A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir

  The lieutenant comes to ask if all is to my liking and comfort. Am I mistaken, or is his manner a little stiffer than hitherto?

  “Good Sir Edward,” I blurt out, “what will they do to me?”

  He pauses—ominously, I fear, for he seems to be searching for the right thing to say to me. “As far as I know, my lady, nothing has been decided. My orders are to keep you here, in such estate as beseems your rank, until I receive further instructions. I am told that the Privy Council will interview you, and I have some preliminary questions for you now. The Queen’s Majesty has commanded me to say that you shall have no favor from her unless you tell me the truth about which lords, ladies, and gentlemen of the court were privy to your union with Lord Hertford. For it does appear to her that several persons have dealt in the matter. And if you do not declare all, I must warn you that it will increase the Queen’s indignation against you.”

  That sets me shivering. “Sir, I do protest, there was no conspiracy, and only a few persons knew of my marriage.”

  “Who were they?” The lieutenant seats himself at the table, produces writing materials from his pouch, dips a pen in the inkwell, and waits.

  “The minister.”

  “His name?”

  “He did not tell it.” Scratch, scratch. He writes this down.

  “In which parish does he serve?”

  “I know not, I fear.”

  “The witnesses?”

  “Lady Jane Seymour, but she is dead.”

  “The other? There must be two for a marriage to be valid.”

  “There was no other.” I falter. “We took the minister for a witness.”

  “Who else knew?”

  “No one beforehand. Afterward, I took my maid, Mrs. Leigh, into my confidence.” I am resolved not to mention dear Mrs. Ellen.

  “What became of Mrs. Leigh?”

  “She went to the country to nurse her sick mother. She did not return.”

  “Was there anyone else who knew of the marriage?”

  “Mr. Glynne, Lord Hertford’s man, who went beyond seas. And then I told Lord Robert Dudley and Mrs. Saintlow.”

  “And that is all.”


  “No other noblemen or ladies?”

  “No, certainly not.”

  “Not even the Duchess of Somerset?”

  “No. We did not tell her.”

  “You are sure? You would be prepared to swear an oath on that?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Can you show me your marriage lines?”

  I falter again. “I never had any.”

  Sir Edward raises his eyebrows. “Then have you any proof at all of your marriage?”

  “I did! I had a deed of land granted me by my husband after our wedding. It was in that casket before you. But I lost it.” The lieutenant frowns. “I assure you, sir, the Earl of Hertford did deliver such a deed to me! It was written on parchment, and he gave it to me six days after our marriage. But what with removing from place to place, it is lost, and I cannot tell you where it is.” I am almost weeping with frustration. “Good Sir Edward, you have to believe me. I had that deed. And I will tell you all about my marriage and what came before.” And I do, going right back to that first day at Hanworth, three years ago now.

  It is a long tale, poured out with passion. The lieutenant takes it all down without comment. I wish I could tell what he is thinking, but he gives away nothing; indeed, he seems most uncomfortable in his task. When I am done, there is a long pause while he looks over what he has written.

  “How would you describe the minister?” he asks.

  I tell him as accurately as I can, aware that I may be bringing a heap of trouble on the priest’s head. “He wore no surplice,” I recall. “But sir, my husband gave me a wedding ring. Look!” I show him the elaborate band on my finger, and open the links so that he can read the inscription. He looks at it without comment.

  “Are you sure you cannot recall the minister’s name?”

  “I never did hear it.”

  “Would you know him if you saw him again?”

  I consider for a moment. I do not want the minister’s punishment on my conscience. “I am not sure.”

  “Would Mrs. Leigh know where to find the deed of gift?”

  “I do not know.”

  “Where is she now?”

  “I know not.”

  “Tell me what you remember of the morning of your wedding.”

  I recount that hasty walk to Cannon Row and the events that followed. “And thereafter, in my heart, I thought of the earl as becomes a wife. So it was no small grief and trouble to me when I found his passport to France. I only saw it by chance. And after he had gone, I knew myself watched by the court, and feared people had discovered I was with child by him.”

  The lieutenant clears his throat. “Tell me of the love practices between you and the Earl of Hertford.” I look at him, shocked and embarrassed. “Forgive me, I am instructed to ask,” he says, a little shamefaced, for I can sense he is a decent man.

  “I cannot, and will not,” I declare. “Pray do not press me, for the answer will be the same.”

  “I will not press you, for shame,” Sir Edward says. Sighing, he rises to his feet and gathers up his things. “Thank you, Lady Katherine,” he says. “That will be all for now.”

  “Sir,” I cry, a little wild. “Have you any word of my husband?”

  “I am not at liberty to discuss him with you,” the lieutenant says, as, bowing, he leaves me.

  Again I rummage through my casket—as I have done several times before now. Ned’s deed really is not there. I am distraught, realizing I have mislaid the only proof of my marriage.

  My first night as a prisoner. I go to bed early, as I am exhausted. Honor helps me into my nightgown, then turns down the bed and departs, and I am left alone with my terrifying thoughts. I try not to think what it must be like to feel the steel of the axe slicing into one’s neck. It is something I used to dwell on much, of course, but now the imaginings I try to ward off are beyond horrible.

  Outside my window the glorious sunset has given way to a velvety blue night. I have lit my single candle now, having sat here without light for a long time as the dusk deepened, lost in my ceaseless fretting. Forcing myself not to think of worse things, I have been imagining myself arguing my case with the Queen. It galls me that I have had no chance to convince her of my innocence. Whatever has passed between her and Lord Robert Dudley, she must have some idea what it is like to be in love, and to be loved in return. So why does she not look more kindly on me? Is it because she is incapable of love? I could easily believe it.

  Lying wakeful in this horrible place, far from my beloved, I cannot stop my teeming thoughts straying in his direction. Where is he now? Is he still beyond seas? Or have they summoned him home? He could even be here, in this very tower, not far away from me. The thought is at once comforting and alarming, for has he not committed treason in wedding me, a princess of the blood?

  It has grown late, and chilly, and there are dark shadows beyond the bed where demons may well lurk, and night owls hooting in the trees outside. Their eerie cries send shivers of unease down my spine and make my skin crawl. If an owl were to land on the roof of this tower, it would be an omen of death. Suddenly, I am praying for the owls to fly away, but they keep up their unearthly din, and that seems ominous too.

  I wonder how many other poor wretches have been shut up in this room, weighed down with fears as I am. How many of them left it only to go to their doom? Were any allowed to go free? And if not, have they really departed this place? Might it be that some unquiet souls yet linger, and that they walk at night? In the gloom, my imagination is alive with horrifying possibilities. In this dark watch of the night, I can easily convince myself that I may face the same fate as my sister—and that the ghosts of those who have gone before are about to materialize.

  I am shaking, desperate for the warmth of human company, but it is late and ever
yone must surely be asleep by now. I call out: “Hello? Is anyone there?” but there is no answer. I rattle the door, which remains stubbornly locked, and call out louder, but no one heeds me. I stumble to the window and look out, expecting to find guards on duty below. I see no one but two girls walking below. One looks disturbingly familiar, but they are gone before I can get a proper look at her, and now it feels as if I am utterly alone in the middle of the Tower of London, a prey to my fears and the phantoms that must lurk in this place.

  As the candle sputters and dies in a draft from the window, the room takes on a strange aspect. It looks different in the gloom; I cannot exactly lay my finger on how, but it is as if there has been a shift in atmosphere—as if, somehow, it is not of this time. Am I going mad? I fear so.

  I must calm myself and try to think of my child. I do not want it to be affrighted by my terrors. Shivering in my chemise, and not entirely from cold, I climb into bed, ease my bulky body down between the sheets, and pull the heavy coverlet over my head, shutting out the menacing world. I lie tense, fending off frightening thoughts and feverishly reciting my prayers, but the words come haltingly.

  And then I hear it, so softly at first that I think it might be the wind sighing in the trees, or some poor creature preyed upon by an owl. But no, there it is again—a child’s voice, barely audible.

  Help me.

  It is pitiful and plaintive, and very well-bred.

  Help us!

  There it is again, stronger now! I lie rigid, not daring to move, and too terrified to come out from under the coverlet.

  Help us, please!

  The voice, higher in pitch, breaks on a sob. It seems to be disembodied, coming out of the night beyond my window. And now there are two voices. I am petrified. I could no more go and investigate than grow wings and fly.

  “Who calls?” I whisper.


  “Is anybody there?” I cry, more boldly this time.

  Nobody answers. I wonder if this is some kind of plot to frighten me to death. Was that what they did to the princes? It would not be difficult in my case, I fear, for I am eight months gone with child, by my reckoning, and it is well known that a fright can precipitate a woman’s travail. And it would, of course, be most convenient for some I could mention if I died.

  But there remains that strange atmosphere, that odd change in the aspect of the room, the ethereal quality of the children’s voices. I begin to suspect that no human agency is at play here, and that what I have heard was not of this world. In the darkness, such things are all too believable.

  I lie still, waiting, holding my breath, alert to every sound. There is nothing but the sighing of the leaves beyond the window and a distant shout from the direction of the river. It seems that there has been a shift back toward normality; and as the silence reasserts itself and I calm down, I start to wonder if I imagined it all. But I am chilled when I think whose voices I might have heard.

  Master Aylmer schooled us well in history. I grew up to be familiar with the popular chronicles of Richard Fabyan and Edward Hall, and because my parents kept a good library, I had even read parts of Polydore Vergil’s history of England. From these, Aylmer had drawn lessons in morality, with the varying fortunes of our kings and queens as examples. And one example he had held up was that of Richard III. All those old chroniclers said it was the common fame that King Richard had, within the Tower, secretly put to death the two sons of his brother, King Edward. They had condemned the deed as a foul murder, and I grew up accepting that story as fact, for no one I knew, least of all Aylmer, ever questioned it.

  They suffered and died here, those poor princes. So if any ghosts haunt this place, it would be them. Was it their long-silenced, plaintive voices I heard? In the dark reaches of the night, it is all too believable.

  In the morning, I decide that I must have dreamed it all. Soon after sunrise the door is unlocked and Honor appears, and being restored to human congress lends me a new perspective on things. My fears today are for the realities confronting me, not the imagined terrors of the night.

  At nine o’clock Sir Edward Warner presents himself and inquires after my health and if I have slept well.

  “No, Sir Edward, I had a nightmare that was too vivid for comfort,” I tell him. “It is hardly surprising, given the desperate situation in which I find myself. But I took such a fright that I was fearful for my babe. I pray you, can you find me a midwife? I would be assured that all is well.”

  “I will do what I can, my lady,” he assures me, and leaves the room.

  Darkness falls, and I am no longer so certain that the voices of the night before were a dream. Alone, curled up beneath the covers, I try to pray, yet cannot concentrate, as my ears are attuned to any slight disturbance of the midnight silence. And then, as before, the voices come.

  Help me! Help us!

  Can this manifestation—for now I fear it can be nothing else—be heard in the Tower every night? Or is it just in this room? Or—and this chills my blood more than anything—is it intended for me alone?

  There it is again! Pleading in tone, piteous … the voices of children, abandoned and maybe in dreadful danger …

  Help us!

  I gather all my courage and rise, cradling my swollen belly protectively in my hands. Beneath my fingers I can feel the babe moving sleepily. My heart is hammering so hard I fear he might take fright from it.

  I creep on bare feet to the window and look out, alert to every faint sound. And then I hear, disembodied in the air, and with nothing in sight to account for them, those awful words once more. Help us!

  But they are long beyond help now. I fear it is I and my child who are in deadly danger. At the realization, I start to tremble. Oh, my God! They could murder us both, immured within these walls and helpless as we are—just like those little princes were murdered. And our poor bones might lie here undiscovered like theirs for centuries, another of the secrets the Tower keeps hidden. Oh, sweet Jesus, save me and my child! Preserve us from the malice of our enemies. Let me live to behold my dear lord once more!

  Sweating in panic, I pace up and down the room, hugging myself in distress and fear. I know I will not be able to sleep tonight. I am too frightened.


  In the morning I am rational again, although still disturbed in my mind. I find myself needing to know what really happened to those poor princes. Despite being mere children, they were too close to the throne for comfort, and a deadly threat to their sovereign, just like me—and my unborn babe. If he lives, he may prove a similar threat to the Queen, and a focus for plots against her—as did Jane, and the princes. He might not need to lift a finger, for there are many who would prefer a man on the throne, and who regard a woman ruler as unnatural and against Nature. Of course, Elizabeth is no Richard III, but the birth of a male heir to her throne might provoke her beyond reason.

  Trembling, I wonder if there are lessons to be learned from the princes’ fate, lessons I would do well to heed. Yet how could one be sure exactly what happened to them? It is generally agreed that they were murdered by their wicked uncle Richard, but the means is often debated. And no bodies were ever found …

  I wish I knew the truth about their disappearance. I know I am not being entirely rational, but I feel some strange affinity with those poor boys. I can identify with their peril because my own babe is under threat. I feel that, in some inexplicable way, their fate might have a bearing on his. But how could I, a prisoner in the Tower, find out the truth?

  Suddenly, I remember that I may have the means right at hand. I hasten to my casket and take out the bundle of faded pages tied with old ribbon, which Harry and I found at Baynard’s Castle, in another life. These are the pages written, I believe, by Katherine Plantagenet. I had forgotten them until now, but I recall that I never deciphered them fully. I see again the barely legible words appreh … Raglan. Apprehended? Who was apprehended? Katherine herself? Does this mean she was arrested at Raglan Castle, the old He
rbert stronghold in Wales? Could it be that these writings are those of a young girl like myself, imprisoned long ago? Is this why I felt an affinity with her?

  I struggle through the closely written pages, trying to read the cramped script. Yes, this is about the Princes in the Tower, but it is not the story everyone knows. This mysterious daughter of Richard III had another version of it entirely. She believed her father to be innocent.

  Given what I heard in the night—or thought I heard—I am not sure I can agree with her. My belief is that the princes never left this place. Their unavenged bones still lie here somewhere. That is what all the world believes, and I have no reason to doubt it.

  I struggle on, as the handwriting becomes increasingly spidery. There is more here than I ever read in history books. But at the end, frustratingly, the writing has faded away. It’s the date 1487 on the first page that puzzles me. Everyone knows that Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, but what happened in 1487?

  There is no end to the tale, no satisfying resolution. Nor is there any evidence that Katherine’s belief in her father’s innocence was justified. It seems to me she was deluding herself.

  Did she ever find out the truth?


  October 1485, Westminster Palace

  William was most unhappy when Kate told him she was forbidden to reveal what the King had wanted, and he was even less enamored when, later that day, a page came saying that the King’s mother, the Lady Margaret, wished to see her, and would she come at once—alone?

  Lady Stanley—the Lady Margaret Beaufort, who was Countess of Richmond by her marriage to Henry’s father—was now known as my lady the King’s mother. For lack of a queen, that formidable matriarch was ruling the court—and no doubt the King too, Kate mused. She remembered the woman’s cold eyes and haughty mien. The Lady Margaret was said to be very devout and learned, but Kate could only think of her as the woman who had plotted with Buckingham against her father. Traitress, she thought.

  The Lady Margaret cut a far more regal figure than her son. She dressed like a nun in a severe black gown and pleated wimple; it was well known that she lived chastely (no doubt Lord Stanley had cause to be grateful for that, Kate thought irreverently). Her manner was quiet and dignified, and she spoke very softly. Only when she mentioned her son the King did she become animated.

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