A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  She welcomed Kate coolly, then came to the point without bothering with the pleasantries.

  “His Grace the King told me he spoke with you this morning, and that we can rely on your absolute discretion.”

  “Yes, my lady.”

  “My son means to give England peace and strong government. His crown has come as of right to him, and God Himself has endorsed it by giving him the victory at Bosworth. He rules most rightfully over his people—our Joshua, come to save us from tyranny.”

  Kate struggled to contain her anger. Was the Lady Margaret deliberately trying to provoke her?

  “But how can he embark on his great task when there are those who might undermine his just title?” the insufferable woman was asking—rhetorically, of course. Dislike bristled from her; it was as if she was constrained to a disagreeable but necessary task. “Two years ago,” she said, “the usurper, your father, told his friend the Duke of Buckingham—in confidence, of course—that he had no choice but to have the sons of King Edward put to death, if he was ever to feel secure on the throne. It finished the friendship. The duke could not countenance such an atrocity, and made an excuse to leave court. The usurper, unaware that there was a rift, continued to correspond with him, and in one of his letters he wrote something that Buckingham thought clearly indicated that the deed had been done. Indeed, Buckingham had no doubt of it, and he was horrified. It was then that he switched his allegiance to my son. He confided to him, and to me and our chief allies, what he knew; and we began to work for the overthrow of the tyrant.”

  Kate seethed. What she was hearing was bad enough, but the woman was baiting her and enjoying her discomposure, knowing she could say nothing in her father’s defense that would not be construed as treason. Only with difficulty did she hold her peace while the Lady Margaret continued.

  “Soon, rumors were circulating that the princes had been killed. We did not start these rumors, although we made use of them later. But we had no certain knowledge of how the boys had been murdered or how their bodies had been disposed of.”

  “May I ask, my lady, how you could be certain that they were dead? An ambiguous sentence in a letter could surely be taken two ways?”

  The Lady Margaret eyed Kate distastefully. “You’re a sharp one, aren’t you? But you forget that the duke knew Richard very well: how his mind worked, and how ambition drove him.”

  “I knew him well too,” Kate said in a quiet voice. “He was my father, and madam, I could never imagine him stooping to such a low and dreadful deed.”

  “Maybe you could not, but others could, all too easily!” the countess shrilled, abandoning her habitual calm for a moment. “Do you want me to rehearse the roll call of his crimes? What of the many rumors? They would not be stilled because they were believable—and they were true! My dear child, there are none so blind as those who will not see!”

  “Forgive me, my lady,” Kate murmured, trying to control her fury. “I can only speak from my own experience.”

  “Well, you were young and had evidently not yet learned to judge human nature. But I think you know more than you are prepared to say. What have you heard about the princes? If your father did not murder them, where are they?”

  “I know nothing, my lady, beyond what I told the King,” Kate insisted, wondering why she was being questioned again. Evidently the King had not believed her, and hoped his mother would get more out of her. But he was wrong there! Yes, she did know more than she had given them to believe, but of what she had learned from Pietro, Bishop Russell, and Bishop Stillington (although he had not said much), she intended to say nothing. Least said, soonest mended, she reasoned. No one should be called to account because of her.

  “So you do not know anything about their murder?”

  “I know nothing of a murder, my lady.”

  The Lady Margaret gave her a hard look.

  “Are you being obstinate with me?” she demanded to know.

  “No, my lady. I am as desirous as you are of having this matter brought to light.”

  “Well, we will have the truth soon, no doubt—and I can tell you what it will be. Now you may go. And if you recall anything that may have a bearing on this matter, you are to come and tell me at once.”

  INTERLUDE

  August 1561, Hertford Castle

  Queen Elizabeth glares at her council.

  “No evidence of a conspiracy? Are you certain?” Her tone is disbelieving, her face above the delicate lace of her ruff thunderous and pale. She is extremely tense, and looks thin and gaunt.

  “No, madam,” Cecil says firmly. “The minister—if he ever existed—has gone to ground. Mrs. Leigh has vanished too. And Mr. Glynne, who helped me uncover this misconduct, is staying in Paris for now. He has nothing to add. We have questioned Mistress Saintlow again, but she knows no more than she told us to begin with. I am convinced, madam, that had there been any conspiracy, we would have found evidence of it by now. But there is none, and it is significant that Lady Katherine’s support seems to have evaporated. As for the evidence of marriage, the deed of gift has been destroyed, along with the letters Hertford sent the Lady Katherine from France, in which he referred to her as his wife. My agent in Dover intercepted those, and hers to him, telling him she was with child.”

  “Is it certain that there were no marriage lines?” asks Lord Robert, lounging in his chair. Cecil and the other councillors regard him with dislike. It is no exaggeration to say that Dudley is the most hated and envied man at court. What a silly girl Katherine was, appealing to him of all people, the Secretary reflects.

  “There never were any, according to Lady Katherine’s testimony. And no one appears to have been privy to this marriage but her maids and Lady Jane Seymour.”

  “I still think there was some greater drift in this.” Elizabeth is obstinate in her opinion. “I am convinced there is more matter hid in this marriage than is uttered to the world.”

  “I can find none such, madam,” Cecil declares decisively. “We should focus upon the immorality.”

  “Is Lord Hertford on his way home?” the Queen asks.

  “He is, and he knows the reason for his summons,” Cecil tells her. “Fearing he might choose not to obey it, I told him that Your Majesty does not mean to punish him, but that you require his presence merely in order to decide whether his marriage to the Lady Katherine is good and valid. I did not tell him that she is in the Tower.”

  “And what did he answer to that?” asks Sussex.

  Cecil looks at Elizabeth.

  “At first, he thought it would help matters if he stayed abroad until the scandal had died down. But—forgive me, madam—when one of my secret agents at the French court expressed the opinion that his marriage to the Lady Katherine would but facilitate your own to Lord Robert here, he changed his mind and took a more optimistic view of his situation.”

  “God’s blood!” shouts Elizabeth, banging the table and making her councillors jump. “Is there no end to this lewd gossip? And you can wipe that smile off your face, Robin.” Dudley has the grace to look chastened. “Well, enough of that,” the Queen continues. “At least Lord Hertford is on his way home, and then we can get to the bottom of this matter.”

  KATE

  October 1485, Westminster Palace

  Kate pondered much on what the Tudor had said about the princes not being in the Tower now. It made sense to her. Her father had been a careful, cautious man. Once those conspiracies had come to light in the summer after the coronation, he might well have had the boys moved to a secret location whence there was no chance of their being rescued. He would have reasoned that, if at least one attempt had been made already, there would be others in the future.

  So had the princes been at Sheriff Hutton all along? Had they been taken there when the King’s Household in the North was set up under the governance of Lincoln? It had been a secure household of necessity, given the threat posed by Henry Tudor, and it had sheltered the heirs and bastards of York. Had the
sons of Edward IV been of their number, secretly lodged there with their sisters?

  Kate’s brother John had been there too, but he was still in Calais, his future uncertain with their father dead, and he had not replied to her recent letters. Even if she had been able to reach him, she would never have dared to commit such a dangerous question to paper.

  But it was highly doubtful that the princes were still at Sheriff Hutton. Henry Tudor would surely have checked, so desperate was he to find them. So if they had been there at the time Bosworth was fought, where were they now?

  The answer, she was sure, lay with John de la Pole. Had he hastened to Sheriff Hutton after Bosworth and taken them into hiding with him? Were they the reason he had disappeared after the battle? Had he perhaps taken them abroad, to their aunt, Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, whom Kate had never met, but of whom her father had always spoken with loving respect? Margaret had helped shelter Richard when, as a youth, he sought refuge with King Edward in Bruges after Edward had been driven from his kingdom by Warwick and Clarence. John had also spoken of Aunt Margaret with affection. Certainly she would willingly have offered a refuge both to the princes and to him.

  The more Kate thought about this, the more it made sense, and with that came a welcome feeling of relief that at last she had an explanation as to why her father had never produced the princes alive. But it was still only speculation. She had to talk to John, or get a message to him, as soon as his whereabouts became known.

  She wished she knew what had happened to him; not knowing was killing her. He might even be lying dead somewhere, his beloved body undiscovered. She caught her breath at that. No! Don’t think that way. He is an astute, resourceful man, and must be in hiding somewhere. All at once she was seized with an unbearable longing to see him—not just to look once more upon the beauty of his face, and to touch him, but also to ask him that crucial question: Had he had the princes under his charge at Sheriff Hutton?

  It was late when William returned that evening, and she was nearly asleep when he came in, doused the candle, and began to undress. She was grateful that her condition precluded his usual nightly attentions.

  She turned over to face him. All discourse between them now was limited to necessities; there was no love lost on either side. Yet her curiosity was burning her.

  “My lord, I have been wondering. Is there any news of my cousin Warwick?”

  William started. He had thought her asleep, and was evidently unprepared for her to speak to him, let alone ask such a question.

  “He’s in the Tower of London, if you must know.”

  The news shook her. “What?” Another prince in the Tower? “Why?”

  “By King Henry’s order. Presumably he feels that Warwick is a threat, being so close in blood to the throne.”

  Yes. And he is also a threat because, simple lad that he is, he may blab about the princes being at Sheriff Hutton, and expose the truth: that they may well be alive, though Henry doesn’t know where they are.

  “That is terrible. That poor boy could not commit treason to save his life. He has not the wits for it—and he is so young.”

  “The King, for all his virtues, is not a sentimental man,” William said stiffly. “He is a political realist, and knows well it is not Warwick himself he need fear, but those who might act on his behalf.”

  “But that poor, wretched boy …”

  “It is a necessity, alas.”

  Kate shed a silent tear for her cousin, who had committed no crime save that of being born his father’s son—and, perhaps, of knowing too much.

  “Is there news of my brother coming home from Calais?” she asked, after William had risen from his prayers, used the piss pot, and climbed into bed.

  “I heard he was deprived of the captaincy, but he’s still in Calais, for all I know.” How short a time young John had enjoyed his post in Calais, she reflected sadly.

  “You should keep your nose out of great affairs,” William reproved, “and don’t go asking questions. It will be marked, surely.”

  “I do not intend to. But Warwick and John are my kinsmen, for whom I have much love. I ask only as their relation. And I was also going to ask if there are tidings of my lord of Lincoln.”

  “None, and good riddance I say. Now go to sleep.”

  She slept; but in the morning, when William—commanding her to stay in her room—had gone to seek out old acquaintances and reestablish himself in the pecking order at court, she got out her papers and wrote down every last detail of her theory that the princes had been taken, safe and well, to Sheriff Hutton. One day, she promised herself, her infant child would be able to hold his head up and say his grandfather’s name with pride.

  KATHERINE

  September 1561, Tower of London

  Ned is here, in the Tower. Sir Edward has informed me that he was arrested at Dover, brought here under guard, and imprisoned in the Lieutenant’s Lodging. I do not know whether to laugh or cry, for while I am heartened to know that he is nearby, I am aware that there are now three of us in peril of our lives.

  “May I see him?” I ask eagerly.

  “I regret not, my lady. The Queen has expressly forbidden it. But my Lord Hertford sends you these, and asks after your health.” He hands me a small posy of violets. Violets, for modesty, delicacy, and chastity. I feel choked. It is as if my good reputation has been given back to me.

  “You are both to be questioned by the Privy Council, separately,” Sir Edward tells me.

  “But I have told you all I know,” I protest.

  “That remains to be seen, my lady,” Sir Edward says, and makes to depart.

  “Please tell my husband I am in good health,” I call after him, and he pauses and nods.

  Later, in the afternoon, I am visited by five lords of the council, among them the Bishop of London and the Marquess of Winchester, he who placed the crown on my sister’s head in this very Tower.

  “Lady Katherine,” the marquess begins, “why did you not tell the lieutenant everything?”

  “But I did,” I declare.

  “Let us go over what Lord Hertford has deposed.” He reads Ned’s own account of our wedding day, and I am shocked to hear that my lord has confessed all, even to the most intimate details, and find myself blushing hotly. Nevertheless, he has corroborated everything I myself told Sir Edward, even reciting the lines he composed for my wedding ring. Surely they must believe us now!

  “Why did you not give all this information in your first interview?”

  For shame, of course; how could they have expected me to say such things to a man not my husband? Even now I cannot bring myself to mention them. “I was in great agony of mind,” I say, “for fear of the Queen Majesty’s displeasure. I was distressed at my husband’s absence, when I thought myself in a desperate case … being great with child …” I cannot speak anymore; I am quite broken down, and weeping uncontrollably. The lords sit in silence as a clerk writes down my words. The marquess nods to the rest.

  “That is all,” he says, to my astonishment. “We bid you good day, Lady Katherine.”

  KATE

  October 1485, Westminster Palace

  Kate had not gone out with the other peeresses to watch the coronation procession. She had no intention of witnessing the Tudor triumph, pretending to be a king. She had pleaded the sickness of her condition, and stayed in her chamber, resting on the bed, with Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur for company.

  William looked magnificent in his new purple velvet robe lined with ermine and guarded with three bands of gold lace and miniver, and a silken surcoat of the same hue, sashed in blue velvet. He had departed early, clutching his coronet, to take his place in the abbey. He was still angry with Kate for not telling him what the King and the Lady Margaret had discussed; it was clear he was terrified lest she had let slip something that might impact adversely on him. In the end he had given up, but her silence still rankled, she knew.

  The palace seemed unusually still, a
lthough outside she could hear the bells of Westminster pealing joyfully and the crowds cheering. She said a prayer for the soul of her father, through whose death this day of celebration had come about. She thought too of John. Where was he now? Still in hiding? Was he even alive? If only she could see him again—just one glimpse was all she asked.

  Hours passed. She awoke, realizing she had dozed off. The book lay splayed on the counterpane where it had fallen from her hand. She heard the abbey bells chiming four. They would be at the banquet in Westminster Hall now. Soft footfalls and women’s laughter outside her door told her that the peeresses were returning.

  She got up and splashed water on her face, then ventured out into the palace. Most of the galleries and chambers were deserted, apart from the guards on duty. They wore new uniforms, doublets of scarlet cloth with full sleeves and bases pleated from the waist, with black velvet bonnets, and carried halberds. William had told her that they were the King’s newly instituted bodyguard, the Yeomen of the Guard, appointed to ensure his personal safety. They stood impassive at their posts, apparently unseeing as she passed by. As she entered a cloister, she thought she heard a footfall behind her, but when she waited to see who it was, no one appeared. A few minutes later she heard it again and paused a second time, but still the place seemed to be deserted.

  She wondered if someone was following her—someone who did not want to be seen. It stood to reason that Henry Tudor might be having her movements watched, to discover whom she met and conversed with; possibly he believed she could lead him to someone who might know the truth about the princes, for there must be people at his court who knew more than they would ever now reveal. She resolved to be careful, just in case. And yet—there was no one to be seen. She must have imagined it.

 
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