A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  But the lieutenant is moving on, leading the way up a steep spiral stair.

  “Sir Thomas More was imprisoned down there thirty years ago,” he tells me, “and the cold was a martyrdom to him.” So had his execution been, in many people’s eyes, as I have read. He too defied his King, and paid the ultimate price. I shudder at the thought.

  “You, my lady, will be more comfortable,” Sir Edward assures me.

  He opens a door, indicating I should enter, and I am relieved to see that the upper chamber, which is circular in shape, is much better appointed than the room below, with wooden shutters at the windows and clean rush matting on the floor. A threadbare tapestry hangs on the whitewashed wall, its colors so faded that I can only just make out a battle scene. There is a carved wooden tester bed made up, thankfully, with good bleached sheets, a battered-looking drawing table, two stools, and an empty iron brazier. But I will not be here when winter strikes, I promise myself, calmer now. By then I will have protested my innocence before God and the Queen’s Council, and been vindicated. For surely it is the intent to do harm that counts. Alas, says a warning voice in my head, I should know better. I have the example of my sister before me. I can only pray, most fervently, that Queen Elizabeth is more merciful than Queen Mary.

  I am not alone, for I am allowed the services of a maid, Honor, on account of my rank. My lady the Countess of Hertford—for so I am, whatever they may say—cannot go unattended, even in prison. So little Honor, who is just fourteen years old, will share my dreary, anxious days here and sleep in the serving maids’ chamber in the Lieutenant’s Lodging at nights.

  The infant inside me kicks lustily. God grant it will be a son; that would please Ned, for all men want an heir to succeed to their titles and lands—if, of course, there are any, after this dreadful business is concluded. And suddenly I am fearful for the little one’s sake as well as my own. For if my child is a son, then from his birth he will pose a greater threat to the Queen than my sisters and I ever could.

  KATE

  August 1485, Raglan Castle

  The next morning, when Kate awoke, Mattie was bustling around, pouring water into a basin and laying out fresh body linen. The black dress Kate discarded the night before had been hung up and brushed, and was hanging on its peg. She struggled to regain her wits. Her head felt terrible, and her eyes were stinging.

  “What time is it?” she muttered.

  “Good morning,” Mattie responded. “It is nigh eight o’clock. How are you today, my lady?”

  “Wretched,” she sighed. “My head aches and I feel sick. God knows I wept a storm last night—and I had cause. My lord was hateful to me, hateful! In faith, I do not know how I can bear to live with him anymore. And he doesn’t want me now that my father is dead. I am an embarrassment to him, an obstacle in the way of his gaining favor with the Tudor. I tell you, Mattie, I shall go into a convent, and then he and I can be rid of each other.”

  “I’d hold your horses a bit if I were you,” Mattie said, folding some clean linen. “When did you last bleed, my lady?”

  Kate thought back. In the anxiety and turmoil of the past weeks, she had not taken much notice of her body’s rhythms. But now it dawned on her that she had not seen her courses for some time. She looked at Mattie in dismay.

  “I reckon it’s seven weeks since I had to wash your clouts,” Mattie said. “I think you’re with child—and that makes two of us!”

  “Mattie!” Realization was dawning. “Yes—it must be. I feel a little sick today, just like before. Dear God, what shall I do? My lord hates me. He will be angry to think I am pregnant with King Richard’s grandchild.”

  “Him? No, like all men, he wants an heir. You tell him you’re expecting and he’ll perk up, see if I’m right.”

  “This is unreal,” Kate said. “And you too, Mattie! Are you pleased?”

  “Delighted, and Guy too. And I’m pleased for you, my lady. When God closes one door, He opens another. This will help to blunt the edge of your grief.”

  Kate thought that nothing could do that, but it was true that a baby would give her something else to think about. And whatever anyone else might say, she rejoiced in the knowledge that it was her father’s grandchild she was carrying, and that something of him would live on, something she could cherish.

  She rested in her chamber that morning, and Mattie gave out that she was indisposed. When the sick feeling had passed, she got up and had her maid dress her in her mourning gown, then she seated herself at the table. In her portable writing desk—a curiously wrought box with painted panels, a velvet lining, and secret compartments—lay her bundle of jottings about the princes. She sat there thinking about them, poring over them, trying to make sense of them. She wondered if she should try to write down her findings so far. She wanted to be able one day to tell her child the truth about his grandfather. But how could she do that when she did not know the truth herself?

  Yet maybe—just maybe—her doubts would be resolved soon. Henry Tudor had sworn his intention of marrying Elizabeth of York, and no doubt he would make good that vow shortly. For he held his throne only by right of conquest, not through right of blood. There were others of Yorkist descent who had more right—Warwick and his sister, and John, of course. It was clear that Henry Tudor believed that the precontract story was nonsense; otherwise he would not have vowed to wed Elizabeth of York. Soon he must honor that vow, and it was possible that he would make some proclamation about the fate of the princes—although, Kate thought dismally, it was bound to be injurious to her father’s memory, which could only be to the Tudor’s advantage. Even if Henry had no proof that Richard had killed his nephews, he would find it politic to say he had.

  She wondered again how Henry Tudor had been sure they were dead. He must have learned something from Buckingham, probably through his mother, Lady Stanley. She made herself face the possibility that Buckingham had learned that her father, alarmed by the plots in the boys’ favor, was planning to do away with the princes. For those plots had been proof that a lot of people still held that the sons of Edward IV were the true heirs to the throne—and that they were still a threat to Richard.

  They had been close, the King and the duke: her father might well have confided his intention to his friend. That was sufficient to explain Buckingham’s disaffection. But did Buckingham, or Henry Tudor, ever find out that the princes were actually dead? Maybe Buckingham had known nothing of their fate after all.

  She laid down her pen. She had written nothing. She supposed she would have to wait to see what transpired now, although she knew she might wait a long time for news to filter through to Raglan. For certain it was that her husband would not willingly enlighten her.

  She tied the papers up again and was just about to put them away when the door opened and William walked in. Their eyes met: hers flashed with hurt and anger at the remembrance of his cruelty the night before; his alighted on her black dress.

  “Your maid said you were indisposed,” he said.

  “I was. I am feeling better now.” Kate’s tone was cool. She was not going to make this easy for him. In fact she would not have cared if she never saw him again.

  “I spoke harshly last night,” he muttered. “But you must know that I am in a very difficult position. Married to King Richard’s daughter, and thus bound to him in his lifetime, I fear I might find myself under surveillance on a suspicion of disloyalty. I have done what I can to forestall that, but—God, woman, were you insane, proclaiming your loyalty to your father by appearing publicly in mourning for him? People will talk! Those gentlemen that were here—everyone’s running scared, fearing the Tudor’s vengeance. They won’t scruple to throw me to the wolves to save their own hides. I had to reprimand you.”

  “You didn’t have to call me a bastard spawn!” Kate retorted with spirit. She wanted him to apologize.

  “I had good reason. Drawing attention to your bastardy suggests I despise you for your father’s sake. I need people to think I
was coerced into this marriage.”

  Kate gaped at him, appalled. “Is that true?” she whispered. “Were you coerced?”

  He would not meet her gaze. “I do not despise you yourself,” he muttered, “but I would I had never consented to this match. I had my reservations, the stain of your birth being paramount, although that was compensated for by your father’s generosity.” His words stung. She felt the color flare in her cheeks. He was cruel, cruel!

  “Hearing me berating you last night, no one could have doubted my loyalty to King Henry. We must needs distance ourselves from your father, and make it appear that we had abandoned him because of his wickedness.”

  “You make me feel like Judas,” she said, bitter. “Just tell me you don’t believe there is any truth in those allegations you made against King Richard, that he murdered his nephews.”

  “All part of the same strategy,” William said.

  “But do you believe it? That he had them killed?”

  “What else is there to believe? No one has seen them alive in more than two years.”

  “There could be many explanations for that!”

  “Then believe what you want to believe. But keep your mouth shut on that issue, d’you hear me? Because, mark me well, we will no doubt be told that he had them murdered.”

  They faced each other, all conversation run out. He had not apologized, and even if he had, forgiving him was another matter. For all his good reasons for uttering them, the things he said to her had injured their marriage irrevocably.

  “I am sorry you regret taking me to wife,” she ventured.

  “I would not do so now,” William replied bluntly. “But since we are wed, we must make the best of it.”

  “Last night, I thought of disappearing into a convent,” she told him. He did not look too surprised, so perchance the idea had occurred to him too. A husband whose wife became a nun could be released from his marriage vows.

  “That might be for the best,” he said, his face lightening a little.

  “Yes, it would have been, I’m sure,” she said, tart. “But this morning I had cause to think again. I had not realized it before, and it took Mattie to make all plain, but by sure and certain tokens I am with child.”

  William’s face was a mask of warring emotions. She knew how desperately he wanted a son; and yet he would not want it to be the grandson of a defeated king.

  “Is that so?” he said. “Then maybe God at least smiles upon our marriage. This pregnancy, coming at this time, must be a sign that I should not put you from me.”

  “You had considered it?”

  “Yes. But this makes a difference.” He sighed. “We must make the best of things now, for our son’s sake.”

  “I pray God it will be a son.”

  “I need an heir. I do not want my line to end with Elizabeth, or my lands and title to go to the man she marries. But my son’s mother should not be dressed in mourning for a vanquished tyrant, which is what people are calling Richard now. I am sorry for your loss: I know what it is to lose a father by violence. But your grieving must be inward; outwardly, you must show you are looking to the future. I will not permit you to draw attention to whose daughter you are.”

  INTERLUDE

  August 1561; Ipswich, Suffolk

  Queen Elizabeth paces up and down the council chamber, a volcano waiting to erupt. Her councillors look on apprehensively; they know what she can be like when she has a temper on her. They glance at each other, thinking that it might be less harrowing to do battle with the French than face the Queen when she is in a fury.

  She is now nearly twenty-eight years old, a tall, slender woman with a thin face, hooked nose, and swarthy skin whitened with cosmetics. Her long, curly red hair is coiled up on her head beneath a jaunty crimson velvet cap adorned with black plumes. Everything about her is stylish, from the matching gown with its pointed stomacher that shows off her tiny waist to advantage to the pearls and jewels that drip from her ears, wrists, and bosom. She is by no means beautiful, but she has a commanding presence and great personal charm, while men find her desirable—and not only because she is powerful. It pleases her vanity to encourage them; she is very vain indeed.

  But she is in no mood for flirtation or preening now. She is here to discuss this latest threat to her security as Queen, and to demand answers.

  “I tell you, this is a conspiracy!” she snarls. “Why will you not believe me?”

  “Because, madam, there is no evidence,” Sir William Cecil replies calmly.

  “Oh, my Spirit, I cannot believe you are so naïve!” Elizabeth flings at him, this man who is her closest, wisest, and most loyal adviser.

  Cecil takes the reproof in his stride; he has been on the receiving end of far worse.

  Elizabeth frowns. “But there must be many who were privy to this marriage, according to what I hear,” she persists. “To me, my lords, that smells of a conspiracy!”

  “So far our investigations have uncovered not a single person who knows anything about it,” Cecil tells her, aware that his fellows are more than content for him to act as spokesman.

  “What of the minister?” the Queen barks.

  “Disappeared without trace, madam.”

  “And Mrs. Saintlow?”

  “In the Tower. Madam, I would remind you that the Lady Katherine also sought out my Lord Robert here.” He bows slightly in the direction of the man who is his rival for power.

  Elizabeth glares at Cecil. “And he came immediately to me.” Lord Robert ventures a smirk at Mr. Secretary. “Mrs. Saintlow did not think to tell me of her conversation with the Lady Katherine,” the Queen continues. “I want her closely questioned. What of the Earl of Hertford?”

  “He has been summoned home.”

  “I want him and the Lady Katherine rigorously examined by the Privy Council,” Elizabeth demands. “So far, we have only heard her pathetic claim that she married for love. For love, mark you—and she a rival for my throne! God’s wounds, she has shown herself ungrateful for the favor extended to her, and insolent, yea. Mr. Secretary, have Sir Edward Warner make inquiries to discover how many were privy to this marriage from the first!”

  “It shall be done,” Cecil says.

  “Have it done now, before the official questioning,” the Queen commands. She is still beside herself with anger. “By her disobedience and rashness, the Lady Katherine has managed to undermine my own careful policies,” she hisses. “God knows, my lords, I spend my life playing off one royal suitor against another so they stay friendly toward this kingdom, and that I do without thought for my own inclinations. One day it may please me to wed, but I shall do so for the good of my realm, not to satisfy my lusts. Yet the Lady Katherine has contracted marriage without a thought for the consequences, and that, gentlemen, proves to me that she is unfit to be my heir. I want her removed from the succession, and the way to do that is to have her attainted, because this is treason, no less!”

  Mr. Secretary clears his throat. “In that, madam, alas, you are mistaken. Under your father and brother, any man contracting an unauthorized marriage with a princess of the blood would have been guilty of treason, but King Edward repealed that statute. So legally, in marrying, neither Lord Hertford nor the Lady Katherine has committed treason, and they cannot therefore be attainted or put to death.”

  “She has gone against my express command not to marry without my consent,” the Queen flares. “Is that not treason?”

  “It’s disputable, madam, insufficient as a basis for proceeding too harshly against her.”

  “Then what is to be done? Answer me!”

  “Your Majesty might require the Lady Katherine to renounce her claim?” suggests the Earl of Sussex.

  “Could she be trusted to keep her word?” Robert Dudley asks.

  “Even if she did, there are those who would break it for her,” Cecil says. “She has a goodly following both in England and abroad. No, we cannot go down that road. But there might be another way.”<
br />
  “What way?” the Queen asked sharply.

  “We could have the alleged marriage declared invalid. There was only one witness, and she is now dead. We cannot trace the officiating minister, although the search is still going on. That leads me to believe there was no secret wedding, and that all Lady Katherine’s protestations that there was are but a pretense to cover up her shame. She well knows that naughty conduct is reprehensible in one so near in blood to the throne.” Cecil is aware that Elizabeth hates to be reminded that, under the Act of Succession, the Lady Katherine is in fact the next in line. He knows she has no love for her Grey cousins. He knows also that Elizabeth is jealous because Katherine, who bears a familial resemblance to her, is by far the more beautiful, and seven years younger, to boot.

  “What of the marriage lines?” Sussex asks. “The Lady Katherine may produce those as proof that she is a good woman and a wedded wife.”

  “My lord, you are too shortsighted,” Cecil reproves. “If there are any marriage lines, which I doubt, then we will deal with them as we think best. And when this pretended marriage is proved no marriage, which must be done with all dispatch, the Lady Katherine’s child will be born a bastard, and can pose no threat to Her Majesty’s security. And, as the world knows, any princess who bears a child out of wedlock must be entirely shamed and discredited, and none will ever again think of her as fit to succeed.”

  Elizabeth has been regarding her Secretary of State with keen eyes. “By God’s blood, Spirit, you have the sow by the right ear, as my father used to say. By all means proceed along these lines, with our hearty consent.” There is a chorus of ayes from along the council table.

  “Madam, may I have a word in private?” Cecil asks later, after the other business of the day has been concluded. Only he, and the detestable Lord Robert Dudley, whom she favors inordinately, can speak candidly to the Queen, and what Cecil has to say is of a highly sensitive nature. Even Elizabeth’s trusted privy councillors should not hear it.

 
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