A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir

“Sometimes, in matters of state, the end justifies the means,” the Bishop said.

  “The precontract between King Edward and Lady Eleanor Butler—did it ever exist?” Kate ventured.

  Bishop Russell sighed. “No, my daughter, it was a false tale put forward by Bishop Stillington, which the duke chose to believe. It gave him the pretext he needed to take the throne.”

  “Then the princes are truly legitimate?”

  “Some would say so.”

  And they might also say that her father had usurped the throne and had no right to be King, she realized. But surely he had believed the precontract to be lawful?

  “But my father is the rightful King?” she asked.

  “Indeed he is. He was recognized as such by the estates of this realm at his coronation, and Parliament has just passed an Act, Titulus Regius, confirming his title.”

  That was some comfort. But she needed more.

  “It is said that the princes were killed before the coronation,” she ventured.

  “That is untrue,” the Bishop said. “At that time they were living in the Tower under special guard, and I know they were still there when the Prince of Wales was invested at York.”

  That gave the lie to Brother Dominic’s hints and suspicions.

  “But what happened to them after the investiture?” she persisted.

  The Bishop’s gaze rested on the great jeweled crucifix on the altar.

  “I cannot say,” he said. “They may still be in the Tower now. I promise you I have not heard otherwise.” He stood up, somewhat abruptly. “I hope I have given you some consolation, my daughter. Now I must leave you. I am due in the council chamber shortly.” And he placed his hand on her head in blessing before departing.

  Walking back to her lodging on the Queen’s side, Kate considered what the Bishop had said. Certainly his account of events was at variance with Dominic Mancini’s, and that alone cast doubt on Mancini’s sources of information. Malicious persons, to be sure, she said to herself, resolving never to doubt her father again. Whatever means he had used to come by the throne, he must have believed them legitimate. And the princes were still in the Tower: Bishop Russell himself thought it.

  It was only later, when she was lying wakeful in bed, staring unseeing at the firelight flickering on the walls, that she recalled the Bishop’s answer when she’d asked what had become of the princes after the investiture. “I cannot say,” he had replied. Had that meant he could not say because he did not know—or because it was politic—and safer—not to say? And then another terrible notion came to her: if the princes had been murdered in the Tower, they—or rather, their bodies—would still be there, and of course Bishop Russell would not have heard otherwise.

  John, meanwhile, had been busy putting pressure on his father to permit him and Kate to wed.

  “He is thinking about it, that’s all he will say,” he fumed when next they met. “God’s blood, why is it that older people forget what it is like to be in love? They think they can push us into this betrothal or that to suit their own advantage, but they have no idea what it is like when your blood is racing through your veins and you have eyes only for one special person. And for me it is you, my Kate!” And he swept her up and twirled her around, her green skirts and long hair flying.

  “John! People will see!” Her eyes scanned the frost-rimed garden anxiously. Lincoln set her down and followed her as she walked to the riverbank. Below them the Thames glowered dark and sullen in the February gloom. It matched her mood. She had been utterly miserable since her talks with Pietro and Bishop Russell.

  “What is wrong with you these days, sweetheart?” John asked, looking at her anxiously. “Tell me honestly—are you tiring of me?”

  “God, no!” she cried, shocked that he should think it, and that she had become so self-absorbed as to not notice his concern. “I love you, John! I always will. I long for you to be my husband. No—you have nothing to do with my melancholy; rather, you are the one thing that lifts it.”

  “I am not doing very well today, then.” He smiled ruefully.

  “In truth, I do not know how to help myself,” she confessed.

  “Just tell me what is wrong, or I shall go mad with worry.”

  “It is my father … the rumors about the princes …” She shook her head helplessly.

  “Not that again!” John sighed. “Just forget it. You are chasing demons that don’t exist. The princes are in the Tower, alive and well.”

  “You know that for certain?”

  “I am sure of it. And the good news today is that the Queen and her daughters have agreed to leave sanctuary. The King has sworn an oath to protect and care for our cousins. Queen Elizabeth would hardly entrust them to a man who had murdered her sons. Think about it, sweetheart.”

  “But he had her other son, Grey, executed without trial,” Kate had to say.

  “There was justification for that, as you know. Queen Elizabeth must know it too. And the King has offered a pardon to her eldest son, Dorset, if he will abandon Henry Tudor and return to England. So you see, my Kate, there is no cause for melancholy, I promise you.” He bent and kissed her long and hard, his cheek rough and cold in the freezing air. It was the most passionate kiss he had ever given her, and when he broke away, she was gasping.

  “I trust you feel better now,” John said, and winked at her.

  She thought she did, as she hastened back into the palace, her thick cloak pulled about her, her hands blue with cold. And then she was accosted by a fresh-faced page in the King’s livery.

  “I’ve been looking for you everywhere, my lady,” the boy said. “The King is asking for you. He desires that you attend him in his privy chamber.”

  “Of course,” she said, and hurried on her way, unsuspecting.


  October 1559, Whitehall Palace

  God, Fortune, or the Fates—call it what you will—have not been kind to us, my love and I. To my grief, my lady mother has grown weaker and taken to her bed, and there she has remained ever since, her condition steadily deteriorating. Once more, our hopes of her intercession with the Queen have been cruelly dashed.

  Today, stiff in my tight-waisted embroidered damask gown with the high, ruffled neck and wide, pearl-encrusted sleeves, and bursting with resentment, it is my turn to wait upon Her Majesty. I am aware of the covert, hostile glances of my fellow Ladies of the Bedchamber, the bristling disapproval of Mistress Astley, and the icy demeanor of my royal mistress. Elizabeth could be angry with me for any number of reasons—but why does she not speak her displeasure, or even tell me what my punishment is to be?

  I burn with the unfairness of it all. I have done nothing—nothing—to deserve this!

  Anger boils inside me. So when the Queen slaps me for dropping her glove, I explode like a cannon.

  “Your Majesty is most unkind!” I cry. “It is not my fault that others have plotted in my name, entirely unbeknownst to me, and yet you have blamed me for it. That is unwarranted, and most unbecoming in one who is supposed to be the fount of all justice!”

  As soon as I have uttered the words, I wish my tongue had been cut out of my mouth. One look at the astonishment and fury in Elizabeth’s face, and I know I am irrevocably lost, and bound for the Tower, at the very least. With a few ill-chosen words let fly in wrath, I have wrecked all my hopes of the succession, yea, and of marriage and all that is precious to me.

  “Well, Lady Katherine, you have made yourself very clear,” the Queen says acidly. “Even if there was none of your malice in that evil conspiracy, you have made it plain now.”

  “But madam,” I keen, falling to my knees, “I but pleaded my case. I meant no offense, truly.” The women are looking down on me with unconcealed contempt.

  “Have I accused you of aught, that you should have any case to plead?” Elizabeth barks.

  “No, madam, but you have never shown kindness to me, and it is clear that I am now held in derision by everyone in this court, they follo
wing your lead, for you have made it plain you think me a guilty party, when I am not. But I have been sorely tried, especially considering I have not been named as your successor, as is my right—”

  “Enough!” the Queen bawls. “Get ye hence, girl, and do not show your face here again until I command it, on pain of my severe displeasure. Go!”

  I rise to my feet and, dropping the scantiest of curtsies, flee from her presence. And then I wait … and wait … and wait. What will my fate be? How many laws have I broken in speaking thus to my sovereign? Was it treason, or bordering on it? Yes, I was right in what I said—but I wish now, oh, I wish that I had borne that slap patiently and never opened my mouth.

  I have ruined everything. I have irrevocably offended the Queen’s Majesty, and will surely suffer for it. Was there ever such a wretch as I? Yes, of course there was, I realize with horror: my poor sister Jane. Memories of her awful fate haunt me. Will I be next?

  Bishop de Quadra seeks me out as I walk with my dogs, alone and shunned by the courtiers, in St. James’s Park. But before he can speak, I challenge him.

  “By God, Bishop, what is this I hear about you trying to kidnap me?”

  He looks disconcerted but quickly recovers himself.

  “That is a strong word, my lady. You have clearly been misinformed. Rest assured that Spain would never do anything without your consent.”

  “But I am assured that there was a conspiracy to marry me to the Infante Don Carlos.”

  “Such a match was mooted,” he admits. “His Majesty has only ever sought to make a good and beneficial marriage between your ladyship and a great Catholic prince. It has now been suggested that his nephew, the Archduke Ferdinand, would be more worthy of your consideration. Don Carlos will be King of Spain one day, and must remain in that kingdom. Your ladyship, once Queen of England, must live here. The Archduke has no ties, and can remain at your side. His Majesty remembers the difficulties that arose when he was married to Queen Mary, and wishes them to be avoided in the future.” He pauses. “Am I right in thinking that you are unhappy at court and would leave willingly? His Majesty would provide a remedy and a refuge.”

  “I will think on this,” I murmur, mollified, but uneasily aware that this conversation might be treasonous. And although I can see the political sense in what the Bishop is offering, and am flattered at the prospect of such a great match, my heart is Ned’s, and can be Ned’s alone.

  “I am sorry to see you looking so downcast, Lady Katherine,” de Quadra says. “I have heard about your quarrel with the Queen. You were brave to speak out—yet a little rash, if I may say so. But the Queen’s wrath never lasts long, I am told.”

  “I wish I could believe that,” I tell him. “She has always hated me.”

  “She hates you because she fears you, my lady, and with good reason. In my master’s view, you would make a more desirable queen than she.”

  “You must not say that to me,” I reprimand him. “It is treason, no less.” But my heart is leaping. My friends in Spain, who have caused me so much trouble, may yet find a way to champion my cause.

  Bishop de Quadra looks consideringly at me. “If any disaster were to befall the Queen, my master would support your claim, by force of arms, if need be.”

  I stare at him. I had not imagined that Spain felt so strongly about my succession. And for the first time in weeks, my spirits begin to soar.


  February 1484, Palace of Westminster

  King Richard was reading in his carved box chair when Kate arrived in the privy chamber and made her curtsey. Queen Anne was present too, in her usual place by the fire, swathed in furs.

  Her father smiled, laid down his book, and held out his arms, and Kate went into them, hating herself for ever having doubted him.

  “I have very good news for you, Kate,” he announced. “You are to be married!”

  Her heart pounding, she clapped her hand to her mouth. “I thank Your Grace!” she cried. “It is what I have longed for.” There were tears in her eyes.

  Richard looked at her uncomprehendingly for a moment, then his smile faded.

  “Ah, daughter, you think it is my lord of Lincoln, but I am afraid he is not the lucky man. No, you are to be wed to the Earl of Huntingdon.”

  “No!” She could not stop herself. She had been schooled to obedience since birth, and taught that her father’s word was law, and her father was also her King, so she owed him a double duty—but she was ready to defy him in this. Forsake John for a stranger? She would rather die!

  The King took her hands. “No?” he said gently. “That is not the reaction I expected from my dutiful daughter when I have provided carefully for her future.” It was a reproof, but a kindly one.

  “It is not your place to question your father’s decision, Kate,” Anne added.

  Kate was trembling. “Sire, you knew I wished to wed my cousin of Lincoln.” Tears were streaming down her cheeks.

  Her father looked pained. “I thought I had warned you not to think of marriage with him. You are my daughter, and your marriage must be made for policy. This match with the Earl of Huntingdon is a brilliant one for you, and much to my advantage—and yours. You will be a countess, a great lady—it is a union I would have sought for my trueborn daughter, if I had one.”

  “But I love John!” Kate burst out. “I can never love the Earl of Huntingdon!”

  Her father’s face darkened, but Anne came over and took her hand.

  “Listen, Kate,” she enjoined. “It is the duty of a wife to love her lord, once she is married. You must try as hard as you can. No good can come of falling in love where you will; you must see that now. My lord of Lincoln is a charming young man, but you are too close in blood.”

  The King spoke. “Knowing that there was goodwill between you and my nephew, I did sound out his father on the matter of a marriage between you. He said he would not forbid it if I wanted it, but he was unhappy about the consanguinity, and he does have another bride in mind for his son.”

  Of course, she had known that, but she knew too that the duke had a deeper reservation, one he would never have dared voice to her father. Her distress was unbearable; she was now weeping so copiously that Richard and Anne were quite concerned about her.

  “Kate, he is not for you,” Anne said gently, putting an arm around her heaving shoulders and proffering her own kerchief.

  “Nay, because I am baseborn!” Kate cried. “That is the real reason why his father does not want the marriage!”

  Richard looked stricken. “That cannot be so,” he protested. “It is an honor for any man to marry the daughter of the King, baseborn or not. And the Earl of Huntingdon is sensible of it. He has long admired you from afar. My lord of Suffolk has good cause to object to the match—but that is not my only consideration. Far more important are the benefits that this marriage with Huntingdon will bring. Will you let me explain?”

  Kate’s nod was barely perceptible. She dabbed her eyes but could not stop shuddering. Then the King began speaking.

  William Herbert, he said, was twenty-eight years old. (Old, she thought, too old!) His father and namesake had been one of the most powerful supporters of the House of York, for which he had fought valiantly during the late wars. After his accession, Edward IV had given the older Herbert high offices in south Wales, made him a baron, and granted him Pembroke Castle and many other strongholds and manors.

  Lord Herbert had vanquished the Welsh Tudors, who had fought for the House of Lancaster, and soon he was given their earldom of Pembroke. After that, the King related, he was the effective ruler of all Wales. His friend, King Edward, had entrusted him with the wardship of young Henry Tudor, who had spent his early years in Herbert’s care at Raglan Castle, the family’s chief seat.

  “This Earl of Pembroke had started out as a humble squire,” Richard said, “but within a decade he had become one of the greatest lords in the kingdom. And it was well deserved, for he had rendered loyal and excellent service
to our house.”

  Kate could not see what the career of this paragon had to do with her marriage, but she ventured no comment and sat there silently grappling with her misery, and trying to focus on what her father was saying.

  “Your future husband grew up during these years. He was knighted at the age of eleven, created Baron Dunster, and married to the Queen’s sister, Mary Wydeville.”

  Kate could tell by her father’s tone that he had not approved. But what stirred her interest slightly was that Huntingdon had been married before.

  “What was she like, this Mary Wydeville?” she asked.

  Her father looked at her hopefully. He was thinking that she was coming around to the idea of this marriage. But she was merely curious.

  “In faith, I do not know,” he said. “There were so many Wydeville sisters. She cannot have been at court long before she was taken as a bride to Raglan.”

  As I shall be, Kate thought desperately. God, where is Raglan? In some Welsh mountain fastness? No! Never!

  “Lady Huntingdon has been dead for two years. She left one daughter, Elizabeth, who is the earl’s sole heir.”

  And no doubt he seeks a brood mare to provide him with sons! Kate could not contain her bitterness. Well, he can look elsewhere. I will never wed him.

  “That has not been the only sadness in Huntingdon’s life,” Richard was saying. “Alas, in 1469, his gallant father, Pembroke, was captured by the Lancastrians at Edgecote Moor. They beheaded him at Northampton. His son, your future betrothed, then tried to establish his authority in Wales, but he was very young, and without the experience of his father. His rule was not effective, and the Herbert influence declined. He was unable to prevent Henry Tudor’s uncle, Jasper, from seizing the boy from Raglan Castle and escaping with him to France.”

  None of this sounded much like a recommendation. William Herbert had suffered tragedy, yes, but he was clearly not the man his father had been.

  “The young earl served King Edward loyally, both in Wales and during the war with France,” Richard continued. “Five years ago he agreed to surrender his earldom of Pembroke to the King in exchange for the earldom of Huntingdon; King Edward wanted the Pembroke lands to come under the authority of his son, the Prince of Wales, and his Council of the Marches. He desired to build up the authority of the prince in those parts. It was a judicious plan.”

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