A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  “Of course!” I agree excitedly. “When the Queen realizes that it is purely a love match, and that we intend no threat to her, she will surely forgive us. And we have Sir William Cecil on our side, remember. He will support us, you may count on it!”

  Ned shakes his head. “I think not. I met him by chance today. He asked me how I did, the usual pleasantries, and then he said he was still hearing rumors that I was in love with you and hoping to wed. He advised me to cool my ardor, and walked on.”

  “But he was in favor of our marriage,” I say helplessly.

  “Sir William must know that this marriage makes sense,” Jane says. “He ought to be on your side, Ned,” she adds. “It was our father who first gave him a post at court and set him on the road to the greatness he enjoys today.”

  Ned looks dejected. “That counts for little now. But Lord Robert might help us. Now that the coroner has cleared him of the murder of his wife, he is again influential with the Queen. And, Katherine, his brother was once married to your sister. But wedding without the Queen’s permission? The thing is fraught with dangers, and might be construed as treason.”

  “How can it be?” I flare. “I am not recognized as heiress presumptive. If I were, then it might be treason, but I remain a private person. The Queen cannot have it both ways!”

  “You have been restored to the status of princess of the blood,” he reminds me. “Therefore your marriage is a matter of public concern. Usurp the Queen’s privilege, and you may yet be accused of treason.”

  “There is no law that says I would be guilty of it!”

  “Have you forgotten that the Queen herself warned you not to wed without her consent?”

  “Things have changed since then,” Jane puts in. “The Queen and her council must know that a far more deadly threat than your marriage comes from Spain or Scotland. Do it, brother! Do not sacrifice all you hold dear for the want of a little courage.”

  “I will think on it,” Ned says reluctantly. “If I seem unenthusiastic, it is because I do not wish to bring down the Queen’s wrath on us both. Katherine is too dear to me for that.” And he stoops and brushes my lips with his own.

  KATE

  May 1484, Nottingham Castle

  Kate stood before the altar with William, barely hearing the words of the nuptial Mass. This travesty of a ceremony was a perversion of everything that marriage should be, yet she stood there meekly, every inch the King’s daughter in her sumptuous gown and train of black-figured cloth of gold, with tight scarlet velvet sleeves and a surcoat of white silk. Over her shoulders flowed her luxuriant hair, loose in token of her supposedly virgin state. If only they all knew!

  She made her vows to William without a tremor. They meant nothing.

  She knew John was behind her somewhere. He had said he would be. “Think of me when you are at the altar,” he said as they had lain together in the blissful peace that followed rapturous lovemaking. “I will be thinking of you, and of our true vows.”

  She had given him her word, and she kept it. She was his, and no one could take that from her, not even her new-made husband standing by her side.

  ——

  Not for Kate and William a small bedchamber with an old bed hung with dusty green curtains; instead, they were assigned two spacious rooms overlooking the town below. In the larger of the two stood a red-draped bed with a carved table beside it, upon which had been left a silver tray bearing a glass ewer with a silver stopper and jeweled wine goblets. In front of the fireplace stood a long carved cushioned settle, and from the beamed ceiling hung a gilded chandelier, its candles flickering in the breeze from the open window. No detail, no comfort, had been overlooked.

  But there was small comfort in the thought of what lay ahead. At least, Kate thought, I do not have to face being deflowered by this stranger. It had been painful enough with John, yet he was gentle with her, and the hurt had soon been replaced by a wondrous new sensation of pleasure. She could not bear to think about that now; her sense of loss was too acute.

  When Mattie had gone, having turned down the sheets, plumped the bolster, unlaced and laid away the beautiful wedding gown, and brushed her mistress’s tresses until they shone, Kate climbed into bed in her chemise and sat there waiting, her heart pounding. She thanked God for one small mercy: that, because the court was in mourning for the prince, there was to be no public bedding ceremony.

  Soon William appeared, clad in a silk robe. “Well, here we are, wife,” he said, pausing to pour them some wine. “I hope you are not afraid of me.” He handed her a goblet.

  “No, my lord,” she answered, but gulped down the wine gratefully, averting her eyes as her husband shed his robe and climbed naked into bed. She had a glimpse of sinewy limbs, white flanks, and thick thatches of black hair over his chest and between his legs.

  “A toast to our marriage,” said William, and they clinked goblets. When he had drained his, he laid hold of her. Before she had time to catch her breath, he was raking up her shift, clambering on top of her, and forcing an entry. She gasped a little, for his thrusting was painful after all and there was no need to fake any discomfort. When he was done, he slumped beside her, panting, and she lay there, her head turned away, her heart empty. What had been so exalting last night meant nothing at all today. Was this how it was to be for always and always? And was William not going to speak even one word of love to her?

  She made an effort. She had to do something to make her marriage bearable. “Do I please you, my lord?” she whispered. There was no answer. Instead, William began snoring.

  KATHERINE

  November 1560, Hampton Court Palace

  One morning, as I am walking my dogs through the gardens overlooking the Thames at Hampton Court, I espy my beloved, kissing—for all to see—the hand of Frances Mewtas, a Gentlewoman of the Chamber to the Queen. Unaware of my presence, they talk privily, those two, and she giggles, then Ned bows and goes on his way, leaving her flushed and smiling to herself.

  How could he? It is not to be borne! Have I waited these long years for Ned, only—with marriage at last in our sights—for him to forsake me for that trollop Mewtas?

  Grief and rage burning within me, I race back into the palace, forgetting all decorum and not caring who sees me looking flustered and dismayed, and hasten in search of Jane Seymour. She will know how to deal with her faithless brother! She wants this marriage as much as I do.

  I find her in her closet off the maidens’ dorter, and Ned with her. They both stare at me, so wild I appear.

  “How dare you?” I rail at him. “I saw you making advances to Mistress Mewtas just now. Don’t try to deny it! I suppose this is why you will not commit to marrying me.”

  Ned looks horrified. Covering the distance between us in two paces, he grasps my shoulders and looks fiercely into my eyes.

  “What are you saying?” he asks. “I have never held that lady in any esteem, or anyone else for that matter. I thought that if people saw me flirting with her, aye, and with others too, they would cease conjecturing that there is anything between you and me. But, as God is my judge, I have never, ever betrayed you. I adore you, Katherine! And so let’s be done with all this waiting, for I will marry you out of hand, as soon as we can find a convenient time.”

  “Oh, Ned!” I cannot speak further for very joy and relief, and Jane is clapping her hands in delight.

  “When will that be?” she asks.

  “When the Queen’s Majesty returns to London,” Ned says, and kisses me passionately, not caring that Jane is looking on.

  KATE

  May 1484; Augustinian Friary, York

  Kate looked out of her window at the muddy waters of the River Ouse, which flowed past the friary guest house where the royal party was lodged. Farther along, to her right, lay the Guildhall, where they were to be entertained to a feast tonight, and to the south was Clifford’s Tower and the ancient castle. Beyond, in the meadows across the river, was the Micklegate Bar, the royal entrance to York,
through which they had come in procession a few days ago, to be welcomed by the mayor and the city fathers. The King had led his company to the great Minster, to give hearty thanks for being safely returned to the North. It was obvious that his heart lay here, in the bracing air of Yorkshire, although Kate knew that part of it had been sealed forever in that sad little tomb at Sheriff Hutton. He and Anne had gone there, alone, two days before. Their faces had been stricken when they emerged from the church and rejoined their waiting entourage.

  She sighed. Tomorrow, she and William would say farewell to the King and Queen and depart for Raglan. She was dreading that moment, hating to leave her father and stepmother, especially when their grief was still so raw. And her lost lover, John: she would be saying a silent good-bye to him too, for a long, long while. She had seen him about the court often since her marriage, but they’d had no converse. It was what they had agreed when they parted after their one blissful night together. Kate had to live with William, after all. Even so, she sometimes thought she would die of yearning for John.

  After a fortnight of marriage she knew William little better than she had before. He observed the courtesies by day, lay with her every night, and was at her side whenever convention demanded it. No one could have faulted him. Yet he hardly talked to her, and there was no spark of any sort between them. She bore his attentions patiently, but they were joyless, and left her weeping silently into her pillow every time. This had nothing to do with love! This was mere duty, and she had begun to see married life as a long, dreary, barren road stretching out endlessly ahead of her.

  She had tried; oh, yes, she had tried. She had started conversations, made little jests, or asked questions calculated to prompt some discourse. William always answered politely, but he never engaged with her beyond that. She knew he did not love her, and was grateful for it. Yet why did he not cooperate in making things easier and more pleasant for them both? He seemed to look upon her as one of his chattels, no more, and to assume that she was happy being left to gossip with Mattie over their embroidery. He made no attempt to restrict her in any manner, he was generous in his way, but he was simply indifferent to her. Let her bring him her good dowry and bear him heirs, and he would require no more of her. She wished she had not bled John’s seed away days after her wedding.

  It was time to make ready for the banquet. She summoned Mattie.

  “My, you do look a glump!” the girl said cheerfully. She had spent the afternoon with Guy, her sweetheart. William had agreed to take him on, and the happy couple was to be married when they reached Raglan. “Missing Lord Lincoln, are ye?”

  “Horribly,” Kate said. “I do not know how I bear it. But Mattie, never mention his name once we leave here. My lord does not care much for me, but he would care very much if his good name were sullied.”

  “I promise, my lady,” Mattie vowed. “Now, it’s the crimson tonight, isn’t it?” And she helped Kate into a figure-skimming velvet gown with tight sleeves that belled out at the wrist, a low neck edged with a border of gold damask, a skirt that trailed in rippling folds on the floor, and a silk hip belt from which jangled gold ornaments. Then she drew her mistress’s hair back into a tight plait and pinned it coiled to the back of her head. Over this she fixed a tub-shaped hennin covered in damask that matched the border of the gown, and atop it pinned the winged butterfly headdress of stiffened gauze. Once the unwieldy thing—now the height of fashion—was in place, Kate found she must keep her head level and not move it for fear of sending the whole contraption tumbling to the ground. Wearing a head covering, even one so elegant, was another of the things she hated about being married. She wondered how Queen Anne and the other great ladies of the court managed to move so serenely and effortlessly. Oh, how she longed to go about with her hair flowing freely again!

  The feast was lavish, the city burghers puffed out in their furred robes anxious to attend to their King’s every comfort. There were cheers for Richard when he entered the Guildhall, and for once his careworn face lightened. There had been no whisper of a rumor up here, Kate reflected, and felt heartened.

  In the morning, she and William rose early, heard Mass, and ate breakfast. Then they attended on the King, who greeted them warmly and announced that he was bestowing on them, jointly, fifteen manors in Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall. It seemed he could not shower them with sufficient bounty. He had made them rich enough to keep great estate, and he had done it for her, and to keep William loyal. She doubted he had needed to. William did not have the imagination to plot treason. Loyalty to the House of York was rooted in his family anyway.

  Her father told William he had confirmed him in his earldom, and William stolidly expressed his gratitude.

  “Now, son Herbert,” the King said, “these honors, and the gift of my daughter, are not for nothing. In return, you will hold south Wales for me against the Tudor, for there is no doubt that he will make another attempt on England sometime soon. In the meantime, I will look to the North.” His face suddenly twisted with pain. The prince, of course, was to have been his representative there.

  He pulled himself together with an effort. “I mind to set up the King’s Household in the North, which will be established at Sandal Castle under the rule of my nephew Lincoln, who is now to represent me in these parts. He will also have charge of Sheriff Hutton Castle, where I intend to house the heirs of the House of York in safety. Warwick will be sent there, his sister Margaret, and, because it will benefit him, my bastard, John of Gloucester.”

  He paused. “I will tell you something, both of you, that is as yet a great secret, but will be made known when I think it politic. Warwick is next in line, but cannot succeed me. He is a fair lad, but his wits are not up to the demands of kingship. God knows, I fear my own wits are not always up to it either! Therefore, I intend to name Lincoln my heir.”

  Kate started at that. She barely heard her father rehearsing all the compelling reasons why Lincoln would make a good King. She could only think that, had Fate arranged things differently, she might have been Queen of England, seated beside John on his future throne. John II, he would be; given the example of the first King John, it was not the most auspicious of styles—yet her John would cause the name to ring with renown, she had no doubt of it.

  “A wise choice, sire,” her husband said. “The noble Lincoln has the mettle for it.”

  “Aye, indeed,” the King agreed, watching Kate speculatively for a moment. She caught his eye and lowered her gaze. “And now you must make haste,” he said. “You have a long journey ahead of you.” His voice sounded strained. He was feeling this parting as keenly as she was.

  The Queen came, wine was brought, and they all drank a toast to a bright future for Kate and William, and the confounding of the King’s enemies. Then Kate summoned a page to bring in the parting gift she had commissioned for her father: a framed portrait of herself, very fine and like, wearing the beautiful blue gown she had worn for his coronation and her diamond-shaped pendant. He gazed at it in admiration, then a sad smile creased his face.

  “You could not have given me anything better,” he told her. “Now I shall have a daily reminder of you to take wherever I go. Thank you.” He kissed her lightly on the forehead.

  At last, with the goblets drained, and Kate grateful for the warming wine running through her veins and dulling the pain, it was time to say good-bye. She and William knelt for the blessings of her father and stepmother, and then were raised and embraced.

  “God go with you, my daughter,” Anne said, smiling at her sadly. It was the warmest she had shown herself in months.

  Richard folded Kate tightly in his arms. “You are most precious to me,” he murmured. “I pray Our Lady to have you in her special keeping.” She felt him tremble as he said it, and when he broke away from her, she could see he was near to weeping.

  “Love my daughter well, son Herbert!” he commanded briskly.

  “Your Grace may be assured of that,” William declared, taking Kate’s hand
and kissing it. As he led her from the chamber, she felt choked, and could not bear to look back at those two forlorn figures in black, standing bereft before their chairs of estate, surrounded by all the empty trappings of majesty.

  KATHERINE

  November 1560, Greenwich Palace and Whitehall Palace

  When the court moved to Greenwich, Ned returned to Hertford House in Westminster, and there he fell ill of a fever. He wrote in anxious vein to Jane. To my dismay, his courage appeared to have deserted him. He was wavering again, fretting about how our wedding might be accomplished.

  “It is his sickness that speaks,” Jane said, looking sick herself. “Do not let it upset you.” But I did. These past days have been a nightmare, for I have thought of nothing but what I might do if Ned forsakes me. I could not live. It is as simple as that.

  Yet now comes another letter.

  “He asks me to further his suit!” cries Jane. “He says that, although your marriage must be secret, he intends to do all properly, according to custom. Thus he will propose himself formally to you, and you will be betrothed; and your wedding will then take place. All this he insists upon, so that your children shall be of undisputed legitimacy. He asks if you are content to agree. Oh, Katherine, it really is going to happen!” And she embraces me heartily.

  “Content? I am the happiest woman alive! Pray tell my dear love that I am well inclined to whatever arrangements he desires to make, and that I shall give him my resolute answer in person when the court returns to Whitehall next week.”

  And it is at Whitehall, in Jane’s closet, that I next embrace my beloved, who looks a shade pale, for he is not fully recovered from his malady, yet handsome and ardent for all that. And when, finally, we draw apart, breathless, Ned goes down on one knee before me and takes my hand.

  “Katherine,” he says, “I have borne you goodwill for a long time, and I am content, if you will, to marry you.”

 
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