A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  As William raised his sword and a cheer for the new King, the countess and Mattie led a half-fainting Kate away from the courtyard and helped her up to her chamber, where they made her lie down. Mattie stayed with her, holding her hand, while she lay there in a shocked daze, trying to come to terms with what had happened. All she could think of was that her father was dead and those people—her own household officers and servants—had looked at her with hostility. She did not think she would ever want to leave this room again. She could not face the changed world outside.

  Mattie sat silent, her sweet, pert face sad beneath the white coif, her hand warm on Kate’s. It seemed like hours that they stayed there thus. At length the countess came back.

  “Drink this,” she commanded, offering Kate a goblet with steam rising from it. “It is wine infused with chamomile leaves and honey, to soothe you, my daughter.” At her kindness, Kate began to cry again.

  “There, there,” Anne soothed, cradling her in motherly arms. “Let it go, sweeting, let it go.” And she did. She cried as she had never cried before: for her father, dead in the field and lost to her forever; for John, her lost love; for Anne the Queen; and for a world that would never live again. And then she cried once more for her father, because his enemies would now rejoice in vilifying him, and that loving, careful prince she had known would be lost to history.

  She cried herself to sleep, and Mattie gently laid a sheet over her and closed the shutters against the sunset. Hours later, when Kate awoke to the awful realization of her terrible loss, the countess was sitting beside her, reading her missal.

  “You’ve had a sound sleep, child,” she said, “and a good thing too.”

  “William—where is he?” Kate whispered. “I must ask him …”

  “He is out, visiting our neighbors to tell them the news and ensure their silence,” Anne told her. “If you want to ask anything, ask me. William and I talked late last night, and I now know nearly as much as he does.”

  “My father the King … what happened? I would rather know.”

  The countess took her hand. “Very well, then. It was a most savage battle, William said, although it lasted but two hours. Henry Tudor did not engage in the fighting but stood behind the lines beneath his standard. That wily knave Lord Stanley waited with his forces to see which way the battle was going. King Richard’s army fought fiercely, but neither Stanley nor Northumberland came to his aid, although Norfolk was killed fighting for him. In the end, Richard made a desperate, furious charge, aiming to cut down Henry Tudor, and he would have succeeded, but at that moment Stanley and his men bore down on him. William said he fought like a noble soldier, and went down crying ‘Treason!’ dying manfully in the thick press of his enemies.”

  She crossed herself, and Kate did likewise. So he had died valiantly, fighting to the last. But what a dreadful death it must have been, with all those soldiers falling upon him. It did not bear thinking about. If she did, she would surely be sick.

  “What happened to him … afterward?” she faltered.

  “When William reached Bosworth, your father’s body had been carried back to Leicester, on horseback, and he heard it was to lie exposed to the public for three days in the Grey Friars’ church; after that, no doubt, it would have been buried by their charity.” Anne was plainly picking her words with care, and Kate suspected that there was a lot more she was not telling her. After all, who would show respect to a vanquished king who had been branded a usurper and a tyrant? She did not want to hear any more: it might be more than she could take. It was bad enough that her father, the last Plantagenet King, and the end of a line of illustrious rulers that stretched back for more than three hundred years, should be accorded no royal tomb or solemn obsequies, as befit his rank.

  “One day I will visit the place where he lies,” she said. “In the meantime, I will pray for his soul. He was my father and I loved him.” She bit her lip. “My lady, I must ask you: do you believe that he was the tyrant they are saying he was, and that he ordered the murder of the princes?”

  The countess did not answer immediately. She seemed thrown by the question, and it appeared that, again, she was searching for the right words. “A tyrant is one who governs without recourse to the rule of law,” she began. “I have heard that Richard carried out some questionable deeds when he was Lord Protector. I have heard it said he had the princes killed, and now, of course, it will be hard to find any that say otherwise. It is always the victors who write history. I honestly do not know the truth of it all, my daughter; and I hope I am just and wise enough to weigh fairly what I hear. It is possible, that’s all I can say; but it is by no means certain.”

  Kate realized that was not very far removed from what she herself thought, although she had hoped and prayed all along that her father was innocent, and that she would find some proof of that. But where she would find it now was anyone’s guess.

  She could not stay secluded in her room forever. When her tears had dried, she felt only anger, and with that came indignation. Why should she hide, when she had done nothing wrong? She had nothing to be ashamed of. So she donned the same black gown she had worn out of respect for Queen Anne, washed her face, combed and plaited her hair, covered it with a black veil, and, gathering her courage, walked along the gallery to the parlor for supper.

  The room was full of men, booted, spurred, and cloaked. They had come, she learned later, to show solidarity, for all had been steadfast to King Richard, and now they were falling over themselves to demonstrate their loyalty to the Tudor—she could not bring herself to think of him as King Henry. William was directing his page to offer them drinks. When he saw Kate, his face froze into a glare.

  “What do you think you are doing coming here dressed like that?” he spat.

  Anger flared in her. Her grief was too raw for her to care what she said. “I am in mourning for my father, the late King,” she asserted. The men stared at her, embarrassed and looking not a little fearful. Of course, they would not want to be associated in any way with King Richard, or his daughter.

  “Do you so far forget yourself as to mourn a tyrant?” William roared. “Get back to your chamber, woman, put on some brave attire, and then come back and join these gentlemen and me in a toast to our new King.”

  “My father was not a tyrant!” she flung at him. “And even if he was, he was a tyrant whom you were pleased to serve, and whose bounty to you was lavish!”

  In two bounds William had crossed the floor, and, before she could put up a hand to protect herself, had slapped her cheek hard. “Are you mad?” he growled. “Don’t you know it might mean death to express loyalty to your father now?”

  “Your husband speaks truth,” put in an elderly man standing by the fireplace. “King Henry has dated his reign from the day before Bosworth, so that all who fought for Richard are now deemed traitors. Some are already punished, some are fled; and who can blame them? I hear my lord of Lincoln is among those who will be called to account, when he can be found.”

  Her heart turned ice-cold at that. So John had fought for her father at Bosworth. He had been loyal to the end, unlike this craven oaf of a husband of hers. But where was John now? If they were looking for him, he must have gone to ground somewhere. Were some good folk succoring him in hiding, or had he managed to escape abroad? She sent up a silent prayer for his safety and comfort. God grant that there was good news of him soon!

  “Even this new king must have a heart,” she said bravely, her face smarting. “Surely even he would not deny a daughter the right to mourn her father? And if he were to appear here now, I would challenge him on that.”

  “I won’t be allowing you within a mile of him,” William vowed. “Do you think he’d even allow you into his presence, the bastard spawn of his enemy?” His brutal words stung, but Kate was not going to give him the satisfaction of knowing that.

  “I will withdraw, my lord, but I will not be returning,” she said. “Since the sight of me in mourning offends you,
I will remain within my chamber. Good night, masters.” And she swept out.

  Back in her room, her composure deserted her, and all her grief and hurt and anger exploded in yet another outburst of heart-wrenching crying. This time she weathered it alone, weeping her heart out into her pillow, with no one to see or to comfort her. It was only later that Mattie came to her, at the usual hour; and then she found her in an exhausted sleep, the ravages of pain etched upon her young face.

  KATHERINE

  August 1561, Tower of London

  The great forbidding fortress of the Tower of London looms into view, and within me my child stirs. He must sense my terror. Poor, unknowing little lamb—he can have little idea of the trouble his presence in my womb has caused. What has he ever done to deserve imprisonment? Nothing! He is an innocent.

  I shift uncomfortably. The barge that has conveyed me to the City glides smoothly across the black water, but I am great with child now and cannot remain in one position for long. They have seated me on cushions, with brusque consideration for my condition, but they speak no kind word to me. I have offended Majesty, and therefore no longer merit normal, comforting, human discourse. And thus it has been since Lord Robert Dudley betrayed my crime to the Queen.

  I did not see Elizabeth after that, but I can well imagine the explosion that followed Lord Robert’s revelations. It was Mrs. Astley who came to inform me frigidly that I was banished from Her Majesty’s presence and must keep to my chamber, which I did shrinking with dread. Less than an hour later there came a loud rapping on my door, and there stood one of the captains of the Queen’s guard with a warrant for my arrest. He led me, all atremble, down to a waiting litter, and an armed escort bore me off to London. I do not like to think of that terrible journey, or the curt hostility of my warders. Colchester, Chelmsford, Brentwood … all passed in a blur of terror, and when we reached Tilbury, I knew very well where I was going.

  The walls and towers of the great fortress are nearer now. I can see the cannon on the wharf, the court gate in the Byward Tower. We are making for St. Thomas’s Tower beyond it, beneath which is the sinister water gate through which so many doomed wretches have passed and never emerged again.

  I cannot enter the Tower, I cannot! It is a place of horror to me, and I would never voluntarily have come here to save my life. My dear sister Jane died here on the scaffold these seven years and six months since, butchered to death at just seventeen, and she innocent of any crime! But I—I have offended grievously, and I am horribly aware that I too might soon find myself standing before the block.

  If only Ned would come home and explain everything, then maybe the Queen could be made to understand that we have never meant her any ill. But he has now been gone beyond seas for five months, and can have no idea of this ordeal I am suffering. My fervent hope is that he will hasten home soon and succor me. I have thought ill of him, I know, and all but abandoned him, yet I am very sorry for that now. In my extremity, beside which all other troubles seem trifling, I see clearly that that was but a fantasy, born of anxiety and unwarranted suspicion. In my dreadful predicament, I remember only the love Ned gave me, and his marrying me in defiance of the Queen’s express order. I know in my bones he is still my sweet lord, my dearest true husband, and I dare not think of that now, or I will surely die of longing and grief.

  My mind is filled with horrible imaginings: of my sister, my father—who also perished here during that dreadful winter—and of Guilford Dudley. I recall how Guilford went weeping to the public scaffold on Tower Hill. I never liked him, but I was filled with pity when they told me. Three heads lost to the axe: a savage ending. And they were not the only ones who suffered in this place. Who has not heard of Queen Anne Boleyn and Queen Katherine Howard? They do not spare women the block in this kingdom. Will I be next? Oh, sweet Jesus, spare me that, I beseech Thee!

  The solid walls are above us now, menacing and implacable; the barge passes under the gloomy arch below St. Thomas’s Tower, and as it slows to a halt, it rocks, battered by the waves slapping at the steps of the water gate. I grip the boat’s sides instinctively, but in truth I do not care if it sinks and drowns me. Better that than a worse fate.

  In front of us the heavy oak gates, slatted in iron, grind open inch by inch, to reveal a tall, thin man with a soldierly bearing, wearing sober, well-cut clothes. He looks to be around fifty years old; he has thick graying hair, a drooping mustache, and high cheekbones in a craggy, lined, and rather sad face, and wears an unnervingly grave expression. He waits with a small detachment of yeomen warders. These men, I realize, with a sick feeling, are to be my jailers. I pray God they may not also be my executioners.

  After the guards have helped me to my feet, I alight from the boat with trembling legs and dread in my heart. But as I make to mount the stairs, the tall gentleman descends hastily and offers his arm.

  “Sir Edward Warner, at your service, my lady,” he says. “I am the Lieutenant of the Tower, and you will be in my charge.” I am relieved to find him so courteous and thoughtful, and his tone cordial, even a touch avuncular, although a treacherous little voice in my head is reminding me that a similar kindness was extended by the Tower officials of the day to my sister, and, so I have heard, to Anne Boleyn.

  “Follow me,” Sir Edward murmurs in a low voice, his expression pained as he sees the terror in my face. “There is nothing to fear.” I take much courage from that, for I had expected yet more cold treatment from those appointed to have custody of me; even so, with my fate yet to be decided, no comfortable words can unravel the tight knot of fear in my breast.

  “I understand how you must feel, my lady. I too have been a prisoner in this place,” says the lieutenant as we ascend the stairs. “It was my punishment for supporting the claim of your sister, the Lady Jane. I was held here a year after Wyatt’s rebellion, and then languished in disgrace until the accession of our blessed Queen Elizabeth, for which I daily give thanks.”

  I cannot myself feel so thankful, naturally, but I am heartened by Sir Edward’s words, and especially cheered to learn that he had espoused the claim of my sister, for surely that will dispose him to look kindly upon me. I am almost content to follow him, although I am aware of the warders with their pikes at my back.

  We turn into a cobbled lane, which looks vaguely familiar, and looking around me, I recognize the place where Harry and I boarded Pembroke’s barge on that momentous night eight years ago, and remember the inexplicable terror that seized me in this very place, when I was suddenly desperate to get out. Was that some premonition of my present imprisonment? I am terrified now—but that was worse. God forbid it was a portent of what is coming to me …

  The Tower seems vast, all high, forbidding walls and stern buildings, and I have no idea where I am being led. What I dread most is being immured in a dungeon—and coming upon the spot where my sister’s lifeblood was spilled. That, I could not face.

  “Where are we going, Sir Edward?” I inquire.

  The lieutenant steers me through an archway. In front of me, to my left, there is a wall, with trees beyond. “Ahead is the inner ward,” he tells me. “You are to be accommodated in the Bell Tower.” He points upward. “The garden of my lodging is next to it, beyond the wall.” If there is a garden next to my prison, it surely cannot be that grim. I hope I will be able to see it from my window.

  The archway leads to a narrow passage, and it is here, near the exit at the far end, that I suddenly feel desperately cold, even though it is August, and warm. Sir Edward and his men remain oblivious, but for a space I am freezing, and enveloped in a sense of panic and horror that I know is not entirely connected with my circumstances. Then we turn left, and the feeling disappears as instantly as it came—only to be succeeded by something far worse. For as we emerge into a wide-open space, in front of me is the vast expanse of Tower Green, enclosed by more towers and walls, while to the right, the great white keep known as Caesar’s Tower rises toward the sky, its gilded onion domes gleaming in the
sunlight. But I barely notice them, because beyond the green is the chapel. I stop dead in my tracks.

  The lieutenant has seen me staring ahead in horror. Briskly, he takes my arm and steers me toward a tall timbered house on the left, one of several fine residences in that corner of the bailey. It’s an impressive building, with a high stone tower behind it, but I barely notice either because I am feeling sick to my stomach, knowing that my sister’s butchered remains lie in that chapel, and that somewhere on Tower Green stood the scaffold on which she died. If the Queen had wanted to punish me, she could not have devised a better way.

  Fighting down nausea, I turn my head away and stare fixedly ahead. We enter the Lieutenant’s Lodging, a fine modern house with spacious paneled rooms and rich furnishings such as normally grace a knightly household. Sir Edward leads me along a passage, then through an anteroom furnished sparsely with benches, and so to the door of what he tells me is the Bell Tower.

  “This is the only entrance,” he explains, as if he anticipates that, heavy with child as I am, I will try to escape. “Her Majesty’s orders, you understand. It is a secure place.”

  “I am no threat to Her Majesty,” I cannot resist saying. “I am her loyal subject.”

  He frowns. “Come, my lady,” he says.

  The Bell Tower is very old. The lieutenant informs me—as if we were enjoying a tour of the place—that it was built by King Richard the Lionheart many centuries ago. I can well believe that. The downstairs chamber, octagonal in shape, has great thick, rough walls pierced by tall glazed windows. Today they admit shafts of sunlight, but even so, the place is cool and dank, and I know it will be freezing in winter. Please God, let them not force me to give birth to my child in here!

 
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