, because nothing can rob you of your good fame and virtue, dear madam. You can hold your head high because everyone will know you have been unjustly slandered.”

  “It is not to be borne!” Cecily raged.

  “You should lie down. This has been too much for you. Let me assist you to your bed.”

  “Lie down?” the duchess retorted. “Nay, I am going to the Tower to see Richard and demand an explanation, and then I am going to complain to all the noblemen who will hear me of the great injury that he has done me. Nay, do not think to prevent me. I will have my chariot made ready now.”

  “Are you sure this is the best course, my lady?” Anne asked.

  “It is the only course,” the duchess answered emphatically. “Richard owes me filial obedience and honor, and I will remind him of that!”

  Anne exchanged glances with Kate, whose mind was in turmoil. This could not be happening. The duchess’s chamberlain must surely have made a dreadful mistake.

  Her grandmother stalked out of the room, an outraged and determined figure in black. When she had gone, Anne said nothing; she just went over to the window and gazed out at the Thames.

  “This slander is no new thing,” she said. “Your uncle of Clarence and my father Warwick dreamed it up many years ago when they were plotting to overthrow King Edward. You see, they hated the Queen and the Wydevilles. My father thought that he, the greatest nobleman in the realm, should be the King’s chief counselor, and he resented the Wydevilles bitterly, as did many other lords. So there was a rebellion, and King Edward was deposed and fled abroad. When he came back, there was a big battle at Barnet.” Her voice trailed away. “My father was killed. Of course, no one believed the slander about your grandmother. My father and Clarence had claimed that she’d betrayed York with a common archer called Blaybourne, but it was mere propaganda; there was no truth in it. What made it doubly shocking was that it was her son Clarence who put this tale about. And now, it seems, another son has repeated the slander.”

  “But why? Why would my father do that to his own mother?”

  “Because,” Anne said, sighing, “he wants to be King. I have long suspected it.”

  Kate sat stony-faced, listening, unwilling to believe what she was hearing.

  “There was something that did not ring true about those weapons that my lord claimed the Queen’s party were plotting to use against him,” Anne went on. “Some say they had been placed at the ready before the King’s death, for use against the Scots. And then there was poor Lord Hastings, who was hurried to his death barely shriven, and without trial. What is that, Kate, but tyranny?”

  “But it is my father of whom you speak,” Kate protested.

  “And my husband, who has become as a stranger to me!” Anne cried, showing rare passion. “I have loved him, as God is my witness, and I have been a good and true wife to him, but I do not know him anymore.”

  Truly her father had changed: he was no longer the gentle and loving lord of Middleham, but Kate loved him still and would defend him to the last. She could not believe all this of him, even though Anne—trustworthy, honest Anne—was saying it.

  “He is weighed down with the cares of his office,” she insisted to her stepmother. “His very life is in danger. I’m sure he truly believed that those weapons would be used against him. And maybe—maybe—he believes too that there is truth in the slander against my granddam. Wicked people may have persuaded him …”

  “He is no fool,” Anne declared. “He can make up his own mind and not be swayed by persuasion. If he believes it, it is because he wants to believe it.”

  “How can you say such a thing of my father?” Kate retaliated, weeping. “He is a good man, and you should know! And maybe it is true about my granddam and that archer!” And she hurried from the solarium to the sanctuary of her chamber.

  Kate did not see her grandmother until dinner the following day, and then Cecily did not refer to her meeting with the duke; she just ate her sparse meal silently, listening to her chaplain, who always read aloud from devotional books during mealtimes. Anne sat beside Kate, toying with her food as usual, although none of them had much appetite. Kate would not look her way. She was still very upset at what her stepmother had said the previous day. When dinner was over, and Cecily had retreated to her chapel, Kate got up and left too, sketching the briefes
t of curtseys to the Duchess Anne before going out into the garden, where she sat brooding under a tree.

  The mood in the house did not lighten that week. The Duchess Cecily would not be drawn out on what had happened in the Tower—“That is between the duke and me,” she said reprovingly—and Anne kept her distance. Kate sensed that Anne was somehow disappointed in her when, really, it should have been the other way around. But she would not, could not, believe any ill of her father.

  There had still been no word about the coronation. London seethed, packed with restless, suspicious citizens, and lords and gentlemen, up from the country, complained about the delay and the ruinous cost of staying indefinitely in the capital. When Kate and Mattie gave their elders the slip, and slunk past the gateward to go to the market at Smithfield, even though they had been warned it was not safe to go out, they became aware that the City was alive with rumors and gossip. The latest word was that the Duke of Buckingham had gone to the Guildhall to address the mayor, and many Londoners were making their way there to find out what was going on. Kate and Mattie went along with them, and were among the crowds who watched Buckingham emerge and go his way. Then the mayor and his aldermen and sheriffs came out, and were immediately besieged by the mob, demanding to know what the duke had said. But Kate hung back. She was afraid of being crushed in the press—and of what she might hear.

  Mattie had no such qualms. She pushed her way nearly to the front, and because she was so pretty, most of the men let her through, one or two pinching her bottom as she sidled past. Kate’s last view of her maid was of the girl giving a saucy grin to an apprentice. But when Mattie came back, she was no longer grinning.

  “Let’s go somewhere quiet, my lady,” she urged. “There are things you should know.” Something in her face made Kate catch her breath; she guessed that what Mattie had to tell her would not be easy to hear.

  They escaped into the quietness of the nearby church of St. Lawrence Jewry. There was no one there except for an old woman on her knees near the altar, so they sat on a bench at the back and Mattie talked in hushed tones.

 
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