A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  “When things have quieted down, I assume,” she replies flatly. “Katherine, don’t look so discouraged. We are lucky to have escaped with our lives and wealth, and they are more important than any marriage. The best advice I can give you is to forget Harry. It may take some time to gain the Queen’s favor, and Pembroke will not wait so long. I imagine he is still eager to end the marriage and his association with us. You must accept that Harry may be lost to you now.”

  KATE

  July 6, 1483; Westminster Abbey

  The day of the coronation came, and at last Kate was able to put on her beautiful blue gown. She was to attend the Duchess Anne—Queen Anne, as she must now get used to calling her—to Westminster Abbey as one of her maids of honor. The day before, King Richard and Queen Anne, with their vast trains of lords, officers, and attendants, had gone in procession through the City of London, from the Tower to Westminster. The King, swathed in a gown of blue cloth of gold and a vast mantle of purple velvet trimmed heavily with ermine, had gone on horseback, but Anne, who had lost weight through the past anxious weeks, and whose white mantle and gown of cloth of gold hung loosely upon her, had followed in a litter, with Kate and the other ladies jolted along behind in chariots. The entire nobility rode in the procession, the end of which was brought up by four thousand of Richard’s northern retainers, all proudly sporting his white boar badge.

  His soldiers, wearing that same badge, were stationed along the streets, keeping the sullen and hostile bystanders under surveillance. Clearly the King feared that the mood of the people might provoke rioting or worse. Kate had been nervous as she rode past the crowds. She could see her father on White Surrey, some way ahead, nodding his bared head right and left, greeting his people. But while a few shouted out their acclaim, most remained silent and resentful.

  Now the coronation procession was forming in the White Hall at Westminster, and Anne, Kate, and all the waiting lords and ladies made deep obeisances as King Richard appeared, splendid in robes of scarlet.

  Kate’s eyes alighted appreciatively on a handsome young lord who was standing near the King, carrying the orb. Tall and impressively dressed in the robes of a belted earl, he cut a dashing figure. His dramatic dark locks tumbled nearly to his shoulders, framing a face that could have been chiseled from the finest alabaster, with a strong nose and sensual lips. They were introduced: he was John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, the King’s nephew and her cousin. She supposed he must be about twenty years of age.

  She could not draw her gaze away from him, he was so comely. And he, sensing it, met her eyes and held them. His intense regard took Kate’s breath away.

  Another man was also watching her, the lord who had the honor of carrying the Queen’s scepter. He was older than Lincoln by several years, of middle height and stringy build, and nowhere near as handsome; in fact, his face reminded her of a ferret, and it was framed by black hair cut straight at jaw level. She looked away. She did not want him staring at her.

  It was time. Richard and Anne made their way to Westminster Hall, the lords and clergy following, and sat enthroned as the great procession began wending its slow way to Westminster Abbey. Then, hand in hand, the King and Queen went forth, walking barefoot along a carpet of striped cloth to the holiest sanctuary of the abbey: the shrine of St. Edward the Confessor, England’s canonized King. Kate walked decorously behind the Queen with the other ladies, following Margaret Beaufort, Lady Stanley, who had the high honor of carrying Anne’s train.

  Kate had not warmed to Lady Stanley, a stern, austere woman with a severe face and a prickly manner. A Lancastrian by birth and allegiance, she had ancient royal blood in her veins, for she was descended from Edward III’s son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and the mistress he’d later married, Katherine Swynford. Henry Tudor, Lady Stanley’s son by her first husband, the Earl of Richmond, was in exile in Brittany, but was still viewed by a few malcontents as the Lancastrian pretender to the throne, and the King had judged it wise to treat Lady Stanley with the respect her rank deserved but to keep her under his eye at court.

  There was only one notable absentee from the coronation, and that was the Duchess Cecily, who had made it clear that she had not forgiven her son’s outrageous allegations, and that she did not believe the tale of the precontract.

  For Kate, the long, slow ceremonial passed in a blur of pageantry, prayer, and stolen glances at John de la Pole. But she would never forget the moment when Cardinal Bourchier placed the crown on her father’s head. Her heart soared as the voices of the monks rose to the vaulted roof in the Te Deum that followed, and she too rejoiced, for the solemnity of the occasion must surely wipe out all doubt about the justness of her father’s title. She was thrilled to see the peers come up, each in his degree, to kneel and swear fealty to King Richard, and her eyes lingered on the debonair figure of the Earl of Lincoln as he took his turn.

  The coronation banquet in Westminster Hall lasted five hours. At the start, the King’s champion came riding in on his horse to challenge Richard’s royal title, as was customary. None disputed it, and the celebrations continued, with wine flowing abundantly, and dish after dish of flesh and fowl and wondrous sugar subtleties borne to the high table. Kate was seated some way along the board from Lincoln, but several times he leaned forward to catch her eye, and by the end of the fourth course there was a silent, unspoken conversation going on between them. When the salt cellars were removed and the cloth was raised, Kate knew she had her glorious lord in the palm of her little hand.

  They were bringing in the hippocras and wafers when, swiftly, he moved through the throng of courtiers and prelates and was suddenly there beside her. Already she knew her power over him, knew herself beautiful in the gorgeous blue gown and golden pendant, knew that she was alluring with her great blue eyes and wealth of dark hair. Both of them were a little flushed with wine.

  Lincoln took her hand and raised it to his lips.

  “Allow me to pay my respects, my lady,” he said. His voice was deep, assured. “Or are you a goddess who has bewitched me? In truth, I have had eyes for no other since I first saw you. But I think you were not aware of me until today.”

  “How could I have been?” Kate laughed lightly, but the expression in her eyes belied her levity. “I never saw you before, my lord!”

  Lincoln, chuckling, took a goblet from a servant and handed it to her before accepting one for himself. “Pray call me John, kind goddess. Your heavenly face reminds me of old Chaucer’s ‘flowers white and red.’ ”

  “You are a poet?” she asked.

  “I love his verse,” he answered. “Indeed, he was my ancestor, but it is not of Chaucer that I would speak. I would tell you how lovely you are, but you disdain to listen.”

  “I am listening now!” She was discovering how easy it was to flirt. It seemed the most natural thing to do, and her handsome admirer was making it very easy for her.

  “Then I shall recite you a poem,” he said. “I came across it some days after I first set eyes on you in the court. I had been watching you from afar.” And as he recited the lines, they seemed to speak to Kate’s heart.

  “I shall say what inordinate love is:

  The furiosity and frenzy of mind,

  An inextinguishable burning, faulting bliss,

  A great hunger, insatiable to find,

  A dulcet ill, an evil sweetness blind,

  A right wonderful, sugared, sweet error,

  Labor without rest, contrary to kind,

  And without quiet to have great labor.”

  There was a pause as John’s eyes met hers. Kate could not quite believe this was happening. He had spoken of love, her young knight, and yet they were hardly acquainted. But still, it seemed they knew each other, had known each other forever.

  “It’s a beautiful poem,” she said at last. “Yet I cannot believe I have cast you into such a frenzy, as you put it!”

  “Oh, you are cruel, my sweet lady!” His grimace, though, was feigned. He was
bantering with her.

  “Am I no more then than a sweet error?” she countered mischievously.

  “Ah, maybe, but you are too, as I said, right wonderful and the disturber of my rest!” He cocked his head to one side and looked meaningfully at her. She felt her cheeks flush.

  “I think we must postpone this singular pleasure,” John murmured. Kate looked around and saw that the King was preparing to retire. Queen Anne looked to be all but fainting on her feet, yet still she stood there valiantly with her lord, graciously accepting the congratulations of one dignitary after another. At last there was a great fanfare of trumpets, and the royal party could depart to their beds. Reluctantly, Kate dragged herself away from the handsome earl, who bowed extravagantly and wished her good-night so boldly that she blushed again.

  It had been the most exciting, exhilarating day, but as Kate’s spinning head hit the pillow, her thoughts still on John, she realized that there had been someone missing from the great ceremony. In the rush of preparations, she had spared little thought for the boy whose crowning this was to have been. How had he felt, left in the Tower with his brother, knowing that it had taken place without him? What was it like to be dispossessed of your crown and what you had thought to be your birthright, and relegated to bastardy?

  She was a bastard herself, and yet she had never been made to feel the pinch of it. Her brother, John of Gloucester, was a bastard too, and yet he had been present at the coronation, and knighted by their father. It did not seem quite right that her disinherited cousins in the Tower, and their unfortunate sisters in sanctuary, should have been forgotten on this great occasion. So before she finally fell asleep, she offered up a silent prayer for them all.

  KATHERINE

  August–October 1553; Sheen Priory, Whitehall Palace, and Westminster Abbey

  Queen Mary has entered London to unprecedented rejoicing. She kept her word, for my father was freed, after only three days in the Tower. Northumberland, having cravenly converted at the last to the Catholic faith in order to save his neck, died on the block.

  Soon afterward we hear talk of a marriage for the Queen.

  “She must wed,” my mother says. “A woman cannot rule alone.”

  “You could, my dear,” my father observes wryly. He is listless these days, and knows not how to occupy himself while waiting in vain for a summons to court. It rankles bitterly that Mary has forgiven the entire Privy Council for supporting Jane—except him.

  “She must get an heir to succeed her,” my mother says, “although I doubt she will find it easy at thirty-seven.”

  My sister Mary is playing with her kittens on the carpet. I have one on my lap, and it is ripping my embroidery apart. I chide it severely and lift it down to the floor, where Mary grabs it. “Gently!” I admonish her. She is a plain child, which is unfortunate, as some pretension to beauty would compensate for her poor humped back and small stature, yet her mind is lively and questioning.

  “What would happen if the Queen doesn’t get an heir?” she pipes up.

  “Then we would have the Lady Elizabeth to rule over us,” my lady says.

  Mary and I have never met the Lady Elizabeth, but we both know that, although she is only the bastardized daughter of King Harry by Anne Boleyn, she is second in line for the throne under that Act of Succession that had been subverted so Jane could be Queen. We know too that Elizabeth is a very learned and clever young lady, and much loved by the people. We heard there were great cheers for her when she rode into London beside the Queen, when Mary took possession of her capital.

  “I doubt that would please Her Majesty,” my lord declares, “for Elizabeth is a Protestant, although I dare say she will turn her coat now that the Mass has been restored.”

  “Ah, but the Queen has said she would not compel or constrain any man’s conscience,” my mother reminds him.

  “True, true, which is as well, because mark ye, I will never embrace the Catholic faith. Never! But can you see Mary remaining so tolerant if she marries Prince Philip of Spain?”

  My lady shrugs. “I doubt she will achieve that unless it be at the cost of her popularity. A Spaniard for king? And a fanatical Catholic at that, one who has been a champion of the Inquisition? Nay, she would do better to look closer to home for a husband!”

  “And invite faction fights at court?”

  “Then who can she marry?” my mother asks, tart.

  I leave them to their wrangling and wander out into the gardens. This talk of marriage makes me sad. The fresh breeze on my face feels like a bitter caress, reminding me of what I have lost. I have had no word or token from Harry, and my heart is heavy.

  I trail my fingers in the clear water of the fountain and peer into its depths. My distorted reflection stares back at me, a slender, tragic-faced girl in a yellow gown, with her fair hair straggling about her shoulders and her blue eyes watery with tears. Oh, my Harry, where are you? What are you doing right now? Are you thinking of me with as much grief as I think of you? Are you thinking of me at all?

  Not knowing is torture. Not being able to do anything to change the situation is even worse. If only I could be given some sign, some hint even, that he still loves me, I would abandon the rest and die content. What have I done to deserve this misery, except be born with royal blood in my veins?

  I walk along the lime alley, nursing my sorrow, and then I see, riding toward me, a messenger in the Tudor livery. He salutes me and rides on. Suddenly I feel the stirrings of excitement. What can his arrival mean?

  I am summoned to court, appointed to the exalted office of Lady of the Privy Chamber to the Queen! I cannot believe my good fortune, for—next to the privileged post of Lady of the Bedchamber—it is the highest court office that can be bestowed upon a woman. And there is more, for Her Majesty has been not just merciful, but bountiful too, and generously forgiving, and has sent to say that she will also receive my parents back at court. We are to present ourselves there as soon as is convenient, and are also commanded to attend her coronation, which is set for October.

  The news is cause for a great celebration, and I recall joyfully what my mother said to me that night I returned to Sheen. If I am seen to be in royal favor, Pembroke may think again about annulling my marriage to Harry.

  My mother, much restored in spirits, displays her usual energy and ambition in preparing me for my debut at court. The dress I am to wear for the coronation is scarlet velvet, by the Queen’s command and gift, so I am swathed in yards of the stuff, stuck with pins, and prodded and tugged about by the dressmaker. When the gown is finished, the effect is stunning, and I marvel at the tight, pointed square-necked bodice, the rich folds of the skirt with its long court train, the gold-embroidered chemise and neck ruff, the brilliant cloth-of-gold oversleeves, and the rich matching kirtle. There are ten other new gowns also, of forest green, white, tawny, scarlet, yellow, mustard, black and silver, nut brown, pink, and cream, their velvets and damasks sewn with the requisite number of pearls, or embellished with embroideries and black-work, and all are in the latest fashion, and very flattering. I pray that Harry will see me in them!

  To match them, there are kirtles, sleeves, petticoats, French hoods, cauls, snoods, shoes of soft leather, jeweled girdles, and an assortment of precious pendants, brooches, and rings. Small wonder my father grumbles about the exorbitant cost of kitting me out for court, but my mother insists I go there royally attired, as befits my rank.

  Amid all the bustle, I stifle pangs of guilt over Jane, who should be coming to court with me but languishes still in the Tower. Not, I think sadly, that she would think much of these fine clothes. But if she could be restored to us, my happiness would be complete. I still pray for that daily.

  For the first time in months, though, my heart is lighter. I will repay the Queen’s kindness by serving her to the utmost of my ability; I will set myself to earn her favor; and then—newly confident in my gorgeous attire—I swear I will win back my bridegroom and my sister!

  I d
epart for the court tomorrow. Today I must pack those personal possessions that I wish to take with me. My mother says I will be assigned a small chamber of my own off the maidens’ dorter, where the Queen’s female attendants sleep—those who are under the supervision of the Mother of the Maids, although as a Lady of the Privy Chamber, I will not come under her jurisdiction. Yet my bedchamber is certain to be small, so I must take only essential items. Into the ironbound wooden traveling chests go my beribboned lute, some books, a manuscript of poems, my sewing basket and embroidery, a vial of rosewater, my toilet set, brushes, and silver mirror. I am just about to stow away the casket in which I keep my jewels and letters when I remember that it contains the Herbert pendant and the bundle of papers that were probably written by Katherine Plantagenet—whose portrait I was not, of course, allowed to bring with me from Baynard’s Castle. I have not dreamed about her since I left that house.

  I take out the pendant and the ribbon-wrapped bundle and stare at them, engulfed in a great wave of pain. They are cruel reminders of that other life that I have lost, and I can hardly bear to look at them. The last time I did that, Harry was with me. Suddenly, my interest in Katherine Plantagenet and the mystery surrounding those illegible papers seems tainted by the ruthlessness and brutality of Pembroke. They are too poignant a reminder of that time, and I thrust them to the bottom of the casket, beneath all the other papers and jewels. I know I will not be able to look at them again for a long time.

  “Oh, Harry, Harry!” I whisper. “I seem as far from you as if I were on the moon.” My puppies jump up on the bed and nuzzle at me as I sit weeping alone. They are a recent gift from my father, whose bitch whelped a few weeks ago: a pair of fluffy, leggy scamps named Arthur and Guinevere. My lord expressed the gruff wish, when he gave them to me, that they would help to distract me from my sorrow. It is a comfort to know that ladies are allowed to bring their lapdogs to court. At least I will have someone there to love.

 
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