A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  “Everyone who was a threat to him, you mean!” Kate interrupted. “He was trying to do things honorably, as he made plain at the time, but he was beset by enemies.”

  “That, I fear, was not Brother Dominic’s view. Would you prefer me not to go on?” Pietro was regarding her unhappily.

  “Nay, I will hear it all, even if it is hateful to me,” she replied. “Only then can I weigh it wisely. You see, I know my father. He is a good, upright man. Why did Brother Dominic slander him so?”

  “You tell me,” Pietro said. “He had no involvement in your English politics. He was just an observer, and an impartial one too.”

  “But the information fed him may not have been impartial.”

  “Forgive me, Madonna, but I think he had wit enough to judge of that.”

  “And others might have judged it differently!” Kate was angry. It seemed that, whatever she said to counteract Dominic Mancini’s view of her father, Pietro had a rational argument against it. But this Mancini might well have been fed a distorted and hostile view of events. It stood to reason.

  “Go on,” she commanded, a trifle coolly.

  “As you wish, Madonna,” Pietro said. “It seemed to Brother Dominic that Gloucester felt his future was not sufficiently secure without the removal of those who were faithful to his brother’s offspring. Hastings was killed on a false pretext of treason, not by the enemies he had feared, but—it must be said—by a friend he had never doubted. After that, Gloucester put up the hue and cry for Lord Dorset, but he had prudently escaped abroad. Then something ominous occurred.”

  “What?” Kate’s tone was sharp.

  “After Hastings was removed, all the attendants who had waited on the King in the Tower were dismissed and debarred access to him.”

  “My father said he could not trust them,” she argued. “He feared that Dorset had suborned them. How did Brother Dominic know that, anyway?”

  “Dr. Argentine told him.”

  “Was Dr. Argentine dismissed too?”

  “No, Madonna. He was treating the young King for a swelling of the jaw. The King was in much pain with his teeth and gums. The duke could hardly dismiss his doctor. But the boy was now effectively a prisoner. Dr. Argentine confided to Brother Dominic that Edward believed death was facing him and, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins daily. He was without all hope, and sunk in despair.”

  “No, I will not believe it!” Kate cried out. “My father would never have countenanced him suffering thus. He kept on the doctor! Was that not a kindness? And the King was ill and in pain. Probably he feared he would die of his malady, not by violence.”

  “But Madonna, Dr. Argentine seems also to have feared violence.” The little Italian looked unhappy. “And it was just after that that the duke surrounded the sanctuary with soldiers and forced the Queen to surrender the Duke of York into his keeping. For well he knew that York would be King if anything happened to Edward V.”

  “But my father feared the Wydevilles! That was at the root of it all. A child cannot seek sanctuary. It was not right to keep him there. And in the Queen’s hands, York was a threat to my father. But she would not give him up, and so he had to make her.”

  “Well, Madonna, you may put your own interpretation on these events. But Brother Dominic told me that soon after York was sent to join his brother, the two princes were withdrawn into the inner apartments of the Tower, and day by day began to be seen more rarely behind the bars and windows. Occasionally people could see them shooting at the butts in the lieutenant’s garden.”

  Kate thought of Caesar’s Tower, that massive white keep: that was where they were being held, no doubt. It was said to be so strong and secure that no one could possibly escape, or attempt a rescue, so it made sense that her father had confined his nephews there. Given the plots to rescue Edward V, it had been a wise decision.

  “Gloucester then began acting like a king, putting off his mourning robes and wearing purple,” Pietro was saying, and Kate recalled her father riding triumphantly through London in that great purple mantle. “He had the sons of King Edward declared bastards. He had corrupted preachers to proclaim them as such, putting forward some false tale about a precontract.”

  “It was not false!” Kate averred.

  “Brother Dominic thought it was.”

  “Brother Dominic was clearly not a reliable witness,” she countered.

  “That is as may be, Madonna. I but relate what he wrote. And he said that the lords in London, seeing the alliance of Gloucester and Buckingham, and perceiving that the dukes’ power was supported by a multitude of troops, became fearful for their own safety. They had heard of the fates of Lord Hastings, Rivers, and Grey, and decided it would be hazardous to resist Buckingham’s calls for Gloucester to be acknowledged King. And so they consented, and Gloucester occupied the kingdom. Brother Dominic left England after the coronation. It was just before he departed that he told me he had heard that the princes had ceased to appear at the windows of the Tower. He said he had seen many grown men burst into tears and lamentations when mention was made of them after their removal from men’s sight; already there was a suspicion they had been done away with. That was long before the rumors of which you speak.”

  “But it was only a suspicion,” Kate insisted, clutching at the loophole in the argument, although again the uncomfortable memory of Lord Stanley weeping came to her unbidden. “Was there any proof?”

  “There was no proof, Madonna. Brother Dominic wrote that, as to whether the princes had been done away with, and in what manner, he could not say.”

  “So his account is based on speculation,” Kate said firmly. “Others might place another construction on these events.”

  “Indeed they might, Madonna. As I said, I but repeat what I heard. I trust you will not hold that against me.” The little man looked nervous: he must know that much of what he had said might be construed as treason.

  “Of course not,” Kate replied, but already she was aware that there would be no more afternoons spent in the library with Master Pietro Carmeliano. In her mind, he would forever be associated with this sordid fantasy of a tale. True, she had pressed him to recount it, and he had been reluctant; but its unfolding was more disturbing and distasteful than she could ever have anticipated. And yet, despite that, she still believed in her father’s integrity, for Pietro’s allegations rode so ill with what she knew of him. It was all malicious invention, she told herself.

  She did not linger after that—she just wanted to get away. And when she did, she asked discreetly around the court as to whether anyone had seen Dr. Argentine. She wanted desperately to speak to him, for he, of all people, would perhaps know if the princes still lived, and in what conditions. But no one could answer her. She met with blank looks and shaking heads.

  Eventually, unwillingly, she returned to the library. Pietro must know the doctor’s whereabouts, surely. He was still there, scratching away with his quill pen.

  “I forgot to ask,” she said. “Where can I find Dr. Argentine?”

  Was it fear she glimpsed fleetingly in Pietro’s eyes?

  “Why do you seek him, Madonna?” he asked.

  “To find out more about my cousins, since you cannot tell me the latest news of them.”

  “Alas, I cannot. You are months too late. Dr. Argentine also left England after the coronation, and where he is now I could not say.”

  “He was made to leave?”

  “No, Madonna—he fled.”

  KATHERINE

  August–September 1559; Eltham Palace,

  Nonsuch Palace, Whitehall Palace

  July brought news that the King of France was dead, killed by a lance piercing his eye during a tournament. His son, Francis II, being married to the Scottish Queen Mary, my cousin, now saw fit to use the royal arms of England in her right. It was a deadly insult to Queen Elizabeth, for it proclaimed her a usurper, unfit by stain of bastardy to wear her crown. And verily, from that
moment, I am sure, she began to hate the Queen of Scots.

  But something has come to light to convince Elizabeth that I am even more of a danger to her than Mary.

  I knew nothing of it, I swear it. Kindly, supportive Feria had gone home and been replaced as ambassador by Bishop de Quadra, and although the Bishop has been lavish in his courtesy and compliments, I have never had any cause to trust him—rather the opposite. And now it has been discovered that the Spaniards were plotting my abduction to Spain, where I was to be wed to King Philip’s son, Don Carlos, and be proclaimed heiress presumptive to the English throne. It is bad enough that Don Carlos is a deformed sadist with a penchant for torturing servants and animals, but worse still that Philip, de Quadra, and all the others involved in the plot assumed that my consent was a foregone conclusion.

  “You have only yourself to blame,” scolded Kat Astley, Chief Lady of the Bedchamber, when I came begging an audience with the Queen to protest my innocence. “You have shown yourself discontented and complained you are held in poor regard by Her Majesty.”

  “But I did nothing to encourage the Spaniards,” I wailed, seeing that the door to the privy chamber was still firmly closed to me.

  “Your discontent was enough,” I was told tartly. “Aye, and your Romish faith. No wonder the Queen cannot abide you!”

  I fled in tears to the safety of my chamber, and there flung myself on my bed and wept my heart out for very despair. And thus I have continued to this day, beset on every side by dread and fear: of what the Queen might do to me, if she chooses to believe that I was involved in that dastardly plan; of what others might yet be plotting on my behalf; and of how this might impact on Ned and me, and our hopes of marriage. In vain have I written to my ailing mother, begging her to send her letter to the Queen, or to come herself, if she can, to plead our cause; but there has been no reply. This I see as ominous: either she is too ill, or—I fear—she has forsaken me, thinking our matter too difficult.

  ——

  At last I have news of my lady, and it is encouraging: she writes that she is feeling a little better. And Ned is here! When the Queen began her summer progress, he himself was unwell, and sent word to say he was sorry he could not be present, but now he has returned to court, and the summer days suddenly seem sunnier and more golden. We seize every moment to be together.

  “There is great love between you two, I wis!” young Lady Anne Russell trills. I look at her in alarm. I had not thought we had been so transparent. “Oh, yes, the whole world is talking about you!” she declares, to my dismay.

  Three days later, in the maidens’ dorter, Douglas Howard, another of the Queen’s ladies, seeks me out.

  “I hear you are like turtle doves with Lord Hertford,” she mutters, “and everyone is saying that nothing can come of it, for he is using you to further his own interests, and means you no good.”

  “What do you know of it?” I seethe. “You and all the others? You have no idea! I’ll thank you to keep your opinions to yourself!” And I go to bed in a temper.

  But Ned is true, I’d swear on that. Daily he gives me proof of his love. At Nonsuch, the most exquisite little jewel of a palace ever built, my uncle, the Earl of Arundel, lays on great entertainments for the delight of the Queen, and Ned and I have plenty of opportunities to meet at the lavish banquet, the ornate masque, the hunt in the park, and the play performed by the choristers of St. Paul’s. The revelry goes on until three o’clock in the morning, and then Ned and I escape to walk in the groves and kiss by the marble fountains. Such snatched moments are bliss to me.

  Yet this idyll cannot last, and not long after our return to Whitehall, Ned comes to me with a long face.

  “It is not good news,” he blurts out. “I have sounded out several on the council now, and the answer is always the same. It is not the right time to consider our marriage.”

  “But why?”

  “Prince Erik of Sweden is here to pay court to the Queen. Until the outcome of that is known, we are advised to wait. In the meantime, I will do my best to win favor with Prince Erik. I hear he enjoys tennis.”

  “In that case, he must approve of you. He could not have a better opponent. But it is hard to have to wait. I would I were a private person and could marry where I pleased!”

  “Come, you would not like that, Katherine!” Ned snorts. “And nor would I. Just be patient awhile longer—and then, God willing, we can have it all!”

  KATE

  February 1484, Palace of Westminster

  Kate fretted about Dr. Argentine’s flight. Might he have known more than was good for him about the fate of the princes? Had he meddled too far in matters that did not concern him, or had he simply been an incompetent doctor?

  The thought struck her that her cousin Edward might have died of natural causes, or at the hands of the doctor who was trying to cure him. She had heard of many cases where the remedy had proved more fatal than the disease. That would have been reason enough for Dr. Argentine to have fled. And it was easy, in this present climate, to see why her father would never have announced the death of his nephew, for people would surely have laid the blame for it at his door. They had been quick to call him murderer as it was!

  It was all a tangled puzzle, and she found it hard to think straight. How could she make sense of the many loose ends? Could she keep on believing that her beloved father had done no wrong? Truly, she did not know anymore.

  When Kate sat down at the chessboard in the King’s privy chamber on the evening after her talk with Pietro, she found herself looking at her father afresh.

  “You are not paying attention, Kate,” he chided. “I said, watch your knight. What ails you?”

  She summoned her courage. “Sire, I have been much disquieted by foul rumors about my cousins in the Tower.”

  Richard’s eyes narrowed. “You should not pay attention to pernicious rumors,” he reproved.

  “Then my cousins are well?”

  “Why should they not be?” His tone was defensive and sharp. Queen Anne, seated by the crackling fire, looked up from her sewing. She shook her head almost imperceptibly at Kate.

  “No reason at all, sire,” Kate said quickly. Her father frowned and said no more.

  The next morning, after Mass, Kate stayed on her knees in the empty chapel, trying to make sense of everything. But it was all too much for her, and she found herself weeping uncontrollably. And that was how the Lord Chancellor, the Bishop of Lincoln, found her when he entered the chapel a few minutes later.

  “Why, my dear child, what is wrong?” he asked in his mellow, cultivated voice. Kate lifted a tearstained face in which her misery was written clear. She was relieved to see Bishop Russell standing beside her. She knew him for a just man of great learning and piety, a man of integrity who had sometimes been a guest at her father’s table. The sight of his strong, serene face calmed her.

  She stood up, wiping her eyes. “I have done my father the King an injury,” she sniffed. “But I would not have hurt him for all the world.”

  “I am sure that a young lady like yourself could not have done anything that was so very bad,” the Bishop said kindly. “Would you like to tell me about it?”

  Kate realized that she would, very much. She needed reassurance about the dark matters that had been gnawing at her for weeks, and her talk with Pietro had only added to her torment. She was painfully torn: she could not bear to have those horrible things said about her father—and yet she was tortured by the possibility that there might be some truth in them. Every time she had tried to talk to John about her fears, he’d offered some comforting explanation; yet she suspected he was biased, immovably her father’s man. And then she would feel guilty about being so disloyal herself. But these terrible suspicions would not be stilled!

  Bishop Russell was an experienced politician, well acquainted with the workings of the court, the council, and Parliament, and an honest man at the center of affairs. If anyone knew the truth, it was he.

  S
he sank down in the royal pew and His Grace seated himself comfortably beside her.

  “Now,” he said, “there is no one to hear, and you may speak freely. Do not think that anything you say can shock me, for in my calling I have heard the whole panoply of the human condition; and this will be between ourselves only.” He paused and waited, contemplating his episcopal ring.

  “There have been dreadful rumors these past weeks,” Kate began, then faltered. Even now, she hated to give voice to them. “They accuse my father of murdering his nephews.” There—it was said.

  The Bishop was silent at first. He appeared to be considering. Kate was holding her breath in trepidation.

  “The King was ambitious, there can be no doubt of that,” he said at length. “He wanted the throne, although when he first conceived that desire I cannot say. And he removed those who stood in his way. I know for a fact that Lord Hastings never conspired against him. So yes, he displayed a certain—shall we say—pragmatism. He may well have believed there had been a conspiracy. But innocent blood was shed.”

  “Innocent blood?” Kate whispered.

  “I meant Lord Hastings—and Rivers and Grey,” the Bishop replied, then fell silent.

  “And the princes?” She could hardly speak.

  “When the Duke of York was taken from sanctuary, his mother was assured that Gloucester intended no harm toward him,” the Bishop recalled. “With that guarantee, she assented to the boy’s going. But from that day, the duke openly revealed his plans. It was clear he was aiming for the throne itself. My dear child, you must forgive me for speaking too freely, but I am telling you the truth. Never think I am disloyal to my King. I serve him faithfully, and think no ill of him. Our Savior teaches us that we must not judge our fellow men.”

  “I know that, Father,” Kate assured him.

 
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