A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  “You pine for your husband,” she says suddenly. I stare at her in astonishment.

  “How does Your Grace know that?”

  “The Queen told me. She said she grieved for you, but she could not allow the marriage to stand, and will not interfere with its dissolution. You should forget him.” Her eyes are hard. I cannot imagine her ever allowing her heart to rule her head.

  A tear trickles down my cheek; I cannot help it. I do not want to hear such brutal advice. My hopes have been dashed for good, it seems. Even if Pembroke changes his mind about annulling my marriage, the Queen herself now stands in the way. I am sobbing openly now, mortified at losing control in front of my tormentor.

  Suddenly Elizabeth’s mood softens and she rests one of those delicate hands on mine. “You poor little fool. She said you asked for her intercession. Do you not realize that she does not intend for either of us to marry? Because, little cousin, if you or I take a husband, we become an even more dangerous threat to her. We were both brought up in the reformed faith, which is cause enough for suspicion. And any man that you or I marry might press a claim to the throne. A foreign prince might come with an army at his back; an English lord might foment a court conspiracy. God knows, we do not even have to marry! Anyone could use us, the Protestant heiresses, as the focus for his treasonable ambitions. Wake up! You have the example of your sister before you! What is more, if either of us bears a son, the clamor for a masculine succession will be deafening. People will always prefer a crested prince to a cloven one!” Her tone is bitter.

  Her reasoning is clear, horribly clear. It is like a death sentence, being told that I might never be permitted to wed—and that Harry is forever barred to me. There is a lump in my throat, choking me.

  “You understand now why the Queen can never trust you, however loyal you may be?” Elizabeth asks me. “It is the same for me.”

  “But if she marries and bears a son?” I counter, clutching at my last hope.

  “Then things may be different. But there are those who would readily plot to overthrow a Catholic queen, especially if she marries Philip of Spain. Not I, of course, or any of her true subjects. Yet I do fear that if Her Majesty insists on this marriage, she will forfeit the love of many of her people.”

  “Your Grace, may I ask why you are telling me all this?”

  Elizabeth raises her eyebrows. “Is it not obvious? We share common bonds, of blood—and other things.” She does not elaborate, but I suspect she is referring to religion. She is too clever to say it, though. She has daily to pretend that she is willing and eager to embrace the Catholic faith, and is playing a perilous game. Many doubt her sincerity, but she dare not give herself away; she must convince the Queen that her conversion is genuine, and somehow leave the Protestants with room to hope that she has converted against her will.

  Is she trying to enlist my support?

  “I am Your Grace’s servant,” I say, for want of anything else. I know I am out of my depth here.

  “If you hear anything said of me, pray tell me,” she says lightly. I believe she thinks that I will now be ready and willing to show solidarity with her, two Protestant heiresses united in a common cause and supporting each other. I might be a lamb among wolves, but I am aware she is trying to cozen me into acting as her spy in the Queen’s chamber.

  I dare not refuse her outright. I sense that she might make a formidable enemy.

  “I thank Your Grace for your kindness,” I say. “Pray excuse me now, as I am needed to help Her Majesty robe for the evening.” And I curtsey, pick up my basket, and hurry off, Arthur and Guinevere yapping at my heels, leaving Elizabeth sitting there with an unreadable look on her face. She is going to be very disappointed when she sees me going freely to Mass every Sunday and realizes I am keeping my counsel about what I overhear in the privacy of the royal apartments.

  Elizabeth is distinctly cooler toward me when we meet on the morning of the coronation, as the great procession is forming in Westminster Hall. She has been a distant figure during the past two days of celebrations: the triumphal progress along the river to the Tower, where it is customary for monarchs to lodge before being crowned; and the magnificent progress through a London decked with tapestries, flowers, and pageants to Westminster, our ears resounding with the salutes of trumpets and cannon. She is not present when we deck the Queen in her purple and ermine on her coronation morning, but she is waiting in Westminster Hall to take her place in the procession, and in the seconds before she executes a dramatic curtsey that shows off the wide white-and-silver skirts beneath her sweeping scarlet mantle, she catches sight of me and gives me a faintly malevolent glance. I am stung by it: it is as if, by sending no word since she asked me to report anything said of her—and she surely must guess there would have been something to divulge by now—I have betrayed her. But she is not stupid: she must know I am in the most invidious position.

  Resolving to ignore her, I refuse to meet her eyes as she takes her place next after the Queen and lifts up her train. Behind her, the Lady Anne of Cleves, King Harry’s divorced wife—a very merry lady, and no wonder—moves into position, and then it is my part, as a princess of the blood, to occupy the third place of honor. Mayhap this evidence of the Queen’s favor will serve to stop people avoiding me, as many have done since I arrived at court. For what else could be so plain a token that Her Majesty thinks kindly on me?

  The fanfares sound, then the lords start processing out of the hall in stately fashion, and in a little space we three ladies follow, walking in line behind the Queen’s Majesty along the bright blue carpet that has been laid along the path to the abbey, and through the abbey itself. I am overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of this day: the bells ringing out joyfully, the choir bursting into song, the awe-inspiring majesty of the organ, and the Queen, that small, thin figure weighed down by her heavy robes, dedicating herself with shining sincerity to the service of her country and people. And one other thing I will always remember: Harry’s face, among the lords, glimpsed as I pass on my way out of the abbey in the wake of my crowned sovereign. I turn my head—how could I not?—and our eyes meet for a heartbeat. It is three months since I last saw my love. I smile—but he, like so many other people have done, looks away.

  KATE

  July 1483, Windsor Castle

  Kate thought her father looked magnificent in his royal mantle, seated on White Surrey at the head of his vast retinue, as he led the great procession through the lower ward and out the gates of Windsor Castle. He was bound for London, and then Oxford, on the first stages of a great royal progress through his kingdom, the purpose of which was to greet his new subjects, and to court and win their loyalty.

  She had stood by the mounting block as Queen Anne offered the stirrup cup and the King bade them a formal farewell and went on his way. She watched as his slight, erect figure on its magnificent destrier passed through the gates of Windsor, then searched desperately for a last sight of John de la Pole, who rode with the lords who followed their King; elegant in his black and gold doublet and a black bonnet with a curling feather, he waved to her gaily and blew a kiss. With a bereft heart, she stood looking after him until he had long disappeared from sight.

  It was frustrating being left behind, but it would not be for long. The Queen had been slightly indisposed—a summer fever, the doctors had said—and did not feel up to traveling at the moment. It had been arranged that she and Kate would miss the first stops on the progress and travel directly to Warwick Castle to join the King there. And then—oh, joy, Kate thought, her heart soaring—she would be reunited with John! The days could not pass quickly enough.

  “It will be good to be in Warwick again,” Anne said, as Kate joined her in the Queen’s chamber, a spacious apartment hung with gorgeous painted and gilded fabric, and graced with a fair stone fireplace and tall lattice windows. “I was brought up there.”

  “Will we be going to Middleham?” Kate asked. She was still nostalgic for her old life, but these d
ays she could think of little but John. They had met several times in the dean’s cloister garden behind the new chapel that was being built and would be dedicated to St. George. The first time, John had given her a pink rose; he said it matched her cheeks. He was always paying her poetic compliments, calling her his “flower of beauty, excellent above all others, lovely, good, and wise …” He’d told her of his family, of his irascible sire, his lovable mother—her father’s sister, Elizabeth—and of the great houses he called home: Wingfield in Suffolk and Ewelme in Oxfordshire. He made her feel so important and special. She knew now, beyond any doubt, that she was in love with him.

  The long days of their separation seemed to stretch endlessly ahead. She did not know how she would bear them. How inconvenient of the Queen to be ill at this time! She caught herself up at that. Anne was not strong, never had been. How could she think so unkindly of her?

  Anne was watching her. “Where have you been?” she chided. “I said I long to go to Middleham, to see my little boy.”

  Kate started. “I beg your pardon, madam, I was thinking about the progress.”

  “And a certain young man.” The Queen smiled, but the smile did not reach her eyes.

  “I—you know?” Kate asked, floundering. But she had done nothing wrong, nothing of which she was ashamed. John had never even attempted to kiss her.

  “There are no secrets in courts,” Anne said. “You have been seen together, more than once; my ladies like to gossip. Dear child, I must caution you to be careful. I understand what it is to be young and smitten, and my lord of Lincoln is a very handsome young man with a persuasive way about him. Yet he is eight years older than you, and the game of love he plays is common at court. He knows he can never have you, so for him it is purely chivalrous dalliance.”

  “It is no game!” Kate cried. “We love each other, I swear it. And he is unwed, and so am I, so why can he never have me?”

  “For a start, you are first cousins; you could not marry without the Pope’s dispensation, and that might prove expensive, given the close kinship. And forgive me, Kate, but you are baseborn. He is the Earl of Lincoln. He is destined to succeed his father as Duke of Suffolk, and should—God forfend!—anything befall my son the prince, he may be in line for the throne itself.”

  “We can overcome all!” Kate cried. “I may be baseborn, but I am the daughter of the King, and he has often spoken of arranging a great marriage for me. And John loves me! He will not quibble at seeking a dispensation.”

  “Has he spoken of marriage?”

  “Not yet. But we have only known each other a short time. He has spoken much of love, though, so I have no doubt his intentions are honorable.”

  “Oh, my sweet Kate, how innocent you are!” Anne exclaimed. “When men speak of love, they are not always thinking of marriage. And when they speak of marriage, they are thinking of rich dowries and lands.”

  “Surely my father will give me a rich dowry?”

  “Indeed he will. He has said so. But it is he who will choose the man you marry.”

  Kate was beginning to feel desperate. “Then I will tell him I want to marry John.”

  “Might it not be best to wait and find out if John has marriage in mind? Or if his father has chosen a bride for him already?”

  “John is not betrothed. He told me so.” She could remember the moment: they had been standing in a window embrasure late one evening, looking out at a starry sky. It was one of those moments she felt she wanted to hold on to forever. John had asked her if she was pledged to anyone, and squeezed her hand when she told him she was not, and then he had said he was not pledged either. At the time, it had felt like a promise. She had been certain he was hinting that he desired to wed her, and her heart had soared again.

  Anne was silent. “You run ahead with yourself, Kate. Listen, child: this must go no further until I have spoken to your father about it. We must find out his wishes in the matter.”

  “Will you speak for us?” Kate’s spirits were suddenly uplifted.

  “I will ask him if he approves,” Anne corrected her, and would not be drawn out further.

  KATHERINE

  November–December 1553, Whitehall Palace

  Jane and Guilford are to be tried on the fourteenth of November. Although the Queen has assured me that the trial is merely a formality, and that a pardon will follow when the time is right, the announcement strikes dread into my heart. It reminds me how perilously close Jane has been brought to her utter ruin. May God grant that the Queen stays firm in her resolve to show mercy.

  I wish I could see Jane and comfort her, and tell her that all will be well, that Her Majesty is warmly disposed toward our family and bears her no malice. But I have not seen her for four months, and she is allowed no visitors.

  I am in great fear lest this trial prejudice my own future. I told Renard that I, for my part, would be content to embrace the Catholic faith, but that, in all duty, I had to discuss the matter first with my parents, and I was sure he would understand that I needed to choose my moment. He warned that I must not say a word to my lord and lady about the possibility of my being named the Queen’s heir, which of course leaves me in a dilemma, because how else do I justify to them my sudden conversion?

  Renard was deferential, yet he did not court me as before. Mayhap I have taken too long in making up my mind. Perchance he is not as warm in my cause as he was in September. And maybe this coming trial is too vivid a reminder that my close kin were traitors to the Queen only a few short months ago.

  My life is a continual tempest. I am tormented by my need for Harry, and the devastation I feel in the wake of his snubbing me at the coronation, but somehow our paths never cross at court. I am sure he is avoiding me. Then there are new rumors that I and my sisters are to be declared bastards, on the grounds that my father was already wed when he married my mother. It’s nonsense, but rumormongers care naught for the truth! I suspect that the tale originated with the French ambassador, who probably knows by now that Spain and the Empire are putting their weight behind me in regard to the succession. It is all too much, and I find myself continually on the verge of tears, with only Arthur and Guinevere to comfort me.

  My mother seeks me out one rainy day as I am taking some exercise in the long gallery with my dogs, brooding upon my woes.

  “I have to talk to you,” she says, and leads me to the lodging she shares with my father; it is deserted just now, for he is at the cockpit, watching prize birds tear each other to pieces.

  My mother seats herself in her chair. “I will not waste words,” she says. “They are putting pressure on us, your father and me, to convert to the Roman faith. I think you know something about this. They said you are willing.”

  “Monsieur Renard did approach me about it,” I say carefully. “He told me it was the Queen’s wish. I said I would consider it, but that I wanted to discuss it with you.” It is not quite the truth, but it is near enough.

  “Indeed. It was the Privy Council that approached us,” she tells me. “We told them it was out of the question, but they tried to bribe us, saying that great benefits would follow.”

  “And they will!” I blurt out.

  My lady stares at me in astonishment. “What do you mean? Out with it, girl, and tell me the truth!”

  “The Queen wishes it, I know that,” I say, aware that I must dissemble well if I am to deceive my hawklike mother. “She has said so, therefore it must follow that she will be generous to those who do her will. I can think of nothing that would please her so much as the conversion of her close kin.”

  My lady gives me a long, penetrating look, then relaxes a little. “I did discuss with your father the possibility of our converting back to the Roman faith. I said it would go better for Jane, with her trial looming, if we complied with the Queen’s will. But he is unshakable.”

  A week later, though, I learn that, bullied by my mother, my father has at last agreed to be received once more into the faith of his youth. It
is all over the court that they have both recanted the Protestant religion; it is a feather in the cap of the Catholics.

  Jane and Guilford have been tried and condemned to death.

  “Rest assured, Lady Katherine, I am resolved to be merciful,” the Queen told me kindly when she broke the news in the privacy of her closet. “However, the formalities had to be observed. My councillors demanded it. I promise you it was a fair trial, and the witnesses were allowed to speak freely. I warned my judges that I would have no intimidation, and that it was my pleasure that whatever could be produced in your sister’s favor should be heard.”

  “I thank Your Majesty for your great mercy,” I said, and falling on my knees, kissed her hand fervently. Tears were spilling down my cheeks.

  “Do not distress yourself, child,” the Queen said, lifting me up. “In a short space, I will order the Lady Jane’s release. When I have a son.” Her eyes took on that dreamy look we are all coming to know so well, as she turned away to gaze for the thousandth time at Master Titian’s splendid portrait of Prince Philip, to whom she is now betrothed.

  “It will not be long until he is here,” she breathed, sounding like a girl in love.

  “Oh, I do wish for Your Majesty’s happiness!” I cried. “Bless you, dear child,” she smiled.

  Not everyone likes the idea of this marriage. Go out into London, and you will hear outraged protests about it. The people do not want “Jack Spaniard” in England. They say openly that they would rather die than have the Spanish rule here; that Philip will be a harsh master, and bring in the Inquisition to torture and burn Protestants; and that this marriage will make England just another province of the mighty Habsburg empire. At court there are lewd jokes about the prince’s debauchery and whispers about his thieving nature. The Queen does not hear them—or chooses not to acknowledge them. Her mind is made up, and she fancies herself in love; she will not hear of any opposition to her marriage.

 
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