A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  He has abandoned me, I know it at heart, and soon I will be shamed as a fool before the whole world.

  At the palace of Beaulieu, I find a letter pushed under my chamber door, just as I am retiring to bed exhausted after another lavish feast. It is a second angry missive from Harry, who is clearly out to have his revenge on me. He was my friend, he writes, but he is now sorry for that. He demands I return the letters and gifts he has sent me, without delay. Or else, he threatens, to be plain with you, I will make you and your whoredom known to the whole world.

  I do not summon Mrs. Ellen or anyone else. As I unlace my stays, weeping, and with difficulty, and see the mound of my poor constrained belly exposed, I know I have no choice anymore. I must go to the Queen.

  KATE

  Summer 1485, Raglan Castle

  Weeks afterward, news reached the castle that Queen Anne had passed away at Westminster. Kate mourned her profoundly, wishing she’d had a chance to make things right between them. Anne had had her doubts about King Richard, and Kate thought that disloyal. Yet hadn’t she had her own suspicions? She of all people knew how deeply those doubts had tormented Anne. And since overhearing Richard Herbert’s revelations, those horrible uncertainties had resurfaced in her own mind, leaving her even more in turmoil than before.

  Kate thought she might go mad if her doubts were not resolved, once and for all. They ate at her. She would go to her grave obsessing about them, she thought. She waited in trepidation for news of the King’s marriage to Elizabeth of York; if that went ahead, she would have to believe that the rumors had been well founded. None came. Instead, her brother John—in one of his brief, rare letters—wrote from Sheriff Hutton that Elizabeth of York had joined the household there with her sisters. Clearly the marriage was not to take place—or not immediately.

  William told her that the King had granted them yet another annuity. Later she wondered if it had been to ensure William’s loyalty, because the next piece of news that reached Raglan was bad. Her father had good reason to send Elizabeth of York north to a secure place, for Henry Tudor’s invasion was now expected at any time. William had received fresh orders to hold south Wales against the invader, and was now away much of the time ensuring that the local magnates stayed staunch to the King and that efficient defenses were in place. Richard himself had moved to Nottingham, where he was mustering the forces he had commanded his lords to array. The whole kingdom was, it seemed, up in arms.

  But for whom? Kate was terrified for her father because there was no question that the rumors about the princes’ disappearance had undermined his following. William himself, when he was fleetingly at home, expressed doubts about the loyalty of the great nobles, for some lords had already defected to Henry Tudor.

  “The King relies heavily on Norfolk, Northumberland, and Stanley,” he said, “but I would not trust Stanley. His wife is the traitor’s mother.”

  “Norfolk is loyal, I am sure,” Kate said. “But what of Northumberland?”

  “Who can say? Let us hope they will all support the King when the time comes.”

  “Will there be a battle?” she asked fearfully.

  “Assuredly, unless Henry Tudor is killed or taken by stealth first. I have the coast guarded; he cannot attempt a landing here in the south. But he must march through Wales or England to confront the King’s forces—and who knows what might happen on the way?”

  “I pray to God that some loyal subject puts an end to his evil designs,” Kate cried. “I cannot bear this uncertainty much longer.”

  William rode away again, making it his business to keep watch over the territory under his command, ensuring that, as far as possible, all was safe and secure, and that the men he had cozened, arrayed, and instructed were prepared, and his captains vigilant. Kate rarely saw him. She and the countess were busily provisioning the castle for a siege, just in case Henry Tudor came this way. It might all be a waste of effort, she thought, as she went through another long list of foodstuffs with the steward, but they were taking no chances.

  It was a hot August. The grass turned brown in the sun’s rays, and streams dried up. It would not be easy for men wearing armor to fight in this weather, she realized uneasily, and prayed it would not come to that.

  Another letter arrived from her brother John. He sounded excited, and with good cause, for he was bound for Calais, England’s last outpost in France. Their father the King had appointed him Captain of Calais, and although he was too young at eleven to carry out his duties by himself, he was going to be taught them by those who were fulfilling them for him. Imagine, dear sister, he wrote, your brother, Captain of Calais!

  William came home in a foul temper.

  “I cannot stay long. Henry Tudor has landed at Milford Haven!” he announced. “Carmarthen and Brecon are safe for the King, but I fear some traitors have gone over to the Tudor. I’ve sent a fast rider to warn King Richard of the invasion.”

  Kate felt a deep tremor of fear. It had come at last, the conflict they had all been dreading.

  “God help me, I failed to prevent those traitors from crossing the Pembroke River to join Henry Tudor,” William fumed, crashing around the hall in frustration. “I was not far behind them too. At least I have blocked the southern route to England, but the bastard is marching north, so I must leave you again, and do my best to intercept him. I just need a few provisions to keep me and my men going, and the arrows in my store.”

  “Take care, my son,” the countess enjoined. “I shall pray constantly that you come back to us safe with good news.”

  “God speed you, my lord,” Kate added, with unusual warmth: it was her father whom William was going to defend.

  KATHERINE

  August 1561; Ipswich, Suffolk

  Blessed be God—for it puts her in a sweet temper—the Queen has spent a most enjoyable day visiting the town of Ipswich and meeting the local dignitaries and the people; and she has now returned in a high good humor to the magnificent house of Sir Edmund Withipoll, where we are lodged. It is called Christchurch Mansion, and was a monastery before King Harry dissolved it, but there is little left from the monks’ days here. Costly oak paneling clads the walls, the chambers are appointed with richly carved beds and chairs and tables, and we are served our supper on silver-gilt plates. Her Majesty is well pleased with the hospitality, and Sir Edmund expands visibly with pride at her praise. I pray God her good mood lasts until I have a chance to make a clean breast of my heavy matter.

  I have eaten barely a morsel. My laces are unbearably tight and I know I cannot hope to conceal my condition any longer. I have no choice but to confess all and beg for the Queen’s mercy.

  As soon as my royal mistress has retired for the night, I hasten to the fine chamber assigned me, and take from my traveling chest the little silver casket that goes everywhere with me. I hunt through the contents, looking for the deed that Ned gave me a few days after we were wed; it is the proof of our marriage that I must show the Queen. To my horror, it is not there. I scrabble frantically through my papers again, but it is still missing. What am I to do? My heart is pounding: I am in terror.

  I have thought much lately about what Ned said, weeks ago, about getting influential people on our side. I clutch at the idea as at a straw. In my present state of mind, I fear I am likely to make a mess of things.

  Ned mentioned approaching Lord Robert Dudley, but I could not, for very shame, confess everything to a man. It must be a lady of my acquaintance, one who is friendly toward me, although of those there is precious little choice these days.

  I opt for someone known to my family for many years: Mrs. Saintlow, a Lady of the Privy Chamber, a wealthy, forceful, strong-willed woman who carries much influence with the Queen—“a rock within the sea,” as I’ve heard her called. Bess Saintlow—or Bess Hardwick, as she was—was once a lady-in-waiting and good friend of my mother, and I have known her since I was seven. She is sensible and reliable, even though at times, despite her evident goodwill, I find myself ov
erwhelmed by her personality. Yet she has shown such regard for me as to make me godmother to her daughter Elizabeth, and to keep a motherly eye on me at the court.

  Bess will help me, I am sure of it! Why did I not think of her before?

  I wait until the household is quiet, then I tap at her door.

  “Who goes there?” she cries in her strident voice.

  “It is I, Katherine Grey,” I reply, as low as I can.

  “Pray come in,” Bess calls.

  The room is warm with candlelight. Bess is sitting up in bed in her night rail, an account book spread across her knees, her long red hair tumbling about her shoulders, and an embroidered nightcap tied under her chin.

  “Lady Katherine!” she exclaims. “Whatever is wrong?” I realize I must look a sad sight, with my eyes red from weeping.

  “Oh, dear Bess,” I sob, and sink onto a stool. Out it all comes, my woeful story, blurted in fits and starts between much nose-blowing and dabbing of my eyes.

  Bess hears me out in unnerving silence, then, to my amazement—for she is a strong, stiff-backed lady—bursts into furious tears.

  “You rash little fool, why have you involved me in this treason? Do you want to get us both sent to the Tower? Think you I would risk my good credit with the Queen for this? God’s blood, Lady Katherine, I am very sorry to hear that you have married without the consent of the Queen’s Majesty and of your friends, and I would you had made Her Majesty privy to your trouble from the first, you foolish girl. Pray get yourself gone from my sight! Go to your bed, while I think what should be done with you, and hurry—my husband will be here soon!”

  Thus chastised and castigated, with no chance given for argument, I creep back to my chamber, feeling as if the world is about to fall on me.

  In the morning, Bess pointedly ignores me, and in church I am aware of certain courtiers whispering and nodding in my direction. I must act, now!

  Lord Robert Dudley is my only hope. A year on, the scandal of his wife’s end has died a slow death, and he is again close as can be to the Queen, although all talk of their marrying has been stilled. Some say he shares her bed at night, giving the lie to her oft-repeated declarations that she means to live and die a virgin. But I cannot believe, knowing her as I do, that she would allow even him that final intimacy.

  Remembering that we are brother- and sister-in-law, his own long sojourn in the Tower in the wake of his father’s fall, and his banishment from court last year, Lord Robert might help me. He, of all men, knows what it is to suffer the pains of royal displeasure. I summon my courage and resolve to seek him out.

  There is no chance during the day, for we have to accompany Her Majesty to dine at the house of a leading citizen, Thomas More, on the high street, and afterward go to inspect the impressive high tower built by a wealthy merchant at Freston, outside the town—although I am in such a state of trepidation that I cannot pay much heed to this most curious building.

  Later, after supper, I watch Lord Robert fawning upon the Queen, never straying from her side as the court enjoys an interlude acted by local players and then settles to gambling as usual. When the gathering breaks up near midnight, and I am near dead on my feet for weariness, I have not found a single opportunity to speak privily with my lord.

  Retiring to my room, I am on a knife edge. I hardly know what I am doing. I cannot delay any longer. I must see Lord Robert—in my mind, he has become my lodestar, my rescuer and my savior, and so I wait until all are in bed, and then, taking my candle, go stealthily to his room, taking care to tread silently, because it is next to the Queen’s own bedchamber.

  I tiptoe the last few paces, terrified lest I should waken Her Majesty. I listen at Lord Robert’s keyhole. What if I find them together within, in bed even? But all is quiet. There is no sound beyond the sturdy oak doors.

  I tap lightly on Lord Robert’s. No response. I tap again. Nothing. As carefully as possible, I try the door and, to my relief, find it unlocked. Summoning all my courage, I lift the latch and slip into the room. Moonlight streams through the open lattice windows; it is a warm, balmy night. A figure rears up in the bed.

  “What the devil …?”

  “Please, Lord Robert, hush!” I whisper urgently. “It is Katherine Grey. I must speak with you. I need your help. I am desperate.”

  “What?” He sits up. I can see his form clearly in the moonlight. He is bare-chested and quite a feast for female eyes, with his hirsute muscular torso, dark good looks, tousled black hair, neat beard, and chiseled features. Not for nothing does the Queen call him her Gypsy. His face, however, is in shadow.

  “What are you doing here, Lady Katherine?” he hisses, sounding none too pleased to see me. “The Queen lies only next door! Do you want to get us both into trouble? If she heard us and came in, there would be a lot of explaining to do!”

  “My lord, I beg of you!” I cast myself down on my knees by the bed, weeping, unable to help myself. “A few minutes of your time is all I crave. Hear me out, please! I beg you to be a means to the Queen’s Highness for me. My very life may depend on it.”

  He does not look surprised, although my distress seems to soften his heart a little.

  “Very well,” he whispers. “But be quick, and keep your voice down, for God’s sake.”

  It takes more than a few minutes, of course, but he listens as my sorry tale unfolds, shaking his head at intervals and at one point burying his face in his hands and sighing, as if he cannot bear to hear more.

  When I have finished, I remain kneeling there, looking at him beseechingly, but his voice comes low and disdainful.

  “And you want me to intercede for you with the Queen, and tell her what you have done? Why should I do that? You have acted with the crassest folly. Did you never take warning from what happened to your sister and your father?”

  “I have not committed treason!” I protest.

  “Some would say you have, and that, in defying the Queen’s express order not to marry without her consent, you are a rebel too. Are you mad, Lady Katherine? Do you not understand that you are near in blood to the throne, and the peril in which that places you?”

  “I but married the man I love!” I weep.

  “You little fool. You thought to defy the Queen and all good order and sense by taking a husband for love, rather than waiting for a suitable one to be found for you. In one of your estate, that is sheer insanity. By yielding to your lewd affections, you have defiled your royal blood by an unlawful union. And if this be not treason, then I might remind you that your intrigues with Spain may yet be viewed as such.”

  I am in full flood now, racked by silent sobs.

  “Go now!” Dudley commands me coldly. “I can have no part in this. You have compromised me enough this night.”

  I rise, gathering the remnants of my dignity. “I am sorry to have troubled you, my lord,” I whisper brokenly. “Good night.”

  After taking care to close the door quietly behind me, I hasten away from that hated chamber, stung by Lord Robert’s cruel words. And yet, if I am honest with myself, I have to confess that there was truth in them. I have been a fool—a fool for love, indeed—but, as God is my witness, I never meant harm to any. What to do now? If Dudley will not speak for me, who else is there?

  I lie down with a heart of lead, knowing that nothing can avert the tempest that must surely erupt in the morning.

  KATE

  August 1485, Raglan Castle

  They waited anxiously for news, Countess Anne in the chapel, on her knees, and Kate in her chamber, watching the empty distance from her high window, hoping to see a messenger bringing glad tidings. Far below, in the fields, the peasants were gathering in the harvest. It was such a peaceful scene that it was hard to believe that somewhere to the east, men—her father and her husband even—might be dying violently in the field, while the future of the kingdom hung in the balance. She felt sick with worry.

  It was toward the end of the month that William at last came home. She saw
him approaching with his escort, and flew down to the courtyard to greet him, with the countess and the rest of the household not far behind her.

  “My lord, what news?” she cried.

  He looked down on her impassively from his great destrier, then his gaze moved to the people crowding behind her in the courtyard. He remained in his saddle and addressed them in ringing tones, not looking at his wife. “There has been a great battle in Leicestershire,” he told them, “at a place called Bosworth. The usurper Richard has been killed and we have a new king—Henry VII, by the grace of God.”

  “No!” screamed Kate. “No!” She began trembling violently, and would have fallen, but the countess and Mattie were at her side at once, supporting her and trying to calm her. All around, folk were looking aghast at each other, dismay in their faces. Their lord had backed the losing side. What would this mean for them? Suddenly a great swell of lamentation burst forth.

  “Hush, you fainthearted fools!” William cried. “There is no need for your howling. By a lucky chance, I did not get to Bosworth in time. I was delayed, rooting out so-called rebels. And when I did arrive, they were breaking up the camps and burying the fallen. Fortunately, King Henry was still there, preparing to depart. I hastened to where he was sitting before his tent, wearing the royal circlet that had been Richard’s, and made my submission on my knees, apologizing for my tardiness, and offering him my sword and my allegiance. And he was most gracious to say he accepted both, as tokens of my future loyalty.” William’s steely eyes raked the assembled company. “So if you value your skins, good people, you will remember that our loyalty has long lain with the Tudor, because we were persuaded thereto by the widespread fame that the late tyrant Richard had shed the innocent blood of his own nephews.”

  Kate stared at her husband in horror. She could not speak; this was too much for her to take in, and worse—far worse—than anything in her nightmares. People gawped at her as she stood there with wild, ravaged eyes and a countenance white as a corpse. In a few faces she detected compassion; in most a chilly distancing and an aversion born of fear. And that, she suddenly realized, was how it was going to be from now on. She was the tyrant’s daughter—and she was alone in a hostile world.

 
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