A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  “It does my heart good to see you smiling again, my fair maiden,” John said.

  “You have given me reason to smile,” Kate told him. “You have banished my doubts and fears.”

  Only rarely did the King have time to dine privately with his family these days, and even though his wife and children were to depart on the morrow, and this would be their last night together for some time, he insisted on their joining him at the high table in Lincoln Castle’s great hall, with its timbered roof, tiled floor, high windows ornamented with stone lions, and brightly painted armorial cloth hanging behind the dais. The entire court rose as the royal party entered, then after grace there was a scraping of stools and benches as everyone was seated. Kate was next to the Queen, and after the servitors had presented napkins, manchet bread, and ewers of fine wine, she soon realized that this was to be no convivial farewell dinner, for her father could speak of nothing else but Buckingham’s treachery.

  “There’s much more to this treason than I at first thought,” he said, his face haggard. “That traitor is uniting the malcontents, and he means business. I have no doubt that Lady Stanley and her friends have their fingers in the pie, aiming to further the ambitions of Henry Tudor. And my spies tell me that the Wydevilles are up to their necks in this. They say Buckingham would be another Kingmaker, like Warwick.”

  Anne frowned. “This beggars belief,” she said. “Buckingham put everything into making you King, and now he is working against you. I am at a loss to understand it.”

  “He misliked the deaths of Hastings, Rivers, and Grey,” the King said, “and he was not satisfied with his rewards. He is the kind of man who always wants more.”

  “And Henry Tudor can give it to him?” Anne sniffed.

  “If Buckingham believes that, he’s a fool.”

  “What will you do about Buckingham, sire?” Kate asked.

  “Raise an army and march against him and his allies. Thanks to Norfolk, I have learned of this rebellion in good time to deal with it. There are many measures in place already, thanks be to God. And two can play at character assassination.” He smiled waspishly. So he had heard the rumors, and was ready to counteract them. That was just what Kate wanted to hear.

  “We will break the duke, one way or another!” Richard declared, his mouth set in a grim line.

  KATHERINE

  1558; Hanworth, Middlesex

  Last year, Her Majesty, God comfort her, suffered yet another false pregnancy. Her grief was terrible to witness, but what was even worse was the anguished outburst that followed when King Philip let it be known that he was leaving England. When our poor mistress went to wave him off at Greenwich, she was in a state of near collapse, and nothing anyone could say or do could cheer her. And when the disgraceful news came that Calais, England’s last possession in France, had been lost in Philip’s useless wars, she became weak and ill, and retired into virtual seclusion.

  Jane Seymour, never robust, has been unwell too, with an evil cough. Thanks to the concern of our good Queen, she is to leave court to rest at her mother’s house at Hanworth, near Hounslow, and I have been given permission to accompany her. My mother, who is herself not in the best of health these days, and spends much of her time at Sheen, will come with us, and is gladdened to be visiting her old gossip, the Duchess of Somerset; it will make a pleasant change for her.

  “Go with my blessing,” Queen Mary says, her face dull with melancholy. “It will be good for you to get away into the country. My court is no place for bright young girls like you. I pray that the Lady Jane will soon be much restored. Give her our good wishes.”

  I suspect that Jane is in a worse case than she would have us believe, yet her natural high spirits are not so easily suppressed. Riding beside her litter, I listen to her gay chatter and could believe that she is in high good health; God send it will be so soon.

  ——

  It is at Hanworth that I meet once more the young man who is to be my joy—and my downfall, although I have no inkling of that to begin with, of course. Indeed, I have long thought on him purely as one to whom my sister Jane was once betrothed, and the brother of my friend. He has no place in my thoughts as we ride up the driveway and grooms come hurrying to take the horses, while the Duchess of Somerset’s chamberlain descends the porch steps to welcome us all.

  The sumptuous palace of Hanworth was recently granted by Her Majesty to my guardian, the Duchess of Somerset. It is a great house, built by King Harry for Anne Boleyn, and looks like an English castle, yet it is adorned with terra-cotta roundels of Italian work chiseled with goddesses of classical mythology. Indoors, it is a feast for the senses, with fine tapestries, gilded furniture, and wonderful paintings of legendary heroes adorning the lofty ceilings of the principal rooms and staircase; and in the great hall, brilliant lights from the stained-glass windows reflect in myriad colors of sunlight on the marble floor. Everywhere there is the sweet scent of fresh rushes and dried flowers.

  Jane is embraced and clucked over by her mother the duchess, then carried off by an army of female servants and put to bed. The two dowagers, my mother and the Duchess Anne, well matched in strident character and choleric temperament, enjoy a lively reunion, which turns into an exhausting round of condolences, backbiting, and competitive reminiscing. I escape into the fresh air.

  The sadnesses and strains of the past months seem distant in this beautiful place, with its exquisite formal gardens, its broad green vistas across the hunting park, and the hot sun sparkling in the waters of the moat that encloses the imposing Renaissance house. But now, walking along an avenue lined with yew trees, I see an even more captivating vision.

  Striding toward me is a slender young man of middle height with a hound bounding along by his side. The man is dark-haired, and better looking than I have ever realized, with an angular face, a strong aquiline nose, deep-set eyes, and a firm jaw, and he is wearing hunting clothes of good-quality cloth. His face is, of course, familiar: I have seen him often at court, and he used to visit my father’s house when my sister Jane was alive. This is the duchess’s eldest son, Lord Edward Seymour, he who was once betrothed to poor Jane. How different her life and mine would have been had she married him. She would be living today.

  “Ho, sirrah!” Lord Edward cries to his hound, as we draw nigh, and the ungainly beast comes reluctantly to heel before it can bother my little lapdogs. The young lord’s beautiful heavy-lidded eyes—a startling blue against his dark hair—twinkle at me as he makes a brief bow.

  “To which fair lady do I have the pleasure of addressing myself?” He smiles, his voice seductive and melodious. I had thought Harry handsome, but the effect that this vision of robust masculinity is having upon me is startling.

  “Do you not remember who I am?” I ask him, a little teasing.

  “Yes, of course. You are the Lady Katherine. I remember you well. My mother told me you had arrived when I came down from London today, and I was hoping to see you. You have fine weather for your visit.”

  His eyes are saying far more than his lips. I read in them admiration and undisguised interest.

  “It is a pleasure to see you again, my lord,” I say formally.

  “A pleasure for me too, indeed,” he responds, his smile as dazzling as the sunlight. “Shall we take a turn around the gardens? If you are not too warm, that is.”

  I assent readily, and as we traverse the neat graveled paths, his dog bounding joyously around us on the leash, and my silky darlings nestling in my arms, we make the kind of conversation expected in polite circles. Later, Lord Edward escorts me back to the house to visit his sister. We find Jane fully dressed and much amended.

  “I am joining you all for supper this evening!” she informs us. “Just try and stop me!”

  A week has passed since then, and Jane is almost her old self again. We have fallen to our usual laughing and giggling, and she takes great pleasure in showing me over the house and its many nooks and crannies.

  Edward—or Ned,
as Jane calls him—is displaying more than a brotherly interest in me. There comes a hot August day when, walking to the gardens with my dogs and my lute, I see someone ahead, waiting for me. It is Ned, standing there in a fine lawn shirt and slashed and padded buff-colored breeches, holding his bow and arrows; he has been practicing at the butts. His shirt is open at the neck, and the sight of a faint dusting of black hairs and the sheen of sweat on his tanned chest excites me. It is years now since I stopped mourning the loss of Harry, stopped longing for him and wanting him. I have learned perforce to live a chaste life, troubled only by naughty dreams that leave me restless and unfulfilled. But of late it has been Ned who has started to feature in those dreams.

  “Shall we walk down to the lake?” he asks, offering me his arm. We converse lightly of songs we both know, and mutual acquaintances, but there is something more subtle going on as well. Amid the mulberry trees, the heady scent of the rosebushes, and the beds bright with gillyflowers drowsing in the golden afternoon sun, we manage to convey, by smiles that promise much, the touch of our hands as he guides me down a pretty flight of marble steps, and the language of our eyes, that we like each other very much.

  Seated on a stone bench by the rippling, sparkling water, we tell each other our life stories. Ned already knows something of mine, and I am touched by his sensitivity in skirting over the tragedies that have blighted my family. He says nothing of his broken betrothal to Jane, or what came after. But he does ask about my marriage.

  “You were wed to Lord Herbert,” he says. It is a statement, not a question.

  “Yes,” I say, remembering Harry’s sweet smile and the curly hair through which I once loved to run my eager fingers, and marveling yet again that conjuring up these images no longer causes me a pang, even though they are reminders of what is missing from my life. “But our marriage was dissolved.”

  “So I heard. Did you love him?”

  The question is unexpected; but I am aware that it matters to Ned.

  “Yes, very much,” I say. “But that was a long time ago.” Even now, I feel disloyal saying those words.

  Ned looks at me with compassion. “That must have been a terrible time for you,” he says gently.

  “It was. I had lost my sister and my father, and then I lost the husband I loved. I was thirteen, and did not know how to cope. Truly, I thought I might drown in grief.” Suddenly tears are welling in my eyes, and I bend my head so that he shall not see.

  Ned’s hand—tanned and lean-fingered, with delicate dark hairs—closes over mine.

  “I understand perfectly,” he answers, his own voice a little unsteady. “My father died on the block. It’s not just losing them that grieves you, but the manner of their deaths, and I still have nightmares about that.”

  “I too,” I chime in with feeling, turning my hand to clasp his, as I perceive the pain in his eyes.

  “It’s the loss of family standing that follows,” he goes on. “Feeling as if you are somehow unclean because your father was branded a traitor. Being shunned by the court and society, as if you too are tainted with the same dishonor. My family had ascended to greatness by the time I was born. I was tutored with King Edward himself, and considered noble enough to marry your sister, a princess with royal blood. When my father was attainted by Parliament, they passed an Act, prompted by pure malice, to limit my inheritance. I was restored in blood only when Queen Mary came to the throne, and even then I was barred from bearing my father’s titles.”

  “I was a wife but no wife,” I add bitterly. “I was kept from the husband I loved. I paid a heavy price for the crimes of others.”

  Ned stands up. “We should not be so mournful, Katherine. Come! Let me show you something cheerful.” He pulls me to my feet and leads me back through the trees to a pretty knot garden enclosed by fragrant hedges of lavender, hyssop, marjoram, and thyme.

  “Isn’t it a little paradise?” he asks as we stroll arm in arm between the beds of marigolds and violets, as naturally as if we had known each other all our lives. “It is my favorite place on earth. I spend a lot of time here.” We stop to admire the riot of glorious colors and sniff the fragrant scents of Dame Nature at her most bountiful. Our dogs—they are friends now—gambol in the sun.

  “Forgive me if I have said too much,” I say, feeling as if I have overstepped all kinds of bounds. “It’s just that we share a sad history, and you understand how I feel, and have been so kind to listen.”

  “And will be kinder still, if I am let,” Ned murmurs, his beautiful eyes holding mine. He stoops, plucks a marigold, and presents it to me with a courtly bow. His gaze becomes more intent.

  “You are so very beautiful,” he breathes. “You looked to me like a heavenly vision coming toward me along the yew walk that day. They told me you had grown into a charming young lady, and they did not lie. But you are so much more than that, my dear Katherine—if I may …”

  My heart has begun to beat very fast. I want him—not in the desperate and naïve way I wanted Harry, but as an older and wiser young woman who knows that this man is the one. And so it seems the most natural thing in the world to go into his arms in the healing peace of his magical garden.

  It seems that our idyll will last forever. My sweet Ned cannot do enough for me. Safe and happy at last in this beautiful place, and far from the court with its tainted air, I find that I can love again. In Ned’s arms, I am healed.

  Thrown together by circumstance, we snatch every opportunity to enjoy our freedom. With Jane often in tow, we spend long hours riding around the estate and the deer park where once King Harry hunted buck and hare with Anne Boleyn. We wander laughing through the orchard and along the hedgerows, filling our baskets with ripe fruit or cramming it in our mouths, giggling as the juice runs down our chins. We visit the aviary and try to teach the birds to talk. We throw stones in the moat, seeing who can make the biggest splash. We are young and silly, yet it matters not. The only people we have to please are ourselves.

  We might be running wild, Ned and I, but we are well behaved, tempted though we might be to be otherwise. We frolic shrieking in our garden, as it has become, or in the long grass, Ned tickling me and I fighting him off, yet we cannot ignore the needs of our bodies, and tickling often turns to cuddling and kissing. Such sweet caresses we share as we lie together under God’s great blue Heaven! Whenever we are alone, which we contrive often, we slowly savor the delights of fingertips on skin, tongue on tongue, cheek on cheek, and Ned’s urgent hands wandering adventurously over my bodice and skirts. As we cling to each other, I can feel his hardness against me, even through the stiff material of his codpiece and my petticoats. Yet that is as far as it goes. Always one or both of us will pull back; for it seems that our spacious days at Hanworth must go on forever, and that we have all the leisure in the world to enjoy each other.

  There are, of course, other reasons for our caution. I am reluctant to abuse the hospitality and kindness of Ned’s mother, knowing it would reflect badly on her, my good guardian, if I was discovered to have fallen from virtue under her roof. And Ned respects me too much to tumble me like a lewd dairymaid, even though he is mad for me.

  Jane encourages us. I have seen her watching me approvingly as I frolic with her brother. And one day, as we are out walking, and he is striding ahead with his bow, she sidles up to me and whispers, “Ned has asked me to break with you the subject of marriage.”

  I stare at her. It would suit her ambition—and that of her mother—to have him marry one who is close in blood to the throne, for the Seymours have had a taste of royalty and are hungry for more. And yet I cannot suspect her of mere calculation, for her warmth toward me is unquestionably genuine, as is her love for her brother. Were he to wed one in whom ambition and affection were combined, she—who lives through him, forbidden her own marriage—would be the happiest lady alive. Apart from me, that is!

  “Well,” I say, “I would he would break it himself.”

  “I told him that it was not the
office of a sister to play Cupid!” She giggles. “But you would not be averse?”

  “I will think on it,” I say, and race ahead to catch up with Ned.

  There comes a day of glorious weather when Jane is picking blackberries some way off, and Ned and I are sitting at the edge of the lake, with our dogs lazing beside us. I marvel once again how far I am removed from the sad girl I was four years ago. That girl was miserable and defeated, thinking there was nothing left for her in life. But not now. Oh, not now! This girl is in love.

  My bare feet are splashing in the water, my skirts pulled up over my knees, exposing my sun-browned legs. Ned has his fishing rod, but has not caught anything yet.

  “Katherine,” he says, “I must return to court soon.”

  I am shocked. This idyll cannot be allowed to end, nor the world to intrude upon it. “For long?” I ask plaintively.

  “I must take my rightful place there,” he replies, not looking at me. “This summer has been the best of my life, but I cannot remain here in idleness when there are honors to be won.”

  “I would you did not have to go,” I whisper.

  “I must make my way in the world, Katherine,” he tells me. “And maybe I have more need now to store up treasure for the future.” He looks at me meaningfully, and I realize what he means. “When I go to court, sweetheart, I want to take with me your promise that you will become my wife.”

  I can see the longing burning in his eyes. How could I ever resist him? He is my Adonis, and so fine and comely in every way. To be his wife will be a foretaste of Paradise; indeed, who would need Paradise, having the love of such a one on Earth?

  I cannot speak. Ned takes my hand and raises it to his lips. “Say you will, Katherine!” he urges.

  All other considerations fly away on the summer breeze: the Queen’s wishes, my mother’s, my royal status, the succession …

  “How could I not?” I whisper, and then I am in his arms, lying on my back on the lush grass, his mouth devouring mine with kisses. He is perfection, I think, melting with happiness, as I clasp him ever tighter and surrender to the pleasure of being close to him. And there the duchess finds us, as she strides across the park with her dogs.

 
Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]