A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir

  Personally, I think Prince Philip looks an attractive man, with his full lips and proper features; I can see why the Queen is so smitten with his portrait. I pray that he will be kind to her, for she is eleven years his senior, and looks it—and she is so full of maidenly modesty that it was some while before she could even bring herself to say the word “marriage” in the presence of her councillors. She told us that herself, blushing furiously. I cannot imagine her bedding with a man!

  The Lady Elizabeth is much discountenanced by the news of the Queen’s marriage. Her long hooked nose is much out of joint, for she is her sister’s legal heir, and if Her Majesty bears a son, she—like me—will never succeed to the throne, which I am sure is what Elizabeth desires fiercely.

  Maybe she should not have made so much fuss about going to Mass, for if she had put herself out to please the Queen, Her Majesty would trust her far more, and would look more kindly on her as her successor. But Elizabeth has dissembled once too often, and now she sulks about the court, intriguing with the French ambassador, or urging Queen Mary to let her go to Hatfield or Ashridge, or another of the many houses she owns. But always the Queen refuses. She remains suspicious of her sister, and understands the necessity for keeping her where she can be watched.

  There has been little love lost between Elizabeth and me since my actions made it clear to her that I was not going to spy for her or support her stand on religion. When we meet, she is polite, even talkative, but never warm. Yet today, when I am standing all forlorn in the deserted maidens’ dorter, having fled here to try to calm down after receiving the news of my sister, she seeks me out.

  “I heard about the Lady Jane’s condemnation,” she tells me. Her voice is gruff; she seems unusually moved.

  “The Queen herself told me the news, Your Grace,” I say, trembling. “Even though she has promised mercy, it is a terrible thing to hear. Burned alive or beheaded, at Her Majesty’s pleasure …”

  “I hear Jane took it well. They say she was calm when she walked from the Guildhall with the axe turned toward her. The crowds were silent when they saw she had been condemned.” Elizabeth shudders; of course, her mother, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded for treason and other shocking crimes when Elizabeth was very young. How terrible it must be to live with that knowledge. No wonder she is so affected by today’s news.

  “Jane is innocent,” I say. “The Queen knows it.”

  “How many are called traitor who are innocent?” Elizabeth asks, unnerving me.

  “Dear God, how did we come to be in this situation?” I wail, breaking down in tears.

  “Because of your Tudor blood,” Elizabeth says. “It is a curse as well as a blessing. And since you are a woman, men seek to use you to satisfy their own ambitions, as Northumberland did with Jane. They sought to use me too, but I was cannier—and luckier. We poor creatures are but pawns on a chessboard. Even the Queen—if she marries—will be at the mercy of her husband.”

  “If she marries? It is certain that she will.”

  Elizabeth flushed. “A slip of the tongue. Of course she will. But she will be no better off than any country wife. God’s blood, I will never marry. I’ll have no man rule me.”

  I am sorry for her cynicism, and that she accounts love so lightly. Unlike me, she has not known the happiness of marriage. And yet maybe she is wiser than I, for those who fly high with happiness set themselves up to be dashed down with sorrow. I still relive that terrible moment in Westminster Abbey when Harry looked away.

  Forgetting in whose presence I am, I sink down onto a bed, crying hopelessly, emitting great tearing sobs. Despite the Queen’s assurances, the full horror of Jane’s sentence keeps overwhelming me, and I cannot get it out of my mind. Burning is such a dreadful death. When I was very young, I saw a woman burned at the stake in London. Mrs. Ellen hid my eyes, so I only watched for a few awful seconds, but I have never forgotten it, or the screams of the condemned. Not Jane! Please God, not Jane!

  Elizabeth rests a hand on my shoulder.

  “I am sorry you have fresh occasion for sorrow,” she says, more kindly than I have ever heard her speak. “You must have faith. Be obedient to Him whose strokes are unavoidable. He will not test you, or your sister, beyond your endurance.”

  It is comforting to realize that Elizabeth has a more sensitive side. I cease crying and struggle to my feet, reaching in my pocket for my kerchief.

  “I am sorry, I forgot my manners to Your Grace,” I sniff. “I thank you for your kind advice, and I will take comfort in God.”

  The moment of closeness has passed. Elizabeth regards me coolly; her mood, ever mercurial, has changed again. “It is said you will convert to the old religion,” she says. “Is that from conviction, or because Spain wants it?”

  How does she know that? The French ambassador, of course!

  “If I convert, Your Grace, it will be because I am persuaded it is the right thing to do,” I say, righteous with indignation. But her barb has hit home. I would be changing my religion primarily to further my own ambitions—and she has made me feel bad about that.

  “Well, go and pray to your God—whoever He is,” she says, reverting to her usual acerbity. She cannot but regard my conversion as anything other than apostasy.

  “I thank you for your kindness, Your Grace,” I say, suppressing my resentment. “I will do as you enjoin me.”

  “It will only be efficacious if you follow the true path,” she says coldly, and disappears through the door with a swish of her green silk skirts.

  I am beginning to suspect that Elizabeth hates me; I think I have always known it. What else can there be between us but rivalry? We are both too close to the throne for comfort; and she may have more than a suspicion that there is a move afoot to supplant her in the succession.

  If her parting thrust made me feel guilty, her behavior in the days and weeks that follow compounds it. I am, after all, the daughter of parents who were hot for the cause of church reform in King Harry’s reign, and came out as Protestants under King Edward, so I was mostly brought up in the new religion. Jane, of course, is one of its most passionate exponents, and had she been let to rule over us, I have no doubt but that England would have stayed firmly Protestant. But instead we have Catholic Mary, who has brought back the Mass and the holy images that were once deemed idolatrous, and made England’s peace with Rome. It has been a marvel to see so many hitherto ardent reformers suddenly confessing that they have secretly been Papists all along, so what choice do I have, if I want to survive at court—and if I want to be Queen?

  Elizabeth has seen through me, and makes it clear she despises me for my pragmatism. She shuns me at every opportunity, and utters bitchy remarks in my presence about people who are too craven to follow their conscience. Oh, she is clever: she speaks in reference to herself returning to the faith of her childhood with a whole heart—but I know where her darts are aimed. She thinks to occupy the moral high ground; yet this is the lady who complained that her belly hurt when it was time to go to Mass, or that she didn’t understand this or that finer point of Catholic theology. Her, with her brains and acute intellect!

  To be honest, never having been much of a scholar, and having come under Queen Mary’s patient influence, I cannot now comprehend why being a Catholic is so wrong. Indeed, I have discovered that there is much about it that appeals to me. I love the sweet statues of the smiling Virgin and her Babe that the Queen has set up in her chapels, the silvery tinkling of bells at the altar, the spicy waft of incense, and the comfort of knowing that the saints are praying for me in Heaven. Indeed, to my good cheer, I have learned that there is a whole panoply of them, of whom I might beseech a timely intercession with the Lord God, each having a special patronage. And I must confess myself glad to be spared the interminable sermons of the Protestant preachers, having never been able to sit still and suppress my yawns in Sunday services, much to my mother’s annoyance. How she would prod me sharply in the arm, to make me pay attention! It is a relief to hav
e all that behind me.

  But Elizabeth is cut of a different cloth. She will stand there, demure and maidenly in her unadorned black-and-white Protestant garb that she affects because she knows it riles Queen Mary, and with her long red hair loose over her shoulders in token of her virgin youthfulness—another way of showing herself in a more favorable light than the aging Queen—and look disapprovingly down that sharp, hooked nose at the jeweled crucifix I have taken to wearing on my breast; and she will give me that hurtful, withering glance that brands me a hypocrite.

  Her dislike is palpable, and, of course, there are other reasons for it. When we do meet, she takes pleasure in telling me that my skin is too pale, my hair too fine and too light in color, or my figure too thin, twisting her own luxuriant red locks in her fingers as she speaks, or smoothing her cheeks, or spanning her slim waist with her hands. She cannot bear to think that anyone might be more beautiful or attractive to men than herself.

  I suspect that what lies at the root of her dislike is fear. She knows full well that I am next in line to the throne after her; and therefore, whatever attributes I might have to recommend me—and she makes it plain that, in her opinion, they are not up to much—I am her rival.

  I know I must be wary of her; she is her father’s daughter.

  Jane Dormer, who serves alongside me in the Privy Chamber, is one of Her Majesty’s maids of honor and closest friends, and a young lady more sweet, pious, or learned you could not hope to meet. When the Queen herself sends her to me, it becomes apparent that my position in regard to religion is of the highest importance to Her Majesty.

  Mistress Dormer bids me follow her into Her Majesty’s oratory, a closet richly decked out with blue and gold hangings, with an altar on which stands a bejeweled crucifix and a painted statuette of the Virgin and Child, and a prayer stool covered with a costly Turkish rug.

  “We can be private here,” Dormer says, smiling kindly. “Do not look so anxious, Lady Katherine. There is nothing to fear. Now—Monsieur Renard has approached you in regard to the succession to the throne.” It is a statement, not a question. My heart starts thumping with excitement. This is the moment I have waited for.

  “You can imagine how important—nay crucial—your conversion to the Catholic faith is to the Queen,” Jane says. “And that of your lord and lady too. However, I am charged to tell you that your father has this day recanted, which has caused Her Majesty great distress, for he has changed his coat twice now, and clearly cannot be relied upon.”

  Her words strike ice into my heart. “I am deeply sorry to hear of my father’s offense,” I stress. “I would not wish his fault to be imputed to me.”

  “Nor is it,” she assures me. “But Her Majesty is hoping to hear that you have now come to a decision over your own faith. I believe you have had some weeks to think about it. If you have any questions or doubts, I am here to assist and advise you.”

  “I thank you, Mistress Dormer, but I have made my decision,” I say, feeling I am on the brink of something momentous. “Please tell Her Majesty that I will willingly and gladly convert to the Catholic faith.”


  August 1483, Warwick Castle

  When Queen Anne’s party finally arrived at Warwick, riding through the mighty new Tower House gate after what seemed an endless journey in sweltering weather, they found the court buzzing with talk of a conspiracy to set the deposed Edward V back on the throne. King Richard greeted them affectionately, but later, when they supped together privately in the solarium, he dismissed the servitors as soon as the first course had been brought in, and unburdened his troubled mind.

  “My throne is not as secure as I thought,” he said darkly, clenching his fist as it lay on the table. “Never mind my just title, or that magnificent coronation, or my efforts to court the favor of my subjects: they hate me. They do not cheer when I pass, or return my greetings. Instead, they mutter or call out against usurping northerners, whom they hate as a matter of principle, ignorant fools.”

  “There will always be distrust between southerners and northerners,” the Queen said.

  “Madam, I cannot discount the half of my kingdom,” Richard answered. “I am King of the South as well, and it is in the South and West that these conspiracies originated. Confederacies were formed, assemblies gathered unlawfully, their purpose to free my nephews from the Tower. Some were plotting to divert the jailers with a blaze.”

  “Jailers? Are the princes now prisoners?” Anne’s shock was evident.

  Richard frowned. “Madam, in the circumstances, I have had to order a close guard to be kept on the ‘Lord Bastards.’ ” His emphasis reproved her for calling them princes. “But they are safe and well cared for. You need not trouble yourself about them.”

  “They are children! They cannot lead their lives in captivity.”

  “Nor will they,” Richard assured her. “As soon as I am safely established on my throne, they will be set free, and provided for honorably.”

  Kate was relieved to hear that, and she could see her stepmother visibly relaxing. Cheered, she helped herself to another slice of lark pie. Her father smiled at her.

  “In truth, it does me good to see you both again,” he declared. “My lady, you have brought young Warwick with you, as I commanded?”

  “I have, my lord,” Anne said, and Kate had an uncomfortable memory of her futile attempts to make conversation with the awkward lad on the journey.

  “I need Warwick under my eye, for his own safety,” her father said. “Who knows what these traitors will do next? Fortunately, the late conspiracies were uncovered in time and dealt with, but there may be others.” He got up and began pacing up and down the room. “Why cannot people accept that none of my brothers’ children are his rightful heirs? The Wydevilles never cease plotting against me. Even Buckingham has abandoned me, I fear.”

  “Buckingham?” gasped Anne. “I cannot believe it!”

  The King sat down, shaking his head. He looked pale. “We quarreled at Gloucester. He accused me of not keeping my promise to grant him the Bohun lands; he has been claiming they are his for a long time. He took umbrage and departed for his estates at Brecon, saying he had pressing business there.”

  “But he owes all his wealth and power to you! Without you, he is nothing.”

  “You forget I owe my throne to him, my lady. He was most eloquent at persuading people that I should be King.” He sighed. “Do not worry about Buckingham. I will deal with him.”

  “What of the other lords? Norfolk, Northumberland, Stanley, and the rest?” Anne asked worriedly.

  “Loyal, as far as I can tell. Stanley will always be suspect because of his Beaufort wife, but so far he has kept her ambitions in check.”

  “Her ambitions?”

  “The woman is obsessed with her son, Henry Tudor. Those two like to keep up the fiction that he is the Lancastrian claimant to the throne. Can you believe that? The Cousins’ Wars between Lancaster and York were over and done with twelve years ago. Someone should tell them!”

  “But how can Henry Tudor be the Lancastrian heir?” Kate asked.

  “He cannot,” her father said. “He is of bastard stock. John of Gaunt’s Beaufort bastards were the children of his mistress, Dame Katherine Swynford, born before their marriage. They have no right to inherit the crown.”

  “What of his father?”

  “He was Edmund Tudor, the son of some unknown Welshman—and Henry Tudor, as far as I am concerned, is another unknown Welshman, and not worth bothering about. Lady Stanley is welcome to her fantasies, but that’s all they can ever be. No, my Kate, the true heir is your brother, Prince Edward. And Anne, I mind, when we are at York, to have him brought there from Middleham so that I can invest him as Prince of Wales.”

  “Oh, that is good news!” Anne exclaimed. “I have missed Edward so much. I long to embrace him.” Richard laid his hand over hers; such gestures of tenderness were rare between them these days.

  “That is not the only piece
of good news I have for you.” He smiled. “This day, there arrived at my court ambassadors from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, come to negotiate a marriage for our little prince with a Spanish infanta. Edward will have a fit mate to match his royal status as England’s heir.”

  “A Spanish infanta?” Anne echoed, delighted. “Any daughter of the Spanish sovereigns will be an excellent match for Edward.” She paused. “Speaking of marriage, there is something I must ask you, my lord.”

  Kate’s spirits wavered. This was the moment she had been dreading. At least her father was in a better mood, beaming at the thought of those proud little infantas. She reached for the ewer and refilled his goblet, hoping to mellow him further.

  “It concerns Kate’s marriage,” the Queen said.

  “Indeed?” the King asked, his grin fading. “Has someone asked for her hand?”

  “No, but your nephew Lincoln has been paying her his addresses.”

  Kate quailed as her father looked piercingly at her.

  “He has done nothing wrong, sire!” she hastened to say. “He just pays court to me, reads me poems, and tells me I am beautiful.”

  Richard raised his eyebrows. “As indeed you are, my Kate.” He reflected for a moment. “In truth, I had not thought to see any man come courting you so soon, but now I perceive that I have been thinking of you only as a child. I see I must come to terms with your growing up. How long has this been going on?”

  “Since the day of the coronation.”

  “Indeed. Has my nephew spoken of marriage?”

  “No, sire—only of love.” Kate blushed. “But we have not known each other very long. And I have not seen him since you left Windsor.”

  Her father appeared to consider the matter, as Anne sat silent and Kate waited in trepidation. Never before had it been made so plain to her that her future happiness lay in the hands of one man, who had absolute power over her fate.

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