A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  January–February 1484, Palace of Westminster

  The Yuletide revels at Westminster had barely come to their merry end on Twelfth Night before news arrived from France that Henry Tudor had gone to Rennes Cathedral on Christmas Day and made a solemn vow to take the crown of England and marry Edward IV’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, and so unite the Houses of York and Lancaster. His supporters, many of them Yorkist defectors, had then sworn allegiance to him and paid homage as if he were King already, vowing to return to England and overthrow the man they were pleased to call “the tyrant Richard.”

  The King invariably made light of Henry Tudor’s pretensions, but he went about with a stormy countenance after hearing this news. And for Kate, it was cataclysmic.

  She went running to find John.

  “What ails you, darling?” he asked, when she found him in the King’s library. He lifted her hands to his lips. “Tell me.”

  “You will have heard of Henry Tudor’s vow to wed my cousin the Princess Elizabeth?”

  “The whole court is talking of it,” John said, “although I fear that, since she and her brothers and sisters were declared baseborn, she is a princess no more.”

  “Not in Henry Tudor’s eyes! John, don’t you see? If he wants to marry Elizabeth and so make good his claim to the throne, he must regard her as the legitimate heir of the House of York. And that can mean only one thing—that he knows her brothers are dead!”

  John stared at her. “Not necessarily,” he said. “It would suit Henry Tudor to believe the vile rumors and slanders that were put about by Buckingham and other of the King’s enemies.”

  “Then what will he do when he has made himself King and married Elizabeth, and her brothers turn out to be alive?” Kate cried. “Even Henry Tudor cannot be such a fool as to risk that. He must know they are dead. Maybe Buckingham knew. It’s possible Lady Stanley passed on that information from him.”

  “Kate!” John said, gentling her. “You must not believe those stories about the princes being done away with. Mark me, you’ll see Henry Tudor proved to have been a fool.”

  “Then you still believe the princes are alive?” she asked hopefully.

  “Of course I do. The time is not yet ripe for them to be released. What do you think would happen if the Wydevilles or the Tudor got their hands on them?”

  Kate felt somewhat reassured.

  The Palace of Westminster was a sprawling complex of buildings, bustling with courtiers, clerics, officials, lawyers, servants, and hangers-on. Kate knew her way around it now, and recognized the faces of many of those who served her father.

  One courtier whom she particularly liked was the ebullient Pietro Carmeliano, an Italian who had gained patronage and prominence as a court scholar. He was a clever, witty fellow with graying curls and a grizzly beard, and seemed quite old to Kate, although he was younger than her father. He had won great praise for his work, and after he lauded King Richard in prose, the King had kept him on to edit a series of letters on statecraft.

  This warm and wise little man always showed himself pleased to see her, and one day, early in February, she was whiling away an afternoon with him in the royal library, looking through his folio of papers, when she came across a poem entitled “On Spring.” It was dedicated at the top to Edward, Prince of Wales.

  “Oh, you have written something for my brother!” she exclaimed.

  “No, Madonna, it was not for him,” the Italian said, and turned back to the letter he was translating.

  “Then you must have written it for King Edward’s son,” she stated. “It is a beautiful piece.”

  “Yes, Madonna. It was written as an Easter gift, two years ago.”

  “So much has happened since then,” Kate said sadly. “My poor cousin was heir to the throne; now he languishes in the Tower.”

  Pietro looked up at her sharply. “It is not wise to speak of such things,” he muttered.

  “Yet he is there, whatever rumor says,” she declared, challenging him to deny it.

  But she saw doubt in his eyes, and fear too.

  “You are the King’s daughter, Madonna. I am but a poor poet. I cannot speak of such things to you.”

  “You know something, I can tell it,” she insisted. “I beg of you, Master Pietro, to tell me everything. I would never betray your confidence. Please! It is torture to me, hearing those dreadful rumors. It is my father whom people slander.”

  The Italian considered for a moment. “You ask me to tell you everything, Madonna. Well, I cannot do that, so I may not be able to put your mind at rest. But I will tell you what I know.”


  March 1559, Hanworth and Sheen

  Dusk has fallen, and when I arrive at Sheen, my lady mother is already in her bedchamber, waiting to be put to bed. Kneeling beside my lady’s chair for her blessing, and seeing her sitting there immobile, looking old and somehow defeated by life, I find myself on the verge of breaking down—for when one is under such strain as I am, the tears are ever ready. Forgetting all considerations of my lady’s health, I start railing against the Queen’s unkindness. For Elizabeth herself, echoing Cecil’s words, told me only today, before I left court—and in no uncertain terms—that I was not even to think of matrimony until she raised the subject herself. And that, her cold black eyes suggested, would be never.

  “She dare not permit you to marry,” the stiff figure in the chair croaks, “and I will tell you why. If you marry and bear a son, you will create a focus for dissension and rebellion, just like Jane. A beautiful young queen-in-waiting with a hearty boy in her arms—who could resist? But beware, daughter, for when that boy grows not so much older, you will find that the eyes and hopes of men focus on him, not you—and good-bye Queen Katherine!”

  She snorts impatiently. “She should have named you her successor by now. It is your right, and Stokes tells me there is a powerful lobby at court urging it. But Elizabeth only sees that you have set yourself up as a Catholic rival—and that you pose a threat just by existing. And, daughter, there is another pertinent reason why she sees you as a rival, trivial as it seems, but not trivial to her, who was ever vain of her looks, right from childhood. It is because you are beautiful and she is not!” My lady’s tone is tart. “That increases your appeal, not only for men—and I warn you, she cannot abide a rival in that way—but for those who question her title to the throne, and they are many.”

  “The Catholics,” I say.

  “Yes, and those who will never believe that King Henry was legally married to her mother, that strumpet Anne Boleyn.”

  It is as well that the women have left us alone and closed the door, for now that Elizabeth is Queen, such talk about Anne Boleyn would be considered seditious, even treasonable.

  My lady eyes me speculatively. “You are truly a Catholic still?”

  “I must be practical. I have subtly let it be known that I am ready to champion the cause of the Catholics, and so win their support. King Philip is the most powerful prince in the world, and the strongest in Europe. He is backing me.”

  My lady smiles. “So he will put pressure on Elizabeth to name you her heir. She is in no position to refuse. She needs his support. Remember, her throne is insecure: in the eyes of much of Christendom, she is a baseborn heretic with no right to the crown. You, Katherine, are of unquestioned legitimacy.” She has lowered her voice, for her words are nothing less than high treason, and she could lose her head for them. Unbidden, I get up and go to the door, peering out to see if anyone is listening, but the women have gone. With relief, I espy them all through the window, walking in the garden on this unseasonably mild day.

  “I have done my best to attract King Philip’s support,” I say. “I go to Mass openly on Sundays. I wear a crucifix and carry a rosary, especially where the Spanish ambassador can see me.”

  “I see you have used your head, my girl!”

  “I try to be circumspect. I do take care to make public displays of
my faith, yet not, I think, so overtly as to incur the suspicions of the Queen.”

  “You have done well, Katherine, and I am pleased to see you are learning the game of politics,” my lady beams. Such praise, coming from her, is rare.

  “What news of my son Seymour?” she asks.

  “Good news! Queen Elizabeth has restored to him the earldom of Hertford, which was held by his father; surely, my lady, that would make him a fit mate for me in Her Majesty’s eyes?”

  She regards me skeptically. “Do not expect her to see any man as a fit mate for you. In truth, I do not see how this marriage you desire can be accomplished.”

  Looking at my poor mother, slumped in her chair, I realize with a jolt that I should make haste to avail myself of the weight she carries with the Queen.

  “We need your help, my lady,” I blurt out. “That is why I have come. Ned waits without. He has ridden over from Hampton Court. He—We—have something we must ask you. He wants to do things properly. Please hear what he has to say. We think you can help us.”

  My mother sighs. “You had better summon Stokes.” And she raises herself with an effort, and sits resting her hand regally on her cane.

  “What of Ned?” I ask.

  “He can wait awhile.”

  Master Stokes arrives and fusses over my mother, settling her more comfortably in her chair, which she bears with grim fortitude.

  “Husband,” she says, “there is much goodwill between yon belted earl waiting without and my daughter. They wish to wed, and in my opinion, he is a very fit husband for her. It remains for the Queen to give her consent to their marriage.”

  “A fitting match indeed, my dear. But will Her Majesty agree?” he asks doubtfully, clearly used to being governed and guided by his wife.

  “She will make difficulties, of that you can be sure. Yet I have long had some influence with Elizabeth, and I am willing to attempt to persuade her.”

  “Then shall we see the earl, my dear?”

  My mother indicates the door with her beringed hand, and Stokes ushers Ned in. He bows elegantly before her, and she invites him to kneel for her blessing.

  “Welcome, Son Seymour,” she says, with just a hint of amusement. “You may kiss me.” And she smiles as he rises and bends his head to her. “You have something to ask me, I think.”

  “Yes, madam.” Ned’s voice betrays nervousness. “I have called upon Your Grace formally to ask for the Lady Katherine’s hand in marriage.”

  “Then I gladly give my consent.” She smiles. “I have long wanted you for a son-in-law, and I should like to see Katherine happily settled before I depart this life.”

  Ned, standing beside me, grips my hand discreetly in a fold of my skirt and exhales with relief. He looks so handsome standing there, his cheeks slightly flushed, his eyes alight with triumph.

  “Well, daughter,” my lady barks. “I have provided a husband for you, if you can like well of it, and if you are willing to frame your fancy and goodwill that way.”

  “I am very willing to love my lord of Hertford,” I declare avidly.

  “Then it is settled. Now, Stokes, we must compass the best way of approaching Her Majesty. Confronted by myself in person, she may instantly refuse; but a letter explaining the benefits of the marriage, and reaffirming our loyalty, may be read again and digested at leisure, leaving space for consideration.”

  My stepfather claps Ned on the back. “Her Grace will write a letter for your lordship to the Queen’s Majesty.”

  “Nay, we will write one together, husband,” my lady decides. “I pray you, devise a rough letter for me to copy, so that I may add my persuasions to yours, and thereby hopefully obtain the Queen’s goodwill and consent. But before I do that—a word in private, Katherine.”

  The men bow and withdraw from the room.

  “Tell me again, girl—is this marriage what you really want?” My mother pierces me with those hawklike eyes that have lost none of their fierceness.

  “Yes, my lady!” I cry. “I long to marry Lord Hertford!”

  “Then I shall do all in my power to see that you do. I failed one daughter, but I shall not fail another. I needed to make sure that you have enough fight in you for what may lie ahead. Now, I must write that letter, and then we shall celebrate!”

  I am bursting with excitement, and when we are alone, Ned picks me up and whirls me around in delight, then kisses me heartily until I am near to swooning with pleasure. Soon—very soon—we might be man and wife, and all this torturous longing will be behind us. My mind racing ahead, I see us happily married, seated at our hearth, our children at our feet; or being fêted at court as society’s golden couple, and even Queen Elizabeth, assured once and for all that we are no threat to her, smiling benevolently on us. I even envisage a time further ahead, and two people seated on thrones, queen and king together …

  This happy reverie is interrupted by Stokes calling for us. They have finished writing the letter. It is brief and to the point, the best thing to start with, my lady explains, shifting uncomfortably in her chair. I take it and read the words that appear after the elaborate salutation required by courtesy:

  The Earl of Hertford does bear goodwill to my daughter, the Lady Katherine, and I do humbly require the Queen’s Highness to be a good and gracious lady unto her, and that it may please Her Majesty to assent to her marriage to the said earl.

  Is that all? Does my mother think such a letter sufficient appeal on my behalf? I pass it to Ned, and he reads it, frowning.

  “With respect, Your Grace, we had hoped for more persuasions.”

  “Trust me,” my lady says, grimacing. “It must not look as if we anticipate Her Majesty’s refusal. This is just a beginning. I shall send the letter, and then, the ground being laid, I shall bestir myself to go to court and obtain Her Majesty’s favor. I do not think she will refuse her old gossip. And now, I must go to my bed. I have had enough excitement for one day, and am feeling weary to my bones.”

  She makes to rise, and both Stokes and Ned move to assist her. But as she walks heavily away, leaning on my stepfather’s arm, I see to my horror bright blood pooled upon her chair and staining the back of her gown. I know it cannot be her monthly flux, for her courses ceased three years ago.

  I look at Ned and see him staring at the chair, then our eyes meet. I am beyond embarrassment, even though I know whence this blood must have come; instead, I am in dread, confronted with this terrible evidence that my majestic mother, the rock and mainstay of my life, and the hope of my future, is but mortal.

  My mother has a humor of the womb, Dr. Allen says. Rest should help, and infusions of geranium and rose. There must be no question of her leaving the house—and therefore no question of her going to court.

  And because of that—oh, my sweet Ned, how can I bear it?—her letter cannot yet be sent to the Queen.


  February 1484, Palace of Westminster

  “Madonna, last summer there was an Italian visitor to court, Dominic Mancini,” Pietro Carmeliano said in hushed tones, although he and Kate were quite alone in the royal library. “He was my friend. He was in the train of the French ambassador, and his task was to send home reports of affairs in England. Thus he made it his business to know what was going on.”

  “What was he like, this Dominic Mancini?” Kate asked.

  “He was a monk, a very devout and compassionate man, and wise too. He wrote an account of the rise of your father the King to the throne, but I never saw it completed, for it was unfinished when he left England last summer.” Pietro hesitated.

  “Please speak freely!” Kate urged. “Whatever the truth, I would rather hear it.”

  “Very well, Madonna. I will tell you everything.” And he did.

  “Dominic got his information from several people at court, including Dr. Argentine, who was physician to your cousin, King Edward. Forgive me, Madonna, but Brother Dominic was suspicious of your father’s intentions from the start. He thought him ambitious
and cunning. He knew Edward had been well served by Earl Rivers and Sir Richard Grey, and was shocked when my lord of Gloucester had them executed.”

  “But they were a danger to my father,” she protested.

  “Yes, Madonna, Brother Dominic knew that; he knew too that your father hated the Wydevilles and blamed them for his brother Clarence’s death. He found much to praise in Gloucester for governing the North well, for his renown in war, and for his exemplary private life. But even though Brother Dominic was appalled at the power wielded by the Wydevilles, he was impressed by the young King Edward, and praised him to the skies.”

  Again Pietro hesitated. “Knowing that Gloucester hated and feared the Wydevilles, my friend came to believe that, from the moment he heard of King Edward’s death, the duke determined to take the throne for himself.”

  “No, that was much later,” Kate insisted, “when Edward V was proved to be illegitimate.”

  “Forgive me, Madonna. You asked me to tell you what I know, and I am only repeating what Dominic Mancini showed me in his book. And that was just his opinion, based on what he learned at court. I do not—how you say—comment on the truth of it.”

  “I am sorry, Pietro,” Kate apologized. “Please go on.”

  The Italian continued with Mancini’s account of the events following King Edward’s death, most of which was familiar to her. But she was disturbed to hear Mancini’s view of her father.

  “Brother Dominic was convinced that the duke was in haste to remove all the obstacles that stood in the way of his plans. He believed he was driven by ambition and lust for power, and that he had set his thoughts on eliminating everyone who stood in the way of his mastering the throne.”

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