A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  Eventually I drift into sleep, and in the morning I decide I could not have been dreaming.

  “Sir Edward,” I say, when the lieutenant comes to inquire after my health, and we have admired the baby, snug in his swaddling bands, “do you believe that the Princes in the Tower really were murdered here all those years ago?”

  For a moment he looks uneasy, and I realize that it may still be unwise to speak of such things. For if the princes had survived, then the Tudors must be usurpers. Thinking of Queen Elizabeth, it is a heartening notion! But Sir Edward’s qualms, if he has any, are fleeting.

  “I have often wondered that myself,” he confides. “In fact, I’m very interested in the subject, my lady—and have been for years. I know all the world thinks they were killed, but they never found them, you know. It’s well known here that King Henry VII ordered several searches of the Tower, all of which revealed nothing. And without the bodies, there is no proof. Yet it is invariably said that Sir James Tyrell had them killed, on King Richard’s orders.”

  Tyrell! That name again. I remember now. It was in Vergil’s history that I read of him murdering the princes, seeking preferment as a reward. Yet I’m sure I’ve seen it somewhere else.

  “Is it known how they were killed?” I ask.

  “No one knows for certain, but many have guessed. Some say they were run through with a sword, some that they were suffocated or drowned in wine like the Duke of Clarence; others say they were poisoned, or walled up, or buried alive. The fact is, no one knows. I read that their bodies were chested and taken on a ship down the Thames, then thrown into the Black Deeps at the estuary. That would explain why they were never found here, in the Tower—but I have often wondered if it was a rumor put about to convince folk that they were dead.”

  I had read that tale too; it was in the popular chronicles.

  “It’s an intriguing mystery,” I observe.

  “I am moved to wonder, my lady, why you find it so,” Sir Edward says. “It is a grim subject for a gentlewoman.”

  I wrestle with myself, wondering if I dare show him the account I keep secret. It can do no harm, surely; and he has told me he is interested in the matter. I realize we have become quite companionable; I know him to be a good man, despite the unpleasant calling of his office, and it is a relief to be speaking of matters other than the reason why I am here.

  “It is because of some papers I have,” I say, and, opening my casket, I take out the bundle. “I pray you, take them and read them.”

  The lieutenant sits down at the table and unties the ribbon. “What are these?” he asks. “Where did you get them?” I explain about finding them in the tower room at Baynard’s Castle, and offer my theory as to who wrote them.

  “Richard III had a daughter?” he asks in surprise.

  “Yes, my first husband told me of her. She married one of his forebears. Her name was Katherine.”

  “Well, that is extraordinary.” He peruses the yellowing pages. “These are very old.”

  “Oh, yes, Sir Edward. They are too old to pose any threat to the Queen—they are not evidence of any plot!”

  He has to smile at my little jest. “I should like to read them. May I take them? My duties call me now.”

  “By all means.”

  “I will return them to you when I have finished, and then, perhaps, we may talk again.”

  “I should like that,” I say. “Oh … Sir Edward, before you go—I must ask you something. Have you ever heard voices—children’s voices, I think—calling in the night here?”

  He stares at me, astonished. “Voices? I don’t think so. What did they say?”

  “ ‘Help me. Help us.’ I have heard them three times now.”

  He is at a loss. “Perchance it was some voices carrying on the wind. Or perchance you were dreaming, my lady.” Poor man, he has not the imagination to think of any other explanation.

  “Perchance,” I agree.

  KATE

  November 1485, Westminster Palace

  At last, there came a day when William begrudgingly agreed to take Kate with him into London.

  “I miss it so much,” she’d wheedled. “It was one of my great pleasures to go shopping in Cheapside.” She dared not say she longed to see Crosby Hall just one more time—and in truth, she was not sure how she would feel when she did. It was hard to believe that they were all gone, her father, Anne, little Edward … her loved ones who had resided there with her not three years ago.

  She had never until now so appreciated the freedom she’d had back then to wander around London with Mattie. Carefree days, gone forever. She would have loved to visit her grandmother, the Duchess Cecily, at Baynard’s Castle; but William told her that the duchess had left London and gone to live out her days at her castle of Berkhamsted. She would be mourning the death of yet another son, of course.

  William had hummed and huffed, but in the end he had relented and said that Kate might accompany him. He himself would escort her to Cheapside, and she could make her purchases while he consulted his lawyer in the Temple.

  “But put on your cloak, wife, and pull down the hood. We don’t want you being recognized,” he fussed.

  It was as they were approaching the palace stables, where her litter had been stored alongside their horses, that Kate saw John riding out. She was amazed to see him here. William had told her he was still in hiding, a hunted traitor, so how could he be at Westminster?

  She looked up and her hood fell back. Her eyes met John’s in a flash of astonishment, relief, and joy, before both looked quickly away. They could not acknowledge each other, of course. Kate was not only married, but the object of suspicion in high places, so she knew that any association between them was dangerous. When William turned around, her hood was in place again, and John was trotting off, two grooms riding behind him.

  INTERLUDE

  September 1561, Whitehall Palace

  “A son?” Elizabeth cries in alarm.

  “A bastard, no more,” Cecil soothes. “Remember, they cannot bring either minister or witness to their marriage. We must either find that minister, or determine that the marriage is unlawful. That matter lies in your mercy, madam.”

  “It must be proved unlawful,” the Queen insists, beside herself with agitation. “See to it!”

  KATHERINE

  October 1561, Tower of London

  I could not believe it when the Queen’s permission arrived for our babe to be honorably christened. Sir Edward had requested it, out of charity, and his plea was granted without delay. And so I, fresh from my childbed, and privately churched by the Tower chaplain, now find myself standing in the chancel of the chapel royal of St. Peter ad Vincula, dressed in the best gown I have with me, and looking across the font at Ned, standing there between two yeomen warders. We are both under guard and not allowed to speak, but our eyes convey all that cannot be said. Seeing my husband looking lovingly upon our tiny son as Sir Edward takes him from the nurse, my heart is fit to burst with bittersweet feelings.

  For this day is one of pain and sadness as well as joy. I am sure that Ned is aware, as I am, that a little way beneath our feet lie the sad remains of those we have loved: his father, my father, and my sister. I had to steel myself to enter this place.

  But I must try to be of good cheer: Ned has not yet been attainted, we are both well treated, and our marriage has not been impugned. I try to suppress my indignation against the Queen, who has graciously permitted this ceremony, even though she has not allowed us a minister. Instead, Sir Edward Warner, as sponsor, sprinkles water from the font over our child, baptizes him Edward, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and gives him his courtesy title Viscount Beauchamp, which he has by right of being his father’s heir.

  That evening, when my young viscount is sleeping soundly, the lieutenant presents himself at my chamber door.

  “Your papers, my lady.” He hands them to me.

  “You have read them, sir?”

  ?
??I have. It is an extraordinary tale. Shall we discuss it?”

  “I should like to.”

  He sits down with me at the table and sends for wine, an unexpected privilege. I suspect he is growing fond of me—in a fatherly way. He is too correct a man for it to be anything else. He has been a prisoner, like me; he understands how I am feeling, and has kept his word to make my stay in the Tower as comfortable as possible. You might say that we have become friends.

  “Katherine wanted to believe that her father was innocent,” I observe.

  “I was left wondering if she ever found out,” Sir Edward says. “After all, very few people could have known the truth, and they weren’t telling.”

  “If there was a murder, it was kept so secret that we still don’t know what really happened, even after all this time. Do you think Katherine was right to believe in her father’s innocence?”

  “The fact remains that Richard III never produced the princes alive to counteract the rumors, or explained their disappearance. Whatever happened to them, he must have known about it. They were his prisoners, held straitly in the innermost reaches of the Tower, and guarded by his faithful constable, Brackenbury.”

  “That name seems as familiar to me as that of Tyrell,” I interrupt. “I have read of them in books, but I’m sure I have seen those names somewhere else. It will come to me soon.”

  “It might be credible that Richard had the boys removed from the Tower in the wake of the conspiracies,” the lieutenant says. “If no one knew where they were, there could be no further attempts to rescue them. But I still think Richard himself made them disappear.”

  “Could Buckingham have been involved?”

  “I think not, my lady. Bishop Russell said the princes were alive in September, but by then Buckingham was in Wales, miles away. How could he, or any agent of his, have breached the Tower’s security without being discovered? If he had murdered the princes, the King would certainly have discovered it, and it’s inconceivable he would not have made political capital out of that in the charges against Buckingham. Such knowledge would have been a powerful weapon in his hand.”

  “You speak sense, sir. But what of Henry VII? The thought did occur—”

  “Hush!” the lieutenant hisses. “You must not speak so of the Queen’s grandsire. It is clear he was as perplexed as everyone else. He’d had the Tower searched for the bodies, but none were found, so he could not say what had become of the princes. Why else would he have taken the threat posed by the pretender Perkin Warbeck so seriously? Warbeck pretended for years to be Richard, Duke of York, and convinced several of the monarchs of Europe before he was exposed as a fraud. He had the King terrified. No, Henry VII did not kill the princes. Who else could have done it but Richard III?”

  “Unless Katherine Plantagenet was right, and he had the princes moved.” I so want that to have been the case.

  “My lady, you are forgetting two vital things,” Sir Edward says. “First, if the princes had been at Sheriff Hutton, what happened to them after Bosworth? Did they just disappear?”

  “Maybe they escaped abroad.”

  “That would have been the wisest course, for they posed as much of a threat to King Henry as they had to King Richard. But there is no proof of their being alive after September of 1483.”

  “There is no proof of anything!” I lament. “It’s all possibilities! It seems that every trail goes cold.”

  “After eighty years, what else can you expect? But there is another aspect you have not taken into account, my lady. Richard III was a twisted and ruthless man—a tyrant; there is no other word for it. He had his opponents beheaded without trial; he used scandalous and false precepts to stake his claim to the throne. These things are incontrovertible. We must ask ourselves if such a man was also capable of murdering his brother’s children, whom he had dispossessed.”

  “But Katherine did not see him as a tyrant. She saw much that was good in him.”

  “She saw him as she wanted to see him.”

  “Yet he had been a loving and careful father all her life,” I point out. “Surely that argues that there was some good in him? And maybe those things he did—maybe he did them because he felt he had no choice, because his enemies were plotting to destroy him.”

  “Reading between the lines in these papers, I think he exaggerated that threat; he lied about those weapons, don’t forget. Yet I think that we should give him the benefit of the doubt for now, for there is, after all, no proof that the princes were murdered.” Sir Edward’s face creases in his endearing, craggy smile. “You have fired me up again about this mystery, my lady. For years it has nagged at me. It was the fact that no bodies were found; certainly something very secret—and possibly evil—took place here in the Tower, and I’ve often hoped there might still be a clue somewhere. This account by Richard’s daughter is most illuminating, something I never dreamed I would see. And perchance there are other sources.”

  “Other sources?”

  The lieutenant lowers his voice. “Much was suppressed, I’m sure. I believe there is far more to this mystery than we could ever suspect. There may also be histories I have not read. I am dining with a friend of mine, an alderman of the City of London, next week. With his help, I may be able to gain entry to Sir Richard Whittington’s library at the Guildhall, and see what records are kept there. I will report back to you.” He stands up. “But now I must go, for it grows late. I bid you good night, my lady. I have enjoyed our most enlivening talk. I would it had taken place in happier circumstances.”

  “I too, sir,” I say with feeling. Yet it has offered me a welcome respite from my troubles and fears.

  With my mind full of the princes, I am nervously anticipating hearing those voices again tonight; and hear them I do, as I lie wakeful in my bed, their thin cries plaintive, like a whisper on the breeze. I shudder. It could be anything, I tell myself. Why should it be the lost sons of King Edward? Or am I myself conjuring up voices that are not there?

  KATE

  November 1485, Westminster Palace

  After they had returned from their outing to the City, William was much gratified to receive a summons to sup with the King and several other lords in the evening. The Tudor, it seemed, was making an effort to court popularity.

  William began fretting about what to wear. His shirt was not fine enough, his best gown stained. Kate rubbed the stain and brushed the pile, then sat down to embroider the neck of the shirt. He nodded at her, more grateful than he would express, then left, saying he had to meet someone.

  Kate unwrapped her few purchases, thinking joyfully of John. She was utterly relieved to know that he still lived and was safe. Maybe, God willing, he would try to contrive a meeting. She knew the dangers, but she was willing to risk much just to speak with him, and when they had known the rapture of being reunited, she could ask him about the princes.

  Life was suddenly looking much brighter. Her heart lightened. If you waited long enough, good things happened, and prayers were answered.

  Taking advantage of William’s absence, she put on her cloak and sped down to the gardens to get some air, and to look out for John. The nights were drawing in much earlier now, and it was already dusk. She walked along by the river wall light of step, glad to feel the evening breeze on her face. There she came upon a boy kicking a ball along one of the paths. He was about seven or eight, a well-dressed, sturdily built child with a slightly lugubrious face. “Hello,” she said as he approached her.

  “Good even, madam,” he answered politely, and bowed. He had clearly been well drilled in courtesy, and his fine clothes proclaimed him of noble birth. “The Duke of Buckingham at your service,” he said grandly.

  The Duke of Buckingham? This must be the son of the traitor who had rebelled against her father. The last she had heard, this boy had been smuggled into hiding after his father’s arrest.

  She curtsied. “The Countess of Huntingdon, my lord.”

  “I have just been restored to my tit
le,” he told her with evident pride. “I was made a Knight of the Bath at the King’s coronation.”

  “I am glad to hear it.” She smiled. “You are in high favor, it seems!”

  “It has not always been so,” he told her, a shadow crossing his fresh young face. “You must have heard of my father, the old duke.”

  “I met him several times,” she said. “He was hearty company.”

  “Aye, but he tried to overthrow the usurper Richard and lost his head for it. I had to go into hiding after that. My nurse shaved my head and dressed me as a girl; it was horrid. I hated it! But she got me away, and now I am restored to my rightful inheritance.”

  Kate wondered if this bright young lad might know something of his father’s motives for rebelling against his king. There could be no harm in probing gently, surely. “Why did your father wish to overthrow Richard?” she asked.

  “Because Richard had had the sons of King Edward put to death, of course.” The answer came out almost unthinkingly.

  “How did your father know that?”

  The boy scratched his curly hair. “I don’t know. But he hated the usurper because of it. After he was arrested, he craved an audience with him. He made out that he wanted to plead for his life, but really he meant to kill Richard with a hunting knife he had hidden in his bosom. But the usurper refused to see him. He died bravely, my father.”

  Kate suddenly realized they were not alone. Two dark figures were approaching along the path. When they emerged into the light of the flare set in a nearby wall bracket, she recognized the cold features of the Lady Margaret. With her was a man in clerical garb whom she did not know.

  “My lady of Huntingdon, we meet again,” the countess said, as Kate curtsied, never taking her eyes from that austere face. “I see you have made the acquaintance of my ward, the Duke of Buckingham. Come, my young lord, it grows late, and I’m sure you have detained the countess too long with your prattle.” She put an arm about the boy’s shoulder and made to lead him away.

 
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