A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir

  “Lincoln is a fine young lord, the best servant a king could have,” Richard said at length. “However, you are not the first damsel to whom he has paid court like this, although I have never heard that his behavior has ever been dishonorable. We must wait to see if he intends marriage.”

  “And if he does?” Kate breathed.

  “I will consider it. The idea does not displease me, but there is no haste. You are not yet fourteen, and I would keep you with me for a while longer.”

  “Then I may go and find him?” she asked excitedly. “I will not forbid it, so long as, for now, you think of him only as your cousin and conduct yourself accordingly. There is to be no more talk of love, still less of marriage. Such decisions are best left to those who are older, wiser, and not blinded by their passions to all good sense. So, yes, you may enjoy my lord of Lincoln’s company, but never alone. Do you heed me?”

  “Yes, sire,” Kate replied, a little crestfallen.

  Her father smiled. “I am not so old that I cannot remember what it was like to be young. Youth needs the friendship and company of its own kind. Long before your stepmother and I were betrothed, we spent every moment we could together at Middleham and Warwick—not that her father knew about it.” He smiled at Anne. “But we never overstepped the bounds of friendship, and that is as far as it can go with your cousin of Lincoln, Kate. I am trusting you to behave virtuously and with decorum.”

  As soon as supper was over, Kate made her curtsies and sped downstairs to the great hall, which was packed with the King’s nobles and liveried retainers, carousing and singing. There was no sign of John among them, so she hurried out into the bailey and looked for him there. To her delight, she spotted him in a little garden at the foot of a grassy mound in the far corner, lounging on the sward with two other men. They were deep in conversation, and she hesitated to intrude, but when one of John’s companions—whom she recognized as the sly lawyer, Sir William Catesby, now her father’s Chancellor of the Exchequer—espied her and rose quickly to his feet, the rest followed suit. John’s face broke into a radiant smile when he beheld her, and he made a courtly bow and kissed her hand. The other man, she saw, was Lord Stanley. He was much older than the first two, with long, straggly graying hair and creased brows that made him look permanently troubled. “My lady,” he said, and bowed too.

  “Come join us, Kate,” John invited, and she sank down onto the grass, her mustard-colored skirts spread out about her. “We were just enjoying the evening air—it’s hot and noisy in the hall.” He offered her some marchpane. “We were saying how concerned we are about the late conspiracies,” he said.

  “My father the King has just been telling us about them,” she said. “I cannot believe that the Duke of Buckingham has abandoned him.”

  “Strange business, that,” said Stanley. “No rhyme or reason to it.”

  “It’s possible, of course, that he was bound up in the conspiracies,” Catesby said. “Before he went off to Brecon, he told us they’d tried to involve him in one of the plots, so I suppose he could have been playing a double game. But he did inform the King of the approach that had been made to him, and that information certainly led to some of the conspirators being caught. So we might wonder just why he turned on the King, after being one of his staunchest supporters.”

  “What could the conspirators offer him beyond what the King has given him?” John asked.

  “They quarreled over the Bohun estates,” Stanley said. “The Duke accused King Richard of not keeping his promise to grant them to him.”

  “That’s strange too,” Catesby mused. “The King made him a provisional grant of them last month.”

  “Maybe Buckingham didn’t like the fact it was provisional,” John suggested. “Although he must have known he’d get them in the end.”

  “The fact remains that he may now make mischief for our liege lord,” Stanley pointed out.

  “While the sons of King Edward remain in the Tower, King Richard can never be secure on his throne,” Catesby said. “The late conspiracies proved that.”

  “But the Tower is a safe place,” John chimed in. “They cannot leave, nor can would-be traitors get at them. They are well guarded by our trusty Constable of the Tower. No one could get past Brackenbury.” That was comforting. Kate had known the kindly, popular Robert Brackenbury when he served in her father’s household at Middleham, and knew him to be devoted to his master. He would be a gentle jailer for the two princes.

  “But it’s not just a question of keeping the boys under guard,” Catesby was saying, his voice lowered. “Even though the Lord Bastard is innocent of any involvement in those conspiracies to put him back on the throne, he is a danger to King Richard—and his brother too. Some still persist in regarding them as the rightful heirs of York.”

  It was a warm evening, but Kate suddenly felt chilly.

  “What is your thrust, William?” John asked. “How should my uncle deal with that threat?”

  Catesby shrugged. His expression was unreadable.

  Stanley spoke with some vehemence. “Ask yourselves what happened to other deposed monarchs. What became of Edward II and Richard II? Why it is that the princes have not been seen since before the coronation? They were out shooting at the butts in the lieutenant’s garden several times before that. But since then, to my knowledge, no one has seen them.” Kate noticed, to her dismay, that Stanley was weeping.

  “Good my lord, take comfort from the fact that my uncle the King would never harm his nephews,” John said.

  “No, he would not!” Kate cried. “He was loyal to King Edward. He will be a protector to his sons.”

  “I am not the only one to voice fears for their safety,” Stanley muttered. “Listen about the court; hearken in the streets. Men are asking what has become of them. I do not accuse the King of any crime, or of bearing ill will toward his nephews. I just wonder why they have been withdrawn from men’s sight. Surely His Grace has heard the rumors? He has but to show the boys to the people and they will be quelled!”

  “Rest assured I will speak to him about it,” John said.

  “I thank you, my lord,” Stanley replied, rising to his feet. “And my Lady Katherine, forgive an old man for worrying too much, and for spoiling this beautiful evening. It was intended for dalliance, not for politics.”

  “Yes, my lord, of course.” Kate nodded, but she was still reeling from the enormity of what Stanley had implied.

  “I must go too,” Catesby said. “Good evening, Lady Katherine.”

  John turned to Kate and placed his arm about her shoulders. “Do not heed malicious gossip,” he advised her. “I’ll wager Stanley’s wife has been pouring poison in his ear.”

  “He was very upset,” Kate observed. “And it seemed that Sir William was trying to insinuate something.”

  “He’s a cold fish, and I could easily believe that he would urge the necessity of doing away with the princes,” John said, frowning. “But that the King would sanction it—that I cannot, and will not, believe.”

  He moved closer to her. “Forget all this, Kate, my sweeting. Let us talk of more pleasant things. I have been saving a poem for you.”

  But Kate’s mind was in a turmoil. Her mind retained that shocking image of Lord Stanley weeping; his distress had not been feigned.

  “I can’t bear the thought of people thinking such dreadful things about my father,” she said.

  “Sweetheart, I make no doubt that, once I have spoken to the King about those rumors, he will ensure that they do not. Now, be at peace, and listen to this.” He began to recite, but Kate was not listening. She could not forget what Lord Stanley had said. Her father must refute those rumors. He must!


  January 1554, Whitehall Palace

  The palace is in an uproar. It is terrifying! Some of the women are saying we shall all be murdered in our beds, and the Queen too! There have been rumbles of discontent for weeks—since the Queen’s forthcoming marriage was announc
ed, in fact—but now a Kentish gentleman with a grievance, the hotheaded Sir Thomas Wyatt, is advancing on London at the head of a great army of rebels, in protest against the Spanish match. Only days ago he raised his standard at Maidstone, and the people flocked to him. Now word has come that they have taken Rochester Bridge and the royal fleet moored in the Medway and are marching this way. There is much panic among the ladies of the court—and indeed in London itself. Who knows what the rebels intend?

  There have been concerns expressed about the Lady Elizabeth, who was finally allowed to leave court last month after bringing much pressure to bear on her sister. Relations between the Lady Elizabeth and Queen Mary had become uncomfortably strained, and no doubt Her Majesty was glad to see the back of her. Yet now people think it strange that she departed the court not long before the rebellion.

  The Queen, unlike most of the rest of us, is calm. Not for nothing is she a Tudor. I wish I could be like her, for the same blood runs in my veins, but I am of poor courage, wanting to run as far away from here as I can. Yet I must stay where I am, where I can be seen to be loyal to my sovereign. I am spending much of my time at prayer, fearfully imploring God for a speedy deliverance from these traitors.

  The most terrible news has come. There have been further uprisings in Devon and the Midlands, both linked to Wyatt’s rebellion, and orchestrated by the same traitors. Fortunately they have proved abortive, but the worst news—for me—is that the revolt in Leicestershire was led by my father. He even went so far as to declare for Jane, proclaiming her Queen once more. I am mortified when the Queen herself breaks these tidings to me, and she can see how covered with shame I am, for she speaks kindly to me and assures me she knows I am loyal and true to her, even if my father is not.

  Words fail me when I think of the duke my lord. Even though I have been brought up to respect and honor him, and never to question his word, I have to acknowledge that he has acted with great stupidity and lack of judgment. Did he not think how his rash and treasonable acts could rebound on us all, especially on poor Jane, innocently biding her time in the Tower, waiting to be freed? Everyone knows she had nothing to do with this.

  As I do my best to look invisible, the Queen commands the Lady Elizabeth to return to court. Back comes the reply: Her Grace has a cold and a headache, and is too ill to travel. The Queen frowns as she puts down the letter. “I do not believe it,” she says. “She is intriguing with the French; I have proof of it. She is no sister of mine!” She rises and angrily raps out an order that the Lady Elizabeth’s portrait be taken down from the gallery.

  My mother, in the foulest of tempers, seeks me out at court on the day that my father and other rebel leaders are publicly proclaimed traitors.

  “Well, I did warn him!” my lady says when we are alone together. “Of course, the fool would not listen, and now I wouldn’t be surprised if he brings us all down with him. There’ll be no reprieve this time. The Queen is no longer so disposed to mercy.”

  She speaks truth, and certainly there are no grounds for pleading for my father.

  “What will happen to him?” I ask, heavyhearted.

  “What happens to all traitors,” she answers gruffly, betraying no emotion but anger. “You had best face up to it. He knew what he was risking.”

  The rebels are at Gravesend. The gates of London are now under heavy guard, and the drawbridge on London Bridge has been raised.

  I am among the ladies waiting on the Queen when she receives a deputation of the Commons, who beg her to reconsider her decision to wed Prince Philip.

  “I cannot do that,” she tells them, “for my word is given, and this alliance will bring the kingdom great benefits. I consider myself His Highness’s wife. I will never take another husband; I would rather lose my crown and my life. Yet I assure you, my loyal Commons, that this marriage will never interfere with your liberties.”

  Her spirit remains firm. Ignoring the chorus of protest from her ministers and her ladies, she is resolved upon a personal appeal to the Londoners, and in the afternoon we nervously follow her to the Guildhall. Up to the last minute, she adamantly rejected all her councillors’ pleas to consider her safety and not venture forth into the City.

  She is fearless. We stand behind her as she faces the Lord Mayor and a vast crowd of people. Her speech is long and masterful. I listen, marveling, as she reminds them that she is their Queen, and tells them she loves them as naturally as a mother loves her child. She assures them she would abstain from this marriage if it did not appear to be for the high benefit of the realm.

  “I am minded to live and die with you!” she cries in her deep, manlike voice, reminding them that all they hold dear is under threat. “And now, good subjects, pluck up your hearts, and like true men face up to these rebels, and fear them not—for I assure you I fear them nothing at all!”

  The response is tremendous. Caps are thrown into the air and tears are shed as there is a resounding ovation. We depart to the roar of cheering, heartened by the knowledge that Queen Mary, by her courage, now has London in the palm of her hand.

  The Londoners have destroyed London Bridge, so that Wyatt and his hordes may not cross the river from the Surrey shore. There are frightening reports that he has sacked the old priory of St. Mary Overie in Southwark and Winchester Palace nearby. In the City there is much noise and tumult as men shut up their shops, put on their armor, and obey the Lord Mayor’s command to guard their front doors.

  In the palace, it is as if we are under siege. The Queen’s presence chamber is thronged with armed guards. In her privy chamber, we ladies huddle together, many of us weeping and lamenting our perilous position; I confess I am among the most tremulous. My mother, though, sits tight-lipped and straight-backed. She will not give way to fear.

  The waiting is intolerable. When will the violence begin?

  The Queen remains calm and steadfast. “You must place your trust in God,” she exhorts us. “He will deliver us from this present danger.”

  She refuses to allow the Tower guns to be fired across the Thames at the rebel army.

  “My innocent subjects in Southwark might be killed,” she protests. But Wyatt clearly underestimates the Queen’s compassion. To avoid being bombarded, he leads his army upriver to Kingston, and crosses the Thames. There is near panic at Whitehall. Women can be heard shrieking and wailing; doors slam as people race about trying to find hiding places for themselves and their valuables; and many of the servants have fled. I push Arthur and Guinevere under my bed and wag my finger severely, commanding them to stay there.

  The Queen is urged by her advisers to escape by river, a suggestion she rejects with derision. “I will tarry to the uttermost,” she declares. “I only wish I were not a weak woman and could take to the field in person.”

  Arms are hastily issued to every member of the royal household. I’ll even wield a pistol myself if necessary.

  It is my father-in-law, the martial Earl of Pembroke, who checks Wyatt’s advance. News comes that his cavalry has forced the rebels to halt at St. James’s Park, a stone’s throw from Whitehall. So close had we come to disaster! Then we hear gunfire, which sets all the courtiers panicking again. “Fall to prayer!” the Queen exhorts us. Yet soon comes the news: Wyatt has been taken at Charing Cross, and is on his way to the Tower! The rebellion is over. We are safe.

  Of my father, still no word.

  “God has worked a miracle,” the Queen declares. “Now I will strike terror into all who are disposed to do evil.”

  The leaders of the revolt are to be executed, as an example to other would-be traitors. My father, when he is caught—and that can only be a matter of time—will surely suffer the same fate. Suddenly people are avoiding my mother and me. The prospect of the crown now seems a very distant one. But I am more distressed about my father.

  “He brought it on his own head,” my lady repeats dully, as if the fight has gone out of her. She seems resigned to his death. Yet it seems a very terrible punishment to me,
even though he has fully deserved it. And I find it hard to accept that the father I have known—and looked up to until these last days—is soon to die.


  August 1483; Pontefract Castle, Yorkshire

  Coventry. Leicester. Nottingham. Doncaster. It was a long progress, and the Queen was finding it exhausting. What kept her going was the prospect of seeing her son, and when the court at last arrived at the great stronghold of Pontefract, there was the most joyful of reunions. The fair, delicate little boy was restored to his mother’s arms, and his proud father lifted him high and announced to everyone that Edward of Middleham was to be invested as Prince of Wales as soon as the progress reached York. There were cheers from the assembled lords; this was a much warmer reception than in most other places, for King Richard was now in the heartlands of his affinity, and many northern lords had ridden over eagerly to pay their loyal respects.

  Kate became aware that someone was watching her, and among the officers of the prince’s retinue she saw him again: Ferret Face, the black-haired man who had stared at her on coronation day. She gave him a disdainful glance and then forgot about him.

  A few days later Kate followed among a bevy of noble ladies as the King and Queen, holding the little prince by both hands, walked with him into York Minster for his solemn investiture. The child won all hearts, as he lisped his way through the great ceremony and sat patiently while all the great lords, one by one, paid him homage and swore oaths to him as his father’s heir; but at the feast afterward he became restive and wanted to go off and play ball, and was only with difficulty constrained to stay in his high seat. King Richard looked happier and more relaxed than he had in weeks, and Queen Anne was all smiles, doting on her son.

  If there had been rumors about the princes, there was no echo of them here. There was nothing but praise for the new King, and fervent expressions of loyalty. With the realm so quiet, Kate had no doubt that her father would keep his word and release the princes very soon.

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